Friday, December 30, 2016

To the year that was ...

2016, we hardly knew ya, but still, that was enough. We hope you have enjoyed the show. We're sorry but it's time to go. It's getting very near the end.

(image originally seen online via Charles Laquidara)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

This can never be a good split-screen ...

Just sayin'.

[John Le Carre, I'm thinking of writing a fake news story that outlines how Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin worked out a secret pact during the 2016 US presidential campaign. In exchange for cyber hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other opponents, every voting American male from the age of 18 to 45 becomes eligible to be drafted into the Russian army. Men from areas with the strongest Trump support will be the first to be considered. Also, John, what's a good title for a novel where the United States elects a Russian dupe as its chief executive?]

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Talking EVs with my friend Quinton in his new Chevy Volt

My friend Quinton has had his Chevy Volt for two weeks now, so he asked me out for a drive today so we could talk electric vehicles and assess the new Volt.

Here's the video of that drive ... Be sure to watch all the way to the end to see a Chevy Volt park itself!!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why hast Thou forsaken us?

I pray Heaven to bestow the best blessings on this House and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.

-- John Adams, in a letter from the White House to Abigail Adams, November 2, 1800

John Adams, 1783
(John Singleton Copley, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Generation Citizen storms the State House on behalf of Civics

The Massachusetts State House filled with middle and high school students who braved the frigid cold to talk civics this morning. They were there to showcase projects they had prepared for Generation Citizen's annual Civics Day.

Generation Citizen co-founder Scott Warren speaking to students today

Civics Day is Generation Citizen's yearly event bringing students from Boston-area schools to Beacon Hill to grapple publicly with an important issue in their community. Topics range from gun violence to gender equality to opioid addiction, just to name a few. It's up to the students to assess and analyze the issue, but they can't stop there.

Some of the issues discussed today
They must come up with a game plan about how it might be addressed. That answer must involve civic action, whether that's reaching out to their local elected officials or surveying members of their school or supporting a piece of legislation. Then, they take all this research and turn it into a project to present at the State House in December. Judges are on hand to offer feedback.

Judges meet in the morning.

Though Generation Citizen has done this event for a few years now, the context of this year's gathering was ever more weighty after the very divisive national election of 2016. This corrosive tone of presidential politics was noted by GC co-founder Scott Warren in his remarks and was echoed by Boston team leader Gillian Pressman in hers. One of the goals of Generation Citizen is to battle against the cynicism and disenchantment many feel about participating in the political process.

Gillian Pressman
Generation Citizen is a non profit whose mission is "to ensure that every student in the United States receives an effective action civics education" with the goal that they will participate in our democracy as active citizens. Today's event was keynoted by Boston City Councillor Andrea Campbell.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Video: Larry Chretien talks about Mass Energy's Drive Green program

Last weekend, I drove back down to Quirk Chevrolet in Braintree, where Mass Energy was having an open house to talk about their Drive Green program.

Drive Green is a great way to get a low or zero emission vehicle at tremendous discounts. Cars available include the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt.

I had the chance to talk to Larry Chretien, the executive director of Mass Energy, about the program and everything it involves. Here is the video of that trip and my interview with Larry ...

Friday, December 9, 2016

Video: My friend Quinton got a Chevy Volt

Last Saturday, my friend Quinton drove down to Quirk Chevrolet in Braintree to pick up his brand new Chevy Volt and he asked me along for the ride.

Saturday turned out to be a crazy day with a 10-alarm blaze ripping through eleven structures in Quinton's neighborhood in Cambridge (his house was unharmed) and separate from that, wall-to-wall traffic everywhere we turned.

Since we were already on the road when the fire started, we kept up to speed on its status via periodic updates from the home front.

To deal with the traffic, we ended up taking a very circuitous route out Storrow Drive to the Larz Anderson Bridge, and then headed back into Boston on the Mass Pike to start going south again on I-93.

Here is my video of the journey, which is really a travel video, not car review video, but it's fun nonetheless. We also talk about the Mass Energy Drive Green program which is a great way to get a green vehicle if you're in the market for one.  I hope to do a car review video with Quinton sometime soon.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Happy Birthday Mario Savio!

Anyone who has ever spent time on the Berkeley campus knows the name Mario Savio. Few people are more directly responsible for instigating the Free Speech Movement than he.

On October 1, 1964, Savio along with others sat down on Sproul Plaza, encircling a police car that had come to arrest Jack Weinberg for handing out political literature in violation of campus policy. During the 32-hour protest, Savio climbed on top of the car to address the crowd. It was a seminal moment in American history.

October 1, 1964

A movement is born

The event marks the beginning of a movement that would overtake not only Berkeley, but campuses across the country, and change America forever.

Mario Savio was born on this day in 1942 in New York City to Italian-American parents, and at one time considered joining the priesthood. He attended Berkeley to study philosophy and in 1964 joined the Freedom Summer, traveling to Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote. Returning to the Berkeley campus that fall, Savio wondered if all his activism would fade now that he was back in the relative serenity of a university setting.

As it happened, it didn't. Savio was out on Sproul Plaza that October day as Weinberg, a former student, attempted to hand out pamphlets for the Congress of Racial Equality. As the police arrived, someone in the crowd shouted, "Sit down!" People sat down. The 1960s was born.

Mario Savio died in California in 1996 at the age of 53.

Happy Birthday Mario Savio!

Mario Savio at a 1966 protest

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"I refute it thus."

Yesterday, I posted a photograph of myself and my dog looking into plate glass. That little moment of self reflection gave me some time to think.

As we descend deeper down the Trumpian rabbit hole into a world where facts disappear and only points of view remain, we are merging closer and closer to George Orwell's 1984

But Orwell isn't the only British writer who spoke about today's madness. Samuel Johnson did too. In Boswell's Life of Johnson, James Boswell recounts the moment that his English friend undid Bishop Berkeley's theory of the non-existence of matter with one swift kick ...

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."

Much like my amazement that Learned Hand's "The Spirit of Liberty" speech would ever have relevance to my life in such a direct, personal way, so too am I astounded that this chestnut from philosophical history could apply to an inanity I lived through. 

"I refute it thus." If Orwell saw how political language casually leads to dangerous non-meaning, Johnson saw that there is always a stone to kick if ever you find you're losing your mind.

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: