Sunday, March 28, 2010

Big East to the Final Four

Only a few weeks ago, I was jeering West Virginia and hoping that my UCONN Huskies would deliver them a whooping (they did). Yesterday, I was hoping like heck that same West Virginia team would find a victory against Kentucky (they did).

I root for the UCONN Huskies during the season, but once they are out of the running, I root for UCONN's conference, the Big East. I can't really understand why one night I am against various teams that are UCONN foes in the trenches of the season-- teams like Georgetown, Syracuse, Notre Dame, St. John's, Villanova and West Virginia-- and the next night I am cheering for those same enemies. To college basketball fans, it makes sense. You are loyal to your team first, and your conference second.

The Big East conference is the best conference in college basketball. During a couple weeks this season, four teams from the Big East were among the top ten ranked teams in the country. Syracuse and West Virginia almost occupied two of the four coveted No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Eight Big East teams made it to the big dance, more than any other conference.

Yet, the Big East's performance in the NCAA tournament has not been superb. Only two of the original eight Big East tournament entrants made it to the second weekend (the Sweet Sixteen, in insider parlance). The team that played the best during weekend one, Syracuse, could not get past a surging Butler Bulldog team-- which is from the Horizon Conference, arguably far inferior to the mighty Big East.

Why the disappointing tournament performance? My brother Brett puts forth a theory that the Big East conference is perhaps too good. The conventional wisdom is that playing in a difficult conference helps you at the end of the season; playing challenging opponents all year long hones a team's skills and allows it to see where problems are against high-class competition. It's kind of like training for a marathon by always pushing yourself to get beyond where you've been before, as opposed to training by running a mile during each training run.

Brett's theory is that there is a conference strength threshold that, when passed, becomes detrimental to the conference's teams. On more than one occasion this year, analysts have said the Big East "is eating its own." Playing a top-ten opponent each night for several weeks would wear even the best trained athletes. The Big East teams in the tournament this year have simply looked pooped.

I accept Brett's theory over the comments of many other non-Big East fans that say the conference is overrated. As someone who has watched many Big East games this year, and saw how the teams looked in the NCAA tournament, I still believe strongly the Big East is legit. But then again, I do admit I am biased.

And then, amid my concerns and theories of conference fatigue, there's West Virginia. The Mountaineers were not the best team in the Big East conference this year, but they are the best team now. They won the Big East conference tournament, and they have not looked back. Yesterday, they defeated Kentucky, a No. 1 seed, to earn a spot in the Final Four.

The Big East conference is now 8-7 in the NCAA tournament, with one team left. Most importantly, the Big East conference is headed to the Final Four, where it belongs.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Disappointment with Representative Stephen Lynch

All of my neighbors are represented by Mike Capuano. I live in one stray precinct within my Ward and downtown Boston that is represented by Stephen Lynch.

For reasons I cannot understand, Congressman Lynch intends to vote against the health care bill in front of the House of Representatives this weekend.

I have written about the health care bill in the past. It's complicated, and because it's complicated, it's easy to create soundbites against it. Even if the soundbites are dead wrong. Like the notion that health care reform means the government is taking over health care. Like in Europe, where (the soundbites continue) you have to wait months for routine procedures because of bureaucratic paperwork.

The health care bill in front of Congress this weekend does not represent a government takeover. It sets up exchanges of health care insurance companies (private companies), and it allows these companies to compete for a large number of potential customers. In that way, it creates competition. Hardly a government-run plan that so many think the bill completely encompasses.

Health care reform is complicated because we all need it and we're willing to pay anything for it in a catastrophe. The popular portions of health care reform are portability (insurance companies can't deny you coverage if you switch plans) and deniability for pre-existing conditions (insurance companies can't deny you coverage for already being sick). However, if these portions were to pass by themselves, there would be no incentive for people to have coverage unless they were sick. And this would bankrupt the insurance companies.

So to pass the things people like, the insurance companies need the government to demand that everyone be covered. And to do that, the government needs to help those who can't afford insurance. And to do that, the government needs to encourage the industry to control costs and be more efficient. Controlling costs inevitably means less revenue and less profit, and private industry doesn't like that. And that's why, beyond the stuff people like, health care reform is hard.

Beyond the soundbites, though, is the fact that healthcare reform is so desperately needed. It's an industry that is weighing down business with its costs. The bill before Congress is far from perfect. But reform is the right thing for all of us. Leaders would know that. And by not supporting the bill, Congressman Lynch is showing a lack of leadership.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Boston Ward 5 Committee Officers

Last night, I was picked by fellow Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee members to be the secretary of the group for a two-year term. It was part of a very peaceful transfer of power, as Rob Whitney, the only committee chairman I have known, stepped aside.

