Sunday, December 17, 2006

Noise noise noise noise

I finally put pictures of the Christmas tree up. They're at my Flickr site, which you can link to from the bookmark over on the right. The one that says "My Photos."

I spent most of this past weekend with family members, especially many small children. And some not so small children. I know this is something everyone says, to the point of sounding trite and cliched, but kids really grow up fast. I have a mental picture in my mind of my step-brother changing my niece's diaper on the floor of my father and step-mother's house on Christmas eve. I can here all the sounds and conversation going on around me, I can smell the food that was being served in the kitchen, and most of all I can remember thinking how silly she looked getting her diaper changed. She was just kind of looking up at my step-brother and waiting for him to be finished (she was probably about two and wasn't going to be in diapers too much longer). I don't remember the exact year, but it had to have been well over ten years ago because I saw her yesterday at my step-sister's house and she is three inches taller than me (in heels) and a sophomore in high school.

Having the chaos of children around reminded me of something I though of in church a couple of weeks ago. The Episcopal parish I go to does Sunday school in the parish hall up to the point in the service where the congregation exchanges the peace of Christ. As we shake hands and get ready for the Eucharistic part of the liturgy, the kids pour in and join their parents in the pews. They help with the collection, and then generally buzz and hum about until the end of the service. This means that while the vicar is telling the story of the Eucharist, and blessing the bread and wine, and during the recitation of the Lord's prayer, there is a lot of giggling, chattering, wandering, and occasional squalling going on. The more experienced parishioners make no attempt to hush or huddle their children.

I can imagine some parents going crazy with this type of activity going on during what is the most solemn and important part of the service, and I have often imagined a kind of dialogue in my head between a more strict parent and the parents of St. John's. Two things occurred to me, which made it clear that not only does this method of dealing with restless children in church not do any harm, it adds something very useful to the experience.

First is what the distraction of children's voices and footsteps during the Eucharist provides for adults. It is a challenge of sorts. We are constantly distracted and preoccupied in our daily lives, and yet Christ (or God or whatever your flavor of faith is) expects us to stay focused. We acknowledge the distractions, we deal with what we have to, but we get our minds back on the task at hand and stay connected to our faith. If we concentrate and find balance in our minds, we will hear the most important parts of the message of faith through the din of the everyday world.

The second realization I had concerned the children themselves, and my response to someone who felt that they should be compelled to pay attention during the service. The benefit children get from going to church, especially very young children, is hardly in the specific lessons and words they hear there. What is most important is the model of behavior they see being set by the adults around them. If they are being scolded by parents who are focusing more on being in control than they are on the transcendence of the moment, they won't come away from the churchgoing experience with any sense of the peace and reassurance that regular worship brings. After all, how many kids who were forced to attend church every Sunday throughout their childhood abandoned it the moment they had the freedom to? And how much good is it doing for those people who go only because it was programmed into them?

After spending the last two days surrounded by tumbling, chattering, squawking, crying, laughing and questioning voices, I have reached a sort of indifference to it. Not an indifference to the kids, but an ability to squelch the noise and filter the distractions and not lose my mind. I imagine this is what most parents learn to do, eventually. When I think of all the adults in my life when I was a child, I am amazed at what they accomplished while my brother or cousins or friends and I were raising a ruckus. They carried on conversations, played card games, read books, watched television and a host of other things. You must just get used to it after a while.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

O Tannenbaum

After six years in school, I am beginning to associate the holidays with panic-stricken paper writing. With the exception of one fall term when the school fiddled around with the schedule -- and the term ended after the new year -- the Christmas season has also marked a period of multiple assignment deadlines. I'm actually enjoying it this year; it adds to the whole intense, expectant, anticipatory mood of the season. And I would like to think I am getting better at slamming out papers, so it is getting easier (but I'll wait to say that with 100% conviction until after I get this term's grades.)

Right now I am trying to decide whether I am going to go out shopping tonight, or finish the last of my papers. I really need to get some presents for a family get together this weekend, and I can write during work hours tomorrow and Thursday (when the paper is due). But tonight I just don't feel like shopping. I have no idea what to get, anyway. I need some presents for little nieces and nephews that I don't see very often, so I'm not sure what they're into. And I am looking forward to writing this paper.

The whole process of writing is getting easier and more enjoyable for me. I outline things in my head and literally visualize the paper coming together. I picture a body, like a lizard or a cat, and the main idea is the spine. The head is the introduction, that has a little bit of everything in it. The legs are the specific points I want to concentrate on, and the tail is the re-statement of the most important point I am trying to make. Once all those parts are filled in I can sit down and knock off how ever many pages I need just by adding to each part.

The hardest part of writing academic papers is digging through sources for references. I have to develop a system of keeping quotes and citations easy to access, so I can drop them in at the appropriate place and not spend 45 minutes flipping through a book or article looking for the few relevant words I know I read somewhere. I'm sure there are software tools for this, but I have to get used to using them. I have a nice outlining software for Mac that was free, but I never use it. The university also licenses EndNote software for bibliography writing. If I were smart I'd start a database of my sources now and save myself all that typing come dissertation time.

