Sunday, July 31, 2011


I spent a good part of my youthful summers in a row boat. My father and brother loved to fish so I did get a lot of chances to throw out a line or two, but most of my experience in the boat was just going out and adventuring. While most of the kids I grew up were hanging around the city, bored and/or getting in trouble, I was hanging out at our old roadside camp off of the Pawkatuck River in Ashaway, Rhode Island having myself a grand ole time. I would go out in the boat for hours sometimes looking for turtles, but most of the time not doing much at all. I knew that part of the river very well. I knew where all the good stumps were to find sunning turtles, I knew where to find the swans and where the good rocks were to jump off for a swim. The river was mine.

Of course, I live very far from the Rhode Island / Connecticut border these days. The only river close to me that comes close to Pawkatuck, in regards to me knowing it well, is the Lamoille River. My boat of choice these days is a kayak. Getting the kayak to and from the river is more of a chore than the actual kayaking. It is a short drive but tying the boats firmly on the roof of the car is time consuming and taxing. It is not like having a cabin on the river where you can just leave your row boat there by the river at your beckoning.

The Lamoille is quite beautiful. Yesterday we were heading into a turn and we were looking at a hill (possibly a small mountain) whose reflection was hitting the water just right. With its green reflection almost as livid as the actual mountain, we appeared to be floating into a double mountain. We put the boats in the water in Jeffersonville near Bert's Boats and went up stream until we were hungry. We stopped on an island and had a picnic dinner before heading back. Downstream is my preferred mode of transportation.

The Lamoille was named "La Mouette" by Samuel de Champlain, the French word for gull which he witnessed at the river's source. At some point in its history, the name was changed to Lamoille by accident when some map maker forgot to cross their T's. I haven't seen any gulls on the river yet, but plenty of heron. No La Moilles either.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bait Dogs

I often refer to my dogs as rescues. This is not entirely correct. My hound was in a no-kill shelter when we got him. My lab as with a family that knew they were neglecting him and had the wherewithal to ask for help. Of my three dogs, only my shepard could actually be considered a rescue. We found her from a classified ad. There was a large litter of German Shepards and she was the runt. Apparently, no one wanted the runt. She was only a few weeks old, her belly was bloated with worms and she was living outside. I don't know what would have happened to her.

This weekend, I met a dog that was a real rescue. Duke is a bull terrier, also known as a pit bull. What a sweet dog! He was once a bait dog. Bait dogs are dogs that used by dog fighters to train their fighting dogs. Their mouths are often taped closed so that they cannot defend themselves from the fighter. They don't need to be skilled, they can use any dog. Often, dog fighters get their dogs from ads in the paper for "free dogs" and some of them are stolen from their owners. (Are you feeling warm and fuzzy about humanity yet?)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mountain Landis and the Ivory Age of Baseball

Anyone who knows anything about baseball history, knows the name Keneslaw Mountain Landis as the first commissioner of baseball. He is commonly thought of as the man who saved baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal. After the biggest scandal ever in baseball, when the White Sox threw the World Series, Landis took charge of the league with the iron hand of a tyrant and helped usher in what a lot of sports fan think of the Golden Age of baseball. What followed the scandal was the era of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Lou Gehrig and Joe (and Dom) DiMaggio etc. etc. I like to refer to this era as the Ivory Era rather than Golden because it was only half as great as it could have been. Half the players that could have played could not simply because of the color of their skin. We will never know how well such players as Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige or Cool Papa Bell matched up against these white players in their prime. This tragedy is in large part due to Landis. He was a staunch opponent of integration and worked very hard against it.

It was not written anywhere in the league's bi-laws that blacks couldn't play with whites. It was what was called a Gentleman's Agreement, an unwritten rule that no one dare challenged. Upon Landis' death ini 1944, he was replaced as commissioner by Happy Chandler (a fiction writer could not create better names). Chandler was approached by many black players and he, in clear conscience, could not tell them to their faces that they couldn't play with the white players. He was open to integration, but the owners were not (the so-called gentlemen). He had all sixteen of them vote on whether to integrate. Only one owner, Branch Rickey (one of my personal heroes), the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, voted for integration.

