Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday round-up: Clinton in Virginia; Felipe's in Harvard Square; Words, Windows, Souls

I realized the subtle genius of Hilary Clinton in picking senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate. First, he is a Southern Democrat and she’s already shown a penchant for them (cf. Bill). That speaks to good chemistry between the two, which will be important to winning the White House in November. Combine that with her existing strong ties to the political leadership of the Commonwealth - she’s already old pals with Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe who worked for the Clintons under Bill - and with Kaine on board, Virginia will vote Democratic in the 2016. Check that box. One more swing state in the bag. It made me think that this year will see a host of toss-ups vote with the Dems ...

  • New Jersey 
  • Pennsylvania 
  • Ohio
  • Michigan
  • Florida 
  • Colorado
  • New Hampshire

They will all vote Democratic in this election. But here’s the shocker ...

North Carolina is also going to go Democratic, and Texas will be in play, though ultimately will succumb to its red-leaning roots and stay GOP. Arizona will also stay GOP. 

Ok, you heard it here first folks. 


Felipe’s Taqueria

Sometimes pejoratively described as “Bro food”, Felipe’s Taqueria in Harvard Square is still damn good.

“Bro food” means, you know, a place where drunken college kids go to chow down after  too many beers, and the scene is exactly as described with an overabundance of 20-somethings but there's nothing wrong with that. Besides, the roof deck affords a view onto the Square worthy of the visit.

It's buzzing at Felipe's on a Friday in July
These are good days for dining out in Harvard Square. Felipe's, the Sinclair, the Beat Hotel, all of a sudden now there are some fun options to unwind on a Friday.

Oh, did I mention that my carnitas burrito was delicious? It was. The food at Felipe's is fresh and outstanding.

Fresh is good when talking about food

So, whether it’s the food or the people or the view, sit back, relax and have a nice time. 

Felipe's Taqueria
21 Brattle Street


Now for some words of wisdom from the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia: 

"Words are windows into peoples’ souls." - Gen. John Allen, USMC (ret.) in an interview with NPR on why he's supporting Hillary Clinton and horrified by Donald Trump. 

“Two things are absolutely necessary in any leader, or in anybody who aspires to be a leader, that is moral compass and second is, empathy.” - Khizr Khan, the father of the Muslim U.S. serviceman slain in Iraq in 2004, on CNN today. He went on to add, "This candidate [Donald Trump] is void of both traits that are necessary for the stewardship of this country."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: DNC v RNC; Congratulations Hillary!

It's a Friday which means it's Grab Bag Day. And there's so much in the Grab Bag this week.

It's incongruous to walk into a Harvard Law School quad at 6:30 on a hot, muggy July morning and hear a construction worker whistling "Silent Night" from inside a dorm. July is many things, but it is not Christmas time. Of that I am certain.

Now, for some politics. Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, Michelle Obama ... they're all good, and they were very good at the Democratic National Convention. But really, compared to the Republicans, Antonio Sabato Jr., Scott Baio and what's his name from Duck Dynasty - who was better? Well, it's a tough one to call. Maybe if we had photos of the two factions, that might help.

First, the Democrats ...

Joe Biden

Tim Kaine

Michelle Obama

Now, the Republicans ...

Antonio Sabato, Jr. says "Let me tell you my most recent policy proposal ..."

Scott Baio: the true mark of a world leader

The Duck Dynasty guy: "What, me, American Taliban? Are you crazy!"

While I'm on the subject of conventions, one thing the Democrats showed is how deep their bench is. Their line-up of speakers revealed sophisticated, mature leaders committed to public service, diverse, educated, thoughtful, and capable. And numerous. It feels nice to be on the right side of history.

The Democrats had almost twice as many people at their podium as the Republicans and they were a much more diverse crowd, as this nifty graphic from the LA Times points out. At the DNC, 45 percent of the speakers were non-white. At the RNC, 20 percent of the speakers were non-white. The male/female split was less dramatic. At the DNC, 42 percent of the speakers were female, whereas at the RNC, 35 percent were female. The LAT graphic does all this data better justice, so I include it below.