Last but not least, we got our Christmas tree up this past weekend. I'm going to post some photos later. It is a great tree - shaped like a perfect triangle, and decorated to perfection by the missus. She's kind of particular about it. I try to help, but I usually end up doing a crossword and watching "A Christmas Carol" while she agonizes over ornament placement. I do the take down. It used to depress me, but I get as excited by the end of Christmas (and the start of a new year) as I used to get by the beginning of it.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

T-day plus 2

I made pie. And cranberry chutney. And broccoli bake. The broccoli bake is like the classic green bean casserole, with the French fried onions and Campbell's soup, only you use broccoli instead of green beans and cream of broccoli soup instead of cream of mushroom soup. The cranberry chutney is one of my favorite things to cook and eat. That's made with shallots, ginger, garlic, sugar, cider vinegar and cranberries. Savory and sweet, and it is great on a turkey sandwich.

The masterpiece was my pie: buttermilk pecan. Two cups of sugar, one cup of buttermilk and one stick of butter (among other things). It is one of the richest, sweetest things I've ever eaten. Good thing I only make it once a year.

The leftovers are almost gone. The weekend is almost over. The season is in full swing now. Blink and you'll miss it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remembrance Day

It was a bright, warm November day, and I took a walk around the pond. I noticed a lot of empty jackets forgotten on benches; it must have seemed like a good idea when you left the house, but sixty-five degrees is too warm for that micro-fleece knit pullover. This time of year, the sun is always low in the sky, and shadows and glints of light bounce around and keep me squinting and distracted. I can't focus on any one thing for too long, but I never could, even under the best of circumstances.

Saint Martin, according to legend, cut his cloak in half to save a freezing beggar. A period of warm weather on (or near to) his feast day is often called St. Martin's little summer, and it is believed that there always is a spell of warm weather in honor of his kindness. In America, these warm spells are called Indian Summer, in honor of the opportunity they provided for the savage brutes to squeeze in one more attack before the winter settled in for good. Imagine the audacity! Such a crass lack of hospitality. And after we gave them all those blankets to keep them warm.

Today a WAR MEMORIAL was dedicated at the school. WAR MEMORIALS strike me as misleading and contradictory. This one is not very imaginative or subtle: black granite with etched, coarsly photo-screened images of war on one side, stainless steel plaques like over-sized dog tags on the other. Inflexibility and strength. And a too-human tendency to replace memory with an archivist's ledger. Shouldn't the point of every WAR MEMORIAL be a compelling persuasion to never let this happen again, and not some macho promise of immortality? Dulce et decorum est, indeed.

I remember realizing, in a history class I took two years ago, that the anniversary of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm and Kristallnacht were one day apart. How you remember is just as important as what you remember.

"Fellas, it's been good to know ya."

Friday, November 10, 2006

I'd Rather Be Wrong and Happy...

I will continue to make gloom-and-doom predictions, but at least my mistakes aren’t too difficult to swallow. Regarding my post at the end of September, I stick with my assertion that the Massachusetts Democratic Party didn’t really get behind Deval Patrick: he won this entirely on his own. Or, more correctly, Kerry Healey lost it. She would have had a chance with a low-key campaign that stuck to identifying Patrick as the tax-and-spend liberal he admits he is. Instead she went with tactics more reminiscent of the national GOP and got blown out of the water. Thank goodness.

On the national level, I am also pleasantly surprised. I think this reaffirms the assertion that pundits and political scientists make: high voter turnout is good for the Democrats and bad for the Republicans. You’ll also notice that in the two close Senate races – Montana and Virginia – the (losing) Republican candidates didn’t do too much kicking and screaming or make accusations of voter fraud and improprieties. Because Republicans are mature and statesmen-like losers, right? No, because they know if anyone is going to use any hanky-panky to nudge a close race over the edge it will be them, and not the Democrats! (Okay, settle down, I’m just kidding.)

Also, for the first time since 1994, more state legislatures are in Democratic hands than Republican. This was also the first time since 1994 that all the chambers that switched hands from one party to the other went from Republican to Democrat. This reinforces the notion that what we have seen is a change on the same scale as the Republican Revolution of 1994. Both chambers of the New Hampshire General Court are controlled by Democrats for the first time since 1874. (That’s supposed to be an 8, it’s not a typo.) For the first time since Rutherford B. Hayes was president New Hampshire is a “blue” state. So much for the Libertarians taking over.

So, the ignorant Americans who get all their political information from the TV news think that we are going to either (a) abandon Iraq overnight, turn all their children homosexual and raise the tax rate to 50%, or (b) pull out of Iraq overnight, fund universal health care, and institute 100% public financing of elections. I was surprised that a fellow graduate student reacted to the election results by saying “hold on to your wallets – the Dems are in charge.” People have such over-simplified views of the world, it’s no wonder we can’t have an intelligent debate about anything.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pranksters and Wiseacres

I've been reading Lisa Crystal Carver's Drugs are Nice lately. I mostly read it in bits and pieces when I'm on the can, because I don't have the luxury of spending long periods of time reading for enjoyment. I was aware of Suckdog and GG Allin in the late eighties when I was a nice, polite, shoe-gazing indie rocker. I always thought that any fool could get on stage and take a crap or insult people and pass themselves off as some kind of unique, demented genius. I had some respect for the guts it took, and the originality of it, but I always thought it would be better if it were done with a little more subtlety. Where’s the shock value if everyone shows up expecting you to shit onstage and flail yourself with the mic stand, and that is exactly what you do?

