Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Greenway Going Great

Hail to the many who have worked for the better part of two decades for a Neponset River Greenway! Within two years, the biggest missing piece will be complete. Citizens, engineering sorts and bureaucrats alike have 'er done.

I joined what looked like a little over a hundred in the Foley Senior Center on River St. in Mattapan last evening for another quenching trip to the well. You can grab the straight coverage and a link to the presentation at the Dorchester Reporter. You can also search at that site for excellent past coverage on this trail.

The short of it is that after many meetings and laborious compiling of complaints, suggestions and comments of Milton, Mattapan and Dorchester abutters (and numerous whiners, loudmouths and cheerleaders), the final plan looks like a winner. A large majority apparently love it. It moves from conceptual drawings to engineer docs that can aid in getting the federal money for the project as well as giving the nitpickers and Myers-Briggs S types something to hold and come to terms with happening. They are now figuring that completion of a link from Central Avenue into Mattapan Square for a ped/bike path will happen by the fall of 2013.greenplan

Click the pic for a closer view or go to the presentation for it and the earlier schemes. Key aspects are that it starts at the existing path at Central Avenue, runs between the trolley path and river, crossing from Milton to Mattapan on a new bridge by the Ryan Playground, then curves on the north of the river to a new ped/bike bridge over and around the trolley terminus and into Mattapan Square.

This came after five previous plans. After the public meetings and private comments, which the presentation recaps in concepts and numbers, the latest plan seemed to placate nearly everyone.

I came for the details, but left with a felt sense of the democratic skills involved, particularly the the DCR folk in managing a prickly, often nasty process. While he was quick and frequent to spread credit and praise, the diplomat in chief seems to be Jack Murray.

The DCR Deputy Commissioner for Park Operations is unfazed by the hostile, NIMBY and unfair-to-me types. Even at this largely jovial celebration, several dissatisfied folk spoke out and up, without rattling Murray. He's been though a couple years of rough democracy on this and kept his cool and his smile.

In fact, several of the pols who attended and chimed in their praises (Sen. Brian Joyce and Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry and Russell Holmes) called the process out for its amazing transparency, flexibility, and outreach. There was passing mention of the contention involved from the beginning, and nothing but kudos for a thoroughly open process — perhaps an inspiration for the larger government, ask I?

Murray was also charmingly coy about the MBTA. It refused to allow an at-grade crossing for the trail, leading to among other expensive problems, a ped/bike bridge at Mattpan station. Murray just smiled and said "We love our sister agencies."

So it's worth nothing the residual complaints that bring up what the DCR and the many others involved overcame. Last evening lacked the whiffs of racism and classism noted in articles about earlier public meetings. A few of those seemed to mirror the fears that kept Weston from allowing an extension of the Minuteman path. There was only one of those last night, and of course Murray handled that well.

Despite the round praise for the proposal, one resident still wanted her say, there and in some private meeting. It was a wonder to hear. She said the trolley runs behind her house and the bike path will. Her concern was that cyclists would jump the fence and do something nefarious on her property - to her possessions or daughter. Hearing that it doesn't happen, not in Boston or Lexington, and that bike paths add light and witnesses, making areas safer was not enough. She didn't seem to notice that she undercut her argument by saying she feared the same of the nearby trolley. The fact that this has never been a problem did not deter her. She wanted some kind of meeting with state officials and not a public one. Meh.


Toward the end of the question-and-comment period another resident tried the it's-only-a-start ploy. He's surely sadly mistaken if he supposes something with this much pubic input and accommodation awaits his brilliant revisions and a restart.

Otherwise, the niggles were indeed niggling. People were pleased at the result and particularly at having been listened to. They could see their suggestions, complaints and fine-tuning before them. The Neponset River Tail Phase II is rolling right along.

Duplication note: Being both bike-personal and political, this is a cross-post from Harrumph.

Even the Globe Gets Warren

Put snide aside. Brian McGrory was awake and sharp when almost-candidate for U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren spoke with the Globe. His piece is as insightful as any I've seen. You should read it...all the way through...to know what to expect if she announces a run just after Labor Day.

In particular, he focuses on differences that would surely come with such a campaign, such as:
  • She far prefers to fight for what she believes in rather than compromise it all away.
  • When she is asked a question, any question, she looks the person in the eye and answers it.
  • "I came from an America that created opportunities for people like me, and I now see an America where the government works for people who already have money and power."
With those, you know that she'll be relentlessly candid rather than smarmily calculating. You know as I heard in a listening meeting that she deals with ideas first and with problem/solution pairs right after. She is eager to put forward her ideas instead of mealy mouthing. It's a level of courage we rarely see in candidates or elected officials.

All of that out there, what will she make of her residency silliness? I have been reading double-damned comments already. She has been here and at Harvard for 17 years; ergo, she's one of those dreadful Cambridge elitists. She has been here for only 17 years; so, she's not one of us and never will be. Chicken lips, I say. Let the long-time MA resident raised in OK put her powerful ideas out there for both serious and trivial criticism.

She can take it. She can dish it out. She'll kick up the level of debate several notches. It's going to be a bumpy night.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

DSK Slithers to D.C.


Oh, so litigious in that European way, newly released Dominique Strauss-Kahn is just beginning to ripple his flab. His lawyers in France are suing a journalist who has brought charges that he tried to rape her. Word is that he is filing a suit against the hotel maid whose complaint led to his rape charges here, and who has filed a civil suit against him in the case.

In Manhattan, DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr.'s office had the trial judge drop changes that he attempted rape and succeeded in other forcible sexual acts against a hotel maid. There is a 25-page filing explaining that. The gist is that his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, had been caught in too many previous lies to be credible.

Whether she ends up with a monetary award from a jury later, Diallo is figuratively screwed as well. Numerous papers report that deportation is in the works. Her pleas to stay in the United States as a Guinean victim of gang rape she admits were false. There is the double whammy of her criminal case slipping into not-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt territory, as well as getting tossed from this country.

In the larger picture, her convoluted circumstances do not necessarily bode poorly for American women claiming rape or harassment.

A true downside is not at all surprising. She was not credible, but he was. She admitted lying to stay here. The DA's folk stretched that as seen in the dismissal filing with glib assertions that Strauss-Kahn's DNA on her pantyhose, including the crotch did not begin to prove he had actually groped her genitals. Moreover, they conclude that three-inch damage ("defects" as they put it) might have come "from normal wear and tear."

The dismissal request also includes such silliness as quibbling over two minutes of a timeline. Writing that the door key-card records and Strauss-Kahn's cellphone history make it impossible to pinpoint how long Diallo was in the suite. This of course assumes perfect accuracy on the hotel computer system and the cell company. Huh and so what?

Such piling on to Diallo is not quite a throwback to rape accusations requiring uninvolved corroborating witnesses, but it's close.

Instead, we see what many initial reports feared. The rich, powerful white guy (with a long history of accusations of sexual harassment and adultery) being believed while the poor black woman (with a short history of self-serving dishonesty) is not. It's a clear case of money talks, but as Strauss-Kahn's civil suits show, he's not through claiming that he is the wronged party here.

Back in France, common response to this may best come from an opinion piece in Le Monde. There, essayist Pascal Bruckner ridicules the prosecution as just more American lack of sophistication in his L'affaire DSK aura révélé une bien triste image de l'Amérique (The DSK affair shows a very sad picture of America).

He starts with a glib apocryphal tale of European tourists in America being hassled by cops for a toddler girl on the beach without a top. He writes that we hicks just don't understand the ways of men and women together.

