Saturday, February 28, 2009

10 Questions with Kathleen Marcin

The link above will take you to a piece from yesterday's Sun: "10 Questions with Kathleen Marcin." Kathleen is the President of the Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association, an organization that brings together residents, businesses, police, bars, etc. in the Downtown area. (Quite handily linked just to your right). There are some great points in here about the upsides of Downtown -- for one, the very real sense of neighborliness, and two, the fact that you can drive in from work on a Friday, park your car, and not start it again until Monday morning.

Outside of the truly major cities, how many places can say that?

There's also a good plug for the Revolving Museum and a mention of the Gardens right between the Trolley Museum and Lowell Tae Kwon Do.

And, I've got to add, Kathleen has reminded me that not every work policy or "Office Space"-type subject I write about is unique to the public sector -- Honda Corp. has had a policy of paid holidays for employees' birthdays, too.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Full-Bird Lieutenant

Tomorrow morning, I'll wake up obscenely early at my home-away-from-home (really, just a couple minutes' drive from home) at Mount Vernon and Bowers. I'll stumble down the stairs to the car, fire up the British-accented Economist podcasts, gun it to Worcester, grab some Awake Tea and a bagel at the Starbucks off Exit 16 on 290, and see the sun come up along 395 as the automatic lights come off somewhere near Norwich just after 6 a.m. I'll pass Mohegan, turn onto 12, flash an ID to an MA with woodland cammies, park, and hoof it to the gym. I'll PT, shower, change, and put on my uniform with the single, silver O-2 bars for the last time ever.

It's not because of anything special I've done, mind you. As they promised me back on 18FEB05 when I got to wear the neat Service Dress Blues with the single gold stripe, if I could still breathe on a mirror and see some fog on the first day of the first month four years after commissioning, I'd put on O-3. By the grace of God, I have. And I will. On Monday, an O-7 will put the bars you see at the top here on my collar, and I'll lose the "Junior Grade" from my title. Here's what it'll mean:

(1) More pay. I know it's not about the money, except when it's needed...and then it is. Or that money doesn't buy happiness, but it sure helps. Or something like that. All I know is that O-3 means a nice jump in pay (it's purposely designed that way, as O-3 is when officers have to make the bomb-or-get-off-the-pot decision about their careers, so the military entices them with a pay boost at that point). The dual whammy for me here is that I'm not renewing my lease down by the base. Yup, that's right -- for my last several months' active duty, I'm going to split my time between Market and Mt. Vernon, except when I'm too damn tired, on duty, or have too big of a brief to prep, in which case I can crash at the Lodge or the Q. Either way, I've done the math and it means a lot -- no more deficit spending, or dipping into the savings that, on paper at least, have taken a 50% dive in the past year. It also means I can start tithing at exactly the one year mark of joining my church (CCF, Princeton and Stevens just off Westford...check it out sometime). In a way I hate to make money the number 1 item, but if you can believe it, I've been living for the past year on what you might call an upside-down budget, which is obviously unsustainable. That all changes now.

(2) More respect. Now, my title doesn't *really* change until later this year, because I'm a phone Lieutenant in the same way an O-4 is a "Commander," an O-5 is a "Colonel" (yes, I'm nodding to Cliff Krieger, a real full bird, for whom I use the title of this piece in gest), or an O-7 is a "General." Still, the really big deal is the extra bar.

Here's why: Anytime someone sees an O-1 or an O-2, they can generally tell how long that person has been in the service, with only a year or so as a margin of error. O-3 is different. It's a rank that people hold for as long as 6 years, or more in some cases. So, you see an O-3, that could be a newly-minted guy or it could be someone just about to put on Major, or, for the sea services, Commander. No one will say "Why the eff is an O-2 wearing a Commendation Ribbon?" anymore (that's a sub community thing...I could write volumes about ribbons and medals, but I'll spare you the pain for now. Suffice it to say no other subject brings highly-animated debate that always starts with, "I don't care about awards, but..."

