Friday, December 30, 2011

Civic Duty is Expensive

It cost me more than $400 to help Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley on election day.

For the past few years, I have taken a vacation day from my job on election Tuesday (this year it was November 8) to help out a candidate or two. While I enjoy the work, it's not really vacation-- I was awake and on the road by 6 a.m. on November 8th driving to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, where I would help Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.

Arriving in J.P. in the dark, I found a primo parking space, or so I thought. In typical paranoid Boston-resident fashion, I got out of the car and inspected the spot. [Boston residents are trained that any spot that looks legitimate probably is illegal. The spot is guilty until proven innocent, if you will.] After looking for a crosswalk, measuring the distance from the intersection, scanning the street for signs, and inspecting carefully the color of the paint on the curb, I made the determination the spot was legitimate.

My car parked in J.P.

November 8, 2011

Much to my dismay, a $100 parking ticket was waiting for me later in the morning. The charge was blocking a handicap ramp. I took photos, as I was upset enough that I planned to file an appeal (more on that later).

I hopped in my car and left the allegedly illegal parking spot to traverse J.P. and begin to knock on doors. After hitting a few dozen homes, I executed a three-point turn to continue my canvass. CRUNCH. My rear left taillight collided with a fire hydrant. I would learn today, almost too months later, that the repair will cost about 300 dollars, including tax. Honda specialists are fixing the light as we speak.

In the days between election day and today, I crafted a rather detailed letter explaining why I felt the parking spot in question in J.P. was legal. The day before Thanksgiving, I trekked to Boston City Hall and dropped off my appeal, along with a copy of the original citation and printouts of my photos.

Last week, I received a notice from the City of Boston informing me that my ticket had not been paid, and accordingly the fine was no longer $100-- it was now $133. The notice said nothing of my appeal; I assume it has been lost. Reluctantly, I paid the ticket, ending my attempt to appeal such a violation.

So 300 bucks for the taillight and another $133 for the ticket. At least Ayanna Pressley won.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reflections on Sports In America

In the Fall of 2004, the Boston Red Sox faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. At the same time, Senator John Kerry faced President George W. Bush to be elected the most powerful man in the world. The Boston Globe posted an online poll, asking which scenario readers would prefer: A Red Sox victory (and the first team championship in 86 years) or a George Bush defeat (ending the administration of a president viewed very unfavorably by Massachusetts residents).

Boston Globe website visitors picked a Red Sox victory. It wasn't even close.

We have reached a scary state in America when it comes to athletics. For lack of any other name, perhaps it's the post-Sandusky era. I have found myself less interested in watching my own beloved UCONN Huskies. It could be because the men's basketball team won the national championship last April, so I am a bit complacent. However, I think the reasoning is far deeper. We idolize our athletic heroes too much. It's clearly having a negative effect on society as a whole.

As a kid growing up in the small cow town of Franklin, Conn., the only real recreational activities were sports. After school, you played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. Nothing else was offered. You either played those sports, or you watched them, or you stayed home.

Certainly athletics taught a lot. I learned how to play as a team, and to this day prefer team activities over individual ones. I learned how to stomach a loss. Believe me, I had a lot of practice. Dusting my rear off and getting back into the game was a matter of course. I learned that being competitive was ok, but that competitiveness can have a dark side. I also knew deep down inside, despite wearing off the leather from numerous basketballs in my parents' driveway, that I would never play in the NBA.

But things have gotten out of hand. The highest paid public employee in my home state is the Connecticut basketball coach. As much as I love Jim Calhoun and respect what he's done on the court, is he really worth more to my home state than the Governor? Or the most important emergency responders in the state? Or even the fire chiefs of Hartford or Bridgeport? In case you are wondering, the second highest paid state employee is the women's coach.

A year ago, my friend Scott Lauber and I were in Rome, among the ancient ruins and the Coliseum. Way back, the athletic heroes were the Gladiators, who were both feared and revered, until they were mauled by a tiger. We are so much more civilized now, aren't we? The tigers are gone, to be sure, but today we pay millions of dollars to idolize grown men who can hit a small sphere with a long stick. What will tourists two thousand years from now say about our civilization when they try to understand baseball?

The famous line from the movie "The Program" went like this: "People won't buy tickets to watch someone take an exam." In truth, sports have always been about money, given the capitalist society we live in. However, today's media-frenzied ultra-connected world has made sports about BIG money. It's disrupting the very fabric of the games. Certainly one reason I am disenchanted with college basketball is because the familiar brands of my youth are about to go poof. The Big East conference, the formidable collection of teams that defined my introduction to basketball as kid, is imploding.

As a teenager, I memorized the conference's schools. In one year, the mainstays are leaving. Pittsburgh. Syracuse. Boston College is already gone. Heck, Connecticut has apparently made it clear they are interested in bolting, too. They will be replaced by teams half-way around the country... or further. I certainly have nothing against Baylor, but realize that a team from Waco, Texas is about to join the Big East and perhaps that's just one point of evidence that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

The movie had it right, too. Athletic teams are not just teams; they are programs. And few institutions, let alone individuals, have the courage to stand up to them. What happened at Penn State was not just a travesty of justice. It was a multiple-system failure where too many (and we're only beginning to learn how many) stood on the sidelines, too scared to speak up.

I still like to watch the games. I hope that's not wrong, given my new attitude. But no doubt I will watch them with a new sense of perspective. My dad and brother Mark had season's tickets to UCONN football. Next year, they are talking about watching high-school football games at my alma mater, the Norwich Free Academy, instead. I think I might join them. I know the coach there; we went to high school together, and I know for damn sure he's not making as much as Jim Calhoun.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wired For Life

My maternal grandmother (Nana) chats with my brother Brett and his wife Holly via FaceTime.
Ledyard, Conn. (Brett and Holly are located in Arlington, Va.)
December 25, 2011

The best technologies do not leave a footprint. You buy them and incorporate them in your life--and it's as if they were never not there. You could not imagine operating without them. In fact, you quickly forget what it was like before.

I had that experience with my original cell phone, which I bought something like thirteen years ago, when the AT&T salesperson presented a deal to my company's employees, none of whom had mobile phones. I had that experience with my iPhone, which at the time of my purchase I fully intended to only use for work-related research. I anticipated flipping the AT&T SIM card back and forth between the iPhone and my old flip phone. Yeah, that didn't happen.

And I am definitely having that experience with the wi-fi in my apartment. My friend Scott Walters was the first person I recall who talked of having wireless Internet in his residence. I can't even remember when that was, but I remember wondering why I would ever want wireless in my home. Here I am, only a few years later, watching "No Strings Attached" via Netflix streaming through my Apple TV--while I surf the Internet and write this blog post. Last week, I was watching a movie while updating my Mac iOS devices--both of them.

My Christmas present to myself was a Sony Blu-ray player. They now cost less than a hundred dollars. The player comes with Internet access (though not through wireless, but rather through an Ethernet cable). I must say the Netflix quality on my Apple TV is better than through the Sony player.

On Christmas day, the family gathered at my parents house in Connecticut hosted a video conference call with my brother and his wife in Virginia. We used FaceTime on two iPads, one in each location. The conversation was brought to you by the wireless Internet available throughout both homes. I installed my parents' router three years ago. Their lives have also never been the same--they used wireless connectivity to find the plot of land for their new home. Mom and Dad, you are welcome. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Peyton Manning is Better than Tom Brady

One of my good friends roots for the Indianapolis Colts. I won't say her name to protect the innocent. She can vouch for my allegiance to the New England Patriots. She can also vouch for my steadfast belief that Peyton Manning is a better quarterback than Tom Brady.

Can there be any better evidence than this season? The Indianapolis Colts have yet to win a game. That's right. The Colts are through twelve weeks of the season and have pulled the infamous oh-fer. Zero wins. Eleven losses. (This post reflects today's Colts loss at home to the Carolina Panthers.)

