Brian Keaney

Month: September, 2011

Governor Patrick, tear down these walls

As the MNPA reported today, “Something extraordinary happened today on the editorial pages of Massachusetts daily newspapers. More than 20 of the state’s newspapers agreed to jointly run an editorial endorsing reforms to the public records and open meetings laws that would help bring about increased government transparency.”   I’m happy to lend this space as well for the cause as well.


The walls Beacon Hill has erected between itself and those it governs have taken on two dramatically different faces.

Outside, they show decades’ of  wear at the hands of those fighting for  better access to their government. Inside, they’re increasingly pocked with a taint that thrives in the absence of light.

That taint, most recently seen in a disturbing chain of high-profile corruption cases, suggests any benefits such barriers provide to the efficiency of lawmaking are grievously undermined by the efficiencies they also provide to those more interested in lawbreaking.

The felony convictions of three successive House speakers — and a Probation Department scandal that threatens to reach into every corner of public service — clearly indicate state transparency laws are in dire need of improvement.

Central to that effort is eliminating exemptions that free the governor’s office, Legislature and judiciary from having to live by the meeting and records laws that apply to every other public office in this state.  Just as important is making it easier and more affordable for people to take advantage of the access already protected by a law that predates e-mail and the Internet.

It’s an area where minor advances have been made but substantive reform has been routinely killed or ignored.

Given recent scandals and polls showing a deep and growing distrust in government, we hope this year is different.

That notion will soon be tested on several fronts as lawmakers consider a number of initiatives.

One bill seeks to reduce the cost of obtaining records, requiring state agencies to make commonly sought public documents available electronically. It would also cut administrative costs and processing time associated with such records requests.

Another would strengthen the enforcement and investigatory powers of the Supervisor of Public Records.

A third would assess penalties against lawmakers who purposely skirt access laws and would cover the legal fees of those who successfully challenge them. And several seek to breach that battered and stained wall around Beacon Hill, subjecting the Legislature to the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Critics of the measures have focused on the financial and manpower burdens they impose on records keepers. Yet this push for more easily accessible records, already successfully implemented in other states,  holds the promise of reducing those burdens.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, following the June conviction of his predecessor, Salvatore DiMasi, vowed to regain voters’ faith in state government.

“Today’s news delivers a powerful blow to the public’s trust in government,” he wrote then. “One of the things that I find most disturbing – and the thing I am most committed to changing – is the public’s view of politicians and public sector employees.”

Fewer walls — legal, financial and technological — would go a long way toward that goal.


I miss my mind the most

I’ve had the same boss since I was 15 years old.  No matter how bad I am at the job, no matter how many times I screw up, no matter that I’ve never shown an aptitude for the work or the slightest enjoyment in it, he always takes me back.  Then again, it helps that his sister is my mother.  Additionally, it helps that much of the work can be done by someone with only a strong back, with no real skill needed.

Being not only a boss but an uncle, he will often give me helpful tips and hints.  The most common,  usually heard multiple times a week, is “Stay in school.  You don’t want to be doing this shit for the rest of your life.”

I distinctly remember my second day of graduate school.  My class was in the evening, and during the day I was on my hands and knees in the mud, picking up the 2 inch pieces of vinyl siding below me while rain pelted me from above.  “I stayed in school,” I remember saying to myself.  “Why am I still doing this shit?”  Nonetheless, the advice remains solid, even if I still find myself working for him from time to time.  He gets some cheap labor, and I get a little extra scratch to put into my 529 account.  It works out.

Another boss began telling me about a year ago that after your 30th birthday your body starts falling apart.  Though I learned a great many things from him, on this count I think he was wrong. My body is just fine.  It’s my mind that has been going.

I’ve been losing things lately.  Actually, misplacing is probably more accurate.  Though my Jeep was lost to Davey Jones’ locker, most of the missing items have eventually been returned to my possession.   When I went on vacation in July, I took off my watch.  It was several weeks before I found it again, tucked into the side pocket of a backpack I don’t often use.  I’m on my third pair of sunglasses since Memorial Day.  I haven’t seen my license in a couple of weeks.

Most troubling is my sneakers.  Not only do I not know where they are, I don’t know the last place I saw them.  I assumed – wrongly, as it turns out – that when I packed up all my earthly belongings and parceled them out to storage areas in four family members’ garages and spare rooms, that they would turn up.  I don’t know how you lose something like a pair of sneakers, but I did.

This old boss may have had the worst hangover of his life when he turned 30, but I believe what I’m experiencing is far worse.  Of everything thing I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.

The image of St. Anthony, patron of lost items, was taken by 77krc and used under this Creative Commons license.  

The best fortune cookie ever

I didn’t do much of anything today.  I went to the beach for a little while, I watched the Patriots game, I read my book, and that’s about it.  If I did this little at home I would be going out of my mind with boredom, but somehow on this side of the bridge I am perfectly content to be so lazy.  Must be the salt air.

