Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Quick 5W for Fair Vote Lowell: Organization Meeting

What: Fair Vote Lowell Organization Meeting
Who: ANYONE interested, regardless of past or current involvement level with this initiative
When: Friday, 31 JUL, at 6:00 p.m.
Where: Saint Ann's Church, 8 Kirk Street
Why: To discuss strategies for gathering enough valid signatures to get the petition on the ballot

Best Point of Contact on this, or any other upcoming related events, would be Dr. Victoria Fahlberg --

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Yes Men', Sacha Baron-Cohen, and 'Gotcha' Entertainment

I did some work-related traveling this week, and I caught a snippet of the "Yes Men" movie (or show?), which features two merry pranksters who set up dummy websites, false identities, etc. in order to play pranks on evil corporations.

I came away very unimpressed, and even a bit disgusted.

One of their major pranks involved one of the Yes Men posing as a Dow lawyer, and setting up an interview with the BBC during which he announced that Dow would be offering a $12 billion settlement to survivors and family members of the 1984 Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal, India. This announcement, and the follow-up from Dow that it was in fact a hoax, has been well-documented on the Internet.

And as you might imagine, it temporarily raised -- and then crushed -- the spirits of thousands of the poor people in Bhopal, India that the Yes Men claim to champion. Ditto for the spoof HUD announcement about the re-opening of a New Orleans housing project condemned after Hurricane Katrina.

Of course, the Yes Men spun that by saying they were really helping those people by pointing out world injustices...and then manipulated their own film by showing clips of people in Bhopal and New Orleans saying what a great thing the Yes Men had done.

Great for whom? Sounds like it was great for the Yes Men, but bad for HUD, bad for Dow, but more importantly, bad for the people of Bhopal and New Orleans.

A lot of this stuff seems to be going around. I haven't seen the new Sacha Baron-Cohen movie featuring "Bruno" (though I know I will at some point), but I did see enough of Borat to eventually get frustrated at the way Baron-Cohen continually sets up ridiculous situations in order to portray Americans as backwards, racist, ignorant pigs. It gets a bit tiresome, and I have no doubt that Baron-Cohen uses clever splicing to prove his *points* just as Michael Moore does in all of his films. (Most notably, and regrettably, when Moore *proves* that the U.S. news media portrays people of color as criminals by repeatedly looping in local news clips that refer to non-white suspects by race...does anyone not see right through that?)

In any event, I just want to come out and strongly show my opposition to any kind of "Gotcha" used for political purposes. It's underhanded, it's manipulative, and the people who do it would be the first to cry foul were the shoe on the other foot.

For the record, that's totally different from anonymous blog posts and comments, which has been a very hot topic lately in the local blogosphere. Being anonymous, with or without an identifiable handle, is a conscious choice that I respect (with the only caveat that anonymity could be easily compromised, even by someone meaning no harm). A 'Gotcha' would be something like one writer or commenter posing as another in order to prove some type of point --- it seems like that would scarily easy to do, as celebrities keep finding out via Twitter and Facebook impersonations and wild rumors that follow.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Location, Location, and Bridge Street

I had the chance to drop the car off today at CVS (336 Bridge) and walk home. Besides just being able to get out and enjoy the day, and the Folk Festival, I finally took advantage of the opportunity to check out L & I Clothing and Military Outlet on French Street, which I've passed by now a few times but never during normal business hours.

They're not a traditional Army-Navy Surplus Store. Instead, they're a 50/50 split civilian clothing store and military clothing/memorabilia store. Their prices seemed reasonable, and to answer the FIRST question I always ask myself when I see a new business downtown, they definitely fill a niche (I say that because as much as I'd root for another Irish-themed bar or beauty salon, I wouldn't stake my own fortunes on one).

Anyway, the big news I've got to report here is that they're going to be moving within the next couple of days to a bigger and better location -- the corner of Bridge and French. I hadn't even noticed the constabulary/private investigator storefront was gone until I asked L & I's owner (Staff Sergeant Glenn Morales, USMC, now on terminal leave but about to affiliate with a Reserve ordnance unit out of Devens) about it and confirmed that was the spot.

Seems like a huge improvement over being tucked away back on French where there isn't even a fraction of the foot or vehicle traffic you've got just a few yards away on Bridge. Legions of potential new customers who probably never knew that L & I existed (its name is about to slightly change, by the way, as 'Outlet' is replaced by 'Store') will now see the storefront and know that it's there.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Opening the Kimono

I've read a lot of great blog posts and comments in the past few days about the relative merits of anonymity versus what I'll call "open kimono" blogging.

For the record, I would like to say that both have their merits. An example I gave in a LiL comment was the Federalist papers, but as commenters from Jack Mitchell to bloggers like Kad Barma have noted, anonymous political speech in this country is even older than that, and dates back to Benjamin Franklin's many pseudonyms and the anonymously-penned tracts that helped spark our Revolution.

I saw the Rita Mercier video clip on both Richard Howe and Left in Lowell and could sympathize to the degree that she felt some anonymous attacks were unfair. However, at the end of the day, the side I come down on says that being a public figure is a choice -- it comes with many great upsides in addition to the downside that is exposure to personal attack. I do believe that it can be noble and good, but I veer away when people get too sanctimonious about the 'personal sacrifice' stuff -- if it were really some great personal sacrifice where costs far outweighed benefits, you wouldn't have more than twice as many people competing for the number of spots available.