The Colts were supposed to be a good team this year. There were supposed to compete in the AFC, potentially going deep in the playoffs. They were supposed to be contenders. And then Peyton Manning got hurt. From contender to Bad News Bears because of one player? Seems ridiculous, right? In fact, that's what has happened.

Certainly I have enjoyed the Colts season. However, the turn of fate for Indianapolis should put to rest, finally, the debate over which team's quarterback is better. What other team could have their season's chances turned so dramatically by the loss of one player?

Patriots fans should remember that it was not too long ago that Tom Brady was also injured early in the season. That was 2008. Yet the hometown Pats were able to win eleven games and just barely missed the playoffs.

The Patriots had a winning season without their quarterback. The Colts have yet to find a win without theirs. Which quarterback is better? I rest my case.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bye, Bye 230 Third Avenue

My now former office
Waltham, Mass.
November 11, 2011

My entire professional career has been spent on one floor in one building in Waltham. I started at Schwartz Communications on June 2, 1997. Since then, I have moved among various cubes and desks on the fourth floor at 230 Third Avenue in Waltham. I settled in an office with a nice view of route 128. I have been in that office since July 2000.

Well, my company moved to new office space last night. As of Monday, I am in a new building around the corner, sitting in a new office. I am convinced, of course, I will forget, showing up at the old office. Maybe I will put a sticky note on my briefcase.

Boston Elections: What the Heck Happened?

Conventional wisdom can be pretty cynical. This past Tuesday's election in Boston was a municipal election. Only city council candidates were on the ballot. There wasn't a Mayoral race, which helps create more buzz and turnout. Conventional wisdom says the only people who vote in Boston in these types of elections are older white voters who vote along polarizing lines. They vote with their families, their heritage or according to organizations they belong to. This generally means bad things for minority candidates, or women, or anyone who doesn't live in the historically politically potent neighborhoods of the city.

The results from this past Tuesday's election did not follow conventional wisdom. And the reason might be dramatic changes in the electorate and population of Boston that have been seen in census data for years, and are finally... just perhaps... being seen at the ballot box.

Ayanna Pressley, and African-American woman, won more votes than any other candidate. Another minority candidate, Felix Arroyo, came in second. Michael Flaherty, a white well-known former city councilor who lives in a politically potent neighborhood, was left on the outside looking in by the voters. (The top four vote getters win at-large seats; Flaherty came in fifth.)

As I said, conventional wisdom can be pretty cynical, and the people who write about conventional wisdom are cynics. The initial reaction to Tuesday's result from a few reporters focused on how Pressley had a lot of help near the end of the campaign. There were political motivations-- some in the city did not want to see Flaherty win. There were personal motivations-- Pressley is now, indeed, the only woman on the city council. And there were sentimental motivations-- Pressley has had a rough year, having lost her mother over the summer following a long bout with illness.

The conventional wisdom from these reporters emerged that Pressley won because of a lot of reasons somewhat outside of her control that converged Tuesday. Once thought to be the most vulnerable candidate, Pressley ended up topping the ticket.

I tend to be way more optimistic (sometimes in a naive way), so while I agree with some of the arguments of the cynics, I believe (and hope even more) that the reason for Pressley's win is a dramatic shift within the Boston electorate. When I wrote earlier of my support for Pressley on this blog, I noted how she (along with other candidates I voted for) represent the Boston of the future. I think a lot of voters who went to the polls Tuesday voted with the future in mind.

Boston is vibrant and diverse. It's impossible not to see that if you live here. And whatever your race or gender or background, we all want to see that vibrancy and diversity in our elected officials. Again, I might be naive, but I think that's why we saw the result we did on Tuesday.

It's worth noting that in my neighborhood of Beacon Hill, voters cast their ballots in a similar way to the city at large. This is surprising to some, since Michael Flaherty did well here when he ran for Mayor two years ago. It wasn't a surprise to me. As ethically homogeneous as my neighborhood might be, the voters here are quite progressive. Michael Flaherty just couldn't disconnect himself from his previous tenure on the city council in the minds of my neighbors. And, like I said before, everyone likes to look forward and think about the future when they enter the voting booth.

Congratulations to all of the candidates elected Tuesday. And a special congratulations to friend Jessica Taubner, Ayanna Pressley's campaign manager, on a wonderful victory! Get some rest, Jess!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Reminding People of Their Civic Responsibility

Downtown Boston Democrats ahead of a neighborhood canvass.
Beacon Hill, Boston
November 5, 2011

What a beautiful weekend to go door to door encouraging voters to go to the polls this Tuesday. I joined more than a dozen fellow Democrats yesterday to support three candidates for Boston City Council at-large: Felix Arroyo, John Connolly and Ayanna Pressley; as well as Suzanne Lee and Mike Ross in their respective district City Council races. The event was organized by the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee.

It was the latest in a series of activities, organized by the committee, to support candidates that the group has endorsed.

Evaluating The Campaign Mailers: City Council At-Large

Campaign pros call the final weekend before a Tuesday election GOTV (get out the vote) weekend. It's when campaigns focus on reminding their supporters the election is, in fact, happening, and to get to the polls to vote. Fundamentally, elections are pretty simple things. The candidate who gets more votes wins. So the job of GOTV is, literally, getting voters to vote.

This year is a pretty slow election year, because it's only a municipal election in the City of Boston. I say *only*, which is kind of sad, because Tuesday really, really matters to many candidates running for office. Yet because it's a municipal race, the number of people who actually vote will be pathetically small.

This year, it appears, campaigns have taken a breather from the robo calls. I have yet to receive one. But I have gotten a mountain of mailers. So I thought I would take a step back, look across the mailers, and see if I can spot any trends. So in reviewing the mailers I have received from candidates running for Boston City Council At Large, here goes:

1) Have your children's book handy: Two of the at-large candidates include a picture on their mailer of themselves reading a book to a group of kids. All the mailers have at least one picture of the candidate with a group of kids.

2) Endorsement parade: I guess it's a requirement to list at least one endorsement on each piece of literature, if for no other reason than to be able to put a logo of a local newspaper somewhere on the page?

3) More than one pol can "lead" on an issue. I noticed that more than one candidate included the exact same language on their mailer: "Led the fight to save branch libraries." I guess it should be "co-led"?

4) Family photo required. Dogs a plus. Where applicable, there is at least one photo of the candidate with their families. Curiously, none is a picture of the candidate reading a book to their kids. One candidate has a picture with his two rescued dogs.

5) Be tough. Three candidates are pictured at least once with either their arms crossed or pointing from a podium.

6) Friends in high places. One candidate includes a photo of him and the Governor; another candidate has she with the Mayor.

7) The only common language on all of the mailers? Not a trick question. It's the date of the election (November 8) with a plea for the reader to vote.

And I end with that same plea to all of you. Get out and vote!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

R.I.P Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney has passed away. He gave the best graduation commencement speech I have ever heard. It was at George Washington in May 2005 (my brother Brett was a member of the buff and blue at GW). The speech is below. Enjoy.

Andy Rooney
Doctor of Public Service

Commencement on the Ellipse Remarks
(as delivered)
May 22, 2005

Would it be wrong if my address was shorter than my introduction? (Laughter)

I'm used to speaking to ten million people, but I'm not used to being able to look at all of them when I'm talking.

Several people have asked if I enjoy speaking at a graduation and I don't think they always believe me when I say I do. I love it. I've been looking forward to being here at George Washington University for several weeks now. I think we're all after what little bit of immortality we can get for ourselves and, even if I'm not very good today, every young person graduating will remember me for the rest of his or her life. You'll be saying: Remember what's his name on your graduation. (Laughter)

But that's about as close to being immortal as I'll get. Then of course, for most of my ordinary days and when I'm on television I'm talking to people who haven't read a book or a decent newspaper ever, and here I have the privilege of being with my daughter and my granddaughter and hundreds of intelligent young people and their families and friends of theirs on one of the great days of their lives. How could I be anything but happy to be here? I even get to talk to young people sitting down there in front of me and they can't talk back to me.

