Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Market Street Market -- Real Value Added

One of the highlights of Monday night's Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting (held at Athenian, by the way, which was a great venue) was hearing from Janette and Robert Nason, who are about to open the Market Street Market at 95 Market Street by the first of March.

Like you, I'm *rooting* for this or any other business that opens in downtown, and especially for one that's opening across the street from my lovely abode.

But rooting sometimes only goes so far. If someone downtown is opening something I can already *get* somewhere else -- a hair or nail salon, an Irish-themed bar, or a convenience store that sells what's already at CVS for a markup, I would still wish them the best, but in the end I'd really just be wishing.

So here's why I'm excited about Market Street Market -- the *big idea* they're putting forward is something a little bit different from anything else in the immediate vicinity. It's essentially a food-focused market -- bread, fruits, vegetables, meals-to-go, etc. that offers you the convenience of being right near Canal Place, the Roy Garage, Merrimack Street, Central Street, etc. In other words, it's a great spot to go in and grab something to nosh on or quickly prepare, but it's offering you *actual* food, unlike the convenience store on the other side of Market Street. Its shelves will be primarily filled with food and drink (and, I'm told, the chance to pick up a rare print copy of the New York Times)...but the fact that it'll be filled with enough stuff for me to stock my fridge and shelves separates it from, say, C'est. Sandwiches and coffee/tea bring a little bit of overlap with Olive That and Brew'd Awakening, but at the end of the day, I would stress the word overlap -- Market Street Market isn't trying to be a sandwich shop or a coffee bar. Besides, extra foot traffic in the area might be a boon for either of those places, anyway.

I can still remember the very first conversation I ever had in Lowell with the very first person I ever met in Lowell (Brandon Clark, two summers ago). Among the many topics that came up, and which ultimately helped inspire me to move here, one of the definite needs he expressed was that for some type of downtown grocery store (at the time, we were at Brew'd and he had some kind of a Let's-Get-Trader-Joe's-type of petition).

While we're still talking needs (and to square the circle from Monday's meeting, where the perennial 'how can we bring the college kids downtown?' question came up), I think downtown is still hurting for entertainment. Personally, I'd love to see a comedy club (and Kad Barma, thanks for mentioning the comedy at the Brew on Saturday night, I'm there with the family) but I'm sure there are other creative ways that the under-21 crowd could find a way to have fun.

As for Bad Dawgs, it's definitely sad to see the loss. I always appreciated their weekend hours, which I know have come in handy more than once after everything else was closed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dunkin Dutton...All Day Long

I'm sure you've seen that the new Dunkin Donuts sitting right on the Pawtucket Canal (in the brick building) is now officially open for business. What you might not have known, however, (and what I didn't see until yesterday when I went there) is that it's 24/7 with a drive-through.


I know, somewhere some economist must be scratching his head wondering why Dunkin's penetration of the New England market has broken every axiom about franchise saturation.

At some point, it may seem like DD is just selling more snow to eskimos, but the fact that this one's got a 24/7 drive-through provides (in my eyes at least) unique value.

Currently, if you're starting your day at oh-dark-thirty either downtown or over by Mt. Vernon and Bowers, you're looking at 290 Central as your best bet for a quick caffeine injection and some quick chow before getting on the road. However, as wonderful as the convenience of 24/7 Dunkin is, that requires actually stopping and getting out of your car, not to mention moving out of your way and having to double back to the Connector.

Now, there's a way to get the food and the caffeinated goodness at any strange hour, without having to leave the car or be more than two quick right turns from the Highway. Plus, the new location might help spark some improvement in an area of town that could use a little bit of refurbishment.

I've gotta say I'm a fan.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happiness and the Joneses..

I know we've all heard many times about how "happiness" to many Americans -- and many others -- means keeping up with the proverbial Joneses -- the neighbors with the nicer lawn, the bigger garage, the finer-resolution television, etc.

This has actually been borne out in study after study. What makes people happy, materially at least, is not what they have in some absolute sense but what they have relative to those around them. So to quickly and glibly summarize a lot of that research, you'd be happier if I gave you $10,000 and nothing to your neighbors than you would if I gave you $20,000 but also gave that same sum to everyone on your block [As crazy as that sounds, poke around a bit and see how many times that type of thing has been replicated].

It makes no sense, I know, but as author Dan Ariely has pointed out time and again in a book (and blog) by this name, we're all Predictably Irrational.

It shouldn't be that strange, then, that I sometimes catch myself being, well, quite irrational about how I correlate my happiness and the length of my workday. To wit: What bothers me about spending 12-16 hour-days stacked end-on-end is not necessarily the fact in and of itself, but the fact that it happens while I'm surrounded by so many people with so very little on their plate.

