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.

Monday, October 19, 2009

LDNA / JAMBRA Candidate Event, 26 OCT

What: Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Organization and Jackson-Appleton-Middlesex Business and Resident Association co-sponsored City Council Candidate Forum
When: Monday, 26 OCT (Meet and Greet starts at 6:30 p.m., event starts 7:00 p.m.)
Where: Lowell Senior Center, 276 Broadway
Who: All incumbents and challengers have been invited
Why: Because it's interactive. You can submit questions ahead of time to info(at), ldna01852(at), or info(at)

Candidates will have two minutes to give a prepared statement and then three minutes for responses to questions. Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 16, 2009

If 'Dumbassery' Is a Chargeable Offense..

I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the Heene family (now infamous for the Balloon Boy incident) last night while waiting through a knee MRI at Lowell General (not my own, as TV watching would've been hard to pull off). The TV was on CNN, there was no clicker in sight, and the Balloon Boy story seemed to be in a continuous news loop, before its 24-hours-and-out expiration date.

Now, I must confess, I just wrapped up my work for the day and curiosity got the best of me -- I went over to YouTube and watched the Heene brothers' rap video, which was clearly written, orchestrated, and put together by an adult (the father) for pretty exploitative purposes. Besides not being able to understand 90% of what the kids were saying, all I was able to conclude is that I'm now 3.5 minutes older and maybe an IQ point or two dumber.

The big controversy now is whether the mother and father should be charged with purporting a hoax, but that's going to be difficult to prove either way. So be it.

What I wonder, though, is whether there could be some type of child endangerment charge -- after all, if the 'flying saucer' was left in the backyard in a way that left it open to the possibility of use by one of these three rambunctious boys, shouldn't someone have foreseen this possibility?

Hoax or not, it just seems hard for me to believe that the mad scientist father didn't see the possibility of this happening.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dharma Buns -- Open for Business

I just got back from Dharma Buns on Market Street. It's pretty much what you'd expect from a sandwich shop, so I wouldn't say I'm overwhelmed or underwhelmed (maybe I'm just whelmed?)

Here are three nice features, though -- they've got free Wi-Fi, they've got a great beer selection, and they've got extended hours (open from 11 to 11, except for Thursdays, when they're open until 1 a.m, and Fri/Sat, when they're open until 2 a.m.) Like too many other downtown businesses, they're closed on Sunday.

Sometimes You're the Windshield...

...And sometimes you're the bug.

Straight from AR 670-1:

Authorization to wear a shoulder sleeve insignia indicating former wartime service applies only to soldiers who are assigned to U.S. Army units that meet all the following criteria. Soldiers who were prior members of other Services that participated in operations that would otherwise meet the criteria below are not authorized to wear the SSI–FWTS. Wear is reserved for individuals who were members of U.S. Army units during the operations.

To 99% of the population, this means nothing, but the naked right sleeve on the ACU is an instant credibility hit for the wearer. I came across many different answers to this question via Google searches and looking at Internet forums, but this seems pretty durned straightforward. No one cares whether you rate a Combat Action Ribbon, how many Campaign Medals you have, whether you heard real IEDs with your own two ears, or saw mortars come in with your own two eyes, or heard AK-47s fired in anger -- if you weren't in the Army, you don't rate the patch.

Just remind me not to get too cagey when someone pats me on the head and says, "Don't worry, you'll understand once you see the elephant."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Please Bring Me Whatever Mr. Papelbon's Having!

"I have a tendency to wear my mind on my sleeve / I have a history of taking off my shirt." -Stephen Page, BNL

I heard someone describing Jonathan Papelbon's response to his outing against the Angels on Sunday by repeatedly saying how Papelbon "just sat there, motionless and speechless" for two hours -- TWO HOURS! -- after his blown save in Game 3. Of course, Mr. Papelbon had good reason to be upset -- he was up 0-2 with two outs and no one on before five straight Angels (three of whom were a strike away from sending the series to Game 4) reached base.

