Saturday, January 31, 2009

Killington '09

L to R: Glenn Tanzman, Jody Paglia, Melissa Nuttal, Tim Wilson, Sarah and Paul McNeeley (I am behind them), Tim and Priya Stoll.
Killington Weekend '09
Killington, Vermont
January 18, 2009

Happy Super Bowl Weekend

I made the trip this morning to Sugarbush Mountain in Fayston, Vermont, and I am sitting at the kitchen table of the infamous Chipotle Ski House, owned by Scott Cullen. I met Scott several years ago when we were in a ski house together (a house aptly named "The Farm") in Waitsfield, a town just north and east of here.

On the way up from Boston this morning, I listed to NPR, which is rare for me. During this week's episode of "Only A Game," a segment discussed the recession's impact on Super Bowl weekend.

That's right, it's Super Bowl weekend, which I love. The food and football is very attractive, but I have always been impressed by how the NFL has made Super Bowl Sunday a national holiday. Tomorrow I plan to attend a Super Bowl party in Boston... but I digress.

On NPR, they talked about the recent financial pinch has lowered the ticket price if one wants to attend the game in Tampa (down to $1500 from $2 grand. Yep a real bargain!). Then came a great comment by Keith Olbermann, the former sports announcer turned MSNBC host, who said, to paraphrase, that you can watch the game at home for free, which might be very important now given the economy.

It's a great point. The Super Bowl is a self-made event that can be made a party with simple food and beverage. I imagine many this year will welcome the inexpensive distraction.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Men With Heart Team

Men With Heart Team Members Scott Walters (l) and Paul Boulanger
Kingfish Hall
January 26, 2009

Back in 2001, I joined team of phenomenal men, when Paul Boulanger (in the right of the photo above) created Men With Heart. The team's story is a simple one. Paul walked in 2000 in the then Avon 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk in Boston, alongside his wife, a breast cancer survivor.

Looking around, Paul didn't see many men. In fact, he didn't see any.

Alarmed, Paul decided to get men involved, and the next year, more than 40 males (I among them) joined the walk. Wearing our signature yellow t-shirts and smiles, we marched from Fitchburg to Boston.

Since then, Men With Heart has raised more than $800,000 in the fight against breast cancer, mainly by sponsoring walkers in major breast cancer walks, including the now Komen 3-Day and the 2-Day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

This past Monday, I attended the Men With Heart kick-off meeting, which for several years has been held at Kingfish Hall in downtown Boston. It was the first time I had been to a team event in years (though I still receive the team's regular emails), but I felt like I never left.

It's impossible to put in words what it's like to participate in one of the multi-day breast cancer walks as a member of Men With Heart. If you are looking for a cause in 2009, I encourage you to visit the team's website.

P.S. Ask my friend Tom Hopcroft or I some day about day two of our first 3 Day. When we walked in snow. In May. And we were inspired by every minute of it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Slippery Slope of Political "Change"

A word that emerged on the scene in 2008 was Rorschach, as in Rorschach test. I had no idea what it meant before the 2008 election season, and now I read analogies using the Rorschach test every week.

The Rorschach test implies that a given political candidate turns into what the voter wants. It's often related to President Obama. Voters saw in Obama what they wanted, given his fresh face at a time of national political despair (read "George W. Bush").

Put another way, if voters want change badly enough, they will embrace a change candidate for their own reasons.

It follows that in this current political climate, candidates are desperate to be seen as agents of change.

Enter Michael Flaherty, and his announcement today (or was it late last night?) that he's a candidate for Mayor of Boston (2009 is a Mayoral election year in Boston). The text on his campaign website does not mention "change" at all, however he couldn't help himself on the YouTube video that officially declared his intentions. He asks listeners to consider joining his "campaign for change."

It's a grassroots effort. It's time to turn the page. Start a new chapter. Bring in new leadership.

All these phrases are indicative of calling for change. Flaherty, currently a Boston City Councilor, is hoping that by being the change candidate, he can lump Mayor Menino (assuming he decides to run for re-election) into the same category as George Bush, Dianne Wilkerson, and others-- cases where the voters believed it was time for change.

Flaherty assumes that change in leadership is needed. Unfortunately for him, Mayor Menino is not George Bush, and he is not Dianne Wilkerson. He is not to blame for the current economic crisis faced by the city, the nation and the world.

