Saturday, December 26, 2009

Easy Christmas Presents

Madalyn wears her pearls.
Norwich, Conn.
December 25, 2009

Best wishes to all for a safe and happy holiday season.

Each year since my niece and goddaughter, Madalyn, was one, I have purchased her an inch of pearls for an add-a-pearl necklace. Since she's now 8, the necklace is starting to have substance.

The add-a-pearl necklace was the brainchild of my friend Kim, who came to my rescue when my brother asked me to be Madalyn's godfather. The idea receives nothing but praise. Each year when I add the pearls, patrons who witness my request at the Shreve Crump & Low jeweler in Boston's Back Bay tell me how great an uncle I am.

The truth is, the add-a-pearl necklace concept is idiot proof. Even for me. I show up at the jeweler with the pearls each December, shortly after Thanksgiving, and ask them to add an inch. They re-confirm the size of the pearls, string them, an adjust the size of the chain so it will fit around Madalyn's neck. All I do is hand over my credit card.

I am told pearls are timeless, so Madalyn will find life-long use from the necklace, which will be full length when she's a freshman in college.

Death Sucks

Charles Levanto

Charles Levanto October 2, 1950 - December 20, 2009 Lisbon - Charles F. Levanto, 59, husband of Regina (Dzialo) Levanto of John St., Lisbon died Sunday evening at Backus Hospital. Born in Norwich on October 2, 1950 he is the son of Rita (Shalkowski) Levanto of Norwich and the late John Levanto, and was a graduate of the Norwich Free Academy class of 1968. On March 22, 1975 in St. Mary Church in Greenville he was united in marriage to Regina (Dzialo) Levanto. Prior to his retirement he was employed as a rigger at Electric Boat. Mr. Levanto was an active sportsman in several local leagues. Surviving is his wife, mother, a brother David Levanto and his wife Bonnie of Mystic, and four nephews Mark Levanto, Scott Levanto, Ross Levanto, and Brett Levanto. A Memorial Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Monday at 9 a.m. at St. Mary Church, Central Ave., Norwich with burial to follow in St. Joseph Cemetery. In lieu of flowers memorial donation may be made to St. Vincent de Paul Place, 10 Railroad Place, Norwich, CT 06360. Arrangements by the Labenski Funeral Home.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Photo of the Year

A toast with mom & dad.
South Lyme, Conn.
July 18, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Coakley Won

Congratulations to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who won Tuesday's Democratic primary and is now the party's nominee to succeed the late Senator Ted Kennedy. While I voted for Congressman Capuano, the Attorney General and the Congressman share the same stances on all the issues I care about. I will vote for Martha Coakley on January 19, and I am proud to support her and help her win the election.

I also must congratulate the Coakley campaign. I did think she would win Tuesday, but I had no idea she would win by as much as she did. The victory demonstrates to me the power of a state-wide organization and a shortened campaign. Given this was a special election, it just was too much of an obstacle for Congressman Capuano to put together the field organization necessary to challenge a state-wide office holder.

At the same time, Martha Coakley is an impressive candidate. She was criticized during the campaign for being too cool, but the reality is her record does speak for itself. She has built a career representing the interests of the Commonwealth, and she is a fellow Boston University grad.

Thanks to Congressman Capuano, Alan Khazei and Steve Pagliuca for a fine special primary season. Martha Coakley will make for a great Senator, and for that reason, the process worked.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Beacon Hill Receives Its Holiday Feel

Charles Street
Beacon Hill, Boston
December 5, 2009

The sprinkle of rain did not deter the nearly 100 volunteers who decorated my neighborhood yesterday. Above, long-time decorating weekend volunteer Rick Villars works with new Beacon Hill residents Lili Furst (with Santa hat) and Christine Roberts (on ladder). The more than 1100 lamp posts on the Hill will be wrapped with garlands and fitted with bows this weekend.

Yesterday saw dozens of volunteers from Suffolk University as well as new and "seasoned" decorating weekend faces. The event is organized by the Beacon Hill Civic Association and is funded entirely by donations.

The decorating wraps up today, with activity on streets throughout the neighborhood. If you want to help out, come to the parking lot next Savenors on Charles Street any time after noon. There's a special party for volunteers at 5 p.m. tonight at 74 Joy Street.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Endorsement: Congressman Mike Capuano

Making a pick in a Democratic primary is hard. All of the candidates, in general, share my opinions on almost all of the key issues. Take Cape Wind. While I loved the late Senator Kennedy dearly, he and I disagreed on Cape Wind. I love the project, think it's a model of what we should support moving forward, and think construction on the offshore wind farm should begin right away. Senator Kennedy disagreed with me.

But that's not an issue in the upcoming primary, which will pick the Democrat vying for Senator Kennedy' s seat. All of the candidates support Cape Wind.

When candidates agree on the issues, the race is about personalities, and one's pick is, by definition, personal. Political journalist R.D. Sahl summarized this race quite appropriately earlier this week. Mike Capuano, he said, is too hot; Martha Coakley, too cold; Alan Khezei, too wonky; and Steve Pagliuca, too rich.

It would appear, in my case, that I like it hot. I am voting for Congressman Mike Capuano this coming Tuesday, December 8, in the Massachusetts special Democratic primary for the United States Senate.

Congressman Capuano has reached out to me the most in this race. I received two phone calls at home inviting me to live town hall conference calls with him. In one case I got to ask him a question. I was invited to a special conference call for Boston bloggers, and I ended up writing about my conversation.

But that attention is not the reason he's got my vote. I like a lot of what the Congressman has said:

-- He's levelheaded about Afghanistan and Pakistan. Congressman Capuano disagrees with the President's decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan, as do all the candidates. But the Congressman has actually been to the region. He speaks with an authority on the topic that his opponents cannot match. He also has a sophisticated understanding of the reality inside Pakistan. As a Senator, he will be looked to for leadership on the issue.

-- He doesn't apologize for his principles. Calling him hot might be a bit of hyperbole, but the point is clear. Congressman Capuano stands for what he believes in. He's passionate. He's not afraid to break a sweat or have a hair out of place in pursuit of his goals. I like it when my politicians look like they are working hard. Capuano is working the hardest in this race, in my opinion.

-- He understands how Capitol Hill works. Legislation is a process. Congress moves slowly. While my U.S. Senator should hold steadfast to their core beliefs, Senator Kennedy's biggest achievements came from compromise. And compromise requires an understanding of the ins and outs of Washington. Congressman Capuano has been there and will be able to make an impact from day one. Some of the statements made by his opponents lead me to believe they don't understand the process as well as they should.

I can't believe Tuesday is the primary. The predicted low turnout brings into the question the concept of these special elections. Think about it-- a very small group of voters who bother to go to the polls on Tuesday will be picking the potential next United States Senator, and that Senator will likely hold the seat for a very long time. After careful consideration, Congressman Capuano is my pick. Regardless of who you choose, get out and vote!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Extra whipped cream for my nephew, David, as my mom and baby Peter look on.
North Stonington, Conn.
November 26, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Preparing for Holiday Decorating

One of my favorite neighborhood events of the year is Beacon Hill Holiday Decorating. The first weekend of December each year, hundreds of neighbors head out on the streets and decorate the 1100 lamp posts on Beacon Hill with a garland and two bows. Everything about the event is volunteer. The event is funded through donations from neighbors and businesses. The garlands are prepared, counted, delivered and hung by volunteers. I have been involved in the weekend since I first moved to the neighborhood. For the past few years I have delivered garlands throughout Beacon Hill.

This year, the event has gone high-tech. I narrated a video earlier today, soon to show up on the Beacon Hill Civic Association website, that demonstrates the proper way to decorate a lamp post.

