Archive for December, 2009

Posting Forecast

December 29th, 2009

Light to no posting here for the next week or so. Work on your resolutions.

Charisma Eve in Boston

December 25th, 2009

I’ll be blunt. UU churches are not known for charismatic preachers. We have a long, distinguished history of bright and even brilliant ministers. We have led in social causes. Our liberal pulpit occupants are often exemplars of compassion, reason and wit.

Yet here in Boston, we have one of the few who simultaneously inspires and enchants. Now is not too soon to write — in ink — on your 2010 calendar to attend Christmas Eve at the Arlington Street Church. Whatever your ritual that day and time, it is not as moving nor as memorable.

We were there as usual yesterday, wife, hubby and the two sons who still live in Boston. If you have never been in the nave before Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, this is the right introduction. More on that later.

Angst in the Back

I found indisputable proof of Kim’s power 20 years ago when she was a candidate for senior minister there. I was stepping up to chair the board (the Prudential Committee or Pru, as they say at Arlington and Boylston) and I was supporting her. As is the norm in UU churches and others with congregational polity,  the leading candidate gives a sermon and the members vote up or down.

Nervous and slowly pacing in the back of the nave behind the last row of those grand, doored walnut pews, I could not believe what I heard. She began complaining about her terrible relationship with her father.

That was not the UU way!

The previous senior minister, Victor Carpenter, was what New England UUs know and both the Unitarian and Universalists before they joined knew for a couple of hundred years. Victor was extraordinary in his drive for social justice, but he epitomized his profession. He was a wise graybeard whose sermons were intellectually grounded, well researched and seeming to have footnotes. Often the homilies carried supporting citations from those whom UUs jocularly call saints — Channing, Emerson, Thoreau, and the like.

The interim minister whose job was to prepare us and help us through our replacement search was similar. Farley Wilder Wheelwright had a huge voice and powerful presence. He too had marched with King’s people in the Civil Rights struggles. He too laid out a cogent argument well documented in a sermon.

Then and there with Kim’s candidating sermon, I thought I might be bleeding through my tweed sports coat. My candidate was in the imposing high pulpit speaking sweetly and sadly to virtually the entire membership on her lousy relationship with her dad.

What Matters

The search committee had done a difficult job well in winnowing the candidates. They were also plain about the obvious. Kim was not a greybeard, not a man, and an out, partnered lesbian.

Having heard her in P’town, I knew she could preach. I figured if she sounded anything like that, even the little old ladies who had been picky about this, that and the other would vote for her. I found confirmation in asking around as well. A couple of long-term members did have an objection or rather question, but it was none of those matters on the committee’s fear list. As one elderly member said, “But she’s so young.”

At 32, she was indeed much younger than many of the famous ministers at the ASC or its previous names in the original location of the Long Lane and Federal Street churches. I could remind people that the most storied minister, the definer of American Unitarianism, William Ellery Channing had taken the church’s pulpit at 23.

As Kim spoke, she did nothing to play the game as we had been used to it. She didn’t fall back on lengthy quotes of others. She spoke directly from her own experience. She drew lessons from herself. It was personal and not academic.

Doom. The vote would come after the sermon and I deeply dreaded it.

As she finished, two long-time members at the back fairly rushed me. One woman gripped my right forearm with all ten spindly fingers. “I felt like she was talking just to me!,” she exclaimed with great pleasure and I think misty eyes.

Of course…that’s what matters. Kim is a rarity among ministers and extremely rare among UU ones. She is charismatic.

I have preached several times from that pulpit. It is intimidating to stand that high facing a nave that seats up to 912. There are always at least several hundred there and the feeling of exposure is powerful. All eyes are upon you is accurate.

Yet, Kim has the personal power to make each person feel there are only two in the room. A sermon from Kim Crawford Harvie is the most personal group experience you can have.

Even without the footnotes, even speaking personally, she swamped the vote that day and has been senior minister there for the past two decades.

High Pulpit Theater

To really get the most from Kim, you need to attend a month or so of her sermons. She is always powerful and inspiring. She is charismatic enough that people would do virtually anything she tells them. That’s her superpower.

However, I find that once or twice a month, she is truly on. She goes beyond the home run. When she is in her zone, the church almost levitates.  (A touch of irony here is that it is not on solid ground at all, but rests on 999 pilings driven into the Back Bay muck.)