Another thing I would add, to echo multiple commenters, is that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Yes, bloggers and commenters may make up the city's chattering class. I've gotten to know many of them within the past year, and even count a few as personal friends. By and large, they're open-minded, intellectually-curious people who take kindly to real debate. It might make sense, then, for public officials or candidates to comment on blogs...or, as in the case of Jackie Doherty from the School Committee, they could take to writing one themselves. I don't know why anyone either holding or running for these offices isn't using Facebook, or Twitter, or the blogs, or whatever. That's all *free speech* in a pure, First Amendment sort of way, but more important perhaps for them, it doesn't come at a cost. It helps to enable entire candidacies that don't rely on money (i.e. Patrick Murphy).

For the record, I will respect anyone's right to blog and comment anonymously provided it doesn't involve unsubstantiated personal attack. In response, I'd ask that you respect that there are certain things those of us who don't blog anonymously might naturally be a little more hesitant to say -- I'll cite the Law of Conservation of Enemies referenced by Kilcullen in 'Accidental Guerrilla' here. I won't call you a coward, and if you don't call me a kiss-ass, we're good.

Also for the record:

I am the sole author of this blog. My name is Greg Page and I own a condo at 200 Market St.

I've known since 2006 (when I lived in Virginia Beach when not deployed) that I was going to fill a Civil Affairs position in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. I also knew that I wanted to move back to the Boston area as soon as possible -- I'd lived there for two college summers and the year after, loved it, and knew it was the only place I'd ever want to call home. I scoped out all the small cities in the area, found Lowell to be the absolute best in terms of layout, location, affordability, amenities, and future prospects (you can sense this place is on the up-and-up in a way that many other small cities of its kind aren't).

I took orders to get as close to the area as possible (Groton, CT was the best I could do...BRAC killed any chance of Devens) and for the past fifteen months have done a "mixed commute." That is, I'm back-and-forth quite a bit, though not daily, and have put an obscene number of miles on my odometer. Weekends, leave, holidays, and more weekdays than I'd want to count -- just ask anyone who works at the Starbucks off Exit 16 in Worcester or New Great Taste at Gorham/Central. Or just ask anyone who lives at my girlfriend's house who knows where the down-the-stairs lumbering on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 4 a.m. is coming from. The good news for me is the end of all this is nigh. I'm taking all of AUG as personal leave, have to go back to work again in SEP, but then detach from active Navy into Army Guard as of the first of OCT. Getting there steadily, one day at a time. Yes, there's been personal and financial cost, but much like Rita Mercier's cold dinners, its self-inflicted nature limits my right to complain.

Ratriey (in the picture next to me) and I were introduced by her aunt more than a year ago and will hopefully be engaged at some point next month. Will post when it happens.

I definitely get a rise out of being challenged over the name of this blog. I say that because I wasn't actually born in New England nor did I have the good sense to have parents who could've moved me here at a younger age. What's funny to me, however, is that people who would never do something as gauche as to question an immigrant's right to be 'American' -- those who would even get misty-eyed during a citizenship oath at Faneuil Hall -- sometimes have a hard time with the blog title. On top of that, I'd add two things...first, as someone who has gone (and will do so again, and soon) overseas wearing this country's uniform, I'll call myself whatever I like, thank you very much. I could get orders to Wright-Patterson tomorrow, step off the plane, call myself an Ohioan...and if you disagree, we need to talk in private! And lastly, it's the name of a blog and a place I love -- I don't think the New Yorker or the Atlantic pretend to represent entire cities or oceans, if you catch my drift.

I love blogging just as I'm sure all bloggers do. It's provided a great albeit unintended way of staying in touch with friends. Besides giving me a public forum to post my thoughts to whoever might care to read them, it's making for a great personal way to *capture* the experience I'm having in the way that a journal would. Also, as Paul Marion wrote earlier this week, blogging gives writers and readers a virtual way to stay in touch with home city, whether that means you're out in Alaska (Tom Sexton), or Huachuca, Fayette-Nam, Afghanistan...or even old Rotten Groton.

I would love to support myself through writing, but the death of print media is going to make that harder and harder for people to do. Blogging may not pay the bills, but it's the next best thing. In the meantime, thanks to any and all who read this, those who link to it, and especially to those who comment.

Also, I am a tea-swilling Anglophile prone to calling people 'mate.'

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Those Slim Manhattanites

I just caught a NY Times headline that said Manhattanites are the slimmest among residents of any county in New York State.

Most of the article dealt with the culture of fitness among the wealthy and people's motivations to stay slim or look good. Thankfully, though, the very first explanation given was the one that I think hits the nail squarely on the head -- people who live in Manhattan walk a lot. Owning a car there is prohibitively expensive, and walking is just an easier, better way to get around.

On National Start Walking Day, Richard Howe posted a Bill Maher video clip with a great rant about American diet culture. Maher was lampooning those drug company commercials that always start with, "When diet and exercise don't work..." Maher's well-delivered response was that "Diet and exercise DO WORK!!"

My next entry is going to be based on some thoughts that have swirled around since the blogosphere was set ablaze by Rita Mercier's comments at the last City Council meeting. One of them is going to be why I moved to Lowell, and specifically to Downtown Lowell. As Kathleen Marcin said in a Sun interview a few months ago, and as I'm sure many others have before and will since, one of the greatest things about Downtown is parking your car on Friday afternoon and not starting it again until Monday morning.

I love walking, I'm neutral on driving, but I hate parking. I'll always prefer a nice walk to a drive just like I'll always hit zero for a live operator and always prefer a real breeze to a sealed-off blast of A/C.

