Saturday, February 27, 2010

Charlie and Christy -- See How They Roll

Working with the Sam Meas campaign has me out now on almost a nightly basis; as you can imagine, there's a lot of cross-pollination with local and state races at some of the events that a guy running for Congress attends.

Notwithstanding any policy issues, or who would be a better GOP nominee, or a better Governor, here's one quick observation about the organizational contrast between Charlie Baker and Christy Mihos -- it's stark.

It's not uncommon to see Christy Mihos haul himself 2.5 hours to an event from his home on the Cape. Nor is it uncommon to see him walk in by himself, hand his card out, give people his personal cell phone and e-mail address, and tell them to "give me a call" in what seems like a sincere voice. This seems like what you might expect from a convenience store magnate who is known to walk into one of his stores, see something out of place, and fix it himself before even bringing it to the Manager's attention.

Baker, by contrast, tends to move like a CEO. He's got a crew of nattily-dressed twentysomethings ready to move for him at the snap of a finger, almost literally. He's got people handing out cards, bumper stickers, and scooping up petition signatures and e-mail addresses. These people enter the room before he does and they leave after he departs. Watching it all, you get the strong sense that he's working from the playbook of someone who's been around the block a time or two in this game (maybe a former Bay Stater listed as 'Bill' on his speed dial?)

On the one hand, it's admirable to see Mihos doing a lot of the little things himself, but to me it begs the question of how well-developed is his organizational structure? Couldn't a guy with millions in the bank bring some kids just out of college on retainer for, say, $3k a month to carry all his papers, work the rooms, and move him around?

Then again, maybe Mihos built up his fortune by being stingy with his money. Maybe in some ways that's a good characteristic for someone who could have so much influence over the state budget.

But from the point of view of perception, maybe we want a leader to be more of a classical executive-type. One of the major problems the Carter Administration faced was that Carter was way too mired in details and way too reluctant to let go and trust his staff. Reagan, who will be much more admired by Presidential historians, actually brought a lot of pomp and circumstance BACK to the office; for this, he seems to be a lot more applauded than derided.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

106,000? Or was that 126,000?

Last night at Pollard, Lindsay Tarrant and Barbara Warren of the UML Community and Social Psychology Dept. presented a panel-led discussion titled "Our Community and the Census 2010."

Vong Ros of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (CMAA) and the 2010 Census led off with some statistics: According to 2000 Census data, there are officially only 9,800 Cambodian-Americans in Lowell. However, based on projections formed by statistics on the city's public school demographics, there were an estimated 25,000 Cambodian-Americans living in Lowell at the time. Now, that figure could be as high as 35-40k. The undercounting of that community hurts the city, the region, and the state in terms of Congressional and tax dollar apportionment.

One of the biggest discussion points was addressing the fear that certain people, particularly undocumented immigrants, may have of a government representative seeking data about themselves or their households. The 2010 Census is addressing that by changing its local strategy towards one that emphasizes existing community organizations emphasizing the Census' importance and using more workers who can address people in their native language.

There were several questions about this, and it was reiterated several times that there is both written law and judicial precedent making it clear that ANY personal data recorded by the Census about ANYONE cannot be shared with any law enforcement or other federal agency. Still, that may be no consolation to someone who fears a government-sponsored knock on the door for any purpose.

Another major change in 2010, as opposed to past years, is the length of the form itself. The census form this year is only 10 questions long, whereas past iterations included as many as several dozen questions.

Another issue that came up regards confusion among the multiple census forms people will receive this year. The city census form you recently received in the mail is not the federal, once-every-ten-years form you will soon receive. There is also a separate Labor Dept. census that is not to be confused with the federal 2010 Census.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's That Time Again..

I'm a huge fan of language.

Studying English and other languages' words is a daily hobby and always will be -- whether it's the way American English changes words' meanings (i.e. anxious or peruse), or whether it's the way roots vary from language to language (i.e. that our word for a person not working can be synonymous with death, whereas the Spanish word for it, jubilado, comes from the same root as 'overjoyed.')

