Thursday, May 29, 2008

Do Men Ever Visit Boston?*

When trying to figure out which medium-sized New England city would be the best place to move to, one of the deciding factors for Lowell was its proximity to Boston. I still stand by this major factor in the process -- Boston is just way more accessible from here than it is from, say, Worcester, Providence, or New Bedford. Boston offers tons of future possibilities for jobs, grad school (should I go that route), and cultural and sporting events. It's great to know how close it is.

But since I've moved to Lowell, you know how many times I've actually been there?


You know how many more trips there I'm planning?

At the moment, none.

Most of the stuff that I might want to do there I can already do here, only far more conveniently and far less expensively -- bars, restaurants, theater, sporting events, or whatever it is -- chances are, Lowell has it.

I do have a lot of loose-tie type of acquaintances (see the 'Being Lois Weisberg' entry, based off a chapter from the Tipping Point which was based off a New Yorker article) in Boston. All of them are wonderful people who I would love to see if I ran into (and presumably, vice versa). But you know what the chances are that any would come to Lowell? Not high. To a one, they are "totally down" for making plans, as long as those plans involve me traveling to and from their front door and making all other related effort.

That doesn't make them bad people, and I don't even mean it in a negative way. Far from it. I think part of maturing, for me, has been growing up out of a mindset inspired from too many GI Joe and He-Man cartoons during the formative years that divided everyone and everything into good/bad, friends/enemies. I've come to pretty much see all people in far more neutral terms. The more life experience I get, the more sense that makes to me.

But to reference my "Nice Guy Does Not = Tool" entry, I have no interest in maintaining absurdly asymmetrical relationships with anyone. Any interpersonal relationship that I've come to see as totally driven by my effort I've basically just backed off completely. I've found that a few have been resuscitated while some others have just sort of withered away. And that's not anyone's *fault,* or anything worth brooding over. That's actually a story as old as civilization itself.

I'd be happy to see any of those people again if I ran into them randomly. But especially given all the effort I'm putting into (and the returns coming back) on building a sense of community immediately around me, I don't need to exert wasted effort elsewhere.

So the funny thing is, I'm living like 20-something miles from a bunch of people I knew from college, grad school, or wherever, but I'll probably never see them, and I'm not quite sure that I care. The world keeps spinning, and my own trajectory -- right here -- keeps moving forward at a faster pace than I even could have guessed.

But back to Boston for a second. It's still great to know how close the city is. In a couple years, I'm either going to have to look for a full-time civilian job and/or figure out whether I ever want to go back to school. Boston offers tons of opportunities in both those realms.

And plenty of cool day trip possibilities in case Lowell ever starts to feel too small.

* This entry's title provides a handy mnemonic you can use if ever asked, under duress, to provide the royal court in order -- Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, Baron.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Scotty Doesn't Know...

I need to see another memoir from some high-level Bush Administration appointee or commander who writes a revealing and scathing memoir about how everyone else (except the memoir's author, of course) is or was effed up, and that's the reason why the country is a mess, why Katrina was a mess, why we're in Iraq, etc. like I need to be punched in the groin.

Seeing the news media's coverage of the Scott McClellan book today made this dawn on me.

What courage does this take? What courage does it take to shrug your shoulders, point at someone else, and insist that you had no idea what was happening, or that somehow you were the one voice of sanity amidst a sea of madmen? How does L. Paul Bremer take himself seriously when he writes that he didn't understand or approve Coalition Provisional Authority Orders 1 and 2 when he was the goshdarned CPA head!?!?!?

Former legendary House Speaker Sam Rayburn was famous for always saying, "It takes a carpenter to build a barn, but any jackass can come tear it down." That's a phenomenal quote.

I'm impressed by people who take a contrary stand and stick with it. I'm impressed by people who take ownership of the things they're responsible for. I'm impressed by people who open their mouths to say "I got it" and "How can I help?" when they can see that something needs to be fixed, or solved.

But I'm very, very unimpressed by the literary diarrhea (and no, that wasn't meant as bathroom humor) that is coming from the former Bushies, and will probably continue to bombard our libraries and bookstores for the next few years.

What I'm ready for is a memoir to come from someone -- anyone -- who openly and honestly admits fault in a reflective, thoughtful way.

I won't be holding my breath.

I would respect Scott McClellan (or anyone else, for that matter) who resigned his or her job in protest of some policy, action, or behavior of colleagues or superiors. I would respect anyone who spoke out against an injustice or even improper behavior they witnessed.

I even respect Jeannette Rankin for being the "1" who voted the way she did on December 8, 1941. That took guts.

But I don't respect any person -- military, government, private, or wherever -- who goes along to get along, and then leaves to personally profit by reinventing their career with their own rose-tinted glasses while throwing everyone around them under the bus.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

USMC: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy

The link above will take you to a great NY Times piece that just made my day. It's about the success of a 24th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) campaign to drive the Taliban out of strongholds in southern Afghanistan. Of ourse, the trick now is keeping them out (with only NATO and Afghans to do it), but it's clear the Marines have created a major momentum swing.

The Marines oversaw the quickest and most sweeping counterinsurgency campaign in the history of...history beginning in fall 2006 in Anbar Province, Iraq. There were of course many factors driving the Sunnis' wholesale rejection of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but here's one that I hope future historians don't leave out when they document the turnaround -- the battlespace owners were the Marines. Having spent time in training and overseas with each of the four major branches, I can tell you this: pound-for-pound, man-for-man, the Marines are the best fighting (and peacekeeping) force this country has.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Community Building and the Tao of Woody

One of the great enduring Woody Allen quotes is this: "90% of life is showing up."

I thought of this quote while catching up with a couple friends this weekend over the phone and e-mail. They asked me how the whole "community building" thing was going and I relayed the good news that all was well -- I'm really getting to know a lot of folks up here, everything's becoming more and more familiar, and I'm starting to run into folks all over the place. It's a great feeling to see the dream coming into fruition.

To put it simply, just as being anonymous and a 'stranger' all the time sucked, being recognized and feeling like part of a community, well, doesn't suck.

When talking about it, I noted that the progress I've made in the past couple months isn't thanks to any special thing I was doing, saying, or any other type of sleight-of-hand. On the contrary, I'd say it's mostly just a result of "being there." In other words, just by showing up consistently to places and being a generally good person, you're eventually going to start making friends/acquaintances and starting to see yourself as part of a larger community. Before long, people will begin introducing you to their friends, and a cascading sort of effect starts to take hold.

