Friday, December 5, 2014

Something at hand?

It is hard not to feel that something is at hand, that some moment of consequence is upon us.  The rage of the people is palpable.  The disgust of our populous is unmistakeable.  We are perhaps at a turning point. 

It used to be popular to lament the culture of violence that had overtaken our land.  From armed street thugs to video game mayhem to the endless blood-soaked action of our films, it seemed that there was no bulwark against our insatiable appetite for death. As a people, so the story went, we were craven. We even were capable of producing the frightening prospect of the disillusioned teenager who, to solve the misery of his existence, ported an assault rifle to the one place that probably treated him the best — his school — so that he could kill fellow students, children just like him.  Our frontier mindset meant every conflict was resolved with a gun fight. Our beleaguered police chiefs were simply overmatched in a world gone mad.

But the non-indictments in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York show in stark relief that another culture of violence has overtaken this land. It is prevalent and equally as deadly, and very real. It is perpetrated not by the citizenry on each other but by the police on its people.

It is in a word disgusting, and in another word terrifying. The idea that a man with a badge and a uniform, entrusted with the authority to use a gun and the deadly force it implies, is simply unaccountable to any level of society except for his own superiors is what I think George Orwell might call “a police state”.  In a land that has been trying to get its diminished mind around such huge trends as income inequality, wealth disparity, gentrification, immigration, the explosion of information and the huge political gulf that separates red states from blue states, it seems as though this latest episode might be a tipping point, when a system supposedly serving the people seems only to be subjugating them. At this moment, we may all look up and wonder, how did we get here? And then we may ask the much more important question — what the hell do we need to do to get out?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

More on Ferguson, this time cars.

It is interesting to note that across the country, blocking roads and freeways has been one consistent method protesters have used to register their outrage over the grand jury’s refusal to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown shooting.  Meanwhile, public transit continues unscathed.

That must be because like all Americans the protesters have an intuitive understanding that by depriving people of their freedom to drive, they create as effective a disruption as any our culture can endure.  Simply put, there is no better physical expression of what John Lennon called "I, me, mine" than the automobile. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

John Doar.

I read with great sadness that John Doar has died. 

John Doar was a great American. He served us all with great distinction in his many roles in public life, and we are a better country for his courage and integrity.

It was my honor and pleasure to get to know him.

Here is his obituary in The New York Times.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why The Dems Lost in MA ... One More Take

In the era of saturation coverage and Monday morning quarterbacking where all our mistakes become obvious in retrospect though we manage to miss them when it could have really counted, and Facebook is filled with angry denunciations that Our Democracy is Officially Broken, though these same pronouncements would have miraculously morphed into self-satisfaction if Democrats had  won the day on Tuesday — in light of all of this, I will not demonstrate better judgement by keeping my mouth shut, but rather offer my own unexamined, unresearched, unuseful hypothesis on this week’s Democratic misfortune, at least for the state of Massachusetts. Ok, here goes ...

The state’s Democrats quite simply are suffering from Election Fatigue.  It's as simple as that. Every election for the past five years, and there have been many of them, has been a fire drill, and it’s worn them out.

Starting with Ted Kennedy’s death in August 2009, Massachusetts Democrats have been asked to rally round the party banner again and again.  To put a number on it, on average every five and a half months there has been an election, a convention or  a major political announcement in the Commonwealth.

In January 2010, five months after Kennedy's death, Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Scott Brown in the special election to fill that seat. Nine months later, voters went to the polls in mid-term primaries, and then two months after that, they were back in the voting booth for the general election.  Then, ten months later, Elizabeth Warren announced she was running for the U.S. Senate seat won by Brown two years earlier. With primaries in September of 2012, and then the general election in November of that year, voters and activists had had a lot to process over the past four years.  But it wasn’t done yet.  In December of 2012, President Obama announced that he was picking John Kerry as his nominee for Secretary of State.  The election to fill his senate seat was set for June 2013, with the primaries held in April of that year. Five months after ensuring that Elizabeth Warren beat Scott Brown, voters were asked to go back to the polls to pick Kerry’s replacement, and on April 30, the Democrats chose Ed Markey as their standard bearer, and three months later, he was elected to the seat.

