Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A New Year's Cheer for the Doers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail Etiquette: How NOT To Do It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Name changed to protect the guilty

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Media Bias of "Some Say"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

Leland Cheung in Today's Globe

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Hooch for the Gooch? I Doubt It..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MCAS Bias? Not Here..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And why wouldn't you?

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

5 Ws for An Evening with Sam

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Wii Little Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in the end, we balked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Ringing Phone Does Not an Emergency Make!

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

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

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

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

This all came back to me yesterday during a meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, this isn't how things always work.

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Definitely a Guy Thing

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Whither the Losers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Just In, Via Facebook

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiger, You, and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yes Virginia, There Really is a Miss Landmine

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

Three Quick Hits

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Real Garbage, Vennochi-Style

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keeping it Practical: Volunteer for a Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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