I would say this could apply to anyone trying to find community. I forget which of the Malcolm Gladwell books this was, but I know in one he cited a psychological study about how babies are more favorably disposed to faces they've seen before. Adults are no different -- the more people see you, the more comfortable they become with you (assuming you're not a complete jerk with no social skills). It's not entirely rational (not being a stranger doesn't make you *not* Ted Bundy) but it's something innately human.

So, Woody Allen might've been onto something with the "90% of life is showing up" quote.

Also, here's more evidence that being nice to everyone you meet is not only a good thing to do, but also works to your advantage. In the Afterword to The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki writes, "For me, one of the key that we don't always know where good information is. That's why, in general, it's smarter to cast as wide a net as possible, rather than wasting time figuring out who should be in the group and who should not."

This seems like great advice for all people to heed. As someone who's been on the receiving end of a few eye-rolls and general scoffing from social climbers, I couldn't agree more. Just treat everyone you meet equally nicely, both because a) it's the right thing to do and b) it will ultimately enrich your own life when you do so.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Monkey's...What?

Yesterday, one of my neighbors and I were gardening on Market Street. From our vantage point (towards Middle, Merrimack, and the river), it was a perfectly clear day -- a mostly blue sky, but with a few clouds as well. Seemingly out of nowhere, however, we got drenched. We looked back in the other direction, towards the Highlands, and saw that yes, there was an enormous rain cloud right above and behind us, and it was soaking us and our building.

I said, "Wow, it's a real monkey's wedding," which drew a puzzled look from him.

He hadn't heard the term before, but "monkey's wedding" is a common African expression used to describe a simultaneous occurrence of sunshine and rain. That's somewhat interesting on its own, but what's FAR more interesting is the number of cultures that use similar expressions to describe this weather phenomenon. In Gulf Arabic, it's a "rat's wedding." In Hindi (and other subcontinental tongues), it's a "jackal's wedding." In Korean, it's a "tiger's wedding." Just to make sure we're not forgetting our European brethren, the Bulgarians are known to use "bear's wedding."

In case you think I'm making any of this up, by the way, verification is a few keystrokes away via Google or Wiki.

This is what makes these terms truly amazing -- they developed independently of one another in completely faraway lands in near-completely unrelated languages. In other words, there's something human about seeing sunshine and rain at the same time and associating it not just with some strange or unlikely occurrence, but specifically with matrimony in the animal kingdom.

You don't have to be a total word origin and linguistics dork to admit that's pretty neat.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Finally Saying 'Uncle' on Gas Prices...And, Of Course, an Upside

Ever since gas prices started rising from those less-than-a-dollar days in 1998, the media has loved the subject. For a while, I've thought of it as overblown, because even a one-dollar increase in gas prices would affect someone's budget by $80/month at 20 gallons per week. However, I finally *get* it now that I've seen the news stories that explain the significance beyond the usual "Can you beeee-leeeeeve how much it cost me to fill my Escalade!?!?" sort of tripe.

Gas prices have a huge ripple effect on everything in our economy. Beacuse we're so dependent on gasoline for everything we do, when gas prices surge it makes it more expensive for wholesalers to move goods. Their price increases get passed on to retailers, and then the consumers are the next to take the hit. And when gas prices start affecting individuals' consumer behavior (as they're just now starting to do, at $4 + per gallon), retailers are hurt by the fact that people go to the mall less, go out to eat less, drive to the beach less, etc. What are those retailers then forced to do? You guessed it. We all suffer, while wonderful regimes like those in Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria win.

So even though the per mile cost of moving a car is still lower today than it was in 1980 (adjusted for inflation and overall fuel efficiency), according to the NY Times, it's three times higher than it was in 1998. And yes, it matters.

But here's a potential bright side -- maybe higher gas prices will help drive (no pun intended...honestly, notice how I didn't use 'fuel' there) the small-city downtown revival going on in America.

Personally, I love the fact that I can walk out my front door and be on Merrimack Street in less than two minutes. Everything I need is right here, and I don't have to sit trapped in a glass-and-steel box to go and get it. Even if gas were free, I would still feel that way. Now that people are starting to act rather than just complain about gas costs (the people who track this stuff are starting to notice decreases in both total gasoline purchased and in miles driven by Americans), maybe it will drive them back from the suburbs and exurbs into the naturally beautiful small cities that have mostly been left to rot for the past few generations.

In most cases, everything these cities need is already there -- beautiful old brick buildings, nice parks, churches, schools, etc. What's missing in many cases, however, is a critical mass of people who live and stay without pushing out to the suburbs for more land and open space.

As obsessed as we Americans are with gas prices (just try watching cable news for more than ten minutes without hearing about it), maybe we'll start acting on it, and there will be spillover benefits for the environment and the strength of our communities.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Using Logic 101 as Non-Defensively as I Can...

I'm having a truly great experience with work these days. As I wrote about in an earlier post, Chief and I are standing our department up from scratch. We're both hard-chargers, so it's a great role for both of us to be in -- sink or swim, and we're basically on our own to chart the course.

One of the things that he's teaching me is not to be defensive. I actually think it's natural and normal for people to become defensive when they feel like they're unfairly characterized. However, because defensiveness never comes off well in any setting, I'm glad he's working as hard as he is to beat it out of me. (By pressing all the buttons he's figured out need pressing, and doing it quite often).

One thing that's certainly a "button" for me is when people say -- teasingly or not-so-teasingly -- that I'm a ticket-puncher. I understand why they say it -- non-traditional pre-military background, and strong, openly-declared interests in writing and government as potential future vocations. It's a natural, easy heuristic for people to use, and an easy narrative to make fit. People love simple narratives for the mental shortcut they always provide. After all, when is nuance really worth the effort, anyway?

I guess the reason I get defensive about it is that there's enough truth running through it to bring it close to home -- I really am interested in pursuing a career sometime down the road in writing, government, or some combination of the two. I'm fully cognizant that what I'm doing now might help drive that engine in the future. But it's also touchy because of the implicit assumption of aspersions cast upon my motives for involvement with the one earthly *thing* that I love more than any other (U.S. military), the only *real job* I've ever had, and what I've dedicated my twenties to, at significant short-term opportunity costs.