So, when Martha Coakley emerged again in 2014, there just wasn’t the energy left in the tank to produce the margin of difference she needed. Her challenge was to find that boost among her electorate, and it was something she just couldn’t do. In a Republican year, in a Democratic state, the batteries simply were too drained to get her where we wanted to go.  Here's what the history looks like as a chart:

Ted Kennedy dies
Special Election
Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley for US Senate
Democratic primary

General Election
Deval Patrick re-elected governor

Elizabeth Warren announces
Democratic primary
Elizabeth Warren chosen as party’s nominee
General Election
Elizabeth Warren elected to US Senate; President Obama re-elected

Obama names John Kerry to be Secretary of State
Democratic primary
Ed Markey chosen as the party’s nominee for Senate
Special Election
Ed Markey elected to US Senate
State Convention

Democratic primary
Martha Coakley chosen as party’s nominee
General Election
Martha Coakley loses to Charlie Baker

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Networking in my automobile.

Exiting the Home Depot parking lot, I drove north until I could get under I-93, at the spot where twelve lanes of the interstate lift off to fly over Somerville and Medford. At Route 38, I stopped for a red light.

While waiting for the light to change, I had a change of heart. In
the metaphors of today’s digital world, I wondered: wasn't our road building craze of the last century nothing more than a massive connectivity upgrade? After all, what are roads but a network? What is a freeway but increased bandwidth? What are cars but the iPhone of their day? In the end, is anything different but the size of it all? Aren't roads just a technologically crude version of the internet and all its modern offshoots, virtues we promote shamelessly today?

More than that, Planner's Bible says that roads, particularly interstates, undermine cities. Actually, I now think quite the opposite. Their construction accentuated the importance of cities rather than diminished them.  Roads connected surrounding areas to the urban centers that supported them. Without that network, cities were purely local phenomena. With the network, cities became regional phenomena. New York stretched to New Jersey and Connecticut. Boston stretched to central Massachusetts and New Hampshire. As the reach of the city expanded, so too did access to the city. 

Then, like Walter Mitty, my light turned green, and I drove on.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

There's always a story behind a story.

True story — Two guys drinking at a bar start talking about someone who won the Massachusetts lottery twice in six months.  

To one, it smacked of a fix, someone on the inside helping out a friend. To the other, it was just blind good luck.

Then they started to trading their own stories.  One bought a scratch ticket once that won him $20,000.  Instead of bringing it into the lottery office, he sold the it to a “professional gambler” in a cash transaction completed in a parking lot. The “gambler” took his cut and handed over the rest of it in bills. The guy said his pocket was bulging bigger than you could imagine. 

Not to be outdone, the other won $44,000 once at the dog track.  He claimed he’d been offered the same deal, with a “professional gambler” willing to buy the winning ticket off him. Honestly it didn’t sound true.  The dollar amount sounded like too much too.  

It was a kind of nuclear arms race of “you won’t believe how much I've won” stories. But as I listened to these two, I couldn’t help but feel with both of them, there was a story behind these stories. Because there’s always a story behind a story.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The havoc the wind can wreak.

The fate of a plastic plate — that was my practical and philosophical question. 

I had a vision for it, you can be sure. It was going to end up in a recycle bin. Of that I was certain. I would put it there by my own hand. 

However, it wasn’t as simple a proposition as that. Outdoors, near the water, the wind was kicking up, as wind near the water will do. The plate and I were there too. A warm October day and large buildings nearby meant it was gusting. Sudden bursts emerged without warning. 

Oh, did I mention the sandwich? The heavy brick-like sandwich? The tasteless pointless sandwich that nevertheless aided me by holding the plate down? The bread was cardboard. The meat was colorless and indecipherable. Was it turkey? Was it ham? It was simply impossible to tell. But the help was appreciated.

The seagulls down by the waterfront are a savvy group. They play innocent. I’m just enjoying the sunshine like you buddy, that’s what the little gray and white-winged guy next to me is saying. But they are thinking to themselves, there is food nearby, and if I can just wait long enough, it may come to me. Still, they get only so close. They know when they are not wanted. 

The outdoor tables find these gusts no trouble at all. They are built for it.

Just then, it happened. A mighty breeze blew up strong. My hand could not still the tiller and the sandwich was simply no match. The whole thing, plastic plate with its leaden cargo, simply lifted off the table and flopped upside down on the ground. The plate then reared up again, carried further by another gust. If I couldn’t put a hand on it, or step on it, it would end up in the water.  

In the water? 

Litter! I would litter in Boston Harbor.  

I walked slowly toward that black disk peacefully resting on the wooden boardwalk. Only two more steps and I'd have it.  

But then again — Gust! Blow! 

Plate go! 

Into water.  

It bobbed on the surface, a visual blemish against me and against the damn wind. 

I walked away in disgust. Somehow, it served them right!