Monday, March 29, 2010

Operation Rising Water

The oldest complaint of any Soldier, from time immemorial is "this isn't what I signed up for." That cuts across cultures, eras, time zones, duties, and ranks. The one place where you'll never hear that, however, is from a State National Guardsman responding to a domestic emergency -- for many, that's the whole point of joining, and it's a legitimate reason to prefer Guard service over the Reserves or even the active duty component. The italicized portion below is a cut-and-paste job concerning Operation Rising Water.

 Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick placed the Massachusetts National Guard on alert yesterday (Sunday, March 29, 2010) to prepare for the potential flood that may result from the predicted rain storm expected over the next three days.

 The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency requested the assistance of the Massachusetts National Guard in filling and transporting sandbags.

 MANG Soldiers worked throughout the night delivering 1,200 pre-filled emergency sandbags from Camp Edwards to Littleton and filling an additional 2,000 sandbags at the State Highway Department in Lexington.

 The Massachusetts National Guard will coordinate the movement of filled sand bags from Lexington to areas of need determined by MEMA.

 The immediate tasks the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency gave to the MA National Guard have been successfully completed and the National Guard continues to fill, load and haul sand bags from Camp Edwards on Cape Cod to Lexington and Littleton. The MA National Guard will continue to be available if the need arises.

 The MA National Guard consists of dedicated citizen Soldiers and Airmen that are ready to answer the call to duty in support of communities across the commonwealth.

 The National Guard answered the call and remains ready to respond if called upon as it has for the past 373 years.

 The Guard has resources to provide power generation, water, security, communications, shelter and perform welfare checks if needed.

 The Massachusetts National Guard is Always-Ready-Always-There to serve the people of Massachusetts and support civil authorities in flood affected areas if called upon.

Since the first day of the emergency, the MA National Guard has:

• Deployed more than 50 Soldiers and Airmen to conduct emergency operations

• MANG Soldiers are working around-the-clock to transport, fill and haul sandbags in support of potential flooding.

• As the region braces for potential flooding, the Guard stands ready to render further assistance if called upon.

• Anticipating the pending rainfall, the Guard is preparing and placing additional equipment and forces strategically for quick reaction in the event we are called upon.

• The MA National Guard is proud to be participating in this mission and will continue to support its neighbors as it has for the past 373 years.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

PJ O'Rourke and East Bridgewater

In "Parliament of Whores" PJ O'Rourke famously quipped that "giving taxpayer money to politicians is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys." The implication, of course, is that we should be careful about giving money to politicans.

But seen from the other side of the coin, maybe we shouldn't give whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. Or empty houses that would be seen as ripe party locations by other teenage boys.

This Globe article talks about a mother who claims her family's lives were "destroyed" due to the damage caused by unruly teens at her house when she went on a vacation to Paris and left her teenage son to mind the house (notice in the story there is some conflict between his version of events 'he had just stopped in to let the cat out' and what one of the kids says, 'there had already been two planned parties there that week.') Having been in this very same situation not TOO long ago, I think I can safely surmise what most likely happened. The full story will come out via the police investigation anyway.

Any parent who thinks that he or she is going to go away, leave a teen home alone for an extended period, and not run the risk of something like this happening has his or her head buried in the sand...even if an arrangement was made whereby it seems that the child is staying with relatives -- unless someone is checking up on the house, or another enforcement mechanism is in place, this is exactly what's going to happen.

So this kid right now is under tremendous stress and is being bullied/harassed by his classmates.

There is $45,000 worth of damage to their home (local news dubbed this the 'Nightmare on Elm Street.')

Several other kids may be facing charges and/or other forms of disciplinary action.

I know it's now more than a decade since I've been out of high school. I'll admit that styles, music, and curriculum may have changed, but this constant has remained -- when parents leave an empty house accessible to teenagers, mayhem results.

At the very least, the door is left wide open, so to speak, for underage drinking, recreational drugs, and other forms of adolescent experimentation.

And at worst, said situation may result in alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, or serious property damage.