Myrtle Street in front of the Myrtle Street Playground
Beacon Hill, Boston
November 21, 2009

Those interested in participating in the holiday decorating weekend should contact the Beacon Hill Civic Association. Or just look out on December 5 and 6 for your neighbors hanging garlands, and join in!

A Good Sports Year

Earlier this year I listed off my sports' allegiances. Looking back, I had a good year for my teams. Let's review them here as I had ordered them back in the spring (with the higher ranked team the team I cheer more passionately for):

1) UCONN Huskies basketball.
FINISH: NCAA Tournament Final Four
The Huskies made it to the dance for the third time. If not for an emotionally charged Michigan State team and the spirit of Detroit, they would have had the chance to topple the mighty Tar Heels.

2) New York Yankees.
RESULT: World Champions
Order is restored to the baseball universe. 27 World Championships.

3) New England Patriots.
RESULT: Season in progress, Patriots leading AFC East
I am so used to them winning EVERY game that I overlook the fact the Pats are well on their way to another playoff berth. Colts fans-- you must admit you were outplayed this past Sunday.

4) Boston University Hockey.
RESULT: NCAA Champions, Hockey East Champions, Beanpot Champions
In the greatest hockey game I have ever seen, the Terriers flipped in a wrister in overtime to win their fifth national championship. BU won the coveted local "triple crown" by capturing the Beanpot (or is it the BU-pot?), the Hockey East (conference) championship, and the NCAA crown.

5) Hartford Whalers.
RESULT: No sign of the Whale in the insurance capitol of the world.
Whalers fans, unite! The Whale will be back!

All Politics is Local

Helping out a political campaign means dialing a lot of numbers. I could not even guess the number of phone calls I made this year.

Political phone calls can be annoying. People don't like to talk politics. They say they are eating dinner (even though it's 3 p.m. in the afternoon). While I don't blame them, calls from a campaign volunteer are far less invasive than many other uninvited conversations.

At least when I call I am not selling something.

At least I am advocating for a cause I believe strongly about.

And, for the most part, at least I am a neighbor.

Former House Speaker Tip O'Neil was right. All politics is local. During this past political campaign, the most effective conversations I had were with people who lived on my street. Voters who lived in the same precinct as me.

I guess it should be the case in a municipal election (like the one we just had in Boston), that people care about the issues that they see on their block or that they talk about when they are getting a cup of coffee.

On Beacon Hill, where I live, the biggest issues are trees, trash and a neighborhood school. Cleaning up my streets is an ongoing battle, not helped by the amount of time trash can legally be placed on the curb, and the fact that there's little space in the average Beacon Hill apartment for storing trash. That being said, neighbors seem to be appreciative of recent efforts to keep streets tidy, including the city's strict enforcement of posted street sweeping signs.

One of the most innovative partnerships between Beacon Hill and the city involves trees. The Beacon Hill Civic Association has a process to allow neighbors to efficiently prune and replace trees on their streets, based on a close relationship with the Boston Parks Department.

Young families on Beacon Hill are very interested in a neighborhood school. While improving Boston's schools is not as simple as building more schools, the energy from these families is refreshing.

Every conversation I had this campaign season with a Beacon Hill neighbor focused on a local issue. Tip O'Neil would be proud.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

An Odd Combination of Victories

I might be the only person on the planet who over the past weekend was cheering (often loudly) for both the New York Yankees and Boston Mayor Tom Menino.

Not a bad week for me. Mayor Menino earned a fifth term, easily defeating City Councilor Michael Flaherty. One night later, the Yankees captured their 27th World Championship.

Such apparent conflicts of allegiances can only happen for someone from an in-between state (Connecticut) who is also very interested in local politics.

A unique combination of victories, suited perfectly to me.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Day After

Congratulations to Mayor Tom Menino for winning yesterday's Boston Mayoral election. I look forward to working with his entire administration in the months and years ahead. It was a privilege and a pleasure to volunteer with the Mayor's campaign team!

Congratulations to John Connolly, Steve Murphy, Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo for winning at-large seats on the Boston City Council.

I spoke to my brother Brett in Virginia, and he says that the gubernatorial result there-- the Republican won-- should not be interpreted as any sort of referendum on the Obama administration. He had some very good points, and I hope to see them on his blog soon.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Signs of Multi-Use at Phillips Street Park

Phillips Street Park
Beacon Hill, Boston
November 1, 2009

I walked by Phillips Street Park this morning and witnessed the perfect result of the long public process regarding the park's redesign. A gentleman sat reading a book with his dog on the upper part, while children used the new playground equipment in the park's lower area.

When local residents began to invest countless hours discussing the park renovation, the intent all along was to create an area suited to multiple uses and to a varied set of neighbors. As one can tell, Phillips Street Park is not very big, so catering to multiple uses is a challenge. I was very happy the process created a compromise---catering to children as well as dog owners and those who wish to just take a break from the busy day. The picture above is the first evidence of the success of this approach. (I stopped in the park to chat with my mom on my cell phone.)

Kudos to Boston Mayor Tom Menino, his Parks Department, City Council President Mike Ross, his staff, park abutter Rob Whitney, neighbor Phyllis Brown and the countless others who made the new Phillips Street Park a reality. And special thanks to the Beacon Hill Civic Association for hosting the meetings throughout the process.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phillips Street Park Opening

After a successful community process, the Phillips Street Park on Beacon Hill reopened yesterday. Mayor Tom Menino joined City Councilor President Mike Ross, City Councilor John Connolly, State Representative Marty Walz and Parks Commissioner Antonia Pollak to cut the ribbon of the park. The Mayor and Councilor Ross worked to secure the funds for the park.

Several members of the community worked long hours to design the park so it can cater to many uses. I had the pleasure of sitting in on the community process for the Beacon Hill Civic Association, and the best part is -- despite the relative small area within the park -- it really does have something for everyone. The area near Phillips Street includes a new drainage system that leads to the sewer system, an ideal situation for dog owners. The lower area of the park includes a jungle gym that is perfect for older children.

Not surprisingly, when you live in a dense neighborhood like Beacon Hill and are planning a park that caters to so many individuals, there can be debate as to the best layout and design of an open space. I applaud all of those who contributed to the design of the Phillips Street Park and the compromises that were made to create an area that appeals to a large audience. The park looks beautiful.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beacon Hill Neighbors for Mayor Menino

I was proud to sign the letter below, which is being distributed to my Beacon Hill neighbors this week.


Dear Neighbor,
We are writing as Beacon Hill neighbors to urge you to vote for Mayor Menino on November 3. With the municipal elections a few days away, we felt that it was time to look at the Mayor’s record and the positive impact he has had on the City of Boston and specifically on our neighborhood of Beacon Hill.

We find that what drew us to Beacon Hill – and has kept us here – are those quality-of-life issues the Mayor cares deeply about and on which he has had a profound effect. Our local parks have been completely transformed. The Myrtle Street Playground has received at least two makeovers since Tom Menino took office and, thanks to strong community input, the Phillips Street Playground will soon open as a multi-purpose park.

Our neighborhood institutions have been infused with energy and resources. When the Hill House Community Center outgrew its facility on Joy Street a few years ago and required an additional site, several of us turned to the Mayor. Although the City could have sold the vacated fire station on Mount Vernon Street for a substantial profit, Mayor Menino decided instead to give it to our neighborhood so that local programming could expand and flourish. Similarly, when the Beacon Hill Nursery School needed additional outdoor space, the Mayor made sure that public space was made available to increase the boundaries of the nursery school’s backyard.

We feel safer on our streets and in our homes, in and around our neighborhood. For those of us who are new – and not so new – to Beacon Hill, safety is a key concern. Many of us remember a time when it was not prudent to walk in and around our neighborhood after dark. With the Mayor’s focus on community policing, a strengthened working relationship with our public safety officers, and the added vitality of those businesses that are open in the evening, we feel safe to be out any time of the day or night.

