Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A New Year's Cheer for the Doers!

As I've written before here on the site, working on a political campaign has, and continues to be, an amazing experience that I think I'd easily rank in the top 10 overall of my life to date. I didn't expect to get this involved, but then again, I also didn't expect to be so local this year (Army training plan literally changes multiple times a week, so I've basically become numb to the phone calls that tell me where I now will or won't be going next month...but this time we mean it!) If anyone's curious, though, I've just been redesignated to the CBRN world (that's Chem-Bio-Rad-Nuke) which doesn't sound a whole lot like Civil Affairs, now does it? Whatever. BOHICA.

Anyway, back to the campaign. Here's a quick observation that wonderfully parallels something I saw time and again during five years in the active-duty Navy: There are way more people who want to be *managers* or big-idea people, and tell other people what to do, than there are people actually standing by to execute the orders of the first group. In other words, there aren't as many *doers* as there are people who want to tell other people what to do.

Hmmm....Does that sound like your office place?

I'm sure someone has written this before, so I'll plead guilty to the plagiarism charge ahead of time, but here goes Page's Law of Organizations: Within any organization, there will always be a surplus of people desirous of setting direction and/or telling others what to do; by contrast, there will always be a shortage of people willing to execute the orders.

Or, as many have said before, in a less wordy and potentially un-PC way, "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians."

Where that really frustrated me in the Navy was in the case of very top-heavy commands where the khaki wearers (that's E-7 and above) were too obtuse to realize that they outnumbered the sled dogs (that's E-4 and below) and so would have to roll up their proverbial sleeves if anything were to get done. But instead, way too often you'd have senior NCOs and junior officers groan about how they were *managers* and shouldn't have to do the grunt work, when the irony was that mentality just meant that no one would do it.

Well, if you've read this blog for a while, or you've spoken with me for more than ten minutes, you can probably tell which side of the debate I fall on: I will always pledge my undying respect for the doer, regardless of the arena.

I will ALWAYS respect the teacher who ACTUALLY teaches kids far greater than I will the Educrat who wants to work the 9-to-5 under the guise of "making macro change."

I will ALWAYS respect the police officer who ACTUALLY risks his life every day for our safety far greater than I will the "activist" who claims an officer was too gruff or impolite, but then also cries foul if the police don't respond quickly or strongly enough.

I will ALWAYS respect the soldier who ACTUALLY walks point on a patrol in the Hindu Kush more than I will the self-appointed "defense intellectual" who pontificates about it in D.C.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. In whatever your line of work or whatever your field of interest, there are the many who want to throw their feet on the desk, chomp a cigar, and write it up in a way that throws them all the credit. And then, on the other hand, there's the smaller number of people whose work is really propelling the organization along.

When I celebrate my favorite secular holiday tonight, I'll be cheering for the doers.

E-mail Etiquette: How NOT To Do It

Here's a quick vignette of where I think the e-mail etiquette/code of conduct was violated:

December 20: My boss e-mails me, cc's someone he wants me to contact, and says "E-mail or call John Doe* to get in touch."

Now, here comes the part where I screwed up somewhat royally -- I saw the e-mail, took note of it, *meant* to get on it soon, and then got sidetracked with holiday and family stuff. After Christmas, I wound up doing several straight days of work for a military course I'm doing, and then BAM -- in my inbox on the 29th is a not-so-happy note from my boss, with an e-mail string below where John Doe is whining about how it's been over a week, and he hasn't heard back from me, and it's really urgent and important that we get moving, etc.

Fair enough. That's an honest-to-goodness mistake. Time to apologize, move on, and get working. Besides, after he and I talked about it, the boss-man was totally fine with it.

But the more I thought it about, I'm coming away with a pretty rotten first impression of Mr. Doe. If the shoe were on the other foot, I'd like to think this is how I would've handled it -- if the matter were really so urgent, and the need to get moving so great, I would've gone ahead and e-mailed the person directly rather than firing a salvo right over his head, towards his boss. Just assume the best and say, "Hmmm...this Page fellow must've gotten sidetracked with the holidays and probably just forgot to send the note. I'll give him a quick *ping* just to remind him that he's supposed to coordinate this with me."

Instead, he sends a whiny e-mail right over my head, back to my boss, detailing the super-critical urgency of the situation and wondering why I haven't written or called him.

To me, that's not only passive-aggressive, but it goes against the general rule that first gets articulated by kids on a playground who shun the "tattler" -- if a dispute or misunderstanding can be solved at the lowest possible level (i.e. direct, person-to-person) it's always preferable to do it that way before you go running for a teacher or lunch aide.

* Name changed to protect the guilty

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Media Bias of "Some Say"

I caught the documentary "Outfoxed" the other night, which raised a few interesting points about the angles that Rupert Murdoch and his cable network choose to slant the news they present. I agreed with a lot of the content, but I thought what was missing was the idea that other networks are slanted too -- watching the documentary and its careful editing/splicing, you would think that only Fox had an ideological tilt. So I agreed with them that it's laughable to say that Fox is "Fair and Balanced" but I hope they're not saying by omission that CNN, MSNBC, or any other network is.

You know that old joke -- How do you define a pork barrel spending project? It's one that's not in your district. I think media bias works the same way. Media is biased if I disagree with it. Show me a person who thinks CNN or MSNBC covers issues like climate change, affirmative action, and gun control in some sort of "neutral" way and I can just about guarantee the way that person is going to vote in even-year Novembers.

One specific tactic the documentary discussed was the use of the super-vague "some" as a form of attribution. In other words, let's say you think the President's plan is terrible, but as a supposedly impartial anchor, you can't say it. What you do is explain the plan and then offer up something like this: "Some say the President's plan is guaranteed to fail." You can also use "some people," "some experts," "some Beltway insiders," etc. The only key is that you don't *own* the statement yourself, and you don't attribute to any specific person that it can be tied back to.

It's funny, I thought, people do the same thing with their opinions. As I've said a few times before on this blog, one of the most important pieces of advice I would ever give anyone willing to listen is to be extremely hesitant to ever badmouth a colleague (we'll define 'colleague' loosely here, but call it anyone with whom your social or work circles overlap). There are a bunch of obvious reasons not to do it (Golden Rule, creation of ill will, reflects badly on yourself, etc.) but a less-obvious reason is that your opinion of others is fluid and subject to change. Once you go negative about another person, although your opinion might change, the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Other people love to make a huge issue out of it...just think to a time you've said something even remotely negative about a third party and then someone else made a mountain of your molehill (Well, we're organizing a lunch outing, but if we ask Barbara, we can't invite Jerry, because I think he stabs her eyes out via voodoo dolls at night).

Anyway, a totally transparent and cheesy way that people sometimes try to get around this is their own version of the some say. In fact, I just heard someone do this the other day over a meal. Three of us were sitting there, a mutual acquaintance's name came up, and sure enough, I heard something like this: "Well, I've never had a problem with him, but some people say he's a complete prick."

To me, if you're going to do this, you have no spine (and yes, this was called out 'in the moment' so be proud of your author here). First, you should try as best you humanly can to NEVER talk trash about someone with whom you overlap. However, when all else fails, and you're really ready to go for the nuclear option, have the stones to *own* what it is you're saying. If you really don't care about burning the bridge, go ahead and torch it, with your fingerprints on the gasoline bottle.

Trying to somehow have the best of both worlds by voicing your negative thoughts about someone while simultaneously trying not to dirty your own hands is second-rate type of stuff. Think about it, if the person asked about were a true friend, would you frame it like that? No way, at the very least, you'd mention that many think he's a complete prick but you'd then offer up a counter -- you wouldn't just leave it hanging out there with some weasely I've-never-had-a -problem sort of line.

In sum, "Outfoxed" makes a good point in highlighting the shadiness of ANY news anchor (not just Fox!) that uses the Some Say tactic. It's a pretty transparent way to 'go negative' and try to cover your own keeshter at the same time. Supposedly objective anchors shouldn't do it.

I'd like to hold individuals to the same standard.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Leland Cheung in Today's Globe

Just below the fold on the cover of today's Globe, a picture of a former roommate caught my eye -- sure enough, Leland Cheung is mentioned in this piece in the paper today.

Though the article focuses more on ethnicity, it's perhaps more impressive that Leland is the first student ever elected to Cambridge's City Council. I say that because the whole "student running for office" bit has been tried several times before (and that's counting recently-graduated products of Cambridge's fine institutions) but never successfully.

Leland is currently a joint degree candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and the MIT Sloan MBA program.

And just to illustrate another major difference between the City Councils of Lowell and Cambridge (both comparably-sized cities with the Plan E form of government), notice the captions on page B3, which describe some of the (heftier) staff support enjoyed by Cambridge's Councilors. In addition, Cambridge City Councilors make just north of $70k, which by way of comparison is more than an active-duty junior officer or senior NCO in our military.

That seems like a lot of money for part-time work, but for the number of hours those folks put in, I wouldn't necessarily call it unjustified. If anything, I'd even be willing to support more pay for City Councilors here in Lowell if it meant the opportunity to serve would be opened even wider. Ditto for School Committee.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Hooch for the Gooch? I Doubt It..

I knew something didn't look right when I caught a line in this morning that said (to paraphrase), "As per the terms of his probation, he'll only be allowed out of his house to attend church or to participate in State Senate votes."

You definitely don't read that every day in your morning paper.