So if I said it didn't touch a nerve, I have to admit I'd be lying.

To switch the gears back to the nuts-and-bolts of my life's trajectory, I'm also fully cognizant that it's a contradiction-in-terms to "plan" a writing career. For everyone who gets to be Tom Clancy or Robert Kaplan, there are hundreds or thousands who are just as talented but never do. It's also a contradiction-in-terms to "plan" a career as a high-level government appointee. And as a registered Independent with no party affiliation, my statistical odds of ever being elected to a partisan legislative body are officially close to zero. (The only Independents in recent Congresses -- Bernie Sanders and James Jeffords of VT, and Joe Lieberman of CT -- were prior partisan electees).

But okay, back to the original theme. When people kid me in person about ticket-punching, I'm just going to laugh, shrug, and throw a l'il barb back at them (thanks, Chief). But since this blog offers the advantage of a written format that allows for lengthier explanations, let me crack open my Logic 101 textbook to show you why it's wrong-headed in spirit:

(1) Use of inductive logic. Inductive logic basically means you're starting from the conclusion and then tacking on your premises in order to prove a point. You can use inductive logic to pretty much conclude anything, and you'll never really be wrong. You can ignore all the facts at hand, or just the ones that don't neatly fit, and your desired outcome is guaranteed. Just think show trials in Stalin's Lubyanka or "justice" for male desecendants of slaves in the post-bellum Deep South, and you'll see why inductive reasoning can be an all-around bum deal. So, in my case, it's a way to fall back on a preconceived shorthand idea and just plain ignore the fact that I'm not getting out, even with three neat holes in my Iraq card. In fact, I would say that volunteering for an Airborne unit in a critical-needs MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) with the highest op-tempo of any service would be pretty darn close to a 180-degree tilt from that. I'm tweaking the way I'll serve so that I can stay in one place and (hopefully) avoid any *individual* mobilizations, but I'm also virtually guaranteeing plenty more no-kidding on-the-ground time in one of the major current theaters.

(2) Mutual Exclusion. Mutual exclusion is a logical fallacy that wrongly assumes two things can't co-exist. To say that you can't love something and still benefit from it is actually a great example, and I'd use it if I were teaching basic logic. I actually proved this while talking to a friend recently who brought this whole ticket-punching topic up, which actually inspired me to do this blog entry. Here's how I responded (name changed to protect the innocent):

Me: So, you and Sally have been together for a few years now, huh?

Friend: Yep (breaks into big grin).

Me: Would you say it's been a great experience for you, I mean, overall?

Friend: Definitely. In this sense, definitely the best ever for me.

Me: Really? So in other words you're saying you don't love her.

Friend: Huh? (Getting upset). Whoa. I didn't say that. Where did you get that? Not from me. WHAT?!?! (Clearly confused and maybe angry)

Me: No, I'm just proving your absurdity from five minutes ago.

I'm not sure if he *got* where I was going but I trust that you will.

(3) Correlation as Causation. This is one of the easiest logical fallacies to spot in everyday life, like in news reports that say, "A new study shows that people who drink more than three cans of diet soda every day have higher rates of obesity and heart disease." The correlation has to do generally with the other health habits of the three-diet-soda-and-up crowd, but it's totally baseless either to infer that one caused the other. To tie things back to this blog entry's theme, the big idea here is that it's actually pretty natural for anyone with a strong interest and passion for world events, history, and government to want to actually experience the things that inspire great works of literature, non-fiction, and parliamentary debate (and all of this is said, of course, without even touching the feeling of seeing, on live TV, a jetliner directly impact a family member's floor of a building and believing him to be dead, and then realizing your own life had just been spared by a computer somewhere at Priceline that kept you off of United 93).

In other words, sometimes there's a natural correlation that's much more curvy and fuzzy than a single point-to-point solid line causation driving a decision.

So back to the whole let's-not-get-defensive-thing: If anyone who barely knows me ribs me about ticket-punching, I'll spare them all (or any) of this -- I'll just break out my Dr. Julius Hibbard laugh and make a joke about having walked past the usher at the door.

If it's someone who I know a little bit better (and actually cares enough to hear the answer), I'll just say (non-defensively, of course!), "Well, sure. Like most things, that's *sort of* true and also *sort of* not true."

And if they want the full story, I'll just refer them to the blog.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bathroom Humor: I'm Declaring Victory and Going Home Early

Early on in my college career, I discovered something about well-heeled, well-educated American liberal elites who generally subscribe to the New York Times Editorial Page groupthink mindset.

There are two things that will always make them laugh: bathroom humor and speculation about others', uhh...orientation. In other words, no matter how "high-minded" or politically correct these people might fancy themselves, they will without fail giggle like a pack of schoolgirls when guessing whether an ostensibly straight but somewhat effeminate dormmate just might be gay, or when hearing inappropriate bathroom humor of the South Park variety (while pretending to be grossed out, of course).

Personally, I really don't give a rip about others' orientation. I know that puts me at odds with the mainstream view in my church, but I really just don't care. I have gay friends and neighbors who deserve the same respect that anyone else does. I don't believe they chose that any more than I chose to be attracted mainly to women with darker features (maybe on some subconscious level, an attempt to balance out my paleness, but I still didn't 'choose' it).

But just to prove my point, I did incorporate bathroom humor into my 'shtick' around that time in order to demonstrate how the supercilious crowd might respond. Far from the main ingredient or even highlight of my comedic repertoire, I mixed it in with impressions of Aaron Neville, George H.W. Bush, Malcolm X, and Phil Hartman. I threw it in alongside jokes based entirely on lines from "The Rock," "Scarface" and "Star Wars." I consciously made sure that bathroom humor made up a small part of the overall repertoire.

How did people react?

Just like I thought they would.

I went on a camping trip several Memorial Days ago with a bunch of friends. As soon as we got in the car, the guy in the shotgun seat went on a thirty-minute rant-ish sort of monologue about the subject of the different ways people go about, themselves up after going number two. He literally could not contain himself. He was rolling over in his seat, slapping his knees, and giggling uncontrollably. I was sitting behind him, not really laughing or grimacing, but just sort of staring out the window, lost in my own thoughts at the time. Well, after he ran out of steam and just started drawing stares from the other passengers, he starting pointing back to me (I still hadn't said a word at this point) and, in between chuckles, kept repeating, "He loves this stuff! He loves this stuff!"