I may not be a fan of most Manhattanites' political persuasions or attitudes about whether New York is or isn't the center of the universe.

But there's one thing they seem to be getting right that, unfortunately, most of this country is still getting wrong.

If 7-11 is 200 yards away from your house, try walking instead of driving. Although each trip is just one small thing, the cumulative effect can apparently have a significant long-term impact on your state of well-being.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Know Thy Neighbor

First, I wish to refer you to two excellent posts over at Choosing a Soundtrack regarding the recent spat between Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and an officer from the Cambridge PD. From a non-ideological point of view, its author rightly calls out where BOTH sides may have acted foolishly (I say 'may' because none of us were there).

There will no doubt be endless blog posts, journal submissions, Ph.D. thesis proposals, and talk show call-ins regarding this situation and its deeper meaning for America. But last night on NECN, I heard something that cut through all of that, was truly non-racial and seems unassailable from a logical point of view:

Maybe we should get to know our neighbors better.

Admittedly, Cambridge is a transient city with a high student and young professional population, so in some ways that's just much easier said than done. But at the same time, it does have its long-term residential core, of which Gates could be counted as a member (he's been on the Harvard faculty for many years now). The lady who was walking her dog in the neighborhood apparently had no idea who he was.

On the one hand, that woman deserves a lot of credit -- if it appeared someone was breaking into my house (even if that someone was me!) I would WANT someone to call the police if they were even slightly in doubt as to what was happening. The caller also did something a lot more honorable than the Queens residents who basically witnessed the Kitty Genovese murder back in 1964 and just stood and watched while no one reported it.

But on the other hand, the frustration of not knowing neighbors and the demise of social capital is an almost-universal lament in modern America. Besides the apparent two-way shamefulness of what happened between Gates and Crowley (Why was Gates belligerent, and why couldn't Crowley have just left him after ID'ing him as the owner?), it's also sad that the caller didn't know Dr. Gates, and didn't feel comfortable enough to ask the suspected perpetrators (at least one of whom was an aging man with a diminutive frame) as to what was going on.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Robert Forrant Op-Ed

Here is a link to Robert Forrant's Lowell Sun op-ed about the State of the City (present and possible future).

When Water Works

When I was a kid learning about blindness and other disabilities, a teacher made a particularly poignant point that stuck with me about the simulation we did that involved wearing a blindfold and being led around by another student.

"This can never really compare to blindness," the teacher said, "because all of you know that as soon as we're done, you can take that thing right off, and you'll be able to see everything around you." Great point, I remember thinking, and it's stuck with me since.

Yesterday afternoon, I saw a parallel there with parenting. Due to a mother (my 'aunt-in-law') being a bit under the weather, and my responsible adult counterpart being stuck working at CVS, I was tasked with the seemingly simple job of bringing one eight year-old and two five year-olds to a church service and subsequent picnic.

Easy enough, right?

Not so much. It was challenging from start to finish, but could never have compared with 'real' parenting -- as much as these kids exhausted me, I knew they were going back to Mom and Dad as soon as I decided I'd had enough.

First, I realized how otherwise simple tasks I took for granted because impossible. On the way there, I wanted to stop to grab a cold bottle of water from a convenience store. Not so fast. I realized that with no other adult there, leaving them in the car was a total non-starter. I decided that taking the three, who were growing increasingly rambunctious on the way up School St. (Broadway to Westford...not far, right?), into the store was an equally bad idea. So no joy on the otherwise uber-mundane chore.

After much shushing and 'stop standing on the seat' admonitions during the service, we finally made it outside for the picnic, where things generally went well.

Until someone started handing out the "Now I Can Read" cassette tapes.

One of the five year-olds in my stead grabbed a set of blue tapes and a set of red ones. After trading the red ones for green ones with a kid twice her age, she suddenly came down with an acute case of what I'll call "Trader's Remorse." She saw the error of her ways, realized that red tapes were indeed better than green tapes (despite my pleas that without even owning a cassette player, she would neither know nor care about the difference), and then fell short in a series of pleas with the kid who made the initial trade to do a "takeback."

It looked like things were going to be okay, but then it came -- The Waterworks.

Almost as if in slow-motion designed to torture me, the sad puppy dog face came on, the tears started to well up in the eyes, and then BAM! it was a show of weeping and wailing. I tried to stop it but saying how great the green tapes would be, but I was about as successful as an Inuit snow salesman. We had already gotten a few funny looks (most people there know me, but to anyone passing by on Princeton Blvd. I was a white guy inexplicably herding around three Asian kids, one of whom was now making a scene).

Here was my dilemma:

Either a) try to solve the problem as quickly as possible by getting the red tapes from the other kid, but by doing send a message that crying loudly will solve whatever problem you're facing, or b) do the right thing, and don't cave in to the crier.

I took the easy way out of this one. I used reason to convince the older kid that the tapes were probably the same, and was able to successfully engineer a "takeback" that gave the crying kid the red tapes and suddenly stopped the tears.

Within an hour's time, the kids were back to Mom and Dad, still full of energy and running all around the house, while I was just tuckered out from the whole experience, walked up to the third floor, and proceeded to take a long nap on my girlfriend's bed. I can't really say I experienced the difficulty of 'parenting' because that would've meant never being able to take that break -- the freedom just to hand them off to someone else and say "I'm done."

Had I been an actual parent, I don't know what decision I would've made. I can only hope I would NOT have caved in to the wishes of the crying one by getting the red cassette tapes back to her.