The Democrats
2016 Democratic National Convention speakers

The Republicans
2016 Republican National Convention speakers

Staying with politics for a tick more, although I was a Bernie person in the Massachusetts primary (see "Bernie or Hillary?") and still think he was the person of the hour for raising the right issues at the right time, I could not help but feel a deep happiness for Hillary Clinton and all that her historic nomination represents for this country and for the world. As I wrote a friend, you could just feel the emotions of the women in the hall, and in living rooms across the land, exhaling with relief, "Finally, finally." I agree, finally. And in the odd twists of history, while this moment is a mantle that every woman can wear with great pride - the elevation of a woman to major party presidential candidate - it was nevertheless Hillary alone who climbed that final rung of the ladder. Of course she had help along the way. Lots of help. We all do. But the history books will record that it was her. And they will be correct. It was her. We live in historic times. I am very proud of my party, the Democratic Party. Eight years ago, the Democrats produced the first African-American president, a man who turned out to be one of our best presidents ... ever. And now we've produced the first female candidate to be president, undoubtedly the most qualified candidate for the office ... ever. It feels nice to be on the right side of history.

She wore blue, he wore charcoal grey

Postscript: Since this is a Friday and a Grab Bag day, I want to add these two random and deeply inconsquentional notes:

  1. Let us sing the praises of whoever coined the phrase "tweet storm" as in this Washington Post headline from today's paper: "Trump tears into Clinton during morning tweet storm." Tah dah. 
  2. Sometimes in life even the baby has to push his own pram. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Recently, I've been snapping away like mad, trying to satisfy a yen for my new hobby, photography. My little Sony RX100 III has carried the load effortlessly, letting me learn and compose and attempt without a heavy rock of apparatus around my neck.

My constant shutter clicking has led me to Instagram, an online platform for buffs of all shapes and sizes and skill levels who post photos of cars and buildings and fashion and the night sky and abandoned factories and subway stations and girlfriends and boyfriends and cats and dogs and sunsets and restaurants and food, and and and ... and the selfie. Can't forget the selfie.

The flow of the Instagram feed led me to thinking this morning, there must be a taxonomy to the photos in Instagram. So, in my usual offhand way, I started to sketch one. Here it is.

  • Lenses. Some photos are just ways of demonstrating the power and the precision of the lens. These photos are remarkable for technical reasons, much of which has to do with the glass attached to the front of the photographer's camera. Crystal clear shots using massive magnification and telephoto properties fall under this category.
  • Access. Some photos are about demonstrating exclusive access to a person or a place or a thing. The recent photograph of the brakes on a Formula 1 car is just such a photo. The purpose of that photo is as much to tell the viewer, "You will never seen this yourself with your own naked eye. But I the photographer can, and have, and have taken a photograph of it so you can enjoy it."
  • Place and time. Some photographs are about being at the right place and at the right time to capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called "the decisive moment," and then most importantly, photographing it. 
  • Form. Some photos are explorations of the formal qualities of the photograph itself, the shapes on the page, as it were, and how they are positioned. 
  • Filters. Some photos are about the technicolor magic and distortions that filters can provide to the original colors registered in the initial photograph. The point of the photograph is playing with the ways that filters can alter perceptions.
  • Subject matter. Some photographs are about the things they are depicting, the people and places and things in the photograph.

Most photos are combinations of these elements in differing and varying proportions. 

And some photos are just damn good photos, 'nuff said.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: Foundry Building presentation; GOP convention

It's a Friday, so it's the Grab Bag.

First up, the Foundry Building ...

