Tuesday, September 30, 2008
(Paste the above in to read about what happened at the Edith Nourse Vets' Facility in Bedford)
I think I can see a lot of gray area in certain criminal cases, but not here. I hope these people can find their own forgiveness and salvation, but I would strongly prefer it be done in some type of corrective facility.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
The other day, I was accused of using the code words "cool," "sweet" and "uh-huh" as better-sounding proxies for "I'm not listening to you."
I strongly disagreed -- first of all, I was listening to everything being said, and second of all, it made me wonder just how else is someone supposed to convey the fact that they're listening? I meant that not as a rhetorical question or to be a contrarian wise-ass, but in a very sincere and plaintive way -- when I'm listening to something that's generally interesting but not given to two-way interaction, how better to acknowledge during the pauses than to just say things like "sweet," "cool" and "uh-huh"? (I still don't know, by the way, and would welcome any reader input here).
Even better, though, it brought back to mind a blog topic that I introduced a while back but still believe merits further debate/discussion -- good talk v. bad talk.
I don't recommend you do this, but I've actually taken the time to read The Seven Highly Effective Ways to Influence Emotionally Intelligent People from Venus and Mars who Move Cheese in One Minute While Taking the Path Less Traveled and Displaying the Effective Traits of Leadership.
Guess what every one of those books is chomping at the bit to tell you?
To be more effective, to be a better leader/husband/brother/co-worker/ parishioner/ neighbor/boss etc. you need to be a better listener.
Well, that's generally good advice, but it's entirely built upon a premise that I'm not sure I buy -- anytime someone speaks, all those around have some immediate obligation to stop whatever they're doing, fully engage the speaker, and listen.
I respectfully beg to differ.
Personally, I find it very hard -- painful, even -- to listen to those who fail to either enunciate or turn up the volume loud enough so I don't have to strain myself to hear or understand them. At some point, I just stop.
And as much as I'm engaged -- even enthralled -- by stories that involve the interpersonal humor all around us in everyday life, or by observations that start with "Did you ever notice..." I can't pretend to care about someone used to love Skittles but now never eats them, or about how their cat scratched them last night at 2, and then they woke up, but then couldn't go back to sleep until 3, and then the cat scratched them again, so they went right back to bed at four, but when the cat scratched them at 5, they were like, "What the heck?"
My workplace is an eclectic mix of people who are there to fulfill demanding, full-time jobs for senior officers alongside those in a Limited Duty (LIMDU)-status holding tank, whose purpose is to watch the paint dry while they're being out-processed, usually for medical reasons. As you might be able to guess, I fall under the former category, so if I have any prayer of leaving my office before 7 p.m., I don't have time to listen to the eighth re-hashing of your 'escape from Foxwoods' story. So if you start to tell it, I'm just going to look back at my monitor, get back to my job, and remind you that lunchtime or PT would be great for that, but please, not now.
So what amazes me about all these pop psychology and self-help bestsellers is that they're full of advice about how we need to be better listeners, but I've yet to encounter a one that advises readers to become better talkers.
So what is good talk?
There's no single answer. It's way too dependent on the audience and the given set of circumstances, but you could probably just summarize it like this: Might it interest the audience at hand? If it does, it's probably good talk. If it doesn't, it's probably bad talk.
As a little experiment in practicality, think about which of your immediate co-workers are the most-liked and best-respected. Now think about the least-liked and worst-respected. The next time you're in the faculty lounge, wardroom, company cafeteria, or whatever your equivalent break space, listen to what comes out of their mouths. I can almost guarantee you that the most-liked and most-influential colleagues engage primarily in good talk, while those on the wrong side of the coin are quick to engage in bad talk.
** Please note: 'Good' and 'Bad' talking has almost no correlation to how much someone is saying. It has much more to do with the way an audience receives it, and how a speaker reacts to that cueing.
So why did I title this entry the way I did?
If you go back through old entries on this blog, you'll find a few themes running through them:
America is a great, though imperfect, nation.
Lowell, though also far from perfect, is a great and still-underrated city that is on the up-and-up in most ways imaginable.