Touristes français qui partez outre-atlantique, soyez prudents ; si jamais vous prenait l'envie de batifoler avec un ou une autochtone, munissez-vous d'une décharge officielle : que votre partenaire, mâle ou femelle, reconnaisse par écrit qu'il vous autorise à jouir de son corps. Nous avons beaucoup de choses à apprendre de nos amis américains mais certainement pas l'art d'aimer. (French tourists, be careful across the Atlantic if you decide to tumble [frolic] with a native and get a legal release in writing from your partner, male or female, that you had the right to enjoy that body. We can surely learn many things from our American friends, but certainly not the art of love.)

Similar comments from readers in British papers as well lean toward the unfairly accused and maligned Strauss-Kahn.

Even in the DA's filing, he takes note of the pending rape change in France. The dismissal request concludes that, "It appears unlikely, however, that prosecutors would be permitted to introduce in their case-in-chief any testimony by (accuser) regarding this alleged attack."

For the literal, the dismissal certainly adheres to efficacy and strict legal guidelines. The spirit of the law and of, as Bob Dylan wrote in The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, "the ladder of law has no top and no bottom" is not met.

Note that the maid Hattie Carroll was murdered by a rich, powerful white man in front of numerous witnesses, apparently because he just had the whim to throw his cane across the room at her. He got six months for the murder and to his death held that he should not have been convicted. There are far more dissimilarities to these tales than not, but the effects of the power differences remain.

In Manhattan, we see again how messy criminal cases often are. Yes it would be ideal for all witnesses to be utterly honest and impeachable. Likewise, wouldn't it be great if several people, including at least one police officer, were present and alert and accurate when the acts in question occurred.

Those circumstances are as rare as an accused criminal 'fessing up and doing a Edward G. Robinson, "You got me, copper." Those were in books and movies when the bad guy always died or went to prison.

Stauss-Kahn certainly seems sleazy. In this case, the circumstantial evidence, even without his past accusations, suggest at least enough evidence to go to trial. Yet Vance was not willing to risk it. It is likely that the accused lawyers could grind up an inconsistent accuser on the stand. Isn't that for a jury and/or judge to hear and decide?

We won't know and the speculation I've seen in the French press is that the prosecution in his pending attempted rape charges may do the same as Vance. If there's not enough current evidence, forget it.

Few of us can be unimpeachable or have flawless pasts. Yet a huge takeaway here seems to be for women pursuing sexual assault cases to 1) step up immediately and 2) be relentlessly consistent. Those are tough in such circumstances, but a world of reasonable doubt demands them.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Obama, Angry?

Multiple mentions of physically dark folk not wanting to appear emotionally dark caught me this week. The perceived political wisdom that black or Latino men should not turn off voters is at once obvious and befuddling.

I recall Black Panthers and others who seriously expressed anger. Speeches included calls to kill whitey, plain folk as well as cops. There's some threatening anger.

Cross-post note: This started out as a personal blog, over at Harrumph. As happens, it morphed a bit and seems as apt here.

For two examples this week, consider:

  • Very savvy image consultant Dorie Clark was on WGBH's Callie Crossley show again. She noted in a segmentasking whether Barack Obama could win a second term that the POTUS was caught in the vise. Angry black men can freak constituents.
  • This morning's Financial Times had a similar treatment in their generally LITE Lunch with... series, this time with San Antonia Mayor Julián Castro. He spoke of the immigration backlash against Hispanics and its racist aspects. Yet, as Richard McGregor wrote, "He admits he is conscious not to sound angry. Obama has exercised a similar discipline. It seems to be a rule of American politics that an angry black or Hispanic man does not play well with the broader electorate."

angryYet all but those in comas here are aware of angry white folk. Many in Congress, the Tea Party and winger spokesmen (screams-men?) and lobbying and interest groups are mad as hell about this, that and the other. They yell, they defame, they lie at high volume and with repetition, and some even threaten violence.

It all makes me wonder that if the timorous and accommodating POTUS displayed real anger that really would be so bad. As a nation, we certainly have expected our top leaders to express outrage and anger befitting the situation. Is it really true that our first black President has a separate set of behaviors?

The recent, prolonged GOP debt, spending and tax disgrace just had to make him furious. Even many voters in that party expressed and continue to express fury at the continued insistence on transferring wealth to the super-rich from the middle and lower classes. Yet, the POTUS spoke of disappointment.

Disappointment?! That's when the ice-cream shop is out of the flavor you drove 10 miles to taste.

Rage should come when confronting ideologues who would steal from tens of millions of oldsters to increase benefits for multi-millionaires and billionaires. If that doesn't make even the most mild-mannered black man angry, something's wrong here.

To turn this from political to personal, this has reminded me of way back in my single days. I was keeping company with a fairly volatile woman, who would blow up and yell sometimes, including at me.

A mutual friend, a psychologist, noted how even tempered I was and how I grew up in a home where people didn't act out. He asked how I reacted when she was like that. I said I let her run through the course. He asked then what I thought would happen if I yelled back. I said I hadn't thought about it and he went on to ask (with a smile) whether I figured that would destroy the relationship. I replied that I thought it would.

He had known her for a long time and said it would not. He advised yelling back. She did. I did. Not only did nothing bad happened, she was much less likely to flip out around me. Things got better. She acted more like I and I didn't have to yell back again.a

That's not to say that if Obama displays justifiable anger some people won't diss him. Hell, they already do. Plus, he has the big bunch of progressives who are on him for not being strong enough to demand fair negotiation from the wingers.

Conciliation doesn't seem to be the best approach here and now. It's time for our President to yell back.


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Thursday, August 18, 2011

At the Feet of Passion: Elizabeth Warren

As insubstantial as Elizabeth Warren is physically, she is a monster in intellect, insight and rhetoric. With the help of a serious team — including Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan, who wrote the lyrics and choreographed the moves that gave us Gov. Deval Patrick — and the sudden splash of an exploratory committee, she is a click away from running for U.S. Senator from MA next year.

Reuben Kantor helped with the JP meet and greet, but is not an advisor.

After sitting a few feet away as she worked the 70 or so of us last evening, I went in dubious and came out impressed. Despite last night's cost of admission to the event (no quotes), I got Sullivan's blessing by cell this afternoon to write what I want. That's a relief, as I have some index cards here that need transcription. I regret not turning on the digital recorder, so you could get more than a small taste.

She's hot stuff. She's real. She's earthy, most particularly rare for a Harvard faculty member. Her entry into this race for the seat that Scott Brown is warming might raise the level of discussion an order of magnitude. For all his clichés and bobble-headed sappiness, Brown is not stupid, but I'd bet she has 30 IQ points on his...and more important, an abiding understanding of and respect for the middle and lower classes.

So,what you might ask was it like to sit in a room overflowing with JP pinkos and progressives with Warren?

Inconsequential disclaimers: I found myself identifying with her more than I expected. I'm a year and a couple of days order than she. We're both long-term Boston-area residents, who were born in Oklahoma — always a conversation stopper around here. She's Southern enough to have good manners (and to expect good manners) and yet be plain spoken. It must have been a terrific surprise to her, as shown in the video, when ethically dim Republicans called her a liar. I bet she is incapable of deceit.

Talented orator


From my hour with her, I think Warren's only delusion is that she is loud. She did the school-teacher thing and pulled the audience in toward her feet in the living room, with the dining room peeking in and a few hallway and front porch lurkers. She has a nice, rotund delivery, but is no stentor.

Yet her ideas and passions are so powerful that she seems much larger than her voice or body. she is not big and does not dress big, not like a business slut or lawyer set to impress with tailoring. Instead, she was like an updated beatnik, in black trousers and top, with a long, open, tan cardigan sort of duster thingummy. The effect was judge what I say, not what I wear.