What a difference this was from last weekend.  It was nonstop on Saturday, what with working Dedham’s 375th birthday party all day and then installing the Knights of Columbus officers that night, but a lot of fun.  I was so worn out that night that I was in bed very, very early.  I don’t remember the exact time, but it wasn’t any later than 11.  Considering 1 am or later is usually bedtime, with the book down and lights out a half hour after that, this was unusual, but I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

My phone rang that night sometime after 3 am, which gave me four solid hours of very restful sleep.  I usually get at least five or six, but four is plenty for me to operate the next day.  The conversation that followed was brief, but long enough that I had trouble falling back asleep again.  I don’t think my eyes were shut for good until just before the fourth hour.

As I tossed and turned for that next hour, I came close to cursing the friend who woke me up.  Every time I was about to, however, I remembered what I heard said in the earlier time zone on the other end of the line.  It was said about me – but not to me – just before the connection was severed.  It wasn’t intended to be, but it might just have been the best thing I’ve ever heard anyone say about me, and I nearly forgot it.

Brian Keaney the writer has a post this week about a nightmare he had, and reading it sparked this memory in my mind.  Just before the phone call, I was having a bad dream myself.  I don’t know that I would call it a nightmare, but it was unpleasant nonetheless.  I was in a boat traveling down a small river when all of a sudden it sank.  Just then I realized I had my backpack on with my laptop in it.  I was struggling to keep it dry as I swam to shore, and though I think I did, I awoke just as I was crawling up onto dry land.

I don’t know what the dream means, but I can now say I’m glad I had it.  In my wallet I keep a fortune I got in a cookie several years ago.  It reads , “Your example will inspire others,” and if my caller is to be believed, it has.  If I didn’t have that dream, I likely would not have remembered the details of the call.  I’ll be woken up for that any time.

What I saw in the afternoon

I sometime wonder what would have happened if someone else had been there at that moment.  In a city of celebrities – and countless more sycophants who tripped over each other just for the chance to fawn over them – I’m sure I was in a distinct minority of people who would have recognized a man who very recently was elevated to the height of his game.

I was taking the name of yet another volunteer on my clipboard and telling them it was likely to be a couple of hours before I called for them.  Like the hundreds before them they accepted the news happily and went off to find a corner in which they could sit and wait.  There wasn’t much they, or anyone else in the country, could do.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a crowd moving towards the door.  I threw out my free hand to block their progress, called out “whoah” as if addressing a horse, and only then did I look up to see what was going on.  There was a short old man in a black suit leading the pack.  His collar tipped off that he was a member of the clergy, and the horde of television cameras chasing him indicated immediately that he was a man of some importance.

Once I got a look at his face I immediately apologized to his eminence and made no hindrance to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the newest member of Holy Roman Church to receive a red hat and the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and allowed him and his media entourage to pass.

Cardinal McCarrick, like the hundreds of others whose name were on my list, was at the Washington Hospital Center to give blood that Tuesday afternoon.  Just a few miles away the Pentagon was still in flames, New Yorkers were covered in soot, and Americans everywhere where in disbelief.  Much of the nation, and indeed the world, was glued to their TVs, and I can’t blame them.  For a while after I returned back to my dorm from class, so was I.

It wasn’t long before I decided I couldn’t stay in my dorm any longer.  I had a friend write my social security number on the insides of my arms – because, really, who knew what was going to happen at that point – and started walking.  I couldn’t get a cab to stop for me, and though I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going I knew there was a hospital somewhere down the street.  A couple miles later I found it and told the woman at the front desk that I was there to help however they needed me.

I wasn’t sure what I could do, and neither were they at first.  While I was having my picture taken to get an ID badge someone had the idea to put me at the blood donor center.  It’s there that I spent the rest of the day.  At first the number of people coming in to donate was nothing more than what I see on a standard Saturday at my local Red Cross, but before long it was a deluge.

When the line got to be about four or five hours long (and likely longer, as I was really just guessing) I started taking telephone numbers and telling people to go home.  I’m sure they were never called, and I can’t imagine the hospital even had enough room to store all the blood they took while I was there.  I don’t know what happened to it all, but I hope not too much of it went to waste.

The media has been awash in remembrances and tributes this week, and rightly so.  For countless individuals it was the most traumatic day of their lives.  A childhood friend of my dad’s was in the Pentagon when the plane crashed, and listening to his story was something else.  It has touched the lives of all of us, no matter how far removed we may have been from New York, D.C., or Pennslyvania.

For me, however, I count myself as one of the lucky ones.  I didn’t spend the day watching the endless repeats on TV.  I was really too busy to even listen to the rumors of a car bomb at the State Department or anything else floating around the masses of people waiting to hear me call their names.

Of course I’ve seen the footage countless times since then, but ten years ago today I wasn’t focused on evil.  I was too busy trying to make sense of hundreds of people from all walks of life who were gladly waiting hours to give, to serve, to save a life.  I didn’t have time for those who wanted to take, to destroy, or to kill.  I saw those from Capital Hill stitting next to those from Shaw.  The uber-conservative Catholic from my own university chatting with the ultra-liberal lesbian from the campus down the street.  The rabbi leading the gentiles – and likely some atheists – in prayer.

On September 11, 2001, I saw the best of humanity.  Never Forget can and was used a trite slogan used to justify actions taken that I disagree with strongly.  But as someone who read the numbers on the bottom of the low flying fighter jets’ wings as they flew overhead in the days that followed, I don’t want to remember what happened in the morning.  I will never forget what I saw in the afternoon.