Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Sky


The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby wrote two great articles this week -- one to each of his sons who are 10 years old and 16 days. He writes one each year, and has for the past 10 since the birth of his first son, Caleb.

They are powerful, open, honest. They embody the best hope of any parent for their child, and the highest goal of parenthood. Thank you, Mr. Jacoby, for bearing public witness to this.

A Message To My Newborn Son

Messages To My Son

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hilllary, Barack & 1984

This morning's Wonder Land column by Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal turned us onto this video. After reading his typically, on-target observations we wandered over to YouTube to check things out for ourselves.

A very well executed play on Mac's seminal "1984" commercial we think that it nicely captures what Hillary is all about -- actually, what the Democrat Party is all about as they seek to take care of us, the naked savages in the wilderness. That it's produced by someone connected to the Obama campaign -- Phil de Vellis -- makes us laugh. We are still 10 months from the primaries and 18 from the general election and the aspirants on the Democrat side are already bloodying themselves.

Previously, we posted some comments on how organizations are losing control of their brands -- a talk we heard at an advertising symposium -- and they need to let it happen, there is no fighting it. This latest dust-up strikes us as the ultimate inside-outside-job of late. A "political pro" (Henninger's description) uses a grass-roots tool (YouTube)to lambaste a major brand (Hillary), all the while being an operative for another major brand (Obama) and, at least for a bit, making it appear as if it was the work of some Obama supporters.

The next ten months should be fascinating to watch. Republicans, and conservatives, should just sit back and watch the Democrats shred each other in their effort to achieve their ultimate goal -- power.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Red Winged Blackbirds

This week a bunch of Red Winged Blackbirds have been visiting the Quarter Acre bird feeder. Last week, one came by for breakfast a couple of times. Yesterday, about 12 of them were out in the yard, eating the birdseed that had fallen out of the feeder. When they take off, en mass, it's pretty amazing.

One day last spring we had about 25 visit the yard at one time, around this time of year, but then didn't see another one for the rest of the spring and the summer. The Quarter Acre is not far from the Charles River and there are lots marshy areas with tall grass that is perfect for the Red Winged Blackbird. Our yard must be a quick stop on their migration back to their summer grounds. It's a welcome visit, and another sign that spring is certainly here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Public Service"

The Quarter Acre is situated in a town without curb-side pickup of rubbish and recyclables so we take a weekly trip to the town dump to dispose of our household waste. We actually look forward to this trip -- it's not overly difficult as far as tasks go, it has visible and tangible benefits.

During this week's trip an incident with a public servant sparked the question: whatever happened to "pubic service?" Let us remember that service is the operative word. To get into our town dump one must purchase a sticker (valid for the calendar year) that is affixed to the lower left hand corner of the windshield. A public servant sits in a booth and checks to make sure you have it. No problem.

This past weekend there were two men checking stickers. A car in front of us stopped, and the guy impatiently waved him through. Seeing this we rolled slowly into the checkpoint thinking that would help to keep things moving. But, no. The checker scowled, waved a hand for us to stop, which we did, looked exaggeratedly at our windshield and then let us pass, waving us along, impatiently.

This was a small thing, a momentary blip in the weekend, but it annoyed no end. There was no consistency in the approach. No rhyme. No reason. Pure caprice and a petty power play by a guy who, as Steve Miller sang "makes his living off of the people's taxes . . . " was on full display. Other interactions with "public servants" at the town dump have inspired similar feelings. The woman who works in the office and takes your $15 to dispose of computer monitors etc. is sullen, hostile and miserable. The guy who hovers around the dumping zones is equally miserable, and somewhat menacing.

The local town dump -- and ours is a very efficient and good dump from an operational perspective -- is about as grass-roots as one gets in the national governmental spectrum. Yet dealing with its agents is unpleasant at best, disheartening at worst and overall, very frustrating. We believe that it was Kafka that wrote about petty people with petty powers in petty jobs, and we, the citizens of this country, fund a bureaucracy -- at least three levels deep, each with myriad sub-levels -- filled with people that Kafka would most certainly recognize.