When Kim is on, you’ll feel and hear what you do not in other UU churches, or almost any church. No one whispers. No one coughs. No one fidgets. No one shuffles orders of service. No one checks a Blackberry.

Many do find themselves tearing up. At other points, the whole church gently laughs when she leads them to those moments too.

Honestly, she has ruined other ministers for me. I have heard dozens of UU preachers and maybe 200 clerics in various Protestant and Catholic churches. Her personal gift is extraordinarily rare.

So on Christmas eve, you get the easy introduction. She is backed up by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. Last evening, they accompanied the processional carol and such, as well as performing as a group five times. I suppose you could say the singing was well worth the 7 or 9 p.m. visit.

Kim always delivers a full sermon on this occasion. That is tricky for any UU, in churches that don’t buy into creed, dogma or a theological trinity. She is splendid at tying together the underlying concerns and passions of non-Christians, Christians and even atheists and plain old humanists. You’ll have to hear that sort of magic yourself to understand  how she can burrow to the essence without strain.

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention this.  There aren’t a lot of empty seats on Christmas eve at that church facing the statue of Rev. Channing. I suspect there’ll be room for a few more this coming December though.

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Bikes and Bottles in My Basement

December 24th, 2009

bike closet

Too much cider…too much beer…too little fridge shelf space. Oh, what to do when guests are coming for Christmas?

I never considered it in the old house, but the bulkhead was the clue here. On my frequent bike trips, I leave from the basement where I keep my bikes, up the stairway through the bulkhead.

So there I have it, in freezing temperatures, we have a 13-step cooler. It presently stocks two different ales (Anchor Christmas and Southampton IPA) and two gallon jugs of apple cider. This is a toper’s version of a root cellar.

It might even do an okay job in warm weather. The stairs run to eight feet underground with concrete walls.

So here in Hyde Park, I live a daytime subterranean life. My desk and computers are were the previous owner’s were in the basement…as are my bikes.

He really only trained for the Pan-Mass Challenge. That’s a kind of what-a-good-boy-am-I bit of charity, but useful. He didn’t see bikes as transportation or environmental statements or even convenience. He wouldn’t even get the bike out until the air hit 80 degrees.

However, blessings on him for the two-bike garage in the basement.  (Click the thumbnail for a large view.) He had the inspiration to convert a closet into bike storage. This home improvement was as simple as screwing two hooks into a rafter and tossing the closet door. That garage would be two bikes, each on its own hook, easily accessible. Jerk one down and its out the basement door and up the stairs to spin.

Cyclists of all ages who walk through the digs stop there and gawk. I don’t have to say a thing. They envy it and want one of their own. Five strides form bike garage to the outside stairs is a home improvement with daily return.

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Out of Season? Meh.

December 23rd, 2009

floral2.jpgIn a season of reveling, we particularly revel in both flowers and fresh fruit — out of place and out of season. These are bad or even sins according to some.

A New Age-ish friend goes on, as New Age types are wont, about the wisdom and even necessity of eating locally and seasonally. It’s great for the blood and bowels as well as politics, he has it.

This can be very confusing. We read that a train of fruit and veggies from California or Florida uses far less energy and pollutes far less than many local version though. A guy with a pickup or panel truck driving a few bushels of produce 50 or 100 or 200 miles is far heavier in carbon footprint per unit. The alleged internal wisdom of the body on what it consumes is another, moot, matter.

We do know that the Haymarket’s offerings of citrus from the South or Israel, berries from the West or Chili brighten the table as well as the spirit. Likewise, unnaturally cultivated, out-of-season blooms are artificially augmented joy on gloomy and short days.

I suppose that means I’m a coot who’s pleased by simpleminded appreciation of objects.

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Brookline Shows Its Anti-Cycling Colors

December 21st, 2009

Brookline wants it all ways and often gets it.

Locals there want to pretend they are urban and simultaneously suburban. They are likewise irrational about transportation — pretending to be great for drivers, parkers, cyclists, pedestrians. They feign being all things to all only the best, wealthiest, most privileged, a.k.a. Brooklinites.

There’s no hiding from all this after the town selectmen’s meeting last week. They voted unanimously to boot the sole bicycle-oriented member of the transportation board.  They will not renew Peter Furth’s two-year appointment.