But you also don't see gems such as the defense that State Senator Anthony Galluccio failed a court-mandated breathlyzer test due to the presence of sorbitol in his morning toothpaste. To me, that's the worst excuse offered in public life since Pastor Ted Haggerty's great line about "just wanting to know what possessing crystal meth in the company of a gay prostitute would feel like."

Senate President Murray did the right thing by taking away Galluccio's committee powers, and saying very politely that it would be, well, incumbent upon him to tender a resignation letter.

My purpose in life is NOT to judge Anthony Galluccio as a human being. His chemical dependency is his own issue. Slamming into a family's minivan and then leaving the scene, much like his other vehicular infractions, is between him and the police.

But as a taxpayer who pays this man's salary (and who will be paying for his generous retirement package for most of the rest of my life) I do maintain the right to weigh in on whether he should continue to be served by the people of this great state (yes, that phrasing was intentional) in his current capacity.

And on that note, yes Mr. Senator, it's time to make a quick exit and make room for someone who can hold the public's trust.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MCAS Bias? Not Here..

On the cover of this morning's Boston Globe, I couldn't help but notice the above-the-fold picture of a Boston public schoolkid out sledding with her father yesterday. Why was she out there during the middle of the day? Because Boston Public Schools had a snow day. And why did it make me chuckle out loud enough to get some funny looks at Brew'd Awakening, and then inspire this entry?

The image triggered a jarring memory of my days as a student in a Teacher Education Program. Something I entered very naively and for very idealistic reasons turned sour for me when I realized that the program was focused more on indoctrinating graduate students about why straight white men are bad than on actually teaching kids.

Everything was some sort of conspiracy designed to prop some up while keeping the downtrodden down. MCAS, like any other standardized test, was Public Enemy No. 1. Trying to be a bit of an agitator, or at least a potential voice of challenge, I once finally built up the guts to ask them WHY MCAS was so terrible, and why it was so biased -- after all, I said, how can a search for the square root of x discriminate against people based on gender or ethnicity?

The example always cited in response was this: One year, the MCAS required students to answer an essay question about "What would you do on a snow day?" The liberal shibboleth about this was, of course, that the question was geared toward kids in places like Lexington or Dover or Needham -- only they, the argument went, could truly be equipped to answer that question because they must all celebrate snow days by sledding down their gigantic yards and driveways, or having their parents or au pairs shuffle them around for days of leisure. The kids in cities, the argument continued, had no such options and were therefore unable to answer the question.

I didn't really argue back or challenge any of this at the time, but now that I'm a whole seven years older, wiser, and more worldly, I've come to realize the utter BS that was being propagated (mostly, by the way, by middle-age white females from Brookline and Newton).

First of all, kids anywhere can enjoy a snow day. And the irony of the passionate argument on behalf of the downtrodden is that someone who had actual content with actual urban schoolchildren would never say that. Think about all the Lowell public schoolchildren you know, or, if you once were one, think back to your own experience -- Was the idea of a 'snow day' a familiar concept? Don't you think you celebrated just as hard when school was cancelled as did a kid at Lincoln-Sudbury?

Most importantly, the essay is being graded for structure and grammar, not for the kids' choice of activity. So whether a snow day means barreling down your driveway in Lenox, or helping your abuela with the chores in Lawrence, the people reading MCAS are not out to *get* you for anything other than your ability to write and organize thoughts clearly and coherently. The important thing about the prompt is that it's saying school is cancelled, so what will you do? To say that certain types of kids wouldn't be able to understand that sounds a bit, well, racist and classist.

Which brings me full-circle to another view of conspiracy.

If you are in the habit of telling OTHER people's kids that the cards are all so stacked against you that you shouldn't even try, that essay questions about snow days are examples of institutional racism, and that their last name or accent will preclude their hopes of future employment, I'm willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that you don't tell YOUR kids that.

And why wouldn't you?

Well, duh, it's because you want them to have a bright, happy, prosperous future.

Monday, December 21, 2009

5 Ws for An Evening with Sam

What: An evening with Sam Meas, candidate for U.S. Congress
When: Saturday, 26 DEC, from 8:00 p.m.- 12 a.m.
Where: SunnyDa Restaurant, 454 Chelmsford St. Lowell, MA 08151
Who: Supporters of Sam Meas and those curious to learn more about the candidate
Why: Because, as Sam's website says, "Without Choice there is no Freedom."

There is a suggested $30 per person donation at the door.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Wii Little Problem

"A man's home is his castle." -- Old Proverb

"Home...Is Where You Can Scratch Where it Itches." -- Saying on a Coffee Mug

"I turned up your TV and stomped on the floor just for fun." -- BNL, The Old Apartment

Before I even start this entry, let me state my full acknowledgement and recognition of the fact that there are real problems in the world. There are people without enough food to eat, there are people who suffer from physical and emotional abuse from which they can't escape, and there are addictions that ruin lives and families.

And I'm not just referring to places like Darfur, Somalia, Myanmar, or anywhere necessarily far. All of this happens within a 10-mile radius of wherever it is that you live, for certain.

Now that that's been acknowledged, I am going to jump back into the condo v. house debate. A condo is wonderful, of course, when it allows you to live in a central location that you don't have to personally maintain throughout the seasons. It gives you an energy-efficient lifestyle and, if you're in a good spot, saves you tons of trips in the car because you can often walk to whatever you need. Also, condos offer a HUGE security advantage, esp. when they're located higher than the first floor. That's a very important consideration for someone whose work could take him or her away from time to time.

But the big advantage to owning a house is that the space is really yours. That's not *really* the case in a condo for a couple of reasons. First, because you're sharing walls, ceilings, and floors with others; and second, because you can always bump into people in a way you wouldn't inside your own, private home.

The missus and I were just reminded of this during our holiday planning. As the Greater Family has been swept up in Nintendo Wii mania, we were hoping to join the bandwagon by splitting it as a joint Christmas present to each other. It would give us a fun opportunity to get in shape without having to travel to the Y, it's a chance to hone skills that could be used against cousins and nephews on the weekends, and it's just a good, interactive bonding experience in a way that movies and TV shows aren't.

But in the end, we balked.

We've got one great TV, nicely situated on our first floor.

Our first floor is someone else's ceiling. That someone else has a one year-old. Out of respect for this, and the lack of sleep it surely causes them, we are extra-super-extremely careful about noise -- TV volume can't go past 20 and goes off completely by 11 p.m., PT can only happen on the 2nd floor, socks and bare feet only, etc.

Nintendo Wii is an inherently bouncy, jumpy, run-around and get sweaty type of thing. Adults can mitigate that somewhat by keeping their feet mainly on the ground, but nieces and nephews under 10 are too much of a wildcard. In the end, we just decided to say no.

Eventually, we already know it's going to be a single-family home somewhere that we haven't figured out yet. In any case, it's a decision that's at least several years away, as we're still very underwater and I won't have a *real* civilian job until at least 2012.

As soon as we do, I'll realize all the great things about the condo life that I took for granted. I'll grunt, groan, and complain about snow, leaves, new paint jobs, and clogged gutters.

But, on the bright side, we'll have a Wii with Wii Fit. We'll stomp, scream, shriek, high-five and the whole bit.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Ringing Phone Does Not an Emergency Make!

Okay, it's another blog theme day. And that theme, of course, is helpful, practical tips. What's ruled in is anything that could save you time, money, or energy. What's ruled OUT is anything that is either incomprehensibly vague and therefore useless (i.e. 'follow your dreams') or what I call Ward and June Cleaver Morality Tales (i.e. 'don't to that, just because it's bad and we say not to.') To wit, I'll caution you not to bad-mouth your colleagues because of the myriad ways it could hurt you, not because *it's just bad,* no further explanation offered.

Okay, so back to the point -- Handling a ringing phone in your office during a meeting or appointment.

I must credit the Chief Petty Officer who taught me this, for he was right -- When you are in your office meeting with someone, and your desk phone rings, treat it the way you would another PERSON dropping in to talk; essentially, tell it to "take a number."

Once this was explained to me, I definitely *got* the lesson and have stuck with it ever since. Somehow we've developed this Pavlovian response to the sound of a ringing phone, which has of course only been made WORSE in the cell phone era (and yes, if I ever write a book, I've got a whole chapter's worth of material on cell phone etiquette). But really, there's no good reason to treat a ringing phone as some type of dire emergency that MUST be addressed, while simultaneously leaving the real person who really scheduled real time to meet with you out in the cold like chopped liver.

This all came back to me yesterday during a meeting.

I had to make a 30-minute drive to head down and meet with someone to discuss a plan of events for the year ahead. The total time of this meeting could have taken less than 45 minutes, but it stretched nearly three hours because EVERY time this person's phone rang, it was answered, and all the caller's questions or issues were fully addressed before we could recommence [if this sounds passive-aggressive, I'll just say there were positional differences that would've made it near-impossible to address this at the time].

It almost became its own absurdity play. Midway through a sentence, moving towards actual progress than then BAM! there went the phone again. Thankfully, I was in no great rush, but it begs several questions.

The obvious one is what would've happened had all those callers just been real live people waiting by the person's desk. And the obvious answer to that is that a line would've formed, and each person addressed one-by-one.

The next question is why can't people just use, and trust, voicemail? This one looms largest for me (those who know me know that perhaps my single biggest pet peeve are the missed calls to the cell phone that don't get the courtesy of the benefit of the doubt and a simple voicemail). Think about it, people somehow had to get by before answering machines (YES, I can remember those), and voicemail ever existed. But now that they DO exist, we treat them as an afterthought. Still, we assume the worst sometimes -- if someone doesn't immediately answer their desk phone, they must be out goofing off on company time; and if someone doesn't immediately answer their cell phone, it's seen by some as an out-and-out affront.