Josh Dawson, a good friend and neighbor from the Back Bay, is the new chairman. Other officers include:
Treasurer: Greg Timilty
First vice chairman: Shelia Martin
Second vice chairman: Jay Livingstone
Executive committee members (at large): Fran Burke, Rajan Nanda, David Greenwold
Executive committee members (ex officio): Marty Walz and Kenzie Bok

As secretary, I look forward to working with Dave Greenwold, the "webmaster" of the committee's website, to continue to beef up the group's web presence. Stay tuned!

What the Heck is Evacuation Day, Anyway?

Today is a holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, the county that includes Boston. No, it's not a holiday because today is St. Patrick's Day. Rather, today is Evacuation Day.

One might think it rather convenient that Evacuation Day is scheduled for the same date as St. Patrick's Day. However, the two dates in history do correspond.

What is Evacuation Day? I admit I did not know, either, until I read David McCullough's masterpiece, "1776." On March 17, 1776, the British evacuated Boston during the relative early days of the Revolutionary War. The story is a great one. The rebels pinned the British in Boston during the Winter of 1776 by transporting large guns from Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, sneaking the armory into what is now South Boston. The British literally woke up one morning to see the large weaponry staring down at them, and they knew they were cooked. They left Boston really without even putting up a fight.

Given that this happened in March of 1776, and the United States didn't become the United States for about another four months, the significance of such victories cannot be overstated.

So happy Evacuation Day, everyone. And if you just happen to have a green beer today to celebrate, that's ok, too.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hooked on Boston Media

Last year I lauded the new WCVB-TV show "On The Record," a Sunday morning local political forum. I still don't like the pop quizzes they ask their guests, but the show itself is an excellent way to learn about local political news in a non-boring way.

Well, it turns out there is other content available on the airwaves that can provide political updates, without the drab normally associated with the political theater.

Take Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. I would flip to 96.9 WTKK whenever I had to drive somewhere for lunch to listen to their noontime show, "Eagan and Braude." The only trouble was, given the show was on during lunch, I couldn't listen to it very often.

Now, the two hosts have moved to the morning, and they are on the air from 7-10 a.m. as the "Jim and Margery" show. I guess you have to to change the name of the show when you move it? Or perhaps people are too tired in the morning to respond to last names? Whatever the case, while the name is different, the show is the same.

I love their show. First off, they get along very well together and play off each other. They present a witty, funny and incisive look into local politics, as well as national issues that have local impact. Listening to Jim and Margery should have been required for all residents ahead of the recent special U.S. Senate election; the hosts were among the few to look at the substance of the race, in addition to the polling. Even more recently, the Mass. Gubernatorial candidates are recent visitors to the show.

I think Jim and Margery will do to local talk radio in Boston what Don Imus did to the same market in New York City. The hosts universally show how no matter what your political interest, politics does impact every day life. If radio talks about the politics in the context of what it means for everyday lives, people will become more politically motivated, whether they know it or not.

Beyond "Jim and Margery," I should admit I have started reading the Boston Globe more and more. Each day at the office, I read the New York Times from front to back. After my volunteer work for local political races last year, I now often read the Globe as well.

And soon I will start reading the Boston Herald as well. My good college friend was just hired as the new Red Sox beat reporter there!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Boston Parking-- It's a Complicated Science

Beacon Street at Joy
March 12, 2010

I tell people that Boston residents are nice, unless you get behind the wheel of a car. In a similar way, Boston is a navigable city, unless you decide to drive. And if you want to park on the street, good luck.

Having lived in Boston since 1999, and having a job out of the city during that time, I consider myself a master of Boston parking. On Beacon Hill, parking is at a premium. The local Beacon Hill Civic Association has a parking committee, with a charter that basically boils down to preservation of the precious parking spaces.

Generally speaking, if you find an open parking spot on Beacon Hill, the driver has to assume there is something wrong with it. After deftly performing a parallel park into an open space, I get out of the car and spend a few minutes investigating the spot. I generally follow a mental checklist:
  • Is there a fire hydrant nearby,
  • Is street cleaning scheduled for anytime when the car will be there,
  • Are there any temporary "no parking" signs posted for a residential move-in or construction,
  • Are there any temporary signs on the ground nearby, indicating they were posted and fell down,
  • Am I really on a street that is a Beacon Hill residential street,
  • Are there parking tickets on any cars nearby, and if so, why,
  • Is there anyone nearby watching me, giving me a suspicious look as if to ask "why are you thinking of parking there?"
In short, I try to think of every possible reason why a spot may not be legitimate, and once I am satisfied, I leave the car.