Among the blackballers, Betsy DeWitt said, “It appeared that his participation was somewhat disruptive to teamwork.” Blunter was Kenneth Goldstein, remarking that Furth is “too focused on bicycles” and “not balanced enough in his approach to transportation.”

I would note that if a board does not have members speaking up for different components of their charge, there’s no need for the board. A single person would do just fine. How does FoxNews say it, fair and balanced?

You would suppose that Furth is one of those flame-helmeted crazed cyclists racing headlong at tweedy professors and inattentive toddlers. Instead, you’d see a transit geek, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University. His credentials look like he’d be an extraordinary resource for the transportation board and the town transportation division. He seems as wild as adding a cinnamon stick to the warm cider.

That allegedly balanced guy they want to bring back on the board, Bill Schwart, has some expertise too. He is a transportation consultant. However, he focuses on bringing in new business for his consultancy. He bills himself as a multi-modal expert.

He does seem keenly attune to Brookline residents’ desire to park right next to where they want to visit. Consider his testimony at town meeting last year about parking. He’s with the program doubling parking fines to $30. He said, “There’s gold in those streets. Brookline can do much better in managing its curb space. Let’s not give it away, but also not make it unaffordable.”

Parking is to local conversation what weather is in much of Maine.

Brookline it must first be said is one of those outsider-hostile towns in parking. There’s a two-hour limit throughout, not just in business districts. Even those who live on a street need to rent an annual permit for $25 if they want to park in front of their own houses.

Of course, this is one of the few towns with absolutely no overnight street parking, apparently for fear that the unwashed or at least unworthy, those without driveway space for all their vehicles, might dare spend the evening. Or as the town puts it:

Why does Brookline have a Resident Permit Parking Program?

The Transportation Board wants to preserve the livability of our residential neighborhoods by discouraging non-residents (e.g., commuters and commercial area shoppers) from parking on residential streets for long periods. The Brookline RPP Program does not prohibit non-residents from parking on local streets for less than 2 hours, nor does it guarantee neighborhood residents an on-street parking space whenever they want one. Participants in the RPP Program also are not allowed to park overnight or to violate any other parking regulations that may be in effect on your street. However, residents who live in areas that experience high levels of on-street parking by non-resident vehicles will benefit from not having to move their vehicles to another street every two hours during daytime hours.

This is a similar attitude that has led to so few publicly accessible restrooms in Boston, Brookline and other towns, even in their parks. Whether it’s a driveway or a toilet, you should have your own or you really don’t belong here, now do you?

Back to the board, Furth seems a plain talker. He told the Brookline Tab that “If you speak up about bicycling things, you’re not considered to represent the town.”  He noted that he sometimes has advocated keeping parking over bike lanes and at others pushed for more bike accommodation.

He figures the real catalyst for his ouster was the Carlton Street project. The Tab reports that “Though Furth admitted he was a strong supporter of a controversial bike lane option, which would have required the removal of several heavily used parking spaces, he said he’s also been blamed for some miscommunications and procedural problems unrelated to his support.”

thumb.jpgAn oddment here is that parts of the town, particularly the police department, are very bike friendly. Having attended several Moving Together conference sessions with the Brookline cops, I have been very impressed by their enlightened multi-mode mindset.  Cyclists get run down by inattentive motorists there every year and the police do their damnedest through enforcement, education and participation in planning to keep pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in motion safely. Boston cops, many of whom seem to find bikes annoying anomalies, could learn.

Another is former Gov. Mike Dukakis. We’ll try to have him on Left Ahead! to discuss transportation. He may be the biggest advocate for mass transit in the state. Yet, I have never heard him say a single phrase in support of cycling. At 76, he may stick with his shoes and Charlie Card.

To its contradictory nature, Brookline also has a bicycle advisory committee. Their literature says the right stuff. It does seem to make inflated claims about a large number of residents biking for shopping and short trips. The eye and regular counts by the town don’t seem to support that. When I bike through, I rarely see a single other cyclist also.

The selectmen seem to be in little hurry to change that. The advisory group may talk up the car-reducing potential of biking, but that board seems fixed on preserving as many parking meters as it can. That Furth fellow must have seemed very inconvenient, asking them to consider bikers and walkers at every stage of planning.