See my point? If I were working on group projects that really meant weeks full of 16-hour days, it might not be so bad. In fact, given the right creative environment, it might even be a lot of fun -- just ask anyone who has put in the long pay (often for low wages) at a start-up, a publication, or any other creative enterprise. There's a sense of purpose and camaraderie you get when you're bouncing ideas off of other creative minds and *suffering* through something together.

But when you get the sense that you're constantly busting your tail amidst a sea (or a shore!) of people whose biggest daily conundrum is whether to get Chinese food or Subway at lunchtime, it can start to grate. Now, don't get me wrong -- I realize this is totally irrational, because my happiness shouldn't really be affected by what anyone else does (assuming it bears no direct impact on me). Whether everyone else in the building jumped into their cars at 3 p.m., 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. shouldn't *really* affect me one way or the other.

But, I must confess, sometimes it does. There are many aspects of my job that I like, and even some that I would say I love, but working on a somewhat disjointed staff that's partly manned by others' "extras" has its drawbacks -- much like anything else.

So what's the lesson to learn here? Whining about it on my blog might be somewhat therapeutic, but it doesn't really fix the problem.

I think the answer is that when you recognize things about yourself -- what makes you happy, what gets you down, etc. -- you need to find ways to control your environment in your favor when possible rather than trying to *fix* the way you feel. For me, that just means making sure I find the right job where I can work in a small team, fill some sort of niche, add value, and be recognized for it.

In other words, not too large, not too bureacratic, and not an easy spot for the lazy to "hide."

That sounds about right.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Don't Care...

Today America swore in its 44th Commander-in-Chief (actually, its 43rd, which you might've annoyingly pointed out to someone today if you paid attention in History class when they covered those late-19th century Presidents that all seemed to wind up in relative obscurity).

But anyway, it's hard to say what this change will mean for the proverbial boots on the ground. In the short term, though, that answer is clear -- nothing. As for long-term commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and the Balkans, however, that all remains to be seen.

One major military policy change that's likely to come about during this Presidency, however, is the repeal of the 15 year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy implemented soon after President Clinton took office.

When this happens (and I say when, not if, based on statements that have come directly from high-level Obama staffers), you will hear lots of vocal, strident cries from small groups of die-hards who will threaten not to re-enlist, or to resign their commissions, or to working towards Obama's defeat in 2012, or whatever other thing they'll vow to do in their moment of righteous anger.

Well, if you're curious, here's the reaction of one servicemember with another couple decades, a few promotions, and several deployments left in the tank -- I really don't care whether someone who wants to serve is straight, gay, or lesbian.

First of all, anyone who doesn't already know that there are plenty of homosexual service members already in uniform either isn't in the military or isn't paying attention. Based on my experience so far -- at OCS, advanced training, at Little Creek, in Groton, and a few times the world over in between, for the most part, no one really seems too hung up about it (that's only my first-hand observation, though...I know the many who've been dishonorably discharged might feel very differently).

Second of all, assuming other already-established codes within the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) are respected, the presence of homosexuals in the ranks doesn't really *threaten* good order and discipline any more than the threat of heterosexuality already does. Trust me, I could tell you enough love triangle stories about deployments (both observed and heard second-hand) to bore you. So I won't.

When I think personally about the challenges I'm going to face in the next few years, I will admit that sometimes I worry about things:

I worry about how I'm going to perform in Land Navigation (let's just say I came in dead last during the last major land nav evolution I did, and wouldn't have even made it that far if the bus hadn't swung around to the other side of Fort Story).

I worry about swimming (I was once so far behind on an open-ocean swim that after just deciding to say 'screw it' and run in the hard sand I still finished behind a few of the swim-only folks).

I worry about tons of other things. I worry about tactical performance, I worry about lingo (how many times can you call the 'latrine' the 'head' and get away with it?), I worry about regulations, leadership styles, and which shoulder to wear which patch on the ACUs. I worry about whether I'll be able to keep my feet and legs together after hurtling toward the ground from a perfectly good C-130.

And that's not even deployment.

Overseas, a host of other concerns might pop up -- urban rioting, what pieces of trash and dead animals in the road might conceal, and about whether standing in one spot for too long might allow someone to draw a bead. That's on top of trying to get the Dari verb endings straight and remembering not to expose the soles of my boots when sitting in a meeting with my legs crossed.

And all of those worries come without even mentioning the worries about the people who really matter, including one person in particular who might be spending a lot of time, well, worrying.

Nowhere on that list of worries is a concern about whether anyone in my platoon, company, battalion, or brigade might be gay or lesbian.

That just doesn't factor in there for me.

I just don't care. To me, whether you're gay or straight says about as much for your job performance as whether you're rooting for the Cardinals or the Steelers in the Super Bowl -- in other words, nothing.

When the ban finally does get lifted, I might take a second to stop and recognize how a historical wrong has been corrected, and how difficult things must have been for those who've been dishonorably discharged for an identity that I don't believe they chose.