I just hope this lesson stays as starkly obvious to me over the next twenty to thirty years as it seems now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Immigration Commission Sails Through, 9-Nil

Tonight at City Hall, the Council Chamber was packed to the rafters, largely for the public hearing regarding the re-establishment of a City Commission on Immigration. From up in the nosebleed section, I was able to scribble notes from all the community speakers in the back of a Michael Lewis book I just picked up. All the notes are below:

[I also want to interrupt myself here to say that Stephen Greene of LDNA and the Green Building Commission spoke just prior about the Stretch Energy Code, which also passed 9-0.]

City Manager Bernie Lynch led off by describing the proposal for a 13-member commission, which would have its members serve staggered three-year terms. Its purposes would be immigrant-related advocacy and advisory to the City Council. It would address issues of economic and social integration, raise awareness of immigrants' many contributions to our society, and would advise the City Council on issues affecting immigrants. It would serve to encourage understanding between immigrant groups and larger community, in addition to performing as a clearinghouse for the concerns of individual immigrants.

Mark Goldman, who served on the board of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association from 1999-2003, led off by showing a copy of today's USA Today, which highlighted Lowell in its "Around the 50 states" daily roundup of news stories. The USA Today piece was specifically referring to the fact that Lowell would be voting tonight on the re-establishment of a Commission on Immigration. Mark spoke about how his ancestors escaped Tsarist Russia around the turn of last century, and how grateful he was that their trek led them to America.

Next to speak was ONE Lowell's Victoria Fahlberg, who thanked the Mayor, the Council, and the City Manager for introducing the motion. Victoria spoke of her own experience of moving to Brazil in 1989 and not knowing anything about that nation's language or culture. Drawing on her personal experience, she talked about the importance of offering a "helping hand" to newcomers, and specifically stated that an Immigration Commission could help immigrants looking to start a new business, learn ESOL, gain access to health care, organize rallies, and learn about government programs like WIC and Head Start.

Reverend Cecilio Hernandez followed, and he emphasized the impact of new immigrant groups on his church, and the importance of cultural immersion in our city for ALL residents, new and old alike.

Police Chief Ken Lavallee talked about how the Commission would be positive for the City, as it would help create a "needed dialogue" between the police force and the communities it serves and protects.

School Commitee Member Jackie Doherty emphasized the importance of the family-school connection, which helps to strengthen academic achievement. Because so many of our public school children are immigrants or children of immigrants, the Commission would help foster better understanding between those students the local government.

Next to speak was Jose Gabriel, who originally hails from the Azores. Jose mentioned the power of the quilt which he saw just before walking in to the meeting, and how the various flags woven together represented immigrants wanting to be integrated into the city.

A Lowell High School sophomore named Morin (LNU)* who is also a team organizer with UTEC talked about the power of people working together, and mentioned the struggles of being a member of a large immigrant family.

Russ Smith, Executive Director of the Lowell Small Business Center, offered some statistics: 57% of his clients are either from immigrant communities or are people of color, and 39% of the small businesses started locally are founded by immigrants. Smith spoke of the "tremendous potential" that the Commission would have to improve life for all city residents.

Next to speak was either Lynn or Linda (LNU)* who has worked for the past 20 years with at-risk elders. She talked about the rewards she has enjoyed after helping some of these elderly immigrants earn citizenship.

Ann Marie Page of the Centralville Neighborhood Action Group talked about Lowell being a "city of immigrants," and spoke on her group's behalf to say the Commission ought to be created.

J. Dayne Lamb was the next to bear a periodical as a prop; she cited the esteemed British weekly The Economist, which recently wrote that America's greatest strength is that "people want to live there" and praised immigration for "keeping [us] young, strong, and growing." The "Ponzi scheme that works" definitely presents some challenges, but is on balance a tremendous national asset; as such, Dayne supports the Commission because it can serve as a "bridge" for immigrant groups in Lowell.

Small businessman Ben Opara spoke about the great opportunity for the City that the Commission would provide, and scored personal points in my household by citing the advantages in terms of both health and beauty that the children of mixed marriages enjoy. [I say this because we're about to begin a 'mixed marriage' in July, and we might start growing the family within the next couple years...and if we have a daughter, she can't leave the house until she's 30!]

Ryan Berard talked about a former classmate of his, who comes from an immigrant family, and who now serves in Iraq. Ryan described this friend as a "true patriot" who embodies so much of what is great for our country.