Indeed what she said was powerful. She had been to two or three of these staged listening events (which were a lot more audience listening to her than she to them) already yesterday. She was not tired though.

She started with bio slivers considerably more evocative and powerful than Brown's immaculate barn coat or spotless pickup bought to lug around hay for his privileged daughter's pony. She was a hick from poor stock in our mutual birth state. She had a magnificent grandma tale of widowed great granddad on a horse headed out in the Sooner land rush to an arable plot, while her grandmother drove a wagon of household goods and siblings behind. That was not a trust-fund history, but the authentic American pioneer story.

She still could smile as she recounted growing up "on the ragged edge of the middle class." She remembers her mother weighing how sick the child or children really were against whether they had been able to pay the doctor anything on their bill to justify a visit. She remembers being delighted at 9 to earn 35¢ an hour babysitting a terribly colicky baby and relieving small bit of strain on the family. She is well aware of how important it was to be the first in her family to get a college education and feels deeply grateful for state colleges that let students work their way through to such accomplishment.

She married at 19, had her first child, Amelia, at 22, and threw herself into potty training so she could attend Rutgers Law with a little one. All of these elements live through her understanding of and compassion for ordinary people's challenges to survive and thrive. Much of her academic and financial research at the university and federal level reflects these realities of the masses. In fact, the drive to create the Consumer Financial Protect Bureau over the howls and bricks of the many in Congress and lobbyists who don't know or don't care about plain folk has been quite a shock down on the Potomac.

Bankers or families


In that sense, Warren displayed her amazing populism in that hour in JP. She described our terrifying recession as "a crisis of one family at a time and one lousy mortgage at a time."

Therein appeared the theme of the evening. Not only did she see the problem clearly, she was enough of a scholar to come in with solution(s). Unlike not only Brown, but most in both the Senate and House, Warren wants to understand both the problem and the solution.

In the case of the current economic morass, she pointed to the real national lesson from the Great Depression. That is, "Write a good set of rules." Then, as with the FDR administration forward, we got 50 years to apply those rules, revitalize the middle class, and get America working.

That's one aspect of her consumer bureau work in D.C. She saw the need for very specific good rules for credit cards, mortgages and such. Even when she learned that many in and around Congress wanted to smother her effort and have her crawl away, she knew her job wasn't complete. She gave great credit to President Barack Obama for saying and continuing to say he'd veto any effort to neuter her bureau. Instead of being frightened when lobbyists and House members who favored banks attacked her, Warren got country, thinking, "Don't leave your game in the locker room." With the POTUS' support, she did not get to head the bureau, but she got the bureau up and running.

She came away a bit bruised, realizing, "They can vote for the banks or they can for for families." I am sure if she runs, we'll hear that more than once, and we can look to the voting record of Brown and others on middle-class economic issues.

To the wolves


The JP audience was with her on her problem definitions and solutions. They alternately were fawning and a few angry, but not at her. Some expressed now stereotypical progressive exasperation at Obama specifically and Democrats more generally, with their seeming eagerness to lay waste to many decades of social safety net components, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. I share that frustration and think of the Dem reaction like the melodrama of the Russians in the troika tossing animals and then kids off to placate the pack of chasing wolves.

Asked a few ways if she'd run against Brown, Warren did no quite say, "Yes." Instead, she started with, "I can only do this if it's a grass roots movement." (I note with mild amusement that ads pop up on BlueMassGroup and my own blog here to draft her.) She added that when she and Rubin spoke of the possibility of a run he told her, "If you'll do this, I'll help you."

That sent her into grandmotherly paroxysms. She was genuinely endearing as she went into a rapture of her nine-month-old grandson, Atticus. "He's delicious," she said, smiling broadly enough to crinkle her eyes and displace her glasses. "The hardest thing when I'm with him is not to eat his toes off." As a dad of three, I recall the amazing glories of and wonderment at my sons' tiny fingers and toes, and that was before they had even begun to show their wit.

She used her grandchildren as a segue to wondering aloud whether we were headed for an America where they would have diminished opportunities as a result of our government's decisions and policies. Here, she only hinted at what seemed to be the clearest campaign issue, and pointing back to whether Congress would work for bankers or families.

Other questions brought up one of my issues, familiar to regular readers here. Asked about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), she was as unequivocal as she has been on economics. As she bluntly put it, "I think it's just staggering that the government of the United States would have an official policy to discriminate against some of our people."

They had to wrap up the event before she called on me. I was ready to put her on the spot, which I'll do when she comes on Left Ahead. I want to know whether she can see herself as a lion/lioness of the Senate in what is still to many of us Ted Kennedy's seat. Our current senior Senator has neither the hunger for the right nor the rhetorical and personal power of Kennedy. She seems to, to me. Would she expect to carry that shield?

Regardless, she pegged the progressives at the end by saying she would carry on these battles. "I can't change. I don't know how." If we hadn't noticed in the previous hour, she said not to expect equivocation from her. As she put it, "You will never doubt what I think about anything."

Warren added that if she ran for Senate, "it is only because I care about driving these issues home."


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Speak Out and Be Slandered


Tip of the toupee to Ryan Adams for making me aware of the new calumny on impatient and outraged progressives — firebaggers.

Over at the Huff, Amanda Terkel details a POTUS-camp memo smearing us lefties who dare criticize him. Obama for America (OFA) New Mexico State Director Ray Sandoval mass emailed supporters there a defense of the man and derision of us.

The term-paper length blog post he circulated dumps on Paul Krugman for speaking up and characterizes we disappointed and impatient sorts as "the Firebagger Lefty blogosphere."

The play on and comparison to the Tea Party is an apologist's extreme rhetorical device. Calling the Prez's capitulation to wingers what it is apparently is contemptible.

So be it. Sticks and stones...

Firebagger it is. Flame on, honest progressives.

Nothing, Nothing on Elizabeth Warren

My little geek purse-like-object had an audio recorder, a camera and my trusty Shirtpocket Briefcase (don't leave your desk without it). I was loaded for quotes and mugshots as I climbed the vertiginous stone stairs at #8 Belmore Terrace in JP for an Elizabeth Warren meet and greet.

Forget it. The bouncer was waiting even before the sign-in table. He reduced me to Sgt. Hans Schultz, seeing nothing, knowing nothing, NOTHING.

The event was free and not a fun-raiser for the everybody knows even though she's not saying candidate-to-be against U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. That would be after she: 1) announces, 2) sets her minions to filling their buckets with checks, and 3) wins the Dem primary.

However the cost was an unusual one for me. The guy who helped organized the JP event, Reuben Kantor, knows me by face and more important as blogger and podcaster. He worked with Doug Rubin in Deval Patrick's campaign and they set me up with interviews as well as slots on Left Ahead's show. They were drivers for Patrick acknowledging the new reality of new media types being press. Kantor is a savvy guy...with too good a memory...

He asked for no quotes from the meeting. That's kind of like expecting the butterfly to crawl back in the chrysalis. Coverage in the Globe here and here and in the Herald cite Rubin and Kyle Sullivan (Patrick's former communications king) as scripting Warren's run-up to running. The articles also quote meet-and-greet attendants.

The events surprised no one, except in the intensity of favorable impression by those in those living rooms. A passionate academic is a true force. Unlike so many wheedling and indecisive, situation-ethics hobbled pols, she knows what she's talking about and what she thinks needs to be done. She can do the rational and emotional, alternating and together. You can see why legislators and lobbyists in D.C. wanted her out of town.

Alas, I have eight index cards with notes and quotes on both sides. They await.