Aside from the tangibles, there’s a growing, active partnership with City Hall that Mayor Menino has fostered. Leaders in our community have worked with the Mayor to organize neighborhood clean ups and to create a unique partnership to maintain trees, keeping our neighborhood clean and green.

Finally, when many of us were frustrated by Suffolk University’s plans, we reached out to the Mayor, and he listened. And then he made sure that university expansion did not have a negative impact on our neighborhood. We truly believe that our interests are the interests of his administration.

While we strongly appreciate the focus and support of Mayor Menino over his time in office, what we value most is the opportunity to carry on our work with him. We want to build on our successes and to continue to work on those issues, such as a new public school and future development that respects the community process—matters which the Mayor has pledged to pursue with us.

As we look at the real issues that face our community, it is clear that there is only one candidate who cares about our neighborhood. Tom Menino has been there for us. We need to be there for him on November 3 and beyond.


John Achatz, Mount Vernon Street
David Beardsley, Pinckney Street
John and Suzanne Besser, Mt. Vernon Street
Tom Clemens, Goodwin Place
John Bowman and Leslie Donovan, Beacon Street
Gene and Meredith Clapp, Charles River Square
Tom Compton, Joy Street
Ryan Foscaldo, Charles Street
Steven Kaufman and Amy Ryan, Phillips Street
Susan Haas, West Cedar Street
Meghan Haggerty, Joy Street
Monica Halas and Rob O’Connor, S. Russell Street
Kim Jennings, Beacon Street
Jeffrey and Cheryl Katz, Myrtle Street
Mark Lewand and Jessica Goranson, River Street
Ross Levanto, Myrtle Street
Jay Livingstone, Revere Street
Brad and Sharon Malt, West Cedar Street
Rajan and Hilary Nanda, Garden Street
John Natoli, River Street
Paula O’Keefe, Chestnut Street
Robert and Elizabeth Owens, Mt. Vernon Street
Joel and Martha Pierce, Garden Street
Jason and Penny Pingree, Joy Street
Jim Stone and Cathy Douglas Stone, Lime Street
Keith and Elllen Plapinger, Joy Street
Kathy Plazak, Myrtle Street
Fred and Christine Pratt, West Cedar Street
Daniel A. Taylor, Phillips Street
Rob Whitney, Phillips Street
Nick and Leigh Anne Yoo, River Street

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Additional Ward 5 Endorsements

The regular October meeting of Boston's Ward 5 Democratic Committee took place last night.

The committee endorsed Mike Ross in his race to be re-elected as Boston's District 8 City Councilor.

The committee also endorsed Steve Murphy for re-election as an at-large Boston City Councilor.

Earlier this election season, the Ward 5 Committee endorsed John Connolly and Ayanna Pressley for at-large City Council seats, and in September, the committee endorsed Mayor Menino for re-election.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Poll is Better Than Yours

My fish is always bigger than yours.

In political-speak, my poll always turns out better for me than yours.

Last weekend, the Boston Globe published a poll that showed Mayor Menino a comfortable 20 points ahead in the race to be Boston's Mayor. However, Boston Phoenix reporter David Bernstein rained on the Globe's parade, citing a poll released by the Mayor's opponent, Michael Flaherty, showing the race as being far tighter (though the Mayor still led by seven points, which is not exactly a small margin).

It should not surprise anyone that Flaherty's team felt the race was closer than the Globe's poll indicated. Here's where it gets interesting, though. Bernstein concluded, "I think the race looks much more like Flaherty's poll than the Globe's."

As an observer, I must say that Bernstein's conclusion is somewhat baffling. Why would a reporter trust a poll released by one of the candidates over a poll conducted by another publication?

I actually sent Mr. Bernstein a Facebook message asking him why he trusted Flaherty's numbers so much. I will update this post if he gets back to me.

I also have not seen the actual data related to Flaherty's poll. However, based on a college course on research, there are other questions and concerns I have.

One example: Poll results are influenced by how questions are asked. What would stop the Flaherty camp from asking a few questions during the poll that might cast doubt on the Mayor before asking for the voter's preference in the election. After hearing something negative about a candidate posed as a question, the voter is more likely to lean away from that candidate.

I certainly don't blame any campaign from using this style, and I am not saying the Flaherty camp used this tactic in this case. However, it's one reason why we should all be trained not to trust polls released by a given campaign.

Editor's Note: I am volunteering for Mayor Menino's campaign in this election.

Hustle Award: JetBlue Airways

I always appreciate people who work hard. I was raised to believe that a little sweat and hard work goes a long way.

This week, the JetBlue team impressed me with its worth ethic, and as a result, it has earned more of my loyalty.

I flew to New Orleans for work, and my return flight was scheduled for Thursday mid-day, a direct flight from Louis Armstrong Field to Boston.

Arriving at the airport the customary two hours early, the line at the JetBlue counter stretched out the front door of the terminal. A power outage, I was told, made things a mess. The guy in front of me was on a 10:30 flight to New York. It was already 10 in the morning.

I looked up and saw a literal flurry of activity behind the JetBlue counter. It was organized chaos, including numerous employees who-- my guess is-- don't normally haul bags around.

With that type of effort, it did not take me long to check in.

At the gate, the aircraft I was to ride to Boston was delayed inbound. I would find out later the delay was due to a mechanical check-up at the plane's origin.

When the plane finally landed an hour late, the ground team in New Orleans, along with the flight attendants, cleaned and serviced the aircraft in about ten minutes. A half hour later, I was in the air on the way to Boston.

It's not often that I praise airlines, because, frankly, there's rarely praise worth bestowing. But JetBlue this week put a lot of extra effort into their service. And this weary passenger definitely appreciated it.

P.S. The guy in front of me made his flight to New York, too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Good Friends

Kudos to my friend Brian who set up a special TV for Yankees fans at his social gathering last night!

The placard under the TV says "Yankees Viewing"
South Boston, Mass.
October 17, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Chat With Congressman Capuano

Last night I sat in on a call with Congressman Mike Capuano, who is running in the special election to fill the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Senator Ted Kennedy.

That seat is currently held by Senator Paul Kirk, who was appointed by Mass. Governor Deval Patrick. However, he holds the seat only until the special election, which is scheduled for January 19, 2010. The primaries for the Republican and Democratic parties are set for December 8.

I have been pretty busy volunteering for the local races in Boston this year, and I have not paid attention to the U.S. Senate race. However, I could not pass up the chance to speak to Congressman Capuano.

The call was arranged by Congressman Capuano's campaign, and it was a casual conversation with a few local bloggers. I was on one of those free conference call dial-ins, along with Mike Ball of "Marry in Massachusetts" (it was great to meet him), and an anonymous blogger from (He says he stays anonymous so as to not upset his boss.) Mike has posted his own entry based on the call.

One of my biggest issues federally is the Cape Wind project off the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. To summarize, a private developer wants to install windmills in the open water. I support the project. Numerous federally funded reports have proven the project will not impact the environment, shipping lanes, or anything else for that matter. Well, it will impact the site lines of many residents who live on the shores near the proposed site. Cutting to the end of the story, the windmills are not up yet.

Congressman Capuano said last night he supports Cape Wind. He said that given all the studies that have been done, he sees no reason for holding up the project. He noted that the project might change slightly (maybe there will be five or 10 less windmills), but it should move forward.

I also asked Congressman Capuano about Pakistan. This week, the White House has indicated it is focused on Al-Qaeda and not necessarily the Taliban (a position I support). For that reason, Al-Qaeda activity in Pakistan could be considered more important than meeting our objectives in Afghanistan.