Another gentleman spoke after Ryan and he did not introduce himself. He was of African origin and he talked about his cousin who had served in Iraq for five years. He also spoke of his experience on a race relations commission and praised Lowell because it "accepts immigrants."

UTEC's Executive Director, Gregg Croteaux, talked about the Governor's Advisory Council on Refugees and Immigrants, and encouraged the Council to support the Commission.

Bobby Tugbiyele, a Downtown Lowellian who works with Community Teamwork, talked about his family's Nigerian ancestry and mentioned how language and cultural barriers sometimes render immigrants as "The Forgotten" members of society. He talked about the success stories he sees every day, such as a recent Nepalese immigrant building his skills and recently being hired by a private sector firm.

Munsong Sut talked about his experience coming here as a refugee fifteen years ago. He said his goal was to help keep families together.

Fernando Barrientes spoke in Spanish with Sandra Mangado interpreting. Barrientes spoke powerfully about how people sometimes only see the negative aspects of immigration, but how a Commission such as the one being discussed (I would say 'debated' but no one spoke against). Barrientes had just gotten in from Colombia on Monday, but came up to Lowell from Washington, DC in order to speak at the meeting.

UML grad student Lyneth Torres of ONE Lowell and the Starbucks at Drum Hill spoke in favor of the Commission and urged Councilors to support it.

The last community member to speak was Victoria Nayiga, a native Ugandan who wished to thank everyone in the Greater Lowell community for its welcoming spirit towards the growing African American community here.

Mayor Milinazzo entered a letter from Robert Forrant into the record as well.

Every single Councilor spoke in favor of the commission, often citing family experiences or echoing the themes presented by the community members, before the 9-0 vote in favor.

* LNU = Last Name Unknown

Getting In, Staying Out

I just read a review of Matt Gallagher's "Kaboom: Learning to Embrace the Suck in a Savage Little War." I'm glad it was written, because I think although there were a ton of "Siege of Baghdad"-type books that came out based on the push in 2003, and a bunch more that described the exploits of SF soldiers on horseback in late 2001, but that there's a lot missing from the shelf when we're talking military memoirs.

There's not enough out there on the surge, there's not enough out there on the terrible days in the Sunni Triangle from 2004-06, and there isn't enough about Afghanistan, period. If military members want to complain about the way they're written about and portrayed, they ought to "be the change they wish to see" and put the story out there. (Hey, maybe they should start blogs and give themselves regionally-based monikers).

But anyway, the single-most common theme in many of the recent military memoirs is that they're written by so-called "five-and-dive" junior officers. That piece of Academy slang just means they're written by people who served their initial commitment (five years) and then jumped ship, so to speak.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Just to lay my biases out front, I'm a "lifer" planning on somewhere between 20-30 years total service in the active Navy and then Army Natty Guard, which still means I've got as much 5/6 of the pie left on the table. But I'm also not a combat arms guy, which matters, because I can't claim to have led dozens of junior soldiers around a war zone as a lieutenant. Not to take away from anything I accomplished, but heck, MI just isn't the infantry, and neither is CA.

But back to the books. Each of the books involves some over-wrought, convoluted explanation of why the author got out of the service, and it's usually some variant on how great he is but how awful everyone with the rank of Major and above is, or was.

The explanation I heard for LT Gallagher (bear in mind, I haven't read Kaboom yet) is that he didn't want to be promoted upwards to the point where he would be sending troops in battle but not going himself.


If he wanted to make Captain, he still could've spent five years in that rank and commanded a Company. Even Majors and above routinely go outside the wire, depending on their unit and their branch. And besides, if he really meant what he said, and just thought he was the ultimate grunt's grunt, he could've resigned his commission and come back enlisted. Yes, it's been done before. We have a Sergeant First Class who was once upon a time wearing the rank of Lieutenant the Coast Guard! (Seriously, and he's an amazing guy).

But also, if you think that Majors and Lieutenant Colonels are so terrible, then why not BECOME ONE and lead the way you *really* think it ought to be done?

I have absolute, undying total respect for anyone who leads soldiers in combat. That is an awesome responsibility and an incredible burden to shoulder.