I regret that not because I'd scoop anyone. Folk have already quoted her and limned her strategy and route.

Instead, she's a delight to hear and a quote factory. Each output though is handcrafted and in the classic le mot juste mode.

I felt an affinity and certainly not physically. She is reed-like and distinguished gray while I'm a bald hulk. Instead, I'm a year older and we both started in Oklahoma. She alluded to the birthplace and noted that while she is a tenured Harvard professor who has lived in MA for 17 years, OK origins are rare indeed here. In fact, after over 30 years in Boston, I know I can stop the conversation and see the mouths pop wordlessly open when I say I was born there.

So, Warren has enough country and Southern in her to come with plain speaking and a love of language generally lacking in this pretentiously academic area. I promised not to quote yet and I won't, but I must say that her combination of knowledge, clarity of direction, sense of what is right, and rhetorical skills are astonishing.

Here's hoping for speeches and debates.

PM Update: Her exploratory committee (how thin an edge is that?) has a website. HT to @benpolitico.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Civil Union Party and Nobody Came

You can join our club, as affiliate members. Oh, and you can't participate in our major activities or eat with us. Yeah, and you have to come in the service entrance. We're happy to have you. Welcome.

Well, homosexual couples in Rhode Island are less than thrilled.

The AP ran the numbers and found that that nine, count 'em nine, all the fingers on a clumsy carpenter's hands, couples got civil unions in the first month these were offered. That seems to be the level of pent-up demand for marriage ultra-LITE.

Of course, in neighboring MA and CT, the real thing has lots of takers. Civil rights and equality are kind of like that. Being "allowed" to play at second or third-class citizenship is somehow less thrilling to the oppressed and denied. The betrayal of the legislative leaders who suddenly chickened out to go for a severely restricted form of civil unions, with lots of legal discrimination built-in, instead of the marriage equality that was within reach, has not played well.

With so many courageous LGBT leaders, a few duds are bound to stumble into public office.

The article quotes Dawn Euer from Marriage Equality Rhode Island as saying, "If it had been marriage, people would have been lining up. People are holding out for marriage. They want true equality, not a made-up, bureaucratic, second-class status."

Illogically, anti-marriage-equality folk were saying this proves gay couples don't really want the rights, just the married title. That's as absurd as most of their blather and even ignores the dreadful inequality in the RI implementation.

MERI wants a quick CT-style revisit of the civil-union fiasco and then conversion to the real thing in the next legislative session. There's no need to redefine anything or make a production. The mechanism exists. It's called civil marriage.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Michele, My (Ding Dong) Belle


Come over here and let's talk. Let's get real about Michele Bachmann's look. That's not her looks, rather that fire-alarm crazy, raptor jaw stare, glare and gape.

I paid a little attention when the FOX folk and pajama media claimed character assassination because of the Newsweek cover shot of her, her actual face, her photographed glaze. The conceit was that the politically wishy-washy weekly depicted something that wasn't there.

Sorry, boys and girls. That pol often and generally looks demented. Both in TV appearances as well as stills, her ocular and stomatic presentations are of someone you don't want coming up from behind.

I'll paste a couple here from her best PR source, her campaign site. One is the splash on the front and the second a capture from her latest-pictures section. They are cropped to her face and the latest picture is lightened slightly because it is of poor quality on her site, as many of hers are.

I confess that I do not have the Photoshop skills to put in crazed or vacant stares or feral mouth expressions. She clearly comes by those naturally. She's delusional if she thinks these are appreciably better than her Newsweek cover.

Her numerous videos include many minutes of her staring like a cat at some unseen something. Her eyes don't seem to focus at what should be before her. She is flat out creepy nearly all the time. She's probably too old to change these mannerisms, but she'd benefit if she could.

As a pinko, I also confess that what comes out of that oddly presenting mouth is far weirder than its appearance. Her one loony pronouncement after another compound the effect to us lefties.

So, cut me a thin slice, Michele, a very, very thin slice of this bologna. The cries of sexism and manufacture of what is not there are simply not credible.

Maybe Newsweek could have worked hard to find a photo-shoot product from their session where you looked rational or at least normal. Maybe in a large chunk of RAM there was one or two. The fact is though that you do stare vacantly into space, you do look crazy in still and video images, and you do talk crazy.

Monday Update: I just run across the other Newsweek pix at The Daily Beast. It's a slide show that to me proves my points above.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Capital-Citizen Chasm

Tremendous amounts of cash are held by corporations, banks, and billionaires...in these terrible times for nearly all of us. To read tales in the WSJ, FT and so forth, these plutocrats are afraid. They are afraid to invest, lest they not get the maximum possible profit at the minimum risk.

Screw that.

Where is the patriotism of these capitalists? Where is the sense of history of these capitalists? Where is the, well, Christianity, to pick one religion that uses the Golden Rule?

Yeah, yeah, I am overflowing with historic, economic, and philosophic background. The moronically simple-minded chant of the idealized rings loudly. Supply and demand, invisible hand, and other such hooey are theoretical and work only in rare situations. In this world, oligopolies, cartels and small groups of the connected do to the rest of us.

Now in the financial press and even NPR, I'm hearing how delighted company boards and management are at the new, trimmer U.S. workforce. That is, they closed plants, moved production to near-slave-wage countries, and fired as many U.S. managers and workers as they could. Their margins are fatter than ever. Their cash reserves grow. Their literal productivity levels look higher than ever.

Of course, there's a small want here. The U.S. consumer, previously known as employee, is absent. There were a few centuries when our capitalists shared the European view that the true worth of a company was in the number of employees and that putting wages into the hands of American consumers brought it back to the manufacturers and service providers — a circle of economic life, as it were.

From the 17th through 20th Centuries, the rich guys (used to be millionaires and now would be billionaires) bifurcated. The good guys, like the Rockefellers and Carnegies, were moral enough to know when enough was too much. They gave back in spades, and are the model for the current pressure for the very richest to part with half their billions in their lifetimes. They popularized the instant classic ideals that dying rich was a sin (think Matthew 19:24, "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.")

With few exceptions, we are not seeing that today. One startling and refreshing case is Bill Gates of Microsoft. He was a typical greedy, puerile putz, who wanted to rack up the record wealth for the most literal simple-minded reasons until he wed. His Melinda put his head on straight and his feet on the soil we share. Together, they advance the old model of those who have much giving much.

What is it with the Gordon Gekko types elsewhere?

The answers shouldn't surprise. They are the feeblest, most malevolent cosmopolitans that the bad side of capitalism engenders. Those who say that it is a corporation's sole duty to pursue profits and the owners/executives who hide behind shareholders' interest in denying any moral, nationalistic or other duty are at the core.

We need to shame them and act as the throttle they lack. If they did not have meaningful parents, worthy role models, or historic inspiration, they need to hear from humans speaking louder than profit margins.

Let's consider:
  • Our American Revolution received funding from capitalists who cared for fellow citizens, who lived their religious principles, who even risked lives as well as property for common good.
  • Our public libraries — for the education of all and the equal opportunity of knowledge — was seeded by Carnegie grants and perpetuated since.
  • Our vast, if imperfect, garden of public schools, continues to be fostered by capitalists who came from humble homes and wanted to offer the same to others.
  • Our small, but highly influential, group of great foundations are funded from fortunes of industrialists and investors, to find and finance innovation that brings employment and the commonweal.
  • Our universities, greater and lesser, do serve many in the middle class and below through endowments from the uber-wealthy.
What the hell is the matter with the other super-rich?

What's missing here and now is what Bill got with Melinda. The sense of nationhood, of common purpose, of helping others better themselves is the parallel track to rampant capitalism. When we race along in pure capitalism, allowing ourselves to be blinded to the fate of those who actually produce the wealth for us, we are deeply lessened.

