Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Language and Pretense

With one of my favorite things in the world being language, and one of my least favorite things being pretense, I've got to fire a quick one off this morning before I head down to the gym: President Obama's Latinization of English speech.

Don't worry, this won't be anything political about what we should or shouldn't do regarding the nation of Honduras, but it is a strong-held belief about the way we should say 'Honduras.'

If we were in a coffee shop or diner right now, I could *speak* this entry, but we're not, so you're going to have to bear with me. For a person speaking English, for consistency's sake, an Anglicization of place names is the smoothest, least-pretentious way to speak. So France is "Franse," not "Fraaahnce." In that same vein, Honduras is "HAHN-DUR-US," not the forced "OWN-DURE-US," that we're hearing from our President.

For some reason, people wanting to express some type of sophistication or political correctness feel the need to do this with Latin American proper nouns, even though the same standard doesn't seem to apply anywhere else. Someone would take the "H" out of Honduras, but when could someone speaking with a straight face take the "S" out of Paris? (As they would if they were speaking in that city's mother tongue).

They wouldn't.

They wouldn't over-Germanize words, either. Our language is crawling with German roots and proper nouns of German origin, but I don't see anyone going out of their way to turn "Ws" into "Vs." Besides, even if they that when talking about listening to 'Vagner' or the author 'Max Vay-ber' there's no attempt to put some kind German accent spin on it.

You know why we don't do it?

Because it'd sound silly.

But somehow we can do it with Spanish, and, at least to someone, somewhere, it makes sense. It's not consistent, it doesn't show extra sensitivity or awareness, and quite frankly, it makes the speaker sound like a pompous ass, all the way from here to TUH-GOOSEY-GALPA!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Saying "No Thanks" to Bingo and Shuffleboard

This post is inspired in part by a recent post on Right-Side-of-Lowell about a study regarding people's activity levels in old age, which have been negatively correlated with the onset of dementia.

I commented to that post to basically say that: a) I think the entire idea that workers -- especially those of us who don't make a living through strenuous manual labor -- should be entitled to stop working and sit around drawing benefits for the last quarter of our life is preposterous; and that b) when I think about all the directions my life could go in the next several decades, the LAST thing I ever want to think about is sitting around playing bingo or sipping cocktails on a Caribbean beach (for longer than a week, that is).

Yesterday, I heard someone at my church basically say the same thing. A spry, vibrant lady about to hit the ripe age 0f 70, she talked about how a lot of people reach these arbitrary, milestone sort of birthdays and basically just "decide to be old," thereby resigning themselves to their demise. I know that goes against hard science, and sounds a bit folksy, but I like it, and I think studies like the one mentioned on RSOL back it up.

So it was great for me to open the Economist this week and see the special on aging, in which the esteemed British periodical did some sacred cow slaying (and though cheerleader and non-controversial blogger I may be, I'm a huge fan of anything that challenges conventional wisdom).

Changing life expectancies and the *softening* of the average American's work environment have greatly changed the rationale behind retirement ages, but this is one of those great policy issues where politics gets in the way. Despite everyone and their mother being an avowed *fiscal conservative,* people know which side their bread is buttered on, and the aged tend to vote in droves. From the magazine:

Retirement has been overdone. The original idea was that people should enjoy a bit of a rest after a life at work, but nobody imagined that the rest would stretch to almost a quarter-century. Some countries have already raised their official retirement age; others are debating whether it still makes sense to have a specific retirement age at all. One widely touted idea is to phase in retirement over a number of years. It does not seem like a good idea for people to be working at full tilt one day and twiddling their thumbs the next.

Admittedly, there are points added for balance, such as the idea that some abilities really do decrease after middle-age, and that companies have more incentives to hire younger workers. I also want to acknowledge that there's a middle-ground between full-time employment and endless "Price is Right" reruns -- someone could, for instance, work part-time doing defense consulting and research, attend formal classes, and blog prolifically.

I can only speak for one person -- not a generation, not a mindset, not even direct family members. I also try not to go to heavy on the theology stuff here on this blog (and besides, there's not TOO much to say, my beliefs on that are pretty simple).

That having been said, the LAST thing I ever fantasize about or even envision doing is...nothing at all.

That's just not my goal, and I don't think it's why I was put here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hey, Hit the Pause Button....That's My Elbow!!

Below, in italics, is an e-mail I got this morning concerning some The Fighter-related filming going on in Lowell three weeks from now:

Great post about The Fighter. Wanted to give you a heads up that the producers are allowing BeInAMovie.com to invite people to Be In The Movie as spectators during the big fight scenes. No headshots, auditions, stress required.

This is about coming out, having fun, and giving people an opportunity most never get. These are not paid extra positions but it is a great way to experience a day on a real movie set with all the stars and see the industry from the inside out. Plus its all FREE! Anyone 16+ can be our guests on a movie set for a day and receive free food, entertainment and eligibility to win prizes throughout the day's activities.

The filming will be taking place in Lowell, MA on July 14, 15, 16. Participants choose which day to attend and do not need to come to all three days (although, given how fun it is many may come more than one day) A more detailed description of this film is available on our website, http://www.beinamovie.com/movie.php?mtitleid=84 For more info and to sign up, people simply need to visit www.BeInAMovie.com. Spots are filling very fast though so time is of the essence.

I'm guessing the "no audition, no head shot" disclaimer might ensure there won't be a line of people snaking around three city blocks with cabbie hats and Larry Bird jerseys.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sanford and Ensign: Don't Go Away Mad...

A healthy debate has sprung up based on some recent posts and comments on Choosing a Soundtrack and Right-Side-of-Lowell regarding when politicians' family members are or aren't "fair game" for lampooning and even generally discussing.

That's one of those great topics that will never really go away, and for which there won't be any *right* answers (I guess if there were, it would cease to be an interesting topic).

One issue for which there's no doubt, at least in my mind, is whether it's fair to call into question the actions of the politicians themselves.