If someone has done that, and then gotten into his late twenties and just said, "You know, I've frankly had enough of this. I'd like to go back to [insert town name], marry [insert girlfriend's name], and get a 9-to-5 and raise kids," I don't think anyone is going to criticize it. In fact, that's perfectly good logic. You've done your time, you're hanging up your hat, and calling it a day. In fact, changing professions every few years is what MOST people do. How many of your friends from college were still doing at 28 what they were at 23? I'd venture to say not many were.

But why not just say that?

If you want to write a great memoir, show some vulnerabilities. Give me more authentic voice, and give me less tripe about how your "warrior's heart" just doesn't beat the same anymore. Give me more Jarhead, and give me less One Bullet Away. Thanks.

Oh, and all that said, I'm still looking forward to reading Kaboom. I'll probably enjoy the book, and will write about it here, but just to clarify, I'm only griping here about the author's purported reason for leaving the Army, not the decision itself.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Murphy and LHNG: This Saturday

Italicized below is an excerpt of an e-mail I got from the Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group. It begs the question, "Why don't we see more events like this during non-election years?"

Please join the Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group for a Coffee Break with Councilor Patrick Murphy on Saturday, March 27th at 10:00AM at the 119 Gallery at 119 Chelmsford Street in the Lower Highlands.

Councilor Murphy will discuss a motion he will be making to the City Council that may affect the Lower Highlands neighborhood. The Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group encourages residents, business owners and friends of our community to stop by and discuss your thoughts and concerns about the neighborhood.

Special thanks to the 119 Gallery for hosting this special meeting. This is one is a series of special events held by the Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group throughout the neighborhood in response to community input and needs.

We look forward to seeing you there! Coffee and donuts will be provided.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's The Most Won-der-ful Time...

Yup, it's that time again. I don't even have to fill out brackets to love March Madness.

This is the greatest sporting event there is.

I promise you no one will walk up the court.

I promise you no one will turn lazy when there's a loose ball.

I promise you real tears when teams are eliminated. No thoughts about golf clubs, and agents, and contracts, but just real, live heartbreak or joy after the buzzer.

I promise you a seed higher than 11 will put on the slippers and head to the Sweet Sixteen.

No matter how the first two rounds really go, some headline writer will deem 2010 "The Year of the Upset." But that's okay.

And no matter who comes out on top in the end -- even if it's a #1 seed and an odds-on favorite from the beginning -- the first words out of the mouth of the winners will be these: "No one said we could do it!" But that's okay, too.

I'll still love every minute that I watch.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Census 2010: An Ounce of Effort Now..

You probably just got a Census 2010 form in the mail.

For just a moment, put aside patriotism, sense of duty, ethnic pride, Congressional representation, money apportionment from Washington or Boston, and whatever other intangibles might influence Census-returners.

Here's a selfish reason to return it ASAP: It will save you a knock at the door later.

I know this only because I almost wound up working for the Census. In fact, I had an office job all ready to go out in Tewksbury when I got called by my unit to "activate," which is a way better move professionally than a short-term Census gig would have been. So, the very same Guard that kind of screwed with me earlier this year has now got me doing something that a) I love, and b) pays all my bills and then some. The hand that tooketh away now giveth back, or something like that..

But anyway, I digress.

One of the few things I learned before actually joining up with the Census was that the door-knockers only go out for the people who don't return the forms.

Now, you may not mind a knock at the door, so it may be no big deal to you; however, if you're one of those types who prefers to return from work and just be left alone by the big bad world outside, I'm assuming you'd rather avoid the pound of annoyance that even a well-meaning, friendly Census taker might cause you with a dinnerus interruptus shave-and-a-haircut at the door.

So just return the darned form now, save yourself that trouble, help show that there are way more than 106,000 Lowellians, and let's hope Massachusetts doesn't lose more than one seat in DC come 2012..

Oh, and one other unrelated thing -- if you're driving around highways at 65+ mph during monsoon-like conditions, please remember to turn your headlights on! You wouldn't believe how many people I saw today who, whether out of absentmindness or just a lack of concern, were chugging right down the highway "blacked out." Unless you're working the pedals for the 160th SOAR, that's not a wise tactical option!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Baker at the Owl Diner -- 3/15 @ 0800

I just got this e-mail from Ryan Coleman, a field guy for Charlie Baker who also happened to be Eileen Donoghue's Field Director in 2007 (yup, he changed his stripes after the way that one turned out).

