Brian Keaney

Category: media

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.

Here’s looking at the Oscar, kid

Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Image via Wikipedia

“Please excuse my drug use,” she said to me

“Hey,” I replied, “you do whatever you need to in order to get through a dinner with me.”

Such began my dinner last night at Casablanca, a nice but overpriced restaurant in Brattle Square.  I enjoyed the murals and the company, but two glasses of wine and an appetizer do not usually cost me $36 in the type of establishments I tend to frequent.  It actually could have cost me $10 less but, being the fine, upstanding citizen I am, I told the waitress she had given me the wrong change and returned it to her.

Dinner was followed by one of my all time favorite films, Casablanca, next door at the Brattle.  I think this particular movie is a rare case when I’d rather watch it  at home than at the theater.  It has some very funny lines, but I found the laughter from the audience off putting for some reason.  Usually I enjoy watching movies in the theater precisely because the reactions of the crowd make a movie funnier, scarier, or more dramatic.  Maybe it’s because I know it so well that I didn’t want to hear the guy in front of me laughing, but to focus on the reaction on the screen.

I know a fair bit of trivia about the film, but one of my favorite facts is that no one had any idea that it was going to be anything special.  Warner Brothers produced 50 films a year at the time – one a week – and this was just supposed to be one of 50.  Compare that to The King’s Speech, which I saw the night prior.

Once again, an excellent film, and Colin Firth’s performance in particular was extraordinary.  He certainly deserves the Oscar, and of all the nominees for Best Picture that I’ve seen this year I think this is probably the best.  That said, this wasn’t just another film the studio was putting out.  They clearly had an eye towards the Academy while shooting it.  Normally I’m not a fan of this technique; I’d much prefer to see a director make the best possible film he can, a film designed to appeal to the masses as well as the snobs, and then let the awards come.

In this case, however, Tom Hooper, Firth, and Geoffry Rush did such a fantastic job, regardless of the audience Hooper was making it for, that I don’t mind so much.

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Four random musings

Clockwise from bottom-right: Frye, Brandon, Jo...
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Zack Attack: A couple weeks ago I was in Indiana, and went to dinner at a nice place with waiters and waitresses in Cubs jerseys.  It was literally within walking distance of the homes of the Pacers and Colts, but apparently they were Chicago baseball fans there.  Anyway, I made a reference to Zack Morris to our college aged waiter, and was surprised when he knew what I was talking about.  I thought I was going to age myself there, but he even knew who Kelly Kapowski was.  (Fun fact: in their first incarnation Zack and the gang lived in Indy, but were magically transported, school and all, to California in season two.)

Yesterday I was blown away to realize that none other than Punky Brewster once had a crush on Zack, before every other girl in America did, before Saved By The Bell, before Good Morning, Miss Bliss, before there even was a Zach Morris.  It isn’t often that you can sum up a large part of your childhood in a few minutes, but thanks to the magic of YouTube I can now come pretty close.  When I first saw this I thought Margot was played by Kirsten Dunst, which would have brought me right through high school and beyond- she made a great MJ – but no such luck.

If you have to ask how much it costs…: I listen to two Wall Street Journal podcasts on a regular basis, one on personal finance and one on small business.  One of their advertisers is Paul Fredrick, a company I’ve never heard of before.  They have been advertising dress shirts for $19.95, and I thought that was a pretty good deal.  I need a couple new shirts, so I figured that if the WSJ crowd is their target audience, I would probably do alright buying one at that price sight unseen.

I visited the website advertised in the podcast with the explicit URL of www.1995shirt.com.  Not really leaving much to the imagination there, are they?  Upon arriving, I see a photo of a shirt and in big letters “Special Introductory Price $19.95.”  Pretty straightforward, methinks, and so I pick out my size and complete the order.

It eventually asks for the promotional code given in the ad, and I put it in, thinking I’ll get free shipping or something.  Not so much.  I got charged $19.95 for the shirt, plus $5 for shipping.  It’s still a good price for what I’m hoping will be a nice shirt, but what gives?  What did the promo code do for me?  Apparently, even though the URL and the banner say the shirt is $19.95, without the code they would charge $44.50.  Not quite kosher, if you ask me.

I will say this for them, though.  I emailed inquiring what the deal was at 10pm on a Tuesday, and had a response within 20 minutes.  Their ad practices might be a little deceptive, but their customer service is exceptional.

If you have to ask Part II: The only television show I watch with any regularity is Morning Joe on MSNBC while I get ready in the morning.  Joe Scarborough is a thoughtful conservative, I like the format, and he usually has some pretty good guests.  Joseph A. Banks regularly advertises, and with the steep discounts and sales they are constantly offering I have to ask myself two things.  First, just how bad is business for them?  They are clearly desperate to get people in the doors.  Secondly, how big is their markup?  When they can offer a buy-one-get-two-free deal and still make money, you know the profit margin has to be huge.

Online distractions: I’ve already admitted that Texts From Last Night is a guilty little pleasure of mine, but the site has been down more than up for the past couple days.  I’ve been compensating by visiting two other favorite distractions more instead.  Overheard In The Newsroom is almost as funny, but it isn’t updated nearly as often as TFLN.  It reminds me of why I usually like journalists, though.