I'll admit I always love hearing a real voice on the end of the line, and I hate those pesky phone trees when all I want is a real person. However, I'll also admit you can go quite far when all parties assume the best.

It's like, if I call your office and you don't answer, I can assume the best and leave a voicemail explaining what I need and why I called.

When you get that, you can assume the best, take me for my word, and get back to me when you're able.

If I'm not immediately there to answer, you can assume the best, and the cycle continues.

Unfortunately, this isn't how things always work.

But the cycle of trust will only go stronger when we can start showing some respect during live meetings by not treating every ringing phone like the equivalent of an ankle-level fire in the corner of the room.

And we can reinforce that cycle of trust when we hear four rings and a recorded message, but don't slam the phone down in frustration.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Definitely a Guy Thing

"The president misses not having to shave every day and being able to throw on his old jeans without causing a huge stir, as he did earlier this year with his 'mom jeans.'"

I can't speak to the jeans thing, but must say I concur with our Commander-in-Chief about the shaving bit. Even though shaving takes just a few minutes out of the day, there's something liberating about not having to do it, which is probably why every servicemember who goes on a long period of leave inevitably carries out some form of facial hair experimentation.

I'll even admit the beard starts to be a bit too much after about the three-day mark (when the little old ladies on Market St. stop smiling back and waving, I know it's time for a date with the Mach 3).

Still, even though the bread-and-butter hygiene doesn't get neglected on weekends and off days, there really is just something great about having that one- or two-day's worth of stubble before Monday morning comes and it's time to hack it back.

So on his toughest important decision (the plus-up of troops to Afghanistan) as well as his toughest not-so-important personal gripe (the need for a daily shave) I'm with POTUS.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Whither the Losers?

A theme I've hit on here a time or two is the long American political tradition whereby when you run for office and you don't win, you don't necessarily *lose.*

A recent local example would be Patrick Murphy building name recognition and maverick credentials with his 2007 Congressional bid, and then turning around and finishing 8th in this year's City Council election. To spread out nationally and to dig back deeper in time, there would be too many examples of *winning from losing* to fit into any blog entry, or even a lengthy book.

For now, it's fair to say the winners from Tuesday's primary are Martha Coakley and Scott Brown.

As for the losers, I think it's also fair to say Michael Capuano is the obvious *winner.* He didn't jeopardize his Congressional seat, which won't come up for election until next year; on the contrary, he massively increased his name recognition and stature within his own district. Who knows what that will mean for his political future, or even further down the road in law or business (hey, at what point do Ivy League degrees and fancy-pants law schools take away your right to refer to 'working-class roots' every five minutes?) Either way, it's safe to say he wins.

As for Alan Khazei and Steve Pagliuca, it's just too soon to say. For starters, two seemingly difficult-to-pronounce names have become household words across the state. Again, hard to exactly predict what that'll mean, but it could certainly come in handy should either try to re-involve himself in politics, get a new citizens' group/non-profit off the ground, or get involved in something that exploits name recognition (public speaking gigs, corporate boards, etc.) then the failed Senate bid is a MAJOR bonus.

Jack E. Robinson is a bit more of a wildcard. To only rack up a small percent of a much less crowded, much less star-studded field obviously doesn't say much for his statewide appeal, GOP or otherwise. But as they say, a week is a long time in politics, and I would imagine his name recognition in Duxbury is remarkable.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Just In, Via Facebook

Joseph M Mendonca - "I was contacted by the City Clerk today and stated that I am willing to serve for the remainder of this Council term if offered. Now it is up to a Council vote on Tuesday."

Well, I guess that answers a lot of people's questions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiger, You, and Me

Anyone who's been following this blog for a while has probably come to learn what I'll say every time an Eliot Spitzer, a Larry Craig, or a John Edwards-type situation surfaces.

First, that for people who handle matters relating to our national security, compromising behavior isn't as funny as late-night talk show hosts would sometimes have us think.

And second, that for all public figures, their decision to be public is a conscious one that comes with PLENTY of upside as well as downside.

I've held my virtual breath on Tiger Woods so far, except to say that I'm surprised that Tiger, much like Michael Phelps, jeopardized millions upon millions of dollars in endorsements not just by his behavior (I'll stay judgement-neutral here on the infidelity or marijuana smoking) but by the carelessness surrounding it. A squared-away individual who acted as a combination bodyguard/administrative assistant would seem capable of preventing either PR disaster. Shoot, Gatorade or Nike could've hired the person themselves, seeing as they're losers in all this as well as Mr. Woods.

Anyway, I didn't post about Tiger's option of "just going away" because I thought it was just a rehash of earlier stuff. I realized today, however, that it's no different from what I would tell any friend, relative, neighbor, colleague, etc. who had a similar problem with his or her job.

For instance, let's say I complained to you CONSTANTLY about being a National Guardsman trying to schedule a gazillion in-person and Distance Learning courses simultaneously, or about preparing for a battery of grad school tests, or language qualifications, or volunteering for Sam Meas, or losing 20 pounds, or whatever the case may be...

..Eventually, you would (rightly) lose your patience with me and say, in essence, "If you hate it so much, why don't you just quit/stop doing it."

If Tiger Woods has such a problem with media intrusions into his personal life (driven by regular, non-media persons' interest in it, of course), he can simply stop doing endorsements and stop playing professional golf. There are movie stars and pro athletes who've created a precedent for this type of thing, too, so it's not a totally-uncharted course.

That's the same advice I would give to Eliot Spitzer, Mark Foley, or anyone else -- don't go away mad, just go away. But it's also the same advice I would give to ANY friend who hated his or her job and had the option of leaving.

Tiger doesn't need the money. Tiger doesn't need the professional stature. He already has tons of both.

YES, there will still be tons of interest in his situation no matter what he does with the rest of his life. However, that interest will slowly but surely fade, assuming he does nothing to stoke it.

If he wants to make a comeback, I'm all for it. Please don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way saying he shouldn't.

What I AM saying, however, is that he spent the past two decades benefiting from a career and life in the public spotlight. If he wishes to leave in order to have some much-needed privacy, that sounds like a good course of action.

That's the same thing I'd tell my friend who makes big bucks but hates his law firm job...Once you reach the point where you don't need it, just leave it.

But if you're just going to benefit from it whenever it suits you, but complain about it endlessly when it doesn't, I've got little to no sympathy to offer.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yes Virginia, There Really is a Miss Landmine

Congratulations to Dos Sopheap of Battambang for receiving top honors in this year's "Miss Landmine" contest. Her crowning comes at the same time that Cambodia's government is petitioning for a 10-year extension on its Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty Compliance.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Three Quick Hits

Running out the door soon, but here are three quick thoughts for the morning:

(1) Tiger Woods -- Michael Phelps. After the famous Michael Phelps bong hit photo came out, I wondered aloud on this blog why someone like Phelps couldn't take out a small insurance policy on his multimillion-dollar endorsement deals by hiring a 'protector.' This person wouldn't just be like a bodyguard per se, but would be someone highly responsible and organized whose SOLE job in life was to keep the client out of trouble, and, failing that, to protect the client in situations that could otherwise be troublesome. Now I'm wondering why Tiger Woods couldn't have done the same thing.

(2) First reports from the field about Jim Harbaugh. One of the oldest military sayings is that the first reports from the field are always wrong. Jim Harbaugh got LAMBASTED yesterday on Facebook, Twitter, and all over the blogosphere for allegedly yelling an anti-gay slur at a referee last Saturday night. Here's the problem: Harbaugh never said it. The YouTube video had a dubbed audio track that was based on what someone thought Harbaugh had said. And there's the problem with the Internet...

(3) Premature dirge-singing for the Patriots. I know a lot of people are still upset about Monday night's thrashing in New Orleans, BUT let's look at the other three losses -- the Jets game would've turned differently if a couple drops were actually caught, the Broncos game was blown late in the second half, and the Pats never had a chance in OT, and the Colts game coulda shoulda woulda went the Pats' way, but for one fumble, one bad Pass Interference call that hasn't gotten enough attention, and then of course one famously risky coaching move. What if that pass had really been intended for Randy Moss? Who knows, but either way let's bear in mind the PRIMARY lesson from 2007 -- the regular season matters, but only so much. With five relatively-easy games ahead and a near-certainty of playoffs, let's just hold our collective breath before the weeping and wailing can commence.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Real Garbage, Vennochi-Style

With her column in today's Globe, Joan Vennochi has my head spinning this morning. She writes about the gender split among endorsees of either Capuano or Coakley among the Massachusetts congressional delegation, but without addressing any single issue or any reason OTHER than gender why anyone should support either candidate.

She ends on some note about how the state can either make history (i.e. move forward) or just allow history to repeat itself (i.e. move backward).

Not once is there a mention of how politics may have influenced the endorsement decisions [Correction: As Kad Barma just pointed out in a comment, the political pressure from House Leadership is mentioned in the column], or why seven members of the delegation may have buckled to pressure from the House Speaker (who, by the way, happens to be female).

I'm not particularly gung ho about either Coakley OR Capuano, but I'd like to think I can make that choice based on things like policy stances, voting records, and personal biographies. I don't need the decision framed as some type of good-versus-evil moral referendum that only allows me some stark, cartoon character-style decision between what's right and what's wrong.