The service side of "public service" is dead. Long live the service side.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Small Signs

After our morning constitutional, during the cool down phase, we took a walk around the Quarter Acre. A week ago we got a solid, late-season dumping of snow that froze very hard. A couple of lovely spring days have melted it though, and the smells of thawing earth and melt-water once again fill the air.

Greening grass, emerges from beneath winter thatch. Tulips and daffodils, planted last fall (some partially sprouted during a weirdly warm December, and are now a bit burned) are sprouting in earnest; and, Tiger Lilies, that will not bloom until late June, have broken through the soil to begin their ascent. The sun shines brighter, longer, at a steeper angle each day, warming both earth and air.

Today, we sense a certain Spring-hopefulness. The Quarter Acre is shedding its drab winter garb and emerging from its latency. It is time we did the same, the signs are all around.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

With It, Or On It

We've not yet seen "300" and may not -- it's hard enough to land baby-sitting, and when we do we typically use it to go to dinner, not the movies. We have, however, been thinking about this film, reading about it, browsed the graphic novel upon which it is based while visiting a bookstore, and watched a History Channel show about the battle of Thermopylae. We found a link to an interesting review of the film at The Weekly Standard while browsing Newmark's Door.

The reviewer, John Podhoretz, makes an interesting point about how the film is resonating with audiences. In its first two weeks in general release "300" has netted $100MM. As Podhoretz notes there are no stars involved, either in front of, or behind, the camera. The film does have striking visuals, and tells an incredible story of duty, honor, courage and sacrifice in the face of impossible odds.

Podhoretz writes:

300 is nothing more than a comic book rendering of that tale--quite literally, as it's slavishly faithful to a 1999 comic book by Frank Miller, whose violent imagery and hardboiled storytelling have now been immortalized in two successful Hollywood films (the other being Sin City). Despite the vulgarity and overheated solemnity of its approach, 300 does tell the Thermopylae story without a trace of irony. It depicts Sparta and the Spartans in all their proud, martial, vicious, nasty, unsentimental, and egalitarian glory. Director/co-writer Zack Snyder offers not even a moment of doubt that the Spartans are the good guys--believers in human freedom who oppose the Persians because they demand nothing but submission to a false god-king.

I don't think this movie has a single idea about the nature of cultural conflict, the meaning of martial valor, or anything else. But here's the thing: If you choose to tell the story of Thermopylae, you cannot escape the fact that you are choosing to tell a story of Western civilization taking a stand against rampaging barbarians from the East. And it's precisely this aspect of 300--as well as its entirely unapologetic celebration of war at its most insanely bloodthirsty--that offers the only coherent explanation for its galvanizing effect on audiences.

Kyle Smith, writing in the New York Post, points out that people seeking to draw parallels between the action onscreen and the war in Iraq or the war on terror are looking in the wrong place, since 300 hews close to Miller's 1999 comic book. That is certainly true. But while Miller foresaw no parallel, the audience seeing 300 in the year 2007 is responding viscerally to a story of a clash of civilizations that takes the side of the West against the East.

We've always been intrigued by the battle of Thermopylae. Though, and despite priding ourselves on our knowledge of history we never realized (embarrassingly) that the Greeks lost. We have, however, always understood the subtext of the battle, and have always viewed it through the lens of West versus East -- "a clash of civilizations." What the History Channel show imparted to us was that the act of Spartan sacrifice was born in and helped to foster the idea of Nation. So, despite defeat in the pass of Thermopylae and the subsequent burning of Athens (payback for the Greek sack of Sardis a century before) the Greeks rallied, as a nation, to drive the Persians from the Peloponnese. What ensued was the flourishing of the culture upon which Western Culture rests -- despite politically-correct efforts to deny this. Had this idea of nation not taken root when it did, and had the Persians remained in Greece we would live in a much different world than we do today.