So although I won't pretend for a second that I know how hard parenting must be, or that I made the most responsible decision possible, I do think I have a heightened appreciation for those who do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Philip Bobbitt: Blurk Slayer

During some cross-country flying last week, I got done reading the lion's share of Book One of Philip Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles. Besides reminding me of how much ground I wish I could cover in the field of European history, or the lessons to be gleaned from shrewd one-named diplomats (after Talleyrand, Richelieu, and Mazarin, my head started to hurt), I had the joy of seeing Bobbitt take two blurks head-on.

A blurk, by the way, is your fearless author's neologism that describes "Popular, conventional wisdom which may be factually right or wrong, but which loses meaning through frequent, often thoughtless repetition."

To emphasize, just because something gets thoughtlessly repeated doesn't make it wrong. Some blurks really don't make sense (Among my favorites is that 'offense wins games, but defense wins championships' which flies in the face of any attempt at logical explanation, because usually scoring more points than the other guy involves both sides of the ball). Some might have an element of truth and some might be spot-on. One blurk that I've been rightly called on the carpet for using here on this blog is the 'Hollywood is dominated by the Loony Left' standby of conservative talk-show hosts.

But anyway, back to Bobbitt.

There's a very popular blurk in foreign policy circles from the Left or the Right which is some variant of "Sanctions don't work." It's often said quite authoritatively, usually because the speaker heard someone else say it quite authoritatively, but as Sean Hannity shows us when he talks about tax policy, repeating something a lot and emphasizing its rightness does not make it so.

On page 320 of the paperback edition, Bobbitt writes that:

"...there is a consensus that economic sanctions do not 'work' and they are seldom studied by military strategists. This conclusion is the result of a profound misunderstanding about the role of such sanctions...the crucial points to bear in mind are that sanctions' true utility lies in the modesty of their impact, a useful thing for the market-state that tries to shun warfare where possible, and that only an internationally coordinated effort, as exemplified by the sanctions against Iraq and Serbia, can be effective in an era of globalized markets and transient capital.'

Bobbitt reminds readers that if sanctions drove a state into TOTAL collapse, they would fail in their own special way, because they would lead to war, the policy option they were designed to prevent. If a grain embargo on the Soviets, for example, had driven that state's people into starvation, it would have led to a war for resources.

Besides, there are some great examples where sanctions punish the market-state and thereby lead to real change, the most prominent of which might be apartheid South Africa. In that case, famously, real pressure from other international actors, including the pulling of pursestrings, helped twist the hand of those in power away from a morally repugnant policy.

The dismantling of apartheid brings us back a ways, but how about something from just this month? The turnaround of the Kang Nam 1, which may have been destined for Myanmar with proscribed weapons in the cargo hold, was likely influenced by UN Security Council Resolution 1874, where the Chinese and the Russians stood firm with us in sending a message not just to North Korean deaf ears, but to the rest of the people in the world who might be in a position to 'enable' that awful regime.

Sanctions sometimes work, and sometimes don't. Just repeating some line about 'sanctions don't work' because Charles Krauthammer thinks the UN is a bunch of namby-pambys, or because Janeane Garofalo wishes to hold America to some impossible "damned if you do, damned if you don't" standard, doesn't make it right.

A second blurk that Bobbitt challenges is the automatic singling out of defense spending as 'wasteful.' Bobbitt writes:

" is often assumed by many that the vast flow of international goods and information is a natural given and that any American resources spent to ensure international stability through defense expenditures are resources wasted because they are diverted from our economic well-being."

As a percentage of GDP, we're spending FAR less than we did in our own recent memory, or than the British did to maintain sealane pre-eminence when the Royal Navy ruled the world's oceans.

Another point I'd add is that the way we spend money on personnel (in absolute or relative terms) makes us hard to compare to near-peer competitors like Russia or China. This would probably shock most people -- even those who are relatively well-informed -- but the total annual pay of a senior enlisted person or junior officer living in the Northeast is going to come out in the very high five-figure range. Certain incentive pays, such as those for nuclear-trained personnel who get fat retention bonuses, can even push them north of the six-figure line. That's not even counting other personnel-bearing budget lines such as health care, housing offices, record-keepers, etc. Other militaries, esp. those non-volunteer ones that heavily rely on conscripts to fill the right quota/manpower numbers, just aren't comparable in this sense.

One benefit of defense spending that's not always properly appreciated is the R & D spillover effect into the rest of society. Remember, the very Internet you're currently using is ultimately coming courtesy of DARPA, which developed ways for computers to talk to one another back in the 1950s. And remember, the scientists who work in places like the Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, DARPA, and in State College, PA then go do things like buy Nike sneakers and Dell laptops. As one friend of mine is fond of saying in response to complaints about the NASA budget, "It's not like we're shooting the money into space." Somewhere, a store clerk in Houston or real estate developer in Sugarland or The Woodlands appreciates this.

Then there's the real grandaddy of 'em all -- pensions. Simply put, the U.S. military has one of the best, most-reliable pension systems anywhere in the world. The costs of running that system are high and will continue to rise in the years ahead.

Trust me, I'm not advocating for runaway defense spending or for keeping unneeded positions around as some kind of white-collar jobs program. But in addition to Bobbitt's major point about the costs of maintaining the international system, we shouldn't assume that military spending is some sort of black hole from which money never returns. In fact, just ask anyone at a Dunkin Donuts between Lowell and New London -- sometimes it ends up in a franchise owner's cash register in response for glazed donuts and iced coffees with one cream, one sugar, and one Turbo Shot.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Meet the Berards

Last night, the missus and I made it over to the East End Club just after 8:30 to catch the tail end of Ryan Berard's fundraiser for his City Council bid.