When identity politics goes this far overboard, the otherwise-rational and level-headed become alienated.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keeping it Practical: Volunteer for a Campaign

A little while back, I wrote about how graduation speeches and other means by which young people are subject to advice-giving can often be terribly platitudinous and useless.

"Follow your dreams" rings about as hollow for me as does giving a copy of "Oh, The Places You'll Go" to an enterprising young adult. "It all works out in the end" seems downright obnoxious when it comes FROM a Silicon Valley gazillionaire TO a bunch generally smart and talented people, the vast middle of which are headed towards middle-management mediocrity.

For real advice, I talked about learning a critical language (remember, not to be perfect at it, but just to be better than most anyone else, which you might be able to do with a couple weeks' practice). I've also talked on this blog about how I've come to understand that 'networking' should not be confused with 'making pen pals.' (Will write more on the subject in the future).

In the meantime, here's one more piece of practical, potentially very-useful advice for ANY person, but particularly for a young person trying to get his or her feet on the ground professionally --volunteer for a political campaign.

I had never done this until I started working for Sam Meas (technically, I couldn't have, since it's against UCMJ for active duty folks to involve themselves in campaigns in any way, shape, or form). Anyway, it's been shaping up as one of the most enriching, eye-opening, and generally interesting experiences in my life. I'll write about it more between now and next fall, but for now here are a couple bullet points to consider about volunteering for a campaign

* You'll meet tons of people. And simply put, the more people you know, the more potential professional opportunities you'll come across. Involving yourself in a campaign is a great way to shorten the paths between you (or your degrees of separation) to anyone else who lives in your area, or whatever geographical spread the campaign covers.

* You'll visit tons of places that you otherwise wouldn't. Same principles generally apply from the previous point. Again, you're gaining a ton of familiarity with, and exposure to, doors that might open for you down the road.

* You'll see a process from the inside out as opposed to the outside in. Remember that old joke about the weather -- how everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it? Politics is sort of the same way. You can never learn something from a book as well as you can by doing. Seeing the inside of a campaign staff, and appreciating just how hard it is to run for public office, offers you a new perspective. Whether it turns you off to electoral politics completely, gets you hooked for life, or leaves you somewhere in the middle, you'll get something that you couldn't have by reading "All Politics is Local" and watching Bullworth.

* Neat life experience / resume bullet. Probably doesn't rank up there with having run 26.2 miles in one shot, or climbing some major mountain, but it's still related to these in principle -- things people can do so they can say (whether just to themselves, or to others, but I'm not a psychologist so I don't care which) that they've been there and done that. Could be a cool thing to talk about during an interview, especially if you're in your early 20s and haven't really *done* anything else.

I know that overview completely glossed over other issues of policy and ideology as reasons why someone might want to get involved or why they might find it to be a good moral or ethical decision. Those are all valid, but my major point here was to include a specific, pointed piece of guidance that could be given to someone wearing a cap and gown -- no pablum about "exploring your passions" but something concrete that would be theirs to either accept or reject.

So, right after you get done learning "Where is the bathroom" in Punjabi, and you understand why e-mailing or calling people 'just to say hi' isn't really networking, your next step, young Padawan, is to volunteer for a political campaign.

When you do, great things might happen. And even if you hate it, well, now that's just one more thing you know that you didn't before.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bob Forrant's Seven-Fold Path

Woodrow Wilson rated 14 points. FDR got it done with four freedoms, which is how many Noble Truths the Buddha used. For Bob Forrant today at the UML ICC, there were Seven Ways laid out for helping us get out of the current Great Recession and helping to ensure that we don't find our way back into the abyss anytime too soon.

After warming the audience up with enough dismal economic statistics to remind us how he earned the moniker "Doctor Doom," Forrant began outlining steps that the city and the Greater Merrimack Valley can take to improve our economic footing.

First, some of the most chilling statistics: That 1 in every 4 children in the U.S. today relies on food stamps for basic caloric intake; that the FDIC is now 8.2 billion dollars in the red; that the official unemployment rate in Lawrence is 18 percent; and that if under-employment and the total discouragement of former job-seekers is factored in, we're actually approaching 25 percent of able-bodied, non-institutionalized American adults out of work. Another key statistic -- repeated twice for emphasis -- was that the proportion of workers who've been out of work for 26 or more weeks is now higher than at any point since the Great Depression.

Some of the local problems (9% current unemployment here in the Commonwealth) stem from the bleeding away of manufacturing jobs. In 2000, there were 417,000 total manufacturing jobs in the state; now, there are only 295,000. Nationally, we rank behind all our industrialized peers (except France) in terms of the percentage of our workforce engaged in manufacturing.

As Bob Forrant has said before on a couple local blogs, to include Left in Lowell and, a regional jobs summit involving all the key business and political "players" is needed, and it needs to happen yesterday.

Here are Dr. Forrant's seven recommendations:

I. Allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities like UML. This is an investment in the future that would prevent us from developing a long-term underclass by denying people an affordable education.

II. Support and expand partnerships across Lowell High School, Middlesex Community College, UMass-Lowell and other area schools, esp. in the science and health fields. Forrant called for an expansion of programs such as Governor Patrick's Commonwealth Corps. He cited programs such as the one that puts 15 UML student tutors in algebra classes at LHS. During the lecture and then during the question-and-answer session, it was agreed that there is already tremendous traction in regards to this recommendation -- it just needs to be solidified and expanded further.

III. City and university partnerships for specific 'incubator' programs. Forrant cited the example of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the City of Worcester coming together to put the Life Science and Bioengineering Institute in downtown Worcester just off 290 as a specific case study.

IV. Dramatic expansion of nursing programs and other health career fields between the two major hospitals (LGH, Saints Memorial) and the city's educational bodies. This point wasn't re-addressed during the Q and A, but study after study shows 'health care' as a field projected to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.

V. Partnerships that will help foster long-term development in the 'Creative Economy.' Internships, training programs, and the use of venues like the recently-opened "The Space" on Western Avenue would help comprise a concerted effort to foster youth creativity and to retain the 'corporate knowledge' that is developed by the generations of Creative Economy participants now living in Lowell.

VI. Expanded partnerships with Merrimack Valley Groups. Forrant cited numerous non-profits and other community organizations as positive examples of citizens working together to educate others about things like how to avoid bank foreclosures and how to navigate the treacherous job market. Partnerships among the groups themselves would enable easier flow of ideas, social capital, and pooling of resources.

VII. Lowell as a center for 'Green Urbanism.' Forrant mentioned that in the past five years, several corporations have moved into Lowell and focused on green issues like building reuse, public transportation, and energy efficiency. Forrant called for Lowell to "build on that core" and see where it can help lead to a blueprint for economic recovery.

Forrant mentioned that when Lowell hit a time of crisis approximately 30 years ago, the opportunity it presented for a new way forward helped spawn things like the Lowell National Historical Park and the Lowell Plan. We may be at a similar juncture now -- with more economic woes forecast on the horizon and no clear path out of the current joblessness crisis, forward-thinking business and political leaders may be able to chart a course forward to calmer seas.

And at least on that note, even Dr. Doom broke into a smile and pointed to a half-full glass on the podium.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thank You, Cliff

I read this Letter to the Editor in the Sun which started out defending our troops from a claim that we're "swaggering around...with loaded weapons" and continued to spell out why -- and how -- Afghanistan is different from Vietnam. I started to wonder if Cliff Krieger was the author, so I scanned right to the bottom and saw that he was.

Obviously, Afghanistan is not a simple policy problem. Many smart people have dedicated countless hours thinking about the way forward, and they can't all come to consensus. That's because any proposed solution is going to come with tons of 2nd- and 3rd-order effects that we have to try to foresee and maneuver around ahead of time.

I find there are two equally idiotic ways forward that (sort of) come from the right, and the left, respectively. The first is the people who say, "Why can't we just drop a whole bunch of nukes on them and turn the country into a parking lot." That's terribly stupid, inhumane, and would give the rest of the world a righteous reason to hate us for generations to come. The second is the mirror-image of the first, which is some variant of, "Let's just pull everyone and everything out immediately, and leave those people to their own devices." That definitely comes from a FAR better place than the first, but to me it seems equally stupid, equally inhumane, and equally likely to lead to generations of resentment from yet another set of allies we'd leave twisting in the wind.

And you know what the funny thing about people who say the first (let's nuke 'em) and the second (let's abandon 'em) have in common?

Those type of statements never come from people who've been on the ground in Afghanistan or are close to those who have.

Because the people actually doing the work realize that it's never that simple.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gimme Dat Christian Side...What?

A friend wrote about this on Facebook, and curiosity led me to check it out. Apparently, there's some movement among fundamentalist Christians to restrict people to "side hugs" (i.e. hugging by putting one arm around your buddy, hip-to-hip) because front hugs carry the risk of sin, in case either party's, uhh...member might bump into the other person's body.

Anyway, I had to dig into this a little bit to make sure it was real. It is. And the gangsta rappers here in this video are being completely serious, including the particularly asinine moment at 3:35 when the rapper intones that Jesus never gave front hugs. Funny, I've read the Gospels a time or two and never saw any references to that..

If you have just four minutes to spare on this fine post-Thanksgiving Friday, give this video a look. I don't know whether you'll laugh or cry, but you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hey Rex Ryan: Go Pound Sand

I just caught this blip from the AP about how NY Jets coach Rex Ryan felt "disrespected" by the Patriots' decision to throw long even after the game's outcome was more or less determined on Sunday.