But then it's back to work. There's too much else on my plate.

Dispatch from Ramadi, Part I

A friend of mine is currently deployed in Ramadi, Iraq with 6th Marines. This is his second one-year tour with the regiment, with one "dwell time" year sandwiched in the middle. Just prior to his first one-year tour with the regiment, he did a seventh-month stint as an embedded advisor in an Iraqi Army unit in Ramadi (prior to the tribal awakening). In other words, this guy will have spent more than twice as much time from 2006-09 in Iraq than he will have spent in the U.S.

As I receive updates that start to answer the burning question of "What's really going on over there?" I will post them here. Of course, there isn't any one answer to that question -- no big picture, just lots and lots of little ones that would change greatly based on who you talked to, and where they were.

One thing to mention before you jump in -- Al Fajr is Arabic for "The Dawn" and it refers to the combat operations that took place in Fallujah in November 2004.

Kinetic activity in Al Anbar has slowed down quiet a bit from even the end of 2007. The biggest threat to us right now are bored Marines that are getting creatively stupid. The Marines coming in that thought we were going right back into Al Fajr are disappointed they missed out on the 'fun,' and the guys coming back for their 3rd or 4th are looking forward to hitting the gym or just earning that combat pay.

The elections are big news, and despite the Obamafest all over the cable news, it seems like the Iraqis don't really care about it. The Iraqis have their own election to worry about, and they are looking forward to getting on with their lives. There is a spirited debate regarding the candidates. Despite being a very young and inexperienced democracy, the Iraqis seem to be embracing the ideals whole heartedly. The old maxim was that in Iraq, politics = violence, but you don't see a lot of that these days. There are more campaign posters on the walls than bullet holes, and those bullet holes are being patched as well. Surprisingly, there has been little defacing of political posters despite the strong opinions about some of the candidates, even Aifan's posters.

I like the campaign posters around here. They look better than the ones we see stateside because they are simplistic, and sometimes fit right into our preconceived notions. Take for example, the poster for Aifan Sadun Aifan. Aifan was one of our first and best allies in the Falluljah region. He tries to live up to his image as a warrior by going everywhere wearing his kneepads and combat boots, even when he's wearing a suit. On his campaign poster, I swear I saw him wearing ESS ballistic eyewear, and a better pair than what I was issued. It was only a picture from the chest up, but I'm sure he had his kneepads and combat boots on at that time. Did I mention he has better hair than John Edwards? Greased back like the cool kids at school, not layered and feathered like a televangelists'.

I must sign off for now. I still have a few things to review before my shift ends, and I'm enjoying the election commentary.

Captain Scott Wise

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Neat Obama *Artifact*

Here's a story the Boston Globe ran back in 1990 about Barack Obama, a 2L who had just been elected President of the Harvard Law Review:

There's no biographical or other information in here that you're probably not already familiar with if you've been following the campaign, but it's neat to be able to get a snapshot like this of someone who already seemed destined to do big things from a relatively young age.

Items like this are a reminder of how the Internet creates a running historical log of events that anyone can quickly access -- it's easy to forget, but even within the lifetime of anyone reading this, there was certainly a time where a *reprint* like this would've had to be picked up in a hard-copy daily edition of a newspaper, which anyone could have reasonably missed had they been otherwise tied-up that day.

That is, unless they knew what they were looking for, and felt like searching via microfiche at the local library.

I guess the next step in the evolution here is that when those who came of age entirely in the Facebook/MySpace era become the Masters of the Universe. Just think, someday viewers all the world over will be able to see images of the Secretary of State stumbling to victory in the Beer Pong championships at his alma mater, no doubt captured for posterity. Or maybe a Fortune 500 CEO holding a Senator's head over the toilet in their Eating Club's bathroom.

My prediction for when that happens? We'll just redefine normalcy and we won't bat an eye when we see people's coming-of-age years captured on photo or video (within a flexible standard of 'reasonableness,' that is).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bernie Lynch on Comms

I just got back from four hours in the car following the funeral / wake in Paramus / Ridgewood, NJ...right away, I threw my feet up on the coffee table, sprawled out on the coach, and starting flipping channels.

Stopping for a moment at Channel 10, there was Bernie Lynch reminding the Lowell City Council that "communication works in both directions."

I loved it. I loved it because one of the most frustrating little things that happened all the time during my travels overseas came when brother Marine/Army units would complain (about us) that, "Those f---ing guys never tell us anything."

That never ceased to amaze me. And every single time it happened, I had the same answer back -- to them, to my own guys, and to anyone else who would listen: "Comms are a two-way street."

In response to the original statement, I always wondered:

Would that be a reference to the S2/S3 powwow every night where all the players on base met and laid out everything going on in solid detail?

Would that be a reference to the fact that representatives from those units were in our Tactical Operations Center (TOC) on a daily and nightly basis to talk shop?