It's way harder to drive the bus than to sit in the back and throw spitballs towards the front.
Don't go through life with a scorecard. Not everyone's out to get you. Mostly, they don't care.
People aren't all good or all bad. Pattern analysis will reveal their character, good and bad.
Stop fighting for the best parking spots, and enjoy the breeze on a nice September day.
Those are all wonderful thoughts, but guess what?
Someone, somewhere, has already said them all. This is why "Good and Bad Talk" really stands out for me. I don't personally claim it at all. In fact, the "Matt" and "Nick" who comment here from time to time are at least as responsible for framing the idea as I am. But that's not the point -- this isn't about ownership. Besides, I'm sure that someone, somewhere, has written about this exact same issue, though they may have couched it in somewhat different terms.
The part that blows my mind is just that this basic, simple idea isn't more widespread in things like Leadership Seminars and the shelves of your local bookstore. Like I just said, I don't claim pure originality here, I just claim amazement at not having seen it before outside of maybe a single George Carlin routine where he makes fun of couples who talk about their vacations.
Here's how you can do your part: The next time you're at some corporate retreat where some guru with a European goatee and chic glasses tells your management about the value of good listening, pipe up and counter with the need to tell people to be better talkers.
And the next time someone calls you to tell you that they saw a great jacket at the mall, but weren't sure about the price tag, and then saw that it was slightly marked down and just decided to say what the heck and go for it, tell them to nip it in the bud -- that's bad talk.
I'm always half-amazed and fully-flattered when I get an e-mail from completely out of the blue from someone I haven't spoken with in months, and they mention that they read The New Englander and they dig it. As I'm sure they've noticed, I've cut back on my operational tempo a bit (Internet limitations and a new set of time constraints) but have still tried to average a couple of meaningful, thoughtful entries each week.
Among all these typed words, if I had to pick any single idea, entry, or thought that I would in turn encourage people to pass on, this is it, right here -- differentiating good talk from bad talk.
Know the difference, and spread the word -- but only to those who would appreciate your words, and listen.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
As a downtown property owner living on the JAM border, I'm naturally psyched -- this area now is still pockmarked by urban blight, but is poised to undergo a massive overhaul.
For a fuller description of what's coming, go to this link:
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
This has only become MORE the case in the post-9/11 climate. Anyone in the military is already familiar with most of this, but it's amazing how much this idea persists among America's chattering classes.
The article doesn't get into this at all, but I think a lot of people would be honestly surprised if they knew more about military pay and overall compensation. For a mid-level O-3 serving in the Northeast (that's Captain in the Army or Lieutenant in the Navy) the adjusted annual salary would work out to somewhere in the neighborhood of $75k.
Obviously, there are civilian professions that pay far in excess of that, but it sure ain't a vow of poverty.
No, that wasn't a typo -- she wasn't entering her second trimester.
I've kind of noticed for a while that my diet (eat everything in sight, sometimes literally) and lack of aerobic activity was leading to some real growth in the mid-section, but I sort of just sloughed it off, sucking in the gut when I could and just thinking I could hide it because of some shoulder/chest bulk that would keep me from looking like a pear.
That is, until I saw that picture.
So what did I do?
I started making a conscious decision to run nearly every day. I did some basic research and found that every 3500 calories burned more or less kills a pound of fat, so I figure my running regimen will shed about one pound a week -- a healthy goal. I'm also cutting out the Dunkin Donuts in the morning and the Taco Bell in the evening in favor of some lighter fare.
And guess what? Surprise, surprise -- the gut is starting to go away. It's slow-going but I'm confident the gains made so far will stay with me as the new habits become ingrained.
I saw my aunt in Chelmsford this weekend and she commented on how I'd lost weight...(it's funny, that actually just reinforced what the picture taught me -- that there was weight to lose in the first place, something I had been half-wittingly blind to).
So why am I telling you this?
Detailed talk of diets, workouts, or any related gastrointestinal matters is quintessential "bad talk" (subject of a coming entry).
But here's my point -- If you're trying to diet or exercise to lose weight or gain muscle, STOP OVERTHINKING IT.