Brookline has long been a thumb in the eye or other orifice of Boston and in fact looks like one on maps. In early Colonial days when it was known as the hamlet of Muddy River, it was part of Boston, but in 1705 it incorporated and then avoided the fate of Brighton, Roxbury and Dorchester, which became part of the capital city. Now it is a Norfolk County island surrounded by Suffolk County.

It has its little ways, ways of which it is extraordinarily, and some would say irrationally, proud. Wanting to have it several ways on non-motorized transportation really is nothing that deserves pride. Fantasy aside, Brookline is not yet bike safe or accommodating.

Many there want to pretend they are fairly European in being cyclists and cycle friendly. The town government other than the constabulary clearly conflicts with that. The of-one-mind transportation board won’t be leading to a multi-modal future.

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Pepsi’s New Space War

December 18th, 2009

Just let the term roll around in your cranium — space salesman.

From my many days as a magazine writer or editor, I knew dozens of them well. To a one, they had limitless ambition and zero shame. They sold advertising in inches, fractional and full pages, spreads and more. That was the space they sold.

Of course, what they really sold was both hope and fear. Advertisers anticipated that targeted displays of their products or services would bring sales and profits (hope). They also knew too well that their competitors would aim for the same customer in the same magazines, and just maybe grab market share if they did not match their ad quality and quantity (fear).

From my newspaper days, I had see similar drives by the soft goods/alcohol/toy and other advertisers. Chums in broadcast said it was much the same there.

This mass and ubiquitous selling of the intangible only works when media successfully sells its own value. Controlled-circulation magazines, for example, first prove they have only great potential customers reading their freely distributed issues. They get subscribers to qualify, which generally means filling out a postal card claiming to be in the business, thus a target for advertisers as well as worthy to read about the industry. As important, the magazines pay auditing companies to verify their circulation in numbers and qualification.

Trust Us

Then they set their ad rates to match the alleged value of say 32,000 or three or 100 times that subscribers, a.k.a. readers representing companies just waiting to buy your stuff.

TV and radio were much the same, with the added wrinkle of target demographics. They could claim the best age clusters or zip codes of audience and such. Then each show would be its own product offering so many of this and that and so much market share in a time slot and day.

We all knew it was kind of a house of cards or more accurately like the emperor’s new clothes. The claims that the space or time really translated into advertisers’ sales and profits have always been spongy. Except where advertisers can include a rebate coupon or such that they can actually count, who can really attribute greater sales to a particular ad placement.

What advertisers do know beyond coupons is that certain ad campaigns are more effective than others. They rarely have a control group that can isolate the effectiveness of placements in one medium or one network or magazine. They are too busy with scattershot advertising (fear again).  On the other hand, if they switch campaigns and see a big uptick or plunge in sales, pow, zap, that’s almost tangible!

So, to that PepsiCo of the headline, it is blowing off the Super Bowl, says the AP. That’s gutsy, surprising, risky, and maybe trendsetting. You can be damned sure that other advertisers — beyond sugary drink makers — are paying attention.

For background:

  • Pepsi has advertised at the SBs for 23 years
  • Its chip folk, Frito-Lay will have spots in this year’s game
  • Last year, it spent $33 million on SB ads
  • Those ads this year should average $3 million per 30 second spot

A Million Here…

Pepsi along with FedEx was plain about its reasoning. Those companies said ads were too expensive. Moreover, Pepsi’s Nicole Bradley said, “In 2010, each of our beverage brands has a strategy and marketing platform that will be less about a singular event and more about a movement.”

Instead, the company will concentrate on online efforts. You can buy a lot of online presence for the millions it would have spent in the highly competitive, even mind-numbing, SB ad undercard.

We are to look for its Pepsi Refresh Project beginning in January…on the net.

So there is Pepsi charging off almost solo on its own safari. If it brings back higher customer poll numbers and even holds or gains market share domestically, that will be huge. Others would be sure to follow. Perhaps the absurd SB ad costs might drop and some companies might say they have brand recognition and no longer want to spend there, rather they might look more to online and heavens above, print.

I don’t drink soda, or tonic as we say up here. I get my bubbles from seltzer, ale and occasionally champagne. Yet, I have a 16-year-old Mountain Dew doer and from business curiosity, I’ll be watching.

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Honors on the Cheap

December 17th, 2009

AMA storm paperweight

To paraphrase Patrick Henry, the next gale that sweeps from the West shall bring with it a hell of a snowstorm…

In early February 1978, the Northeast got it, cripplingly so and in two waves. Boston and New York City in particular were paralyzed. I wouldn’t move to the former from the latter until the next year. In 1978, I saw cross-country skiiers high above the normal road level poling by my West Village windows.