Anyway, it seems like every six months or so I write an entry about Cockney rhyming slang and how I wish we had it in the States. Many people know it from Austin Powers, EuroTrip, Ocean's Eleven, or Snatch, but it hasn't quite taken hold anywhere on this side of the Pond. I've posted links explaining a lot of the frequently-used terms, but I become a bit more of a YouTube junkie by the day and recently realized I hadn't posted a video.

Without further ado, here goes, and here's to continuing to hold out hope that the "dog" may someday become acceptable usage here for the phone, or that we can walk the up the apples at night to go to bed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Patrick's Point -- Whither the Other Neighborhoods?

I caught most of tonight's Council meeting via Streaming Video. I had thought there was going to be more discussion about the move of retired city employees over to Medicare, but as far as heated back-and-forth went, the bigger topic tonight was performance-based budgeting, and whether other cities "doing it better" was a result of, or was caused by, their relative affluence.

Anyway, one point that stood out for me tonight was Patrick Murphy's questioning of the downtown focus of iShopLowell 2010. To be clear, he wasn't questioning the program itself, or the public money used (roughly $1500 total, said CM Lynch), but the focus. He seemed to be saying, "There's a lot more to Lowell than just one neighborhood, so why does an initiative like this seem to ignore the great shops and restaurants outside of downtown?"

As a downtowner with an admittedly downtown-centric cityview, it definitely gave me pause, because it's not something that had even occurred to me before. I had even seen people on Twitter wondering why such-and-such a restaurant wasn't involved with it, or with Great Plates, but nothing questioning the geographical focus of either program itself.

Everyone in the room seemed to acknowledge the point to some degree, and CM Lynch said he would take it back for consideration.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hear Sam Live: Tonight @ Paradiso

I know I've written maybe just a time or two about Sam Meas, candidate for U.S. Congress. It's been a great ride so far volunteering with his campaign, and I plan to post more updates along the way leading up the primary and the general.

If you want to meet Sam tonight or just hear his story about escaping the Khmer Rouge, and how that experience shapes and informs his politics in America today, he'll be speaking to the Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association at 7 p.m. at Caffe Paradiso (Palmer and Middle).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

YPGL Trivia -- Tonight

Young Professionals of Greater Lowell is putting on a trivia night tonight. Their e-mail to the group is below in italics.

I am looking to avenge our group's close-but-not-enough finish last year to the Lowell Devils. Yes, the Lowell Devils.

Please join us for YPGL's 3rd Annual Trivia Night at the Brewery Exchange in Lowell. This is a great opportunity to test your wits and meet young professionals from the Greater Lowell area. You can either come prepared with a team of four to six people or we'll help you find one at the event. Food will be provided along with a cash bar. If you haven't already contacted us, it's not too late to RSVP. Please email

The winning trivia team will receive a cash prize of at least $100. Also, we will be raffling off two tickets to an upcoming Red Sox game (donated by the Lowell Five).

YPGL Trivia Night

Date: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time: 5:30pm (Trivia starts right at 6:00pm)

Location: The Brewery Exchange (3rd Floor), 201 Cabot St. in Lowell

Cost: $10.00 with a bag of food / $15.00 without a bag of food
Food will be donated to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, which is the non-profit agency that YPGL will be supporting in 2010. Here is a list of items that the Food Bank can use:
- Tuna, canned chicken
- Peanut butter
- Canned spaghetti sauce
- Canned fruit in light syrup or juice
- Canned low sodium soup and vegetables
- Pasta and rice
- Paper towels
- Bath tissue
- Personal care items (toothpaste/soap/shampoo/conditioner)
- Diapers, formula, jar baby food

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ipswich: Breaking the Mold

I got a kick out of this passage describing a neighborhood's reaction when Amy Bishop (The University of Alabama shooter, and the IHOP assaulter, and the Braintree shooter) moved out of Ipswich. The neighbors seem to have erupted in some spontaneous cheering and pizza eating as soon as the moving van's tail lights were out of sight.

At the risk of saying this for the millionth time, I'm a huge fan of George Carlin. I could even say he's somewhat of an idol for his ability to see through so much of the funny, awkward things that come up in everyday speech and behavior. Anyway, Carlin does a good bit about how neighbors always talk about serial killers and other nutjobs (He was so nice... He was such a quiet one...).