I know many of you graduating probably question how much an old guy like me really knows about you. What you have to keep in mind about people my age in relation to people your age is we have been your age. We have been our own age, too. So we know about both ages. You on the other hand have only been your age, so we know a lot more about ages than you do. And that's why I'm up here speaking to you instead of sitting down there having one of – listening to one of you speak to me. (Laughter)

If you're smart at all you should be nervous about facing the world you're entering. If you're not nervous you're not very smart, because there's plenty to be nervous about. First, you're going to have to find a job, then you're going to have to learn how to do it. I don't know whether you're aware of this or not. On a big day like this, graduating, you probably think you've got everything. But it's very likely that nothing you learned in college is going to help at your job. (Laughter)

What you learned at George Washington can make your life more interesting and pleasant. But chances are it won't help you in making a living. The good thing about an education is simply having one. You don't have to do anything with it.

In spite of all the problems you face, it should be encouraging for you to hear that I wish I had the life ahead of me that you have ahead of you. If people my age hate to leave it after having experienced almost everything, it's evidence that life can be pretty good.

Now that you're graduating, though, you can't put it off any longer. You have to decide what to do. To begin with, of course, you'll probably have to take any job you can get. But I've found that people usually get where they're going in life. Sometimes that's good and sometimes it's bad. But there's something inevitable about the course of our lives that's mysteriously directed by who we are, what we're like, and the way we do both the big and the little things every day.

You may have to take a menial job in the field you choose, but you'll work yourself up if you're any good at it. Do the menial job as though it was important.

What you're going to do with your life is what I want to talk about today. The jobs available for you to do are different from what's been available for young people to do five, 10, 50, or 150 years ago. There must be thousands of potentially famous people right now who are living their lives anonymously because what they're capable of being famous doing just doesn't need to be done right now, the time they're living.

Just an example of how much the times influence what a person does with his or her life, if George Washington were alive today would he have led the troops into Baghdad? Of course not. Washington wouldn't even have been called "Father of His County" because the country is more than 200 years old.

Would your college be named after George Washington? I don't think so. Today the George Washington University might be called " Bush U." (Laughter)

Is there an Alexander Graham Bell among you? Too bad; there are no openings there; the telephone has already been invented.

All any of this means is each of you has to look carefully at where you are in relation to what needs to be done in the world before you decide what you want to do. If you have a choice after college between getting a job you like and getting a job that pays a lot of money, take the job you like. Ideally, of course, you'll get a job you like that pays a lot of money.

I could tell you one thing for sure, though. There's no shortage of things that need to be done in the world. On the other hand, there is a shortage of capable people to do those jobs, and that works to your advantage if you're capable at all. To begin with, we're short of technicians, scientists, mathematicians, and people who really know how to make things. The service industry is bigger than the manufacturing segment, and there's something wrong with that. It's like a restaurant that has good waiters, but no one in the kitchen who knows how to cook. We need chefs more than we need waiters.

We need mechanics; we don't need car salesmen. We need doctors more than we need health insurance plans. We're short of good politicians. We need good men and women to lead us. I hope some of you will go into politics. Politicians have always had a bad reputation. We love to laugh and poke fun at them, but they are important to what we're all doing.

I wouldn't be able to do what they do. Can you imagine having the self-confidence to think that you're smart enough to be president of the United States? Politicians are optimistic about what they can accomplish, though, and they're optimistic about the human race. They think people can be helped and, even better, they think people are worth helping. I hope some of you are presumptuous enough to become politicians because you think you can help. (Siren on the street)

Rooney: Are they coming to get somebody? (Laughter)

Our economic system could use some help, if there are any economists among you. Capitalism has gone berserk. It isn't working. There are too many rich people and too many poor people. You don't have to be a communist to think that.

Corporations whose boards of directors used to meet to discuss ways to improve their product now meet to talk about ways to make it cheaper. They also meet to decide how many workers to fire so they can vote themselves million dollar bonuses.

The key word in big business today is "takeover." It means taking over a company built on someone else's brains and labor for another's profit. No product ever got better when a big company took over a smaller one.

The evolution of too many business enterprises in America these days is away from quality. We're selling things better than we're making them. When they break, no one knows how to fix them. The thing we're making best is money.

I had a problem with the windshield wipers on my car last Saturday. I went to the dealer from whom I bought it. The salesmen were all there, ready to sell me a new car, but the service department was closed Saturdays. Couldn't get my windshield wiper fixed. Now, if they'll sell me a car on weekends, why the hell won't they fix one for me?

We're great at packaging things. Manufacturers often spend more on the box something comes in than they spend making the product. They spend more on advertising it than on making it or on the box.

Whatever you do, I hope you set out to make something other than money. There's a lot to be done in education. Maybe you could teach. I hope so. Our schools are for the most part terrible. The children of every major industrial country in the world are better educated than our own. The United States is spending $400 billion a year on weapons and $53 billion a year on education. (Applause)

In spite of that, some of the happiest and most satisfied people I've ever met are teachers.

I hope some of you go into the news business. It may sound self-serving for me to say, but the most honest people I've ever known are journalists, also the most interesting. The public doesn't have a high regard for news or the people who give it to them because the public wants good news and what journalists usually give them is bad.

The trouble is by its very nature news is negative. It's always a change from the status quo, an aberration in the course of events, and any change is usually bad. So it's the bad news that's in the newspaper or on television and people don't like that. They blame the messenger. We don't run pictures and report on the Mississippi River on days that it does not overflow its banks and drown people.

When I got out of college, I spent the next four years in the Army during World War II. I hope none of you have to do anything like that. War is an old-fashioned idea that we have got to get over. The United States can attack little countries like Iraq with impunity, but if we get into a war with China or India or the bigger countries it could be the end of civilization.

Civilizations have ended before, you know. It's not impossible. It seems so to us, but it is not impossible, and I worry about the future of the world. I worry about my grandchild and my grandchildren's grandchildren.

I know some of you would like to write for a living. I know for a fact that one of you does. There are great opportunities for anyone who can write because we're short of good writing in movies and television. There are a hundred producers, editors, directors, publishers, and advertising executives waiting for one writer to put something down on paper so they can do their thing with it. Actors are a dime a dozen. There are 10,000 actors waiting for every writer to write something.

The computer has been an amazing tool for the exchange of information, but the writing that goes into computers has not been up to the standard of the machines' technical excellence. This is a turn for the worse because of how important good writing is in our society. If you write it down it's harder to fake it, it's harder to avoid saying what you really mean, than it is when you're speaking.

Anyone who knows what he's doing ought to be able to put it down I words. Anyone who knows what he thinks should be able to write it out. If you can't write down the idea you have, the chances are you don't have an idea. In conversation people keep saying "You know what I mean." I always feel like saying: No, damn it, I don't know what you mean; would you put it down on paper.

But there's a wide open field for writers and I hope some of you do it.

I hope some of you get into the Foreign Service. We've got to do a better job getting along with other - (Cheers.)

We've got to do a better job getting along with other countries. We're going to have to work with some international organization. It may not be the UN. But the United States has got to be willing to surrender some of our sovereignty to an international body. We cannot do it all ourselves. We shouldn't try to do it all ourselves.

If we weren't trying to police the whole world, we could spend the billions we'd save not making weapons on better schools, better books, better libraries, more museums. With half of our military budget, we could fix our bridges, repair our roads, and build new ones. We could fix our railroad system, have better mail delivery, build better airports, pay our teachers higher salaries, and enjoy more of all the good things the world has to offer.