The more salient truth is that when companies and individuals do share, all benefit. Sure, it spits in the face of the purest fantasy of free markets and idealized capitalism, but those are artificial and theoretical constructs.

Get with the Program


Back here on planet Earth, those who care for fellow humans, particularly those in the same companies and same nation, are far worthier than those who only maximize revenues. Those with enough nationalism to help their fellow citizens (and consumers) have capital to spend, prosper in many ways. There is real self-interest in helping foster a society devoid of key wants.

Alas in the past couple of decades, we have seen far too many individuals, financial institutions and companies hoarding. They want to transfer even greater percentage of the national wealth to themselves at the expense of the vast majority.

It's not enough to note that they weren't brought up right. The morally and intellectually bankrupt concept that wealth confers right and intelligence and superiority is absurd. Neglecting accidents of birth, quirky fortune, and heavy handed help from relatives and contacts is proof of feeble thought.

We have a POTUS without the moral direction to demand reasoned nationalism of the banks, companies and billionaires. One of our two major political parties is too immoral to risk offending major donors by even asking for fairness.

For the long term, we need the Warren Buffet, Bill/Melinda Gates types in the model of the Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller sorts to speak up. Once you've made obscene fortunes, once you've ensured your very ordinary spawn can pretend they are extraordinary in every way by their inherited power, get to work. Give it up. Give it back. Make America better.

Shorter term, we need a little to a lot of patriotism and practicality here. American workers have long been the most productive anywhere. The successful capitalists need to pay back to them and to the country. Don't squat on the damned dollars. Invest in corporate infrastructure and innovate in technologies. Be selfish for the nation as well as yourself.

Sure, you might be able to make 1% greater return fostering consumerism in India and making sure their citizens can buy your products. What might that say about where your wealth originated? What might that say about the debt you owe this country, allegedly your own?

Consider the two possible messages to shareholders — "We absolutely maximized your ROI and dividends, regardless of what it meant to America" versus "We got you great returns and still made life better for thousands of our U.S. employees."

Honestly, Gekkos, there is no choice here. Get with the program.


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Friday, August 12, 2011

At-Large Council Sites Good Enough

Sure, local elections tend to be won by shoe leather and maybe the good fortune of having opponents who are verbally clumsy. Yet both social media and internet presentation seem to be big and getting bigger.

After comparing the social-media use of the seven at-large Boston City Council candidates, I clicked around their campaign sites. Rather than produce a huge, honking table — even more than the SM one, I'll comment and break down components.

With no September primary, just the final in November, we won't have those debates and debate-like fora anytime soon. Get your political fixes at campaign stops and their sites.
CandidateURLTypo riskEponymous
Ayanna Pressleyayannapressley.comlowyes
Felix Arroyofelixarroyo.comlowyes
John Connollyconnollyforboston.comlow/mod.would go to realtor
Michael Flahertymichaelflaherty.comlowyes
Sean Ryanseanryanforcitycouncil.commoderateparked for someone
Steve Murphystephenjmurphy.commoderategoes to spammer
Will Dorcenawilldorcena.comlowyes

First, all seven have working sites before the campaigns start in earnest. These are fairly easy to find, although none has the great advantages of simple, noun name (think apple.com or very simple names like Bill Smith or even Mike Ball) and even the Irish-American names have numerous possible spelling variations (how many n, l or e's?). Five went to eponymous URLs, although Murphy had to go with his formal name, which no one short of his mother when she's angry might call him. Likewise Connolly and Ryan had to go for longer, more typo-susceptible URLs.


Overall site


The standout site is decidedly John Connolly's. Among its features are:

  • Magazine-style template that makes choosing features easy
  • Enough animation in slides to keep your interest without overpowering you
  • Constituents as obvious in his pix as himself
  • Attractive custom logo/head
  • Seven sensible tabs up top with full content behind them
  • Key volunteer, donate and email update choices big and in prime real estate (top right)
  • Clear pull-down menu choices that open to manageable sub-sites
It is the most usable of the seven. The only front-page niggle is that the events area lists a single, his community office hours. Other candidates tend to provide more choices of meeting and greeting.

Over the seven, there is a bifurcation with a single siding. That is, the four incumbents have the luxury of beefier sites because they can pitch visible, palpable Council accomplishments. Briefly, President Murphy is the numbers and financial expert; all of City Hall knows that and it's his job to make sure the voters grok that. Connolly is the schools guru and champion, a hero to parents. Pressley is both a reality and symbol; she leads on neglected big issues, like women and girls' advancement and protection. Arroyo is the housing and union guy, and as such a true people's advocate.

Ryan and Dorcena are at a serious disadvantage here, as their sites reflect. They are in that limbo of coulda, shoulda, woulda, or rather I shall do wonderful things, if only you let me. That's a tougher sell.

Solo is Flaherty. He was an at-large Councilor, President of the body, and candidate for Mayor. He has to give a compelling reason to suggest he can do better than one of the four with nameplates in the chamber. A perception among many I speak to is that he wants a place where he can run for Mayor again, particularly should MFL Thomas Menino step back from the office. So far, he has not openly run against any of the four incumbents, even the first termers, Arroyo and Pressley. That won't last. Right now his website is long on futures and short on the past, which also won't last.

For amusement sake, take the candidates by given name first.

Pressley

First termer Pressley has a pretty good site. She also has a pretty good marketing angle.

I'll try to make this my last self-flagellation. I was wrong before the last election when I feared that she might not be able to make the transition from the nationally-oriented John Kerry staff to the plebeian, parochial Boston Council slot. She has in fact integrated her big issues into the fifth floor chamber.

Her site expects voters to dig for info. It is particularly strong on appearances and other events. Otherwise, it links on the home page and the news/media tab to her many articles and similar coverage. For example, the News & Media tab has four pages of about a dozen or so article with the lead couple of paragraphs and links to the originals. Here and on the home page, the assumption is that folk will click through and tunnel down to the good stuff — not too realistic. However, many will get a flavor in the displayed info.

The Meet Ayanna tab is equivalent to an About one. It's fine and functional, written clearly and a manageable size. It works.

The Work page is a cognate to Issues. I hope she fleshes this out soon. As it starts, it lists a few major accomplishments or works in process. What's missing is a set of goals and a platform with steps to build it.

She also has limited media. There are no videos. Her pictures are half a year old, with no current images of her with constituents, staff or peers. She's been to many functions and those images must exist.

Her site has no video or audio. Also, it does not include policy statements or PR releases. It has a very clear presentation of Pressley but very limited one of what she intends to do.

Arroyo

This is one site we need to check frequently, as an unfinished artwork. For example, of the seven it is the only one who promises a bilingual English/Spanish interface. A few days ago, it had next to nothing. As of 8/11, nearly everything except his policy statements, print media and contacts was in both languages. The policy/platform is an issue, but I expect it to be done soon.

While Arroyo is "just another" at-large candidate appealing to the spectrum of Boston voters, he is the Latino on Council. He has a natural constituency among Spanish-speaking voters, who get representation and presentation in his public appearances. They likely expect it on his site. They can't put him in office by themselves but as Latinos are the fastest growing population segment here, one would think all candidates would begin to incorporate Spanish on their sites. Not yet.

Geek-wise, Arroyo's site suffers from double click. It takes a pull-down choice and sometimes two clicks to get to where you want. That's not huge, but it's big enough. This, along with Sean Ryan's, are the sites that require choosing a topic area and then a subtopic to get to meaningful information. The younger browsing voters are, the less patience they have with this kind of indexing.