Given the scarcity of parking spaces in Beacon Hill, changes in parking rules have a dramatic effect. This is especially true for "reverse-commuters" like me, who work out of the city and need their cars each day. Several years ago, the City of Boston changed the meters on Charles Street, extending the meter hours from 6 p.m. at night until 8 p.m. at night. Simple change, but a major impact on me. Since then, I actively avoid parking on Charles Street, since I typically get home before 8 p.m. and would need to feed the meter until 8.

Well, this week, I noticed a change that, for me at least, has a significant positive effect. I typically park on Beacon Street, by the Boston Common, which during the week offers parking spaces that are zoned for residents during the evening hours only. This is perfect for me, as I drive to Waltham each morning for work. Up until this week, however, parking on Beacon Street was inconvenient on the weekends, as I would need to get out of bed early to move my car when the hours for resident parking there expired.

Well, as you can clearly see from the new signs that are posted on Beacon Street and are pictured above, the residential parking now extends to the weekend days on Beacon Street. If you find the signs above confusing... well... I don't blame you. But the translation for me is simple---it's 9:16 on Saturday morning, and I don't need to worry about my car parked on Beacon Street.

Thank you to the City of Boston for a change that gives me more time to sleep!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Boston Ward 5 State Convention Delegation

Below is the full list of state convention delegates from Boston's Ward 5. We are all attending the state convention this June in Worcester.

MEN (11)
George Alex
Rich Davey
Mike George
David Greenwold
Ross Levanto
Jay Livingstone
Rajan Nanda
Greg Timilty
Michael Wasserman
Rob Whitney

WOMEN (11)
Patricia Amend
Sydney Asbury
Fran Burke
Suzanne Comtois
Mary Clayton-Crozier
Kate Gallivan
Kristine Glynn
Elizabeth Leary
Shelia Martin
Judee Shupe
Diana Wogan

Pat McDonough

Winthrop Roosevelt
Peter True
Alysia Ordway
Jane Willis

Chat With The Governor

Mass. Governor Deval Patrick (on left)
Beacon Hill, Boston
March 6, 2010
At right is Rob Whitney, in mid-background is Jim Ryan, and in far background is Ted Furst.

If you don't live in Massachusetts, then you don't know that our Governor, Deval Patrick, is facing a very tough re-election fight this year. Part of his problem is the fervent anti-incumbent mood that exists across the country. Part of the problem is the economy, and the fact that voters are both scared and angry (I would argue that fear is a more powerful motivator than anger, but that's a subject for a later post).

Part of the Governor's problem, though, is that he has not done a good enough job showing off what he's done and his roadmap for an additional term. And for that reason, the Governor is getting moving. Yesterday, he went to a small gathering of neighbors on Beacon Hill in Boston, hosted by Martha and Joel Pierce. I was happy to be invited and was able to attend.

The Governor reviewed his many accomplishments. He talked about ethics and education reform. He urged those in attendance to be educated and engage our neighbors in debate (even those, as he put it, who don't agree with us). He also ended his comments by urging all to "believe," a nice reference back to the visionary oratory so common when he was a candidate four years ago.

I asked the Governor a question about casinos. As I plan to detail in a later post, I have real trouble accepting the notion of casinos, primarily because of what I witnessed growing up in Conn. near Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun. I told the Governor I was concerned casinos in Massachusetts would take away from the economic activity of nearby towns, rather than contribute to it. The Governor answered by noting that the siting of the casinos would be key to their success. Whether I agree or not depends on his definition of "siting," which I can go into in the later post.

On the whole, I think the Governor has done much for Massachusetts over the past four years. The Governor noted yesterday how he likes campaigning, but hates to fund raise or brag (He says President Obama told him in the Fall to "get over it."). While bragging is important for any incumbent (and warranted by the Governor), the average voter is more skeptical than ever. Governor Patrick needs to connect his accomplishments to what he aims to do, and he needs to connect what he aims to do to the issues that have people scared: jobs, and their way of life.

Massachusetts voters are reading everywhere about how the lives of their children will not be better than their own, and we are reading that for the first time in generations. Innately, voters are optimistic, but they need politicians to acknowledge their fears and present ideas that will assuage them. Right now, the fear is connected to the economy. Governor Patrick has the smarts and ideas---and no doubt the presentation skills---so that people can believe in him.

Let the campaign begin.