Then I went to work.

My wife and I worked in mid-town a little over a mile apart, she at Scholastic Magazines and I at American Management Association HQ in the publishing part, AMACOM. Unlike trolley and car dependent Boston, New Yorkers moved by subway. The underground was just fine, thank you very much, even though sidewalks were more a hidden concept than anything visible.

Most AMA employees lived in the sticks suburbs. They were stranded. A subset of us in town struggled our way to the subway stations and the short distance to the HQ on the other end. The Scholastic/AMA attitudes to the loyal do-bees holds a management lesson.

In perspective, this AMA had long been addicted to rewards on the cheap. Their main business was providing educational programs for executives, with an underlying motive. Companies paid for the managers to take a trip to the site, charge some meals and hotel, and just maybe come back a tad better at what they did for a living. Companies understood that the price was a bargain — it was a one-off that didn’t add to the base salary package and thus have to be built on annually.

Not the Same

At Scholastic, the slogging workers who kept the shop open got catered meals and when all returned public acknowledgment from the big shots — plus a bonus. At AMA, we got (beat, beat) ta da! a Plexiglas paperweight.

Click on the thumbnail above to have a closer view of this 5.5 x 3.5 inch treasure. Revel in its power.

I had forgotten until we moved recently. I found it along with several similar tchotchkes.  I now vaguely remember keeping it for its absurdity value.

AMA’s president, Jim Hayes, appears on it in the form of his stock signature. Come to think of it, there were so few of us in the storms, it would have been a small thing for him to sign the cards individually before each was encapsulated for “short-term eternity”.

Nah, we at AMACOM often heard that it was a great place to be from…that it looked good on the résumé. That was true enough. Yet, like soldiers, slaves, peasants and other minions, we did not get our rewards in our daily lives. We had lower wages than others in Manhattan for similarly skilled writing, acquisitions and editing. For many of us, the from AMA could not come too soon.

On the other side of Fifth Avenue, Scholastic treated its loyal snow workers as though they had done the company a favor. On our side, we had “demonstrated commitment to the AMA spirit of service and quality (and thus were) deeply appreciated.”

We can measure the depth of that appreciation today in the 5/8th inch of plastic. The message was that we did what was expected of us.

Take What You Get

I had a slightly more personal stake in the paperweight as well. Many months, I played that same James L. Hayes in my small, subservient way. Most of my work was on the monthly magazine, Management Review.  I acquired and edited some main articles, was totally responsible for the separate little magazines inside in their domestic and international editions. Also, many months, I ghosted Hayes’ president’s column in the front of MR.

He was a charming and affable fellow, a perfect association president, and a great spontaneous speaker on general management subjects. Alas, he was an awful writer. To his credit though he knew that and certainly had enough managerial skill to be sure that a couple levels below him was enough talent to take care of that for him.

Hayes was fond of my ghostwriting. My references and quotes from ancient Greek and Roman as well as more modern European writers and philosophers made him look well read and analytical.  There really wasn’t any harm in such veneer, as underneath, he knew the business theory that AMA members craved.

Those snows of nearly 32 years ago long ago melted. The paperweight remains. In its little paper box (no expensive lid, thank you very much — just a plastic bag), was an unsigned note on embossed AMA note paper. It reads:

This plaque speaks for itself. I hope that in the years to come, it will be a reminder to you of my deep appreciation for your outstanding efforts in the winter of ’78.

I am reminded and chuckle once more. The snows were deep, the appreciation shallow.

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Boston Biking Slow and Steady

December 15th, 2009

Freedman and Menino

Our cycling champions — Director of Bicycle Programs Nicole Freedman and Mayor Tom Menino (in the pic) — released the annual report for this year. Get the PDF version of State of the Hub: Boston Bikes Year-End Update here.

I had the wrong date for the public presentation, so I rely on the document.

The net is that the plans remain perking along and on track. Even in these terrible economic times, the fiscal requirements to keep improving cycling here are very small. Many, such as adding bike lanes when a road is re-striped are free or a tiny incremental design cost on top of the necessary maintenance. Others, like the bike racks, are cheap and partially underwritten by agencies, and still others, like the bike days and weeks, receive some corporate money.