The elites in our government, media-entertainment industry and educational establishment no doubt look upon such thoughts as those of a simpleton -- one who fails to see nuance. Thankfully, unlike those who see only gray in our current clash of civilizations, 300 Spartans (and 1,000 never-mentioned-Thesbians) saw things in black and white, stood their ground and fought for an ideal embodied in a national culture and a way of life. Would that such stalwartness existed amongst our "best and brightest."

Perhaps, some training in a Spartan agoge -- where Spartan boys between the ages of 7 and 19 learned to fight, steal, evade, kill and survive in combat for the good of society -- would change that. Before departing for war, as they handed them their shields, Spartan mothers would tell their sons, : "Return with with it, or on it." Collectively, as a nation, we carry our shield in some nasty parts of the world, in defense of the greatest way of life in the history of mankind. Will we return from these endeavors with our shield in hand, or will we be carried home on it? There is no return without our shield, that is not an option.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Super Market Tourism

After digging out from a late season snow storm, we took Child One and Child Two to their grandparents' house. Saturday was the birthday of Pater Agricolae, and we kicked off the weekend with a visit to the Super 88 -- a huge and wonderful Asian Market with a several outposts in the Boston area.

We visited the flagship store in Boston's South End. Fans of supermarkets in general, we love Asian Markets. The breadth and depth of merchandise and the variety of produce is astounding. It's a true cultural experience. We shopped for a birthday meal that we were preparing on Sunday and it was a blast. Child One was amazed by the live fish, crabs, lobsters, beef tongue, duck necks and various fowl feet. Child Two sat quietly in the seat of the cart and took it all in, concentrating quietly and intently. We can only imagine what it must be like to a toddler and an infant, respectively, and have so much visual stimulation in a place so different from their typical supermarket experience. Pater Agricolae enjoyed it immensely as well -- sharing this experience with his grandchildren was icing on the cake.

The meal, on Sunday was a great, pan-Asian feast that was a joy to prepare, and pretty good tasting to boot (if we may be so bold). We made Thai shrimp soup in spicy lime broth; green papaya salad with tomatoes and star fruit (Viet Nam); chicken and potato curry (Laos); stir fried veggies with fermented soy bean paste (Yunnan). Wine with the meal was Champagne (Moet & Chandon) for the soup course and then New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Oyster Bay) when the Champagne was gone. For dessert we had old fashioned, and from-scratch, chocolate Devil's Food Cake with home made butter cream, mocha frosting.

The shopping trip was wonderful, the meal prep and ensuing feast was equally great and it was a super way to cap off the weekend and spend a Sunday. Though it goes without saying, we are happy to live near our family to be able to share such things.

Friday, March 16, 2007

March 16?

More fun!



Mouth Wash Bum

While walking through Harvard Square the other evening we saw a mouthwash bum, the first one in a long time.

We're more likely to see some junkie on the nod nowadays than we are to see a bum hitting a bottle of mouthwash. But there he was, as bombed as could be on the corner of Mass Ave and Ellery St., carrying his bottle of golden mouthwash, CVS brand.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Convergence Culture Talk

Yesterday morning (3/14), for work, we attended the morning session of an advertising symposium in Boston. We heard a few speakers the most interesting of whom was Henry Jenkins -- co-director of the center for comparative media studies at MIT.

His area of focus is fans, and fan culture, particularly how fans influence, and alter a brand. He had a great series of dichotomies in a string of his slides that highlighted the change in the media-scape and that create challenges for the marketer and the brand manager.


Individual Consumers
Collective Intelligence

Mass Markets
Brand Tribes

One Size
All Size



The most interesting insight that he provided, however, was that "we [marketers/brand managers]don't control the whole brand and that we've already lost control." Rather than try to control it we need to find ways to embrace this fan participation and use it to our advantage to improve both the brand and the brand's communications.