Running for, and holding, a public office is a conscious choice. There are of course a lot of downsides (such as the scrutiny) but there are also MANY upsides. When was the last time you saw a former Governor or Senator scrounging for spare change or worrying about how to afford health care? It's a chance to impact history, it's a chance to help steer the debate, it's a chance to give 'em hell on your behalf, or your constituents' behalf, or whatever else it brings.

However, if you're going to take the mantle of leader of your state, your district, or whatever, and the accolades and respect that come with that, you've also got to accept that people are going to pay attention to your behavior.

So can we please just pack away and throw out the pervasive myth that politicians are being held to some impossibly high standard??

No one is saying you can't slurp your soup.

No one is saying you can't pick your nose at a red light.

No one is saying you can't cut a fart between the sheets in the morning.

However, sneaking off to Argentina to be with your mistress during your state's time of budget crisis, or calling yourself a Christian leader and then sleeping with your staffer (who happens to be married to one of your supporters) might fail most people's sniff test of what constitutes unacceptable behavior.

I'll periodically re-do this post, or some variant on it, the next time this happens...in much the same fashion as I followed up on Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Larry Craig, or David Vitter.

In the meantime, I wish the best for the Sanford and Ensign families as they try to heal and reconcile.

I won't, however, take in any sanctimonious lecturing from either the fallen Governor or the fallen Senator about what is or isn't someone else's business. They can have all the privacy they want, just the same as if they had entered a private legal practice, or business consulting, or whatever else it is that non-politicians do with their time...once they tender resignation letters.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Very Quick Lowell DNA Wrap-Up

For the past few months, I've followed up on DNA meetings with a write-up that's usually a summary of the agenda and then an observation or two. Since last night's meeting was really just a nice dinner over at the Museum, I'll just hit the wavetops before I get back to work:

Two Council candidates were there (Ryan Berard and Franky Descoteaux, whose kick-off is tonight at Mambo) as well as a lot of the DNA usual suspects, right down to the ubiquitous Mark Goldman in his Upper Deck trading cards ballcap.

$100 for the Arts League of Lowell was quickly raised (with a check to be cut Friday morning and delivered in a 'dead drop' inside the Club Diner...but in a more 'Spies Like Us' than Jason Bourne fashion).

There will be no meeting in July, but things will kick up again in August. Fourth Monday, 7 p.m., Revolving.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lempster, NH: State's First Commercial Wind Farm

The Globe ran this piece today about the dedication of New Hampshire's first commercial wind farm, whose produced annual energy is said to be the equivalent of taking 5,700 cars off the road, or enough to power 10,000 "typical" New Hampshire homes.

Whether you're interested in this because of its comparative friendliness towards the environment, or because of the way it decreases our dependence on foreign oil, or any combination of the above, I think you have to admit that this merits interest.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The 'Meet the Press' Effect, Spelled Out

On at least a few occasions during the UML Community lecture series earlier this spring, groups presented problems which usually centered around publicity and fundraising. Time and again, I broke out my "use the blogs" hobbyhorse, to mixed results.

Some supported the idea (and have taken it to heart) while others either dismissed the idea that anyone actually reads blogs, or, more pointedly, stated that while some do read the blogs, they are the politically active citizens who are most likely aware of whatever would be put out ahead of time. Besides the first problem I have with that idea -- the assumption that just because someone is 'politically active' he or she must somehow be omniscient -- it ignores what I call the "Meet the Press" effect of local blogging.

Here's how it works: Just as it's almost solely those already-plugged-in-to-politics citizens who watch Sunday morning talk shows like NBC's "Meet the Press," it's mainly the locally plugged-in who read local blogs. But just as a major policy proposal or revelation announced on "Meet the Press" would eventually make its way to a MUCH larger crowd (those who get their news in some way, at some time, via some format), so would something stated, introduced, or proposed on a local blog to a MUCH larger swathe of the local populace.

This could've been seen on at least two recent, memorable instances -- the reaction to the Tavaryna Chouen slaying and on the way a couple of the blogs helped change the timbre of the debate surrounding Bon Marchegate.

Today's Saturday Chat helps bring this concept to light once again. There really only might be a couple dozen people who regularly read some of the smaller-scale blogs (such as this) and a couple hundred who read some of the more major ones. But before you dismiss their power, you have to ask: Who are those people?

Apparently, Kendall Wallace is one of them. Today's Sun column included several references to the blogs, including direct references to something Lynne just posted on Left in Lowell.

Here's what was most interesting to me, though: The way five particular challengers were listed as "leaders" among those challengers seeking Council spots in November. I don't think it's any coincidence that the five names mentioned are the same ones that have appeared on Right-Side-of-Lowell and on Left in Lowell. So from something that might have a few dozen daily local readers, to something that might have a few hundred such readers, those names get mentioned in something that gets printed up to 50,000 times over in hard copy.

Those getting that type of virtual *press* are listed as *leaders* to a potential audience of tens of thousands that may have never heard of -- let alone follow -- the local blogerati.

To me, that's more proof of how new media can influence the debate in ways that aren't immediately obvious to all who might be tangentially affected by it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Kid's Walk to School

I started talking to a Master Chief this morning who I learned had grown up in Boston and Lawrence, and had a large family based mainly in Lawrence and Brockton (he had recently been stationed in Portsmouth but was now stationed in CT and was basically all over the place...he must be crazy).

Anyway, after doing some Lawrence-v-Lowell comparisons (he had talked about several attempts to revitalize Lawrence that had never gained steam), he started talking about growing up in Boston as a kid in the 1970s. A Dominican-American with a Sammy Sosa-like complexion, he had lived in Roxbury but was bused to school in South Boston.

"When my friends and I saw all those people throwing rocks at us, we didn't really get it," he said. "We thought it almost funny, like a game. People would throw rocks, we would all duck and laugh. I think it was a lot tougher on my sister, because she was in high school at the time. I can only imagine what she went through."

He said this with a forced smile, but got much more serious when he talked about the day when he missed his bus as an eight year-old third-grader.