I couldn't tell whether the person describing the reliever's response was critical, favorable, or just neutral towards Mr. CincoOcho, but here's what I think: That's awesome. It's all too rare in the Bigs these days, but when it happens, I appreciate it.

The entire reason that college sports are often more fun to watch than the pros is that the players actually care, and you can actually see it in their faces. This is particularly so in college football, where any one loss can be devastating for a title contender.

Apparently, the professionals used to be this way before the days of free-agency and sky-high contracts. I've heard Kevin McHale make this point a few times in interviews..."We used to HATE the Pistons. We used to HATE the, everyone has the same agent, they all shake hands, they're all rich, it's different." Either way, times have changed to the point that some players can't even hustle up the court for an October or November regular-season NBA game anymore.

Where there are exceptions, however, there's fun to be had in watching certain players -- point guards who pump their fist when a teammate scores, baserunners whose uniforms always end up dirty, and yes, even quarterbacks who visibly show displeasure after dropped passes in the end zone. Not only is this type of stuff okay by me, I'd say that's what makes following a team *worth it* -- the knowledge that the people you're taking time out for care, too.

So even though I'm not a huge Major League Baseball fan (I might watch if it's the World Series, but it depends), I'll always smile when I see the picture of #58 jumping for joy with Jason Varitek in 2007 (prominently displayed in the Cafe Aiello mens' room, for instance). And if the same guy takes an equally-sized roller-coaster ride in the other direction after a loss in which he frankly blew it, I'm all for it.

As I like to say, show me a man and a woman fighting and I'll show you two people who love each other. Show me a couple that claims to have never gotten heated with one another, and I'll show you a sham.

Show me someone who rides up for the highs and down with lows of their job, and I'll show you someone I'd want to hire if I were starting a company. Show me someone who just talks about how much of an unflappable Cool Guy he is, and I'll show you someone who probably just doesn't give a rip...believe me, I've even see this Cool Guy archetype sit back and make fun of the others who actually work because they can't handle stress. (Funny how easy that is to say with your feet on the desk and coffee mug in hand, isn't it?)

Show me a pro athlete who celebrates by jumping higher and smiling wider than a Little Leaguer on his way to Williamsport, and I'll show you someone I'll make that extra effort to follow. But for a guy who never gets off the bench during a brawl, and never takes a tough loss personally, well, that just doesn't sound worth it for me.

So to return to the title, find me whatver Jonathan Papelbon puts in his Kool-Aid, and serve me a stiff one, please. Somewhere, someone in the corner may be rolling his eyes, but in my mental accounting, that person just doesn't matter.

Because I keep finding that when it's time to roll up the sleeves and get down to the hard work, I can never find that guy anyway.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Aggies and Their Time

I caught a clip on the TV news tonight at the Y about a group of Texas A & M students who have gone around making a hobby of videotaping stunt basketball shots; recently, what they're calling the "longest basketball shot ever" was performed and filmed by these guys at the stadium in College Station.

The clip below is actually not of the longest shot ever, but it's of a bunch of their highlights that were also shown tonight on the TV news. Inevitably, the anchor wrapped up the piece tonight on these guys with the dismissive, groan- and eyeroll-inducing "they must have too much time on their hands" line.

To me, the "Too Much Time" knee-jerker ranks somewhere up there with the "that guy's on a power trip" said reflexively any time anyone gets pulled over, told 'no,' or even shushed at a movie theater by another patron. If it's really a power trip, okay, but I think that line tends to get said too often with little thought or justification.

Ditto for the "too much time on their/his/her hands." What a quick and easy way to totally dismiss anything creative, interesting, or original that people come up with. The funny thing is, the shots you see in this video may not have required all that many takes, they may have all been done on vacation time, or on "billable time" if these guys were working as camp counselors when this was done. For all any of us know, these guys might all be 3.8 premeds with Biochem majors. Regardless, I'm sure you've heard someone say this about someone else's creative endeavor or hobby within your recent memory.

And in comes the double-barreled irony:

(1) First, because the speaker no doubt considers him or herself "open-minded" and "non-judgemental," but by saying that is anything but.