Another person mentioned in Drugs Are Nice is Lisa’s ex, Boyd Rice. He likes to piss people off by using quasi-fascist symbols and spouting social Darwinist ideas. But when you’re that ham-fisted about making people uncomfortable, you only attract people who either misinterpret what you’re doing (e.g. actual white supremacists or fascists who will eventually kick your teeth in once they figure out what you’re up to) or only have a fleeting attachment to being with the most “out” group they can find but will drop out as soon as they find something weirder or more shocking. Holding an opinion because it will make some people mad is no more original than holding an opinion because it will make some people happy.

Sometimes I do wish I was more of a rebel. But I’ve never felt like my life would be better today if I had managed to insult more people in the past. The people I’ve met who “aren’t afraid to say how they feel” and who “don’t hold anything back to protect other people’s feelings” are always the first to get insulted when you tell them to their faces that they aren’t clever because they are brutally honest, they’re just assholes. Not that anyone is going to accuse me of being too nice anytime soon. Maybe too safe, but not too nice.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Five Random Confessions

Here, in no particular order, are five things about myself that I am not particularly proud to admit.
  • I got into the Clash because I heard "Train in Vain," and I got into the Jam because I saw the video for "Town Called Malice." Yeah, I'm a faux-punk poseur.

  • I avoid people I know in public. When I'm commuting to or from work or just out and about, if I see someone I know I will usually avoid them. I'm not talking about people I don't particularly like, or people I don't know well. I just don't really like making small talk. The only people this doesn't apply to are my wife and the few people I am close enough with that we can sit quietly together. It takes a certain level of intimacy to transcend verbal communication.

  • I have a touch of OCD when it comes to the order that I open the applications I use on my work computer. We use Lotus Notes for email, so I always have to open that first. Then I have to open FileMaker Pro, the database software I work on. Next, I open Internet Explorer, then iTunes, then the scanning software I use regularly. If I screw up and close my Lotus Notes window, I have to shut everything else down and open them back up in the right order. Otherwise they aren't lined up along the bottom of the task bar correctly. This isn't a problem for me at home - I use a Mac there.

  • I am very rarely in the moment. I have a secret life more rich than Walter Mitty, although many of my "daydreams" are just mundane monologues and imagined conversations I'll never have. I am talking to myself almost constantly, and sometimes out loud (or just under my breath). I'd like to be more focused, but it's a good day when I can spend an hour concentrating on any one task.

  • I can be ridiculously delusional. I have occasional spells of insecurity where I think my friends are all just pretending to like me.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pro-cras-ti-na a-tion, it's keepin' me waiting.

So, I am once again immersed in work-avoidance Internet use. I should be typing up a summary of all the books and papers used as sources for my big paper, and I can't stay focused for more than ten minutes at a time, what with MySpace and YouTube and the happy chickens message board around to distract me.

I went to Ad Frank's birthday party at the Middle East Friday night. I was originally supposed to play one of his old songs to him (that was the entertainment theme of the evening), but that didn't work out. It was another one of those nights when I stood in the crowd and longed for the days when I was only in a club like that because I was going to be on stage at some point. *Sniff sniff* I miss my rock star days. I don't miss load-in, load-out, hauling amps through snow, sleet, rain and hail, hanging around empty clubs through sound checks and generally busting ass for $3 and a few drink tickets. The two things I really do miss are the writing process - spending hours on a piece of music with two or three other people and the feeling of satisfaction when you knew you were playing something that was having an effect on people - and being in the studio. I actually miss having all that guitar gear, too. I used to give stuff away just to have an excuse to go shopping for more stuff.

For some weird reason, when I was rehearsing the song I was going to play for Ad, I got "Temptation Eyes" by the Grass Roots in my head. I would not be satisfied until I learned it, so I downloaded in on iTunes, and then Googled the guitar tablature. I wish I had this stuff when I was first learning the guitar. It sure beats picking the needle up and putting it down on the same measure and a half of "Accidents Will Happen" over and over. (Am I dating myself?)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Here I am...

I am very busy, and the deadline for my NEPSA paper is fast approaching. But I was sitting here listening to KEXP and I was reminded of a bon mot I made at a party a few weeks ago that I meant to share with the world.

We were talking about cliques in college and my friend Ad Frank mentioned that his college was so small that the punk, hippie and deadhead groups all conflated into one (and he did use the word "conflated" because we talk like that). I said that that happened at a lot of small colleges in the mid 80s. That's why we have Camper Van Beethoven.

See, I can be clever when I want.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I am just here for a minute - I've got too much work to do to spend time bllaarrrghing. I just want to share a thought I actually had about a month or two ago. All the anger and discouragement people were feeling against the Republicans (on a national level) peaked way too early for the Democrats to make any use of it. And the Democratic Party is defined by an inability (and maybe even a lack of willingness) to manipulate the voters the way the Republicans can and will. I'm predicting only slight changes in the balance of the House and Senate, with a more than likely continuation of the status quo as far as majorities are concerned.