We were greeted at the door by some of his campaign managers/advisors who we've gotten to know (as well as the candidate himself) at the UML Community Discussions Series and at a couple of LDNA meetings. With an offering up of the suggested $15 donation, I made my first-ever contribution to a political campaign. I thought about that as I handed the check over, and realized that: a) in my adult life until now, I've never lived in the same Congressional District -- or even the same city -- for two or more consecutive election cycles; and b) never owned property anywhere. That does not a good recipe for political involvement make. Of course, I still haven't lived here for two cycles (or even one, really) but because I plan to stay here indefinitely, and own a piece of real estate, there's incentive to move "interest" in politics towards actual involvement.

So I'm very glad to have done it. I've got nine votes to give, and I've made no secret here of telling anyone who cares to listen that one of them will be for Ryan. Hopefully, that relatively small amount of money will have an impact on something tangible -- flyers, bumper stickers, t-shirts, or whatever..

One interesting aspect for us last night was the chance to meet the candidate's parents. When we grabbed an open table and sat down to go through the brochures we picked up, Ken and Kelly Berard both went out of their way to introduce themselves and give us some insight into the door-to-door "retail politics" aspect of the campaign and the state of affairs in the city itself, to include opinions on Tuesday night's Council meeting. I think we successfully convinced Kelly to come to an LDNA meeting (4th Monday, 7 p.m. @ Revolving, but no meeting this month).

For what it's worth, I know Downtown hasn't been a traditional hotbed of voter turnout, but I hope this year's candidates can capitalize on the high sense of frustration that many are feeling with things right now and find a way to get more of the folks here mobilized. I think one of the (many) lessons of President Obama's successful primary and general bids from last year is that going after new voters is sometimes a more fruitful strategy than just assuming only those who have already voted in the past will vote again, and others are worthy only of ignoring.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Milinazzo's Retort

I just got up early before work and gave a quick local scan of the blogs, which showed me that posted a transcript and video of a back-and-forth from Tuesday night's Council meeting between CC Kazanjian and CC Milinazzo. After Kazanjian called himself "ashamed" to be a colleague of Milinazzo, this was the latter's retort:

And I would also now, I would also like to thank Councilor Alan Kazanjian for saying what I really perceive to be one of the nicest things he’s said to me, that he’s ashamed that I’m his colleague because I really truly believe that he doesn’t have the best interest of the city as a city councilor and I think he’s proven that time and time again. So if he’s ashamed of me, I’ve proven my point of being a good city councilor. Thank you.

Besides being great political theater, I loved this because it hits at something important in either public or private debate. Somehow, somewhere, it became acceptable to dismiss ANY retort to anything someone says about you -- regardless of how true it is, how *constructive* it is, or whatever, as "defensive" or the respondent as "thin-skinned."

That obviously creates a major logical problem for people. It basically creates a "Heads you win, tails I lose" situation -- you can say anything you want about someone or something I admire, but the minute I disagree with what you're saying I can be dismissed as being "defensive" in a debate-ending sort of rhetorical flourish. Ditto for personal attacks -- you can beat me up all you want, but any comeback must automatically equal "thin skin." (I've noticed that the old playground taunt really is true, too -- the quickest to 'dish it' are ALWAYS the worst at 'taking it' -- just like the first people at work to complain about having their time wasted are always the ones with the least on their plate).

Anyway back to Milinazzo's response -- I thought it was awesome. He didn't raise his voice, his tone didn't go cold or hostile, and he ended with the words 'thank you.' No clipped phrases, no nervous voice inflections, or anything of the sort. He just basically said he'd use that type of opposition to define himself, did it with a smile, and moved on.

That seems like a great model for responding to personal attack. You address what's said, you do it with a smile, but all without showing any outward signs that your blood might be boiling.

Somewhere, someone is probably calling it 'defensive' or 'thin-skinned,' but why can't that be flipped back over to say that Kazanjian was being 'offensive' or 'thick-headed?'

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Public v. Private Sector: Quick Thoughts

As the reality of needing to find a full-time job in the next couple months is sinking in (though as the stock market keeps rallying, the pressure lightens correspondingly), I find myself going back-and-forth over the pros and cons of private v. public sector work.

All I can really come back to is that no generalization is going to apply across the board.

On the one hand, the public sector is great because there's no profit bottom line being worked towards, and you don't have to sell anything. On the other hand, not all private sector jobs actually involve selling anything, at least directly.

On the one hand, the public sector can be a major downer because a system that promotes based on time on the job, as opposed to merit, can drag down the morale of someone used to being a go-getter. On the other hand, you shouldn't technically *care* about how those around you are promoted or paid.

On the one hand, a private sector employer that would only bring in people he/she considered high-caliber could be a great work environment (tons of mutual respect, right?) On the other hand, a hard-charger would stand out more in a public sector job, and the environment might be less competitive.

At the end of the day, I'll be quite satisfied to land a job, because last I checked, you can't make a living writing a small-scale blog to share your thoughts with the world. My previous financial calculations based on trying to *just* live off Guard income have since come up against a need for serious revision.

Also, the only thing I really *know* as far as full-time work goes is the public sector, the pros and cons of which I at least understand (the slings and arrows of which it might be nobler to suffer than would private sector troubles and pressures, of which I know not).

Still, I think there'd be something really nice about working somewhere where everyone who walks in the door is already a high-achiever (and therefore assumes that everyone else is).