Anyway, O-1 is an Officer rank, so it's technically higher than even a Master Chief or Sergeant Major, but it's functionally not. In fact, in some ways, O-1 is one of the *lowest* ranks there is, because you take grief from all sides as a "butter bar." O-2 is only slightly better -- the same name for the ground/air services, or, for the Navy, Ensign Upper Half or "I can't believe it's not butter." (In reference to the bar now being silver).

At O-3, things start to change. You're still a JO, but now you can call a huge additional chunk of people by their first names and the overall respect you garner goes way up from every which way -- junior and senior enlisted, the officers below you, and your superiors.

(3) Less room for error. As you might guess, with Number Two comes the fact that a little more is expected. People are a little less surprised when you know the answer or come up with something that answers the mail for the boss. That, in turn, means less forgiveness for your screw-ups. Again, that applies to both the officers and enlisted around you...higher expectations and more of a chance that someone might be let down if you do something stupid (i.e. Can you believe that Captain screwed up so badly at the brief? What an ass clown!) The sort of magical "Get Out of Jail Free" card that O-1s and O-2s carry is now lost forever.

(4) A much cooler title, come the switch-over. I talked the folks in Millington, TN who control my fate yesterday. The exact date is still very much in question, but yes, they've confirmed that at some point this year (calendar, not necessarily fiscal, but we'll see) the magical DD-368 will be signed that will make me an Army O-3 vice a Navy O-3. So in a day I'll go from "Lieutenant" to "Captain." That's a really big deal. Because terms like "Ensign" and "Lieutenant" are often used pejoratively (hey, you can't spell 'LOST' without 'LT'), people are happy to shed them. Plus, Captain just sounds cooler. And it will confuse the hell out of my Navy friends who will think I somehow pulled a Stephen Decatur and jumped to O-6 before age 30. (That's because in the Navy, 'Captain' is an O-6...the highest rank below Admiral).

I'll be a little sad to see O-2 go, but I should have the next 5 or 6 years to embrace O-3. I purposely joined a Branch where you can still stay *active* (i.e. not just pushing paper) beyond O-3, so I won't cry about being relegated to desk jockey life as an O-4 or above in Civil fact, in CA higher rank/older age is considered a plus, because you're often dealing with foreign militaries and societies that are more rank/age conscious than our own.

In the meantime, I've got plenty of time to embrace and get comfortable with O-3.

I signed on for the $10k accession bonus with the Guard, which is like a marriage, only far more legally binding. In other words, who am I kidding, I love this stuff and can't let go, even if I'm opting for the stability-of-domicile that the Guard offers as opposed to active duty. I get giddy like a little kid when I think about the Bragg-Huachuca-Benning circuit that next year will bring before the real C-17 ride to wherever-the-heck-the-26th-MEB is headed. (Remember whose ears perk up when Pres. Obama talks about reducing *combat troops* from certain theaters).

In the meantime, every day is a chance to get a little bit better than my former self. Every qual, every brief, every PT run, and every DLPT flashcard session hopefully leads to that. Because the train towards the gold oak leaf is moving, albeit off in the far distance.

Time to start running.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lowell Handmade

At tonight's Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association, I had the good fortune of running into Alex and Anne Ruthmann, the proprietors of the Lowell Handmade website. Lowell Handmade (now linked just to your right) is a one-stop shop for information about Lowell's creative communities -- the arts, the theater, film groups, and, yes, blogs (they have a neat blogroll that includes a few local blogs that weren't previously on my proverbial radar). Lowell Handmade definitely has the possibility of morphing into something more tangible than a blog -- it could grow into a storefront or studio-type setup at some point down the road.