The next chapter in the long story of the Foundry Building took place last night when the Hacin/CIC/Graffito development team presented their concepts on how to reinvigorate the East Cambridge building in front of citizens and members of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. The CRA had called last night's meeting in City Hall so the public could hear from the only team to respond to the RFP issued a few months ago. Figuring out how to redevelop the  120-year-old Foundry has been a challenge ever since the city took possession of the building as part of a large land deal involving Alexandria Real Estate in 2010. The building is located between Rogers and Bent Street.

With presentations from Matt Arnold of Hacin Associates architects, Brian Dacey of CIC and Jesse Baerkahn and Dave Downing of Graffito SP, the themes of openness, inclusivity and flexibility for the building were stressed, as was the need of working together. "We can figure this out with the CRA and the city of Cambridge" said Baerkahn at one point during the presentation.

Because it is a city-owned building, the need for successful spaces for people to gather, meet, interact, create has been a major focus of discussions to date. The CRA has set a minimum square footage required for community space in the building and the development team has been working hard trying to figure how to pencil out the numbers so that it all works.

In part to address these concerns, Nicole Fichera of the Venture Cafe presented about her work operating District Hall in Boston, a similar concept also designed by the Hacin/CIC/Graffito team in the Seaport District in Boston. Fichera made the point that in these spaces, "it's important to realize that it's not just about tech." She noted that in District Hall, there is a lot of discounting of cost so that mission-driven groups can use the space, in effect subsidized by the tenants who pay full fare. On an annual basis these discounts amount to $1 million, a goal that is set internally at Venture Cafe. Such a model could also apply at the Foundry.

With only one respondent to the RFP, a challenge for the Redevelopment Authority is what measuring stick to use in evaluating this proposal. Since there are no other proposals to compare it to, the Hacin/CIC/Graffito team must be judged against the original concepts that were pulled together during the RFP process. No dates were set for the announcement of a developer for the Foundry Building.

[Full disclosure, I submitted ideas to the Hacin/CIC/Graffito team earlier in the process, and I spoke in positive terms about the team as a whole in last night's meeting.]

Next up, the GOP convention ...

Here, I will only agree with what has been written elsewhere about the GOP and its nominee. Last night was terrifying. The first 20 minutes of Donald Trump's speech had no rightful place in American political discourse. His understanding of American society is dire and bleak. He is filled with fear, and he instills fear. There is a threatening tone to it all, and it is capped with the claim that "I alone can fix it." It sounds like Germany in the 1930s. He sounds like Adolph Hitler.

I also agree that the Republican Party as we have known it is effectively dead. It has no core beliefs any more. It is just a bunch a megalomaniacs running around trying rally their supporters.

The consequences of this election have become so great that no matter how uninviting it is to pull the lever for Hillary Clinton in November (and I share a distaste for her as the 2016 Democratic nominee), the other option is so nihilistic and dangerous that it wouldn't be unfair to call a vote for Donald Trump anti-American.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's the same, only different

It's always interesting to look at the same thing in different ways. In that vein, here are two photos of the same swimming dock in a lake in New York state ...

Of course, the way the brain processes these two images as two different scenes has broader implications for the metaphor "perspective." In the eye of the beholder, so they say.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

It's harder to be a bozo than you think

For many years now, Republicans have been calling for someone "not from Washington, not a career politician" to come in and straighten things out. Well, Donald Trump is just that man and his imbecilic incompetence running a presidential campaign illuminates a deeper truth: for all that elected officials are worthy of our scorn, there is indeed a craft to politics, a craft less noticeable in its presence than in its absence. Absence is what we are witnessing now. Or, as one former Cambridge mayor once told me, "People see a politician on the stump and they think to themselves 'That's not that hard. I could do that. I'm better than that bozo.' What they don't realize until they actually try it is, it takes a lot of work to be that bozo."

Meanwhile, the litany of shootings in America continues conjoined with their concomitant deaths ...