Well, between me and him, who do you think was fixated on the bathroom humor?

Good guess.

Next example: At my five-year reunion, I ran into someone I hadn't seen since school. Now, bear in mind, this is someone I lived with freshman year, took a Humanities class with, took at least one major road trip with, and remained friendly with for the rest of our time there. There was no topic we hadn't covered -- everything from politics to religion to future career plans. Well, when I ran into him five years down the road, he said, "You were the guy freshman year who made a joke about being able to tell exactly what someone had eaten that day if you unwittingly entered the 'blast zone' after they ripped one." Amazing, I thought -- that was such a big deal to him -- bigger than anything else we had gone through, from the serious to the funny -- that I got that as a first reaction after five years. Again, if that had been my entire shtick, I would have an easier time understanding it, but even going on jokes alone, that was at best an overall footnote. Never mind Intro. to Humanities. Never mind Tijuana in 1999. Never mind Republican v. Democratic politics in 2000. That's what it came back to.

I repeat my earlier question -- Between the two of us, which would you say was fixated on bathroom humor?

Again, good guess. You're two-for-two.

Third example: I recently heard from a friend-of-friends who I hadn't seen in a while. This is a guy who I went on a three day camping, hiking, and boating trip with a few years back. Again, this one ran the gamut -- capsizing canoes on the Rappahannock, grilling burgers, epic football games, too many Budweisers to count, etc. Well, when I RSVP'd negatively to something he was putting together, his response, essentially, was this: "Too bad. We sure will miss those diarrhea jokes." Huh? I won't deny having made any, but again, we're talking about maybe one or two dedicated minutes at most, mixed in among tons of other jokes, stories, activities, etc. over a nearly seventy-two hour period.

Again, who was fixated on the bathroom humor?

Yup, nice work. You're batting 1.000. It sure as hell wasn't me -- then, or now.

So what am I going to do?

Taking a page from the playbooks of my heroes Ted Williams, Rocky Marciano, and Jerry Seinfeld, I'm going out on top. I've proved my point and I've made my case -- no mattter how well-heeled, well-educated, and 'coastal liberal elite' people become, they will still laugh at bathroom humor -- they're not above it. And if you let them, they'll foist their interest in it on you.

I'm taking it out of my arsenal entirely, esp. considering most of the people I'm surrounded by now -- at work and at home -- are not the type of people I was describing above. There's no point to prove with people who don't put on airs about being highbrow.

As for the 'orientation' stuff, I never based any routines on it solely for said peoples' reaction. I didn't have to. Just sitting back and watching, I learned that it's just another way to see the hypocrisy in people who can use all the right buzzwords about 'tolerance' and 'diversity' and would never confuse 'colored' with 'of color.' Just see how giddy these people get when they speculate about others' preferences -- following it up, of course, with 'but it doesn't matter anyway.' If it really doesn't matter, why are you talking about it with such fervor?

But back to the bathroom humor stuff, it's basically been kicked to the curb for the past few years, but now I'm officially declaring it so. I'll still laugh when South Park and Family Guy go there (lest we forget Peter Griffin's epic stall duel with Michael Moore, or his behavior on the date with Jennifer Love Hewitt), but I just won't generate any of it.

And maybe someday I'll be remembered as the guy with the great Aaron Neville impression. Or for the Alec Guinness "I don't know an Obi-Wan" bit that I've been working on..

One can hope, right?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

All Politics is (Very) Local

I just attended the annual association meeting for my condominium building. I wasn't surprised to see the room packed and tons of opinions voiced about everything ranging from recycling (or the lack thereof) to public displays such as welcome mats to smoking in common spaces.

I'm amazed by how many people here in this city are into community building. I don't know whether it's a New England thing, a small city thing, or perhaps a New England small city thing, but it's definitely unlike any place I've lived before in terms of civic engagement and pride.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What Katie Already Knew...

My friend Katie has a blog (it's linked to the right, go to 12:52 to read it). A little while back, she wrote about how, back in high school, she sometimes preferred to stay in and watch MacNeil-Lehrer on PBS with her parents rather than go spin the same wheels with the same people at the same diner or bowling alley.

I loved it. I commented on her blog but have since decided to do an entire entry here as a spin-off on what she wrote about.

More than any other thing I *have*, I value my time. Any material good I own could be replaced if it were stolen or damaged. My budget's gotten pretty darn tight because of the rent + mortgage situation, but I always know the 1st or 15th is never too far away. More money will come when I make O-3, when I deploy, or when I get a private-sector civilian job, anyway.

But one thing I can never get back is time.

Please don't misinterpret what I'm about to say: I love and appreciate time well-spent. It's 180-degrees out from being a "waste."

Downing beers at the VFW and hearing guys' stories about Korea, Vietnam, and "the big live-fire exercise in 1991" -- time well-spent.

Going to the Dubliner or Blue Shamrock to watch Celtics games with my neighbors -- time well-spent.

Flying across the country to a good friend's wedding (and then meeting my friend Shannon whose expert guidance and support got me through the Gin & Tonic Challenge) -- time well-spent.

But if my options are either to a) go out just to spin wheels, or b) stay in and do something else, I am totally fine taking option b. In fact, I'm quite fine with it.

So what is wheel-spinning?

A bunch of guys going to a bar to sip beers, stare at their own shoes, and then periodically make references about how hot the waitress is -- a huge waste.

Hanging out with people telling the same corny story about how they went to Tchotchke's or PJ Calamity's* and how hysterical it was when the waiter spilled the soup -- a huge waste.

Spending time with twenty- or thirty-somethings going on fifteen, who are overbearingly preoccupied with being "cool" and/or constantly turning everything into a lame one up-manship contest -- a huge waste.

Life is short.

In the last fifteen months, I've had four friends die violently, suddenly, and unexpectedly. I'm not going to honor their lives or memories by building shrines or sitting around weeping. Instead, I try to honor each of them every day by making use of my time and the opportunities it presents. Some things are habits I'm working on (reference previous entries) and others are skills that I've always wanted to learn like martial arts, swimming, and general handiness. Another is a huge project that I've been working on since getting back from my latest deployment; I haven't written about it before on the blog, but it involves using the BBC website as means of learning basic reading comprehension in a host of languages. (It's not as crazy as it might sound, ask me about it sometime if you're interested in the method I've adopted).