I know something similar came up a couple years ago from the Redskins, and just two weeks ago, mighty USC was complaining about an opponent's go-for-two decision while they were being blown out at the Colosseum.

I'll make an exception for youth sports, where far less is on the line, but for any Division I college game, or especially for an NFL game, where this really is what all these guys do for a living, all complaints about running up scores need to cease.

Anyone who witnessed infamous collapses like the Oilers-Bills game back almost two decades ago (the one where the 35-3 halftime lead didn't prove so decisive) needs to understand that these teams play a high-stakes game where the objective is to win. A lot of crazy things can happen in short time spans, so just because you're winning by two or more scores in the fourth quarter doesn't really guarantee anything. More important than being graceful, or not hurting someone's feelings, or appearing un-gentlemanly comes the singular ambition for the "W" as shared by coaches and players whose careers and futures are always on the line.

Anyone who has ever invested their hard-earned time or money (and, yes, time is a commodity that for some is the scarcest and most-valuable thing they have) in following college or pro sports should expect nothing less than the team for which they're rooting to try to win the game.

And winning means scoring more points than the other team does.

If it's late in the game, and I'm a second- or third-stringer fighting to keep my job or get promoted, you better believe I'm not letting up.

If I'm a first-stringer who trains year-round with one goal in mind, you better believe I'm not letting up. If that means testing out a pass play, or trying something out in a game situation, I would do it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Being Thankful in New England

The Boston Globe put together this neat slideshow about New England fixtures and artifacts for which to be thankful -- included are references to the Lowell National Historical Park and minor league sports, as well as my personal favorite, the revival of "Main Streets" all across New England (Rockland, ME and Pittsfield, MA got the explicit nods on that one).

Speaking of amazing main streets, the parade in Haverhill yesterday was quite the spectacle. I have no ability to estimate crowd sizes but I think we're talking tens of thousands, between total spectators and participants. I know it was a regional event but I think it was a majority-Haverhill crowd, who consistently amazed me by (literally) opening up not just their front yards but their homes to complete strangers who dropped by for food, grog, and good cheer.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sam Meas in Voice of America

Sam Meas got a nice write-up in a Voice of America piece today which can be seen at this link.

Just as a reminder, he's doing a walking tour of Downtown Lowell and the Lower Highlands tomorrow morning, which will all kick off at Market Street Market at 8:00 a.m.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wing, Wong, Uong, Meas, and You: A Panel in Andover

Last night at Phillips Academy in Andover, Jack You (PA '10) opened up with a PowerPoint presentation about political under-representation and participation of Asian Americans (they make up 4.4% of the U.S. population but hold only 1.5% of federal elected positions, and tend to vote in lower percentages than do other groups).

The reasons You cited for the lack of involvement and representation ran the gamut from a lack of exposure to politics, pre-acquired political values from countries of origin, difficulties with English, cultural passivity, and racism.

You was followed by a panel of speakers which included Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian-American to hold electoral office in the U.S. (Lowell City Council, elected in 1999, 2001, and 2003), Leverett Wing (many years of service in Mass. State Senate and a member of Deval Patrick's transition team), Lisa Wong (recently elected to her second term as mayor of Fitchburg), and Sam Meas (first Cambodian-American U.S. Congressional candidate).

Of the personal stories told by the panelists, I thought Lisa Wong's was the most interesting. She talked about how, as an undergraduate, she questioned a lot of the propaganda that came from activist groups that attempted to corral large numbers of protesters for events, but didn't necessarily attempt to inspire real debate. As a result, she held counter-protests and teach-ins with professors to try to appeal to people who sought critical discussion as opposed to just a bunch of chanting and yelling. After becoming involved in community development in Fitchburg, she looked around for forward-thinking local leadership, but didn't see it and then decided to run for mayor at age 28 (she was first elected in 2007).

I asked her afterwards about how the "triple identity" of being female, young, and a person of color affected her, and she was quick to put it in a positive light -- to many of her constituents, that makes her far more approachable than someone who came straight from Central Casting as Hizzoner, the Mayor.

Overall, the tone of the panel and the audience (mostly Phillips students) seemed very balanced and nonpartisan, which I definitely noted and appreciated -- personally, I find it offensive that as a straight white male, no one ever tells me how I *should* vote, but people who consider themselves enlightened and forward-thinking question why a woman or a person of a particular ethnicity would ever vote a certain way (in a way, that is, that runs counter to someone else's preconceived notion).

For the record, I think ANYONE of any race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or income level should be able to vote any way he or she sees fit. Any single voter's reasons for doing so are complex and individual, so far be it from me (or anyone else) to prescribe what someone *should* or *shouldn't* do based on the box into which someone else wants to put them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tonight: Asian American Political Panel in Andover

The event description is italicized below. Headliners include former Lowell City Councilor Rithy Uong, Congressional Candidate Sam Meas, and Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong. Event is free and open to the public.

CAMD Scholar Jack You '10 will present “The Curious Underrepresentation: Asian Americans in U.S. Politics” at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, in Kemper Auditorium in the Elson Art Center on Chapel Ave. on the Phillips Academy campus. You’s presentation, as well as the panel discussion and dessert reception that will follow, is free and open to the public.

In a study of immigration history, pan-ethnic dilemma, and voter behavior, You will explore impediments to Asian American political success in the U.S. According to You, Asian Americans have found success in professional fields such as business, medicine, and engineering, but in politics Asian Americans are represented at a disproportionately lower rate compared to the general American population. In 2000, Asian Americans constituted 4.4 percent of the American population, but only 1.5 percent of the elected seats in the U.S. House and the Senate.

Following the presentation, You will present an esteemed panel of experts to discuss Asian Americans and Massachusetts politics. The panel will include Sam Meas, who is preparing for a 2010 run for the 5th Congressional District of Mass; Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian to be elected to public office in the U.S. when he became a Lowell city councilor in 1999; Leverett Wing, former executive director of the Mass. Asian American Commission and former business manager of the Mass. State Senate; and Fitchburg mayor Lisa Wong.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wrangling with Bureaucracy

I'm dealing with a bureaucratic snafu right now.

It was not necessarily anyone's fault in the first place, so I'm not that upset about it. No one's perfect -- a paperwork mistake was made, which is a) understandable and b) something I've done in the past and will do again in the future, so I'd be a huge hypocrite for ranting and raving about it.

Which is why I won't rant and rave about it.

Where frustration reaches a boiling point, however, is in the response, or lack thereof. Like most any reasonable person who can understand the initial error, the next reasonable step I'd like to see is someone e-mailing or calling to say, "Hey, we're sorry, but here's what we're doing to fix it," or even just to acknowledge that it's being worked on.

But that's where the bureaucracy thing steps in and gets in the way. The trouble is, I can't seem to get even a single e-mail or phone call returned, despite earnest entreaties that indicate that all I'm looking to do is get the warm-and-fuzzy that something's going on (I thought that last point was worth mentioning because if I were on the other end of someone screaming or otherwise being rude, I might not return a call, either).

I don't think there's anything surprising, or even original, in my description of bureaucratic wranglings, but if there's anyone reading from the private sector, esp. someone doing something entrepreneurial where he/she has a strong personal stake in the success of the venture, there's something worth keeping in mind -- people are generally reasonable and can forgive minor mistakes. However, easily forgiveable becomes increasingly intolerable anytime you IGNORE someone, whether out of spite, indifference, or a natural tendency not to want to bear bad news.

So don't go that route! The two minutes it takes to put a real, live voice on the line that says, calmly and reassuringly, "Hey, we're working on it," might be all it takes to keep a customer happy and loyal.

Then again, if you're a large, public sector bureaucracy, that was never a concern in the first place...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Who You Callin' a Crony?

If you want to read a great piece of reporting about how American policies -- and American money -- can be terribly misguided and misspent, check out Farah Stockman's piece in the Globe from a couple days ago about Afghanistan's wariness to accept more U.S. 'advisors.'

The humor (if you can call it that) behind the story is that we are very quick to label the Karzai government, or virtually any government in that part of the world, as being corrupt institutions where bribery and cronyism carry the day.

At the same time, however, we dictate that the hiring of certain 'advisory' civilian positions to the Afghan government go to self-important, highly-educated but often practically useless Americans with high-level connections to the U.S. Government (i.e. our cronies). If you can believe it, the entire costs of these contracts can be as high as half a million dollars annually. The individual receives a fraction of that, and a sponsor company receives the rest, but as you can imagine, that's a huge cost of the war.

And here's why the Afghans are justifiably upset -- for a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of those contracts, they could hire real talent from neighboring countries like India, get someone who can speak the language competetently and is able to move about the country. In many cases, the 'advisers' being sent now are stuck inside their compounds and haven't the slightest clue as to the culture, language, or customs of the people they were sent to go 'help.' Sometimes through no fault of their own (as in the case of the geologist mentioned in the piece) they're relegated to 'useless' status by their Afghan counterpart.

And sometimes the fault is theirs.

I worked with a Marine Major who was part of a PTT (Police Transition Team). He and his guys -- most very junior personnel who only made peanuts, even in a war zone in western Iraq -- were outside the wire every single day, training, traveling, sweating, and bleeding alongside their Iraqi counterparts.