Was that said in light of the fact that the Regiment owned all the battlespace in the Area of Operations (AO) and had to approve every single outside-the-wire maneuver?

But best of all, would the speaker be referring to the ZERO times he had attempted to phone or e-mail over and just...ask?

That's why I loved it when Mr. Lynch made his point, and when Councilor Broderick even threw the "two-way street" phrase itself into the discussion.

I'm sure Councilors Lenzi and Kazanjian had reasons to be frustrated. I'm obviously not privy to their phone and e-mail communications, so I have no idea how often they do or don't reach out to Mr. Lynch on the arena or other major issues.

But without getting into the weeds on specifics, you have to love his point as a general piece of wisdom -- the next time you feel frustrated because someone didn't tell you something, stop for a second and make sure that you made the effort to ask.

The Power of Blogs, Part I

I just learned that on Saturday, Chris earned the honor of becoming the first of our group of high school friends ("The Barnes and Noble Boys") to became a parent:

Of course, huge congratulations are in order for Chris and his wife Elisa, who just went through several days of ups-and-downs before giving birth to twin boys yesterday afternoon.

Besides pointing out the interesting fact that dad and mom bare an uncanny resemblance to one another, or the fact that they spent their wedding night on the first floor of my Market Street condo after taking in a futbol match in Foxboro, one of the neatest things about all this milestone is the way they put the news out to friends and family.

No strangers to the blogosphere, they decided to use the blog linked above as their *official* way of keeping friends and family in the loop.

Here are three neat advantages it holds over other forms of dissemination:

(1) It's horizontal. By blasting info out in a blog format, as opposed to personally reaching out to friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. on an individual, ad hoc basis, you can tell everyone at once. No one then has the ability to feel that they're out of the loop, always the last to know, or anything like it. The writer(s) don't have to worry about who they did or didn't leave out...the information is available to all who want or need it, and it's all there at once.

(2) It's non-intrusive. Most of the above paragraph would apply just as well for mass e-mails, with the one exception of the chance that someone might get left off the list. However, people tend to express a strong aversion to mass e-mails. Personally, I've never understood the aversion -- if I don't want to read a mass e-mail about how someone "found himself" while building orphanages in Tahiti (and often, I don't), it only takes me two seconds to delete it. Besides, if I'm really tired of hearing from my third cousin's college roommate's golf buddy, I can just ask him to take me off his list. Still, the beauty of the blog is that you have to come to it on your own...if you don't want to read it, don't like it, you can just stop visiting. And if you go away for a week or two, you can just jump right back in because there's a running log being kept.

(3) It provides a forum. Even if you apply Reason #1 to mass e-mails, and #2 is moot because you don't mind them, there's still one distinct advantage that a blog provides: the posts and the comments provide an instant forum for your *group*, be it friends and family, your neighbors, your co-workers, and your ideological soulmates or sparring partners (or in my case, all of the above). Somehow it's much easier for many people to check something passively (i.e. a blog) than it is to actively e-mail or never ceases to amaze me when I bump into someone or hear from someone I hadn't spoken with directly in many months and then hear in-depth commentary about the posts here. The forum effect also works well for friends-of-friends-type linkages, too: I could literally go for years without talking directly with Chris' parents, but his blog gives me a chance to virtually speak with them via comments to posts.

Two other points worth mentioning are: First, that the blog can be *secured* if female friend of mine is a blogger who started getting some bizarre comments from an unknown poster, and was able to solve the problem by putting password on the blog which she sent out only to the friends and family she wanted to have the access. The second point to add is that blogs are a good way around firewalls that block commercial e-mail systems from many workplaces but somehow (for the time being, at least, allow blogspot to be accessed).

I know I'll return this topic eventually because there's plenty more to say. For now, though, I'll let this stand as Part I of "The Power of Blogs."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bill Murphy, Jr. -- In a Time of War

I was looking for something else when I popped into the Barnes and Noble on Merrimack Street last week, but on my way out, five minutes to closing, I noticed a stack of hardcovers on the discount table near the door with a picture of some young folks with short haircuts and garrison caps on the cover.

Curious, I took a closer look and noticed that the book, In a Time of War, by Bill Murphy, Jr. ($4.99 or $5.99, I can't remember but I think there are still copies available), was a profile of the West Point Class of 2002 -- their time at the Academy, their training as second lieutenants, and, of course, their repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Naturally, I couldn't say no -- I had read about this class in David Lipsky's Absolutely American, I have a borderline obsession with all things GWOT, and I felt a little bit of a connection because the book's subjects were, by and large, born in the same year I was.

Anyway, back to the book -- it is amazing and I strongly recommend you read it. For a while, I've been clamoring for more Iraq books that *just* tell the stories of the soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors (yes, I said sailors -- there are 10,000 more of them in Iraq than you might think, doing all kinds of jobs on land!) There was an initial glut of invasion books by embedded reporters, there were a few "I am awesome"-style memoirs written by Captains who got out after five years and a confirmed kill or two, and there are plenty of "George Bush sucks and everything is going down the drain" books to have come out recently.