As far as the election for Massachusetts governor goes, I said all along that the Democrats squandered the opportunity to get out in front when they went with this touchy-feely, let's-all-bring-something-to-the-table strategy of running three candidates through the summer and having a primary. Deval was it at the convention. Deval was it at the primary. Deval should have been it all along. They'd have several million dollars to spend (instead of a little over $1 million), and the Healey campaign wouldn't be able to say things like "even Tom Reilly called Deval Patrick soft on crime." Way to go Massachusetts Democratic Party. You now have 42 days to overcome the political inertia of an electorate who are probably a lot more comfortable voting for a Republican woman than a black man, or who are more than likely going to stay away from the polls altogether. Not than an extra three months of one-on-one campaigning was going to change the minds of the many unenlightened folks who vote for the candidate they would prefer to have a beer with, but it could have given Patrick more time to convince voters that he has more on the ball than Healey. Instead we got to listen to Reilly and Gabrielli snipe at each other over a moot point.

I am still completely convinced that Sal DiMasi and Bob Travaligni have no interest in sharing power with a Democrat in the corner office. Why split the spoils and the patronage when you already control the approval process for the most important appointments? When you've got the kind of overwhelming control that the Democratic Party has in two of the three branches of government, taking the third branch becomes more of a liability than an asset. And the executive branch is the easiest to concede without actually committing to any substantive changes in policy. Vetoes can be overridden, rulings can be overturned, and executive agencies can be investigated to the point of impotence. Think of this: Massachusetts has had Republican governors since 1991, and we are still the national touchstone for liberal government. Don't think for a second that the Massachusetts Democratic Party is embarrassed by that characterization, or is trying too hard to change it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

...And How Sad Is That?

Busy busy busy. I've got a church yard sale, two graduate seminars, a paper/presentation for a professional meeting and about a half-dozen overdue social commitments to cover. But what made me so excited I just had to take a break and update my blaarrggh?

Today, when I got to work (after a 30 minute delay caused by those mentally defective chimps collectively known as the MBTA)I found in my mail box a brand new, "professional series," Swingline stapler. It has a staple remover...built into the handle! This is the best thing that's happened to me since I played a Miles Dethmuffen gig in Cleveland and got a barbecue chicken sandwich...with coleslaw right on the sandwich! Delish!

So, the staple remover, it's one of those pinchy kinds, and it slides out of the back of the stapler. Totally cool. And the stapler itself goes through, like, 25 pages at once. Beefy!

Plus, I voted this morning, and that's always cool. Then I got the paper and saw that Ed King died. I try not to speak ill of the dead, but I'm not going to pretend to like the guy just because his number came up, you know? It can be said for him that he worked really hard for the things he believed in. Too bad he believed in things like execution, bare-bones social welfare programs, a tax structure that favored the rich, and a lot of other social-Darwinist crap that became popular thanks to the Goldwater-Reagan Repugnocrats. Minimum sentencing requirements, terminal injections, and bigger prisons aren't going to make the crime rate go down, boys. People will stop robbing and stealing when the alternatives are more attractive. As long as half the population is forced to exist in dead-end jobs on subsistence wages, jacking a suit for his wallet is going to be a lot more appealing than emptying the garbage at BKs.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Color coding.

I was involved in a conversation recently about the whole "red state/blue state" comparison. People from blue states make sweeping generalizations about people from red states, and vice versa, and the whole thing is based on such a small sliver of political information as to be useless.

Imagine this: a man is arrested for murdering his family. He is a brutal sociopath with no remorse. In the course of the investigation it is mentioned in the media that the last thing he did before committing these atrocious murders was sit down to his daily morning cup of coffee. The same day, it is announced that an extremely wealthy philanthropist has decided to hand over all his wealth to a charity organization for AIDS orphans. Billions of dollars are going to be made available to these children; it will positively affect the rest of their lives. In the midst of the story, the philanthropist mentions that the idea came to him over his morning cup of tea, which he has every day. Do we jump to the conclusion that all coffee drinkers are murderous, raving lunatics and all tea drinkers are saintly, generous humanitarians?

It appears that the American media would answer "yes." Based on one political characteristic of a state - which presidential candidate was supported by a majority of voters - newspapers, TV networks, political bloggers, columnists and others have grouped the entire population into two categories. You're a red stater or a blue stater. Forget the fact that you could come from a state that supported Bush for president, but that also has Democratic majorities in both houses of its state legislature. Or a state that supported Kerry for president but has had a Republican governor for fifteen years. And forget the fact that participation of eligible voters ranges from approximately 49% to 77% across the states (

This oversimplification of the political dialogue in the United States is one reason people give up voting in the first place. I know it sets me on a ranting rampage, but that could just be the coffee talking.

In a completely unrelated note, a friend of mine used a term at lunch the other day that was new to me, and I wanted to share it (he may have coined it himself; I googled it and didn't come up with anything in the context he used it in): business roadie. This is a person who sets up audio/visual equipment and/or catering materials for business functions and meetings. I don't have anything to say about this (other than the fact that I've done some of this kind of work as an administrative assistant), I just thought it was a useful and interesting turn-of-phrase and I wanted to pass it on.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Difficult passage.

I did the readings at church this morning. Both lessons were difficult: the Old Testament lesson was about the exclusiveness of Israel as God's chosen, and the New Testament reading was about a husband's and wife's duty to one another. This was the second week in a row that the pastor (a visiting priest covering the regular rector's vacation) mentioned the fact that these difficult and often controversial readings are placed in the liturgical calendar in the middle of August, when everyone is on vacation and can "miss" them.