Congressman Capuano said that the Pakistan government has recently stepped up to the plate and is doing what it needs to do to diminish the influence of Al-Qaeda in its country.

From a page-two perspective, the most interesting part of last night's call, in my opinion, was at the beginning. Congressman Capuano explained why he was running. As an analysis, it's fair to say he's not running because of the glamour of the Senate. He spoke as if House members and Senate members are pretty much the same and can accomplish similar things.

He noted that it would take a long time for him to achieve significant seniority in the House, and for that reason, he felt a move to the Senate would help him accomplish more effectively what he finds important.

I have not made up my mind yet in the U.S. Senate race, but I have to say Congressman Capuano has impressed me of late.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sunday, October 04, 2009

My Nephew Comes Home

It took a while, but I was able to get this video posted. My new nephew, Peter William, arriving to his home last Sunday, greeted at first by Buddy the dog. You will also see my other nephew David in the background. Welcome home Peter!

North Stonington, Conn.
Sept. 27, 2009

WCVB Introduces "On the Record"-- Ditch the Pop Quiz

Kudos to WCVB Channel 5 in Boston. Today they launched a new show, "On The Record," which is focused on local political issues. It aired right after national political program "This Week" at 10 a.m.

One of the main reasons there's a general decay in public interest in politics is because the media doesn't cover local politics. And when they do cover them, they tend to focus on the horse race and not on the issues that matter to the people.

WCVB's "On The Record" was refreshing. It's all about local politics, and the format kept a nice pace that should even be attractive to those who don't follow the subject 24/7. It's only a half-hour, and the content wasn't nearly as dry as other local political shows (which I don't even bother to watch).

In its first episode, the show covered the Mass. Senate race. Hosts Janet Wu and Ed Harding interviewed Senate candidate and U.S. Representative Mike Capuano (he did well). The roundtable discussion following the interview focused on other candidates, noting Steve "My ad is on every 10 minutes" Pagliuca and the fact that Martha Coakley, according to one panelist, started running for the seat before former Sen. Ted Kennedy passed away (but as another panelist pointed out, is still the front runner).

I do have one serious complaint. WCVB should never ever again put a pop quiz in front of one of its guests. They sprang one on Capuano, asking very esoteric questions that I would not expect my elected officials to know off the top of their heads. Pop quizzes are attractive because they make the politicians squirm; except they don't add to the debate. Plus, now that they've done one, it will cause any future candidate to second guess whether they want to come on the show.

Great job with the new program, WCVB. But ditch the pop quiz.

My Favorite iPhone Apps (so far)

I have had my iPhone for a couple of months now, and it is slowly becoming more and more a part of my life. My favorite feature is probably the Google App voice search, where I can speak to the phone-- rather than typing-- a search term.

Unfortunately, I have stepped into forbidden territory among many of my fellow iPhone users. I have actually purchased iPhone applications. Surprise, surprise, the purchased apps are often better and more feature-rich than the free ones.

Here's a review of iPhone apps I have recently purchased that I enjoy:

ESPN Fantasy Football. My fantasy team is 0-3. However, one cannot put into words the joy I felt last Sunday, when I was able to quickly change out Dwayne Bowe for Lee Evans from my brother's house in Connecticut, upon learning that Bowe was hurt and would not play. If there was just some way the app could make my players produce more points, all would be well.

CNN. App just launched this past week. It's pretty cool to watch Live CNN from my phone, and it's also neat to go on my phone and get the top news in video form with a few touches. Though the top stories have not been updated since early yesterday. I hope it's more timely moving forward.

Speaking of being timely, though...

ESPN Radio. ESPN Radio Sports Center, updated every 20 minutes. How great is that! I can listen as the Twins and Tigers duke it out for the right to play my Yankees!

Enjoy your Sunday!

Monday, September 28, 2009

City Council President Mike Ross At Moxie

City Council President Mike Ross addresses supporters at Moxie on Charles Street.
Beacon Hill, Boston
September 23, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Mayor Menino Won Boston's Ward 5

A year ago, I noticed that City Councilor Michael Flaherty showed up at Sonia Chang-Diaz's victory party in Jamaica Plain. Chang-Diaz had just defeated sitting State Senator Dianne Wilkerson in the state primary, and Flaherty wanted to pass on his congratulations.

No doubt, however, Flaherty wanted to catch a feeling of the wave that Chang-Diaz had created to deliver the upset. Just a few months later Flaherty would announce he hoped to become Mayor, challenging a 16-year incumbent. What could he learn from Chang-Diaz's win (Wilkerson had also been in office for several terms) and perhaps more importantly, how could he win favor with the same group that backed the challenger?

City Councilor Sam Yoon was not at the victory party, however I am sure the Chang-Diaz phenomenon also partially motivated his decision this year to jump into the Mayoral race.

Chang-Diaz, after all, exemplified what Flaherty and Yoon hoped to do. They wanted to unseat an incumbent who had been in office for a long time. They wanted to ride the wave of change.

Chang-Diaz did extremely well in my neighborhood of Beacon Hill, and in the other neighborhoods that comprise Ward 5--- Back Bay, Fenway and Bay Village. She won more than 70-percent of the vote across the ward. For Sam Yoon, in particular, such results were critical to his hopes. If he could replicate what Chang-Diaz did, one figured, Yoon would have a shot. Especially since conventional wisdom said the socioeconomic realities of Ward 5 were inclined to favor Yoon.

Of course, there were three challengers running this past Tuesday, so emulating Chang-Diaz's mark stood as a pretty lofty goal for Yoon. Still, he didn't even come close. In fact, he lost Ward 5 to the incumbent Mayor by nearly six percent.

Looking at the precinct level results within Ward 5 doesn't provide much solace to the Yoon camp. The Mayor won the Beacon Hill/Back Bay area of the Ward (arguably one center of Yoon's base). By comparison, Chang-Diaz picked up more than 80-percent of the vote in certain Back Bay precincts last year.

So why did the Mayor win Ward 5? Why didn't those Chang-Diaz voters flock to Sam Yoon en mass? Certainly no two elections are the same, and this year's Mayoral contest is very different from last year's state senate race.

Boston is a world-renown city. It has its problems, but on the whole, residents I have spoken to in Ward 5 are happy with where Boston is right now and are proud to live here.

The Mayor has made some very difficult decisions. On his reasons, he doesn't equivocate. I think voters appreciate that in a Mayor.

The Mayor is mindful of the city's finances. Boston has the highest bond rating in its history. A sound financial stance actually resonates with residents in Ward 5. Yoon's comment that he doesn't think bond ratings are important did not go over well.

Finally, last year's state senate race was marred by a variety of past ethical accusations against the incumbent. Chang-Diaz ran on the message that voters should not have to sacrifice ethics for progressive leadership. The message resonated. This year, in the case of the Mayor, the incumbent's administration is free from any such accusations. People will note certain traits of his personality, but the bottom line is the Mayor has never been the subject of any sort of investigation.

The other bottom line is the city of Boston is doing fine, and the Mayor has good ideas for moving the city forward. And for the plurality of voters in Ward 5 who came to the polls Tuesday, that reasoning for the Mayor was good enough.

Editor's Note: I am a supporter of Mayor Menino's and am volunteering for his campaign team. Last year, I volunteered for Sonia Chang-Diaz's campaign team.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lots of Friendly Faces

The big neighborhood day on Beacon Hill is off to a great start, with a nice crowd at the Hill House pancake breakfast, which was held at the Firehouse on Mt. Vernon. Many of Beacon Hill's families filed their way through. City Councilor John Connolly also paid a visit.

City Councilor John Connolly (right) with Hill House Executive Director David Beardsley
Firehouse on Beacon Hill, Boston
September 20, 2009

I admit I had two portions of pancakes and bacon, so I made sure to double my donation.