Anyway, I definitely recommend giving this site a look and a bookmark -- it's a great resource for information about what's going on around you.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thanking the Messenger

The other day I got a call from an unknown number, area code 603 (southern New Hampshire). With the call coming on a day off from work, and me being in the middle of some Viet-Thai buffet, I figured I wouldn't pick up and risk whatever surprise might be lurking on the other end of the line. I waited to see if the caller would leave a message before responding, and sure enough, the message left was just a middle-aged woman's New England twang telling me she'd reached the wrong number, and sorry for the confusion.

I wanted to call her back and thank her.

But I didn't, for fear of sounding sarcastic or otherwise off-kilter.

But here was my reasoning: Every day, my job requires me to coordinate several meetings, briefings, and other events between people with paygrades several levels higher than my own. It also requires many other types of phone-based coordination, and here's the kicker: I'm usually not at my desk.

I work in several different offices/rooms (and sometimes different buildings entirely) to perform various functions, so chances are overwhelmingly high that if you call my extension, you won't get me. Everything works quite well when people follow the simple instructions on my voicemail -- leave a message and I'll get right back to you.

If only things could be simple.

Many times, people call, don't get the instant gratification of someone on the other end (and that comes with the "WTF" factor, because we might have just talked before I had to run, so naturally you wonder why-in-the-heck-is-he-not-there-he-just-said-to-call-this-number)? So of course, people hang up the phone in frustration. I don't get the voicemail, so I don't know why the person called or what needs to happen...and suffice to say, if they're calling on that line, it's not just to B.S. about the weather.

To use one of the many sports analogies I love, the chains haven't been moved 10 yards downfield, even though a simple message could have accomplished that quite painlessly.

Where it really gets over the top, however, is when people blame me for the not-being-there phenomenon.

Last week, I picked up the phone to hear from a Petty Officer who I'd never met/seen before. It went something like this:

Him: "Whoa!?! Lieutenant Page, is this really you? You're a hard man to reach...I've been trying and trying for days, I thought you might've been away or something."

Me: Uh...actually, I'm probably one of the easiest people to reach out there. Was my voicemail broken?

Him: No, I just don't always leave messages.

Me: Well if it was really that important, I just want you to know if the shoe were on the other foot I would've just left a message and given the person the benefit of the doubt that they would've gotten it and returned it."

Him: Well, it's funny you should say that, this was the time I had decided to actually leave one.

Me: Well, in the future, if you ever want to reach me, just leave a message...I check this line every hour or so, so you'll get a pretty prompt return. But if you just hang up on me, we're both [Shoot] Out-of-Luck."

As you can probably tell, some frustration and sarcasm were making their way through from my end, for sure.

And only then did we proceed to discuss an important and somewhat time-sensitive aspect of the movement of a bunch of files from one building to another for storage.

Personal calls are one thing -- I understand sometimes frivolous or timely things (hey, want to grab Subway for lunch?) don't require messages.

But for work-related business, I find it somewhat unprofessional for people to not leave messages. And I find it over-the-top ridiculous for non-message leavers to *blame* others when they can't get through.

And that's why I was so impressed by the anonymous lady from New Hampshire who was presumably looking for someone else with the 508 area code and 451 prefix.

She left a message. She stated what needed to be conveyed, even though she didn't have to, and then hung up.

If only everyone could catch the fever.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Birthdays as Paid Holidays for Philly Cops?

I was sort of casually thumbing through the latest version of The Economist while waiting to go grab lunch with a neighbor when I did a double-take at the end of an article about Philadelphia's fiscal woes:

"The mayor wants to eliminate birthdays as paid holidays for police officers."

Eliminate? I had no idea this policy existed in the first place. What a total joke.

I can still remember how childish it seemed to me when a peer of mine complained about having to do homework on his the 3rd grade! Yes, even then, the teacher had to sit down with him the next day to explain that while your birthday may be oh-so-special to you, you also need to remember that no one else cares about it, and if no one ever had to do anything on their birthday, we'd have to do without a lot of vital services and products when we needed them.