As one old boss of mine used to quip, "This ain't rocket surgery when you get down to it."
Really, it's not. I'm sure there are some people with naturally slow metabolisms and legitimate health issues that cause them to gain and retain weight, but for the rest of the population, the answer is just to stop splitting the atom.
People spend way too much time thinking and overthinking their diets, when what they should really be doing is finding a little bit of time every day to walk or jog, and just cutting out the worst excesses of what they take in.
Since I've started thinking about it more in the past couple weeks, I've talked to some sailors who had failed PRT "weigh-ins" in the past, and they all talked about what they did to drop the pounds needed to pass.
As you might guess, there were no magical potions, pills, formulas or shortcuts -- they were volun-told to begin running 3 x per week around the base, eat a little bit better, and lo and behold, the pounds came off by the dozens.
I will always love food. I will always love beer. And I will always love conversation.
I will always REALLY love it when the three can be had in concert, so I will NEVER become one of those annoying calorie-counters or people who muse about how "guilty" they'll feel for ordering dessert. In fact, I hope not to return to this topic ever again on this blog (though comments are always welcome as ever).
But I'll run when I can, and I'll cut back on the donuts. I can't guarantee the waistline won't ever start to make its return, but if it does, it'll be no one's fault but mine.
All I can promise you is that I'll spare you the details, and I won't overthink it.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
"Greed is good." -- Gordon Gekko, Wall Street
Don't worry, I'm not about to turn this blog into some type of stock-picking site.
And for full disclosure's sake, my ability to trade (or at least to acquire) is halted until I put on my next set of bars, thanks to some current budgetary restraints (for which I blame neither the Republicans nor the Democrats but, rather, myself for taking on my mortgage in addition to other fixed expenses).
Anyway, I want to return to an old adage I've heard about investing:
"The key to successful investing is to be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful."
It's this type of mentality that distinguishes the greats like Warren Buffett and Peter Lynch.
I know I'm just echoing what I said two entries ago, but fear is now the prevailing emotion in the investment world.
If you have the means to invest, and the guts to do it, now is the time to be greedy. Now is the time to scoop up well-established stocks that have taken huge dives in the past week.
Grab what you can, hang on for a while, and just when the tickers start turning from red to green and those very same people re-enter the market, liquidate your positions for nice gains.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I saw this headline and read the story in the NY Times and was pretty surprised.
The most major part of the story, I believe, was the decryption of the Soviet cables from New York to Moscow, which is only a minor footnote in this piece on the second page. That, coupled with the testimony of ex-KGB agents who have spoken frankly about the Rosenbergs' case since the fall of the former Soviet Union (and are somehow not mentioned in this article), long settled the twin issues of whether the Rosenbergs were really involved in espionage and how the U.S. government knew what it did.
It's never been entirely clear to me, though, where Ethel figured in (and the Greenglass testimony supports the idea of Julius but not Ethel being the real link to the Russkies).
The Mort Sobell confession only echoes what is already common knowledge, though somehow it seals the deal for the Rosenbergs' kids.
I'm against the death penalty so it doesn't matter whether you're Jeffrey Dahmer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Julius Rosenberg, or Karla Faye Tucker -- I don't think the government ought to decide whether, or how, you will die.
That's one of the only truly unshakable beliefs I have, even if it puts me in a distinct minority of Americans (and even, amazingly, if it puts me in a minority among American Christians).
That fact alone gives me common cause with those who support certain causes celebres, but that's where I'll draw the line -- I definitely don't see anything 'cool' or 'heroic' about selling sensitive secrets to evil regimes or murdering police officers in Philadelphia.
Monday, September 15, 2008
When ALL the experts on the news says real estate is a sure thing to appreciate at 10% annually, beware.
When ALL the experts say the dot.com craze justifies sky-high P/E ratios, beware.
...And when ALL the experts say the sky is falling all across the financial sector, beware.
Those first two, of course, are obvious in hindsight, but the third should be obvious in present-sight (or at least whatever you would call what's not hindsight or foresight).