"As a kid, I really loved going to school, so I just figured I would walk. Since I had always paid attention to the route the bus took, I just traced that same route out by foot as I hoofed it. That walk that day really opened my eyes to things in a way I had never seen before."

That's when he talked about his walk through South Boston as a dark-skinned black eight year-old on a cold weekday morning in the 1970s. He remembered all the taunts, the threats, the racial epithets, and even being chased by grown men two or three times his size. As he described it, by the time he finally got to school, he was badly shaken up. Physically, he had stayed unharmed, but he had essentially been terrorized for no reason other than his skin color...just for walking to school.

The 1970s weren't really all that long ago. Even for Americans, with our ahistorical mindset and focus on the future rather than the past, most of us can still remember this time in one form or another. In fact, on Friday, one of my neighbors was talking about trips to Fenway Park with his father in the 1970s, which came replete with the worst behavior, language, and, of course, racial slurs, that he had seen just about anywhere.

Still, amazingly, the Master Chief spoke without a single word or even tone that suggested bitterness. Instead, he focused a lot more on amazement at how far society had come in the past generation, and how he never would've believed he would live to see a President and a Governor of color. He talked a lot about how uplifted he feels to see his kids (who are biracial) have friends of every different hue and background.

Within my own lifetime, I've noticed a lot of the same progress. There are too many changes to mention, but there was a time not too long ago when our popular culture did a far poorer job of reflecting the country's great diversity. A quick scan of the many channels I now have (thanks, Comcast) shows me this. And the best part? The many people of color who now regularly appear on cable news aren't there just to talk about *those* issues. Take a look at CNBC, for instance. You've got a wide-ranging cast of characters there of both genders and all racial backgrounds talking about T-Bills, short sales, derivative markets, commodities, etc. Their ethnic and gender diversity is such a given that the only time the 'd' word comes up there is in reference to investors' portfolios. That's progress.

To me, the next major hurdle I'd like to see cleared would be the subversion of the Far Right agenda (the country's halls of power should be filled with straight white males) as well as the Far Left agenda (white people should be constantly apologizing, and a person of color can never be wrong) -- I don't know when, if ever, we'll get *there* but it'll come when we can speak frankly to each other without having to walk on eggshells for fear of causing offense. As a society, we need to be able to make fun of President #44 just as often, and laugh just as loud, as we did at Presidents #43 and #42. Increasingly, I see that happening.

Also, as I've said a time or two before here on this blog (and I'll repeat this many more times for emphasis as I plead guilty to broken record charges), all the identity-based firsts are a huge deal, and they really do matter. That applies whether we're talking about Jackie Robinson, Daniel Inouye, Sandra Day O'Connor, Barack Obama, or Sonia Sotomayor.


Because as soon as that barrier breaks, it means when the *second* comes around, identity will be far less of an issue. And that's real progress.

As someone who loves this country, and who harbors equal loathing for the bigots way out on the Right and the race-monger conspiracy theorists on the Left, I care about this tremendously.

And I really mean it when I say I think we're on the way there.

Windows vs. A/C, Next Round

One idea mentioned a few times on this blog is that of Windows People and A/C People. Those who've been following have already heard me use the terms, but in case you joined recently (the little counter-ticker thing at the bottom tells me quite a few have), please give a look to the link in the preceding sentence.

The link will take you to a couple of posts which explain the concept, but to crassly generalize, the idea is a contrast between people who tend to see things in round, inexact, general terms (those who would crack the window on a nice summer day), versus those who focus more on smaller details and control of their immediate environment (those who would crank the A/C full blast as soon as the mercury crept above 68 degrees). Another classic example would be a parking lot scenario. Windows people don't really care -- they'll sort of just grab a spot in the back somewhere and walk into the store. A/C people, on the other hand, will circle and circle like sharks to make absolutely sure they get the closest possible spot.

A friend just texted me a great example so I had to share -- one's quickness to bust out an umbrella. Start by picturing a little bit of drizzle outside. There are those who will sort of shrug their shoulders, emit a "meh," figure that humans don't melt in the rain, and brave the walk across the street or to the parking lot. Then, there are those who will insist on absolute rain protection and break out the 'brella out of fear that a drop of rain might land on their head or their clothes.

If you know me, or see the tone of my writing here, you can probably guess -- correctly -- that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool windows person. But don't get me wrong; I'll admit, begrudgingly perhaps, that the world takes both types to function. Without engineers, we wouldn't have bridges. Without a little bit of latent OCD, we'd all be slobs with piles of trash heaped in the corner somewhere.

Nick, great example. Thanks for sending.

Abe's Words on Manoian

I just saw this comment this morning from "Abe" and I wanted to post it as a separate entry, because: a) I think it needs to be said, and b) Comments to posts that aren't on the front *page* of entries are likely to be lost in the sauce.

Without further ado:

I was born in Lowell and have known the Manoian family for all of that time. We called him "Humpo" based on his Armenian name. His father came to this country and joined the Army during WWI and was sent back to Europe. His mother was orphaned by the Turks and her story is heart breaking. His brother Sam was in the Navy during the war and he died by drowning in trying to save a kid that fell into the river running by the Lowell Post Office. His younger brother, Mike, joined the Navy later and lives in Manchester. Patriotism is in their blood. They all served.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lowell Voting Petition on the Streets..

"Never, never, never quit!" -- Winston S. Churchill, Greatest Figure of the 20th Century

Last night I attended a presentation to the bloggers given by Dr. Victoria Falhberg of ONE Lowell about the proposed change in the city's electoral system away from winner-take-all, first-nine-past-the-post (or first six, let's not neglect the School Committee here) to Proportional Representation Choice Voting.

To the voter, this change means that instead of nine equal votes, you could rank your selected candidates in a weighted way, numbering 1 through 9. The effect, which I've already written about a few times here before (I caught Victoria during the UML lectures with Prof. Berkowitz, a speech to the neighborhood groups, and then again at an LDNA meeting) would be that someone could be elected with fewer total votes. That helps dedicated "factions" (i.e. artists, Back Central residents, Cambodian-Americans, etc.) have a realistic shot at seeing a candidate elected, which I believe would, in turn, lead to greater overall participation in local elections.