There's quite a bit of activity on Mt. Vernon Street outside the Firehouse, as preparations have begun for the Beacon Hill Civic Association block party. Given the weather is stupendous on this late Summer day, I think there's going to be a very nice crowd.

Among the tables, I saw the Friends of the Myrtle Street Playground setting up a clothing sale. There's also a makeshift used-book sale near the corner of Mt. Vernon and Charles Streets.

Anna's Taqueria is supplying the food for the block party; the beer is from Harpoon. How can you beat that?

The Firehouse on a Perfect Late Summer Morning
Beacon Hill, Boston
September 20, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Mission Hill Road Race

Nothing like a nice 3.2 mile run to start off the weekend. I joined a few hundred others who ran the Mission Hill Road Race this morning. I accomplished my two goals-- I finished; and I didn't hurt myself.

Part of Team Menino at the Mission Hill Road Race (I am in the center)
Outside Kevin Fitzgerald Park, Mission Hill, Boston
September 19, 2009

Big Neighborhood Weekend in Boston!

It's the weekend before the preliminary local elections in Boston, and fittingly, it's a two-day stretch crowded with neighborhood events.

This morning I am running (yes, you read that right) the Mission Hill Road Race, a 5K that starts and finishes mere feet from the church that hosted Senator Ted Kennedy's funeral a few weeks back.

Tomorrow, I am attending a series of events in my neighborhood of Beacon Hill. The Hill House Community Center is running a benefit pancake breakfast at the firehouse on Mt. Vernon Street. Then I am visiting the Beacon Hill Block Party, run by the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which starts at 1 p.m. right in front of the firehouse (it's a 1/4 block from the intersection of Mt. Vernon and Charles streets on Beacon Hill).

I will try to post images, etc. here. The weather is going to be very nice, so it should be a great weekend.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Endorsements: John Connolly and Ayanna Pressley

It's a big weekend for local politics in Boston. Tuesday is the preliminary election, when Boston voters will go to the polls. On the ballot will be four candidates for Mayor and 15 candidates for four at-large Boston City Council seats.

I have already stated on this blog that I am voting for Mayor Menino and have been volunteering to help his re-election bid. I was hoping, tonight, to outline the four votes I will cast for Boston City Council at-large seats. However, I have only made up my mind about two of my four votes. The other two, frankly, might come down to the wire.

In truth, there are so many good candidates in the Boston City Council race. For the record, here are two that I will be voting for on Tuesday:

John Connolly
Councilor Connolly is one of the hardest working elected officials I have ever met. I got that impression when I first shook his hand four years ago, when he was unsuccessful in his first race for city council (I voted for him then, too).

Councilor Connolly understands well one of my biggest concerns about the City of Boston. Numerous younger families are leaving the city because they don't trust the Boston Public School system, and they can't afford private school. At the Ward 4/5 City Council forum earlier this year, Councilor Connolly had the absolute best answer about education. He is on board with experimenting, and he is on board with giving teachers the flexibility to do their jobs.

Ayanna Pressley
How can you not fall in love with Ayanna Pressley's story? A native of Chicago, she was raised by her mother, as her father spent her younger years incarcerated. She moved to Boston to go to college, but she dropped out to work full-time after her family fell on hard times. She worked her way in public policy as a staffer for Congressman Joe Kennedy and Senator John Kerry.

Ayanna is a young, smart, and sharp community-action oriented person, and her neighborhood focus is vital in Boston-- arguably a city of several distinct neighborhoods. It was bittersweet when Ayanna moved out of Ward 5-- where she was a Democratic Committee member-- to buy a home in Dorchester. I am thrilled she's running and am eager to vote for her on Tuesday.

So that's it for now. No doubt I will get to speak to many of the candidates running on Tuesday over the weekend, as I am spending the entire two days in Boston. I am in Mission Hill tomorrow for the Mission Hill road race. Sunday is a huge day for my neighborhood of Beacon Hill, with activities all day-- culminating with the annual Beacon Hill Civic Association block party, one of my favorite events of the year.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Boston Globe Goes Fishing: Gets Little for Dinner

The Boston Globe today published an investigative piece that evaluated emails sent by staffers of Mayor Menino to determine if they cross the line between being civic and being political. After what the Globe admits was an expensive effort, the reporters didn't uncover much.

One staffer sent an innocent email to a friend who decided to support one of the Mayor's opponents in the election. Another staffer sent a note offering women's basketball tickets from the Mayor to community children's groups in the city. Another admitted he paid attention to those who had contributed to a competitive effort.

This is not exactly Watergate stuff (and while I am not a lawyer, I don't think any of it is illegal). I appreciate the Globe's commitment to investigative reporting, but I think everyone out there should keep the discoveries in context.

The Globe hints to an underlying theme-- also pushed by the Mayor's opponents-- that many of the Mayor's most ardent supporters on the campaign trail also work for City Hall. Which to me brings up a basic point: Should it surprise anyone that people who work for the Mayor think he's a good guy and that he should be re-elected? I actually would be quite concerned if they decided NOT to work for the Mayor's re-election efforts.

While I work in the private sector now, I remember interning for Vice President Gore in 1996. I remember that the interns often volunteered to help with the Clinton/Gore re-election campaign that year. I remember being upset when I heard of friends who were supporting Senator Bob Dole. I was working so hard for my candidate, I couldn't help but take it personally.

I also remember that one of my fellow interns, Ryan Hart, was thrown into an effort to help save his own position shortly after he started. USAID, where he interned, found itself on the chopping block in budgeting negotiations. Ryan hadn't even interned for a week, and yet he was stressing the successes of USAID while we watched TV at night. For employees in Boston's City Hall, who themselves will likely have to change jobs if the Mayor loses this campaign season, it should not be a shock to anyone that they work long hours during volunteer time to support the Mayor's campaign.

If there's one part of the Globe story that I can attest to first hand, and which cannot be overstated, it's this:

"The liaisons, who make an average of $37,000 annually, are known as some of the hardest-working employees at City Hall and many residents give them high marks for helping them take care of everything from unplowed and trash-strewn streets to finding new housing after a fire or securing a permit for a block party."

As I have pointed out before, the tireless efforts of the Mayor's staffers are collectively one of the main reasons he has my vote. Given that they are young, the sad commentary here is the Boston Globe has decided to investigate a group of 20-somethings whose only fault is they work their butts off for their boss, during public and private time.

And speaking of my vote, I am looking forward to casting it for the Mayor tomorrow night, when the Ward 5 Democratic Committee meets to consider an endorsement in the race.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This Should be Interesting

Get ready for a number of posts about the upcoming Boston municipal elections...

As a member of the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee, I received this email today:

Committee members and friends:

REMINDER - Please note that on Monday, September 14, 2009, the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee will be sponsoring a "Mayoral Candidates Forum" for those candidates running for Boston City Mayor. The Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee will be co-sponsoring the event. Beginning at 7:00 pm, there will be an opportunity to "meet and greet" the candidates. At 7:30 pm, the Mayoral Candidates Forum will begin promptly, and last precisely one hour.

The Mayoral Candidates Forum will be held at the Boston Architectural College, 320 Newbury Street, Back Bay, Boston (on the corner of Newbury and Hereford Streets), on the second floor. David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix will be moderating the event.

Please note that immediately after the conclusion of the forum, the eligible members of the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee will be voting on whether to endorse any of the mayoral candidates for election. Those members of the committee who are not eligible to participate in the endorsement vote will be separately contacted.

This will be a great event - I hope that you can all make it! Thanks.
Rob Whitney
Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee

Monday, August 31, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy at Peace in Mission Hill

Ted Kennedy's funeral this past weekend was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston.