One of the big lies we've concocted for ourselves in modern society is that we're these extremely open-minded, non-judgemental, tolerant types. That may be the case compared to some other era, or some other society, but each of us is constantly making judgement calls about the world around us. The person who quickly dismisses someone else's artwork or form of expression as a waste of time, or instantly assumes the way someone else spends an afternoon proof of someone's having "too much time" would probably never be gauche enough to say something politically incorrect at a cocktail party, or to confuse, say, "Asian" with "Oriental." Judgement calls about groups you don't understand are totally not okay, but judgement calls about people you don't know are somehow totally within bounds. Who wrote that rule?

(2) Second, because the speaker's glibness doesn't leave room for introspection.

Perhaps the speaker spends his or her free weekend days playing golf, flying kites at the beach, or maybe at home on the couch watching the Maury Povich "You are NOT the father!" holiday marathon. As far as I'm concerned, any and all of those uses of time are quite okay...because frankly, it's none of my damned business.

The point is that we all have hobbies. Whatever yours may be -- bodybuilding, classical piano, figure skating, Bobblehead doll collecting, or professional sports watching -- I don't think I have the right to call it a "waste" or to assume that otherwise hard-working professionals or college students have "too much" of it.

Now, I'll anticipate the first-order response to a post like this -- Why can't you just let it go, the speaker is obviously just speaking tongue-in-cheek, much like someone who says "Don't quit your day job!" every time he hears a person sing?

'Not so fast,' I would say back. The problem there is someone wanting to have it both ways...having their cake and eating it too (or vice versa if that makes more sense to you). In other words, I think it's a lame defense to make reflexively snide comments, or to snipe at something someone does, and then duck back behind the "I was just KIDDING!" defense upon being called on the carpet for it.

But as the Great Ranter Dennis Miller likes to say, "...And that's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mrs. Coakley, Say It Ain't So

I want to give Martha Coakley the benefit of the doubt on this. I am hoping that somehow she was speaking in jest, or didn't really mean it, or thinks she was misquoted, or something...or anything but this. I wasn't leaning too strongly in either direction in regards to the U.S. Senate election here in Massachusetts, but if Martha Coakley *really* meant this, I know which way my vote WON'T be going (Scot Lehigh in italics, Coakley in bold).

Now wait, I interject, isn’t the real reason she’s running that, just like everyone else in this race, she’s ambitious and wants to be a US senator, and not because of concerns about the quality of leadership in Washington?

“You know, that is a male approach to this thing,’’ the attorney general replies.Men will play to fight and win. My experience is women get into causes and things they care about, that they want to make a difference.’’

As I've written many times here before, and will many times again, I cheer every time there's a significant *first* milestone in politics, professional sports coaching, business leadership, or anywhere else, for two equally important reasons: first, because in a fair society everyone should have a chance to be anything; and second, because every time there's a major *first* it means the *second* will have less to do with identity and more to do with merit.

However, one thing I'm NEVER going to buy into is the narrative line in certain circles that certain groups are inherently better than others, which is basically what it sounds like Mrs. Coakley is saying here.

HT goes, of all places, to the Sun's Column today, which was the first I had heard about this quote that I since went and looked up online.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mendonca, Berard, and Broderick -- Tonight

As recently posted by Mimi over at Left in Lowell, there are three campaign events tonight: Fundraisers for Joe Mendonca, Ryan Berard, and Kevin Broderick.

Planning to head over to Garcia Brogan's for some food and beer...hope to see you there.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why There are Rules that People Bemoan..

I was reading obits of soldiers who have recently made the ultimate sacrifice in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM when I came across this (my bold):

Army Spc. Demetrius L. Void

Demetrius Void was always focused on academics in high school: Teachers said he never shied away from asking for help and had a competitive nature.

"He kept at it until he figured out that calculus," said math teacher Sharlene Foster. But Void also always wanted to be different. He decided not to apply for college and instead chose to follow his family's tradition of military service.