His issues area (Policy Statements in his lingo) are solid when you get to them. Each is a big one — Education and Youth; Housing and Development; Public Safety; Labor ad Workforce Development; Civic Engagement; Heath and Environment; and Basic City Services. On the plus side, he does a personal angle, coupled with how he acted as Councilor or community organizer. He tries to serve double duty here. He needs to duplicate this differently in a separate place to highlight his accomplishments as a Councilor. There is no single place a potential voter can go to for a list of how-I-spent-the-time-since-I-started info.

It's great that his policies are succinct and on a single page. Most candidates are too wordy. That would make sense for the sole candidate with a detailed platform, Connolly. Otherwise, Arroyo's site does it well. Unfortunately for me, his "solutions" appear vague — collaborate, compromise and so forth, without particulars. These generalizations may suit many voters, but not the subset of demanding ones. He stops short of risking ideas on his own.

For media, he's good and bad. His print articles are better than solid. There's lots of coverage, links to favorable articles, and fawning praise of him. Otherwise, he has a single video from a FOX story on the site and Youtube, no endorsements, no pix of him or him with supporters and no audio, even though there's a place holder for that.

His About section is inspired. His message-from-Felix page is terse, revealing and beautifully sincere. He introduces his supporting team with names, a group pic and many email addresses. This meet-Felix pic and message is strong and presents a powerful résumé for anyone, particularly someone so young. It's also likely lookist and a bit sexist, but he's very attractive and his wife is probably the most attractive spouse of any politician's here or maybe in the country. That doesn't win an election, but never hurts.

Connolly

Big John is an affable and accomplished guy. I can't deny that I like him and I admire his perseverance and courage in trying to wrangle the education herd. His website reflects his self-confidence and his deep analysis of big issues.

As the boomer-era cigarette commercial extolled the old Viceroy as "the thinking man's cigarette," we can suggest that Connolly is the thinking voter's candidate. His website is shockingly detailed in contrast to the other candidates. He proposes in-depth solutions after describing specific problems in all major issues — schools, environment, safety, government transparency. No at-large or district candidate even begins to compare with his insight and guts.

Interestingly enough from a design and content perspective, his four detailed platform pages are brilliantly presented. You can skim them for the gist and read them for specifics. They are superbly written, easy to understand, and make great use of fonts, white space and graphics. Connolly is plenty smart, apparently smart enough to hire the best web designers in the candidate field for this year's election.

More important, you'd have to go to back to Deval Patrick's first go to see this out-there strategy. Unlike his competitors and those in district races, Connolly details the big problems, and then provides his take on solutions. He opens himself up to potshots from the lesser minded and puts his neck or other body parts on the block, daring others to put up or shut up. It worked for Patrick and for Connolly in his first two goes. He know where he wants us to go and how he expects to get us there. A huge number of voters appreciate that by the returns.

Connolly's anomaly is is Go Green button and underlying emphasis. That is up top as a button and heavily woven throughout the site. It is truly important, but more to him than most voters. Long-term, environmental technologies and processes are key to the local economy as well as to our survival. He is, however, ahead of the curve on this. As much as he can advance his goals here along with the more stereotypical ones, such as a good school in every neighborhood, we'll all be grateful. That's not going to win the third term for him solo.

He has a solid media presence, with plenty of vids and pix of him with or speaking to constituents. He's a sincere family guy, who splashes images of his wife and kids along with those of voters. I personally saw him touch a prolific breeder friend of mine for good luck for his next one. He is at once, West Roxbury, and Boston, and Catholic, and husband, and dad, and oh, a politician.

His long bio page is gray and tedious, even with several pix. Few will read it. However, he's clever in including a Social Networking subsection in his About that iterates the SM buttons on the front. He's long been active in Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Youtube. Duplication here is savvy and takes voters to places that match their interests.

Surprisingly, his News and Info section should be fabulous but is mostly lame. His news coverage is current and impressive. The rest stink and are one or two years old — press releases, newsletters, community info, endorsements, and events. Given the detail, depth and breadth of the rest of the site, browsers are going to be let down when they get here. Clearly as papers and even bloggers start endorsing, that section will skip two years ahead, but this is the neglected child in the attic on an otherwise splendid campaign vehicle. Likewise, his Flickr feed is way out of date.

By the bye, Connolly is the only candidate with custom and unique heading and logo for his site. A stylized outline of the city per se hangs beside his name — golf clap here.

In my 30-plus years in Boston, I can't recall even a mayoral candidate with anywhere near the specificity in platform or courage of presenting visions and details as Connolly does for Council. His site is gutsy and sets the standard for all the Council races, not just at-large.

Flaherty

This is a fairly spare site, particularly for such an experienced pol. In fairness, he just got the site up. He and Will Dorcena are playing catch-up here.

Very connected, in South Boston, as an attorney, as a successful pol from a political family, Flaherty comes in with very high name recognition for a non-incumbent. Perceived wisdom from the local dailies and weeklies see Flaherty knocking off one of the two first-termers, Arroyo or Pressley. I say he'll have a hard time doing that. Both have built solid records, are big on constituent services, and of course, like Flaherty have cultural, racial and in Pressley's case gender identities. The latter can help, but won't ensure an at-large win.

Almost certainly, Flaherty's web presence is the least important of the seven. He's well known and is a relentless campaigner. His speeches, interviews and site need to balance personality and proposals. He can't be seen as predatory, trying to do in the weakest of the herd. Yet, he has to provide a compelling set of reasons to in effect go back to him when there are four respected at-larges.

He fills a big bucket of platform planks in his Our City tab (good title and angle). There, he covers the big issues — safety, housing, schools, bureaucracy, crime, drugs, and the economy. Unfortunately, this are densely presented, his points are alternately vague or confusing, and he adds separate entries for green economy and energy/environment. It's an odd stew for a crime fighter who opens and closes this long section with anti-drug/gang messages.

He's not big on chunking and making the messages easy to access and memorable. I'll watch how he develops this new page. Yet among the seven he is the only other other than Connolly with proposals. Although from a different angle, Ryan has lots of economic and political points in his videos.

Flaherty's pages are very strong on interaction, with easy to see buttons for donations, volunteering, donating and his mailing list. He's only missing the refer-friends choice that just Murphy and Dorcena offer.

So far though, beyond his pretty basic bio, he is very short on listing accomplishments. That makes sense for non-electeds like Ryan and Dorcena, who don't have public-office histories. As Councilor and Prez, he should be able to present a more pertinent résumé.

This dovetails with the big missing pieces. His print media section is mostly ho-hum announcements for office. Right now there are no press releases, video (except FOX covering his race entry), photos or audio. He's a good enough looking guy, who doesn't have to wallpaper the world with his image, but showing public appearance and adoring supporters would be wise.

He may be able to fix that soon. He has a good calendar of events obvious on his home page. He'll certainly have still and video cameras recording him in the real world.

Finally, his own copy could use an edit. The Meet Michael bio section isn't all that long, but seems so on a web page. It is gray in appearance and content. There are no snappy outtakes and nothing in the writing or display compels us to read. As this is more or less the existing accomplishments statement, he needs to punch it up, or as my wife is wont to say, add snap. Then again, both she and I came out of newspapers. We believe in grabbing the reader.

Ryan

As with his platform planks, Ryan is terrifically sincere, intense and academic. He deals on a higher plane than the other candidates, with a world view of economics and government, which he makes plain need correction.

His site and its large set of linked Youtube videos are unlike the other candidates'. As noted in the SM post, he is the video leader. He also understands how to edit and group these, so they are terse, each deals with a narrow topic, and designed to encourage watching the entire couple of minutes. No one else's video strategy comes close.