But back to my earlier point -- if something involves interesting conversation, friendly company, and/or compelling entertainment, count me in.

But just like Katie figured out back in the mid-1990s, going out just for its own sake to spin wheels ain't worth it.

You might think I'm a big nerd because I came into town tired last night, and just spent my time poring over hundreds of Vietnamese flashcards before passing out on my couch. I don't really give a rip. In fact, if you really have such a big issue with the relative "coolness" of that, you probably need to grow up some.

But from my perspective, the way more important reality is this: I just don't have time for you.

Just to re-emphasize: I'm not in any way advocating antisocial behavior or saying that staying in beats going out. Please don't come away interpreting this entry that way. What I am saying, however, is that life is short and time is precious -- I won't let mine be wasted. Reading about insider trading scandals on Wall Street in the 1980s is a helluva lot less of a waste than is listening to a bunch of single guys at a bar talk about their "theories" of meeting women. One leads to increased knowledge and understanding of the world around us; one leads straight down the road to nowhere. See the difference?

[If you would like to point out the obvious tautology here -- that of differentiating "time well-spent" from "waste" only after the fact of whether it was enjoyed -- that's fine, and technically, you're right].

There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about CS, SD, TM, and/or MM. I will attempt to honor their lives and their sacrifice in this manner: to the degree to which I can control it, I will neither waste time nor allow my time to be wasted.

** The Tchotchke's and PJ Calamity's references came from the feature films "Office Space" and "Mean Girls," respectively. They are both spoofs on names and themes of sterile, cookie-cutter franchise restaurants littering the American landscape.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Two Ignoble Instincts

For a long time, I've said that the most ignoble instinct that exists in people is the desire to foment discord between others. Although our society is generally a well-formed and well-developed sort of place, you still sometimes get the chance to see people's baser instincts/nature come out when:

Person A, in a temporary vent or just in the confidence of two-party fidelity with person B, states an other-than-flattering opinion of person C to person B.

Person B goes and relays this (either word-for-word or perhaps in an even worse light) to person C.

In other words, person B has just fomented discord between persons A and C, ostensibly for no other reason that just for the sheer enjoyment of watching a bunch of sparks fly.

Of course, there can be a fine line here -- sometimes telling someone what's being said is the right thing for all parties. I would expect that on some level from my own friends.

But that shouldn't obscure the main point. I think everyone reading this knows a fomenter of discord in their midst or at least has at some point in their life. I think everyone reading this has been "burned" at some point by someone to whom they thought they revealed something in confidence or in a temporary and ultimately insignificant vent.

And if many major religions and philosophies tell us that peacemaking is the noblest of instincts, it seems like a reasonable next step to say that peace-breaking (or fomenting of discord) is the mirror-image opposite. Got it? Check.

Well, here's number two:

When someone's desire to make 'the other guy' look bad trumps his desire to accomplish the goal at hand.

That's pretty messed up, I know, but it happens all the time. The best way to see it is in one of the many "mini-crises" that pop up all the time in everyday work situations:

The presentation starts in ten minutes and the copies aren't ready.

The reception room is starting to fill up and the food hasn't gotten here yet.

We just missed our exit and now we're ten miles past the turn for headquarters.

Tom is getting ready to speak to the boss but just realized he doesn't have a necktie.

We don't often see people's more elemental nature because modern life doesn't present us with too many Lord of the Flies-type scenarios. But these little "mini-crisis" situations, which could be work- or personal-related, really, give us the next-best thing.

Anytime these sort of things pop up, the people surrounding the miniature-train wreck are faced with two basic options. They can think of themselves as team members, spring into action, and help turn their energies towards solving the issue at hand and save blame-casting for later. Or, alternatively, they can immediately spring into finger-pointing mode: shut down, turn off the "I care" button, and tacitly or even explicitly express a desire to watch someone else fail.

To shut down and not help is pretty bad. But a wholly different line is crossed when someone's desire to see 'the other guy' fail trumps his or her desire to see the job get done.

When I see that, some synapse somewhere in my own head gets rewired to tell me this: I have just gotten a glimpse into someone's character, and what I saw was awful.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Dorky" -- It Ain't Necessarily Smart

There's nothing original about saying that perceptions are often far from reality. Nor is there anything original about saying that outward appearances shape the way we perceive others, and vice versa. But here's something I've never seen studied formally but is still quite valid -- dorky does not necessarily equal 'smart.'

It's often that you hear people with traditionally "dorky" characteristics -- glasses, pastiness, lanky frame, socially awkward, non-mellifluous voices and/or speaking patterns, nervous tics, uncoordinated movements, etc. get labeled 'smart' by other people they work and/or live with.

But are they really?

Sometimes, yes. But often, they're not.

A lot of the people I worked with at my last command were very, very intelligent. Yet to a man, almost none exhibited any of the above characteristics, so the average person who just saw them or very briefly met them would not be quick to slap them with the 'smart' label.

I've also spent some time at some civilian three-letter agencies filled with analysts who meet many, or even all, of the above characteristics that I associated with 'dorkiness.' I think they'd get called 'smart' by most people in an instant-impression sort of setting, even without having to 'prove' it an any other way.

But here's the rub: If you're actually listening to people and gauging things like originality/range of thought, intellectual curiosity/flexibility, general situational awareness, etc. (and for the sake or argument, let's assume these are the things that constitute 'smart') you should challenge who you're considering 'smart' based on appearance -- or for that matter, pedigree.

What you find might surprise you -- a random sample from the football team might be a lot smarter than a random sample from the chess club.

And your mailman might be a lot smarter than someone who likes to talk about his three Master's Degrees.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Good News from Basra...and reasons to go CA

Kudos to the New York Times for presenting this even-keeled update on the still-precarious security situation in Basra.

Get used to this model for combat operations in Iraq: the actual, on-the-ground "muscle" is going to be Iraqi, while Americans will continue to provide support in the forms of transportation, logistics, intelligence, and the always-critical close air support which will tip the scales in favor of the Iraqi Army against foreign-backed militias that are often better-armed and equipped.

Then, once the bullets stop flying, the next Americans you'll see will be there to rebuild what was destroyed, and help establish institutions that will encourage the development of civil society and the rule of law.

Who are these people?