"He said he was tired of school," said his uncle Keith Void. "He said he was tired of being smart." Void, 20, of Orangeburg, S.C., died Sept. 15 at Kandahar Airfield of injuries sustained when a military vehicle struck him while he was jogging. He was assigned to Fort Hood. The military has said it is investigating the hit-and-run accident.

Demetrius Void was disciplined before he joined the Army, being active in the JROTC at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.

"He greeted students at the front desk and said, 'You can't go in there until you get your pants up. ... This is an order,'" recalled Angelia Fersner, the school's guidance counselor, who called Void her "acting secretary."

Void is survived by his mother and two brothers.

A Reservist friend of mine once worked in a civilian capacity as base security lead for Habbaniyah/al Taqaddam in Iraq. He dealt with all injuries and KIA situations, including body recoveries of soldiers lost off base in IED attacks. Because of that job, he will never sleep a full night without vivid and dramatic nightmares for the rest of his life. One of the KIAs that he described to me while recalling his time there was an on-base vehicle accident, which is no less tragic than any other way to go.

You may not like the MPs, and you may be quick to draw the "power trip" card anytime they nab you for doing 31 in a 20 zone in your Toyota Hilux, but there may be a reason for it.

Dharma Buns on Thursday the 15th..

From Dharma Buns (Market Street between Brinan's and Centro):

This is no premature announcement, or an announcement of an announcement, or any other sort of speculation. This is the real deal, barring an unforeseen disaster of epic proportions. Dharma Buns Sandwich Co. is finally opening its doors to the public after seven months of extensive renovations and preparations. Our full menu, including pick-up orders, and our regular hours will be in effect, 11 AM to 1 AM. Delivery service will be available starting Monday, October 19th.

For nearly a year John Capriole, Gary Bellwood and Alex Capriole have been working on Dharma Buns. The location at 26-A Market Street was first scouted back in November of 2008. Over the next few months a complete business plan was put together from scratch, considering almost every detail and contingency you can imagine. The lease was signed in March and since then Alfred Cunsolo and his personal army of carpenters, electricians, plumbers and others have toiled away tirelessly almost every day. There have been many delays; our first proposed opening date having been set as early as late June, but we persevered. We spent our time well, agonizing over just about everything and compromising on nothing. Everything is state-of-the-art, from our massive and immaculate kitchen to our exceedingly comfortable and high tech dining room to even our fully automated rest rooms. Dharma Buns may be a start-up restaurant, but some curious people who have come through our doors have already assumed we must be an established, if obscure, national chain. Well, we might look like a chain, but we definitely won't taste like one!

Dharma Buns will radically change the way you think of a sandwich take-out restaurant. We'll be using all fresh ingredients we prepare from scratch, nothing frozen or pre-portioned from halfway across the country. We'll be grinding our own beef for the hamburgers, slicing our own rib eye for steaks, cutting our own potatoes for the Belgian fries and even making our own soup stocks. We'll use fresh, custom-made bread that will be delivered every morning from artisan bakers DeFusco & Son. We are NOT a cheap sub shop, we're a gourmet sandwich company and proud of it. Namaste, and hope to see you on the 15th!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Patrick Murphy YouTube Blitz Continues

One of the major topics I want to keep returning to here on the blog is the way that free media outlets may affect the future of American political campaigns. On that front, Patrick Murphy is definitely leading the charge here in Lowell -- click the "Play" button below to see his latest entry to YouTube.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sean P. Murphy on Corruption in Mass.

Thursday evening, Sean P. Murphy (son of late Globe columnist Jeremiah Murphy) of the Boston Globe gave a great slideshow and lecture about corruption in Massachusetts politics at Pollard.

He was introduced first by Beth Brassel, and then by Joe Quinlan, who had worked with Murphy as a cub reporter two decades ago "back when journalism used to be fun."

I wound up leaving the roughly 90-minute presentation with three pages of hand-scribbled notes, which I had originally planned to type out here in summary fashion. However, since most of the stories are already public record (he went all the way back to John Thompson and William Callahan up to James Marzilli and Sal DeMasi), I decided against a big exercise in note transcription.