No matter what you end up doing, no matter how technical your job may be, I hope you don't lose track of how satisfying physical labor is or forget that you can sweat and still use your brains. If I could influence any of you at all with what I'm saying today – and I realize that a speech like this will probably have no effect whatsoever on any of you, but I know the direction I'd send you if I could – I'd try to get you to face what's good about life and what's bad about life with intelligence, knowledge, and reason.

I wish you'd face the unknown and try to get to know it without trying to explain the inexplicable with manmade answers and superstitious nonsense. I wish you could look directly at the world and its problems and at your own life in relation to those problems and try to solve them logically with your brains.

I wish all of you would try to form your opinions about politics, the economy, even religion, by looking coldly and clearly at the evidence. Don't decide you're a Republican for life or a Democrat, or even an Episcopalian, a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim or a Buddhist, without considering the facts in light of the education you've had. (Applause)

The ability people have, even very smart people, to fool themselves and turn their backs on what their brains tell them is depressing to me. Not facing the facts doesn't make them bad people, of course. I think it usually comes from some kind of modesty. They feel that if everything they are and if everything they're going to become depends on their own ability, they're afraid they're in trouble. They don't think they're good enough to do it right.

If, on the other hand, they believe that success depends on luck, on hoping, on praying, on getting help from the government, or maybe winning the lottery, then they're not so worried. They feel that their destiny is in better hands than their own.

Well, I don't think it is, and I hope you can be persuaded that your future is in your own hands, not in anyone else's. That's a big responsibility you face, and that's why we all take this day, your graduation day, so seriously.

It's a tradition for commencement speeches to start out funny and end up sad, so I have a sad thought to end with. It's what happens to friends. You'll find long before you reach my age you will have made more friends than you have time to keep. I had 50 good friends when I was at Colgate. Seven were killed in World War II; but the others over the years, I kept in touch with about 10. I didn't lose touch with the rest of them because we no longer liked each other. We lost touch because there isn't time enough in life to be friends with everyone you feel friendly towards. Our lives diverged.

That's the big reason this is a sweet and sour day for you. It's sweet because you've gained a major objective in your life. It's sad because as I speak you're seeing many of your friends for the last time.

I'd finish by saying good luck, but, as I've indicated, it's a mistake to put much faith in luck. Wishing is okay and I wish you as good a life as I'm having.

Thank you. (Applause)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

City Council Choices: The Core Four

Boston holds municipal elections on Tuesday, November 8. My district city councilor, Mike Ross, is running unopposed, so the only real choices for me are in the at-large Boston City Council race.

I will be voting for Ayanna Pressley, John Connolly, Felix Arroyo and Steve Murphy. They are the four incumbents in the race, and after evaluating all of the candidates, I believe they are the best people for the job.

Every election, by definition, is a choice. From a high-level perspective, my picks reflect a picture of what Boston looks like today and it will look like in the future. I typically keep the future in mind when I vote; I would like to think most people do. And one other candidate in this year's race-- a former city councilor who wants his old job back-- well, in my opinion he represents too much of a return to the past.

Ayanna Pressley has an impressive paper resume. Born out of state, she was raised by her mother (who tragically passed away earlier this year after a long bout with an illness). Ayanna went to Boston University, and she worked her way through the ranks within the offices of various elected officials, including Senator John Kerry, and it was Kerry who flanked her when we first met. Few Boston politicians her age understand the truly diverse makeup of Boston and the challenges all Boston's residents face. Few can cross the apparent chasms presented by Boston's diversity better than Ayanna.

John Connolly is the hardest working politician I have ever met. He has spent the past several years, including two years after an initial defeat seeking the office he now holds, listening to people all over the City and developing forward-looking (dare I say "progressive") plans for Boston's future. He's taken a leadership with green and environmental issues and the concept of sustainability. He believes, like I do, that Boston's economy will be shaped by the industries that will define the future, and that the time is now to prepare an economic environment that is favorable to those industries.

Above all, what shapes all the politicians receiving my votes is their commitment to the nuts and bolts of constituent service. Felix Arroyo has sent me two cards in the mail when I appeared in the back pages of my neighborhood's weekly newspaper, congratulating me for my professional accomplishments. Steve Murphy is very close to the issues of groundwater refreshment that are so important to my neighborhood and adjacent Back Bay.

The existing four at-large city council candidates seem to get along together. They've claimed the past two years have been very productive. That cooperation and spirit is necessary to tackle the big challenges facing Boston, chief among them the lack of confidence in the city's schools and a consistent mindset among the young and bright that, while Boston is a great place to play, the suburbs are where strong families grow.

I have faith that the current incumbent at-large city councilors are up to the task.

Monday, October 10, 2011


The movie "Fame" was pretty bad. But there was one speech near the end that stood out. A diamond in the rough, if you will. An illegal copy is below, but here's the text:

"There are some things success is not. It's not fame; it's not money or power.

"Success is waking up in the morning so excited about what you have to do that you literally fly out the door.

"It's getting to work with people you love.

"Success is connecting with the world and making people feel. It's finding a way to bind together people who have nothing in common but a dream. It's falling asleep at night knowing you did the best job you could.

"Success is joy, and freedom and friendship.

"And success is love."

Jenny Garrison in "Fame" (2009)

Elizabeth Warren-- First Impressions

A pose with Elizabeth Warren
Hanover Street, Boston
October 9, 2011

U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren stopped by the North End in Boston yesterday, ahead of the annual Columbus Day parade. I got a chance to meet her and chat with her for a brief moment. I also saw her on the campaign trail. Some initial impressions are below.

-- She's a much better campaigner than Martha Coakley. No offense to our Attorney General, but Ms. Warren appears much more at ease with voters. She has a very casual manner that voters respond to. One example: We were flanking her, alerting people walking down the sidewalk to "meet Elizabeth Warren, candidate for U.S. Senate." One innocent walker turned around to look at us, and by the time he faced front, the candidate was right in front of him. "Well, I am right here, so you really don't have a choice," she said, while extending her hand.

-- She's very quick on her feet. I asked Ms. Warren her thoughts on the recent decision by Bank of America to charge fees for debit card use. "At the very least," she responded, "the banks need to be a lot more open about these changes so they can be held accountable." A fair point, and a good answer.

-- Her husband is fantastic. While Ms. Warren was working the crowd, a few volunteers and I chatted with her husband, Bruce Mann. For the rest of this campaign, I will refer to him as "The Man." He was incredibly personable, down to earth, and a great advocate for his wife. He told great stories about how he met Elizabeth and their professional pursuits.

Above all, I think the Warren-Mann team are likeable. I would want to sit down to chat with them about life over coffee, and I genuinely think they would be interested in such a conversation as well. That bodes very well for the long campaign ahead. Thank you, Ms. Warren, for running.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Technology That Just Works

You know the feeling when a new piece of technology just works? It's when, a few days after a purchase, you can't remember life without what you bought.

I have had that feeling a bunch of times in my life. The classic example is my iPhone. I bought it in July of 2009. At the time, you could still take out the AT&T SIM card from one phone and place it in another. I wasn't a huge smart phone guy; my phone before the iPhone was a disposable, pay-as-you-go phone I bought on New Year's Day 2009. As one could imagine, I bought the cheap phone in an emergency. I put in my SIM card from my old, destroyed phone, and I was off and running just fine.

When I bought the iPhone, I did so to take a look at these things called apps. It was for work, as I could see the iPhone as being an important new way for my clients to reach strategic audiences (I work in marketing). I figured I would flip the SIM card back between the iPhone and my pay-as-you-go phone as needed.

Well, it turns out I never used the pay-as-you-go model again. And I truly can't remember not having the iPhone.

I also can't remember what life was like before HD television. I do remember, before HD, that I would sometimes prefer to go to a bar to watch a really big game, just to experience a better view on better televisions. I have no such motivation now.