They are your Civil Affairs specialists. They have had enormous successes in the form of PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) all throughout Afghanistan (Weekly Standard just ran a piece on Khost). They currently have the coolest mission in Kosovo (Dave from the VFW, thanks for the debrief on that one). They are in more parts of Iraq doing more daily outside-the-wire missions than almost any other community. They are also working in the Horn and across the Sahel doing everything from preventive medicine to infrastructure building to educational development.

In addition to all that, they *do* tsunamis (Indonesia), earthquakes (Pakistan), hurricanes (New Orleans) and any other disaster that befalls a country whose leadership isn't so anti-US that they'd rather have people die than allow in dudes with green uniforms and the stars and stripes on their shoulders.

Remember, as everyone from John Abizaid to Peter Pace to David Petraeus often reminds us, GWOT (Global War on Terror) is going to be a generations-long struggle. The 'kinetic' phase of operations will be the shortest and easiest part. The hardest part will be the aftermath -- building lasting institutions and partnerships that will allow the involved countries to not degenerate the way Afghanistan did after "we" won "Charlie Wilson's War" in the 1980s.

The people that are going to do it are those with an affinity for foreign cultures, an aptitude for language, an interest in economic development, and a desire to jump out of perfectly good airplanes.

It just so happens that the Massachusetts Natty Guard needs people for this at the O-3 (Captain) level. It also just so happens that I'll put on O-3 next spring and already live in Mass.

That's why I'm self-prophesying a blue-to-green transition sometime around then, which means I'm probably going to start driving soldiers nuts by calling the "latrine" the "head," the "bed" the "rack" and reminding them to "sailor on" through the tough times.

Just kidding about that last one. I promise not to tell any specialists or corporals to "sailor on."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My Two Least-Favorite Words

For quite some time, my least-favorite word in the English language has been this: deserve. I just despise that word -- nearly every time it's used, it's in the form of some type of whine. It's usually used as if the world owes the person saying it something, as in:

(All are real quotes):

"I deserve better treatment than that."

"Spence deserved the Rhodes Scholarship, but didn't get it."

"Petty Officer Smith deserved to get a Bronze Star because he went to Iraq and got shot at."

The first one might be legitimate in many cases, but may be the speaker's fault for not demanding better treatment; #2 is absurd on its face, and shows no understanding of the Rhodes selection process; #3 is equally absurd, and shows no understanding of a combat medal selection process based on meritorious or valorous actions -- by any military definition, merely being in the vicinity of incoming small arms fire or mortars is neither.

Anyway, back to my larger point -- I loathe the word 'deserve' because I can't stand the mentality behind it. My mentality is 180-degrees out -- if you want something, you have to go for it. Don't expect the world to knock down your door, and don't go around thinking that arbitrary distinctions somehow belong to you. They don't. Besides, you can't deserve something based on subjective criteria; it's a contradiction-in-terms.

I've never really had a second least-favorite word until it dawned on me how much I dislike the word 'sorry.'

Now, the word sorry definitely has its place -- don't get me wrong. If I went away for the week but forgot to turn my alarm clock off, I would honestly be sorry for having done it and would sincerely apologize to any and all neighbors who I woke up inadvertently.

In other words, if I do something unintentionally that causes harm to someone else, or if I do something intentionally that causes harm which I later truly regret, I will use the 's' word. However, in order to preserve its meaning, I will not use it when I:

a) Run into someone I haven't seen in a long time. When I do, assuming I like the person, my first emotional response is not a sad one but a happy one, as in, "I'm glad to see you." The last thing on my mind is this: sorry. I'm not 'sorry' that I've been busy (I would expect that), I'm not 'sorry' that I've been away (comes with the job) and I'm certainly not 'sorry' that "it's been awhile" (the mutuality of that should cancel itself out). If an apology is the first thing out of your mouth when you see someone, you're (presumptuously and maybe even arrogantly) assuming that you have somehow disappointed the other person by some action or inaction, when in reality they haven't been waiting with bated breath for your MacArthur-like return.

b) Cross someone's path in a public space. Somehow "sorry" has replaced "excuse me" in these situations -- two people going opposite ways through a door, getting into or coming out of an elevator, getting into a queue of some sort, etc. I'm actually making a point of responding to these "sorrys" with "it's okay, there's actually nothing to be sorry about here." Personally, I'll stick to "excuse me" and save a word like "sorry" for situations which truly merit its use.

c) Look back on anything I did before adulthood. The honest truth is, I'm not "sorry" for anything I did as a kid -- any prank or stunt I pulled, anything I yelled out of a car window to be funny when I was 15, anyone I raised my voice at before rationally talking something through, etc. I did it, I learned from it, and I've moved way past it. I don't sit around feeling "sorry" about it now.

d) A million other daily situations that I have complete control over. For instance, I'm not 'sorry' that I drive a vehicle which burns gasoline, thereby a) ever-so-slightly increasing our dependence on foreign oil and b) polluting the air we breathe. The point is: If I were truly 'sorry' about, I wouldn't do it. The same applies for you, and for anyone else. If you feel empathy towards cyclone victims in Burma, send them a check or volunteer your time for them. But don't talk about how 'sorry' you are to have a roof and a fridge full of food unless your next step is to give those things up and live in an alley.

You may be wondering why I'm making a big deal here of words like 'sorry' and 'deserve.' After all, they're just words, and like most words, they're not directly rooted to their full denotative meaning every time they're used. Okay, fair points, I admit.

Still, words can have meaning for speaker and/or listener, even when unintended. I have a good friend who works at a non-profit supporting battered women. It rankles him every time someone talks about a "wife-beater" t-shirt, even if the speaker intends no malice.

'Deserve' and 'sorry' have the same effect on me. As someone who dislikes a) expressions of entitlement and b) insincerity, I would greatly prefer that those words be reserved for those rare occasions when their use is warranted.

After all, it's a sorry state of affairs when people can't be self-reliant and sincere with one another -- after all, isn't that the least that our fellow citizens deserve?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

White House Agrees to Natty Park Expansion in Lowell

Just want to make sure everyone caught this -- the Bush Administration just rogered off on an expansion of the National Park area near the south side of the Pawtucket Canal.

I haven't written about Hamilton Canal stuff lately, but this is just another harbinger of more great things to come for the city. Good time to be a property owner downtown, especially in our building, which my neighbor Craig calls "Shangri-Lowell."