  • 3 police officers reported shot and killed in Baton Rouge, LA
  • 2 people shot and killed in a hospital in Florida
  • 2 people shot at while playing Pokemon Go in Florida
  • 2 teenagers threatened by gun-toting man in suburban Virginia. The man turned out to be a senior U.S. Navy official, later identified as Karnig Ohannessian

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Divco West throws a party in North Point Park

Divco West and Mark Roopenian put on a party at North Point Park on Thursday with music and food and beer from Somerville's Aeronaut Brewery and it came off pretty darn well. The second of four Thursday nights in July, North Point Nights saw the largely Millennial crowd turn out to hear a jazz band and get some lawn time to relax and enjoy friends and family. Next week, the show will continue with a classic rock lineup pulled together by music impresario and former city councillor Larry Ward. This part of the city is growing and changing and Roopenian along with his Divco team are part of the mix that is shaping it.
Nice turnout in a new city park

Jason Alves from Councilor Toomey's office and Jesse Baerkahn, a.k.a., "the restaurant whisperer"

Michael Delia of East End House and Mark Roopenian of Divco West

Larry Ward, making music happen
Cambridge Police, on hand for the people

Community building, one event at a time

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A new profession is born: fact-free tour guiding

You may laugh when I say this, but it just might be your constitutional right to tell a group of unsuspecting tourists a whole load of bull if you feel like it. Even if you're getting paid to give them a tour. George Washington slept here. No, wait a minute, I think he actually slept over there. Or was it someplace else altogether?

The issue at hand is whether the city of Charleston, South Carolina can compel tour guides to take a class and pass a test before they begin giving tours. The free speech question arises because in a city as old as Charleston, there is a lot of history to talk about, and a lot of that history is deeply entwined in the politics not just of its time, but also of our time. Anyone telling those stories undoubtedly chooses which stories to tell and also offers some opinions about the events contained in them. Regulating that speech therefore can be construed as regulating the content of that speech, a scenario that immediately raises First Amendment questions. The protections would also extend to statements that are inaccurate. You mean, Benjamin Franklin wasn't born in Albuquerque?!

The task of untangling this thorny conundrum has fallen to a federal judge in Charleston and judicial watchers are trying to read the tea leaves on how this is going to play out. The judge's refusal to dismiss the case has given hope to those who see this as a constitutional issue. Still, his denial of a preliminary injunction means that the law is still in effect.

So, the next time you're looking at some old stone wall, and someone is trying to tell you that Muhammad Ali once leaned against it, you might check with Google too.

All of this, and more, can be found in this Bloomberg article:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The horse is on the track, or George Stubbs goes to Suffolk Downs

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say.

Yesterday, for the first and I'm fairly certain the last time, I went to the track to see the ponies run. It was not an unenjoyable experience.

The venue, Suffolk Downs. We'll get to the horses in a moment, but the characters -- my God, the characters. The haggard old betting men unquestionably are the saddest. They come out on a Saturday to piss away their lives and their fortunes, such as they may be, in exchange for the quick jolt at post time. If it's comedy, it's the Honeymooners. If it's slightly more menacing, and I'm not sure it isn't, it's Wise Guys.

But the reason to be there isn't the people fun as they are, it's the horses. To watch them run. The fast ones. The slow ones. The in-between ones. If you want to wager, $2 will buy you a 1 minute dream. And a $2 hole in your pocket. These are the races after all.

From the track, I could hear the commuter train chugga-chugging in the distance. Men and horses have been working together for eons. Then in the 19th century, the iron horse replaced the horse. Massachusetts is old enough to have lived through that transformation. Today, for the first time in a century, I came out to celebrate the horse once again.

Back to imitation. I didn't want to hang out with the scruffy dudes in the Grandstand, or with the drunk guy with the polyester American flag and eagle shirt moaning loudly about his losses, the same one who then proselytized about the need for Donald Trump in this next election. No, I didn't want to hang out with any of them. So I went trackside, took out my camera and snap snap snap, some photos did I take.