To the voter, it also means that it's not just "your vote" but specifically your "#1 vote" that's being courted. So even for entrenched incumbents for whom victory might seem like an afterthought in the current system, there's a strong motivation to go after the individual voter for his or her #1 or #2 (which matters a whole lot) as opposed to a #8 or #9. Again, this would spell more interest and involvement in municipal elections, as it would almost certainly lead to more intense campaigning.

For those reasons, it's a good idea, and it's why I'll sign the petition as soon as I get my hands on it, and it's why I'll vote for the initiative in November. (For more info, I'll refer you to Left in Lowell, Right-Side-of-Lowell, Richard Howe, or the searchable archives here if you punch in 'Fahlberg').

The problem with November, though, is that for this thing to pass, it's going to require a majority on the "pro" side (easy enough, right?) but also that at least 1/3 of all registered voters show up. Chances of us seeing the latter aren't so hot, even with the specter of heightened interest in some of the prospective Young Turk candidacies and those hoping to make sure our appointed officials can avoid threats of bodily harm to their sensitive areas.

My one piece of advice to Victoria Falhberg: If for any reason this winds up a dollar short due to insufficient turnout this November, please don't let this excellent idea die on the vine.

As I said last night to what seemed like head nods among the others present (Dick Howe, Cliff Krieger, Lynne Lupien and Michael Gallagher), losing and coming back to fight another day is one of the most venerated traditions in American political history.

The most famous example we all know from school is Abraham Lincoln and all his unsuccessful bids for seemingly minor offices in Illinois. But even for modern pols like Bill Clinton (lost a bid for Congress and failed in his first AR gubernatorial re-election bid), George W. Bush (lost his Congressional bid from Midland many moons ago), George H.W. Bush (Senate bid lost to Lloyd Bentsen) and Barack Obama (1st IL district in 2000), the loss and comeback is as much a part of our political culture as is red, white, and blue bunting and funny-looking hats.

This could be re-introduced in an even-numbered year, when folks still turn out in droves to vote for State Gov. seats, 5th CD seats, U.S. Senate seats, Governor, etc. The 1/3 presence would be met, the majority could carry the day, and the local political landscape could be changed.

One other interesting point I'll mention from last night before my morning run: The issue of whether "blow-ins" feel a sense of political efficacy in Lowell. Being one myself, I said something that I've been meaning to write about here for some time: In the year-plus since I bought my condo on Market Street, I've explored a LOT of nooks and crannies in this city. I've talked to a lot of people, been to my share of meetings, and stuck my nose in anywhere it seemed like it might fit.

Call me Pollyanna-ish, or wet behind the ears, or whatever, but my honest opinion so far is that most talk of "blow-ins" and whether you can only be accepted in Lowell if you can trace three generations back through Lowell High has come exclusively from blow-ins themselves. In fact, fellow blow-ins are the only people who've tried to "out-Lowell" me or talk about the authenticity or street cred of such-and-such a person, organization, or place. Amazingly (or perhaps not, as that's my entire point here), the Lowell pedigreed crowd hasn't gone there -- probably because they don't see the need.

But anyway, back to the initiative -- if you're interested in getting involved, or just looking for more clarification, pay attention to the blogs and the Sun because this is going to gain a lot of steam in the next few months. You can also e-mail Victoria Falhberg at vfahlberg@onelowell.net for more info about the petition or the proposed change itself.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Phil Jackson and Greatness

"We don't have to confine the praise today for Phil Jackson to just basketball either. No manager ever won 10 World Series. No coach ever won 10 NFL championships. And it isn't just an issue of longevity; Jackson has won 10 of the last 19 NBA championships, and didn't even coach in two of those seasons." -- Michael Wilbon, The Washington Post

Professional sports gave me the foundation for pretty much everything I know, so I'll always be grateful for them. My love for sports as a kid taught me things like math, statistics, probability, and strategy. My habit of listening to sports radio after school and on the weekends taught me about logic, critical reasoning, argument, and big words, even though I had no idea at the time.

Now, as I've written about in these *pages* before, it's not really the same. I still follow the NBA and NFL, mostly passively, but have a pathetically small knowledge level of the NHL and MLB. (And by pathetic, I mean I couldn't name a single player on most of the teams in those leagues). What hasn't changed, though, is a deep appreciation for sporting accomplishments.

And here's a truly phenomenal one: Phil Jackson winning 10 of the last 19 NBA championships. I don't care how great Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, or any other Bull ever was back in the late 1980s and early- to mid-1990s. I don't care how great Shaq was with the early 2000s Lakers, or how great Kobe was, or still is.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I put a high premium on actions and accomplishments. That's not just as a words v. actions thing, it's also an 'actions' just in an of themselves thing. I don't care whether you're Rudy Giuliani helping oversee the greatest crime reduction in major U.S. city history, whether you're Tiger Woods winning your umph-teenth major golf championship, or whether you're General Petraeus overseeing one of the swiftest counterinsurgency turnarounds in history.

People will never run out of contributing factors to any of the above that, no doubt, help explain how the doer was able to accomplish what he did. Some of those contributing factors may be valid, but that doesn't take away from the significance of the achievement. All three of the individuals named in the above paragraph have been described a time or two as 'arrogant,' but I think that's an unfair characterization, as the results speak to their greatness.

I'm not a huge fan of *total* statistics. Total games won, home runs hit, or victories coached are all great, but sometimes they have more to say about longevity than they do much else, as Michael Wilbon's quote at the top here reminds us.

I won't get too wrapped up in who played for Phil Jackson, who his assistant coaches were, or which front offices helped bring him franchise-quality players.

10 out of the last 19 NBA Championships is just awesome, period.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Going Challenger-Heavy in November..