Branch Rickey went on to do this on his own. He acquired Jackie Robinson and had him play in the Dodgers AAA club in Montreal because Canadians aren't as screwed-up about race as those of from the land of the free are. Every baseball fan knows all about what Robinson went through. Rickey chose him as the first black player not only for his playing abilities but for his personal character. He faced death threats, threats to his family and insults ad nauseum not only from players and fans but sometimes from his own teammates. Rickey continued to acquire black players building his team to playoff berths in 1941, '47, '49, '52 and '53.

The teams that integrated early are the teams that dominated the sport for the next two decades. It is with much regret that I point out that the very last team to integrate was the Boston Red Sox (my favorite team) with Pumpsie Green in 1959. The city of Boston today is still very segregated so this should not be a surprise to anyone who has ever lived there. It wasn't the curse of the Babe that prevented this franchise from winning for so long; it was the stupidity of racism. The team was so racist in this era that you couldn't be on the team if you weren't Irish or Italian at given times. For awhile only Catholics were allowed on the team. I started following the team in 1976, not too long after this era. Jim Rice was my favorite player as a kid. Rice has claimed many times that the specter of racism was over by the time he played at Fenway. I am never tired of hearing that and a little grateful. I don't know how I would have grown up thinking about race without seeing such a spectacular outfielder playing the flies off the Green Monster as Jim Rice.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How To Fix Everything

When I was a kid I thought that all adults were smart. You can say that I am disappointed. I always thought that most grown ups had their shit together or at least, I assumed that most of them could communicate .... um ... like adults. After working as a cog in the corporate machine for the past two decades, I have grown jaded in this respect. My expectations are so low that I just assume that any communication that comes my way is going to be badly written and all too often, incomprehensible. I used to assume that anyone that had a white collar job had the prerequisite communication skills that is required for a job of pushing paper or in my case, pushing data. I don't anymore. I realize in the workplace, expecting perfect grammar in emails is unreasonable. I am sure my grammar is far from perfect as well. But I don't think I am being unreasonable by expecting clear communication adhering to some degree of business protocol, at least as high as the level of the book reports I submitted while I was in high school. On a daily basis, I get emails from people who don't know the difference between "than" and "then" or "your" and "you're" or "since" and "sense" or who think "alot" is a word. How did they get through college? I don't know. But my respect for a college education is getting lower and lower the more I work in IT. I only wish I could grade their emails. A good 50-60% of them would fail. This hasn't been any different any white collar job I have had and I don't expect it to get better any time soon.

It is an on-going problem, not just in IT, but in the workplace in general. Soft skills are very bad everywhere. I have worked with some amazingly intelligent people in my career. Some of them can troubleshoot data networks and write integrated computer code, so quickly and efficiently, it would blow your mind. Yet if you ask them to explain a problem to a customer or to a manager ... to "document" their work ... it is like asking them for their mother board. Blank faces and resistance follows. Managers struggle with this all the time. They want to send their employees to training for writing skills or customer service skills ... but can you really train for these so-called soft skills? You can try, but I have seen no evidence of success. By the time people are in the workplace, these skills are deeply ingrained. You might as well try to teach them to type with their feet. By the time you are a teenager or young adult, you have already acquired these skills or you probably never will. What is the answer? How do we fix this for the future? You can say a lot of things, but one of them is Universal Pre-school.

Economist James Heckman says that if we pay now (for preschool) we'll save later when the kids are adults. Not only does early intervention help create adults with better communication skills but they commit less crime and are less likely to be on welfare. So instead of sitting at home watching television or in some unproductive child care, they are in school, playing, interacting, socializing and learning. Heckman's study followed 120 students in a poor neighborhood in Michigan over a span of 30 years. Half the students, the control group, didn't go to preschool. 30 years later, the students in the control group made, on the average $30k less and were arrested twice the amount of time.

Prisons, courts, crime and poor productivity are extremely expensive, far more expensive than preschool. The ROI (return on investment) is off the wall on preschool. For every dollar we spend as a society on each student, we could get or save from $30 to $300. Similar studies has been done with several results, most recently in California by the Rand Corporation. The basic idea, people who have been to preschool need less training and are more productive citizens and employees.


This make me regret that I didn't go to preschool. Perhaps I'd would be more productive if I had.