Also, has anyone noticed how frequently Michael Dukakis has been in town lately? I feel like I've either seen him quoted in the Sun or heard about him being in town for different events at least three times this week. Besides being America's greatest governor in the 1980s, Michael Dukakis is a hero of mine because he is one of the few politicians I can point to and say he's both great (at what he does) and good at the same time. I hope I get the chance to meet him next time he's in town.

Unfortunately, I've been out of town most of the week due to work stuff. And I have duty tomorrow, which means I'm in charge of the building and won't be back in the Mill City until Saturday.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Neatness as the Toughest Habit

I've never been neat. At all. All the way back to 3rd and 4th grade, I can remember that I almost always did every assignment twice because I'd do it once, lose it, and then have to pick it up from scratch before it was due.

Nothing ever really changed. Going away to college didn't fix me, boot camp didn't fix me, moving into my apartment didn't fix me, and (so far) moving into my own home hasn't fixed me.

I'd like to think this is why I've never been a neat freak: some other alternative always seems more interesting than cleaning. I'll pick up the phone to talk to a friend, write e-mails, read news on the Internet, read books, work out, or do just about anything first. It's not that I'm opposed to cleanliness in theory, it's just that it loses out in practice.

It wouldn't really all matter except for two reasons:

(1) It's embarrassing. I was more or less on my own for the past few years thanks to the training and deployment cycle. Now that things have changed (see any and all entries on 'community building') I'm finding it far more likely that there's actually another human being in either my car or home. It'd be nice to not have to do a five-minute spiel everytime this happens about how I keep meaning to get rid of those eight Dunkin Donuts cups on the floorboard but haven't done it yet. Personally, I don't care -- at all -- whether someone else has eight Dunkin Donuts cups in the footwell, or a box of Cup of Noodles that's been there for five months, but the reverse Golden Rule doesn't really work here -- other people do.

(2) And far more practically speaking, it leads to stuff getting lost. Any fan of George Carlin knows how important 'stuff' is in our lives. When you can't find your stuff, you can usually just go out and get more stuff. But that option becomes a lot less palatable when you're on a tight budget. And sometimes the 'stuff' you lose isn't readily replaceable. If it's a work-related item, it can be mighty hard to explain to someone that you just 'lost' it, whereas a lost sock can easily be replaced without anyone else being any the wiser.

Bottom line: Hearkening back to my entry about not making excuses about how things will magically fix themselves sometime in the future, I need to start with neatness.

It's going to be hard to break the old habit but the solution will come from: (1) being a lot more conscientious about where 'stuff' ought to go when it gets put down, and (2) reprioritizing cleaning vis-a-vis other potential ways to spend time.

Besides the better appearance/impression that ought to result, I'm hoping to gain back some of the time I spend cleaning when I suddenly don't have to stop in my tracks and upend everything in sight because I can't find my 'stuff.'

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Neutrally 'Irish'

In the 1870s, something really bad happened. I wasn't there and I had nothing to do with it -- it didn't happen to me, and it wasn't done by me.

A bunch of people from one island came to another island. The people from the first island persecuted the people from the second island because of religious, linguistic, and other cultural differences.

After having their church burned and their lives threatened by people from the first island, a bunch of people from the second island fled to Canada where they could freely practice Catholicism and not have to deal with foreigners threatening to kill them.

Some of those people married native-born Canadians (many of whom, as history would have it, were descendants of people from the first island). Together, they begat children. Two of their children who were born in Canada but later settled in the United States are my maternal grandparents.

None of this really means that much to me. I've never really thought of myself as "Irish" because I'm not. I wasn't born there, I've never been there, and I don't even know anyone who was born there. Anything *Irish* that I do is just a reflection of old-world customs becoming part of American culture. I'm sure I view St. Patrick's Day through the same American lens with which I see Cinco de Mayo (mainly, as an excuse to celebrate with friends).

I have Irish-looking features, or so I'm told. If anything, that's probably a bonus in this area, so I'll take it.

But as a tea-swilling, Economist-reading, Cockney rhyming slang-slinging, non-denominational Protestant Anglophile, I certainly bear no grudge against anyone from the first island to which I was referring. Besides, somewhere down the line, the UK is where I get my last name.

I love Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, and I still listen to the BNL -- but I don't really identify with Canadians, either. I mean, they're great neighbors and NATO allies, but I've never considered myself "half-Canadian" any more than I've considered myself "half-Pennsylvanian." I have a bunch of relatives in Canada, but I've never met them.

I don't really have any opinion about the Celtics mascot, the Notre Dame mascot, or the Lucky Charms guy. Then again, no one's ever asked me. But if they did, I wouldn't even know what to say. I wouldn't feel uniquely qualified to answer.

I don't have any issue with anyone else's connection to their heritage to, and connection with, other countries and cultures. Many of my closest friends are first- or second-generation Americans themselves, and I'm always interested in their stories. I live in an immigrant city and I am always fascinated to learn about how people got here from Cambodia, Vietnam, Rwanda, or Kenya. I love to trade thoughts with them about what 'America' means to us -- how we perceive it, how we celebrate it, and what parts of it we wish were different.

All I'm really saying is that personally, I've never really felt any connection to anywhere else. If I really stopped and thought about it, yes, I'm descended from some isles in the North Atlantic.

But I almost never do. It's not something I'm ashamed of or proud of.

I'm just sort of neutral about it, I guess.

Monday, May 5, 2008

And Now, on a Practical Note..

If you're interesting in improving conditions for mankind around the world, here's a quick and easy way to start: When you're leaving a voice mail, keep the message brief but give your number slowly. Over-enunciate and say it twice to be sure the person gets it.

One of the great pains of office life, I'm learning, is sitting through a 45-second rambling voice mail which concludes with, "So call me as soon as you get this, I'm at 4-5-[garbled]-2-8-[garbled]-4. Okay? Bye."

Don't be that guy.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Turning Points

Growing up, I used to love listening to Mets games on WFAN. This was back in the Davey Johnson era, and back when Bob Murphy was still the Voice of the Mets. One part of the broadcast that I always looked forward to was the "Turning Point of the Game" which Murphy would announce and then replay the original call of a home run, key hit, or defensive stop that turned the tide for the winning team. The great challenge for my seven year-old mind, of course, was guessing what play would get the honors. I was usually wrong, but somehow that never took the fun away.