Two items caught my eye this morning in The Column:

(1) Ray Weicker, an Iraq veteran (a JAG and a PsyOps-qual'd Major with a Reserve Unit) is running for City Council. I wouldn't vote for someone on veteran status alone, but I think it would be neat to bring that type of recent, overseas problem-solving experience here. It seems like the griping about insider 'politics as usual' both on Beacon Hill and right here on Merrimack St. seems to be reaching a boiling point, as judged by the print media and the blogosphere. Of course, I don't have much to compare that to, and as Jeff Jacoby reminds us in his column today, those type of complaints have been with us for centuries.

(2) Franky Descoteaux, a downtown business owner (Mambo Grill, Humanity, Monkey's) is also running. This is going to be an obvious case of "homer"-ism, but all politics is local, and I would really like to see downtown formally represented in city government, especially by someone with such a huge stake in seeing it succeed. With recent changes to the downtown (most important of which may be the transfer of the hotel formerly known as the Doubletree), we're in a state of flux. Even though downtown is small in terms of size and population compared to many neighborhoods, it's still what many people think of when they consider where to eat, shop, or hang out in Lowell. For the city's image and its future direction, it's tremendously important.

With checkmarks also reserved for Paul Belley and Ryan Berard (both of whom I've heard speak and seem like very level-headed, earnest advocates for the entire city), that still leaves five more to spare.

But regardless of the way the other five go, that's still a heavy 'tilt' towards challengers from at least one voter this fall.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Open Table Solutions

"Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cuting hair." --George Burns

During a couple stints in the past (once in college, once in the pre-OCS year), I wound up working as a restaurant host -- once at a locally owned place, and once in a national franchise place (think Chotchke's from 'Office Space').

As anyone who's ever been to a restaurant knows, the host 'stand' is usually a podium, under which is an overhead layout of the seats, usually separated by a piece of glass that can be drawn on by a graphite pencil-sort of thing.

There were lots of funny things that happened on those jobs, and some really good stories to tell, but the one I'm going to single out here is the "Open Table Solution."

Inevitably, a host has to disappoint some people who come looking for a seat, though most sort of just resign themselves to their fate.

"Twenty minutes? Okay...You'll set the beeper off then? Okay..."

There are those once-in-a-while rocket surgeons, however, who don't quite settle for that answer.

"No open tables? Twenty-minute wait? That's impossible. In fact, I see an open table back there in the corner!"

Sometimes this will come with a sort of "Aha" or "Gotcha" tone, and sometimes it comes after the initially-disappointed patron has peered or even walked around the host stand to inspect the restaurant for open tables. Sometimes, there are quite a few. Apparently, the person doing it has never stopped to consider that other people might have reservations, and is expecting a response like this:

"Oh, my goodness! I don't use the word 'hero' often, but you, my friend, are the Greatest Hero in American History! Despite the many months I've been on this job, and the many people I've just turned away with the beeper-thingys, you noticed what no one else did -- a wide-open table that was staring us all in the face. Please, please, be seated now and stand by for a congratulatory word from the manager."

So now you know where the term is coming from. For the purposes of my rantings here on this blog, I'm going to refer to an Open Table Solution anytime someone who has no familiarity with another person's job arrogantly assumes that some easy, quick-fix answer is suddenly going to set everything straight -- and no one else has ever thought of it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not discouraging ideas. That would be backwards, not to mention hypocritical. I'm also not saying that people who don't work in specific fields can't, or won't, have answers that will help those who do -- in fact, outsiders often have the best, freshest solutions because their thinking isn't as entrenched and they're sometimes not wearing the blinders.

But it's all about the way you approach it.

Problems are vexing. It doesn't matter whether it's immigration, health care, foreign policy, or whatever. There are plenty of smart people who spend entire years, decades, or lives trying to find solutions.

We're all going have to have ideas about how to fix them and ideas about the way the world should be run. We should recognize those ideas as what they are -- ideas.

But to arrogantly walk up to someone who does something for a living, and imply that either they don't know how to do their job and your five minutes of expertise means that you do, belongs on a special rung on the ladder of obnoxiousness.

Before you decide that we don't need new cover sheets on the TPS reports, stop, listen, and learn enough to make sure you're right. Otherwise, your Open Table Solution might fall flat.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shaving with Occam: Language and Meaning

Today I was on my way to lunch, sort of lazily scanning some southeastern CT stations, when I chanced upon an NPR report which talked about a "homicide bomber" having committed an attack in Peshawar which left carnage and destruction in his wake.

This term has always troubled me (and a quick Google search just revealed that I'm far from alone on this). The idea, first widely popularized by Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, is that the term 'suicide bomber' places too much emphasis on the bomber as the victim, whereas 'homicide bomber' places the proper emphasis and remembrance on those killed. As someone who is "branching" in Military Intel, I'm concerned more with tactics than political correctness, and the term 'homicide bomber' robs me of a key piece of instant tactical awareness.

If you say, for instance, that a 'suicide bomber' walked into a hotel and killed two dozen people, I have a decent idea right off the bat how it happened, and how I would brief the threat to the people concerned about the area in question -- maybe they should be especially wary of young men with unusual bulges around the chest area. But if you try to force a term like 'homicide bomber' I'm left clueless about what happened -- was the bomb left in a room and remotely detonated, was it projected into the building, or was it planted downstairs by an employee with special access? I've got no idea.

To an infantry company, the difference between the SVBIED threat and the VBIED threat is a really big deal -- one is a suicide vehicle-borne IED, the other just a vehicle-borne IED. One would typically be driven into a crowded area or right to a manned checkpoint for casualty infliction, the other would usually be an unattended parked car.

I knew that Fox News was insisting on the 'homicide bomber' usage, but was surprised to hear it used on NPR. Besides taking away important tactical knowledge, I really don't think the term 'homicide bomber' is any solace for the victims of those attacks or their families.

A couple hours after I got back, I decided to throw cable news on as background noise while I prepped a brief for tomorrow morning. Right away, I heard the terrible news about the shooting today at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Thankfully, due to the quick trigger work of some well-trained guards, the deranged, racist, anti-Semitic lunatic who executed the attack did not carry out anywhere near the level of human destruction of which he was capable.

