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.