Also at their FOB (Forward Operating Base) were a group of chiseled and tanned police officers from back in the states who were sent on a very lucrative contract (they were each making $250k, and that's after whatever fees their company took from Uncle Sam) and essentially did nothing. Literally, these guys watched movies and lifted weights all day for that money. There was no chain of command to get them to work, and no enforcement mechanism anywhere in sight...very different, of course, than the case would be if one of the Major's Lance Corporals decided to just 'phone it in' and stay in the rack all day.

I know that the idea of government waste is nothing new.

And I know that a military person impugning the work ethic of civilians is nothing new.

But if we're making an open-ended, long-term commitment to the people and nation of Afghanistan, it might be wise to consider their thoughts and inputs on the situation.

And if they're saying they want a little more say in the hiring of civilian advisers, or maybe if they're just offering us a few hiring pointers along the way, we might be wise to listen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two Holidays For the Price of One?

I know there's a strong movement afoot to make Veterans Day a 'true' national holiday; that is to say, to move it out of its middle ground status and place it on par with Memorial Day, Labor Day, or New Year's Day.

Democracy advocates have also been saying for years that we should make our election days national holidays. This, they say, would greatly increase voter participation rates and better-enfranchise many whose long hours and/or long commutes pose real obstacles to voting.

Since the two fall so close to one another already, why not follow through by elevating the status of Veterans Day and making it the same day that we vote?

I don't know what all the barriers here would be, but I thought it at least merited a mention.

A few Google searches before I made this entry showed me that plenty of others have wondered aloud about this, too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quitters and Winners

Any kid growing up in America who participated in anything from T-Ball to youth hockey or even just watched an 80s movie with a dramatic training montage has heard the old saw about how "winners never quit and quitters never win" or some variant thereof.

But is that really true?

Conversations with two good friends about their recent life decisions (one recently left his full-time job to pursue his dream of writing full-time, and the other is contemplating a career change of his own), coupled with recent decisions of mine to drop a martial arts class and leave another group led to some stimulating discussions about when it might be appropriate to quit something.

One thing we all agreed on, by the way, is that the hackneyed sitcom-morality-tale tripe about how it's NEVER okay to quit something is pretty bass ackwards, and ultimately serves no one. Whether it's major issues of foreign policy, really serious things like interpersonal relationships, or even just one l'il yellow belt's decision to throw in the white jumpsuit, so to speak, there has to be a time when a smart, adaptive person decides to stop banging his or her head against a wall.

Here are four points that are germane to the discussion, in no particular order:

(1) Even though the thing in question may not be going well, is it providing some useful second- or third-order benefit? The obvious case here would be a job. Even though you may hate yours, quitting might be a terrible idea because the pain of foregoing that income may outweigh the pain incurred by said employment. Of course, if you have six months' worth of *emergency money* in the till and the confidence behind a transition, that could be your ticket out.

There might be other cases where this would apply, too. You may not enjoy your Monday afternoon golf game, but if there's some contact you're making by playing, or some future benefit you think you'll derive from staying current in the sport, it might not be time to go just yet.

(2) Even though the thing in question may not be going well, is there some clear light at the end of the tunnel? To me, the obvious thing that comes to mind here is a graduate degree program. Even if you absolutely hate it, and you can't stand the costs and the foregone income, unless we're talking Ph.D. or M.D., you're at most a couple years away from being done. The degree is the clear *reward* for the current pain and suffering. Obviously, the *light* factor would not apply for something like a steady 9-to-5, or a relationship, in which there's no end date in sight or easy ticket out.

Still, if a friend was halfway towards his MBA, and told me he was thinking about quitting, I'd tell him that I think he's nuts. I might even have to bust out an old Dr. Jason Seaver teaching moment from "Growing Pains" where Mike or Carol learns the value of perseverance through adversity.

(3) Is there a commitment to others? This is probably the trickiest one to figure out, and I think if anything, people are overly likely to tip themselves into thinking there's a commitment when there might not be. Still, what's clear is clear. If you agreed to be the President of the Taunton River Valley Knitting Society for a two-year clip, and you quit after three months without an idea of who's ready to replace you, there is some type of ethical breach to consider. Ditto for anything where there's a clear delineation time/duties/duration, like coaching a youth sports team.

(4) If it's time to go, it's chest out and chin up, not tail between the legs. I know this last point kind of differs from the other three, but I think it bears mention. Many times, because people feel ashamed, or because they overestimate or otherwise misunderstand Question #3, they slink away into run and hide mode. A WAY more honorable ticket out of something is to communicate what you're doing, and why you're doing it, to whoever you report to, or meet with, at said activity. Whether that's two weeks' notice at your job, or it's telling your co-knitters why you can't lead them anymore, there's honor in doing that. However, it's hard to respect someone who goes "RF cold," "radio silent," or just plain MIA without having the cojones to say why, or at least let someone know they haven't fallen off a cliff somewhere.

Bottom Line to all this (just because I know there's a Col. reading who loves that expression) is that yes, sometimes it really is okay to quit.

It should be contemplated, discussed in the open, and certainly slept on, so as not to come across as something impulsive that will later give way to Quitter's Remorse.

And if it's done right, with respect to Conditions 1-4, sometimes quitters really do win, and the losers are the people who stick with sinking ships and the time/energy vampires around them out of a misplaced fear of letting go of a sunk cost or an imaginary fear of disappointing someone else.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why They Invented YouTube..

Anyone who has ever played football, whether in their backyard, a park, or on a team where there were pads, helmets, and referees, or anyone who has ever WATCHED football -- in person or on TV -- will appreciate the amazing athleticism displayed by Cal's Jahvid Best and the scariness of the injury that followed. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Massacre Thoughts, Redux

I read the news today (oh boy?) about the Orlando, FL massacre, which seems to have involved a disgruntled employee killing one person and injuring at least five others.

Of course, I felt a stronger connection to what happened yesterday near Killeen, TX, but any death from an armed lunatic is equally tragic.

And equally unjustified.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fort Hood Tragedy

I just read the news about the shooting incident at Fort Hood, TX.

My thoughts and prayers are with these victims, their families, and their units.

Meet Mr. Meas, 21 NOV

[Full Disclosure: I am volunteering for the Sam Meas for Congress Campaign. For the next year, I'll be posting regular updates about campaign events as well as insights regarding the experience itself].

On Saturday, 21 NOV, Sam Meas, a Haverhill-based Republican running for a seat in the 5th Congressional District of Massachusetts, will be walking through Downtown Lowell and the Lower Highlands in order to meet with business owners and residents.

The walking tour will begin at 8:00 a.m. at the Market Street Market (95 Market St.) Sam will spend the entire morning downtown, and will head to Le Petit Cafe (660 Middlesex) at 2:00 p.m. to begin making his way up Branch Street.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 City Election: The Sun in Their Eyes

I got pulled away by work this morning, but when I checked the Sun and made my tour of the half-dozen or so city blogs that I check regularly, there it was -- one of the most telling quotes of this electoral season, right from Mr. Armand Mercier:

"I really can't understand why I lost," he said. "I think voters subliminally lumped me in with (Councilor) Alan Kazanjian because we are friends. It doesn't make much sense."

Insulting the electorate is not exactly the most gracious way to go out. By comparison, Regina Faticanti's quote in this morning's paper came off as far more graceful. [Yes, I just said "Regina Faticanti" and "graceful" in the same sentence].

If Mr. Mercier cares to listen, I'd mention to him that there was palpable frustration with the status quo in a lot of corners of the city. Not just with the condo owners downtown, but from the teachers in the middle schools, the regulars at the VFW, the business owners worried about the city's reputation, etc. I'd also mention that while he was comfortably ahead of #11 in the returns, he was only a stone's-throw away from incumbent Rodney Elliott. Either could have lost last night, because both were lumped in with the Gang of Six, but very much unlike the Mayor and Rita, neither had the sun in his eyes.

So back to the title of the entry. Chris Matthews, a much better author than TV host, has often referred to this very short-hand heuristic that can be used in handicapping political races -- Which candidate has the sun in his or her eyes? Of course, it's not a literal question, nor an overwrought pun on my part regarding our newspaper of record, but it's a question about who's really working the streetcorners, the diners, and who's being chased by someone's dog in Pawtucketville as he attempts to knock on his 200th door that day.

I'd say nearly all of the victorious incumbents, and CERTAINLY all of the victorious challengers, had the sun in their eyes. I think there were a few challengers who phoned it in, and that it showed in the final tally. Here's a look at the nine who won, separated out by total votes received:

Look at Tier One: Rita, Bud, Franky. Rita is so well-known for constituent services that, well, everyone seems to know it. As far as ubiquity across the city, she's second only to Mayor Caulfield, who really isn't kidding when he talks about the 400 public appearances he's made in the past two years. I mean, the guy's been to more funerals than John McDonough. Franky's name and face were well-known to anyone who's ever done just about anything on Merrimack Street. She came to tons of neighborhood events, her campaign was very professional and easy-to-reach, and she had the organizational reach and charisma to somehow get a dedicated band of sign-wavers at VFW & Bridge on even the coldest and rainiest days. All three had the sun in their eyes -- bigtime -- and it showed in the final vote tally.

Tier Two: Broderick, Milinazzo, Martin, Mendonca. I was one of the many voters this year that voted for Broderick, Milinazzo, and Martin along with six challengers. Of course, this stemmed from two major issues -- the primary and the Andy Sheehan firing. Still, I had multiple opportunities to meet Broderick, Milinazzo, and Mendonca at some of the neighborhood meetings and campaign events -- all came across as genuine, and none struck me as arrogant or aloof. In Mendonca's case, I think he was a "best of both worlds" sort of candidate -- technically a challenger, but with enough past work on the SC and the CC to know you weren't getting a novice -- a great way to use one of your nine votes.