Mission Hill is not exactly the Hyannis of Boston. There are certainly far more esteemed locations throughout the city. Don't get my wrong, I love Mission Hill and almost bought a place there last year (and still hope to live there some day). It is a close-nit and diverse neighborhood. It includes families, young professionals, college students attending Northeastern, medical interns that work at nearby hospitals... even a politician or two.

Mission Hill residents don't claim to be particularly distinguished, and don't want to be.

In all respects, it would not be the location one would expect for a visit by all the living Presidents save one and numerous other elected officials. But it was a perfectly fitting spot to pay final respects to this particular Senator.

As we review the Senator's accomplishments in the immediate hours after his death, what is repeated so often is how "Teddy" devoted his life to those most often forgotten. Not just the sick and poor. But also the parents who need extended leave from work to take care of a relative and worry they will get fired in the process. The mentally ill who are often treated more like outcasts and less like those that can be cured. Young children born to working families who benefit from the early tutelage provided by Head Start. The millions and millions of individuals who do not have adequate healthcare, even though they are citizens of the richest country on the planet.

We've heard the stories of these people Kennedy touched. They talk about receiving calls from him after losing relatives, how he simply would say, "This is Teddy." They talk about the graciously kind individual that Senator Kennedy was. They talk about how they called his office, even if they lived in Kansas or Texas, simply because he was the only Senator they knew.

I only learned after his passing that Senator Kennedy went to the Basilica on several occasions to prey. He was there when his daughter was battling lung cancer. I read this week that it was one of his first stops after receiving his brain tumor diagnosis last summer.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that he felt comfortable there. The Mission Church, as it's called by the locals, is surrounded by the types of people Senator Kennedy sought to help each and every day.

I have taken a bit of time during the past few days to reflect on my own personal connection to Senator Kennedy. I met him a few times. I slapped him high-five when he spoke at a rally in 2006. I developed a deep respect for him over the past nine years, as my politics shifted during the Bush II years. I admired his determination for public service, which we need now in a time when our public servants are often derided. While not a perfect person, Senator Kennedy was perfect in that he stood for the very best of government. He believed the government could and should do good.

This past Saturday, Senator Kennedy's funeral took place in a Catholic church within an exceptionally catholic section of Boston. To me, there was no better place for that service to be.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Trials of Being a Runner's Fan

For the past few years, I have thoroughly enjoyed following around my good friend Annmarie as she has achieved numerous athletic milestones.

She has completed seven Boston Marathons, the BayState Marathon in Lowell and the New York City Marathon (I have been to six of the nine). Last fall, I saw her complete the Panama City Ironman, and this past weekend, I witnessed her finish at the Timberman Triathlon at Ellacoya State Park in New Hampshire.

Somehow, after she finishes, she always has way more energy than I do.

Annmarie Connors finishes the Timberman Triathlon.
Gilford, N.H.
August 23, 2009

You see, being a running spectator is hard work.

There are the countless hours scanning the crowd, looking for the white visor, the long hair, or the baby blue wicker shirt.

There are the intense moments getting the camera ready, aiming and capturing the moment.

There's the quick communication with the athlete. "It's really hot," was one refrain from her this past Sunday.

There's the jockeying for a good position among other faithful followers of their own athletes.

And there's the intense calculations to estimate when she would pass a certain point on the course.

At the end of the day, though, the effort is worth it, especially when Annmarie and her teammates cross the finish without injury.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mayor Menino Visits Beacon Hill

Mayor Menino addresses seniors at 74 Joy.
Beacon Hill, Boston
August 18, 2009

One of the biggest criticisms I hear about the Mayor as I walk around Beacon Hill is pretty basic. They say the Mayor doesn't come here often. While the Mayor has had his hand in a number of successful projects that have helped the neighborhood-- such as a unique partnership between the Beacon Hill Civic Association and the Parks Department to maintain trees-- some lament that he doesn't spend much time here.

Well, he was here last night. The Hill House community group hosted a seniors' dinner, and the Mayor and Mrs. Menino stopped by to say hello. He stayed for an hour, and he spoke to each attendee personally. He even posed for a group photo with the young volunteers who ran the dinner.

The Mayor warned attendees about some telephone scams related to the ongoing national debate about healthcare. He said that seniors might get calls from people who try to take advantage of them, and he said his office is always available to help cut through the confusion.

To me, seeing the Mayor standing in the same room where I have participated in dozens of community meetings was kind of neat.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When My Air Conditioner is on, it's Hot

It's gotta be pretty hot for me to turn on my air conditioner. It's something I learned from my dad, who is also a parsimonious air condition user. Most of our cars growing up did not have the a/c.

My logic, which I admit is masochistic, comes from temperature patterns during the evening. The hottest part of the evening is, logically, at the beginning, which just happens to be the time we all go to bed. At that point, the air conditioners in downtown Boston are humming.

During the night, as the air cools, the fan in my bedroom begins to circulate comfortable air. And the air conditioners continue to hum.

In the morning, when I wake up, I often have a sheet or thin blanket on me. The day has begun, and the air is at its coolest. And still the air conditioners hum.

I would bet that the temperature in my room those mornings is cooler than in the air-conditioned rooms. People seem to forget that the air conditioner controls the temperature inside regardless of the temperature outside.

I do admit, however, that sometimes in the summer, the air conditioner works well. When it's oppressively sticky, and when the temperature is warm enough during consecutive days that not enough cooling happens overnight, and the exposed bricks inside my living room stay warm. This generally happens during a heat wave.

We're starting our first official heat wave of the summer in Boston, and my air conditioner went on this morning at 10:36 a.m. for the first time this year. The thermometer inside was 84 degrees.

But the a/c is only on in my bedroom. My dad would be proud of that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Back to the Present

A week ago, I went into black hole. On the eve of a work trip to Texas, I decided to download a few movies to my new iPhone to keep me occupied during the long flights. When I connected the phone to iTunes, it asked if I wanted to upgrade the iPhone software to a new version-- 3.0.1. I have only had the phone a month. It was 11 p.m. the night before an 8 a.m. flight to Austin, and I started the upgrade. Big mistake.

The fun began in the middle of the upgrade, about 20 minutes later, when my computer crashed. When it rebooted, it asked to restore the iPhone. That took a ridiculous amount of time, and I restarted the machine again, only to find out that I suddenly had no Internet access.

Now seven hours to my flight, my iPhone crippled and without Internet access in my apartment, I went to bed deflated. I flipped the SIM card back to my old Nokia phone and abandoned iPhone as I left for Austin.

A week later, I am happy to say I am out of the black hole, and that's thanks to great support from Comcast and the Apple Store. You don't hear about good support often, so I figured it was worth outlining here.

When I returned from Texas late Wednesday, I went online and scheduled time at the Apple Store in Cambridge, Mass. at the Genius Bar, which is a cool name for the support desk. I spent an hour at the Genius Bar Thursday night, and a capable technical brought my iPhone back to life.

On Friday morning at work, I posted a Tweet indicating that my iPhone was back, and Comcast Internet was the next issue. A quick back and forth with Comcast support on Twitter, and I decided to recycle the power on the modem.

Now that the dust has settled, it's clear that something must have happened Saturday night to the modem, which proceeded to fry the wireless router in my apartment. Recycling the power on the modem worked, and today I purchased a new wireless router. As of now, everything seems to be working.

For whatever reason, someone didn't want me to bring my iPhone to Texas. And they went to great lengths to stop me from trying, killing my wireless router on the same night my iPhone crashed.

Thanks to both Apple and Comcast support, I am back!

A Roving Standout for Mayor Menino

You can tell it's campaign season because of the signs. Temporary advertisements for the Mayoral candidates in Boston are popping up everywhere, and as part of my volunteer role for Mayor Menino's campaign, we are organizing standouts, which is basically where you gather a bunch of people in one location and hold signs so everyone can see.