I am still waiting for the same feeling with my iPad. Time will tell.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Death of College Sports

College sports have changed dramatically in the last few weeks, but not because of anything that's happening on the field or court.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolted from the Big East Conference and have decided to join the ACC. The Big 12 Conference is slowly disintegrating. Long-time rivalries, such as Texas vs. Texas A&M, may go poof before the fans have a chance to dust off their parking lot grills.

The reason? Money, of course. Specifically money generated from television. A few large conferences have signed highly lucrative TV contracts to broadcast college football. Other conferences have established or are looking to establish TV networks of their own, taking queues from professional teams-- such as the Yankees-- that have turned TV into a profitable side-enterprise to the gloves and dirt on the diamond. Universities want their own pay dirt from these deals and are looking to change their conference allegiances, as necessary.

Don't get me wrong. College sports have long been professional pursuits, and individual teams have been violating the spirit of college's amateur status for years. The demise of former Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel hit deep in the core of even the most optimistic football fan. Everyone, it seems, cheats to get ahead, and then hides behind apologies and nuances when the moves are uncovered. To quote UCONN basketball coach Jim Calhoun, "We may have broken rules...but we don't cheat."

The doublethink behind the obfuscation of responsibility demonstrated by college teams--these are, after all, teams of students who are allegedly learning about life from their coaches--means bad things for the actual spirit of the college game. Then again, I am being very naive. College sports got sick long ago. The latest moves are just symptoms that the disease has metastasized.

Consider the thousands of athletes that that are playing college sports for the right reason-- for a chance at a college degree and the scholarship that helps pay for it. These gymnasts, wrestlers, softball players and participants in numerous other sports-- they occupy a place the New York Times labels as "non revenue" teams. Given the expected changes in conference alignments, these true student athletes now will be forced to travel long distances to participate. Baylor, which is in Texas, might join the Big East, which includes the University of Connecticut.

I have done the flight from New England to Texas. I can't imagine being a college athlete having to take that flight, play in a contest (let's say men's tennis), then fly back home in time to study for a midterm exam. Geographic boundaries have no place in the new era of college sports, the students themselves be damned.

The original purpose of the college scholarship, to recognize the dedicated student-athlete who might need a little financial help to get a degree...well that all seems so juvenile now. You either generate revenue in college athletics, or you don't really matter.

In this mindset, enter the laughable state of athletics at my Alma Mater, Boston University. Alumni joke that the BU football team has not lost a game in over a decade. Football was eliminated in 1997. And while we are derided by other college grads for our own athletic pursuits, I now think BU students are clearly better off. BU cannot be distracted by the hullabaloo happening elsewhere.

Ironically enough, it is at BU-- a school with no football program-- that some of the most groundbreaking research regarding football concussions is taking place. BU's research was cited in league-union negotiations during the recent NFL lockout; the university is helping to make football a safer sport. BU's decision to terminate its own football program has inevitably made its own campus safer for academics, free from the harm of professional college football.

The seismic symptoms within the college athletic apparatus are happening fast, and the governing bodies seemed powerless to get in the way. College sports are not regulated. Which means greed and American capitalism can run their course. As Gordon Gekko famously put it, "Greed is good."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Impressed With Suzanne Lee

Suzanne Lee is an impressive candidate. The school teacher is running to be the next Boston city councilor for district one, an area that includes Chinatown, the South End and South Boston. I have met Lee a few times. She stopped by the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee earlier this month.

Lee's resume in education makes her ideal to be a city councilor. The quality of Boston's schools is a huge issue for the future of the city. Better schools mean more college graduates (like me) will choose to stay here, versus moving to the suburbs. More confidence in schooling means stronger neighborhoods. It's hard to argue with Lee's views regarding education, since she's been in the classroom for so long. She experienced the very first day of busing in this city.

If I could vote for Lee this coming Tuesday, in the Boston preliminary municipal election, I would. She is challenging the incumbent and one other candidate; the top two vote-getters Tuesday move on to the final election in early November. However, the district city council seat Lee is aiming for does not represent me.

Moreover, on a sliver of Boston is voting on Tuesday. There are less than nine at-large city council candidates, which means all the candidates will pass on to the final election (scheduled for early November). So only precincts with more than two candidates in their respective district city council races need a preliminary. Suzanne Lee is a candidate in one of those races.

If you live in district one where Lee is campaigning, I urge you to cast your vote in her favor Tuesday. These elections have a very, very small turnout. Your vote will matter.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who Decides What's "In"?

Last month I met up with a couple friends over at Whiskey Priest, which is near the new convention center on the South Boston waterfront. We got there about 4 or so on a Saturday afternoon, and we left about 10. The place was a zoo, with a line a few blocks down the street as we walked to our car. I remember just a summer ago that Whiskey Priest was never crowded.

Somebody decided the place is now "in." I mean, the place hasn't changed its menu. The inside looks the same. The roofdeck is the same. Yet this year, the place is packed, whereas last year the place was empty. It certainly helps that a few other restaurants have been added down the street, such as Remy's and a fancy steak restaurant, but how should that affect the popularity of Whiskey Priest. And who gets to decide that the area is worth going to?

I have lived in Boston long enough to have seen a few "in-and-out" cycles. A place is suddenly in, and everyone wants to go. And just as quickly it's out and only the dorks are inside. It happened with Jury's, which is in a hotel that used to be the Boston Police Headquarters. When Jurys opened, you couldn't get inside unless you arrived at 1 p.m. or new the bouncer. The place has an attractive outside space, a rarity in Boston. Yet today, the bar is empty most of the time. In fact, I think they had to change the name; it's not even called Jurys anymore

Or take Post 390, which I have never been to, because I was always worried it would be too crowded if I showed up. Well, I guess everyone who used to go to Post 390 now goes to Whiskey Priest, 'cause Post 390 is dead as a doornail.

Being that I work in marketing, I understand that there are fads, and that our peers have the most powerful influence on us. And there obviously are forces in play in Boston that involve both fads and peer-to-peer marketing. A few people "check out" a new bar and that has a parabolic momentum impact. Suddenly hoards are eager to find the new bar.

My work doesn't involve promoting restaurants or clubs, but there are pretty neat Internet services out there that are trying to gauge people's influence on others. As Malcolm Gladwell has written, there are people who connect, and there are people who have a profound impact on other opinions. And you need both to "cross the chasm" and create market momentum. As Boston's casual bar scene would indicate, the actual differences among the products don't matter. Beer is beer, and the inside of one bar pretty much is similar to the inside of another. But get the right people to go, and presto, you're "in."

As for me, I am now interested in checking out Post 390, because it will be easy to get in, and as I remember it, people say the place is pretty cool. And, oh yes, I am dork.

Current bars that I think are in: Remy's on the Waterfront; Liberty Hotel; Red Lantern; and for the college kids: Tavern in the Square (TitS)
Bars that are suddenly out: Post 390

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Casino Miss-Out Watch

Debate is soon to begin again within the Mass. state legislature to allow casinos in Massachusetts. My views on casinos are clear. I don't like them.

More immediately, however, I am going to start watching the opportunities that we miss out on here in Mass. because of the casino debate. I noted one example the last time debate ensued on Beacon Hill.

There are much more fruitful discussions we could be having right now about how to stimulate job growth. Unfortunately, all those conversations will be put on hold... hopefully not for long.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

How to Tell You are a Morning Person

I have long thought that morning people get screwed. We wake up earlier than everyone else and tend to matters while others are still slumbering. Then we are required to stay out late with everyone else.

Last night, a couple friends and I discussed how to tell if one is a morning person. We outlined the obvious-- when someone wake's up. But that might be an artificial statistic, in many ways, since the time we get up is dictated on many mornings by work obligations.

I suggested a more subjective metric-- the time of the day when you are most productive. For me, it's between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. So yes, I am clearly a morning person.