Tier Three: Murphy and Elliott. In Murphy's case, there's just no question at all that he had the sun in his eyes. He was out in the neighborhoods, gripping, grinning, and listening -- constantly. He remembered names. He had an energetic campaign staff, and widespread sign placement throughout the city. He used new media (YouTube) as well as the most old-fashioned campaign style, personal retail politics. I would also add that his 2007 Congressional challenge was a huge upside for him this time around in terms of the name recognition and the way it gave him a context in people's minds. As I like to say, losing a Congressional bid as a young novice, but then consolidating the lessons learned and channeling it into a future successful bid puts him in the good company of each of our last three Presidents -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Elliott, on the other hand, hung on, but barely. I think if he comes back for another term in 2011 (I'll be voting absentee then, so I hope the blogs report on it), you'll see much more from Elliott in terms of the retail work that could help propel him up from ninth to a higher finish in the standings.

As far as the challengers who didn't make the cut, it's no surprise to see Paul Belley, Ben Opara, and Ryan Berard all clustered close together towards the top. They did a lot of the nitty-gritty stuff -- the block parties, the neighborhood meetings, and, yes, the door-to-door grunt work.

I don't want to comment on Armand Mercier's health issues, which I don't understand and won't pretend to. Of course, that could've been a limiting factor for him in his ability to campaign this season. But I do know that things like entrepreneurism and politics are inherently "risky businesses" in the sense that the odds are stacked WAY against you when you decide to participate. When you fail, you can either: a) look inward, ask what went wrong, and hope to fix it; or b) go vindictive and blame everyone else BUT yourself.

In the long term, that's what separates successes from failures.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Mr. Chafee Just Said...And Why It Matters

In a piece in the Globe today, Susan Milligan reports on potential Congressional races in which the GOP is hoping to reclaim some lost ground here in New England.

The article focuses mainly on GOP moderates and also addresses the problem some may have winning primaries -- a rabid Republican *base* may not let it happen. This, in turn, will create problems for the party in even-numbered Novembers, because the "vast middle" of New England voters frankly does not identify with Republican party extremists, particularly on so-called *wedge* social issues.

What stood out for me most was a quote at the very end from Lincoln Chafee, a moderate who is running in the 2010 gubernatorial contest in Rhode Island as an Independent. He essentially advised other candidates to do the same, which probably makes a ton of sense for anyone who is esssentially conservative on things like foreign policy and taxation, doesn't want to get *wedged out* in a primary on issues like abortion or gay rights, but still wants to see his or her name on a ballot in November.

When I got back home, I saw a post on Right-Side-of-Lowell, inspired by an article forwarded by the author of Choosing a Soundtrack, which talked about the increasing legitimacy of Indepedent candidacies in major races in New York and New Jersey. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Frustration with so-called "politics as usual" is NOTHING new. We could open any newspaper or any circulation level at virtually ANY point in American history and see that type of rhetoric. So I'm loathe to buy the idea that frustration with the status quo is at some type of boiling point that's in any way historically unique. What I DO believe, however, is that the Internet is changing the system that used to place tremendous heft in the hands of party/machine power brokers. Candidates are finding new ways to spread the word about themselves in rapid-fire, cost-effective ways. TV and print media ads are slowly losing relevance.

This will continue to happen. Whether you see actual third parties form here from the center (New Whigs? Bull Moosers?) remains to be seen. What you will see, however, are mainstream moderates who, whether because they can't fit neatly into any party label (i.e. Lincoln Chafee), or, out of the naked opportunism that comes with someone who sees the futility of his prospects in an intra-party matchup (i.e. Tim Cahill) strike out on their own as Independents.

Good for them, I say.

Real democracy should be about real choice between different candidates, not about a small number of people in a smoke-filled room (I don't care if it's Tammany or Bohemian Grove) trying to dictate what the huddled masses will or won't be able to do.

Latest Installment from the Murphy Campaign for YouTube

On Election Eve, here's the latest video to come from the campaign of Patrick Murphy, one of six challengers I'll be voting for tomorrow.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sam Meas for Congress

I just had a neat opportunity to get to know Sam Meas over breakfast and coffee at the Owl Diner. Mr. Meas is a Haverhill-based Republican who is running for a seat here in the 5th Congressional District election in 2010.

We spoke about a wide range of policy topics, to include: his detailed plan for a forgiveness period for undocumented immigrants, which would be followed by heightened border security/restrictions as well as tougher laws against employers of undocumented immigrants and crackdowns against visa overstays; his plan to create stronger incentives for prospective nurses and doctors to work for VA hospitals (it's basically a modified, civilianized ROTC-type program); party identity and the dangers created by a lack of viable opposition; and the need for greater political participation from within the Khmer community.

As an unenrolled voter, I want to emphasize that at no point did Mr. Meas blame either party for any of the nation or the state's ills; however, he is very passionate about the problem created by a one-party system in which party leaders and insiders decide who will run for offices, and then the voters lack real power to determine the outcome.

Mr. Meas, the first Cambodian-American Congressional candidate in U.S. history, also spoke about his twin goals of "education and engagement" for segments of the population that are currently not represented in local government.

This link will take you to his website, which will soon be revamped to include more detailed policy information.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fantasy Draft Over at MMC..

I've been taking little breaks all day to click over to the City Council Fantasy Draft going on over at Mr. Mill City. I'm a big fan of MMC because it's informed and it's witty as hell, but without stepping into personal attack territory or insta-humor type stuff. Anyway, if you haven't checked the site out yet today, please give it a look.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Next Parker @ the Pollard Lecture

This event, scheduled for next Thursday night (5 NOV) at 7, should be a good one:

In 2008, Dan Gutterplan was named New England's Top Blogger by WEEI, the top sports radio station in New England. Since January of 2009, Gutterplan has been writing a daily blog of WEEI's web site: Join Dan for a lecture on the negative connotations associated with blogs and the changing culture of media. Brought to you as part of the Moses Greeley Parker Lecture Series.

Cliff Krieger and Joe Smith on City Life

I just got done watching the recent episode of City Life that featured Cliff Krieger and Joe Smith of Move Lowell Forward, flanked by co-hosts Bob Hatem and George Anthes.

There weren't many softballs thrown or punches pulled.

From the beginning, Krieger and Smith were asked repeatedly about the PAC's non-endorsement of Rodney Elliott (this came up again during a phone-in question from "Brookside Tom" Wirtanen), specifically in light of the fact that Elliott was the only sitting councilor to return the MLF questionnaire but not receive the group's endorsement.

George Anthes made a few references to the recent endorsement of Fred Doyle by State Sen. Panagiotakis, noting that the State Senator's clout and personal reputation gave tremendous weight to the endorsement. He asked for the group to offer more information about who was behind the endorsements.

Bob Hatem's main point was that he hopes to see MLF focus less on local candidates and endorsements thereof, but more on the full-time people who are hired to run the city, and how well they perform those duties. Hatem also repeatedly expressed a desire to see the group focus on private sector-led economic development down the road.

As the group states in their official literature and on their website, they are more in favor of professional city management than they are for any individual personality involved in the process. The goal of having longer-term managers (relative to the terms of councilors) was stated by Krieger as being more desirable than the current status quo, in which we tend to have longer-term councilors here in the city who outlive the city managers. Krieger compared that to the role of civilians in the Defense Department, who, unlike military leaders, do not rotate positions every couple of years, and therefore bring continuity to their departments. A comparison was also drawn to Cambridge, where Bob Healy has served continuously for more than two decades in a professional managerial role. Smith described Cambridge as "the best-managed city in the Commonwealth."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mr. Toothpick -- Too Much Time?

Unfortunately, I was not able to embed this Yahoo-ABC-Dunkin Donuts-sponsored news clip, but the smug "newscasters" here made three separate references to the gentleman who just built an entire stagecoach using 1.5 million toothpicks having "too much time on his hands."

The clip opens with such a reference, it closes with speculation about whether he's retired, and then more commentary about too much time, with a couple of "hedged bets" thrown in for good measure (It's impressive, but...)

If you actually look up the dictionary definition of the word "arrogance," you'll see it's not just an overweening pride in yourself, but also a haughty disdain for others. Don't make the mistake of confusing arrogance with confidence -- they're totally different.

That said, I think presumptions about what other people do with their time are often arrogant. I just had two great discussions about this topic -- one over e-mail with a friend who spends five hours a day writing (but nineteen other hours 'working' as any thought or dream could be inspiration) and another with Kad Barma, who was talking about the perils of working from home in terms of others' perceptions about when you're *actually* working. The topic hits home for me right now because the vicissitudes of the scheduling gods have worked in some pockets of relative *professional downtime* for me this year, which sometimes leads me into cumbersome explanations about how my jam-packed all-day schedule probably doesn't meet most sane people's definitions of *doing nothing.* For people whose only concept of productive work means either sitting at a desk in a suit and tie, or accumulation of sweat on the brow, and whose only definition of *not working* means sitting on the couch, eating potato chips and watching the "You are NOT the father!" TV marathon, this can sometimes be VERY hard to explain.

But I digress. Back to my original point -- let's give Mr. Toothpick his due respect. For all any of us know, the guy may be a vascular surgeon who relieves his work-related stress by spending two hours every night with his sculptures. Maybe he's a widower, an empty-nester, or maybe both. Let's agree to agree that none of us really knows.