In fact, one would argue that given what we will face in the coming months, experience is what is needed so that this city is properly represented. Mayor Menino's most recent announcements make it clear he is acting in the best interests of Boston.

The 2009 Boston Mayoral race has begun, and we have two announced candidates-- Flaherty and South End resident Kevin McCrea. Both will inevitably talk of change. Merely calling yours a campaign for change does not make it a Rorschach test for voters. In the case of Obama, voters were thirsty for a change, and someone who could provide new ideas. In Boston this year, we need experience, wisdom and leadership. Change can result in the opposite.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A New Day For Amercia and the World

Eight days before Barack Obama became the first African American with a desk in the Oval Office, Tony Dungy retired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. I respect and admire Tony Dungy, even though I don't root for his team. He led his squad with class and dignity, and players and colleagues universally respected him. The understated nature of his retirement, ahead of the off-season, while the league was distracted by the playoffs, probably was to his liking.

Tony Dungy was the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl. Merely days before Dungy's NFL Championship against the Chicago Bears in 2007, I listened to "Mike and Mike in the Morning" (ESPN Radio) discussing one fact about the game that was overlooked-- BOTH head coaches were African American (Lovie Smith coached the Bears in that game). Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic seemed somewhat amazed-- and to some extent apologetic-- that they weren't talking about that fact more. It appeared no one really was. The fact that an African American coach was going to win football's most important contest... well, it just didn't seem to matter.

Wow, has this country come a long way in a short period of time. Barack Obama is the first African American President of the United States, and his skin color just doesn't seem to
matter. No one is talking about the Bradley effect anymore.

Obama never really made race an issue in the campaign. He never had to. His message resonated across party and racial lines. He brought a fresh, young face to a country that desperately needed to see it. His words changed little from the very beginning of his campaign to Tuesday's inaugural speech. It's going to be hard and it's going to require sacrifice, but we will get there.

The enormous crowd assembled on the Mall in Washington saw citizens of every heritage and ethnicity.

President Obama hugged his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, at her December 2003 wedding to Konrad Ng, third from right, in Hawaii. From left, his daughters, Sasha and Malia; his grandmother Madelyne Dunham, seated; Konrad’s parents, Joan and Howard Ng, and brother Perry Ng; and Michelle Obama.

Among the many photo montages online, I spotted this photo on Tuesday. It was taken in December 2003, at the wedding of Barack Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, in Hawaii. [Sidenote: President Obama has several half-siblings. Maya was the President's mother's second child. The President's dad had four children prior to marrying the President's mother, and he had three children and two wives after returning to Kenya.]

The picture demonstrates clearly what President Obama represents, and what the United States has become. A true racial mix. The photo includes President Obama and his daughters, as well as his half-sister (born in Indonesia), his half-sister's new husband and in-laws (Canadian), his grandmother (born in Kansas), and his wife (born in Chicago).

President Clinton said many times in the 1990's that the biggest asset to this country is our racial diversity. The fact that we can overcome racial divides when the cause and time are right. The time is right today, and the cause is urgent.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken from a must-read story: "Nation's Many Faces in Extended First Family," by Jodi Kantor, New York Times, January 20, 2009.

Beyond the issue of race, the magnitude of the power transfer on Tuesday is unimaginable to me. From the moment they met Tuesday morning for coffee, to the warm and seemingly genuine embrace when the departing President boarded the Marine helicopter, it was easy to overlook the dramatic rift between the outgoing and incoming Presidents.

They disagree on many issues, and yet the peaceful transfer of power happened, based on what out of context would be called arbitrary words on a random piece of paper we call the Constitution. In no other country could such an event take place.

President Obama got to work quickly, dismantling the many processes that his predecessor put in place. Despite the radical shift, his decisions were respected. The military trials in Cuba, created by President Bush, were halted, literally in mid-proceeding. With the stroke of a pen, the controversial overseas CIA prisons were closed (though President Obama can use them again if he wants), and CIA interrogation practices were limited to the same code of conduct the military follows (Sidenote: A law to codify this failed to pass Congress last year; John McCain was among those who voted against it).