Today, a few volunteers and I had to deliver larger signs (4 by 8's, in campaign-speak) to a location in Back Bay. We decided to have a "roving" standout, where we would carry the signs to their destination, and cheer on the Mayor along the way. It was quite a spectacle, primarily because the signs were... ahem... pretty big.

Parading Down Charles Street, Beacon Hill
August 15, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Red Sox Fans Need to Relax

As a Yankees fan my entire life, this past weekend was a good one to start watching baseball again. I had taken some time off mid-season, given other priorities I had in my life.

Well, the Yankees swept the Red Sox in a four-game set in New York City. Meanwhile, one of the most loved Red Sox players, David Ortiz, held a press conference to address the swarming story stories about his being on "the list" of players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs back in 2003.

Today, it would seem, Red Sox Nation is limping. The emails I have seen put it in pretty dire straits. It's over, they proclaim. The worst Red Sox weekend ever. Woe is me!

The Red Sox might be down, but they are not out. This is the same team that beat my beloved Yankees eight consecutive times before the start of the recent series. The Yankees were 0-8 against the Red Sox this year. Boston needs a mere single win among the six games remaining between the teams to win the season series.

Moreover, the Red Sox have a great record and are tied for the American League Wild Card. And this follows losing six straight games. There's still a lot of baseball to play, folks.

Finally, this Yankees fan believes David Ortiz. He admitted her was careless, but after seeing him at the press conference, I have to admit I do see his side of the story. And I kind of felt sorry for the predicament he's been under for the past several days.

So there you have it. A Yankees fan telling Red Sox faithful it "ain't all that bad." After all, you guys have won two World Championships this century. Or do you just enjoy being miserable?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Why the Seatbelt Sign Matters

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people disregard the fasten seat belt sign while in flight. Often while in the air on a a business trip, passengers flirt with the authority of the sign. Even though the ominous light is illuminated, someone a few rows up from me will get up, enter the aisle, and proceed to conduct a stretching routine.

Two in-flight incidents this week show how the seat belt sign means you should have your seat belt sign on. In both cases, a Continental flight from South America to Houston, and a domestic Northwest Airlines flight, passengers got hurt when the planes that carried them hit violent turbulence.

The injured passengers were not wearing their seat belts, even though the fasten seat belt sign was on.

It's also worth noting that based on what I read, the planes involved in the flights were not damaged.

Lesson learned: The seat belt sign does not mean "put the seat belt on when convenient."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What I Read on Vacation

I bought four books last week for beach reading. With various things happening during the week, I read two of them.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. That's right, I opened the page of a book most read in high school. Before reading the book, the only impression I ever had of Frankenstein was the infamous scene in the movie when the good doctor gave life to the beast by literally jump-starting his head. I remember it was a long scene. In the book, it took about a paragraph.

Shelley's work at such a young age made me regret not taking the course "Forbidden Knowledge" at BU. My friend Lauren D'Angelo, who was with me for part of the vacation, took the class. They read Frankenstein, because it touched on such issues as cloning, civic obligation, and life-long ambition versus the public good. I definitely didn't give enough attention to the book as one would in college. I did note that the doctor in the book is actually Frankenstein, not the beast itself.

The Innocent Man, by John Grisham. I used to read a lot of Grisham when I was a teenager. His books are action-packed even if they are not very deep. Many a lawyer criticizes Grisham for making the courtroom far more interesting than it actually is and the judicial process far more rapid than in real life. The Innocent Man was an ambitious project for Grisham, since it is actually non-fiction. Grisham definitely did his homework, for the tale of Ron Williamson and his conviction for a crime not committed was presented in detail. Moreover, one who reads the book certainly has a more negative feeling about the death penalty.

Back to work tomorrow!

As a footnote it's worth noting that my friend Kim recommended both books.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Toast to Being From "The In-Between"

Point O' Woods at Sunset
South Lyme, Conn.
July 22, 2009

The biggest thing I miss about Connecticut, believe it or not, is being in-between. I grew up in Connecticut, and I returned to the Connecticut shore this week for a mid-summer vacation.

Connecticut has a bit of an identity problem. Situated between New York City and Boston, Connecticut is in-between. My home state is part of New England, but it is also one of the tri-states (N.Y., N.J. and Conn.). Parts of Connecticut have a New York accent, parts have a Boston accent, and still others (including me) aren't really sure what our accent is (I don't pronounce w's that come after r's, whatever that means).

I often describe the state as being split in two by the Connecticut River. To the west of Connecticut river, the state is essentially an offshoot of New York, and most hail from the Empire State. To the east, New England influence dominates, and the attitude is different.

In college at BU, being from Connecticut meant hearing an endless series of complaints about the state, since most people drove through it to go home. The traffic was horrible. The rest stops were far between. And Connecticut had left-hand exits that made directions confusing. Oh the horror. Connecticut was the drive-through state. To many, Connecticut simply meant Route 84.

So far this week, I actually have enjoyed being back in-between. Stores here sell the Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and the New York Times (as well as the hyper-local New London Day). I can watch the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox each night. I can choose between Boston or New York local news.

I brought a New York Yankees sweatshirt with me. On a visit to the supermarket in Old Saybrook (a few miles southwest of South Lyme, where I am for the week), I ran into no less than three fellow Yankee fans who patted me on the back or gave me the thumbs up.

Each year, my hometown newspaper, the Norwich Bulletin, would write a story about how a certain spot in Norwich was exactly equidistant between Boston and New York City. The story inevitably came the night before the first game in the seasonal Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. The story chatted with fans on both sides, and came to the conclusion that the mixture of fans made life more interesting. I can't help but think that the general in-between-ness of the state does make Connecticut interesting.

I am sure the Connecticut identity crisis has benefited me. I appreciate distinct identities, like Boston's, more, and I would guess I am more open to them. By the same token, it's somewhat nice to be back where you see the mesh of different identities. It's nice to be back where Boston and New York City meet.

[For the record, I grew up east of the Connecticut River; my family presents many New England characteristics.]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Forecast Roulette

I am enjoying a nice vacation on the coast of Connecticut, at a cottage my family owns in South Lyme. To kick off the vacation, this past weekend I hosted friends for a beach BBQ on Saturday and Sunday.

I have decided that if one is hosting a BBQ, it's necessary to invite a meteorologist. I used to say I would invite a doctor, lawyer and mechanic. The doctor is in case I do something to myself, the lawyer is in case I do something to someone else, and the mechanic is in case I do something to equipment vital to the event.

A meteorologist is now on the list.

Let's just say that last week was not a good week for New England meteorologists. And that drove me crazy. On Wednesday morning (three days ahead of the BBQ), I checked no less than seven forecasts. All of them were different. Twenty-four hours later, on Thursday morning, they were all in agreement. It was going to pour on Saturday. A regular wash-out. Make no mistake, one meteorologist wrote on his station's website, "the rain is coming."

Saturday ended up being a fantastic day, even though the rain scared away two of the BBQ's attendees. By 11 a.m., it was sunny and in the mid-70s along the Connecticut shore.

Now I must say that I know the weather is fickle, especially in the Summer and especially in New England. However, my suggestion is the forecasters should note in their predictions that they really don't have a clue what the weather will be further than 24 hours out.

As an example, I took the liberty of recording the Connecticut forecasts twice a day during the week last week, and for the purposes of this exercise I will show you below what those forecasts predicted for Saturday (as well as my reactions to each). To protect the innocent, I will not say where the forecasts are from, but I can tell you they were all from the same source.



Saturday: Mix of sun and clouds. Low: 61. High: 82.

Sunday: Partly to mostly cloudy with a chance of showers. Low: 62. High: 79.