He then went on to preach about the need to analyze and contemplate what these difficult passages mean to modern Christians. These are lessons that have been interpreted literally and used to maintain the legitimacy of reactionary or conservative power structures, particularly sexist, patriarchal hierarchies. However, the story of Christ is certainly not about maintaining the status quo. Thus, there is an obvious contradiction here. One explanation, the reverend said, was that the revolutionary rhetoric of early Christians was tempered by language in the epistles to demonstrate that Christians were not threatening to turn the world upside down. Another approach he suggested to these lessons is to alter the assumptions about the very language used, and to see the imagery of the writings more broadly. The point is, the sermon challenged us to think carefully and contemplatively about the lessons.

This addresses a problem I have from both ends of Christianity. On the one hand, as a (nominal, at least) Christian, I do get frustrated with people who assume that all Christians are creationists who hate science. On the other hand, I often want to put as much distance as I can between myself and fundamentalists who see all questioning of scripture as heresy. Faith is not the negation of inquiry, it is the starting point for it. I got interested in the Church because of the intellectual discipline and philosophical examination that are an integral part of it. I do not think that we are obliged by our faith to accept the conclusions that earlier observers came to regarding the interpretation of scripture, the nature of God, or the questions of how we get along with one another. The observance of faith, that is the practice of religion, does not give us answers to life's problems, it gives us an approach to use in figuring things out for ourselves.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Am I missing something?

I just read a news item about the young woman who recently freed herself from captivity in Austria after eight years. The police investigators on the case are trying to determine if the sexual contact her kidnapper had with her was "consensual or forced." I always thought Austria had a fairly advanced legal system, so I can't imagine under what circumstances anything done by a girl abducted when she was ten years old could be considered consensual. Not that it matters much, now, since the cowardly bastard who did it killed himself.

Drastic change of topic.

I just got back from a long walk around JP. I was surprised to see that the real estate office that had burned down last week re-opened in a new location. They were obviously ready to open before the fire. I'm not sure what relevance this could have to the fire, but I found it curious that it wasn't mentioned in any of the news stories I read.

Also, I had a couple of pints and picked up some take out from my favorite neighborhood place last night. Aside from coming home smelling like I had spent the night inside a wood burning stove, the place was back to its old self.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

"Clutching forks and knives"

On this day in 1967, Abbie Hoffman and some friends disrupted trading on the NYSE by tossing dollar bills onto the exchange floor from the gallery. The traders rushed to collect the falling manna from the skies, evidently deciding that a buck in the hand is worth ten on the big board.

On a completely unrelated note, it has always struck me as odd that underperforming public schools are threatened with having their funding cut. If a child comes home from school with a "D" on her report card, you don't take away her books.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I saw a very disturbing item in the national news briefs yesterday. Evidently, the Bush administration is “retroactively” classifying the number of nuclear weapons the United States had stockpiled during the cold war. According to the story (in the national news briefs of the August 21st Boston Globe), documents that reference the number of nuclear weapons held by the US during the Cold War now have the numbers blacked out. These figures were formerly public information. (See this story in the Times.)

I find this discouraging in two ways. First, it is frightening in the Orwellian sense. When politicians start manipulating and obfuscating historical records, we take one step closer to the memory holes of 1984. Soon we will see high school history books that talk about the US, England and Germany fighting the French and the Soviet Union in World War II.

Second, this kind of pointless secrecy has been the hallmark of every incompetent employer I have ever worked for. Discretion is one thing, but playing everything close to the vest simply because you don’t actually know what you can and can’t afford to reveal shows a lack of vision. Who knows what the Bush administration thinks it stands to gain by suddenly making history secret? The disturbing truth is that even the people responsible for this decision likely don't have a clue.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Both ends burning

I think somebody is trying to burn my city down. Over the last year there have been two firebombings targeting properties owned by Greek-American landlords. Then last week there was a fire right around the corner that put my favorite pub out of commission for a few days, and completely destroyed a dentist's office and a pizza parlor. Now (last night) a suspicious fire destroyed a real estate office and a nail salon at the other end of JP. (Granted, the fire closest to me is the only one that I haven't heard any speculation about regarding arson.) I'm pretty sure the most recent one was also a property owned by the same Greek-American family targeted in the earlier two fires.

I keep walking past charred out shells of formerly thriving businesses; I feel like I'm living in Detroit.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alone in the crowd

I went to Bill's Bar last night to see my wife's cousin's band (The Herocycle) play. The band sounded great, and in spite of being seven people crammed onto a tiny, crowded stage they managed to put out a good amount of energy while playing.

What drove me bat-shit insane (an expression I've appropriated from the missus) was the ridiculous volume at which the club pumps the between-band music. No one needs that. Between sets is when people are supposed to be able to have a little conversation with each other and the bands are supposed to schmooze with the crowd. I spent most of the night trying to read people's lips. I finally gave up and sat at a corner table with a dopey smile plastered across my face waiting for the band to come back on.

Hint to Bills' Bar: It shouldn't be easier for people to talk over the band than it is to chat between sets. And don't get me wrong - I love loud music. I've stopped going to shows at places like the Tweeter Center and the Bank of America Pavilion because those big corporate tent places tone it down so much I end up hearing more of the conversations three rows away than I do of the band. I miss Bunratty's.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Just a test

I just want to test something. Can you see the bear?

Me and a grizzly.