I actually heard someone say today, "I'm going to dump all my money out of financials and my S & P Index Funds and stick it all in precious metals, which have appreciated nicely over the last five years."
That's a terrible idea.
Unless you've got some plutonium, a flux capacitor, a wacky scientist and a built-in Huey Lewis and the News soundtrack, that advice just doesn't apply to you.
Now is the time to grab the bargains that are everywhere in the financial and real estate sectors. If you've done phenomenally well in energy and defense, and don't think you can sustain it, now might be a good time to start hedging your position a bit by chipping away at it and walking away with some gains.
But for Pete's sake, don't just walk off the cliff behind every Lemming who would just bail out of all their stocks that are down 30%+ in this bizarre year.
Legendary early 20th-century outfielder Wee Willie Keeler hit over .400 once, hit over .300 16 times, and finished with a career average of .341.
When asked what made him such a good hitter, his famously laconic reply was just this: "I hit 'em where they ain't."
If you want to hit 'em where they ain't, go find some large-cap financials that have taken heavies all year long and are sitting down in the sewer somewhere.
Reinvest your dividends and sit back as your share values climb out of the gutter and back up on to the sidewalk.
But please don't be a momentum investor.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I'm no stranger to -isms. I spent a year at Marxist Indoctrination School (no really, it was Ed School, where I stuck around just long enough for the Master's) and some very up close and personal experience with the dangers of identity politics and a realization that the Far Left's bigotry is just as awful as that of the Far Right, only more dangerous for the people it claims to want to *help.*
Anyway, back to my point. As much as the extremism of Ed School repulsed me, if you don't think our society is infused with large quantities of racism and sexism, I think you're in some serious denial.
This year's election carries the extra excitement of three non-traditional (i.e. not gray or graying Protestant white males) on the major parties' tickets. So of course, that opens up the possibility of racism, sexism, or anti-Catholicism finding their way into the rhetoric.
Let me give two real live examples I've witnessed since Gov. Sarah Palin's place on the GOP ticket was announced:
1. The morning after her speech at the GOP convention, I heard multiple pundits quickly follow their praise of her speech and her bons mots with qualifiers about how she "of course didn't write it though."
Well, who does? Some politicians do write a lot of their stuff (Barack Obama and Robert Torricelli come quickly to mind) but there ain't no such thing as a modern pol who doesn't get help with speeches. Even the most overrated public speaker of the last century, Bill Clinton, didn't write his own stuff (though he did sometimes edit it).
I think part of this can be attributed to newcomer-ism (people said similar things about the Governator at first) but I also think you have to admit that sexism factored right into it. I think that even if some unknown male Governor suddenly came from nowhere to start cracking jokes at a convention, people would've given him more credit.
2. Secondly, and far more subtly, I've noticed the talking heads on the cable news channels (yes, it's on half the day in my office as white noise) refer to Gov. Palin as "Sarah" on multiple occasions.
It's like, do you know this lady? How presumptuous is that type of speech? I've never heard any of these types say "John," "Barack," or "Joe" unless they were referring to one of the Senators as a personal friend. Usually, those who are building her up will refer to her as "Gov. Palin" while those who are putting her down will remind us that "Sarah is just [insert unflattering adjective here]."
The same thing happened with "Hillary" but the key difference there is that her husband was once POTUS, so the use of "Hillary" as been with her as long as she's been in the public eye, in part to distinguish her from the other Clinton.
You'd be right to point out that gender discrimination works both ways. For some reason, it was once okay for John McCain to use "lipstick on a pig" in reference to Bush, but somehow it's not okay now that Gov. Palin made a single quip about "lipstick."
As I've written and said many times, I believe that Sociology Departments 'round the world will ultimately over-attribute the final results of the 2008 campaign to race and gender by drawing sweeping, deterministic conclusions about the American body politic once the dust settles from this election.
I'll challenge those pat assertions -- voter preferences are more complicated than most realize --but that doesn't make me right, either.
But what I do know is that both the "she didn't write it" and the "Sarah" stuff made me cringe just a bit.