It's interesting to see that in the wake of all these Amy Bishop revelations, no one is really saying that. At this point, only her husband seems to be defending her past track record of antisocial behavior.

So it goes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Story Behind a Story?

Check out this recent story in the Sun about GOP Challengers for the 5th CD in MA.

If you believe that comments are any type of reasonable proxy for how a readership (or electorate) feels, the ones associated with this story should indicate that although Sam Meas may not be the best-funded participant in the race, there is a groundswell behind him.

Monday, February 15, 2010

CSP Census Forum

CSP Community Forum Presents:
"How can the 2010 Census help our community and how can our community help the 2010 Census?”

Who?: The Community and Social Psychology (CSP) graduate students at UMass Lowell invite you to engage in discussion about hot topics in Lowell.

What?: Join us for a community discussion about the 2010 Census! We will discuss what the Census is and why it is important to our community.

When?: Wednesday, February 24th 2010 from 7:00-8:30pm

Where?: Pollard Memorial Library 401 Merrimack St., Lowell, MA. 01852

Why?: This particular forum is to discuss the 2010 Census and how it supports our community and why we should support it back, however, these forums are also meant to be a space to connect community members and facilitate more communication between organizations in Lowell.

A 'Little Cambodia' in the Lower Highlands?

The Globe ran this piece today about efforts to designate the area near Pailin Plaza as "Little Cambodia." There are several quotes from the City Manager and a variety of views about the merits behind the idea.

For what it's worth, I would say that the Pailin Plaza/Clemente Park area *already is*, for all intents and purposes, a "Little Cambodia." If a designation can put it on the map as such, why not? It might steer a few visitors towards the shops and restaurants who otherwise wouldn't have known to go there.

Marking an arched entrance or spiffying up some street signs wouldn't exactly turn that area into EPCOT Center.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"All Hands" for Sam

Pardon the short notice, but there will be an "All Hands" meeting for Sam Meas for Congress today. That means the candidate, the staff, all the volunteers, curious onlookers, and everyone in between.

What: "All Hands" meeting for Sam Meas for Congress
Where: Sunny Da restaurant, 454 Chelmsford St. in Lowell
When: 4-6 p.m.
Who: Anyone and everyone
Why: For a chance to learn about Sam Meas and his campaign; or for the free coffee and

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why Christie Has Trenton in a Tizzy

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is causing quite a fuss down in New Jersey right now by enacting the spending freeze that he talked about in the runup to his recent election. He's going after supposedly sacred things like education and union contracts, making him a villain in the eyes of some, but possibly saving the state from bankruptcy in the process.

I spent my first 17 years in the Garden State so I track it with more than a passing interest. Here are two things you need to know:

(1) New Jersey was for a time in the 1990s our country's wealthiest state per capita, but is no longer. In fact, NJ lost approximately $70b in total wealth from 2004-08 due to people escaping the state for a better tax climate elsewhere (many from the 'burbs outside of Philly have come over to the PA side, for instance). That includes retirees going south as well, but a lot of the loss is to neighboring states with less confiscatory policies. On the one hand, it's great to just say 'Eat the Rich' but the problem with that is that your tax base has to come from somewhere. People who work in NYC but want to live the suburban life have three states to choose from; those who work in Philly have two. If you lose all those people, you can forget about ALL the essential services you need; the very prospect of that should cost you a few winks at night regardless of whether you're a Republican, a Democrat, a Green, an Indy, or anything anywhere in between.

(2) The district of Asbury Park, NJ (which any Bruce Springsteen fan can find on a map, for sure), currently spends $24, 428 per pupil. (By way of comparison Phillips Andover is just a shade higher at $31k for day tuition). The story behind why that is involves a court decision which was probably made with the best intentions of redistributing wealth in order to provide more equal educational opportunities. But as anyone who has ever even stepped near a public school should know, if you really think those $24k are mostly going towards helping ACTUAL public schoolchildren, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you somewhere near the Bering Strait.