However, there are comparatively few books that chronicle the lives of the people involved in a relatively neutral, non-judgemental way.

And that's why I love Bill Murphy's book so much. It will definitely make you think, probably make you laugh, and possibly make you cry when you read about the human tragedies involved for the young widows, orphans, and grieving parents that you get to know throughout the course of the book's 25 chapters.

The stories of the soldiers' lives are well-woven together from the training to the deployments, and Murphy (a disciple of Bob Woodward, with whom he sort of co-wrote 'State of Denial') is good at painting the picture without editorializing too much. And you can't argue that no matter what you think of war, it is in all cases a terrible tragedy for the human lives it leaves in its wake -- military and civilian.

Also, speaking of GWOT, thanks to Shannon for sending the link below about the way the girls who were victimized by the battery acid attack in Afghanistan are responding. Definitely a strong piece here by Dexter Filkins (The Forever War and countless NY Times articles) and a good reminder of what's at stake in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Violating the Public's Trust

A 40-year-old former Lowell man who worked as an intelligence analyst for
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is under felony indictment after prosecutors
say he used his security clearances to harass his ex-girlfriend and falsely tie
her to drug investigations...

...Prosecutors say Hoffman worked for the Massachusetts National Guard, and was assigned as an analyst with the DEA's New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, which is based in Worcester. The job gave Hoffman access to several computer databases, including Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicle information. Prosecutors say Hoffman used that job to obtain personal information about his ex-girlfriend, including telephone numbers and her driver's license photograph, and then used that information to send e-mails to her son.
Those e-mails disparaged the ex-girlfriend, and Hoffman made it appear they originated from her current boyfriend, prosecutors said.

Pretty creepy stuff, for sure. This caught my eye this morning as a good reminder that violations of the public trust aren't limited to *just* elected officials. I know I've spilled plenty of virtual ink on these pages to talk about the Rod Blagoyeviches, the Duke Cunninghams, the Mark Foleys, etc. -- those who would abuse power in an instant and feel that the laws only apply to other people.

Anyone who draws a twice-monthly paycheck from Uncle Sam is just as accountable to the taxpayers who keep his plate and his cup full every day.

It's easy to fall under the trap of thinking that politics is *just* dirty, period, while someone who works, say, for a government agency Monday to Friday and with the Mass. Natty Guard on the weekends must be doing something noble and wonderful for the state.

But stories like this remind us that it ain't necessarily the case. Public officials, especially those with the type of access to information that this man held, would be wise to heed the words offered in Luke, Chapter 12, Verse 48: "...For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."

The military uses a very simple but descriptive epithet to label someone who happily draws a government-sponsored paycheck but will do virtually no more to earn it -- turd. For the cases where someone actively uses that position for nefarious personal ends, I think even harsher words might apply.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Saying Goodbye to the Plain Street CVS..

Sadly, an era ended last week, with the closing of the Plain Street CVS. While Old Man Winter ravaged our land on Saturday, dirges were sang and remembrances offered to a store that once was, though no longer is.

After the appropriate respects were paid to the Target Corporation and a homily was offered in the hopes that the VFW might come full circle and strike a deal that would bring discount shampoo and prescription drugs to the huddled masses in the Highlands, toasts were offered to the good times that had passed, and to the great tidings that the 24/7 store on Bridge Street will certainly continue to yield, in addition to the heightened prospects for the outpost on Chelmsford Street.

Store 1032 will live on in spirit, and trips to Blockbuster will remind us of days past. With the ceremonial eating of the cake pictured here on this page, one unspeakable thought weighed heavily on all present -- there was still a 24/7 Walgreen's just down the road.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Same Old Story, Hold the Snickers

For the past five years or so, this story seems to KEEP popping up, always with slightly different variations on the same theme -- an attractive female teacher seduces a male student in his early- or mid-teens, a big to-do is made of the story, and everyone from the local wisecracker at the fire house, to the late night comedians, even to the involved police officers themselves -- cracks the same jokes, which usually sound something like this:

"Where were these teachers when I was a kid?"

"Can I go back to school? I'd let her give me detention!"

"If that was my kid, I'd yell at him in front of the wife (or others), but in private I'd be like, 'Yo! That's my boy!'"

It's no surprise, but South Park already did a great parody episode of these relationships and the way they're treated in the media / public discourse.

In this case, the alleged offender was a twenty-something blonde teaching on the South Shore. The involved male student was but 13 at the time the relationship started.

And all this comes right on the heels, of course, about the revelations concerning the coach of the Walpole High School football team, Danny Villa, the former New England Patriot who was involved in an illicit relationship with a female teenage student.