Believe me, I'm not going to start railing against taxpayer dollars paying for leave days (I earn 2.5 a month and I'm unabashedly going to use them until the active duty days are done). I also realize that whoever negotiated for this could have probably just asked for another day of paid leave each year and it might not have sounded so frivolous.

But still, c'mon! Even military and other public employees who earn leave have to request the days off via the chain of command (this prevents people from taking leave during critical periods where they're needed...all leave chits still have to be routed at least through the Executive Officer, or XO).

Birthdays?!?!? For grown, armed men in uniforms?!?! I mean, I had to check and then re-check this article to make sure I'd read it right before posting, for fear that I might've somehow misinterpreted it.

I hope Mayor Nutter achieves his goal of reversing this.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Covering Municipal Politics

As this blog was "launched" almost exactly one year ago, I still haven't written much about Lowell's municipal political races, as they occur in the odd-numbered years only.

This being 2009, however, I'm definitely looking forward to soaking everything in -- the candidates, the issues, the races, the strategies, etc. and writing about it here. As a Political Science student who loves this stuff from a pure observer's angle, I can't wait to see it all up close -- trust me, I can say with no exaggeration that Richard Ben Cramer's "What It Takes" had me on the edge of my seat from front to back. Also, as someone who would love to jump into the fray at some point (though I'm not sure quite when, or how, or on what level), it'll be great to watch everything go by with the proverbial bat on my shoulder -- both for curiosity's sake and to help answer the could-I-ever-really-do-something-like-this question -- I'm still not sure whether I'd be better suited as a guy who tries to run for something, as a guy who advises the guy who tries to run for something, or as a guy who gets appointed to run something by the guy who successfully runs for something. All I know for sure is that I want to be involved -- I can't help it, I'm just way too interested in what goes on around me to stay on the sidelines forever.

Well, with proper kudos to Left in Lowell as the place I grabbed this from, I noticed today that a challenger had announced already: Ryan Berard. You can check out his website at this url: A lot of basic bio information is there -- suffice to say, he'll almost certainly be the youngest candidate on either the Council or School Board slates, as he'll turn 20 in April. There's not a ton of substantive policy stuff, but judging from his Left in Lowell post, the website is still a work in progress.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Pay..

A lot of the local blogetariat (and now me, too) have written about the rise of new media (and the concomitant decline of the old). While the days of the printed newspaper as we've come to know and love it (or, come trash/recycling day, know and loathe it) may be numbered, I trust that entrepreneurial types 'round the world will find new ways to bring us the things we need, conveniently, and make a tidy dollar or two in the process.

I noticed this article in the Economist yesterday about Amazon's Kindle and other e-readers that are gaining steam with book-lovers. Good for them. They've found a clever way to market a legitimate product in an easy-to-use, handy format that doesn't clutter people's houses, burn down trees to produce, or weigh down peoples' cars when they move.

I love the fact that iTunes has been so successful, despite many predictions that people were too used to downloading free music to pay for a service like the one it offers. iTunes proves that people will do the right thing, provided it's convenient, user-friendly, and reliable (and the threat of going to jail or paying huge fines for illegal downloads doesn't hurt, either). Witness also the runaway success of Netflix, which offers the by-the-mail service as well as the instant-to-your-PC version of movies.

For me, the best thing going right now is the podcast. Because I spend a LOT of time driving, podcasts provide me with the perfect solution for being stuck in an enclosed space but wanting to be reading and/or learning. Now, many podcasts are free, but not all are. Some are pay-to-play, some are split content (some is given away, the rest you gotta pay for), and some are free assuming you already pay for something else (like the Economist's podcast, which is free for paying print edition subscribers). Without the podcast, I might've canceled my Economist subscription because I've noticed a few more stack up on the kitchen table than I've had time to read, but I keep it going just because it hooks me up to the podcast. With Learning Indonesian ( I found a great free service that inspired me to pay for a subscription to all the content (which I've found, by the way, to be well worth it).