He neglects the standard functions of web presence to concentrate on making his sweeping and specific statements. He cleverly groups his candidacy issues into three huge ones — safety, schools, and services (efficient government). Of course, a click on any of those brings up Ryan in a video offering his problem definition/solutions.

Otherwise, his page does have a donation button, but none of the other interaction ones. He offers SM links to Facebook and Twitter. Likewise, he has no media links beyond video, no print, press releases or photos for example.

His one-paragraph bio is just the basics and vague promise to "work hard to make government work hard for us." It's not surprising that he was the only candidate who could not find a day and time to chat with us at Left Ahead. In May and June, we spoke with the other six and invited him repeatedly.

Ryan is very focused on his leading-edge video strategy. As such, his site is unlike the others. It is a video experience with a small visual word component. Click around, particularly on the Youtube area, and you'll learn a tremendous amount about what he thinks, but far less about what he might do as a Councilor.

Murphy

The Council Prez came on sudden and strong with his site. It is a complete package that does a good but not yet great job of overcoming his problem. He is the financial expert in the body. He's pivotal to much of the work there, but not as obviously as other at-large and district Councilors in the main. He doesn't have the provocative proposals others advance. Thus, he has to let voters know he does a lot and is the essential numbers guy, without boring them.

His site has nearly everything, with lots of functionality. It's easy to know him through his bio, images and Vision, which is what he calls his platform. It opens with all of the SM and interaction buttons. While he doesn't have a mailing list per se, he offers this in an RSS feed; that may overwhelm some nontechnical voters, but is a good way to go.

An obvious design niggle is that his Flickr feed of images still shows the long URL instead of a button. Otherwise, he should chop the out-of-date events off his list. Folk would have to page down through about 10 to get to something current. Those who want to see and hear him aren't likely to do so.

At the moment, he has to play catch-up in media. He has lots of impressive press coverage, but no release, video or audio. His Flickr pix are likely the envy of some candidates, with lots of cheering voters and volunteers evident. As a big plus though, the News section links to many places where his actions and influence appear. He's everywhere and doing important stuff.

His vision area is good and smart, but a bit turgid. Of course the fact is that his strength is the economy, which is harder to jazz up without rolling in figures and concepts. It's far easier to slam drug dealers and make a schools proposal. Yet, his platform page does list some impressive accomplishments and goals. He'll certainly talk those up when the campaign gets hot. He may even rework this page so the good stuff stands out.

In contrast, his bio in the Meet Steve section is well written and easy to digest. It is clearly different from the platform copy, which is smart. It's very humanizing and sketches his background quickly and clearly.

This site is well designed and I suspect will only improve as the appearances and forum/debate events start.

Dorcena

This first-time office seeker has that double problem of no elected-position résumé and a late start. He recently brought is site up. It is the prettiest of the bunch. He's also clearly attending to the site. Navigating now brings up what you expect from the pull-down (Arroyo could take a hint) and has solid content. I'll check back on this site and see what else appears.

As when he spoke with us at Left Ahead, Dorcena jumps right into his lack of elected office experience, countering with the double of personal and professional. He is a Boston Catholic schools product and lives in HP with wife and daughter. He runs his own successful business, from which he says he has lessons to apply to Council.

His issues treatments are pretty good. He picks the big ones — schools, safety, jobs, transparency, and constituent services. Note there are no distrations like green jobs or international issues. He's about things he figures voters are too.

His issues/solutions pages are a bit wordy and like several other sites rely on browsing voters plowing through the page and page down. He could use some font/space/graphics and try to make his big points on each pop up, again like several other sites.

His solutions vary by topic:
  • Schools have three vague proposals (like shifting BPS focus to students)
  • Safety has more specificity but is still a bit spongy (like providing safe after-school programs)
  • Jobs offers a more comprehensive set of goals (like going after more DOT money and squeezing banks for more small biz loans)
  • Open government has four solid points (think online city checkbook) that together would create a program for which he and the Council could be held account for implementing
  • Services is a vague place holder (open office policy and acting timely and efficiently)
For media, he is also mixed. Video is only a piece of the sole forum so far and pix are one candid and three posed. The lonely press release is of the site launch. Events are to come. For press, he runs two, in their entirety. He needs more content in all categories, to create some video (at least him speaking to the camera or in speeches), as well as repackaging the press pieces into a head and one or two paragraphs with a link. Those are surely in the works.

He has the key buttons for donations, volunteering and soliciting friends. He's managing to tweet regularly and keeps an active FB posting routine.

He has a good fast start. This is another site to monitor.


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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hoping for Matt Dillon


The many millions of us who grew up in era of the simple-minded black-hat/white-hat Westerns...and the equally binary right/wrong religions...the current reaction in these panic times makes sense. Americans have emotional need for a hero or set of heroes.

The risible aspect of this is how the anti-heroes call for the equivalent of a white-hat, Matt-Dillon sort to clean up Dodge the country. Our own sometimes local Mitt Romney is the worst of the observer class here. He decried the POTUS' lack of leadership, saying it was his responsibility to make all the good stuff happen and prevent any of the bad stuff from doing so.

This is rife with contradiction, hypocrisy and humor on so many levels. Consider first that throughout the run-up to the debt crisis that Romney hid from the public, saying only that whatever Obama would do would not be what Romney would do. Then in his professional life, he has a long and deep history of destroying jobs to maximize the saleability of companies his VC group invested in, invariably meaning dumping employees. Then during the debt-ceiling debates and after, he had nothing to add and no direction to lead.

The GOP'ers in the House, linked to the Tea Party and no, almost all walked away from the disaster they forced whistling, looking skyward and saying it wasn't their fault. I contended yesterday in our Left Ahead show that the majority of voters are not so easy to delude on this very public, prolonged drama. Obama may not be the good guy, but we sure know who the bad guys are. I'm betting that even in conservative areas, constituents are blasting the out-of-session members of Congress.

Two and one-half years in, we know that Obama is no Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt. He's not likely to transform into the decisive, insightful hero we long to save us.

There is a slim chance that this so-called Super Committee of 12 given the tasks of cutting debt and please God raising more revenue will be sensible and improve our lot — not heroic, but at least smart. For all the winger blather about having to run the nation like a family, on planet Earth that has always meant challenging bad times by doing with less, bringing in more resources or both. It was not about starving to death, living in the woods, and sacrificing the weakest in the family.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Mad as Hell, There but not Here


After three days of riots, Londoners are not through. Catalyzed by police shooting a young man, Mark Duggan (shown), to death, the U.K. burning, looting and violent protests are about much more. The social programs and policies there are in even worse than than the U.S. equivalents. People are pissed to the point of rage instead of panic.

Here, we shall see the deaths of many, but not from police bullets. Rather, the slow and hidden demise of those from destitution, anguish, despair, anxiety and suicide will come with joblessness, hopelessness, homelessness and other lacks. We have a crazed and craven U.S. House and a timorous eunuch of a chief executive, the former leading us to destruction and the latter leading us not all. Millions of us will suffer.

In London, there's a similar divide separating the very wealthy and secure from hoi polloi. There instead of panic and despair, many express anger and worse. Consider the Amy Weston new pic here of a woman leaping, as it turned out to injured safety, from a torched building.

Here our arson is the dragon's breath of political posturing. Our legislators deny all responsibility for damage to millions of Americans and billions of cosmopolitans from their games.

Before my time, we had riots in many industrial cities and in my life, mass violence in Los Angeles, Newark, Plainfield and more. Americans for the moment seem so stunned by the evil visited upon us and the larger world that we react with sadness and fear instead of flames, stones and pillaging.