Tragically, however, a guard was killed in the attack. Stephen Tyrone Johns died in the line of duty of preventing an attack that, had some things gone differently, could have killed many others. And much like the White House policeman who gave his life at Blair House to save that of President Truman, Johns' life and death will not generate anywhere near the buzz or attention of that of his killer (or a pardon from President Carter many years later, for that matter).

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the punditocracy on the same network that popularized the term 'homicide bomber' was chock full of theories about what inspired the killer, who was CLEARLY already deranged, had written extensive racist and anti-Semitic rants, and had already served jail time for an attack against our government. By a ratio that I couldn't possibly quantify in 'hard' terms, it was he -- not Johns -- who seemed to be the focus of their attention. A quick scan of Internet news just showed me that his picture, not Johns', is dominating most sites' leads.

Was it a sign of a lunatic fringe reacting against a government run by a person of color?

Was it a statement about ex-military members who are radicalized by right-wing extremist groups?

Was it an expression of endemic anti-Semitism running just beneath the surface of this society?

Personally, I'm not sold on any of these. I think it was the work of a single violent, twisted individual with decades of documented racist and anti-Semitic expression acting on his own crazy volition. Considering he's been out of the military for more than sixty years, I'm not putting any extra credence in warnings about ex-servicemembers' radicalization. I wouldn't empower him as being the "voice" of anything any more than I would say that a single 15 year-old kid with a chest full of nails and ball bearings speaks for the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

Instead, tonight, my thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Johns and his family.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Euna, Laura, and Lori

"That tiger didn't go crazy. That tiger went tiger." -- Comedian Chris Rock, speaking about the Siegfried & Roy tiger attack incident in Las Vegas in 2003.

I heard the unsurprising but still disheartening news about Euna Lee and Laura Ling's sentencing this week by the so-called Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. In this case, two American citizens are facing the prospect of twelve years' hard labor -- or worse -- in one of the world's worst penal systems, and the collective psyche of this nation doesn't seem too bothered by it.

I was kind of stumped by this (after all, shouldn't we care more about the rights of two American citizens abroad than we do about the treatment of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad?), so I went to check out the media coverage and the comments left there by people who, well, care enough to leave comments.

Some expressed a lot of outrage and frustration, but there were many who voiced the sort of "Well, they got what was coming" attitude that might help explain why there seems to be more outrage in the streets of Seoul over this than there does in the streets of Peoria.

Judging by those comments, you would almost think that Euna Lee and Laura Ling -- both credentialed journalists working for Current TV -- were being held in the same category as Lori Berenson, the MIT dropout who, with her middle-class American values and gringa-accented, nails-on-a-chalkboard Spanish, went to Peru and operated a safehouse for the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, for which she's now serving a twenty-year sentence under less-than-brutal conditions. (Judging from the fact that she became pregnant in 2008, well, I'll let you write the 'hard labor' joke as you see fit).

In Lori Berenson's case, I would say the 'tiger went tiger.' I can almost see her parents scolding her next year when she gets released, with a finger wagging in her direction...

"Now, Lori, what did we tell you about starting revolutions in Latin America? You're going to bed with no supper so you can think about all those people in Lima whose lives you and those friends of yours ruined."

In the case of Euna Lee and Laura Ling, however, there's no evidence they ever jabbed a finger in the tiger's eye, let alone entered his cage. And, as their families pleaded so earnestly on CNN, even if they did, it was likely unintentional, and certainly without malicious intent.

Thankfully, the State Department and the Obama Administration are spinning up into crisis mode here, so at least they're demonstrating the proper level of concern over two American citizens who may have been badly wronged here, at the cost of their own lives and the well-being of their families who, if they're taking North Korea's track record of taking care of the MANY Japanese and South Korean citizens they've mercilessly kidnapped over the years into account, have every reason to worry.

Some things are just bad, though the commentariat, the blogetariat, and the MSM might not have you think it. The code of the moral relativist says that the 'badness' of any action is only in the eye of the beholder.

A Christian extremist/terrorist killing a doctor in a Kansas church is just as bad as a Muslim extremist/terrorist killing an Army private in Arkansas, though if we're just going by media and Internet references one was apparently eight times as bad as the other.

A foreign government drumming up possibly baseless charges against two American journalists, and then sentencing them to hard labor with the possible trump card of 'bargaining chip' in their sleeve is a bad thing. North Korea is not 'just another country' with a simply 'misunderstood' point of view -- any moral relativist who really believes that needs to conduct some field research, or even just library research, before seriously saying that with a straight face.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling may not look like your next-door neighbors, but they could have been.

They did not 'have this coming' and neither did their families.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dude, Where's Your Car?

If you or someone you know is driving around in a 1980s-era car, this could be a nice chance to cash in and maybe a claim to fame:

Boston Casting is seeking cars for the movie " The Fighter " starring Mark Wahlberg. We need cars pre 1993 , old looking cars rusty cars are great !! Cars from the 1980's are ideal. Prop Master is looking to rent some cars on a weekly basis, and Boston Casting will be looking for cars on a daily basis. If interested please email photos of your car with your name , phone number,union status, and year , make ,model, color of your car. If chosen someone will get back to you and talk rates. PLEASE EMAIL PHOTOS OF YOUR CAR TO fightercars@gmail.com


Good luck! I have no idea how much these people pay, but I'd imagine that if you're actually driving around in something that meets their stated need, you might get more for this than the car itself is even worth.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Howard Manoian: An About Face

Happy D-Day.

I just violated that pesky Golden Rule about doing unto others...I did a piece for this blog about a single story I had read in the Boston Herald this morning:


I don't know the whole story here, and I leapt before I looked. If the proverbial shoe were on the other foot, I would want a chance to offer my own version of events. However, my original post assumed everything in this story was correct, and that Howard Manoian had greatly embellished his service on D-Day.

I will re-post once I have a better understanding of the events surrounding this -- thanks!

Friday, June 5, 2009

One for the Refrigerator Door..