This loss of brand control was also echoed by Jim McDowell, VP of Mini Cooper USA. There is opportunity in the ambiguity -- always.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Damnable DST

Mark us, along with farmers and others who are up and at 'em on the earlier side of the day, as opponents of Daylight Savings Time.

We run, and winter is always a hard time to maintain the regimen given the cold weather and treacherous footing. The greatest hindrance, however, is the darkness: it's purely psychological, we admit, but it's a huge hurdle. Because we have children at home there is no time to run in the evening and that puts us squarely on a morning routine. The past couple of weeks have been great and relatively bright -- a nice reward for dark January and dim February. Again, with the imposition of DST we run in pre-dawn gloom rather than lovely first light.

Many of our colleagues are giddy about the fact that they get to commute home in daylight . . . we say who cares? Admittedly, it is nice to have light until 9:30 PM; but, after finishing dinner and putting children in bed it's not the most useful time of day for us. Sitting on the porch in the gloaming is nice but we realize no efficiencies from this extra daylight.

We realize that we are in the minority on DST, but in a lifestyle geared to the morning hours, waking up in light rather than gloom is preferable. Perhaps, sometime in the not-too-distant-future time will always be "standard." Until that time however, we'll lay out our running gear now so that it will be easier to find in the dark, tomorrow morning.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mark Twain Quote

“The mania for giving the Government power to meddle with the private affairs of cities or citizens is likely to cause endless trouble, through the rivalry of schools and creeds that are anxious to obtain official recognition, and there is great danger that our people will lose our independence of thought and action which is the cause of much of our greatness, and sink into the helplessness of the Frenchman or German who expects his government to feed him when hungry, clothe him when naked, to prescribe when his child may be born and when he may die, and, in time, to regulate every act of humanity from the cradle to the tomb, including the manner in which he may seek future admission to paradise.” -- Mark Twain

Read in Patriot Post Brief March 12, 2007

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Random Thoughts

We've got a bunch of random thoughts and observations that we've been hashing around since the last post on 3/3, with nothing really coalescing into any sort of coherent post. So, here goes:

DeVille Patrick is in trouble again. He made what essentially amounts to a lobbying call to Citigroup and his old pal, and fellow Clintonista, Bob Rubin on behalf of a company for which he served as a board member. The latter is struggling and Citgroup has business interests in the Commonwealth. This side trip into an ethical gray area (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) occurred after DeVille specifically warned his staff to avoid any actions that could be deemed "unethical." Clintonistas know how to skirt the ethics line, and, somehow, to get away with it. Together we can . . .

Jumped the Gun
We spoke too soon in regards to the demise of the ice age. Arctic cold dropped like an anvil on top of Boston where it has remained for the past three days. The once slushy ice sheet in the backyard is now a solid sheet of glistening ice.

Comets on the Curb
Speaking of ice . . . the stuff that's left by the sides of the roads, covered in sand, dust and other substances is something beyond ice at this point. It's more akin to the material that makes up comets.

There are three nesting pairs of Doves in the backyard who have been riding out the cold hunkered down in some Myrtle and left-over oak leaves. They sit in the sun on the hill at the back of the Quarter Acre for hours on end, puffed up, eyes half closed. When we lived in Brooklyn we had a nesting pair who built a a flimsy little nest on our fire escape. The nest held two eggs, both of which hatched. A crow however came and upset the whole thing, stealing one baby, and knocking the other to a lower roof where the it ended up in a gutter. The parents tended the baby there and the baby dove eventually flew away -- literally making it out of the gutter.