Hey. Looks good. I just wanted to see if that worked. Back to your regularly scheduled summer.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Summer summer summer

It's probably as close to a perfect summer day as you can get in New England right now. Almost no humidity, 73 degrees, and not a cloud in the sky. I've got about three hours of sunlight left, so I'm going to get out of this office, pick something easy up for dinner (to cook, that is - not for company), and wait for the missus to get back from the gym.

It's been a good summer so far, and it should segue into a nice fall. I'm doing my back-to-school shopping this Friday, and I hope to be house (or condo) shopping in January.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What else do you expect me to do?

Agh. It's hot. I can barely type. I am sweaty. I am running fans in every window. I am so glad I am not a hairy animal, but so sad I am not a dolphin or an otter. That's all I can say/type. Hot. Sweat. Agh.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Bad Start, Good Finish

This was the first week of 9:30 services (moved up from the usual 10:30 time) at church. It's also the first day of the month that I have had to go anywhere on the MBTA. And, I forgot to pick up my T-pass at work last week, so already I'm off to a bad start.

Now, I've been a supporter of the new Charlie Card system since the T announced it. I remember using a similar system on my trip to London years ago and it worked well. Of course, the average citizen of London is about three times as intelligent as the average T-rider, and the average Tube employee is Albert Einstein compared to the glorified welfare recipients that work for the MBTA.

I get to the station, with a little extra time because I have never purchased a fare ticket from the automated machines. Everything looks straight forward and self-explanatory, which is good, because there's no one around to answer your questions if you have one, and people started asking me what the fare to South Station was. The machine rejects my ten dollar bill. Twice. Three times. I go to the collector's box, and it's empty, with a handwritten sign taped to the window saying "No Cash No Change." The useless moron on duty in the station tells me I have to get change from the donut shop. She tells me not to blame her, they aren't her machines and it isn't her system. It must be nice to feel so good about what you do for a living. She stormed off in a huff, going through one of the gates to the platform. I followed her through the gate.

My opinion of MBTA employees is that they are basically unemployable parasites. Seventy-five percent of them can't even be bothered to tuck their shirts in. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Whether I'm right or wrong, this is a crappy way to head to church, and start my day. So, I sit through the service, and by the time we get to communion, I am feeling contrite and repentant and generally bad about myself for letting any of it bother me, and for taking it out on the woman working at the station, and I'm ready to commit myself to being more patient, more humble, and so on.

On the way home from church, I walk through the station. (I don't ride the train because there's no time concern, but it's on the walking route back to home.) The same woman is still standing next to the empty booth, completely inept and useless, chatting on her cell phone. And I decided that I was right - I shouldn't let it bother me. If someone makes the decision to be useless, it's their life they are going to have to look back on.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Catching up to God

I attended the Boston Pride Day parade with the contingent from St. John's in Jamaica Plain last Saturday. Aside from a thorough soaking, I was able to take in some good camaraderie and conversation. Reverend Anne Fowler, the rector at St. John's, mentioned that Bishop Shaw said when it comes to love and understandinng of others, "the Church has always had to catch up to God."

Now the Episcopal Church USA has elected a new presiding Bishop, and the conservative element is unhappy, because they haven’t gotten their way. Much like political conservatives, they seem to think that compromise means giving them everything they want and then thanking them for it. On the selection of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Reverend Eddie Blue of Maryland said, "I can't help but consider the peculiar genius our church has for roiling the waters. I am shocked, dismayed and saddened by the choice."

It seems that those who would like to see things stay the same should not have to suffer the indignity of having their choices questioned, but those who would like to see the Church try to “catch up to God” do not deserve to have their feelings considered. In regards to Reverend Blue’s remark, quoted above, my first reaction was that I could think of someone else who had a particular genius for roiling the waters, and He didn’t think that was such a bad thing.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

“Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres”

I don't understand the logic of the Massachusetts Democratic party. Whatever Deval Patrick's odds of winning the general election in November are, they must now be divided by three. Any party that works the way this party is working in this election does not want to win, with any candidate. I mean, what's with this? If you want to win a race, you get momentum behind one candidate. How many candidates are the Republicans fielding for governor in the primary? One. How many are the Democrats? Three. Does that sound like a good strategy to win an election? No.

Sure, you can argue that the Democrats are the more "democratic" party, because they're giving the voters more choices, and attempting to vet the candidate in the November election with solid support. But what's really happening is that all those voters who vote for whoever doesn't win the primary have one more excuse not to vote in the final election. And then Sal DiMasi and Bob Travaligni will get exactly what they want: another Republican in the corner office to be their scapegoat when things don't go their way.

All the complaints I heard about the unfairness of the 15% rule in the past week came from people who are happy to see the gubernatorial election stay what it has been for 16 years: a referendum on who wins the Democratic award for "political pariah." Has anyone heard from Scott Harshbarger or Shannon O'Brien lately?

P.S. Don't get me wrong, I'll be voting for Patrick in September (and probably November). But I have no illusions about the likely outcome.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

"All I know is, I'm not a Marxist." -Karl Marx

Your Political Profile:
Overall: 15% Conservative, 85% Liberal
Social Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Ethics: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Friday, May 05, 2006

Radical Ideas

The Episcopal diocese of California will be electing a new bishop this weekend, and three of the candidates are openly gay clergy members. The Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) already has one openly gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. You might have also seen his name in the news as a result of his stay in an inpatient alcohol treatment facility in February, 2006. The election of Bishop Robinson to head the diocese has led the Anglican Communion (the worldwide organization of various Anglican Churches) to the verge of schism over the issue of homosexuality. Some ECUSA congregations have even put themselves under the leadership of foreign bishops who support a more exclusive vision of Christianity. Those conservatives who insist that Christ’s servants be of a more traditional moral stripe criticize the supporters of an expanded church for espousing an ideology of “radical inclusivity.”