I'm sure there are many people out there with long commutes, who walk on the treadmill every day, or who just enjoy listening to the spoken word, and want to use things like podcasts to keep them informed.

For every one of those people, there's a potential for some innovative marketer/entrepreneur to make a buck. All parties can be better for the transaction.

The same could be said for any form of media -- yes, it will morph, but no, the main ideas behind it won't die. Things will change shape, but the changes will provide opportunities for those who can see them coming from down the road, and seize upon them.

Consumers, by and large, will benefit.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pitchers and Catchers? Bah, humbug..

I heard a radio announcer excitedly declare the other day that pitchers and catchers were reporting south for spring training.

I didn't share his enthusiasm. Now, don't get me wrong -- I still love sports almost as much as I did when I was a kid growing up.

I love the pure athleticism of *the* Troy Polamalu interception this season (y'know, the one where he scooped the ball from an impossibly low height). I loved the Ben Rothliesberger quick kick against the Ravens (and the Matt Cassell kick against the Bills that I blogged about). I love the strategy that goes into the Lowell Devils' decision to yank their goalie when down 5-4 late in the 3rd, keep the goalie pulled even after giving up another goal, and then using their de facto power play to score two goals with less than 30 seconds left in regulation today against the Portland Pirates today at Tsongas.

But I'm also noticing that as more years go by, my perspective on what a Super Bowl or a World Series really means changes.

When I was seven years old, the Mets were playing the Dodgers in the NLCS. Growing up a Mets fan in northern New Jersey (remember, I'm a New Englander by conscious choice, though not by birthright), I thought this series to be among the most important things in the world at the time.

An older and wiser family friend counseled me pre-emptively (the Mets would go on to lose that Series to the eventual World Series champs) by telling me this: "The World Series really isn't that big of a deal. If it were, they wouldn't play it every year."

When I was seven, with two whole years' professional sports rooting under my belt, this made no sense to me.

Now, I'd like to go back to that guy and shake his hand. I finally get it.

Every year, someone will win the World Series. Al Michaels will call it a monumental, historical achievement. Champagne bottles will be sprayed around a locker room amidst cries of "We're the greatest," and "No one said we could do it."

And then players will retreat to their winter homes, a few months will go by, and then all of a sudden pitchers and catchers will be reporting while someone un-originally laments where all the time has gone and can-you-believe-it's-already-February? The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues will come and go, and then will come Opening Day and equally un-original observations about can-you-believe-it's-already-April?

When I started watching sports, I didn't really know the difference between a 21 year-old and a 41 year-old. I just knew all the players (college and pro) were a lot bigger and older than I was. Then, when I came out of a four-year cocoon of non-sport-following, I realized that I was probably older than most collegiate athletes, and even some of the professional ones. Now, at 28, another important miletone has hit -- I'm now older than most of the guys playing all four of the major professional sports. By geographical accident of placement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I even got to bump into a few before they were pros. A mystique which once existed -- and an importance placed on the playing field wins and losses of people who neither know me or care about me -- has faded with time.

I can still marvel at the great plays, I can still love the strategy of double steals, quick kicks, and pulled goals. I can still have a great time going to Tsongas and LeLacheur with neighbors, girlfriend, and cousins.

But I'm not too piqued one way or the other about pitchers and catchers reporting. In fact, at the exact moment I heard that, I was on my to pick up someone who actually matters to me from work on Bridge Street so we could head to Boston and have actual dinner in an actual restaurant.

I'll probably catch some of this year's World Series. If I've got good company to watch it with, it might make a fun, interesting backdrop to shared times together over good food, good drink, and good conversation. Either way, I'll probably pick my *horse* to root for, though it won't mean a thing 10 minutes, let alone 10 years, after the game.