Whatever your politics, this seems like a great chance for those able to attend to meet a likely party nominee for this year's gubernatorial race.

I wanted to give you the heads up that Charlie Baker will be at the Owl Diner this Monday, March 15th . We hope that you have time to stop by and share your thoughts with Charlie over a cup of coffee.

He’ll be arriving at 8 AM and will be there for about an hour meeting with constituents and relaying his vision for turning around the state of Massachusetts.

We hope to see you there!

Signatures -- The 1st Big Hurdle

I spent a couple of hours yesterday with a crew of three outside the Market Basket on Main Street in Andover, collecting some of the 2000 certified signatures of Unenrolleds and Republicans that will be needed to get Sam Meas on the ballot this fall.

In just over two hours' worth of work, we got just about 50 signatures. Bear in mind, that's 50 *raw* signatures, some of which will inevitably be thrown out because people aren't actually registered at their listed address, or because they made stray marks, or because they don't know how they are registered, etc. Of the 50we got, let's say 30 or so will actually count.

I must admit that's WAY less than I had anticipated. The weather certainly didn't help, as people were mostly just looking to get in from the cold and the rain, rather than talk to us.

Of the people that stopped, partisanship wasn't really a big issue. Many seemed to know that it's "signature season" and were happy to engage and sign, even if they were Unenrolleds planning to vote for Niki Tsongas this fall.

The biggest takeaway, though, is that numbers like 2000 (required for a U.S. Congressional seat) or 10,000 (gubernatorial) are nothing to sneeze at. Before, I could never understand why some candidates hire professional signature-getters and pay them $2 or more per valid John Hancock.

Now, that makes more sense to me -- the required signatures are one of the only real *showstoppers* that could get in the way of someone being in the hunt at all come primary time. In the grand scheme of things, that makes the money some people spend seem worth it.

On the other hand, if you've got a well-organized volunteer staff, 20 people each getting 100 valids doesn't seem insurmountable. Plus, you can get way more bang for your buck, so to speak, by going to large gatherings where people can just pass the sheet around.

Either way, the signature piece isn't easy and it's not something you can ever overlook.

Just ask Jim "close, but not quite there" Ogonowski, or a former Illinois State Senator named Alice Palmer who ran against a then-unknown up-and-comer for a seat from Chicago back in 1996.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Public Money, Private Money

I've seen the issue of private sector and public sector jobs come up several times in the past week -- in the Lowell Sun article that listed the number of city employees who clear the 100k marker (plus related commentary), in a news clip I caught about how far public sector salaries have eclipsed private sector ones (with some valid rebuttals about how it's not always an apples-to-apples comparison), and Thursday night at the Greater Lowell Tea Party meeting.

Speaking of which, there was nary a hateful word or idea expressed Thursday night. In fact, the only personal attack made that night was what you might call a "red-on-red" when Mihos came off the top rope to criticize Baker's management of Harvard Pilgrim, involvement with the Big Dig, and involvement with the Patrick transition team.

What did occur, however, were a lot of well-placed rants against government spending, and the debt burden we're placing on ourselves, our kids, our grandkids, and so on. There was one speech that crossed the line (the term "Us vs. Them" was used to refer to public sector employees vs. private sector employees), but for the most part, the speakers were on to something.

I know pensions get wrongly caricatured sometimes, because many are funded in large part by the workers themselves.

I know there are public sector employees who perform risky duty (police, fire, military, ATF, etc.) and there are those who perform noble duty (i.e. teaching a kid how to read).

There are also good reasons why you can't directly compare public salaries to private ones (education levels, longevity of employees, full- vs. part-time work, etc.)

All that having been said, I will say that spending five years in the active duty military gave me plenty enough exposure to the way government works to know this -- civilian public sector employment won't make you wildly rich, but it will provide you with a VERY comfortable lifestyle without requiring you to work for a bottom line or work more than a mandated number of hours per week.

I've seen way too many people coasting along, working not a minute more than their 40 (or 37.5 if it's State) hours per week. They'll expend more energy finding ways NOT to have to do work than to really take ownership and/or get involved in their official duties. By the time they're senior enough, they're making very high-five or low-six figure salaries. I know that's not enough to even afford to live an upper-middle class life in a tony suburb, but in today's economy that's more than a lot of people have.

