Monday, December 5, 2016

Fire in Cambridge: more photos

Over the weekend, there was a massive fire in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood of Cambridge. The 10-alarm blaze was described by Cambridge's fire chief as similar to a land wild fire, jumping quickly from house to house with whole structures engulfed in flames in under 5 minutes. The devastation was massive and the impacts on individuals and families are too. Many are now homeless, and some have lost everything. The mayor of Cambridge has established a special fund to help those impacted. You can donate to it by clicking here.

As it turns out, on Saturday, I was in Wellington-Harrington with my friend Quinton a few hours after the fire started because he and I had just returned from picking up his brand new Chevy Volt from Quirk Chevrolet in Braintree (watch for a video to come in the upcoming days). His street, Cardinal Medeiros, was blocked off to through-traffic and jammed with fire trucks. Smoke billowed from buildings only 1 block away and police were working hard to keep people out of the area.

Of the many extraordinary feats of human effort that night, I couldn't help but notice the mutual aid. Mutual aid is a system by which surrounding communities send fire equipment to a scene when the need arises. It is a very old system in Massachusetts, dating back to the middle of the 19th century. It protects any one community from getting overwhelmed in a devastating fire situation. A 10-alarm fire is the highest category of alarm and very rare, and it signifies that any neighboring community with fire equipment available needs to send it. Seventeen communities responded to Saturday's fire in Cambridge. Impressive display of mutual support.

Emergency vehicle with fire in the distance

Mutual Aid: A Chelsea Ladder behind a Boston truck

Mutual Aid: Waltham truck

Mutual Aid: Brookline firefighter

Fire hose has sprung a leak

Men with pikes

Mutual Aid: Weston fire truck

An officer holds the line with a fire box nearby

The next morning, I returned to the area to see the devastation, and it was heart-wrenching, and massive.

The fire started in the former church, then jumped houses

After walking around the neighborhood and amongst the destruction, I paused to take a photo of me and my dog. A moment of self-reflection is always a good thing. This photo will form the basis of tomorrow's blog post.

self-portrait on a cold day

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: Two photos for a Friday

It's a Friday, it's been a long week, and we've got a lot of important issues in front of us as a nation and as a society. So, to give us all a break from the serious stuff for a moment, here are two recent photos of mine that I particularly like. Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Civic Series: Peter Krause of Boston College talks about ISIS

With so much fear, resentment and recrimination flying around these days, with everybody so trigger happy to blame everybody else for the mess we feel ourselves in, and with facts themselves coming under almost constant assault not just from political figures but from their followers as well, aided and abetted by Facebook among others, it sounds strange to say it was oddly comforting to listen to someone talk about terrorism last night.

Peter Krause, a professor of political science at Boston College, spoke for over two hours about ISIS and all its permutations in the Middle East and its implications for Europe and the United States. Since there is so little real knowledge in the United States about who is really involved in terrorism and what ISIS actually is, Krause began by explaining basic things, like the difference between Muslims and Islamists, Islamists and Salafis, Salafis and Jihadis. [Muslims are the adherents of the religion, Jihadis are those who employ violence to further political, religious and ideological aims.]

The greatest challenge to the terror group isn't the West according to Krause, it is the Muslims who live peacefully and happily in Europe and North America. This notion is anathema to everything that ISIS is trying to achieve. He noted that although all regional and international players can't agree on much, they do agree on one thing: ISIS should be destroyed. Even Al Qaeda, from which ISIS emerged, holds them in hostility.

Though U.S. policy options are constrained on many fronts, his analysis of the options facing the incoming Trump administration was thought provoking. For one, it reminded the audience that notwithstanding Trump's outlandish statements, the new president will face the exact same challenges on his first day in office that President Obama faced on his last, and those challenges come with limitations. American military power without political will cannot win the day. In the case of Syria, which is a humanitarian disaster of almost unfathomable proportions, over 400,000 killed over the last four years in a country less than one-tenth the size of the U.S., Trump might cede leadership to Russia, given his apparent embrace of Putin and because Russian determination to keep Assad in power far outweighs America's willingness and capability to impose or broker other outcomes.

Krause's new book, Rebel Power, is published by Cornell University Press and available on Amazon. If last night's talk is any indication, it is worth a look.

The occasion for last night's gathering was the Civic Series, a public forum founded in Boston by Laur Fisher and organized by her and Rachel Abrams, with the moniker "Now You Know." The Civic Series aims to empower through knowledge on topics that are timely, current and relevant. The next Civic Series talk in Boston will be on January 12, 2017 at Workbar in Cambridge. To find out more, visit the Civic Series website:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Donald Trump: Three articles look at hypocrisy, the economy and gender in the 2016 election

The incoming Trump administration is such a concern on so many fronts that most of our collective airtime could be consumed by the disturbing ideas and people he is placing around him. Better journalists will make better sense of it all, but there is nevertheless still much to be said.

This blog entry looks at analysis by three writers, E.J. Dionne and Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post and Glenn Harland Reynolds of USA Today, that is significant both on the politics of Trump and the Republicans, but also on some underlying dynamics that this election revealed.