But that's only if I've got nothing better to do.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ramadi Dispatch, Take Two

Reader: This is a second update from Capt. Wise about his deployment to ar-Ramadi with 6th Marines. Although he recently began this overseas tour, he was just assigned to a staff job in Tampa, FL, so will soon be re-deploying back to the U.S. for a much-needed break from the past few years' deployment cycle. He writes:

I saw many reports about the Iraqi elections on the US side, and for most unattentive readers, they think it's over, time to get us out. But that's not the end of the story. We'll soon have the results of the "Special Needs Voters" - those voters who couldn't vote during the main election due to their responsibilities (Iraqi Security Forces), the elderly, or handicapped. This vote is critical in Al Anbar. The top two parties in the main vote are separated by less than 1% of the vote total, and the special needs votes can tip this to one side or the other. Many of the tribal figures have publically stated that they will attack the Iraqi Islamic Party (the incumbent party since they were the only ones that ran in 05), but hopefully we have calmed things down.

Now the parties are doing what political parties do in parlimentary systems - start forming coalitions. The main objective of the parties right now is to make sure they maintain their influence, and have followed the old addage - politics makes strange bedfellows. We have anti-coalition forces parties aligning with our more friendly candidates, etc. What does it mean to all of us here? Don't know yet, because the election results will be finalized on the 23rd. Political pundits would have fun trying to predict the match ups here, and would likely get it wrong. If I've learned one thing about Iraqis, it's that they have their own logic. Just because it wouldn't make sense for us, doesn't mean it doesn't make perfect sense for them.

Until the results come out, I'll be back to doing what I do - going to meetings, and looking at PowerPoints.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Show and Tell: The Art of the Narrative

I bumped into one of my neighbors near the elevator the other day and he mentioned that he and his girlfriend had some photography that would be debuting at the Revolving Museum on Thursday the 12th. I'm thinking this will be an interesting exhibit to check out, so it's definitely made its way onto my calendar, barring any flat tires or other unexpected maladies.

Here's a link with the vital information

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Not Just Beanie Babies and Soccer Balls..

"I am not come to destroy the law but to fulfill the law." -- Matthew 5:17

Cliff Krieger, author of Right-Side-of-Lowell (linked just to your right), recently sent me this article: The article is titled "The Trust Gap" and it speaks to some of the problems that come from living under totalitarian regimes. These problems, of course, are well-documented, particularly in the aftermath of said regimes when Sociologists and Political Scientists can come check things out.

Of course, it shouldn't be hard to understand why it's hard to trust your neighbor when you're living in some type of Orwellian nightmare. If you're living in constant fear of the proverbial three a.m. knock on the door and a one-way ticket to the Lubyanka, you might have an extra special sort of propensity not to have your neighbors over for dinner, as one little slip-up to the wrong person might set off some *denunciations* that would take you away from those you love.

In Khidhir Hamza's "The Bombmaker," a prominent Iraqi scientist who was shanghaid into working on a developmental nuclear bomb project by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, but ultimately escaped to freedom via Turkey, paints an excellent picture of the massive, state-wide jail cell created by one man's thirty-year rule.

Afghanistan is an entirely different animal, of course, but it has its own experiences of imposed Communism, seemingly-endless war, and then the particularly ruthless brand of totalitarianism imposed by the Taliban in 1996.

So, as you might imagine, a society that collectively suffers from PTSD because of the extreme daily stress imposed by an inability to trust anyone isn't just going to turn around overnight. The effect it might have on an individual is in some ways irreversible -- just ask any Khmer Rouge survivor to explain their feelings towards police, government, etc., even in a separate continent thousands of miles away with a different language and society.

So, in steps the U.S. I believe that by the actions begun in October 2001 and March 2003, respectively, we have a major commitment to "seeing through" the transition of Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, towards one where openness and rule of law become the norm rather than the exception. This is going to take a lot of time and patience on our part.

But here's the good news -- there's definitely a way forward. In Robert Gates' recent Foreign Affairs article "A Balanced Strategy" (which, by the way, has been referenced both here and on Right-Side-of-Lowell more than once), SECDEF came out to boldly state, "The United States needs a military whose ability to kick down the door is matched by its ability to clean up the mess and even rebuild the house afterward."