Signatures are ink. Executive orders are written on paper and are mere letters. But Obama's signature instantly took on the weight of the President's office at exactly noon Washington time Tuesday (regardless of when he took the oath, he took office at noon). As overlooked as the color of his skin is the fact that Obama's early orders-- so dramatically different than just a few short hours earlier-- were accepted, immediately, as a matter of law.

The inaugural events overshadowed another dismal week for the American economy. Large banks continue to wither; talk commenced this week of the U.S. government taking over major financial institutions altogether. The unemployment rate rises and mortgage foreclosures continue.

Yes, we need President Obama now. And the nation stands behind him.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Enforcing Green Tickets in Boston

A law awaiting signature on Mass. Governor Deval Patrick's desk will make the streets of Boston much cleaner.

The Boston Inspectional Services Department (ISD) issues tickets to those who improperly dispose their trash. If they spot a bag of trash put out on the street on a non-scheduled trash pick up day, they will dig through the bag of trash, find a piece of mail to identify the owner, and write a ticket for the offender. Around the city, they are known as "green tickets." That color ticket is issued by ISD.

It's dirty work, no pun intended, but it is extremely important. Boston residents are notorious for ignoring the rules regarding trash pick up, which are already very generous. Generally, neighbors can put trash on the street after 5 p.m. the day before trash is collected. As pick up begins at 7 a.m. in the morning, this means refuse spends up to 14 hours on the side of the street.

On Beacon Hill, neighbors have proposed innovative programs to restrict the pick-up rules. Many, including your truly, wait until the morning to put out our trash. We have trash pick up three days a week, so these efforts are meant to curtail the significant amount of time that the streets are untidy.

Earlier this decade, The Beacon Hill Civic Association asked the city to enforce what's called "same-day pick up," which means that trash cannot be put at the curb until midnight on the day it's collected. We asked for this within Beacon Hill only. It was an effort I supported and was a part of, but it ended up being a miserable failure.

To my disappointment, many of my neighbors don't mind seeing trash on the street for 14 hours ahead of pick up, despite the obvious advantages of the trash not being there. Despite the BHCA's best efforts, we were unable to inform many residents on the north slope of this program. The reasons for that disconnect would cover several other blog posts.

And, perhaps most importantly, the City of Boston has trouble enforcing the green tickets it issues, and for no fault of its own. There are many reasons why, but a dirty little secret in Boston is if you receive a green ticket (as opposed to an orange parking ticket), you can just ignore it and you will probably not hear about it again. I used to joke with people that the best thing to do with a green ticket trash violation is put it in the trash.

However, my legislators, in particular my City Councilor Mike Ross and my State Representative, Mary Walz, are attempting to solve the green ticket problem. They are pressing legislation that allows the City to connect the green ticket violations directly to property holders. It would allow the city to hold the property holders accountable by placing liens on their properties as a result of unpaid green tickets, similar to how unpaid parking tickets can be attached to eligibility for a driver's license renewal.

The bill is on the Governor's desk this week for his signature, and my neighbors urge him to sign it.

The BHCA is thinking about starting anew with a same-day pick up program. We've learned from our mistakes, and the education effort in the community for this second attempt will be massive. But without more effective green ticket enforcement, it's hard for the city to help us.

Governor Patrick: Please sign the bill.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Governor Patrick did not sign the bill, and it was therefore subject to a pocket veto.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Random Fact About Bottled Beverages

Did you know that some plastic bottles are sanitized before filled with liquid, and others are not?

I learned today that carbonated water does not allow bacteria to grow, and that pure water has the same effect, because it does not contain sugar.

However, for other beverages in bottles, such as Gatorade and fruit drinks, the bottle needs to be sanitized. Many beverage manufacturers will either use chemicals or they will heat the liquid before it is placed in the bottle. This results in a sanitized plastic bottle that can be filled with the liquid

How about that? Just a random fact I learned thanks to my job.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy Birthday, Annmarie

Annmarie Connors
January 10, 2009
Vox Populi
Boston, Mass.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Legislature says: Let's get moving!

This week I attended two events to kick off the 2009 legislative session.

On Monday, my City Councilor, Mike Ross, was elected Council President, and I attended the first council hearing of the year at City Hall, where the vote took place. A few observations:

-- Hats off to the Councilor's staff for coordinating the offline and online worlds so well. While Ross addressed the Council from the rostrum, his staff launched a new campaign website and posted a blog entry via Boston Magazine online (Ross has penned a blog there for many months). Even better yet, the messaging across all the vehicles was in sync.