This Saturday morning, I can say one is definitely a morning person if he/she is stuck watching "From Justin to Kelly," a movie musical starring Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini of "American Idol" fame. You know someone ain't a great actress if she's given the same name on screen that she has in real life. And yes, I am watching said movie right now.

Morning people, unite!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Beacon Hill, Boston
August 28, 2011

Point O' Woods Beach
South Lyme, Conn.
August 28, 2011
(Photo Courtesy Mark Levanto)

During a Hurricane, One Can Eat Cake

Empty bread shelves at Walmart.
Norwich, Conn.
August 26, 2011
(Photo Courtesy of Gina Levanto)

There's no bread in advance of Hurricane Irene, but there are Suzy-Qs and donuts!

In Boston, All Politics is SUPER Local

This is where I show my ignorance of Boston political history, for I learned last week that there was a time in Boston when all city councilors were at-large city councilors. The current city council make-up-- nine district councilors and four at-large councilors-- has been in place only since 1982. Prior to that, the council had nine members, all of whom represented the entire city.

District city council representation is vital to the city. I have written in the past about how Boston is a city of neighborhoods, and I have enjoyed meeting residents from other neighborhoods to learn about their homes, their favorite restaurants, and what conditions are like throughout Boston.

To be sure, my concerns about Boston are shared by residents in all the neighborhoods I have seen. We all care about safe streets and better schools. We all worry about economic development and jobs in the city. However, each specific neighborhood has its micro-specific issues that are unique. And that's why district city councilors are so important.

A micro-specific issue on Beacon Hill and in the Back Bay is trash. And neighbors in those areas have been very creative on how to keep streets clean. One idea being tossed around is whether certain downtown neighborhoods really need three days of trash pick up. Trash is picked up three days a week in my area of Beacon Hill, which means trash is on the streets three days a week. Considering refuse is put outside the night before pickup, that's a lot of time to have trash at the curb.

My neighbors and I see reducing the number of trash pick up days as a way to make streets cleaner by reducing the amount of time the trash is at the curb. It makes sense to us, and it makes sense to our district city councilor, Mike Ross, who has been supportive of our investigation of the issue. To be clear, Councilor Ross hasn't decided if he wants to reduce a day of pick up, and neither has the Beacon Hill Civic Association. It would be a major change for the neighborhood, so we're all still looking into it.

Removing trash pick-up days to make streets cleaner seems counter-intuitive, especially those who don't follow micro-specific neighborhood issues. Take the at-large Boston City Council candidates. At the "First in the City" City Council forum in June, hosted by Boston's Ward 5 Democratic Committee, the candidates were asked about the possibility of removing a day of trash pick up. A few of the candidates, most notably former City Councilor Michael Flaherty, reacted with near abhorrence. Mr. Flaherty said he would strongly oppose removing a day of pick-up, noting that it would be part of his efforts to keep Boston clean.

To be fair, Mr. Flaherty has not been involved in my discussions, so he doesn't understand that removing a day of pick up can actually make the streets cleaner. Mr. Flaherty has been out of the game for a year or two following his unsuccessful bid for Mayor, so he has some catching up to do. At the same time, it has to be hard for at-large city councilors to understand every micro-specific neighborhood issue in the city. One could make the argument that that's the place for district city councilors.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This is an Old Photo

Domenico and Margaretta (Lucy) Tedeschi
Somewhere in Italy
Sometime between 1900 and 1910

The young lady in the photo above is my great-grandmother. My dad's dad's mom. She's in Italy (allegedly) standing next to her younger brother. They had yet to travel to America, where she would meet my great-grandfather, Melchiore Levanto, and would settle in the city of Norwich, Conn.

I remember my great grandmother. We called her "Nana" (with a soft a). She was a very bad driver, and I remember her son, my grandfather, who sold insurance, was often coming to her aid after an accident.

The photo above, however, definitely struck me. I wonder what she was thinking. I wonder what she would say today if she looked back over my life and the lives of my brothers, my dad and my dad's family.

I snapped with my iPhone the picture of the photo above last week at the Levanto annual family reunion. I am happy I went.

A Dislocated Finger and a Busted iPhone: Two CR Successes

If you are going to injury yourself, a dislocated finger delivers quite a bit of return. On Wednesday night, playing pick-up softball with co-workers, I tripped over a bat after hitting a weak fly ball to center. I stood up to find the top portion of my left index finger pointing in a direction it shouldn't. It was one of those "look-away" moments, when you want to show everyone your injury but the recoil from the sight is aggressive.

Except the injured finger really didn't hurt that much, and it led to one of the most pleasant ER experiences of my life. Five minutes down the road I checked in at the Newton Wellesley hospital emergency room. I was managed by a very capable ER technician, radiology technician, and even a volunteer or two. It proved to me one of the most understated ways to save money in our healthcare system---better communications skills.

In general, customer relations (or the acronym CR I use in the title of this post) is an oft overlooked area for saving money. Customers can cost individual vendors a lot of money if they keep calling or visiting help desks. In a hospital setting, the equivalent of customers-- patients-- can be overwhelmingly expensive.

Doctors are stereotypically bad communicators. They speak in short sentences, use doctor-speak even though regular English is available, and have completely illegible handwriting. The problem with this is fairly self-apparent. Patients don't understand their doctors, and when something happens next, they panic and go to the emergency room. And ER visits are expensive.

My experience at Newton Wellesley was remarkable because those who treated me were remarkable communicators. They carefully explained to me each procedure, spoke in plain english (a contusion is just a bruise, for heaven's sake), and they related to me on a personal level (I was wearing a UCONN basketball t-shirt). The head of the ER was the attending doctor, and even he was pleasant.

I also learned that the sympathy-to-pain quotient is exceptionally in the patent's favor in the case of a dislocated digit. My finger didn't really hurt, and my prognosis since stepping in the ER was good. But the finger, even I admit, looked really bad.

While sapping up the oohs and ahhs from co-workers the day after my rather ignominious injury on the baseball diamond, my iPhone started acting up. When I placed a call, I couldn't hear anything. I have had other random issues with the phone since I got it in June (replacing my old iPhone). But not being able to place phone calls... well, that's kind of fundamental.

The iPhone saga is not a long one; in fact, not even a saga. I took the iPhone to the Apple Store in Burlington, and the techs there gave me a new phone. No questions asked. That's the type of customer service that earns ridiculous loyalty for Apple, and has made them the largest tech company in the world.

Sometimes we all overlook good customer service when it happens. We should expect it, but we should also hold up examples for others to emulate.

While I am at it, kudos to JetBlue. I sent a tweet two weeks ago saying I was boarding a JetBlue flight to Vegas from Boston. JetBlue tweeted me back, wishing me a pleasant flight. That's cool.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Information is a Scary Thing

Make no mistake about it, I am a Democrat. However, I am not afraid to talk about what the other side thinks, and why they advocate the way that they do. My friend Tom once said a long time ago that he liked how I would express my belief, but then I would back up and say why the other side feels the way that they do---even noting when my adversaries in a political debate had good points.

We're overwhelmed with information nowadays, and sometimes that's not a good thing. We all spend so much time catching up to the information that we sometimes forget the pig picture.

The recently ended debt-limit debate in Washington is a case in point. What I find amazing, in hindsight, is that at some point, several months ago, we all decided that additional debt was a bad thing, and now was the time to fix the issue. The elections last fall convinced us that the growing debt meant uncertainty for business. The voters sent representatives to Congress that were hellbent on reducing the size of government and shrinking government spending. The debt ceiling debate presented the best opportunity to make the voters' sentiment heard.

The only problem is that, heading into the debt ceiling debate, there was no sign-- at all-- that our debt was having a negative impact on the economy. Investors around the world, including large foreign governments already possessing large quantities of U.S. debt, were willing to buy more of it, and with incredibly cheap costs to the U.S. But we were convinced that we needed to stop taking on the debt-- and now.