But on the other hand, I have no idea what a forty-hour a week job would feel like, and I can imagine it might be worth the tradeoffs (military is of course public sector but the days are significantly longer than those of civil servants).

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Power of Words: Swearing and Pain

A new study has confirmed something you already knew: That swearing can improve a person's tolerance to pain. Specifically, people are able to submerge their hands in freezing-cold water longer if able to let go of a few good ones than if they're only able to use more neutral words.

One aspect of swearing that the article touches upon is its universality, something easily attested to by anyone who has tried to learn another language or experienced any type of cultural-linguistic exchange, either aboard or right here in the U.S. -- swear words are often the first words that a new speaker of another language learns, and they're often great insights into a culture. As evidence, look at the way Paz breaks down the term hijo de la chingada in Mexico, and connects it to the region's history and the crimes of Spanish conquistadors in The Labyrinth of Solitude.

As long as I can remember, I've never agreed with the line that the use of swear words betrays a limited or weak vocabulary. Their artful use has its place in speech for emphasis and can often add color to what might otherwise be dull.

If some four letter phraseology helps someone relieve stress, it seems like a much more appropriate (and victimless!) way of handling it than, say, the placing of a fist through a wall, or into someone else.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Comedy and the Beholder's Eye

I read this morning in a comment from Richard Howe in which he wrote that "family value moral minded politicians" are, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

I would say ditto for comedy.

I respectfully disagreed with an opinion about 'The Hangover' last night and got some of the 'lighten up and stop overthinking it, would ya?' and 'I don't go to comedy movies looking for deep meaning' type of responses, which are all well and good, except they don't address the chance that some people might disagree on what they find funny.

For the record, I believe that ethnic humor and slapstick are VERY funny, but only in the right context.

Ethnic humor is funny when put into a witty context, as exemplified most masterfully by much of what Chris Rock does in his stand-up routines. It's not funny, however, (to me, anyway) when someone says, "Hey Wasserstein, go pick that quarter up off the ground!" It's not my sense of political correctness that's offended by that, it's my sense of humor!

Slapstick can be very funny, too, but it doesn't work for me in and of itself. A 93 year-0ld lady falling on ice just isn't funny to me. It's not my sensitivity for elderly women that's offended by that, it's my sense of humor!

Bestiality is never funny. Again, that's an opinion and nothing more. I have very good friends who are repulsed by ANY form of bathroom humor, which is more or less a staple in any of my 'homemade' routines. My lack of laughter at bestiality doesn't come from any sensitivity to animals, by the way, but from a sensitivity to what meets my definition of 'funny'!

Insta-humor, as I define it, is when an entire joke or gag depends on just saying a word or showing something devoid of context. Examples from recent stand-up routines would include: Crack, Spam, Viagra, and Ebonics.

Another really good example of insta-humor is when people think something becomes funny just because it somehow involves midgets. Please bear in mind, I'm not saying midgets can't be funny, it's just that something otherwise not-funny does not suddenly become hysterical just because it involves a person who's less than four feet tall.

For the record, I'm not a fan of the boilerplate workplace stuff, either. So when someone says any of these, I meet them with a blank stare:

You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!

I pretend to work, they pretend to pay me...

Are we hard at work, or hardly working?

Of course, my blank stare is met with a poke to the ribs and a "It's a joke man, have a laugh." That's the same blank stare I'd give, by the way, to someone who said, "Would you like pancakes with that syrup?" thinking there was some kind of original wit contained therein.

What the person doesn't realize is that yes, maybe the attempt at humor is being recognized, but simultaneously dismissed.

I'll respect your right to laugh at bestiality, stock ethnic stuff, and old ladies falling on ice all day me, that's no different than you liking the cheddar-stuffed Combos while I reach for the Fritos.

And when I crack up hysterically at the Michael Moore v. Peter Griffin farting scene on a Family Guy episode, and you don't even crack a smile, I'll promise not to say you're "overthinking it."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tim Cahill: Not a Real Indy

For the record, Tim Cahill doesn't -- and won't -- count as the first tremor in the anti-major party earthquake.

Just like John Anderson, Joe Lieberman, or, shoot, Christy Mihos, major party exiles who simply leave their party because they don't or won't get nominated and then try to run down between the two flanks don't count to me as real, organic Independents (as I just saw in a Kad Barma comment on RSOL, that gets filed under the 'Bald Gamesmanship' category).

I still don't know about celebrities, either, whether it's a big name outside the state (Jesse Ventura) or a big name inside the state (Angus King). They still get credit because they can step outside of traditional lines and owe fewer favors, though.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Patrick Murphy and Free Speech

"Money is the mother's milk of political campaigns," is probably one of the oldest, and truest, maxims of American political culture.

A candidate's ability to raise money is one of those great positive feedback loops, because the more money you've got in your war chest, the more you're going to seem like you're leading the pack. The more this perception can take hold, the better you're going to poll, which means more people take you seriously, and more donate, etc. Bob's your uncle, and let the circle be unbroken.

New Media runs against this grain, however. Whether we're talking Twitter, YouTube, blogs, or even e-mail, what all these have in common is that they're free for the user. (And yes, by the way, for many people, e-mail still legitimately counts as 'New Media.')

If television ads were king (as they may still be in a state or national race), a candidate forgoing the spending of money on his race, as Patrick Murphy is doing in his Lowell City Council bid this year, would immediately resign him to also-ran status come November. And although the trend points us towards higher and higher dollar amounts spent on political campaigns, there's part of me that imagines (hopes?) that a future turn away from traditional targets of campaign expenditures (TV ads before the days of DVR, TiVO, and Hulu, not to mention print media), could change the way money impacts races.