Now, I'm not saying people don't make more on the private side (just ask my buddy, the fifth year associate at Wilmer Hale) but all I can say for sure is that there are PLENTY in the public sector who have it very, very, good, when you factor in things like job stress, work hours, vacations, sick pay, etc.

I'm not qualified to talk about how the private sector wastes money (I'm sure it does, but I just haven't slept on that side of the barn) but as the old song says, "I know what I know if you know what I mean." If you've worked in or around government, you do.

The second point I want to make is that recently noticed by a 29 year-old job seeker with five years' managerial experience but no technical skill or MBA -- All the best opportunities were in the public sector. Unless I was barking up the wrong trees (and I'm willing to admit I might've been) it just seemed like the stuff I was seriously looking at in the public sector was paying on average, $30k more per year than the stuff I was seeing on the corporate side. At the margins I'm talking about, that 30k is the difference between ekeing it out month to month or being able to actually buy new clothes, go to friends' weddings, and maybe even put a little bit away each month.

The old paradigm was that if you worked in the public sector, you were trading off a nicer income for the job security, benefits, and sense of satisfaction in working for society and the greater good.

At least through one person's eyes that paradigm has been flipped on its head.

That's not to say there aren't great people in the public sector who work their tails off. And that's not to say I don't take pride in my job -- believe me, I do, and I know the people around me at the Guard do, too.

But when you hear statistics about how private sector wages have freezed up, but the public sector pay increases keep galloping along, or about how the Commonwealth's population stays static while the size of its public payroll increases over time, you *should* be a little bit worried.

It can't go on like this forever.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Greater Lowell Tea Party Candidates' Night

The Greater Lowell Tea Party is having its Candidates' Night tonight from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Bunting Club on Boylston St. in Lowell. I know there will be a lot of media folks on hand, so you can always just read about it tomorrow, but if you're able to go, here's why I recommend it:

A lot of folks have strong opinions about the Tea Party movement and its members that are formed predominantly, or even entirely, by short video clips or stories. However, many of these people, who would no doubt ascribe to themselves the highest-levels of "open-mindedness" and "non-judgementalness, dude" if, say, asked to do so in a survey, have never taken the time to meet any of the Tea Party members.

I've crossed paths with quite a few Greater Lowell Tea Partiers just by going to events with Sam Meas. While I have no doubt there are some loony toons elements within the movement nationally (just as there are within whatever organizations you or I belong to, writ large), the people I've personally met within the TP haven't lived up to any of the stereotypes, or to the Janeane Garofalo school of pseudo-intellectualism that says anything remotely negative about the current state (or size!) of our government must be some kind of codeword for latent hatred.

So if you're able and willing to check this event out, I recommend it, no matter what your political persuasion.

And if you do, and still come away thinking the Tea Partiers are a bunch of wackos with tinfoil hats, at least you can say you saw it in person with your own eyes as opposed to a thirty-second news clip.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Amazing 12-Day Workweek

Something I definitely didn't *appreciate* in any real sense, though I'd like to think I *got* the idea in an abstract way, is that reservists and Guardsmen who work full-time and drill on the weekends get a frequently-recurring "12-day workweek," which is basically what's going to happen anytime a drill weekend is sandwiched between two regular weeks of work.

Because I was only working intermittently earlier this year, this never really sunk in for me until now -- just before I was all set to begin working at the census, lo and behold, my unit called with a proposition -- that I come on ADOS orders (Active Duty for Operational Support) on an indefinite basis (hopefully all the way until the mobilization, but the string could potentially be cut on a whim at any time).

So anyway, on months like this where there are multiple drills, plus the Monday through Friday business in Reading, it basically means a couple of these 12-day weeks. As a result, I've definitely quieted down a bit in cyberspace. Blogging has been far and away my favorite hobby over the last couple years, so thanks as always for reading, and in advance for your patience as the optempo slows down a bit.

But that's certainly not a complaint.

The alarm clock buzzing every day now at 0500 reminds me of Winston Churchill's famous quote about democracy -- you know the one, how it's a terrible form of government, but the least terrible form he knows (or something like that).

An alarm clock ripping you out of bed prematurely (and I'll use the medical definition there...sooner than you would've liked!) may be a terrible thing, as may be in the interchange between 128 and Rte. 3, but the only thing WORSE than an early wake-up and some overaggressive motorists on the way home would be NOT having the alarm go off, and not tangling it up with some jerkies in the merger lane.