The point is, lots of people do all sorts of things with their time. If someone spent two hours a night watching the Antonio Sabato reality show, they'd eventually have nothing to show for it; ironically, though, they'd probably never get tagged with the dismissive, verbal hand-wave known as 'too much time.' Mr. Toothpick, however, will be able to say that he created something that "belongs in a museum," with a nod to Mr. Indiana Jones.

Call me batty, but that sounds better than a heckuva lot of other ways I can imagine people might spend their time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

LDNA/JAMBRA Candidate Forum -- Quick Wrap-Up

I just got back a little while ago from the LDNA/JAMBRA Candidate Forum down at the Senior Center on Broadway. I'm not good at estimating crowd sizes but I would say the event drew approximately 75 attendees (let's call it five rows of 15) plus all the candidates, the event organizers, and the Senior Center volunteers.

Because I was time-keeping for the event (yes, the '0 seconds remaining' sign means you're done!) I don't have detailed notes.

Kudos, however, to all the candidates who spoke about specific policies as opposed to just boilerplate tripe about being anti-tax, pro-community, and anti-crime.

One challenger who stood out for me in this regard was Fred Doyle, who consistently gave 'em hell about the runaway cost of health insurance for city employees (the link will take you to his site where you can learn more). Doyle kept all his answers short and sweet (trust me, I was paying close attention to this above all else) and was the only candidate who sent me home with a policy/budget issue to want to research and learn more about.

Ben Opara and Patrick Murphy both spoke in favor of the restaurant meals tax, which Armand Mercier strongly opposed. Opara also voiced support for making Merrimack St.'s commercial heart open to two-way traffic.

Ray Weicker introduced a bold proposal to give Lowell police the power to immediately place drug offenders into detoxification treatment at the time of arrest, as a way of preventing some of the revolving-door-of-justice issues that he has witnessed as an attorney; in addition, enforcement of such a statute might give itinerant drug users a strong incentive to avoid Lowell altogether.

I had some traffic-related questions that got condensed at the end in the interest of time.

Even before the red-light running problem on Thorndike St. or the perilousness of the Bridge St.-VFW Highway intersection, I would like to see the city address the problem of cars in the "right-turn only" lane on Chelmsford St. continuing straight as Chelmsford crosses Plain (eastbound on 110 towards downtown). This makes the intersection treacherous for any motorist attempting to go straight in the way he or she is supposed to (being in the left-hand lane before the stoplight), because a) you have to swerve somewhat to avoid the cars facing you head-on in the other direction, and b) you're also worried about who might be in your blind spot after having gone straight at the light from the right-turn-only lane.

Gerald Epstein at UML ICC

Let me start by saying the oldest cliche from Economics 101 is that "there's no such thing as a free lunch," but the UML Monday noontime lecture series does come complete with a nicely-catered sandwich, salad, and beverage lunch buffet, complimentary for all who attend. The next lecture to be held at the ICC will be from Bob Forrant on 30 NOV (Global Economy -- Local Woes: Lowell and the Great Recession of 2008-2009), but there are going to be presentations on 02 NOV, 09 NOV, 16 NOV, 23 NOV, and 7 DEC at the RESD Seminar Room 500 O'Leary 5th Floor (61 Wilder).

Next, let me say the best quip of the event today came from Prof. Epstein, who said, "If there are no atheists in foxholes, then there are no Milton Friedmanites in global financial crises." I loved it. It summed up a lot of what he was saying about the moral hazard created by government bailouts. The cycle, of course, starts with deregulation, spins increasingly out of hand, there's a very loud THUD that affects some rich and powerful people (with rich and powerful friends who write laws!) and then there's a bailout. Having lived through the S & L fiasco in the late 1980s, and then the latest round of government bailouts, I'd have to say this makes a lot of sense; as Prof. Epstein also said, the current reform efforts have been more of the band-aid variety than honest attempts to completely overhaul the system.

Epstein was quick to dismiss the idea that the Fed created the problem with low interest rates and fast and free liquidity during the 1990s and 2000s. He pointed to interest rates and inflation rates that were just as low in the 1950s and 1960s, but contrasted those times -- when productivity was increasing due to new sectors of the economy producing tangible assets, and when credit flow was more strictly regulated -- to the recent crisis, the run-up to which was fueled by supposedly safe securitization of shaky investments, a 'don't-ask-don't-tell' attitude towards loan and debt issuance, and homeowners using HELOCs like drunken sailors on a port call (actually, Epstein did not talk about HELOCs but did talk about questionable uses of credit, so I included it by implication).

Epstein pointed to the "SOLD OUT" report, which can be found at the Wall Street Watch website. He pointed to several proposals that would help address the systemic causes of the crisis, such as re-instating the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking (this call has also been made by our nation's tallest Fed Chairman, Paul Volcker). He also called for the creation of publicly-chartered credit rating agencies, explaining how the blatant conflict of interest whereby investment banks essentially buttered their raters' bread helped fuel the crisis (and that explains how otherwise conservative investment funds invested in supposedly AAA-rated subprime loan-based packages). In addition, Prof. Epstein challenged the way that financial firms create the incentive for excessive risk-taking on the part of traders -- if the traders can rack up large short-term gains, even in a way that's deleterious for the long-term -- they can still collect massive bonuses that do not need to be repaid when those once-lucrative deals go tapioca. He called for laws that would change this (perhaps by creating escrow accounts whose eventual pay-out would depend on long-term trader performance), the restriction or elimination of off-balance-sheet vehicles, and the implementation of financial precautionary testing for new financial products.

In short, he called for greater government regulation of the financial industry, for policies that would "save the banks but not necessarily the bankers" in times of crisis (and that would perhaps be funded by Wall Street itself in the form of securities transactions fees), and for a change in the mainstream economic school of thought which says that markets are inherently self-correcting and function best when left unregulated.

Epstein is a co-founder of SAFER, the Economists' Committee for Stable, Accountable, Fair, and Efficient Financial Reform.

HT to Paul Marion of for posting this event yesterday, which was what got it onto my calendar.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

MIT in the Lower Highlands, 28 OCT

From the Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group:

Please join us for a meeting with graduate students from the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning for residents, business owners, and concerned citizens interested in the future of the Lower Highlands neighborhood. The meeting will take place on: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 7:00 PM, Lowell Boys and Girls Club, 657 Middlesex Street. For more information about this meeting, please see the attached flyer or check out our website. Refreshments will be provided. This event is sponsored by the City of Lowell’s Division of Planning and Development. If you have questions about this meeting, please contact George Proakis at 978-446-7200 or

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

School Committee Forum at LHS

Jen Myers' summary in today's Lowell Sun gives a nice rundown of last night's Citywide Parent Council-sponsored event at Little Auditorium at Lowell High School. Richard Howe served as moderator, while two leaders from the CPC posed questions to the candidates.

The "red flag" rebuttal system mentioned in the article was modeled on the NFL system whereby coaches can challenge referees' calls by throwing red flags on the field. For each of the rounds in which candidates were randomly selected to answer individual questions, each member of the panel was given two red flags. A red flag could be thrown any time a candidate wished to respond to, or challenge, another candidate's answer. If multiple flags were thrown during or just following a candidate's answer, the flag-throwers were prompted to speak in the order in which they threw their flags. As in football, where a play can no longer be challenged once the ball for the next play is snapped, the window of opportunity for flag-throwing ended once the next question was asked.

Red flags could also be used for a 'response-to-the-response' -- Alison Laraba used this to clarify her remarks about whether professional, outside negotiators could be used in contract negotiations, for instance.

The red flag system seemed like a great way to provide real debate and challenge, as opposed to a blander question-response-move on type of format. The two-flag-per-person-per-round limit, coupled with the strict adherence to time allowances for responses, kept everything moving crisply.

As for the substance, candidates were uniformly passionate about the criticality of the current budget environment on the schools and their students, all were very supportive of the Superintendent (although Ms. Faticanti made a couple references to Scott's initially-high 'learning curve,' and Mr. Leahy acknowledged having not been supportive at first, though changing opinion later).

Faticanti also drew the question about bullying rules across the district, and stated in her response that some principals don't see safety as "a big deal." In reference to the food service budget, she mentioned that we don't seek to make money "when we feed kids" and that a budgeting tweak whereby insurance costs for that program could be rolled into the general budget would change the perception of the food service program as being a budgetary drain.

Several candidates mentioned the need to partner with UML, Middlesex, and various community non-profit groups to address certain shortfalls. Several also praised Lowell as an exemplary urban district, noting recent test score gains and also noting the cultural and linguistic diversity experienced by a Lowell public school student as a major intangible benefit of the system.

I noticed during the introductions that Jim Leary and Alison Laraba referred to themselves as "blow-ins," despite all their years of living here and various forms of service to the city during that time. That does make Mr. Leary (and potentially Mrs. Laraba) rare among our elected leadership, but my constructive advice (in the off chance they might be listening) is this -- there's no need to repeat pejorative epithets that most people might not be all that concerned with in any case. As a fellow person who-didn't-draw-his-first-breaths-along-the-banks-of-the-Merrimack (I refuse to use the 'b-word') I'm still of the belief that the extreme self-consciousness about that is the near-exclusive province of the non-natives themselves.

In other words, you don't have to start dropping the 'r' from the middle of words, or make things up about yourself, but you also don't need to be apologetic, or defiant, or even emphatic, about something like that.