The truth is, debt isn't the biggest issue we all face right now. It's the crappy economy, and more specifically, the fact that so many are out of work. Yet when one Congressman tried to make the point that the debt is not a concern right now (that creating jobs, instead, was) he was eviscerated by the media. Somehow, even the jobless have been convinced that reducing the size of government will help them get jobs more so than a government that is actively helping them find a job.

Truth be told, we Americans just decided to dramatically cut government spending at a time when the government seems to be the only entity willing to spend. Consumer spending is down. Consumer confidence is in the toilet. No one is buying a house, and even fewer are building houses (an exception being my parents). Companies are spending-- a little-- but most are hoarding the cash they have.

With the government now cutting back spending, I am not sure who is going to pick up spending as a result. The impact will be felt hardest by the individual states, who are dependent on federal spending to make up for tax revenue deficiencies (keep in mind that unlike the feds, state governments can't just print more money to bail themselves out).

We got what we voted for when the debt ceiling compromise was passed. I hope no one is surprised that the markets tanked in response.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yankees Fans Like Boston

No lightning as this Yankees fan touches the Green Monster
Fenway Park, Boston
June 3, 2011

There are an awful lot of Yankees fans in Boston. I see them when the Yankees play. We have a sort of underground code involving head bobs, hand gestures and other methods of acknowledgement when Yankees on the field do good things.

We live in Boston because we like it here. Shocker I know. Seven months out of the year-- from April until October-- we are derided by those who know us and our allegiance. I have had beer spilled on me, I have been laughed at countless times, and the number of creative Evil Empire references I have heard is priceless. We are reminded that we are the enemy every day. Yet we are still here, meaning we must not just like Boston; we gotta LOVE Boston.

One of my favorite parts about Boston is Fenway Park. Yes, I love watching a game there. I love the charm of a stadium built when stadiums had to battle for land versus train tracks and highway right-of-ways, and ultimately lose (hence the Green Monster). I love sitting in right field and being oriented so as looking straight ahead means you look at the Green Monster, and you need to kink your neck to the left to see the pitcher. I love sitting in seats that are way too small. I love drinking beer before the game on Yawkey Way.

I like Fenway because it really is so welcoming. Driving home from work each night (I work in Waltham and live downtown), I pass under Brookline Avenue and immediately to the left of the park on the Mass. Turnpike. Hoards of fans pass over me. The lights of Fenway on on a warm summer evening. There is nothing more inviting.

Truth be told, Boston is a welcoming city with a welcoming skyline. I see it quote often landing at Logan airport. I hope the wind is out of the north, so the plane will land on runway 4. Out the left side of the plane is a breathtaking view of downtown.

Rivalry aside, the residents of Boston (Yankee fans and Red Sox fans) all share the same concerns. We all want the same things from our elected officials. We all hope of raising families, providing a good education to our kids. In return for receiving those things, we give back to our communities.

And we all love to watch baseball.

I often say it takes a special type of Yankees fan to live in Boston. Each spring I call Comcast, my cable provider, and request that they add the YES network to the lineup (for those not familiar, YES carries the majority of Yankees games). Typically, the attendant has a nice insult-- or worse-- to throw back at me.

One year, I pleaded my case. "You know, there are a lot of Yankee fans in Boston."

The attendant's reply: "Well, there are a lot of Red Sox fans, too."

A special type of Yankees fan lives in Boston? It's perhaps better stated that it takes a special type of city to be welcoming to fans of its dreaded rival. The lights of Fenway, the skyline, the restaurants and bars... they are welcoming even to me. But don't worry, I am almost always at home, locked away, when the Yankees and Red Sox face off. I know not to push my luck.

Monday, July 25, 2011

An Ode to Apple

My Apple collection over morning coffee (photo taken by my iPhone)
South Lyme, Conn.
July 25, 2011

After a very convincing argument from friend and high-tech entrepreneur Doug Levin, I bought an Apple iPad a few weeks ago. Now, I am not going to say that "it changed my life" forever, especially considering I am still reeling at the amount I paid-- considering the accessories for which I splurged, but the iPad is a pretty amazing little device.

The iPad has become my media center. I have signed up for a digital New York Times subscription. I also use it to ready the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, the New Yorker and Sports Illustrated. I love the CNN app, which cleverly combines video and text, along with the CNN radio hourly update, in a way that complements my other news sources.

I am connected into my MobileMe account through the gallery and idisk applications, allowing me to view documents on the iPad as part of both professional and personal pursuits. I often surf for videos on the iPad and then use the built in sharing feature to watch on my television, channeling the Apple TV box I bought this spring.

I am now fully hooked into the consumerization of IT trend. I use the iPad to check work email. The touch-pad keyboard is a bit clunky, but it is way better than the interface on the iPhone.

Yes, I also have an iPhone, and I am typing this post on my MacBook. I am a big supporter of Apple, both financially and through word of mouth. There was a day earlier in July where I bought a new iPhone, the iPad and a Shuffle within three hours (from two different stores). So I probably new ahead of time that Apple's earnings would be phenomenal.

I will say one thing that I have proven-- the iPhone and iPad do balance out a use of a laptop. It is true that the web surfing and email checking I do on the phone and the iPad I can do on my laptop. The cynics make this argument nicely, especially related to the iPad, as at least the iPhone serves a mobile purpose. It would be hard to carry the iPad everywhere to check email.

On the whole, however, the iPad and iPhone have cut down my laptop use dramatically. The overwhelming majority of my computer use involves simple tasks that are easily done by the devices. Checking email. Looking up the Yankees score. Investigating something on Wikipedia. Laptop not necessary.

So hats off to Steve Jobs. He truly is the computer genius of our time. And certainly I worry about Apple's founder as well, given his illness. The last time Steve stepped away from the helm of Apple, the product line suffered. I know from personal experience.

I bought my first Apple product in 1994, when I moved to Boston to go to Boston University. I pooled together a lot of money and bought a Powerbook 150 laptop and a printer. It was a big deal that the computer had a modem; at the time, "dialing-in" to BU's campus network to check this thing called email was bleeding-edge stuff.

I still have the Powerbook 150. That sucker survived years of college pounding, numerous term papers, and a three-month jaunt to Washington during my semester there in 1996.

My brother Scott was so impressed by it that he ran out to the local computer store and bought his town Apple laptop. Except something had happened in the delta between my purchase and his. Steve Jobs had left Apple.

My brother's machine, was, to put it nicely, a piece of crap. It crashed all the time, and it froze when it didn't crash. He had a color screen that never really looked right. He hated it.

Steve Jobs Apple products and non-Steve Jobs apple products are the difference between the iPad and the iCrap.

For now, at least, I am enjoying my Apple-powered life.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Celebrating Independence... On July 3rd

Since 1996, my parents and I have watched a 4th of July concert on the Esplanade in Boston the night before Independence Day. Back in 1996, it was a little known secret that the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra would rehearse on July 3rd, a final prep before the famous concert held during the evening of July 4th.

After 16 years, we have the rehearsal concert down to a science. We make the commitment to show up first in line so we can be right up front for the show. Since we're camped out for so long, interesting stuff happens. Last night, one of the performers, Norm Lewis, came to visit the spectators.

Norm Lewis on the Esplanade
July 3, 2011

Amazingly enough, I am posting this video before Lewis even has a chance to perform during the "actual" performance on July 4th. I guess you can call the above a rehearsal ahead of the rehearsal.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Golf Carts Should Be Outlawed

I ask for legislation making golf carts illegal, except for the handicapped or elderly.

This past Saturday I joined my parents and my brother Brett at the TPC River Highlands golf course in Cromwell, Conn., where we were volunteer marshalls during the Traveller's PGA golf championship. One of our jobs was to block pedestrians from a golf cart path so that forty or so golf carts driven mainly by 14 year olds could whiz by at ludicrous speeds without killing anyone.