I checked Left in Lowell this weekend and caught this Video Clip put out by Murphy's campaign.

Even if things like YouTube might not affect a significant portion of Lowell voters, it still seems like low-budget video shorts are *worth it* in terms of costs v. potential benefits. For whoever's willing to listen, it's a chance to spell out who you are and what you're about in a concise, easily-transferrable and easily-preservable format.

For the record, Murphy is directing would-be donors to non-profit/charity organizations. He also did not fundraise during his 2007 Congressional bid as an Independent in the 5th CD race.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Value of Michael Halpert's Life

There is no doubt in my mind that Seaman Michael Halpert died doing what he thought he was right, which was standing up to something he knew was wrong -- the theft of $15 meant to pay a tab at a bar in Preston, CT. See the Norwich Bulletin article here.

There is something noble in that, though I doubt that's any consolation to his family on this July 4 holiday weekend. From the article:

A Navy man died Wednesday from injuries sustained in a fight in Preston that witnesses say started with a dispute over $15.

Seaman Michael Halpert, 31, a Navy electronics technician from Miami Beach, Fla., died at 4:50 p.m. Wednesday at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. Police said Halpert was involved in a fight at David’s Cafe on Route 12 in Preston early June 26 and suffered a subdural hematoma, a form of traumatic brain injury.

Eduardo Rosario, 34, of 43 Denison Drive, Groton, was arrested hours after the fight and charged with first-degree assault, second-degree assault, second-degree breach of peace and violation of a protective order in connection with the assault.

The only times in my life I've been in anything that even remotely started to become a two-way physical altercation (which I can count on one hand), it's always come back to the same thing: a desire to want to right something I had perceived as wrong, which usually involved someone running his mouth in a manner designed to provoke that type of response. There have been many more fights avoided, such as the time someone essentially *extorted* $15 from me in a bar in order to pay for dry cleaning after he claimed a female friend of ours had spilled a beer on his jacket. His tone of voice and the wild look in his eye told me right away that half the cost of a round of drinks for our group was well worth the value of avoiding something far, far worse for us that night.

A quote I read regarding confrontations on a Choosing a Soundtrack post has stuck with me for the past few months, and has guided me through some bite-the-lip-and-walk-away type of moments since I first read it. To paraphrase: "Don't get into an argument with an idiot, because it will soon become impossible for any observer to tell which of you is the idiot."

Of course, it's always WAY easier to give someone else that type of advice than it is to take it, especially when your sense of right and wrong has been violated. But bear in mind that when you describe your interpersonal conflicts to other people, no matter how *right* you think you are, no one is really listening, and they're just going to come away with the understanding that Person A and Person B were in a dispute, regardless of who *started it* and regardless of who was right or wrong.

Last Friday night in Preston, Eduardo Rosario was the idiot and the bully. That seems indisputable.

However, there's now one Sailor recovering from a broken jaw and one whose family is in mourning after a life and a Navy career was cut far too short.

That can't be *right* or *just* in anyone's idea of a fair world.

Michael Halpert's life was worth more than that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Krieger on Kerry

Fans of Right-Side-of-Lowell would've already known where its author stood, but folks reading yesterday's Boston Globe could've seen this letter about Senator Kerry's crossing the line of acceptable public discourse in his recent "joke" about Governor Palin.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Senator Diaper...and You

After some very spirited and healthy debate last week -- here, on Choosing a Soundtrack, and on Right-Side-of-Lowell -- surrounding public figures, scandals, and their families (the Letterman v. Palin stuff spilled right into Ensign/Sanford) I realized late last week we had entirely ignored what most people ignore every time this stuff comes up, but what ANY 2nd Lieutenant or Lance Corporal walking through the doors of places like Huachuca, Goodfellow, or Dam Neck already knows -- the potential risk that certain behaviors could place on those who hold security clearances. That's why I wrote this letter to the Sun (thanks for the heads-up Cliff, I didn't know they had published it but will grab a hard copy tomorrow afternoon from the missus).

Before you write me off as a paranoid conspiracy nut, I would suggest you read about names like Clayton Lonetree, Irvin Scarbeck, or Katrina Leung. Or just read any Cold War spy history you could get at any Barnes & Noble or Borders (or local library, if so inclined).

Or ask the FBI Agent friend of mine (also a reserve Gunnery Sergeant, Marine E-7, which is how I know him) about what happened when he and a lot of his associates went to Moscow for an FBI-FSB liaison trip a couple years ago. Every single one of them wearing some left-hand jewelry was solicited almost to the point of harassment by young, eager Russian women every time they went out. In fact, it got so ridiculous that towards the end of the trip, one particularly charged-up partygoer grabbed one of them by the arm forcibly and yelled, in these exact words, in Russian-accented English at a high decibel level, "LET'S GO SEX!"

Needless to say, that three-word rallying cry became a long-running inside joke among those guys, and it still draws a laugh to this day.

None of them were stupid enough to take the bait, though, because they'd all been warned it was going to happen, and they knew the consequences of doing so would be either bartering information or money, or making the most difficult speech they would ever give to their spouse.

Anyway, back to the spirit of the letter. Let's take a look at the DC Madam scandal. We now know that:

a) David Vitter is a U.S. Senator who represents the great state of Louisiana;
b) David Vitter is an outspoken champion of 'traditional' family values;
c) David Vitter enjoys (or did enjoy) the company of prostitutes; and
d) David Vitter enjoys (or did enjoy) wearing diapers in said company.