I recently began attending an Episcopal church in my neighborhood. I went back to church because I wanted to do something that would connect me to the community I lived in, provide an opportunity to work for the “common good,” and perhaps teach me some humility and patience. I figured spending time around unselfish do-gooders might teach me a thing or two about seeing the good in everyone around me. This particular church appealed to me because I knew the reputation of the rector, Anne Fowler, as an activist for social justice issues, such as gay marriage and immigrant rights, and because some co-workers of mine attended and were enthusiastic about the people who went there. Nobody talked about the light of Jesus’ love glowing in their hearts or the glorious joy of salvation filling them with love for mankind. I have found it to be a very open, young, interesting and diverse group of people. At least half the people I’ve met are gay couples, many with adopted or biological kids.

Many of the gay men who attend this church were raised Catholic, and the similarity of ritual and liturgy attracted them to the Episcopal Church. They found their comfort in being allowed to practice and participate without any conflict of conscience. No one here talks about “loving the sinner and hating the sin.” If you have faith in Christ, and practice the one commandment He put above all others (“Love each other as you love yourselves”) you are welcome here. I got the sense from some of the young men I’ve met here that the need for this faith is so strong, that they suffered when they were separated from it by the conflict of their nature with their religion. How can anything good come of the constant message that the very impulse to follow Christ’s commandment was a sin?

Now, I realize that there’s a difference between loving your neighbor and “luvin’ your neighbor” (wink wink, nudge, nudge). There are many forms of love, and the love we are all supposed to feel for each other is different from the love Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee have documented for all the world to see. But there is a common element to them. The love we feel in partnership or marriage is the foundation and model for the love we should try to share with everyone. This is supposed to be the basic teaching of all Christianity. This is the “radical inclusivity” Christ brought to the world.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


So, I just read a column in the Washington Post about Crunchy Cons. This is a new category of conservatives who embrace wacky, liberal ideas like eating organic food and, um, well actually, they didn’t seem to embrace any other liberal ideas other than eating organic food. He’s a right-wing writer who happens to like organic broccoli. She’s a stay-at-home mom who bakes pumpkin bread and pretty much disappears into the background in the story. They’re both converted Catholics who don’t like fags and abortion. Sure, they’ll tell you that they don’t have anything against homosexuals. They just think marriage is a sacred institution reserved for people like them. And don’t you dare read a story about two men getting married to their children. Not while they’re so young and easy to indoctrinate with the right (that is, correct) ideas.

Here’s what the story said to me, in essence: We’ve found a life we like; everyone else should live this way, too. And that just about sums up the problem with conservatism. For all the talk about liberals being dogmatic, politically correct, ideologically rigid fascists and “femi-Nazis” who shout down any attempt at dissent, it is always the conservatives that identify orthodoxy and homogeneity as worthwhile social and political goals.

Take, for example, the current debate on immigration. The argument made against the Spanish version of the Star Spangled Banner is the key to the conservative idea that assimilation is the correct goal of immigration. “We are happy to let you into our country to do the dirty work we won’t,” they say. “But you’ve got to learn English, speak quietly, and become like us.” But what does being American have to do with leaving behind all previous ethnic, linguistic and cultural connections? If “American” means anything, it is that our strength is in an amalgam of the various cultures that comprise our population.

Again, we see the same thread with the debate over gay marriage. The so-called homosexual agenda and the gay lifestyle are seen as threats to the nice, normal straight white value system. And marriage is an important part of that value system. When gays started to vocally demand access to the privilege of marriage, it caused an uproar. But I don’t think many straight people seriously believe their marriage is any less valid because two people of the same gender can also be married. The conservatives are shaken by the realization that there is no “gay lifestyle.” What shatters the conservative argument is that if they really believe the values they ostensibly promote – equality, personal liberty, self-responsibility – they have to acknowledge that they are keeping company with a much wider spectrum of humanity than they might want to admit.

Conservatives, crunchy or otherwise, are faced with the reality that, for all their talk of fundamental moral values and guiding principles, their ideology boils down to creating a rationale to criticize things that make them uncomfortable. They want to live in a world where everyone is just like them. Sure, they’re open to debate – should we support the war because the world is safer without Sadam, or because if we weren’t fighting the terrorists over there, we’d be fighting them over here? – but don’t go overboard or you’re just one of those relativists with no values.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


So, April has been okay for me. Some good, some bad, but overall I'm coming out on top. Finished my second semester of grad school, and I think I will be getting decent enough grades to get me into the PhD program in the fall. I also got the okay to work on a directed study over the summer with my advisor/mentor. I actually hate using that word "mentor," but he is not technically my faculty advisor, so I have to use something to differentiate him from my assigned mentor, whom I haven't even met with since I stared the program.