When I peer down I-95 to see what Gov. Christie is doing, it seems that he's willing to call some things out on the carpet for what they really are. If he can save one state from going over a cliff, he should be applauded for it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Great Essay from a Great Man

After reading an excerpt from the Joy Behar Show tucked away in the umpteenth comment on a recent RSOL post (during which a guest apparently tried to draw a connection between climate change and earthquakes and tsunamis) and fighting (or embracing?) some insomnia with some Internet reading, I found this Michael Crichton essay/speech titled "Environmentalism as Religion."

It was important that I post, because I've noticed there are three things I tend to keep doing almost reflexively:

1. Harrumph and yell when the subject of modern wireless technology etiquette comes up. I most recently did this yesterday on Gerry Nutter's blog. The big cultural change I wish to see is that people stop freaking out when others don't immediately respond to calls and texts. The 'selling point' I make in doing so is that I believe there's a connection here to Texting While Driving and Yapping While Driving, which are both causes of Accidents While Driving.

2. Harrumph and yell whenever the word 'humbled' is butchered. I know langauge evolves, and I know words like 'anxious,' 'notorious,' and 'peruse' are more often honored in the breach than the observance. Still, there's a curmudgeonly William Safire-wannabe somewhere in me whose skin crawls every time someone talks about how 'humbling' it is to win an Oscar, to hit a 500th home run, earn a major party's Presidential nomination, etc. Hizzoner, Mayor Milinazzo, even did this during his January inaugural speech. 'Humbled' is what life makes you when you don't get what you want, when your best isn't good enough, or when you had your Oscar acceptance speech ready to go but "Howard's End" eked you out for the honors.

3. Harrumph and yell about Michael Crichton's 'State of Fear' every time the issue of global warming/climate change comes up. I know I've done this a time or two on RSOL and on CAS. I do this because even though the novel was forgettable, the bigger point Crichton was making in writing it has stayed with me ever since -- the human race would be better served by an environmental movement that leads with its head, not its heart. In doing so, the book hit me square in the head and the heart; if I dare say it, it humbled me because I realized I had sort of plodded along buying the company line on climate change for so many years without ever really questioning why I thought what I did, and what authority I based that on.

Anyway, I excitedly post that now because if you've got some time today to read the essay linked above, you can spare yourself all the trouble of reading State of Fear (though you'll miss out on all those cool charts in the Epilogue). The essay spells out the gist of what Crichton was saying.

Caveat lector -- if you are a religious or environmental fundamentalist, you might be offended.

Unfunded Liabilities and the City

I caught this morning's Sun story about a Council hearing regarding a state law that would require future City retirees to switch from Master Medical over to Medicare:

Lynch added that the city's current unfunded health-care liability for all current retirees and active employees who will be retiring is $433 million, a figure than can be slashed considerably by the adoption of the statute. For instance, if a retiree who had been on the city's Master Medical plan enrolled in Medicare upon retirement, the city would save $3,105 annually.
Now multiply that times a whole lot of retirees, and factor in that the unfunded liability cost is just going to spiral "up, up, and away." Also, as CM Lynch notes in the article, the city (err...the taxpayers) are paying twice for nothing by paying the Medicare payroll tax for workers while they're in the system, then paying again for a separate plan, and then not reaping the benefits of Medicare for those people down the road.

I'm glad to see there's an effort out there to rein in the runaway cost of entitlement spending, especially as it relates to retirements and pensions. It may seem politically unpalatable (good luck to the pol who runs on a platform of cutting benefits people currently enjoy) but it can work as long as it's written in a way that works it into the future (i.e. let's raise the raise where people can receive such-and-such a benefit, but not implement it until some really futuristic-sounding year).

As a next step, I'd like to the sacred cow of "20 years" slain for a lot of public professions. If someone's occupation is truly hazardous or exceptionally stressful, I'm on board and I get it, but if someone finishes their schooling at 22, and works in an office job for 20 years, that only puts them at the very spry young age of 42 -- young enough to have full mental capacity, physical mobility, etc. Since that person is most likely capable of continuing to make meaningful productions to the workforce (and our payroll taxes!) for many more years, I don't want to pay him or her not to.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Five Fighting for the Fifth

There are now five announced candidates for the U.S. Congressional seat representing the 5th MA District.