Neither case should be deemed "okay." In both cases, there was a clear abuse of power and a law which is designed to protect our minors was violated. Since I wasn't there at the genesis of either of these relationships, I have no idea how exactly it began.

But guess what?

It doesn't matter.

Some young people mature faster than others, but that's not the point. We need blanket laws that say certain behavior is unacceptable, period, because by and large they protect our kids from the Christine McCallums and Danny Villas of the world.

I hope the law sees them both in the same light.

I also hope that I would be just as upset were I the parent of the female student allegedly abused by Mr. Villa, or of the male student allegedly abused by Ms. McCallum.

I've tried to imagine the two scenarios, and I have to admit I'm not sure if I'd feel quite as angry or as violated in the latter case.

But I can assure you this -- there would be no closed-door "high fives" or "attaboys" involved. Though it may be great fodder for local (and national) stand-up routines and late-night monologues, it's still abuse, and it's not right.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sarah Palin and Unfairness

Well, Gov. Palin came out swinging this week in just about any direction possible -- Tina Fey, Katie Couric, the John McCain campaign -- no one seemed safe.

She's not entirely without a point. If you saw the media's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election as anything other than a coronation of one candidate who 80-90% of those covering it were "rooting" for, you might have a new job in store -- a professional wrestling referee, because only then could you be trusted not to notice when the Undertaker whacks someone over the head with a chair and the entire arena sees it except for you.

So yes, let's start by admitting that there was rampant bias in the way the candidates, their candidacies, and even their families were portrayed. There was also rampant bias in terms of what was "allowable" or "acceptable" speech about one candidacy versus the other (witness the fact that someone could hang a Sarah Palin effigy in their driveway and have it tacitly accepted).

Got it, now let's move on. Parody and honest but hard-hitting questions have been part of American political life for more than two centuries. Life's not fair, and acknowledging a one-way tilt in the coverage does not mean we should give Palin or McCain carte blanche to complain about every possible interview or spoof.

For instance, was anything truly unfair about asking Gov. Palin about the Bush Doctrine, the bailout plans, or what newspapers she reads? No way!

She is now claiming that things were "spliced" and arranged a certain way to cast her in a bad light, but I challenge you to watch the video below, particularly from 1:06 to the end, and be the judge yourself. Does this really sound like a person ready to lead this country?

Watch more YouTube videos on AOL Video

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Living and Letting Live

A friend of mine e-mailed me a little while ago to talk about the curious phenomenon whereby people suddenly decide they need to pick others' battles for them, without any outside prompting, much less encouragement from the supposedly "aggrieved" themselves.

The examples cited were from back in high school (remember, we just had our tenth reunion, so there was cause to reminisce) but you can imagine how it could happen anywhere -- someone thinks they see another person being teased, picked on, taken advantage of, etc. and gets charged with the righteous indignation to carry that person's flag into battle, yell and scream, make a big deal, etc. without ever asking the supposed *victim* for his or her input or feelings in the first place.

Definitely sounds like a good recipe for trouble-making, and I think you could justifiably cast aspersions on the fire-and-brimstone thrower's motivations in these types of cases.

What may seem even less obvious, though, is when this is done in reverse -- when someone decides to play the role of the Unsolicited Peacemaker.

I think you know where I'm going with this, but just to flesh it out, here's how it usually works. You know I don't really like or get along with John Doe. You know that John Doe generally feels the same way, but we sort of mutually coexist on some plane of generally unfriendly equilibrium. So, you take it upon yourself to continually poke and prod to either myself, Mr. Doe, or both of us about the situation. You may do this under the guise of wanting to be the next Ralph Bunche or Ban Ki-Moon, but I would posit, your action makes you anything but.

Unless there's a simple disagreement that you can see and understand from your third-party vantage point (and thereby solve to save the day and make everyone happy), the truly best thing you can do in these situations (or the original ones described above) is to live and let live. Follow the playground wisdom of "mind your own business" and just understand that not everyone is going to get along. When you continually remind people of it (i.e. by saying, "Well, I was going to call Sally to come out with us, but I didn't because I knew you were coming"), you're poking a stick into a hornet's nest that no one ever asked you to disturb. Yes, you may not like said person, but no one should assume you're so childish that you can't bear the thought of sitting at the same 11-person table together.

There's also a whole other angle worth mentioning here -- to vent is human. Because I trust you, I may tell you something about John Doe today that doesn't even necessarily reflect the way I *really* feel about him. If you understand that, great, but if you don't, you can certainly use that down the line to foment discord, which represents one of the lowest forms of human behavior.

Again, this may be self-evident, but if it's not, here goes -- we're all inevitably going to get upset / feel misunderstood by our bosses, co-workers, friends, spouses, neighbors, etc. It's also inevitable that when those feelings start to boil over a bit, we're going to tell someone. Any judicious listener should recognize that for what it is, and know that it's not a repudiaton of someone's entire character or being, but a much simpler, natural way of letting off steam -- a good old-fashioned vent.