That's why Cliff sent the article over to me in the first place -- besides the many forms of *soft power* and media influence that factor in to the transformation (and are probably underrated or underappreciated for their power to do so, but thanks Chandler and Monica), some of the major implementers of the long-term strategy will be Army Civil Affairs personnel -- what your author hopes to be doing soon for the 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (Camp Curtis Guild, Reading, MA).

So, of course, this won't mean jamming the pointy end of an M-4 in someone's face and telling him to start reading Tocqueville and Locke in a tea house on the Tigris. But it also means a lot more than just handing out Beanie Babies and soccer balls (as some who dismissively view Civil Affairs sometimes seem to think).

It's going to mean subtly influencing these societies in a way that steers them down the road in a direction towards openness, transparency, and, yes, trust of one's neighbors. We'll need to do it in a cooperative, multi-national sort of way -- a big tent is always best for generating *buy-in.* And we'll need to bear in mind everything T.E. Lawrence said about why their "tolerable" is better than our "perfect."

Obviously, there will be costs involved. But the payoffs will be tremendous, even if they won't be understandable in a pomp-and-circumstance-let's-put-on-our-Sunday best-and-sign-something-on-the-deck-of-the-mighty-Missouri.

Because never in the history of history have two liberal democracies ever gone to war with one another.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

YouTube and Political Speech -- A Trend?

Two really significant domestic political items caught my eye last month because I think they might be a harbinger of a bigger trend to come: The use of YouTube as a way for candidates to cheaply and widely make major campaign announcements, decisions, policy proposals, etc. without having to rely on paid television advertisements or grovel for radio/TV airtime.

The first was the Boston mayoral race where Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty first announced his bid for office on YouTube (he then took it back and then re-took that back, which is quite confusing but not the bigger point here).

The second comes out of Virginia, where Attorney General Bob McDonnell announced his resignation from that office for the purpose of full-time campaigning for governor via YouTube.

If you combine the increasing use of things like YouTube by everyday citizens with the fact that fewer people are subject to TV commercials (thanks to things like DVDs, TiVO, and now the gaggle of legitimate and not-so-legitimate Internet sites that let you watch your favorite shows online), what might happen is a political trend where big money (and, therefore the two big parties) become less relevant.

I admit, that's a kind of shooting-from-the-hip brand of analysis. I would imagine things like posters, billboards, buttons, t-shirts, and the like still eat up a large amount of dough. But I would also bet that money otherwise spent on a 30-second spot during primetime TV could buy a whole lot of paraphernalia (or, better yet, not have to be raised at all).

All I know is that I expect to see more and more usage of free Internet media like Facebook and YouTube in the coming years, which may have the power to level the playing field somewhat in terms of who is able to make a viable run for political office and whose voice can be heard.

Monday, February 2, 2009

My Predictable Response to Michael Phelps and Tom Daschle

I was really surprised to hear the recent revelations about Michael Phelps and Tom Daschle.

Not surprised that they *did it.* Not particularly judgmental about the behavior itself, either. But honestly, in both cases, I'm surprised that more precautions weren't taken -- either by the principal himself or by one of his PR people -- to protect him from himself.

Doesn't Michael Phelps have an agent or handlers constantly reminding him that just about anything he does could instantly be captured to be lodged forever in Facebook or YouTube infamy? And doesn't Tom Daschle have an accountant whose main job in life is to make sure that the Honorable Gentleman files properly, and on time? I know my own taxes this year are going to be a bit complicated (what with the home purchase and all) and I'm paranoid enough to try to farm out some outside help.

I noticed in both Phelps statements -- following the DUI arrest, and again following the picture revelations, he started off the prepared statement by stating his age, with the obvious implication that it should somehow serve as a mitigating factor.