Yet we are not that far off of the English disorder.

Traditional Divorce and Adultery

How blissful must be the delusional lives of the anti-marriage equality folk. Neither facts nor observation distract from disdain and hatred of the other.

A splendid recap of U.S. marriage appears in Edge. None of the info is new, but it all bears repeating and is great as needed for debate.

Read the piece for the many numbers and sources. A key overall point is that marriages are healthier in the states with legal same-sex marriage. Wedded couples in places like Massachusetts have lower divorce rates — true for straight and homosexual pairs there.

The reasons are not news either, except maybe for the anti-gay sorts who chose to ignore the obvious. Note that adultery and divorce are most common among the wingers and in the Bible Belt. To those who pay any attention to scholars who measure and analyze such trends, the allegedly traditional marriage — straight, very young and theoretically at least without fornication or cohabitation first — is the one most likely doomed.

People don't know each other or really even themselves. Many feel trapped and cheated of experience when the have been married for a year or two or three. Hence, come infidelity and dissolution of the bonds. Moreover, those marriages are more likely to have very unequal finances and education, with the woman on the weak ends. In the main, it all doesn't seem to work that well.

Other identified factors for strong, lasting marriages include being educated, being tolerant of the spouse and others outside the marriage, and having kids. The wingers and fundies who fantasize about all homosexual couples being sluts forever on the make could hardly be more wrong for the married ones...and less perceptive about their own cohorts.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Scofflaw, I Got Your Ticket Right Here

BPjollyParalyzed police are so oppressed by thoughtless lawmakers. Otherwise, for sure dudes and dudettes, they'd do the right thing.

Over at the Globe today, Peter DeMarco does his usual clear writing on bike issues. The gist is that cops in Boston and other cities around aren't writing tickets for cycling infractions, particularly running red lights. It seems there are flaws in the laws.

Rather, there are numerous laws that make it clear that under MA law, a bicycle is a vehicle with similar rights and responsibilities for the operator as motor vehicles. (A later post or two will rip into the inane same-road-same-rules chant.) Yet the three-paragraph law (Ch. 85-Sect. 11E) that passed this January gives the cops a weak excuse not to write tickets for bikers.

The ruse is that as there is no driver's license to suspend or revoke, the constabulary is powerless, powerless I say son, to do anything other than write warning tickets to cyclists. While listening to locals and reading comments on newspaper and websites, you'd believe all drivers are law abiding and all cyclists hellions.The BDP and other cops around feign impotence.

Unfortunately, DeMarco stops with taking them at their word and does not point out the obvious. Nor does the Globe or police or anyone seem interested in a bit of science. Counting and classifying infractions by drivers, bikers and walkers would likely make them all squirm and shuffle their feet.

We really do need to disregard these give perceptions that drive (if you pardon) the related discussions. I've done a few short term counts. I think I'll do some more and publish them. This is a discussion awaiting and some official counter sorts should get involved.

First let's note some Boston road traits:

  • Unlike many cities with long, straight runs of well-timed lights, ours are generally low speed.
  • This keeps most collisions to non-lethal levels. While it's rare to find a local car without dings, we don't get going fast enough to murder in most cases.
  • The sheer number of cars here so vastly exceeds bikes that the numbers of wrecks, hit-and-runs and more commonly moving violations is several orders of magnitude higher for motor vehicles.
  • There are virtually no fatalities caused by a bicycle hitting anyone or anything, and numerous ones of car, bus and truck drivers hitting cyclists.

Yet the need of urbanites to identify with fellow drivers and to believe that cyclists are far more likely to disregard traffic laws is terrifically strong. Hence, there is a cry for our cops to crack down on these scofflaws.

periodmoto

Back to my quasi-scientific findings, which I promise to replicate and expand a bit, I went to a few intersections, some with little bike traffic and others with a mix of motor and non-motor. What I found included with the preponderance of cars, trucks and buses, it was extremely rare (under 1%) of traffic lights and stop lights that did not have multiple driver offenses at every light change and every sign stop. These were running the light or sign, not coming to a complete stop, blocking the crosswalk or box, not stopping before the stop line, turning on red where not allowed, speeding, turning or changing lanes without a signal, turning without yielding to pedestrians, and turning from the wrong, marked lane. In general, the law-abiding drivers were the one who were not close enough to commit the moving violations. At nearly all lights, from one to five drivers ran red lights, often tailgating each other through after the change.

Cyclists tended to be guilty most frequently of slowing or stopping for the red light, then proceeding, running the light in vehicular terms. Yet, more and more cyclists are stopping and waiting, including this one. The message seems to be getting through to us. It appears a slight majority do proceed after stopping and before the light changes though.

Of course, cyclists are wont to point out that the risk to anyone from a cyclist stopping and going is tiny contrasted to a motor vehicle driver doing that. It's still illegal tough. Moreover, it is well to a cyclist's safety to get ahead of drivers at a light change. Drivers are much more sensible and safe overtaking cyclists where they can see and feel in charge than leaving a light at the same moment. Yet, even starting a second or two before the change to green is still illegal.

The fact seems to be that most drivers who do not also cycle seem to resent cyclists or anyone who might get to do something they cannot. Despite the vast physical differences, drivers seem from their comments to have a puerile reaction — If I can't, they can't! It's not fair!

Then to the cops, let's be plain about return on their time and effort investment. They roundly hate the $1 MA jaywalking law and the $20 bike tickets. Fair enough for pedestrians, but they know that the bike tickets can be $20 to $50, enough to make it worth the time.

In fairness, we need to be aware that tickets are time consuming, particularly if the receiver fights it and the cop is supposed to appear in court to testify. Understandably, they'd rather not mess with bike and ped tickets. They could enforce these laws, as they have in places like D.C. and occasionally, periodically, in Cambridge.

However, cops may have seen too many police dramas. Talk to a cop and they would have it they are overwhelmed with major stuff. Yet the danger of some loony or criminal shooting at or trying to stab or club a cop are very low in a given year or decade. Some officers go careers without any of that. More importantly, the vast majority of cops are not detectives bringing to the bar murderers, burglars and such. Most cops do pretty mundane looking and other work all day every day.

They largely have time to do for pay what I have done out of curiosity — go to intersections and observe moving violations. The difference, of course, is that they should then write tickets.

Virtually any intersection any day would provide one violation after another. They would quickly:

  • Fill up ticket book
  • Shock the drivers used to the no-blood-no-ticket attitude
  • Spread the word that urban cops were enforcing laws for a change
  • Make our streets safer

The pretense that tweaking the new 85-11E would make a difference is absurd. Facts include that cyclists have advantages here. While they are much more likely to be maimed or killed when hit, they don't have licenses to lose or surchargeable insurance. They don't have to produce their papers (license) and could give false names and addresses.

In comments on sites, a common call is for cyclists to have operator insurance and some form of license. These too are those shallow, emotional responses to someone having something those commenting do not. Plus, I try to imaging the cry over the expense and new bureaucracy in implementing such changes.

Instead, cops should enforce existing laws for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Police departments can make that happen by mandating enforcement and creating policies for their officers in presently iffy situations.

Sure, cops would whine that they'll spend a lot more time writing tickets and appearing court. I can almost guarantee that this would be only for a few months. When the word got out that the BPD suddenly means to enforce traffic laws, violations will plunge as driver/cyclist/walker behavior changes.

I propose that we measure violations, both by study and by tickets issued. That would certainly take the bluster out of driver's claims that they are the only ones who obey the laws. We could get a much safer city.

Cross-post: This is both legal and personal. I'll post in Harrumph and Marry in Massachusetts.

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