If I've gotten nothing else out of the past couple months, it's what will hopefully be a lifelong appreciation for what the previous paragraph can really mean.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bad Words

I know a wrote some time ago about how my least-favorite word in the English language was "deserve." It pretty much still is. "Sorry" is a close second when it's used insincerely, which tends to happen more often than not.

Because I volunteer with a campaign which is staffed entirely by other volunteers, I've learned to find a next-least-favorite expression: "Someone should." *

"Someone should," as a sentence starter, is the ultimate way to completely NOT take ownership or initiative for whatever great lightbulb-over-the-head moment you just had. It's not as clear as delegating responsibility (that's why they teach you in CPR class that you should NEVER say "Someone call 911!" Instead, you're supposed to pick one person from the crowd and say, "You! Call 911 right now!") and it's not anywhere near as great as taking ownership.

Someone who delegates is still effective, assuming he or she is in a position to do it. Someone who takes ownership is even better -- that's a person who has a great idea and then begins taking whatever steps are needed to make it happen. By and large, "ownership takers" tend to be very successful in whatever they do.

Others still will just sort of get in line and follow. There's nothing wrong with that. No organization could function without those types of people.

What I could do without, however, are sentences that start with "someone should." By leading off that way, the speaker is clearly implying that he or she is not volunteering to be that someone. However, the speaker is also going on record as having the idea -- should it be implemented and should success result, self-congratulation is, no doubt, in order. And on the other hand, if no "someone" rogers up to execute said idea, the speaker can then go home and rant and rail to whoever is forced to listen that "I keep having these great ideas but no one listens to me."

That last sentence has probably been said countless times by any entry-level anyone within any organization, large or small. I know I've heard it way too many times in the military, and almost always from a junior enlisted person.

To anyone who cares to listen (and if you've read this far, I'll assume you do), my advice to all those people is this: It's not that no one is listening. They are. But they're also busy and have full plates of other things to worry about. If you come to your boss, or your management, or leadership, or whatever and say, "Here's this great idea. I can execute it, and here's my plan," then you've done right. If you're still being ignored, then I'll admit that sucks. But if you're just farting out these "great ideas" and beginning sentences with "someone should" then your ideas are probably going nowhere, and for good reason.

* Just as a point of clarification, I'm referring here only to things people say within organizations to which they belong, and not to bigger-picture social, political, medical, or business ideas. And thanks to the person sitting next to me who asked the question leading to this new asterisk.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Polito's Way -- No Pensions for the Elected?

I caught something on today about Karyn Polito, who announced in her opening speech for Treasurer that she believes future elected officials should not take a state pension.

Every time I look over and see the messes in Sacramento and Albany, I believe that much more in pension reform. Every time I read articles like Sean P. Murphy's piece in Sunday's Globe (which was highlighted on Left in Lowell, and should appeal to anyone with or without any certain partisan stripe) I believe that much more in public sector benefit reform.

But I'm just not sure the elected officials themselves should be the first to go all the way with it, because of the limiting effect that would have on who could run for the full-time positions (or the positions that probably ought to be full time, such as the General Court).

The idea of the citizen-legislator who returns like Cincinnatus back to the plow is a good one, but given the risks people take by putting themselves up for elected office, and the tremendous costs involved, it's not always a practical one. The office itself shouldn't have to enrich people to any great degree, but it ought to be at least reasonably competitive with whatever else people of similar interests and talents might pursue.

The current system that legislators benefit from is, well, pretty ridiculous. Because the pension can cover Mass. state legislators whose terms in office end not by their own making, there really was a case, as outlined by Sean P. Murphy himself at a talk at the library last fall, of a guy who a) lost his seat in a competitive election, b) began receiving his generous pension, and then c) regained his seat in a subsequent year, and d) collected his legislator salary AND the pension for the very same seat simultaneously.

It really happened.

And no-show library trustees really have robbed people to buy beautiful beach homes.

And J.M. Curley really did buy that house on Jamaicaway.

But I think the best course forward is to fix the system with a scalpel (okay, maybe a butter knife) rather than just take a meat cleaver to the whole thing.