Freedman’s vision of a citywide cycling network of bike lanes and paths is crawling along at a fair clip. She expects this coming year that a complete network of these will be more obvious. The trend has been from zero miles in 2007 to five in 2008 and another 10 added this year.

To many, this will presently seem like less of a network than a hit-and-miss application (my words, not hers).  The fact is, as she told us in our Left Ahead! podcast a year ago, that’s part of her plan. She forges ahead with lanes when roads are reworked, adds lanes, and simultaneously goes with the other programs such as racks, bike sharing and education.

She’s headed for 100 miles of lanes/paths. By then, cyclists should feel safe getting from where they live to where they work and shop. That’s when the largest increase in cyclists occurs in cities who have gotten there.

The city is on pace to continue adding 250 racks a year. These are not willy-nilly. Rather people request a rack, which they can do online, or the city surveys where cyclists go and identifies places where it makes sense to put a rack.

The 2009 report notes an example on Newbury Street where the city replaced a metered space with an on-street rack.  I appreciate that, but what’s really needed though requires a large leap. Many European cities simply take on-street parking away, like on one or both sides of a street, replacing it with pedestrian and bike lanes. This helps encourage walking and cycling, discourages driving cars into town, and means quieter, cleaner, safer streets.

New York City is doing well with its similar program. That takes some serious political courage and is someways out for Boston.

Meanwhile, the racks are visible and becoming pervasive. The city will be requiring indoor, secure racks in new developments.

As a former cycling champion, Nicole is a bit prejudiced about races and related events. This report highlights the professional criterium here.

More powerful in raising visibility and increasing cycling participation are hoi polloi events. The Hub on Wheels, Bike Week and Bike Fridays continue and get thousands of participants.

Menino is also strongly behind recognizing companies that get his new love of cycling. His Bike Friendly Business Awards are big here. This also gives companies the right to say they are good places to work and green. As someone who cycled to work at several places, I can testify that racks, changing rooms and showers go a long way toward keeping employees cycling (healthier, not tied to T schedules, and happier).

The report also describes the expanding education programs for teens, the Youth Cycling Program and R.O.C. K. Roll and Ride. These teach safety and riding skills, as well as getting whole families on wheels.

Nicole’s folk researched and created a detailed Boston bike map, distributing 40,000 of them so far. They go beyond ID’ing best routs and shortcuts. They rated difficulty, traffic speed, bike paths and resources on route. You can request one or view it online.

She has also been working with police. One effort is the stolen bike registry. I signed a couple of bikes up; it’s free and makes sense.

Also, with the proliferating bike lanes, the city is asking cops and the Transportation Department to ticket and tow vehicles parked in lanes. I can testify that in places like the South End they haven’t been bothering, but the report swears the $100 ticket will be coming. Lazy and inconsiderate parkers need to learn that forcing bikes into narrow car lanes is dangerous for and annoys drivers and cyclists alike.

The report also touts its exhaustive surveys. There is an annual count like the birders’ version, except of cyclists. The latest complete figures show a 43% overall increase in ridership by bridge and neighborhood.

Only the Jamaicaway  saw a decrease. I suspect the perils and inconvenience of getting on and off at each end controls that. It strands cyclists at the speedway, a.k.a. Arborway ,and requires a perilous Route 9 crossing at the other. I am a claim-a-lane guy and do it, but many are intimidated by the “excitement.”

Finally, she addresses the bike-share program. It is supposed to start this coming summer. I predict ill for it. I can hope I am wrong and people can hoot and say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah.” I doubt  that Bostonians would deign to hop on these bikes for short trips. I suspect the exposed bikes will be vandalized. I’d welcome being proved wrong.

Otherwise, this has been a great start to a convert cyclist in the mayor and his bike czarina. Everything else is spot on and advancing faster than I thought.

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Time Out for Cads

December 12th, 2009

Tiger and WoodsFor those of us who walk without a claque cheering each step, Tiger Woods’ temporary retreat is somewhat refreshing. We can hope he inspires other sinful billionaires and multi-millionaires.

While his adultery offenses seem to be in the civil, not criminal class, he shares much with disgraced quarterback/dog fighter Michael Vick. Both were on top the world, on top of their game. Both had lost their ability to see cause and effect — odd for bright folk. Both stand to lose considerable money from direct sports earning and endorsements.