Instead, there are two major takeaways I got from Mr. Murphy's speech:

(1) While the death of shoe-leather journalism may not be worth wailing dirges about, it will leave an important void, at least at first.

First, I want to mention that this recent post on addresses the issue of media survival in the post-paper and ink era, and I know there's going to be more good back-and-forth on the topic on that site and others. Dick has linked to excellent local sites like chelmsfordmassnews and others that may be harbingers of where our *local paper* is headed.

Without question, there are plenty of modern instances whereby public corruption or malfeasance was uncovered via blogs or for-profit Internet news sites. For-profit Internet news sites may someday become everything that print newspapers ever were, and much more, because they can be interactive, ubiquitous, and lightning-quick.

However, we're not there yet. As the business model of on-line news is figured out over time, there will be a loss felt in the absence of long-standing organizations like the Globe, that can bring resources to bear in order to expose things like the Library Trustee pension scandal that affected Lynn and Malden, or the awarding of do-nothing six-figure jobs by the State that has been uncovered thanks to the efforts of journalists.

Blogs are great when they provide incisive commentary and serve as virtual community bulletin boards; at their worst, they're a lot of yelling and screaming without grounding in facts or willingness to listen to another side, which I have no more patience for in cyberspace than I do in *real* space. Either way, though, even most of the best blogs are written by amateur hobbyists, and they're not accountable for what they publish in the same sense that deep-pocketed, for-profit newspapers are. Besides, bloggers with 9-to-5 jobs can't sit outside a Stop & Shop at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday to take photos of a Romney appointee running errands on company time.

Again, though, I'm totally willing to stay open-minded, and to admit that entirely online media may soon step up and fill this gap. I asked Mr. Murphy about this issue during the Q & A session and thought his answer was pretty balanced for someone who has earned a living in the old-school of journalism...his response was essentially that yes, the handwriting is on the wall; no, we don't know exactly what it'll mean; yes, there are advantages and disadvantages to the different formats; and no, online media isn't replacing the in-the-flesh, shoe-leather style of journalism that has helped expose state corruption for so many years.

(2) Single-party dominance does a huge disservice to the state.

Mr. Murphy did not state this outright in his speech (and yes, he called out corruption on both the 'D' and the 'R' sides of the aisle), but I asked him about his afterwards and he concurred that the lack of genuine partisan opposition lends itself to a lot of the cronyism, favoritism, and outright graft that has gone on for so many years. I know that sounds so obvious as to hardly merit mention, but it still made an impression on me when he talked about the extreme power that the House Speaker and Senate President have -- when there's no real party turnover in the legislature, that power seems to be multiplied infinitely, with no one there to put the brakes on.

The Invention Of...Huh?

I just got back from The Invention of Lying. As I'm far from being a movie critic, or even a real movie buff, I use one simple litmus test to see whether I enjoy something, esp. when I'm captive inside a theater:

Did I 'lose' myself in the story, the action, or the comedy, or did I keep looking at my watch and looking forward to the rolling of the credits?

In this case, it was definitely the latter. Of course, there's the novelty effect of seeing your city and your neighborhood, including a bar across the street from your home, thrown up on the big screen. But even that didn't sustain me through this one.

What I thought was going to be a witty, fast-paced comedy based on an interesting and original idea (a world where no one had any concept of a 'lie' or what it would mean to tell one, until one man discovered otherwise), ended up taking a total left turn into a big spoof on religion, with a predictable loser-gets-the-girl love story thrown in for good measure.

Just to be clear, I don't necessarily mind the religious parody in and of fact, TV shows like Family Guy and South Park take frequent pot shots at my Sunday morning hangout on a regular basis, and I tend to laugh -- because those shows are witty and original.

This, however, was neither. I came in pretty excited, and I walked out pretty disappointed.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

...And Now For Something Truly Practical

I'm no fan of most high school or college commencement speeches.