Call of the Wild
There is a cool cat that comes wandering through the yard, on a pretty regular schedule. He's big, he's clean, his gray and white coat is thick. He took a run at the birds on the ground (see, above: Doves). Before we saw him charge down the hill some birds got skittish and started bolting -- we thought that maybe the hawk was coming in for a kill. The cat scattered the remaining birds and squirrels none of whom returned until the next day. We're not at all cat (or even animal people) but hunting, outdoor cats are pretty cool -- mini suburban tigers.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Ice Age Winds Down

Today was a beautiful, sunny, 50 F day. The ice sheet that covers the Quarter Acre is melting rapidly and the yard is being revealed. Spring is definitely on the way. An interesting leftover from the ice sheet's retreat are large number of rocks and pebbles that washed down the hill at the back of the property. They occupy the area at the foot of the hill and the top of the lawn, piled up like glacial scree.

Another interesting leftover is copious amounts of rabbit droppings. It almost seems as if a whole herd of bunnies sits on our lawn eating and pooping all night. On close inspection the grass is fairly well cropped, and the amount of droppings is staggering. There are also some rather dense tufts of rabbit down. Our theory is that this part of the yard gets sun all year 'round and the snow melts in this area -- whereas much of the lawn sits in the house's shadow and sits under ice still. So, the rabbits come and dine on what they can find, and fertilize as they go.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Harvard Square Falcon

On Wednesday, 28 February (this is the second post this week to start this way), while sitting in a meeting we happened to let our attention wander and gazed out the window. Across the street from our office, visible outside of the conference room in which we were sitting is a church with a tall stone spire. Perched on the cross atop the spire was the Peregrine Falcon that we had seen hunting at St. Paul's in December 2006. It perched on one of the arms of the cross, surveying the scene, primping and preening for about 10 minutes before flying away to look for breakfast.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Supporting The Wrong Team

Tuesday, 25 February, at lunch, after picking up a sandwich from a Cambridge deli we detoured through Hahvahd Yahd with a couple of colleagues. While hustling across the quad with streams of students we spied four students holding a pair of Palestinian Liberation Organization flags and a sign. I couldn't read the sign, and the students stood peacefully, largely ignored.

We commented to our colleagues that this a great place where you can stand holding the flag of a sworn enemy of our country and no one bothers you. One colleague commented sarcastically that they were exercising their First Amendment rights. We asked what would happen if we stood across from them with an Israeli or a U.S. flag; or let them know that we thought them idiots. Somehow, we knew that our exercise of our own First Amendment rights would not have been viewed as kindly upon HU's hallowed campus.

The third member of our trio is dating a Marine Aviator currently on station in Iraq. She wondered what would happen if she carried the Marine Corp flag across the quad. We laughed, because we all the knew answer.

In a terrific article in today's WSJ, Daniel Henninger writes about this divide between the men and women of our armed forces and the civilian establishment. He relates the tale of U.S. Army Major Bruce Crandall (ret.) and his recent receipt of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the lack of coverage of either the feat or the ceremony in the mainstream media.

Henninger writes the following about the words of Gen. Peter Shoomaker, the Army chief of staff:

"Look at his words and consider whether they still stand today, or whether as a matter of the nation's broader ethos of commonly accepted beliefs, they are under challenge. Gen. Schoomaker said: 'The words of the warrior ethos that we have today--I will always place the mission first; I will never accept defeat; I will never quit; and I will never leave a fallen comrade--were made real that day in the la Drang Valley.'"

Henninger continues:

"The secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey, went on in this vein: 'The courage and fortitude of America's soldiers in combat exemplified by these individuals is, without question, the highest level of human behavior. It demonstrates the basic goodness of mankind as well as the inherent kindness and patriotism of American soldiers.'"

The "warrior ethos" and soldiers as exemplars of "the highest level of human behavior" are certainly not views held by critics of the war in Iraq, the military or the bush administration. Henninger concludes:

"All nations celebrate personal icons, and ours now tend to be doers of good. That's fine. But if we suppress the martial feats of a Bruce Crandall, we distance ourselves further from our military. And in time, we will change. At some risk."

Indeed. To the protesters on the Harvard Quad, celebrate Bruce Crandall. Celebrate the (true) warrior ethos of our military. Honor the exemplars of human behavior who serve in our armed forces -- not the PLO.