They are: Incumbent Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D, Lowell); Challenger Sam Meas (R, Haverhill, and for whom I'm volunteering); Challenger Jon Golnik (R, Carlisle); Challenger Robert Shapiro (R, Andover); and Challenger D.L. Brown (I, Chelmsford).

This should make for a lively time, as the three-way Republican primary unfolds to see who can capitalize on the Scott Brown-induced momentum for the GOP in Massachusetts, the Democrats hope for some kind of palpable employment/general economic recovery by November, and the wildcard factor of an Independent running in a year where we're seeing a potentially viable Indy candidate for Governor casts a shadow over everything.

Another wildcard hanging over the whole thing concerns the fate of the district itself. 2010 is a Census Year, and its results could very well spell the loss of a seat in this state. No matter who wins this November, he or she will be the junior member of the 10-person Congressional delegation in DC.

Things might get shaken up again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Reason to Support Embedding

I had never heard of the term 'embedded reporter' until the runup to the Iraq invasion in 2003. The idea at the time, welcomed by the Pentagon with open arms, was that embedding reporters with military units would help bridge the (widening) civil-military chasm that was exposed every time a writer covering the military shot wide of the mark.

From today's Boston Globe, via the Washington Post:

Interviews with military personnel yesterday suggest that attitudes have gradually changed.

“I don’t think it is going to make that big a difference. . . . the consensus is that it isn’t a big deal,’’ said one company commander who just returned from leading a brigade in Afghanistan.

I know that typos can happen, but if there's a Company Commander (O-3) ANYWHERE who just got done leading a brigade (O-6, a full bird Colonel), something must have gone very, very wrong. The sentence as it reads just doesn't make sense.

Again, I know it's easier to throw stones than to build the house, but this kind of reminds me of the time that female sideline reporter was chastised for talking about how Jerry Rice was leading the league in "interceptions." It's a simple verbal gaffe just like any that we make on a daily basis, but no football fan is ever going to think about Jerry Rice's prowess in interceptions any more than they would Ronnie Lott's ability to throw spirals while under pressure in the pocket.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Federal Workforce: Biggest Ever

Today's Washington Times carried a story showing how we now have the biggest federal employee total ever, with 2.15 million total jobs.

In a way, that should sort of make sense, because we also have the biggest total American population that we've ever had; if everything were proportional, well, you get the idea. But as it turns out, the rolls had ballooned in the years leading up to the Clinton Presidency before the Clinton-Gore REGO (Reinventing Government) initiative. Since that time of Clinton in the White House and a budget that was kept in balance or even in surplus, something has gone awry.

Remember, Obama has only been in office for just over a year, so you can "make no mistake" that most of the federal workforce ballooning took place under Dubya.

Either way, this is an interesting article, whatever your thoughts on the whys and the consequences. And let me also say I'm not implying here or in the earlier bit that public sector jobs are somehow "bad" -- not only would that be hypocritical in the absolute extreme, but it would fail to recognize all the great things done every day by police, teachers, firefighters, civil servants, etc.

What I do think, however, is that public sector jobs shouldn't be a runaway free-for-all in terms of either hiring or pay and benefits. I don't think I should be able to hit some magical button after 20 years and just collect a check for the rest of my life to sit on my duff solely because I work for the government.

This one time at Band Camp, I did see government civilians make very high five-figure salaries to do very little work within a mandated 40-hour-a-week max. That may happen in the private sector, too, but as I'll heartily confess right here, I wouldn't know. What I do know, however, is that if you are an entrepreneur or a private-sector worker, I fully acknowledge that you are putting food on my table, and I mean it when I say I thank you for it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Catch Sam Meas on the Radio

Sam Meas, candidate for U.S. Congress from the 5th Congressional District in MA, will be on the radio tomorrow morning, Tuesday 02 FEB.

He'll be on WCAP (980 AM) with Bernice Corpuz at 8:05 a.m., probably to stay on for about 10-15 minutes from there.

If you'd like to call in, the number is 978.454.4980