Also, both came around to sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.

In Woods’ case, his contrition may well be a gambit to restore his halo and general glow. In theory, he could return as the world’s best-ever golfer, chastened and somewhat humanized, ready to deposit those absurdly large checks as a fallen and risen hero.

It is more difficult to sympathize with Tiger. He is far beyond set up for life. There is no way he could have the time and attention to spend all his millions upon millions.

Yet whether his willingness to swap a polo shirt for a hair shirt publicly (including on his self-promotional site)  would be meaningful…if it serves as a societal model. He or his publicist leads on his site with:

I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children. I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness. It may not be possible to repair the damage I’ve done, but I want to do my best to try.

Contrast that with the more standard fare from criminals and klutzes. At its most risible, then President Bill Clinton ask us to parse the meaning of is in efforts to avoid personal responsibility for his adulteries.  More typically and seriously, pols on the take or violent criminals pull out the old, “I’m innocent until proven guilty,” “Everyone deserves a fair trial,” and “Because I bargained and was not convicted of the crime, I am totally innocent.”

Personal responsibility has been blown away in the gusts of obfuscation and nitpicking.

How refreshing (and cost saving) it would be if criminals accepted their guilt and took their punishment. Think a 1930s or 1940s movie with the malefactor thrusting his wrists out for the handcuffs, saying, “You caught me copper!”

On the other side, a matching huge need is for slate clearing afterward. Except for these piqué-collar transgressors like Woods, the larger society would dog criminals into continued poverty and to their death. Whether it’s our CORI laws that keep punishing ex-cons or the unwillingness of employers to hire them, we have also lost the concepts of rehabilitation, restitution, and payment of societal debt.

Even in prison, convicted criminals are targets of the self-appointed self-righteous. It is not only winger columnists and bloggers, ordinary folk speak of “country clubs” where prisoners can access books, TVs or adult-education courses. Somehow the loss of liberty, the right to vote, the power to earn income, and the contact with family and friend is not enough punishment to many who have all those privileges.

The idea of two or 10 or more years of prison as the penalty for a crime is to repay society and ideally to come out a chastened citizen ready to behave appropriately.  How did larger society lose that and demand perpetual punishment after the sentence served?

Regardless, Woods and Vick are on the big-shot end of the seesaw. As needed, they got and bought the high-end, nitpicking, plea-bargaining lawyers. They can emerge from court ordered or self-chosen exile to making more in a year than most people can fantasize about for a lifetime.

While that makes it difficult to be too sympathetic, wouldn’t it be great of Tiger’s confessions and acceptance of his resulting loses reinforced this as a trend? Just try not to be too cynical about the possibility that this is a ploy to hasten his return to big bucks and adoration.

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Flashback, Flash Forward

December 11th, 2009

Among my many skills — and failings — are oneness with food and cooking, but a definite lack musically. I taught spin classes for years, which requires a DJ’s discrimination as well as choreography. In high school, I played at playing with jug band music, but I was pathetic in terms of producing music or even keeping a good rhythm with any instrument.

However, I just sang, after my own fashion, with my very musical wife. It was an emotionally loaded and powerful song I know by heart, Phil Och’s When I’m Gone.  I know it by word and abstracts. I long heard it by him and covered by others. I own it on vinyl, tape and CD. I was at the War is Over concert in Central Park in 1975 where he sang a year before his bipolar disorder led  him to suicide.

That song should certainly be a progressive’s anthem. It goes:

There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t feel the flowing of the time when I’m gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I’m gone
My pen won’t pour out a lyric line when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t breathe the bracing air when I’m gone
And I can’t even worry ’bout my cares when I’m gone
Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone
And I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone
Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Consider the sophisticated ramifications. Be in the moment. Deal with your passions, sensations, needs and duties. Accept your mortality. Live to better your life and those of others.

At that concert in Central Park, I had not yet met the woman who would be my wife. I was there with another boomer who felt the tenuous joy at the end of the Vietnam war. We were perhaps 20 feet from the fragile, yet demanding, songster. Even then it was tear-producing to sing with him that the war is over.

Now some decades later, When I’m Gone has remained while the wars have changed geography, commanders in chief, and outcomes.  There shouldn’t be a morning before any of us go about our lives when we don’t think I guess I’ll have to do it when I’m here.

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