Kind of like I cringed when I heard Senator Biden's "clean, fresh and articulate" line.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
In one case, it was clearly my fault. I attached an old set of instructions to something that I just didn't bother to check; as a result, the e-mail contained incorrect information about a procedure (trust me, we're not talking life or death here, but still, I'll admit that bad information has no proper place and I certainly deserved the 'correctional instruction' I received).
In the second case, I sent out a query about something in which I indicated that someone far higher than me in the hierarchy was interested in seeing a presentation, if it could be arranged. All I meant was that the person was interested in it if it could be done, certainly not that it was some sort of sudden imperative.
But both cases had a common thread -- the recipient got wildly animated and brought many others into the fray to clarify where there had been confusion. In the first case, I had my posterior chewed by a Commodore (that's just below an Admiral), and in the second case, I just got a series of very confused phone calls and e-mails from someone who I had never met and, to be frank, never needed to be involved in the situation in the first place.
I know the term "common sense" is a loaded and dangerous one, so I'll just say this -- If I got an e-mail or phone call from someone with information that I believe to be incorrect, misleading, or unclear, what I would do -- hold onto your hats here -- is get back to the person who sent it for clarification.
I might just start by asking questions like, "Are you sure that's the right way to do this? I've got something that indicates otherwise" or, in the other case, "Is this just a 'nice-to-have' sort of request, or am I being mandated to fly halfway across the world to do this?"
If either case had been handled that way -- the one where I really was at fault, or the one where I was just a bit too ambiguous in the way I worded something -- no one would have ever gotten 'spun up.'
The entire thing could have been resolved at the lowest possible level with one part 'benefit of the doubt' and one part 'common sense.'
Yes, I said it -- to me, that's common sense.
And lest this sound like a "Dear Diary" entry, it's not -- my point here is just to remind anyone reading this not to get spun up the next time they perceive that someone you work with has put out bad info. At least go to the source first and check!
** Oh, and speaking of the 'benefit of the doubt' just want to use this forum to put out to friends that my PC is down hard right now. I have no access to either e-mail account from this network so if you've sent me a yahoo or other e-mail in the past couple weeks, that's why you ain't heard back...and thanks in advance for the lack of a spin-up!**
Monday, September 8, 2008
My friend Nick (who, incidentally, reads and sometimes posts on this blog) heard me say that I found it only "so-so" and, when I offered him my reasoning, gave me a totally different way to interpret the movie.
"Yeah, I *get it*, too" he said, "it's supposed to cast Americans in a bad light, it's obviously edited that way, and the points just get made over and over again....but look at this way -- here's this heavily-accented guy saying he's from Kazakhstan acting rudely and thrusting himself into all kinds of strange social situations, but he's mostly being welcomed everywhere he goes. If you want to watch the movie to better understand America, just take notice of how welcoming and open everyone is to him."
I watched "Borat" again this weekend from that perspective and was amazed by it. Time and again in the movie, Cohen's character loudly throws himself into bizarre situations with people who, by and large, *go with it.* Nearly everyone from the shop owner whose goods Borat breaks, to the people he introduces himself to in the street, to the southern socialites whose house he enters, to the people he meets at public gatherings, etc. welcomes him with open arms even after he acts in a way that most would find offensive. When he's really offensive -- running naked through a hotel reception area or trying to kidnap Pamela Anderson -- the reception is far from warm, but that ought to be expected anyway.
I'm not going to defend the xenophobes and bigots that Borat "exposes" -- even though I do sympathize somewhat, because many were apparently duped into appearing on the film, and (most notably in the case of the southern frat boys) will be in some way pockmarked by it forever.
However, even a fourth-grader should realize that careful video editing allows someone to portray any group of people just about any way they want to. And at the end of the day, I trust Sasha Baron Cohen's revelations about American values about as much as I trust Michael Moore's comparison of American and Canadian news broadcasts in "Fahrenheit 9/11," which is to say, not a whole heck of a lot.
American society, like any other, is full of its faults and contradictions. But by and large, it's an open-minded one with a long and storied history of welcoming outsiders.
You may scoff at that.