[OK, I can deal. My first check of the forecast and it looks ok. Better order extra hot dogs. Also, better expect people will leave early Sunday if they stay over.]


Saturday: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms possible. Low: 66. High: 81.

Sunday: A mix of sun and clouds. Low: 66. High: 83.

[Ahem? Where did the clouds come from on Saturday? Must be a glitch in the system. It will be back on track tomorrow.]


Saturday: Cloudy with a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Highs in the upper 70s. Chance of rain 50 percent.

Saturday Night: Cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers. Lows in the mid 60s.

Sunday: Partly sunny. A chance of showers in the morning. Highs in the lower 80s. Chance of rain 30 percent.

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy. Lows around 60.

[Crap. What's the difference between mostly cloudy and cloudy? Now there's a "chance" for storms, whereas on Tuesday night, it seemed definite there would be storms. Why can't it be Tuesday morning again? I was happy then.]


Saturday: Showers with thunderstorms likely. Cooler. Humid with highs in the mid 70s. Northeast winds around 5 mph. Chance of rain 80 percent.

Saturday Night: Showers likely with a chance of thunderstorms in the evening, then a chance of showers after midnight. Patchy fog. Lows in the lower 60s. Chance of rain 60 percent.

Sunday: Patchy fog in the morning. Partly sunny. Highs in the lower 80s.

Sunday Night And Monday: Partly cloudy. Lows around 60. Highs around 80.

[Screw the clouds, it's going to rain. This BBQ is going to be a washout. Should I cancel? Maybe I should move to Sunday? Do I have boardgames at the cottage? Do people still play Chutes & Ladders?]


Saturday: Scattered showers and thunderstorms in the early morning, then mostly sunny. Another chance for storms in the afternoon with clearing tomorrow

night. Low: 60. High: 82.

Sunday: A mix of sun and clouds. Low: 60. High: 83.

[God must have listened to my voice message that I left last night! However: "Mostly sunny"? That's pretty dramatic from scattered showers earlier in the day. I will take it, I guess.]


Again, I know that weather forecasters have a tough job, but what irks me, and probably many others like me who had outside events last weekend, is that each forecast is presented as if it's absolute. The forecast for Saturday that was given on Tuesday morning was written in the same tone as the Saturday forecast published on Friday.

Shouldn't they attach a level of probability to each? I wouldn't mind it if they inserted text in front of the forecast that said, "No one has a clue what's going to happen on Saturday, but if you ask me to take a swing at it, here goes." I would actually respect the forecaster more for such a tone.

For the record, it was a nice weekend, and thanks to my friends the event was a very memorable affair. I thank them for that. I also thank Mike Binder, one of the guests, for nailing the forecast on Thursday afternoon, when he told the group that the coming storm would clear out.

You see, I did invite a meteorologist to my BBQ. And I am happy I did.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Took the Plunge-- I Now Own an iPhone

My brother Brett's recent blog post outlines how he avoids the fad in life. In other words, he is suspect of trends.

It must run in the family. I am also not one to purchase what is trendy. At college graduation, my fist car was a Saturn, not a Jetta (everyone else went with the German pick). I really don't go to the trendy new fancy restaurant or drinking establishment. My reasoning might be found in my profession-- marketing. To me, if something is trendy, I tip my hat to the marketer behind the fad, I dissect how they did it, and then I try to apply those tactics to what I do for a living.

Except now I own an iPhone, and I must admit, things are different. When I bought the phone last week, I went into the AT&T store (I have been an AT&T customer since my first cell phone in 1998) with the 20 dollar pay-as-you-go phone I bought on New Year's Day. I asked the sales person how to flip the SIM card between my iPhone and my old phone. You see, I wasn't really going to use the iPhone that much. I was going to check it out for my work, but most of the time, I intended to use my old phone.

You can probably guess the end of this story. I have not switched the SIM card once. I have been using my iPhone ever since.

My friend Elizabeth puts it best. The iPhone really eliminates the need for me to check my laptop for simple things, like checking the weather or my email.

I am not saying I buy into all of the iPhone hype. But let me just say that I am not turning mine in anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Top Five Beacon Hill Issues-- June 2009 Issue

Every six months, I have gotten into the habit of providing a brief summary of the top five stories affecting Beacon Hill. You can review the list from late December of 2008 and the end of May 2008.

Here is the 1H 2009 edition. (Apologies for being a tad late; I meant to post this last week.)

5) Single-stream recycling

We could not have a top-issues-on-Beacon-Hill list without something about trash. And here it is. Single-stream recycling basically means not having to separate your recyclables. You place them all in a plastic bag and put them on the curb ten feet or so away from your regular trash.

The great thing about single-stream is it makes recycling easier. And it's catching on. Beacon Hill started single stream recycling last year, and now the plastic bags used for recycling are the hottest items to buy in the neighborhood. For the record, one can find them at Charles Street Supply.

4) 3rd Suffolk House Election

We had an election that affected part of Beacon Hill during the first part of the year. It was to fill the seat left vacant when former State House Speaker Sal DiMasi left office in January.

The election had a local candidate, Lucy Rivera, but she never really was in the running. This race came down to two candidates hailing from two other neighborhoods. Aaron Michlewitz from the North End, and Susan Passoni from the South End. In truth, the district only includes a tiny portion of Beacon Hill, though I can tell you many of the neighbors on those four or five streets are very active.

Michlewitz won the Democratic primary by a fairly close margin and went on to win the special election easily.

3) Robberies

Crime is rarely an issue on Beacon Hill. Except when there are a couple of robberies clumped together, residents get worried.

The Boston police have stepped up patrols on Beacon Hill, following robberies that happened in the Spring. Let's be honest-- we're not talking a lot of incidents here. But the connection between the robberies and youth gangs in Downtown Crossing is a bit unsettling.

2) Protecting the Esplanade

Last year, the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) board of directors (I am a member) voted to support making the Esplanade a historic landmark (in colloquial terms, a process called "landmarking.") At the time, the effort was so that the State would not decide to turn the Esplanade into a highway- diverting Storrow Drive while the Storrow Drive tunnel was rehabilitated. While that threat has abated (in fact the fate of the tunnel is, for now, on hold), it does make sense to landmark the Esplanade. And I am happy to hear the process is moving forward.

However, landmarking the Esplanade does directly impact an effort by neighbors to place a locked fence around the Teddy Ebersol Fields. On a portion of the Esplanade, the fields are used by children who live on Beacon Hill. While I can understand the need for a fence, I cannot understand why the fence needs to be locked. Such an occurrence only extends the long-held belief that Beacon Hill residents feel privileged.

Supporters of the fence want to get it approved before the landmarking occurs, since at that point making any changes to the Esplanade would get a lot harder.

1) Navel gazing

The BHCA has launched a noble effort to define priorities for the neighborhood for the foreseeable future. While still in its early stages, the process has yielded some interesting facts. For example, a significant percentage of my neighbors are young. As in younger than 30. I think you can expect the BHCA will make an effort to get these young residents involved.

The BHCA's vision for the future is fairly conservative. I was especially interested in a proposed phrase from the planning process that supports development efforts "around" the Hill. As long as you don't touch the neighborhood itself, and as long as the development doesn't affect us in any way, we're ok with it.

In truth, the BHCA's conservative streak has long been noted in the meetings I have attended (I have been a Board member of the group for many years). As a former board member once said often, "If Beacon Hill isn't Heaven, it's at least in the same zip code." Why change it? Of course, the conservative nature of the BHCA might soon come into conflict with the younger residents it's trying to court.

Obviously I speak someone facetiously, and I do support the planning effort, though I wish my neighbors were a tad more open to new ideas that might in the long run benefit all of its neighbors, even if they do represent the dreaded "change."

And it's great that the BHCA is opening itself up more to younger neighborhood residents.