Apparently, Tom Ricks (Making the Corps, Fiasco, The Gamble) thinks I'm spending too much time with defense intellectuals. Since I would never use this blog as a forum for shameless name-dropping, I'll just point towards a certain Belviderean with some deep military roots and the initials CRK for pointing me towards The Best Defense in the first place.


Here is the comment that led to that post:

"I refuse to support ANY attempt to pivot the narrative unless the pivoter is willing to offer enough granularity and fidelity to truly allow the end-user some insight on the effects-based targeting it will foster. Otherwise, we're chasing our tail down a rabbit hole filled with self-licking ice cream cones.

We're dealing with a large delta and a steep learning curve here, so we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable, recognizing that the only constant in this environment is...change.

I believe that Clausewitz once said that Sun-Tzu once said that victory in one thousand battles will be complete only when we have swallowed the dominant paradigm wholesale and then made sure that we've all boarded the bus to Abilene!"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Richness and Experience

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." -- Sonia Sotomayor, Berkeley, CA, 2001

I'm going to start this post with two disclaimers:

(1) First, by saying that I'm not writing to oppose the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court; and

(2) Second, as I've written here before and as I've commented on Right-Side-of-Lowell, I do think that symbolic "firsts" do matter, and that they are good things for the country. They take wind out of the sails of the bigots on BOTH political extremes, and they also help ensure that the "seconds" will be more about issues than identity.**

All that having been said, I'd like to address the now-infamous quote from a longer speech made by Sonia Sotomayor at a La Raza meeting in Berkeley, CA in 2001. The part about the "better conclusion" has been picked apart and torn limb-from-limb by everyone from GOP Senators to bloggers to the commentariat, but I think I *get* what she's saying, and it's not necessarily mean-spirited.

The word choice might be poor, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt that she's talking about experiencing America on the *other* side of the gender and ethnicity coin, and how that might affect one's jurisprudence regarding issues that deal with those divides. The part that goads me, however, is the more-overlooked "richness of her experience" line, because of what I believe to be the clear implication about living as a member of an ethnic minority group versus being white in America.

The idea that being Latin, Asian, Native, or African American is somehow this rich cultural experience, but that 'whiteness' ascribes those who bear it into a hollow cultural void is pervasive in many elite, liberal circles that I can say I've personally witnessed during my early adult years. If it sounds crazy to you, bear with me. I'm not talking about some crazy conspiracy theory (remember, I'm not a big fan of those), and I sincerely hope I'm not coming across as hiding some pent-up "Angry White Male" thing that was all the rage during the Gingrich Revolution in the mid-1990s. That's not it. Not at all. It's something far more benign than that.

The idea is just that the cultural identity, customs, habits, speech patterns of any minority ethnic group is 'interesting,' 'cool,' or 'fascinating' but that Anglo-American identity is just something that just doesn't count, or should even be apologized for.

Sonia Sotomayor's "richness of her experience" quote perfectly embodies this -- it's not that white males are necessarily bad, or mean-spirited, or even incompetent -- it's just they're soulless. They're culturally neutral, and they haven't "lived that life."

It doesn't surprise me in the least that Ms. Sotomayor -- a graduate of tony institutions like Princeton and Yale Law School who has stayed in those sort of circles professionally -- would say something like this, especially at another elite institution in a liberal setting like Berkeley.

Thinking about the quote, and my reaction, I remembered something a friend of mine said a few years back about the forgettable, formulaic clinker Maid in Manhattan, where the Senator played by Ralph Fiennes sweeps the hotel housemaid, Jennifer Lopez, off her feet. Leaving the theater, his girlfriend said something to the effect of:

"I can't believe how offensive that portrayal was. It just totally exoticized Latinas as these sultry, spicy, fiery types who are single mothers working menial jobs, just waiting for a white knight in shining armor to rescue them."

I tended to think "right on" because even though I hadn't seen the movie, it wasn't much of a reach for me to imagine that being a pretty realistic and fair gripe. What surprised me, though, was his response:

"Well, I was equally offended...by the way the movie de-exoticized white people as a bunch of cold, soulless automatons who can't express emotions and care only about the material and the superficial."

Amazing. In modern parlance, he had flipped the script. But at the same time, he had called out an idea that's pervasive in popular culture and in certain ivory towers.

I bolded the parts of the quote at the top intentionally, because it's those parts that stand out for me the most.

I don't think Sonia Sotomayor is mean-spirited, racist, or in any way unqualified for the Supreme Court, as many of her harshest critics have opined.

I do think, however, that my 28 years of American 'experience' have come with the particular 'richness' of someone who has lived in five distinct regions, been able to size them all up, and choose the one to call home. It's the 'richness' of someone who has served operationally with all five major military branches (yes, the Coasties count!) and, by doing so, been exposed to every possible slice of Americana. It's the richness of someone who, though white, isn't bound by the old anti-miscegenation laws, and can daily enjoy the 'richness' of cross-cultural 'experience' in his own home.

At the end of the day, I'd like to think that the "life I've lived" puts me on an equal footing for "richness of experience" with any other contemporary American.

** As an example, look at the Lowell School Committee race. No one would try to insert candidates' gender as a 'wedge' issue because representation across the gender spectrum has already been reached. As each identity barrier breaks down (with the best current example being the President of the U.S.), it just helps takes the identity issue further off the table down the road. I know we Americans have a short memory, but even one short year ago there were still MANY in and out of this country who said Americans wouldn't *let* a person of color win the Presidency. The next time we have a serious candidate of color for President, that type of speculation will gain zero traction. Identity will still matter, but much less so. Ditto for the next time a Latina is nominated to the Supreme Court, and so on.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

No Harm and No Foul

"Traffic enforcement on the Lowell Connector is strictly done for the purpose of public safety,'' said Lowell Police Capt. Randal Humphrey. "The cash cow perception is ludicrous."