I also like Barstool Sports.  The content is updated frequently enough to satisfy my ADD, its got enough vulgarity to keep me young, and it never fails to entertain. It’s designed for guys and is as chauvinistic as, say, Maxim, but it steers clear of outright misogyny of a site like My Life is Bro.  It’s also a lot more intellegent, though MLIB sets that bar pretty low, too low for me even.  MLIB is an example of a site great in concept, terrible in execution.

If Barstool only had someone on staff who knew how to write I’d be on a lot more.  I love the commentary, but the writing is terrible.  If they could improve it,  it would be a real smokeshow.

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Governor Simba

Much has been said of yesterday’s election – most of it before anyone ever cast a ballot – so I won’t waste my few faithful readers’ time offering the same thing you can get in 100 other places.  What I do want to do is offer an observation I haven’t seen anywhere else today.

A little more than four years ago I woke up at what seemed like an ungodly hour (in reality it was about a half hour before a standard hotel check out time), cursing the voters of this fair Commonwealth and the $3,000+ in booze my coworkers and I consumed the night before.  I don’t get hungover so I wasn’t really hurting, but the sun did seem obnoxiously bright that morning as I stepped out onto Comm Ave.

I had to be back at campaign headquarters in a couple hours, so I decided to kill the time – and to soak up the booze still sloshing around inside me – by going out for breakfast.  I knew what the papers were going to say and, being on the loosing campaign, I wasn’t interested in reading it.  I do, however, remember seeing the headline on the Globe, screaming out from behind the glass: “Patrick roars to victory!”

This morning when I checked Boston.com, I was surprised to see almost exactly the same headline: “Patrick roars to 2d term.”  I’m now left with two questions.  First, with all the layoffs on Morrisey Boulevard, is the person writing headlines at the Boston broadsheet the same person who was writing them four years ago?  Secondly, is our governor a lion?

Some thoughts on media

A couple thoughts that have been kicking around in my head, in no particular oder, on the media today.

Online:  One of my guilty online pleasures is Texts from Last Night.  Reading them always has me entertained, and often has me disgusted, disappointed (that I didn’t think of doing that sooner), fearing for the future of our country, or laughing out loud.  Naturally, I check it at least once or twice a day.  That’s not the medium I want to talk about, however.  On the site, American Apparel, which I must confess to have never heard about before, is running ads.  It’s an interesting ad campaign.

The first ad I remember seeing from them was a blond wearing a little black dress in a rather awkward pose.  She was positioned such that you could see that she had a pair of matching black panties on.  Someone is going to get fired, I thought to myself, for letting that one slip by.  Not so.  It was my mistake, not their’s.

The following weeks brought more scantily clad models, so it was clear the woman was deliberately photographed such that we could see up her dress.  I’m still confused by the ad campaign though.  Their models are as unattractive as their clothes.  It’s as if the theme is ugly people wearing ugly clothes.

Books:  I really enjoy the writing of Andrew Ross Sorkin most of the time.  I often read his work in the New York Times, and if he didn’t write 100 posts a week I would read his blog, too.  I can’t keep up with him, so I’ve given up trying.

Being a fan of his work I thought I would check out his book on the near collapse of our financial system and the actual collapse of our economy, Too Big to Fail.  I got about a third of the way through it but eventually gave up, something I rarely and don’t like to do.

It was focused too much on the personalities involved, and almost seemed like a way for Sorkin to advertise how good his sources are.  What the chairman of Goldman Sachs had for breakfast as he talked to the president of the New York Fed isn’t of any interest to me, but much ink was spilled telling us.

I’m much more interested in knowing about the economics behind the collapse.  I don’t know any of the people he is writing about, so reading about their interpersonal relationships and the internal politics that allowed to to rise to their current positions holds no appeal for me.

I’m instead now reading Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality.  Early on author Manjit Kumar has given some biographical details about the principal players, but its just enough to set the scene.  He certainly is not dedicating whole chapters to their upbringing and career paths as Sorkin did.  It’s still early going, but I like it so far.

Television:  I’m not a big TV fan, but every now and then I’ll turn it on if something reaches such huge level of discussion in popular culture that I feel I should at least see what everyone is talking about.  Truth be told that’s how I became a fan of The Office, the only program on television I think is worth recording.

Glee has now reached such a level of pop culture prominence that I thought I should check it out.  My expectations were pretty low going in, but I have to admit on some levels I did enjoy it.  The song selections were excellent, and the actors (or their voiceovers) could sing.  I wasn’t expecting to hear Aerosmith or Journey, but I did and they actually did a great job covering them.

On the other hand, the shows were over the top.  I haven’t been to Mass on a regular basis in a while, but after watching a couple episodes I feel like I’m good until at least Christmas.  The shows were much preachier than anything I’ve ever heard escape a priest’s lips.

I don’t necessarily object to the messages they are promoting, but I don’t want to be hit over the head with it either.  What ever happened to those “very special” episodes of Saved by the Bell where Jessie has a problem with caffeine pills?  Get the message across in 22 minutes, and by tomorrow we are all worrying again about whether Mr. Belding will catch Zack in whatever his latest scheme is.  It might not be true to life, but there’s a reason sitting in front of the tube (or the flat screen, as the case may be) is called vegging out.  People use it to escape reality, not focus on it.