That doesn't really work for me. If 23 year-olds can fly multi-million dollar aircraft, drive nuclear submarines, and walk the beat on Haifa Street, they're clearly making *big-boy* decisions in my book. But even on a basic level, many 23 year-olds have mortgages, car payments, families of their own, and all the other accoutrements that come with responsible adulthood. Shoot, many 19 year-olds (Phelps' age at time of DUI arrest) deal with all of that stuff.

Again, just want to wrap this up by re-iterating that it's not my place to judge how Michael Phelps spends his free time, or how Tom Daschle might have misunderstood something about his consulting business.

I'll save those calls for companies with endorsements and the U.S. Senate.

But in the meantime, it just strikes me as incredibly stupid that both have jeopardized their careers over things that seem as if they could have been prevented with a little bit of foresight -- not just on their part, but also on the part of those who now stand to lose so much because of today's headlines.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Comedy at the Brewery -- A Mixed Review

So last night we took in a comedy show at the Brewery Exchange...It was $15 for two hours' worth of laughs (or, in some cases, groans) and the next go-around will be Saturday, February 21 at 8 p.m.

There were four amateur (and very amateur-ish) comedians, in addition to the host, in the run-up to the headliner, Steve Bjork. For the most part, the *opening sets* weren't great, and some of the jokes that landed with a thud were only made worse by the comedians' responses to their jokes bombing. (Ooohhh, I guess you guys didn't get that're going to have to look that one up on Google at home, and then you'll be like, 'Ohh...that's what he meant').

Note to anyone thinking about performing stand-up: Don't constantly make real-time references to how well or how poorly your jokes are being received by the audience. If you'll notice, none of the greats do that in their performances. It's not by accident.

Among the not-so memorable lines last night were Sam Rodriguez' "What's the deal with this cold weather? I thought there was global warming" which he tried to then follow up with a strained connection between the winter weather and the idea that perhaps it was indeed the "cold day in hell" that white Americans swore would happen before they'd *let* a non-white person win the Presidency. Besides not really making any sense or being particularly funny, that joke especially didn't work in front of an audience made up almost entirely of white people who had presumably voted for Obama. Accordingly, their displeasure was made known.

Rick Cormier's amusing brand of vulgarity was a bit of a bright spot. His presentation was good, his set-ups were well done, and he seemed to have a knack for *going there* time and again after you thought he might've been headed somewhere else.

Another one of the comics had a frat-boy style humor that worked a bit at times (one good gag was about how a guy in Seattle was photographed cross-country skiing to work, thereby 'ruining it' for all his co-workers who planned to use the blizzard as an excuse for a 'snow day'). Unfortunately, he took the "Steve from Accounting" line here and dragged it out for about 5 minutes, which was about 4:30 longer than it was funny.

The best comic of the night, in terms of content, delivery, and performance, was definitely Steve Bjork. As the headliner, that might be expected -- you could tell he had been in plenty more performances than most of the others had, and it showed in the smoothness of his delivery. He had some funny scenes he painted about social conventions (the idea of facing 'the wrong way' in a crowded elevator was great), he did the stock marriage humor stuff but pulled it off okay, and moved around well between topics without notes or other obvious cues. One disappointment for me was his "If men had breasts, nothing would ever get done..." bit, which was funny the first time I had ever heard junior high school. I honestly would've preferred a 'toilet seat up' or 'airline food' joke in its stead. In the end, Bjork redeemed himself from that by showing his flexibility and spontaneity, wonderfully tearing apart a guy who was calling a cab on his cell phone DURING THE PERFORMANCE and being so loud that everyone there, including Mr. Bjork, could hear the guy's address being given over the phone.

Bottom Line: If you are a fan of comedy in and of itself, I think this show is worth going to. Compared to the cost of a movie, a Devils game, two games of bowling, or just about anything else you might do in the fifteen-dollar neighborhood, I'd even say it's *worth it,* esp. if you're with people who understand your real entertainment for the night might come from laughing at -- not necessarily with -- some of the talent on stage.