Dionne, in a November 27th opinion piece entitled "An ethical double standard for Trump -- and the GOP" asks the obvious question that will undoubtedly dog Republicans on the Hill for quite some time: Donald Trump's myriad of conflicts of interest and his ethically challengeable decisions have prompted no calls for investigation from leading Republicans. Why not? Dionne's piece opens ...

Republicans are deeply concerned about ethics in government and the vast potential for corruption stemming from conflicts of interest. We know this because of the acute worries they expressed over how these issues could have cast a shadow over a Hillary Clinton presidency.

He goes on to quote accusations made by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) against Clinton and her foundation, and notes their silence to date about Trump and his.

While there will never be a satisfactory answer as to why the Republican party turned a blind eye to Trump's self-dealing, eventually the voters will start asking questions. That's actually likely to happen sooner rather than later, given how things are proceeding even before the inauguration, and once that happens, the whole house of cards may come crashing down very quickly. 

Jim Tankersley notes in his November 22nd piece "Donald Trump lost most of the American economy in this election" that although Hillary Clinton was victorious in less than 500 counties nationwide in 2016 (compared to Trump's more-than 2,600 counties), her 500 counties accounted for 64 percent of America's economic activity in 2015. Citing data compiled by the Brookings Institution, Tankersley offers this cautionary observation

This appears to be unprecedented, in the era of modern economic statistics, for a losing presidential candidate. The last candidate to win the popular vote but lose the electoral college, Democrat Al Gore in 2000, won counties that generated about 54 percent of the country's gross domestic product, the Brookings researchers calculated. That's true even though Gore won more than 100 more counties in 2000 than Clinton did in 2016.

And the article continues

“This is a picture of a very polarized and increasingly concentrated economy,” said Mark Muro, the policy director at the Brookings metro program, “with the Democratic base aligning more to that more concentrated modern economy, but a lot of votes and anger to be had in the rest of the country.”

In some ways the most interesting of the articles is this final one by Glenn Harland Reynolds in the November 24 edition of USA Today, "Men to America: Thanks for nothing." In it, Reynolds examines the role that gender played in the election, but comes at it from a different angle. His starting point is an article that appeared in the Fiscal Times that he quotes from

A key indicator of American male decline is the gender ratio at U.S. colleges. According to the Nation Center for Education Statistics, women accounted for 43% of enrollees in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 1972. The other 57% were men. Forty years later, the ratio has flipped. In 2012, the latest year for which actual data were reported, women made up 57% of the college population, with men representing the remaining 43%. Further, NCES projects that the gap will widen by 2022, when women are expected to reach 61% of the college population. If that projection holds, America will have roughly 14 million female college students and only 10 million male college students.

That trend has been visible for decades, but its meanings are now becoming apparent. The article goes on to cite that men are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in the workplace. 

And this is where it gets interesting.

Outside of high-end tech jobs, men have worse employment prospects and are more likely to be laid off. In fact, after the financial crisis, there was talk of a "man-cession" because men were hit so much harder than women," according to a Bloomberg article on the subject.

Why is this significant for the 2016 election? Understandably, Hillary Clinton focused on what this election meant to women, the breaking of the glass ceiling, and the arrival of a female to the highest office in the land. What that missed was that economic pain is being felt unequally between the genders. Women are outperforming men both in school and in work, and the economy is shifting away from jobs that men traditionally have done well at, the dirtier, heavy jobs in manufacturing and construction, towards jobs that women traditionally have done well at, human-related jobs, where person-to-person contact is especially valued. So when Donald Trump promises to spend money on infrastructure, men hear, "and there might be a job in there for me." When Hillary promises to spend money on health, well-being and child care, men hear, "there's probably no job in there for me." Given the sexism and rage that Donald Trump exhibited on the campaign trail, it's no wonder there was solid support among a group who were used to calling the shots, but now only sense that they are falling farther and farther behind. As a general statement, men are falling farther and farther behind, and the con man was able to sell them a hope they will never be able take to the bank. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

24 Hours of LeMons with The Cosmonaughts

On a cold rainy day in early October, thanks to Dave Allan, I was invited out to a garage in Medford, MA to talk to a group of people working on an old beat-up Toyota MR2. This car was actually comprised of two cars - a 1986 Toyota frame, with sections of a 1987 one welded on to it. The team was about to put a 1996 engine from a completely different car into it.

They are called The Cosmonaughts (, and Dave, Chris, Christina, Rob and Fred race this car in something called The 24 Hours of LeMons, a play on the name of the world famous endurance race held every June in France, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Here is my interview with the four of them (Fred, the fifth team member, was not available at the time).  I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at this very special part of auto racing and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I opened a Chinese fortune cookie and it said ...

Right now, we are snagged on the fulcrum between resistance and acceptance. No particular direction is clear. The steady march of time will deal with some issues, for better and for worse, but there also will be decision points along the way. People's judgment and character will emerge. The starting points are not auspicious, but there still are many unknowns. Some defiance is required but the endless warring must also end.