You may come back with things like Sacco and Vanzetti, the Chinese Exclusion Act, or the turning back of the St. Louis by FDR in 1939. You'd be fair to make any of those points.
But show me another country where there are multiple first- and second-generation immigrant groups whose median income is more than double the national average. Show me another country where millions from every inhabited continent queue up to enter each year. Show me another country where the Governor of its largest state (by population) with the largest economy is foreign-born and arrived in his teens without a word of the language or a dollar of the currency.
If you're still scoffing, I can't stop you. But if you can take the leap of faith, trust me when I say it can't be done.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
The only thing more nauseating, however, are the specious comparisons to sex scandals made by junior varsity-level pundits that usually go something like this:
"The Republicans are trying to be this holier-than-thou party that is obsessed with other people's personal lives, yet here they are with this type of thing going on in their own home. This just shows how [insert unflattering adjective here] they are."
Let me see if I get this straight:
Sarah Palin has a teenage daughter. Check.
That teenage daughter has a boyfriend. Got it.
Hormones being what they are, the teenage daughter and her teenage boyfriend have intercourse. Okay.
Biology being what it is, that act leads her teenage daughter to get pregnant. Still tracking, and still not finding either of my eyebrows raised even a nanometer.
The teenage daughter makes a personal and emotional choice to follow her heart and values and bear the child. Good copy.
So far I understood everything. But here's the part I don't get:
Where's the scandal?
First of all, no one broke any laws (unlike, say, Eliot Spitzer) and second of all, no one lied about anything (unlike, say, Bill Clinton, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Gary Hart, etc.)
On top of all this, it wasn't even the candidate herself.
No one held Bill Clinton accountable for Roger's drug involvement (and rightly so). No one made a huge deal when Al Gore's kid got busted with pot (and rightly so). And I don't think anyone should make a big deal over a 17 year-old girl doing something far more "normal," completely within the law, and then having the courage to forsake her own public image/privacy to do what she believed was the right thing.
So I just don't see the scandal here in the first place, but I especially don't see some kind of bogus moral equivalency with other, actual scandals involving leaders who hold, or seek to hold, the trust of the American public.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
never a good idea for its own sake -- that's a good way to land yourself in a lot of trouble.
My only point of departure with Cramer, and with a lot of other literature you would find on a library or bookshelf about personal finance, is that it starts with the basic premise that your desire is not to work. It's all geared towards retirement savings, which seems based on the idea that at some point in the reader's (or listener's) fifties or sixties, he or she wants to withdraw from the workforce in order to sip margaritas on a beach somewhere, buy an RV, or sit around doting on grandkids.
Now, I say this with the all-too-obvious caveat that it's coming from a 27 year-old who only entered the workforce four years ago, but NOT working is not my goal at all.
I have no idea what the world will look like, or what I'll look like, when I turn 65 in 2045. The whole concept of "work" may become even more flexible, as there may be entirely new industries created, more opportunities to work part-time, and more opportunities to work away from a traditional office.
I just don't know. But if I had to guess, or bet, I think I'll be "working" in some form right up to the point that the ticker stops ticking.
In the meantime, what I do know -- or, at least, what I think I know -- is that savings are a great thing to have for an "in case of emergency, break glass" type of situation. Based on the way my school, job, and/or Guard schedules might or might not converge, there could be a several-month period where I could find myself unemployed in the next few years. That seems like a great time to dip into some savings, especially provided that they're liquid enough to be dipped-into in the first place.
For that reason alone, I'm keeping tabs on those stocks and REITs that I've written about before (and yes, those REITs and the financials have taken heavies, but it's the dividends that are keeping me afloat). On top of that, every month I'm pumping money into the best investment I could have anyway -- my home, a wonderful cause of forced savings and probably the best future wealth-builder I could have.
I realize, of course, my dream of being an old codger who can still earn a good income via freelance writing or consulting might not come into fruition the way I imagine it. Further, I realize that not wanting to stop working probably puts me in a distinct minority of American workers.
Still, it makes the advice given by most Personal Finance 101 screeds not 100% applicable.