For instance, I have a neighbor who has been known to make the occasional bizarre comment to me -- most recently, some analysis about my choice of elevator (our building has two), which struck me as equal parts funny/bizarre because it was clear that this person had spent a lot more time thinking about it than I had (which is to say, zero). What was an arbitrary decision for me (I park near one elevator and I live near the other, so it's really a toss-up), led to something I found to be truly weird and would quickly share with you over a laugh and a beer, but never expect it to go anywhere past that. Just because I think someone's a bit, well, kooky doesn't mean anything past that, and doesn't even cloud my overall opinion of the person, which happens to be very positive.

To wrap this entry up, I would say a decent measure of someone's character is the way he or she can process information that other people share and then handle it in a mature way that generally works towards the interest of all involved.

Many more times than not, that's going to mean NOT taking up some unsolicited cause and starting a fight under the guise of wanting to stand up for the Little Guy, and it'll mean NOT trying to gum up the works in other peoples' lives by "intervening" every time they express an innocent, in-the-moment vent or just honest-to-goodness dislike of someone else.

Hey, sometimes that happens.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Still Not Legal, Thanks Very Much..

Had to post this article because it made me think right back to the hysteria I heard about on 96.9 and then wrote about that afternoon. Apparently, some Lowell motorist may have thought the new law meant he could drive while smoking a roach.

The police still got him for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs, which seems quite fair considering that's exactly what he was doing..

Just another reminder that this proposition's passing is not going to suddenly bring an entire state to its knees as it succumbs to someone's nightmare of a Reefer Madness B movie.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bad Tidings for the Jolly Roger..

Something really interesting will happen this week, and the western media may barely take notice. When it happens, it'll mean the first truly all-hands-in-on-this combined endeavor for the 5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council since...I don't think ever. Not even Gulf War I had everybody on the team.

Well, the "it" referred to here is the arrival of two Chinese capital vessels with a support ship to engage in the counter-piracy operation going on off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen.

And here's why gangs of khat-chewing pirates who weigh 110 lbs. soaking wet may want to consider a new line of work -- not all those countries play as nicely as we do.

In other words, their concept of Rules of Engagement is foreign to us and they're operatingly independently...not within our command and control structure. To a pirate, that could mean quick death from a surface vessel or from a deployed Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB).

When it's the big ships with the U.S. flags waving, the pirates know exactly what to expect. They know they won't be suddenly obliterated as long as they stay within the rules. They can literally conduct at-sea replenishments right under the noses of American cruisers and destroyers.

You think China's going to put up with that?

Neither do I.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

...And You Can Vote However You Like

I caught a news snippet this week about how Oprah Winfrey donated $365,000 to a school in Georgia whose students came up with the video you can view below.

It's definitely witty, it's catchy, and it's well-prepared. But here's what I like most about it -- it's truly nonpartisan. The group of students singing is young, urban, and predominately African-American, so it would be easy to give it a once-over and think that it has something to do with Obama or his candidacy. But it doesn't -- at all. Judging from the lyrics (pasted below) or the video itself, it's 100% impossible to determine whether it's McCain or Obama that these kids are supporting -- though they're all nonvoters (yet), as they remind their audience in the chorus, "You can vote however you like."

Here's why that impressed me so much -- adults have a lot to learn from these kids. As anyone who watched Fox News and saw the strikingly obvious pro-McCain/anti-Obama bias, or watched CNN and saw the equally repugnant pro-Obama/anti-McCain bias, our news is miles away from being objective.

Here are the lyrics:

Obama on the left / McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night / And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah / Democratic left Republican right
November 4th we decide / And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah
(McCain supporters) McCain is the man / Fought for us in Vietnam
You know if anyone can Help our country he can / Taxes droppin low
Dont you know oils gonna flow / Drill it low
I'll show our economy will grow / I want Obama FORGET OBAMA
Stick wit McCain you gone have some drama / MORE WAR IN IRAQ
Iran he will attack / CAN'T BRING OUR TROOPS BACK
We gotta vote!