I'm still dressing like an adult (some would even say "old man") every day at work. And people are starting to get used to it. I'm starting to get used to it, too. I forget that a bow tie isn't something people are used to seeing every day, so when someone on the street does a double take and starts to smile (or smirk) at me, I am tricked into thinking, momentarily, that I know them. Then I remember that they're probably just thinking to themselves that I look like Orville Redenbacker.

I am wondering if all the immigrant staff is going to participate in Monday's May Day action. It would be interesting to see the campus brought to a standstill by all the food service workers on strike. The whole issue brings a question to my mind that I haven't seen investigated much in the media. We all know that America is a nation of immigrants, but the people on the more rigid side of the argument insist that there is this chasm of difference between "legal" and "illegal" immigration. Their ancestors might have been immigrants, but they did it the "right" way. Well, how different are immigration procedures today from 50 or 100 or 150 years ago? I don't think people who showed up at Ellis Island to join the husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters that were already here in, say, 1848 needed to go through the rigmarol that is required now.

My understanding of "legal" immigration in the nineteenth century is that you basically showed up, stated your name and country of origin, declared your intention to become a citizen, and you were in. You still had to go through the process of becoming a citizen, but there weren't the kinds of border security issues back then. Of course, I also realize that at the start of this century, "great" citizens such as Henry Cabot Lodge were fighting tooth and nail to keep America white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. As recently as 1902, laws were being passed in Congress that barred the use of "Mongolian" labor on public works projects (Newlands Act 1902).

Yikes! Lost track of the time. I gotta go get my hair cut. See you in another couple of weeks.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A Non-Normative Evaluation of Database Design and Utilization

I read. I write about what I read. I try to make intelligent comments about what the author of what I read thinks about what other authors think about what they write. Graduate school is fun. And to think I could make a living doing this.

On the day of my last update, I went to church. It was the very first time I went to church entirely on my own, without being compelled by a wedding, funeral or baptism. It was Ash Wednesday, and I figured, from what I read in my slight research online, that it was an appropriate time to start a relationship with God. I have gone every Sunday since, and a few days other than Sunday. The church is a nice, political, open-minded Episcopal parish in JP. Lots of gay ex-Catholics. Very good music. I go for the company, really.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I never liked the term "Yankee," but then I'm a Red Sox fan

Your Linguistic Profile:

40% General American English

40% Yankee

10% Upper Midwestern

5% Dixie

0% Midwestern

I'm kind of a blueblood snob, but "Yankee" always conjurs an image of Bing Crosby in the movie adaptation of Twain's novel.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Damned internet thingy!

I was supposed to spend today getting all caught up on my school work. I am taking a comparative constitutional law class, and we are responsible for two case briefings per week, but the professor doesn't want them passed in until the end of the term. At first, that seemed great, but I think I would prefer to have them due each week, because, fool that I am, I am already three weeks behind. Today I was going to get all caught up. So I sat my butt down at my new 14" iBook G4 and promptly started surfing the internet. Facebook, Myspace, Livejournal, Friendster; you name it, I was on it. And everything is more enjoyable on my 14" screen than my old 12" screen. I don't know how I stood it for two years.

I had managed to get my first case brief 3/4 completed when I broke to fix dinner. I was doing the washing up before hand and thinking out a plan to get more writing done tonight and it dawned on me. This professor is going to have seven students pass in nineteen two-page case briefs on the last day of class. And being graduate school, you know a bunch of these over-achievers are going to give him three, four or even five pages on some of the cases. His grades are due six days after we are supposed to turn the briefs in, and he is looking for a ten-page research paper at the end of the term as well. Just how thoroughly do you think he is going to read 266 pages of briefs? I figure I can type pure gobbldeegook and as long as I throw in a few key terms from each case (proportionate accommodation; undue burden; stare decisis; two-part Oakes test) he's gonna check 'em off and move on. Of course, I won't do any less than a completely thorough job on each one. I'm not saying that to boast; it's a fault with me. I'm a wee bit too deferential to authority figures.

In a final note - Deval Patrick, y'all. Nice job. Tom Reilly is another Scott Harshbarger. He's as bland as tapioca and not quite as firm on the issues.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Chirstmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hannukah, etc. etc. etc.

Once again, I am wondering what I want to use this "blog" for. What do I have to say, who am I expecting to say it to, why does it matter? When I go so long without bothering, I have a hard time getting back up to speed. I should just convince myself that there is some purpose to this and keep at it.

I am looking forward to 2006, because it is a congressional election year, a gubernatorial election year, and there will be some interesting local races in Boston as well. As much as I prefer academic, theoretical political science, I enjoy the campaigns, too. I just get a little bored with the breathless gossip that passes for journalism these days.

I just finished reading the review of Ana Marie Cox's Dog Days in the New York Times. It's a novel by a blogger about a blogger who writes a novel. It could be a masterpiece and I would still feel ripped off for paying for a book about writing a book about writing a "blog." This is the kind of crap that people assume I am interested in when I tell them I am studying political science. Primary Colors, Wag the Dog, Bill O'Reilly, Anderson Cooper, Ann Coulter, Tim Matthews: all this noise based on the idea that reporting the news and being the news are the same thing. I guess I shouldn't count on pundits to give an accurate portrayal of the media's role in the political process.

But I am sure I will find myself following along in the funny papers as 2006 rolls along. I'll listen as candidates scream at each other over issues of no substance, while being egged on by journalists who care nothing about the process other than that it continues to protect their ability to make a living.