-- Ross pledged to make the Council more open to all residents, both by using technology better and by holding council meetings in Boston's neighborhoods. I am not sure how the second idea would work logistically, but it makes sense. It's hard to attend City Council hearings during the day. Also of note, Ross addressed the issue of electronic access in his blog post, a wise move given it's an area of contention for many active Boston bloggers.

-- Ross proposed an economic summit of City leaders, modeled after a volunteer summit organized by the previous City Council President, Maureen Feeney. A summit to think of ideas is always a good idea. Let's hope it happens soon, given the economy is in rough shape, and I for one am ready to do whatever I can to put the resulting good ideas into action quickly.

-- The Council Chamber buzzed with energy, both because of the youth of the new President, and also because embattled City Councilor Chuck Turner led the session until Ross was elected.


On Wednesday, I trudged through the snow, sleet and rain to watch the swearing in of my new State Senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz, at her new office at the State House. It was my first trip ever to the State House, and it allowed me to reminisce with other campaign volunteers and staffers, such as Deb Shah and Marianne von Nordeck. I snuck out of the office during the proceedings to visit with fellow Ward 5 member Laura Sargent, who works for my State Representative, Marty Walz.

Witnessing my first Senate proceeding was at times, well, comical. One of the more perplexing ceremonies of the day? How about when the Senate Leader appointed a committee of other senators to escort the newly elected Senate President, Therese Murray, to the rostrum. I guess there's concern the Senate President might get lost?

Pomp and circumstance aside, the new state and local legislative sessions have begun, and at a time when it's got to be challenging to be an elected leader. Still, what I witnessed gave me a sense of optimism. President Ross and President Murray both noted the *urgent* need to get moving for their constituents. (Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick echoed these sentiments when they addressed the respective chambers.)

The sessions have gotten off to a fine start. After all, President Murray found her way to the rostrum, thanks to a committee of her colleagues. Definitely a good sign.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Lobster Fest

Nikko, Jen and I traveled north yesterday to capitalize on the relatively cheap price of lobster.

There are several ways to eat a lobster. A brief review of two on display yesterday:

1) The scavenger (Nikko's approach): Lobsters contain meat in weird places. Typically I leave the meat in the head and chest cavity of a lobster alone. I figure the law of diminishing returns dictates it would take a lot of effort to extract a small amount of meat. Nikko, however, prefers to eat as much of the meat on every lobster. I admire her resourcefulness.

2) The butter soaker (my approach): Recognizing that the lobster in many ways is just a butter delivery device, I tear apart the lobster meat and let it sit in the butter for thirty seconds or so before I consume it (I hope my doctor isn't reading this).

There are also several ways to find lobster. You can buy your own and cook it at home, which is the cheapest method. You can go to a restaurant for a more elegant experience. Or you can travel to a "lobster pound" (basically the place where the lobsters go after they leave the boat). Many lobster pounds in New England have their own dining rooms where they serve lobster and various fried seafood items.

Yesterday, we went to two lobster pounds north of Boston. First, we crossed the New Hampshire boarder and visited Brown's in Seabrook. Here's my review:

Positives (+)

-- They crack the lobster shell for you, making it far easier to eat.
-- They sell several lobster sizes. Generally I aim for a smaller lobster (buying more than one as necessary), as the meat is more tender.
-- The view was awesome.
-- The picnic benches in the dining room felt authentic.

Negatives (-)

-- The clam chowder left a lot to be desired (Jen called it potato chowder).

Second, we drove a few miles south, back into Massachusetts, to find Bob Lobster in Newbury.
Again, my review:

Positives (+)

-- You might get to see Bob (we didn't, but we were told he often comes in).
-- They give you a lobster cracker.
-- They provide a bib (Brown's did not)
-- Again, multiple size lobsters.
-- They sell desert (ice cream!)
-- The dining room has a fireplace (fake wood, but still, pretty cool)

Negatives (-)

-- The lobster shell wasn't cracked, so it was harder to eat (no injuries were sustained)

As you can see, in both cases, the positives outweighed the negatives. So if you are in the area, you should check them out.

By the way, there is an interesting article on that talks about why the prices on lobster are low. Enjoy!