Obama on the left / McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night / And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah Democratic left Republican right
November 4th we decide / And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah McCain's the best candidate
With Palin as his running mate / They'll fight for gun rights, pro life, The conservative right Our future is bright / Better economy in site
And all the world will feel our military might

(Obama supporters) But McCain and Bush are real close right
They vote alike and keep it tight Obama's new / he's younger too
The Middle Class he will help you /
He'll bring a change, he's got the brains McCain and Bush are just the same
You are to blame, Iraq's a shame Four more years would be insane
Lower your Taxes - you know Obama Won't
PROTECT THE LOWER CLASS - You know McCain won't!
Have enough experience - you know that they don't
STOP GLOBAL WARMING - you know that you won't
I want Obama FORGET OBAMA Stick with McCain and you're going to have some drama
We need it HE'LL BRING IT He'll be it YOU'LL SEE IT
We'll do it GET TO IT Let's move it DO IT!
Obama on the left McCain on the right We can talk politics all night And you can vote however you like You can vote however you like, yeah
Democratic left Republican right November 4th we decide
And you can vote however you like, I said
You can vote however you like, yeah I'm talking big pipe lines, and low gas prices
Below $2.00 that would be nice But to do it right we gotta start today
Finding renewable ways that are here to stay I want Obama
FORGET OBAMA, Stick wit McCain you gone have some drama
We gotta vote Barack! Obama on the left McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night And you can vote however you like, I said
You can vote however you like, yeah Democratic left Republican right
November 4th we decide And you can vote however you like,
I said You can vote however you like, yeah

Watch more YouTube videos on AOL Video

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Enforcing the New Marijuana Law

The above article does a good job describing some of the law enforcement questions surrounding the new referendum decriminalizing less than one ounce of marijuana in Massachusetts.

Here's a prediction for the New Year: The sky won't fall, criminals won't run rampant, and jogging around the South Common won't put you at risk for a contact high anytime in 2009.

Plenty of other states have taken the step of decriminalizing marijuana. Die-hards on either side will cling to their own biases, but the most immediate effects anyone can point to are the lack of time spent arresting, processing, and booking marijuana defendants, and the lightened burden on the judicial system.

I spent a good portion of the afternoon yesterday listening to 96.9, and was amazed to hear how many people made dire predictions, seemingly without realizing that alcohol is already quite legal and widely available.

Just because marijuana is decriminalized does NOT mean that legions of people are going to suddenly stop working, stop parenting, stop producing, etc. and just sit around to toke. Yes, there may be some but I would counter that alcohol is proven to be far more physiologically addictive. Alcoholism is a problem, for sure, and society seems to function around it.

And your kid brother that started smoking marijuana before getting into more serious trouble? Ask him whether cigarettes or beer preceded the weed. The overwhelming majority of people who try marijuana never "progress" to cocaine or heroin, just as the overwhelming majority of people who learn to ride a bicycle never become motorcycle riders, despite the supposed "Gateway" properties of the one-speed Schwinn.

(More on motorcyles may not have known this but they've taken the lives of more Marines in the past year than Iraq, and it's not even close).

And lastly, yes, we all know about the "failure to launch" twentysomething who likes to smoke dope. For every one of those, I'll show you two basement dwellers who don't smoke, and another two successful, productive members of society who do it recreationally.

Well, by now you can probably tell which way I voted. I may not have a personal stake in the matter (Dept. of Defense urinalysis doesn't give a rip what my state said last November), but I would prefer not to see the courts clogged, the police overburdened, and young lives ruined (and by ruined, I mean blots on their record that might prevent future employment by Uncle Sam), because of a minor indiscretion that's arguably about on par with alcohol in terms of bodily harm.

And yes, it does surprise me a bit that the most vociferous opponents of the new law seem to be the Police Departments, we'll just have to see how it all plays out, but as I started the post by saying, Massachusetts isn't navigating uncharted waters here. With the sky having remained intact elsewhere, it ought to here as well.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The No Plate Special

Just over a week ago, one of my Canal Place-mates threw a small pot luck dinner for our floor. Although he and I missed each other at a few points due to some holiday weekend traveling, we finally linked up yesterday (as I interpreted his open door to be the universal 'come-on-in' gesture) and I was able to pick up two plates that we had left at his place (hey, we had to go, but the stir-fried beef and rice still seemed to be a hit).

I apologized for the time that had lapsed between the party and the pick-up, but as I was doing it, he stopped me.

"Take a look at all of this," he said, and pointed to enough dinnerware left over to start a minor kitchen outfitting store. "All of these dishes are unclaimed and unaccounted for."

As you can imagine, this creates a potentially large (and certainly undeserved) burden -- someone who organized a get-together out of his and his wife's own kind, giving spirit is now burdened with a bunch of stuff that's in the dinnerware equivalent of limbo -- he can't get rid of them (hey, someone might suddenly want them back), he can't really use them (again, he's presumably got to keep them clean and ready for pick up), and he doesn't know how to return them (none are identified by owner). In a roomy but still finite-sized condo, they'll just occupy a small piece of the real estate for the indefinite time being.

He didn't really seem to worried about it, but on his behalf, I just wanted to announce this rule that would deserve at least a line somewhere near the back if Life came equipped with such a guide:

If you're going to attend a Pot Luck dinner at someone's house, either take your dinnerware with you when you go, or make arrangements with the host to pick it up later.

Any other course of action just makes a pain in the butt for the host, which just doesn't seem right.