The issue here has NOTHING to do with the rightness or wrongness of wearing diapers, which is absolutely not my place to judge. The issue has everything to do, however, with the vulnerability it creates for the wearer, the Right Gentleman from the Pelican State.

In an easy-to-imagine scenario, Mr. Vitter could've found himself in the same situation that the FBI agents were way too street-smart to fall into. It wouldn't have required true agent recruitment on the part of the prostitute, either. (That's important, and that's why I italicized that).

Imagine one of the DC Madam's call girls. Imagine she has money trouble. She has bills to pay, addictions to feed, credit cards, rent, etc. Imagine someone who she doesn't know is aware of this, and says, "I'll pay you ______ thousand dollars to wear this piece of recording equipment while you cavort with Senator Diaper." (This would be sort of a twist on Hazel Moore with Marion Berry, only with different players and stakes).

Now, voila, that agency has one percent of our highest-level deliberative and legislative body over a proverbial barrel.

They could delay legislation, they could introduce legislation, they could hold things up in committees. And if they ran into any trouble, they could instantly end the career of a very ambitious man with a few simple mouse clicks (which is even easier than the boys in Berlin used to do it, back when they had to rely on international air mail to make good on these).

The same could apply to any pol, so I don't really care whether it's Craig, Clinton, Spitzer, Mark Foley, or even Gary Hart.

Again, no one said you had to be perfect. To cite my past examples, no one said anything about slurping your soup, picking your nose at a red light, or ripping a fart as you get out of bed (a.k.a. Morning Thunder). That's the kind of stuff that the imperfect people I know tend to do.

And if you're going to skip town for international trysts, wear diapers with prostitutes, or solicit sex in airport bathrooms, that's okay too -- provided you'd be comfortable disclosing that in a public forum without going to any lengths to hide the evidence.

But if you're not, you just abused all of our trust, and you don't deserve to be elected dog-catcher.

Ryan Berard Fundraiser

What: Fundraiser for Ryan Berard, Lowell City Council Candidate
Where: East End Club, 15 W. 4th St
When: Thursday, 16 JUL, 6-10 p.m.
Who: Anyone interested in meeting the Candidate, talking politics, making a contribution, or any combination of the above
Why: Because all politics is local, and we should all be involved in one way or another

I will be there, and this will be the first time I ever donate to a political campaign. Full Disclosure: Ryan is one of four CC Candidates who I have stated I will be voting for in NOV. Plan to donate at least something to each of the other three (plus whichever others fill out the remaining five spots), but haven't been able to make it to any other fundraisers.

Hope to see you there.

Should I Be Discharged?

With great dismay, I read this morning about an Army National Guard Lieutenant who is going to be discharged from the military, despite his desire to serve, his successful prior deployment to Iraq, and his Arab linguist status.

The spirit of the Clinton-era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is that homosexual servicemembers are a threat to good order and discipline. Therefore, the story goes, we shouldn't make an issue of sexual orientation, so we should neither reveal it nor ask others to reveal it.

Here's my problem, though: I am several weeks from being engaged (We've got the date for next July, the restaurant, the ring, and some other particulars worked out, but we still won't be engaged until we go through some Cambodian traditions that we won't be able to do until August).

By getting engaged, though, and announcing it here on the blog (I try to stay away from purely personal stuff, but will certainly make an exception for major milestones), I will be publicly announcing my status as a heterosexual, about to enter into long-term heterosexual matrimony. From CNN today:

First Lt. Dan Choi disclosed in March that he is gay, challenging the 1994 "don't ask, don't tell" law that requires the military to discharge troops who disclose their sexual orientation. Tuesday's ruling, made after a daylong hearing, is a step toward stripping Choi of his officer's commission and ending his career.

Just wondering if anyone could try to throw me under the bus for this. No one asked me whether I was straight or gay, but by openly, brazenly making this announcement, and then having the gumption to make a public display of it (in a church, in a home, and in the Hong Kong, no less!) I seem to be "telling" anyone who cares to listen more than they might care to know.

Sovereignty Day

As this bit from Reuters notes, yesterday Iraq celebrated "Sovereignty Day" as U.S. forces withdrew from urban centers to large Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). This is, of course, a major step in the eventual plan to withdraw all soldiers, save for some trainers, advisers, Special Operations Forces, and certain other support elements, by 2011.

It's definitely an exciting development for Iraqis.

It's definitely an exciting development for the U.S. military.

The event was, unsurprisingly, marred by violence. The way the enemies of the current Iraqi government will try to exploit a perceived or real security gap created by this withdrawal will become one of the toughest challenges yet faced by General Odierno, or by the Obama Administration.

I find the presence of Joe Biden as the overseer-in-chief of this transition in no way heartening.

A Brendan Fraser Out There?

Just want to promise readers I'm not going to turn this blog into a rolling, unpaid Boston Casting advertisement.

I did get on their e-mail list from the "tryout" a while back and will post some of their stuff, however, when it seems relevant. If the primary purpose of blogs is to share information, and someone reading sees a chance to be a on a gameshow or in a movie, it seems like all gain for no loss.

Boston Casting is seeking a Double for actor BRENDAN FRASER for the film Furry Vengeance. Double would have to be available starting July 13th for 7 weeks in the Boston/North Shore Area. Double MUST BE between 6'2 and 6'4 and MUST LOOK LIKE Brendan Fraser. If you think you are right for this- Please email your photo to ASHLEY@BOSTONCASTING.COM