That quote comes from the Sun article, "Lowell Police Hit the Gas on Connector Speed Enforcement." (http://www.lowellsun.com/ci_12508689?source=rss_emailed). The quote stood out for me because at an LDNA meeting a few moons ago, Chief Lavallee was addressing some traffic and parking issues being raised by downtowners when someone innocently said something about how enforcement of a certain traffic rule (at the intersection near the YMCA on Thorndike) would help out the city's struggling coffers (hey, this was the same meeting where Bernie Lynch laid out the budgetary doom-and-gloom).

Instantly, Lavallee animatedly pointed out that he fundamentally disagrees with any city that uses enforcement of a municipal ordinance or other law for the explicit purpose of helping out the city's budget. He didn't really say much more about it beyond the firm disagreement on principle, and I never had a chance to follow up on it.

In fact, I hadn't really thought about it much since then until I read this article and saw Captain Humphrey's quote.

Personally, unless there's something dishonest or manipulative going on -- like as in that infamous little town near Orlando, FL where taxes are kept uber-low because tourists driving to Disney World are speed-trapped by a sudden 20 mph speed limit decrease which subsidizes the entire budget -- I don't really see the problem.

It's hard to argue *for* speeding on the Connector, or anywhere. What was once one of the most dangerous roads in the country has gotten considerably less so, thanks in large part to the guardrails but also to the presence of cops and the threat of an expensive ticket.

I know I got nabbed on the exit ramp for not paying attention to the drop down to 35 mph during my first year here. I got waved onto the shoulder by a police officer on foot, honestly having no idea why, but then got hit with a $200 ticket and told what had happened (only then did those 35 mph signs 'suddenly' appear in stark relief to the rest of the scenery). I just wrote it off as the "Blow-In" tax, wrote the check to the city, and haven't speeded on the Connector since. If it helped the City, or the Head Injury fund, then so be it. Lesson learned at the cost of a few weeks' groceries.

I'd like to think my $200 will make it back into the local economy somehow. Maybe a small piece of it will wind up in the pocket of a School District employee who walks down from the Rogers next year to buy a sub at Santoro's.

That having been said, I'm sure there's a philosophical, broad-brush, view-of-the-forest-and-not-the-trees principle behind what Chief Lavallee was saying. There's probably some issue about trust between a citizenry and its local government (as represented by the folks in the blue uniforms) that can be violated by using "Gotcha" as a way to make up for a budget shortfall.

I'm totally open-minded to hearing what it is, and then being convinced. In the meantime, however, I don't really *get* it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Working to Support My Wedding Habit -- With a Little Help From a Friend

I'm going to California twice this summer.

Not to San Diego, Miramar, Fort Irwin, or anywhere else military-related, mind you -- once to Grass Valley and once to San Francisco. And not on the government's dime, but on mine.

I can't afford either trip. You see, there's this budget thing, where I factor in a mortgage, a condo fee, a car payment, other utilities, and then the major complicating factor that spending part of the week near the base in CT means incurring additional 'incidentals' like higher-than-average gasoline expenditures, hotels, meals at the diner, etc. That doesn't factor in the totally unexpected costs that just seem to have a way of coming up time and again -- car repairs, new uniforms, subscriptions, and gifts for birthdays and other milestones.

From a financial standpoint, then, there's nothing rational about my decision to go to either, the cost of which could easily be placed in the low four-figure range for airfare times two, lodging, gift, suit, and related incidentals. However, I place great value on friendship and on the idea of families and marriage, so it's natural that I would want to go -- I'll see a lot of friends, I'll witness a special life milestone for people I care about (and hope the gesture might be reciprocated in the not-too-distant future!), and will get to take in some new scenery.

But, as stated above, I will pay dearly to do this.

I write this not just to share a personal saga (this mess is largely of my own doing, so I especially have no right to complain...I've never once wished I'd chosen Norwich or Westerly over Lowell as my 'base camp'), but to introduce an oft-vilified friend who is going to help me pull through -- my credit card.

He does not judge me.

He does not passive-aggressively say okay and then complain to others that I've hit him up with an open palm.

He is up front about the terms of the deal.

I just saw a Chris Dodd re-election commercial this morning focused on praising the gentleman from Connecticut for saving "regular people" from the evil credit card companies. I'm sure there was merit behind it -- the targeting of students by the companies is particularly loathsome and predatory -- but, as someone who considers himself responsible but temporarily somewhat "budget-challenged" I tend to think of the card as an ally, not an enemy.

I know that I will be okay. My living situation will normalize in just a couple of months, and expenses of several types will fall accordingly. Besides, twelve month deployments thousands of miles from a shopping mall have a way of straightening out some of the most challenging budgetary problems, and there appears to be one off on the horizon.

As a mature adult, I am glad there exists a means that will allow me to do the things I want but don't truly need, with a full understanding of the terms involved in the deal.

I know it sounds almost un-American to take personal responsibility for anything these days, whether it's obesity, smoking, or even implication in a murder (just read Chanequa Campbell's quotes in the Boston Globe about the Justin Cosby killing), but I'm willing to stand up and say that I "get" what credit cards to do for me. I'll take the memories, the laughs, and photos, and I'll pay the points down the road.

Life is short, and I'll enjoy both weddings.

So to the suits and the corporate shills at Visa, thank you -- I'll raise a champagne glass in your honor.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Doctrinal COIN in One Pocket of Afghanistan

This NY Times article talks about one little slice of Afghanistan where a U.S. unit is actively practicing doctrinal COunterINsurgency (COIN): http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/world/asia/01jalrez.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp

Some of the keys to the piece are: that COIN involves full-spectrum operations -- it's not JUST about security, or economics, or the calming of ethnic tensions, but sort of an overall attitude towards the battlespace, i.e. it's 'construction, not reconstruction' as one quote puts it; that COIN is going to take time, and require patience (that's patience from all parties, to include the American voter/concerned citizen); and that while the average Afghan may not like seeing foreign troops in green uniforms walking around his neighborhood, it's way better than having Taliban death squads coming in and killing indiscriminately.

This is a neat piece. It's worth a read, and I certainly hope that it speaks to the way we'll operate as we "plus-up" our force numbers over the next year or so..