About three in the afternoon, I noticed that most of the golf carts were empty. Some of them hauled food to the hospitality tents that lined the 18th fairway. But the overwhelming majority transported people and nothing else.

Now this might sound like I am whining about having to stand on my feet for 12 hours, lugging a chair, umbrella, sweatshirt and several other assorted items everywhere (I actually had a good time), but when exactly did walking fall out of style?

Today I woke at the family beach cottage in Old Lyme, Conn. My mom and I went for a walk. We walked by zero other people. No dogs, no kids, and nobody we recognized. Don't worry, there actually was an awful lot of activity. We were passed by about 10 golf carts. In one case two residents were sitting in a parked golf cart chatting with the owners of another cottage. They wrapped up their conversation, said their goodbyes, and whizzed away on the cart. Apparently it was too much for them to walk.

Later, one of my other brothers told one of his several anecdotes about golf cart drivers. He noted how at one particular campground in Conn., the visitors will line their golf carts up for a special event, configuring them in such a way so that they never have to leave the cart during the show. Their adult beverages of choice are in the basket behind them. How convenient.

Kids today drive golf carts like maniacs. On the golf course yesterday, they also were rather perturbed when they had to wait for attendees to pass by. During the most congested parts of the day, walking probably would have been faster.

At the beach, I see kids whizzing by on golf carts in front of the cottage, clearly overloaded. There's one in the passenger seat, and three or four clutching to the back of the cart, with various parts of their anatomy perilously close to danger. You can't help but say out loud, "Not safe," or at the very least, "Not smart."

No wonder kids today are obese (as are their parents). A pleasant walk on the beach is not possible without a golf cart. Taking a bathroom break while in a tent at the campground is too hard unless no physical exertion is necessary to get to the latrine.

Two of the kids on the golf course Saturday did have to exert themselves. The golf cart they were riding ran out of gas, leaving their mode of transport sputtering. They dismounted the cart and started pushing. Now it was hot, and within a few minutes they were breathing heavy, but they managed to get the cart moving on the way to somewhere-- I am assuming a garage of some sort.

A mere ten yards away, I couldn't help but smile a bit as I watched. Yes, I am going to hell.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It's Michael Flaherty Against the World

The Boston Courant related it to the Iowa Caucuses, and one city council at-large candidate called it the "bell weather" of this election cycle. A forum for at-large Boston city council candidates packed a Back Bay community room this past Tuesday, kicking off the 2011 election season with a nice burst of interest.

My ward committee, the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee, hosted the forum, which drew six of the seven candidates-- Incumbents Stephen Murphy, Felix Arroyo and John Connolly; and challengers Michael Flaherty, William Dorcena and Sean Ryan. Only Ayanna Pressley-- also an incumbent-- couldn't make it, and she had a very acceptable reason. Her mom is very, very sick.

Numerous outlets, including Universal Hub, Dorchester Reporter, Boston Courant and The Boston Phoenix, have written about the forum, so mostly to get things off my chest I add my own observations:

1) This race is Michael Flaherty vs. the world. Flaherty was an at-large city councilor until two years ago, when he decided to run for Mayor (and was defeated by Mayor Tom Menino by a large margin). Now Flaherty wants his old job back, and it's clear the incumbent councilors are not in his favor. Councilor Connolly was the most direct, basically telling the audience at the forum that the current slate of at-large city councilors was the best slate since the current City Council makeup was introduced. Flaherty followed by noting he is "beholden to no one." To me, Flaherty seemed a bit off during the night.

2) The First Church in Boston doesn't have air conditioning. The forum's venue, the First Church in Boston, became quite warm during the event. It also didn't help that the room was packed.

3) The three candidates who earned the ward committee's endorsement all contacted members directly. Ward 5 dems endorsed Connolly, Arroyo and Pressley. Arroryo sent committee members a letter. Connolly called members ahead of the forum, and Pressley both made calls and submitted a letter that was read aloud to the membership.

For the record, I cast my endorsement votes (as a member of the committee) for Pressley, Connolly, Arroyo and Murphy (the four incumbents).

Thanks to all who made the forum an overwhelming success!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Oldie but a Goodie

With the demise of the local movie store, I sometimes can't satisfy the whim of watching a movie I enjoyed as a child. One such movie is "Legal Eagles." No, it's not available on Netflix. Not yet, anyway. Today, I spotted it as a free movie available via COMCAST on demand.

It's scenes like this one that likely compell me to watch. Random scenes that have no bearing on the plot but give the movie a comfortable feel. I just wonder how long it took them to cast "Ed."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"First in the City" City Council Forum Tuesday

If you look at elections as happening in four year cycles, this year's election should be a sleeper. There are no federal or even state elections on the ballot. The only elected officials voters will choose this fall are the city councilors who will represent them in the City of Boston.

Then former City Councilor Michael Flaherty decided to run, and the race suddenly got interesting. Flaherty was an at-large Boston City Councilor, and then two years ago he decided to run for Mayor (and got trounced by Mayor Tom Menino). Now, Flaherty wants his old job back.

Who am I kidding? In reality, this year's election is still a sleeper. The Flaherty vote provides the only real drama. Truth be told, most people don't care about local elections, which is sad, since the local officials tend to have the most impact on issues that people actually care about: crime, education, and affordable housing, to name a few. The people who do vote this year will be special; not many will go to the polls. If you say you are voting, I guarantee you will get special attention from those running for city council in Boston.

Certainly this election season really matters for the four incumbent at-large city councilors, who would like to keep their jobs despite Flaherty's decision to run. For that reason and for those candidates, this Tuesday's "First in the City" City Council candidates' forum is very, very important.

My ward committee, the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee, has a history of hosting the first city council candidates' forum for at-large candidates every two years. This year's forum promises to upstage the event's all-ready significant legacy. David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix will be the moderator. Boston Neighborhood Network will tape the event to broadcast it at a later date on COMCAST cable. Reporters from the Beacon Hill/Back Bay Patch, Universal Hub and the Dorchester Reporter, among other outlets, are poised to cover the event.

If you would like to go, the forum starts this Tuesday, June 21 at about 7 p.m. at the First Church in Boston, which is at 66 Marlborough Street (corner of Marlborough and Berkeley Streets) in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. The forum will be an hour long. All seven of the presumed candidates for at-large city council have confirmed to the committee that they will be there: John Connolly, Ayanna Pressley, Felix Arroyo, Stephen Murphy, Will Dorcena, the previously mentioned Michael Flaherty, and Sean Ryan.

I have been a member of my ward committee for three years now, so I have some free advice for the candidates. Two simple suggestions:

1) Show up. Certainly the members of my ward committee have their quirks, but the group assembled Tuesday will be comprised of very motivated, active voters. If you impress, you will earn volunteers and donors... maybe even an endorsement by the committee, which brings other benefits given the committee's sizable bank account. As State Treasurer Steve Grossman reminded me last weekend, it was Woody Allen who said, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." That could not be more true on Tuesday. I know there are members of my committee who will literally write off candidates that don't bother to appear at events like this.

2) Make your thoughts local. The forum is being hosted by the Ward 5 Democratic committee, so make sure you know geographically what Ward 5 includes and cater your comments to the concerns of that geography. We're talking Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Chinatown, part of the South End and part of Fenway. If you talk about trash, keep in mind that we don't have room downtown for large trash receptacles. If you talk about crime, remember that Fenway Park rests inside the ward. I know this sounds simple, and I know it sounds like I am preaching, but you don't know how many times candidates have appeared before the group and talked about their experiences in South Boston or West Roxbury. Not gonna work. As Speaker O'Neill said, "All politics is local."

To the candidates, thank you for agreeing to be at the "First in the City" City Council candidates forum. I am looking forward to it. Good luck.