One of these was nothing more than a portrait of a horse being walked pre-race. As always, it made me think of something else. Well, someone else. I snapped a horse portrait like the horse portraits painted by George Stubbs. Or so I assert. Therein lies some flattery, if haphazard and entirely unintentional.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: More guns more killings, and separately, a coffee cup

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the Dallas killings

America's psychotic violence continues. All of it, all of it, perpetrated with a gun.

The shocking video of the killing of Castile at the hands of a police officer, and now the killing of multiple officers in Dallas, all of this in little over a 24 hour period, leaves me without any words, so I look for the words of others.

"We've got to do better in this country." Someone said that and I agree with it.

Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings said this and I agree with it too, "We as a city, we as a country must come together, lock arms and heal the wounds that we all feel from time to time. Words matter, leadership matters at this time."

Words matter. Leadership matters.

Locally, Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone wasn't wrong when he said this on Facebook this morning, "One thing that should be clear after these murders in Dallas and the killing of Philando Castille (sic) and Alton Sterling is there should only be one side taken here: the side of decency toward our fellow humans. We get nowhere by pitting police against people. What we need is police working with people to provide a safer community."

Words, Leadership, Decency Toward Our Fellow Humans. Working With People. All are needed. I will add Action and Reflection. These are needed too.

And getting guns out of the hands of people who should not have them in the first place. That is also needed.

Stepping back from our collective psychotic brink, here's something much much lighter: my WAMU coffee mug finally cracked. After 25 years of service and many cups of coffee drunk, it has decided to call it quits. We wish it well.

From a great radio station in our nation's capital, farewell

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Oakland, California

Things are happening in Oakland, California. Right now, right before our eyes. Big things. Small things.

Let's start with a small thing that is also a great thing. I had one of the best breakfasts I've ever eaten.
Brown Sugar Kitchen

This happened over the weekend at a place called Brown Sugar Kitchen on Mandela Parkway, where you can get a waffle that is so filled with deliciousness you'll forget there are bad things in the world. Alongside, they'll bring you a piece of fried chicken that'll change your attitude about what's possible on this planet in your lifetime. Biscuits and gravy or grits? Not to worry, they do that too. Or poached eggs on hash? Well, if I do say so myself. Housed in a corner joint that's been fixed up tastefully and located in an industrial part of town, Brown Sugar Kitchen is the best that our hipster urban culture can offer, and it is very good.

It shows a creativity and attention to detail that surpasses the highest bar. Environs and food and service come together in a medley of the very best that that foodie mecca (a.k.a. the Bay Area) has to offer. Did I forget to mention the beignets? I forgot to mention the beignets. Don't miss the beignets!

All in all ... Five stars, must go.

Brown Sugar Kitchen
2534 Mandela Parkway, Oakland


Other things are happening in Oakland too. The next morning, I was woken at 6 am by the thumpa thumpa thumpa off the downwash of a helicopter hovering nearby. My host told me that there have been a series of suspicious fires in the area recently, mostly at new housing construction sites. The belief is that these are arson, destruction of property as a way of protesting the influx of new residents into the city.

A quick scan of the news that morning told of a 6-alarm fire on the border of Oakland and Emeryville at a housing site. While the cause of this fire is unknown at this time, news reports include a description of a fast moving blaze and a series of explosions beforehand. Since this happened over 4th of July weekend, fireworks could be an explanation, but that is only one possible one. State and federal fire officials are on the scene to help determine the cause of the blaze.

If the story of arson as a way of protest is true, either in this instance or more generally, it adds a new twist in the absurd local debates communities like Oakland and Cambridge have over affordability. The violence and destructive force of burning a building down to make your point is so outrageously wrong, it beggars belief. The self-righteousness of it is itself a crime.

This is a big thing, because communities across America are trying to sort through how to create enough housing to meet the demand while also meeting needs across income scales. If arson is part of the Oakland answer, then whoever's instigating that gets an "F" in their gradebook.  An absolute f*ing F.