I definitely didn't plan this, and didn't even realize it until after it had 'happened' but as I sat down to write today, I realized that I had come to one of the most significant 'Turning Points' in my life to date: I'm not waiting for anything to end.

Let me explain.

In high school, I always had college just over the horizon. If there was anything that personally didn't *work* or I didn't like about what I was doing, I could tell myself (rightly or wrongly), "Well, college is coming soon, so it'll all work itself out then. I'll be away from home, have more freedom, be around more people my age, etc."

College was great in many ways (and funnily, my best memories of 'college' are almost all of times I wasn't actually at the campus), but I never really got that I-don't-want-this-to-end feeling. Again, I could rationalize just about anything with, "Well, this isn't the real world. I don't have a car, don't have any money, and don't really live in a lasting, stable community. In the real world, everything will be better."

That extended into the next year (student teaching and Master's), which was sort of just like a 5th year of college, except in a colder locale and with a different, new set of responsibilities. An (un) cooperating teacher and a Marxist advisor made things difficult, to the point that I was literally counting down the days towards the end.

The 15 months where I waited to go to OCS were characterized mainly by "hurry up and wait" to mark time.

Then came about a year or so of training. Again, a legitimate, reasonable time to look over the horizon to what was coming next.

Then came my first command. Now, don't get me wrong -- I loved every minute of every day I spent there. I also loved the deployment I did with *my* command (but not so much for the times I augmented someone else's command). In fact, I would say the deployment from 2006 to 2007 was the single greatest experience of my life to date.

But because a) I was always gone, and b) I loathed the place where I lived, I still wasn't *there.* Outside of work, I never found the community that I looked for. I sort of just lowered my shoulder, used the time to get smarter and stronger, and worked with the detailer to figure out how to get myself up here to New England.

Well, all of a sudden, I realized, I really am *here.*

** I love my job. I won't even try to describe it but it's very cool. It's 180-degrees out from my last job, but exciting in its own, different way. It's a chance to learn about an entirely different community. Since Chief and I are starting our Department from scratch, it's also our chance to write our own playbook.

** I love my place. I've got the top floor end unit with a sweet view of downtown. With two stories, tons of space, and friendly neighbors, I love walking into the place every time I come home. I've never felt that way before about anywhere that I've lived. Also, I have a sense of ownership that probably springs from the fact that I, well, own it.

** I love my community. I've only lived in Lowell now for just over a month, but so far it's exactly how I pictured it would be. I'm getting to know tons of people, everything is becoming more and more familiar, and I'm starting to see the vision take shape, albeit slowly.

I'll eventually switch over to the Guard. I'll eventually get a full-time civilian job teaching or defense contracting. I'll eventually start my Master's at the War College in Newport, an MBA in Boston, both, or neither. I'll eventually sell my condo and move into a house. I'll eventually deploy overseas again.

All these things will happen in time, but I'm not marking time until they do. And if there's anything I don't like about what I'm doing, there's no magical *later* to fix it. If it's a skill I wish I had (like advanced swimming or Tae Kwon Do) there's no more valid once-things-come-together type of excuse for not doing it.

For the first time, I am here.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Quick Follow-Up to Previous Entry

I'm reading a really cool book right now called "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki. In the Introduction, he writes, "Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise."

So people who view the world differently (like poets who like the breeze and engineers who like the A/C) should make the best pairings when serious decisions need to be made.

If I were planning a four-person day trip to the beach, I'd want to *draft* three others who were generally like me -- didn't really care about the itinerary, didn't care where we ate, didn't care whether sand got in the car, didn't care whether we got lost, etc. Why? Because this is presumably happening on my day off, and I just want to enjoy it.

But if I were starting a company, and was faced with the same challenge (hire three people to help get it started) I would be a complete jackass if I used the same decision-making criteria. Because now, important decisions need to be made. If four really agreeable people are sitting in the room, it might be a lot of fun, but it's never going to work out better in the long run. Without diversity of thought and viewpoint, the bottom line would suffer the business would ultimately fail.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Windows People Are From Mars, A/C People Are From Venus


If you are not familiar with the terms "Windows People" and "A/C People" please revisit my 25 Feb. entry. As a super-quick shorthand, suffice it to say that Windows People tend to be Humanities/Social Science majors who see the world in very imprecise, fluid terms, whereas A/C People tend to be engineering and hard science majors who are more rigid thinkers. The terms are derived from whether, on a hot day, people would rather a) crack open the window and feel the outside air, or b) blast the A/C. Don't over-literalize the derivation -- if you do, you're completely missing the point.

In one of his final works, "Timequake," the late Kurt Vonnegut (the quintessential Windows Person) talks about how his more A/C-oriented wife, Jill Krementz, could not understand his habit of walking to the corner store for postage and an envelope every time he had to mail a letter.

I don't have the text handy, but I'll paraphrase (sorry, Kurt). She told him, "Honey, this makes no sense. You have plenty of money. You can certainly afford to make one trip to an office supply or stationery store and buy tons of envelopes and stamps. But you insist on making the separate trip on foot each time. It just doesn't seem logical."

Technically, she was right. Yes, he could have made one trip to CVS or Staples instead of making the effort each time. Yes, it would be more logical, and yes, it would've been more efficient.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Windows Person, I have to concede a major point to the A/C types -- you guys usually are right. Sometimes you annoy me by being hyper-logical and/or hyper-efficient, but yes, if I really stop and think about it, your way of doing business often makes more sense.

But both types need one another. Together, they make the world work because they're mutually complementary.

Windows People bring you most of the entertainment you enjoy. They write things that make you laugh, like "Family Guy," "The Simpsons," and "South Park." They sing most of the songs you hear on the radio. They run some of the highest echelons of our government and our businesses. They write the books you bring to the beach.

But none of them would be anywhere without the A/C types. In fact, if we didn't have A/C People, nothing would really work and our society would fail. Too many deadlines would be missed, too many corners would be cut, and technological advances would never be made. We'd have no bridges, no Internet, and, well, we'd have no central air to carry us through those weather extremes. We'd have no advanced medicine, no high-tech weaponry to protect us, and no reliable means through which to communicate with our friends and relatives.

I wouldn't want that world.

Besides, there'd be no one there to tell me that I'd just spilled soup all over my shirt.