At best, they can just be very saccharine, cliche-ridden, and virtually useless for their audience. "Following your dream," is not only undefined and hard to translate into a fridge full of food, it seems so intuitive as to not merit a mention (Oh really? I was thinking about following the nightmare where I keep getting smaller and the wrecking ball flies towards me...thanks for setting me straight!)

Even worse, commencement speeches can be kind of smarmy and skewed, given the types of people usually asked to give them. "Trust me, it all works out in the end," or "Everything in your life will make perfect sense in the retrospect of your rearview mirror," works great if you're standing up there as the Secretary of State or as an Internet gazillionaire, but it rings sort of hollow in a broader sense, given the statistical certainty that even most graduates of elite colleges and business schools will end up toiling away in some sort of compromise world that doesn't involve Super Bowl championships and Fortune covers.

All that said, I get asked for advice sometimes from friends who are thinking about military careers, or lateral transfers (i.e. changing their job to something more interesting) within the military.

Once we're willing to get past trying your best, playing each down like it's your last, thinking of the team first, etc., here's the single-best, most practical advice I could possibly give any of them: Learn a boutique language.

I'm not sure if that's a proper term, but if you want to make your resume jump off the page for something in the security realm, your past performance may not be enough. There are tons of people out there with stellar academic and work backgrounds; to an employer, many just blend together.

That said, there are VERY, VERY (did I mention very?) few people in the Defense Department or State Department who: a) hold the highest, most-sensitive clearances; and b) speak key languages like Somali, Indonesian, Hausa, Farsi, Dari, Pashtu, Urdu, etc.

To someone willing to take the advice, I would add that you don't have to necessarily scale Everest here to succeed. Remember that old joke about the two friends who go camping and get chased by a bear? Some variant of the joke involves the more bookish one busting out a calculator and figuring out the speed he'd need to run over the right distance to safely make it back to civilization. Meanwhile, the "street-smart" friend just yells, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun YOU!" and takes off to safety.

If you're willing to invest the time to learn some Javanese, or Amharic, or whatever the case may be, you don't have to outrun the bear. You just have to *outrun* the hordes of other job- or billet-seekers who wouldn't take the time to do it. In other words, a 500-word vocabulary in Somali is enough to get onto a resume, and a 5000-word vocabulary is enough to actually place on the Defense Language Placement Test. The only thing between here and there is some time and diligence. Mastery is not required -- we're not talking about Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours here.

With 20 minutes a day on the BBC site reading translated articles, and nothing but a single grammar and an English-[Insert Language] dictionary, you could gain a basic proficiency after a couple months of steady review.

For anyone still willing to listen, I'd emphasize that you don't have to go out and find the hardest thing possible, like Chinese or Arabic. There are already tons of Chinese and Arabic speakers in the United States, so from a Return on Investment perspective, you'd need to put in a heckuva lot more hours in your library carrel to actually stand out for having the skill. It's just a matter of supply and demand. See what's hot, burn some midnight oil, and you will have a practical skill that will break you out from many of your peers.

This is all especially true if you don't have a hard science background. My employment situation is sort of complicated right now (the Guard is keeping me busy enough to get by, and I'll augment with substitute teaching, but that's not sustainable indefinitely), but I was sort of rudely awakened by some initial resume- and cover letter-sending forays when I realized that not having a Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering background really limited my overall range of immediate options.

The ONE thing that did get me some direct contacts from my Monster posting, however, was my background in Indonesian. Because I'm not willing to relocate, it didn't translate directly into a job, but it really showed me that any ability you might have in a sort of off-the-beaten-path language can go a long way in terms of your employability.

Besides that immediate practicality, any unique skill set is going to stand out to ANY employer or graduate school, regardless of its applicability thereto.

And on top of that, it's just kind of cool.

After all, how many Punjabi linguists do you know...really? If you don't know any, you're proving my point -- my advice is to get on Amazon, order a couple books, find some good websites, and become one.

And I hope that serves you and your bank account better than empty platitudes about exploring passions or breaking down barriers.

Or, if it's not too late, switch to a double major in Applied Math and Comp Sci.