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Tale Of Two Murrays: Sen. Therese Murray?Poised To Most Powerful Woman In Massachusetts Politics

(Sen. Therese Murray of Plymouth, whose district includes Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich and parts of Barnstable. Murray is the odds on favorite to replace Robert Travaglini as Massachusetts Senate President. Travaglini is expected to leave his post for a job with the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals. A recent profile in the Boston Irish Reporter (reprinted below) provides an intimate view of Murray, her politics and accomplishments

 (In a tale of two Murrays, Boston Cod blog offers a detailed profile of Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who recently took on some of Gov. Duval Patrick’s responsibilities when Patrick announced he was temporarily cutting back on his schedule to spend more time with his wife, Diane, whom he said was suffering from exhaustion and depressions.

 (The two Murrays represent yet another changing of the guard in Beacon Hill politics.)

 By Greg O’Brien, Boston Irish Reporter

murrayterese175Ask anyone who knows State Sen. Therese Murray—the multi-tasking chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and one of the most influential women in a state dominated by powerful “Y” chromosomes—and they will tell you she is a font of energy that can compete with any power source in Massachusetts. Her drive, passion and verve light up Beacon Hill. The long-time Plymouth resident, a single mother in her seventh term representing the diverse towns of Plymouth, Pembroke, Kingston, Plympton, Sandwich, Bourne, Falmouth and three Barnstable precincts, has an indefatigable capability for analysis, compassion, compromise where it is justified, and confrontation when it’s not. The 14-year veteran of the State House, who gives every indication she will seek the Senate presidency one day when her close friend and mentor Robert E. Travaglini steps away from the leadership dais, can in political terms not only walk and chew gum with the boys, but she can pick up the loose wrappers with ease, the frayed ends of government.

Over the years those loose ends have included championing welfare and education reform, financial assistance for children with catastrophic illnesses, critical assistance for seniors who want to stay in their homes, protection of the environment, shoring up the state’s economy, and other challenges.

On many days, it is hard to tell Murray’s desk from a file cabinet. Mountains of memos, newspaper clips, pending legislation, and proposals in a $26 billion budget that she oversees in the Senate and directs like a traffic cop obscure the view of a worn, scratched surface. On this cloudy day in October when the first chill of fall penetrates like creosote on new decking, Murray is in her second floor office suite overlooking a bleak Boston Common juggling the realities of her position. “The biggest challenge of the job is trying to fund all the needs. It’s impossible,” she declares to a visitor.

Within seconds, the phone rings with another need. President Travaglini is on the horn with a question. The two talk numerous times a day, with Murray adroitly fielding queries about a particular bill, issue or individual. Routine business this morning, but the point is made. “We can interact as much as 200 times a day,” she says, with slight exaggeration. “He’ll call often to ask my opinion. We were both elected in ’93 and quickly bonded. We were city kids. It’s a strong working partnership.”

She pauses, then adds with emphasis, “But he’s the boss!”

What has made Murray a survivor in a trenchant male world up at the State House is her self-discipline, impressive intellect, zeal for politics, fairness, and gut sense of the pecking order—all hand-me-downs from her parents, both second generation Irish Americans who knew the worth of personal integrity, care for others, and a hard day’s work.

Murray was raised in Dorchester, and while she has lost much of the accent, the staccato pace is still there. Her stereotypical Dorchester independence, family values and street smarts are still with her. Born at “St. E’s” (Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital on Cambridge Street in Boston) and after living briefly in Roxbury’s Mission Hill projects, Murray’s family, five girls and a brother who died in infancy, settled into St. Matthew’s Parish, then moved on to St. Mark’s where Murray and her sisters attended parochial school under the heed of the nuns. Her father, Richard Hollum, whose Irish roots hail from Cork, worked three jobs to support the family—an office supervisor for a now defunct Boston book company, a night catering job and weekends at a South End hardware store. “My dad was never home,” recalls Murray. “He was always working, but so were all the other fathers in Dorchester in those days.” Murray’s mother, Helena (“She hated the name and called herself Eleanor), also worked a full-time clerical job, starting when her youngest child was eight months old. “It was unusual in those days for a mother of five to be working, but we needed the money,” says Murray, noting her mother’s family came from Dublin and Limerick. “She taught us to be self sufficient.”

It was a trait imbedded in the girls, who learned to carry their share of the family load at an early age, with the older ones watching out for the younger ones, and all in time taking turns cooking meals. “I remember when my older sister Eileen was 12, she would take all of us in the summer on the train to the beach in Revere,” recalls Murray, the middle child. “We were always a close family, and the church was the center of it. My parents were loving, strict and devout Catholics. I never heard them say a bad thing about anyone, but the English. You know how that is with the Irish!”

After grammar school, the girls attended Cardinal Cushing, and then to lives of achievement. The oldest, Eileen, now retired, was head of nursing services at a County Hospital in Los Angeles. Second in command, Kathleen, is a certified public accountant and a treasurer for an international charity headquartered in the South Shore. Murray’s younger sister, Rita, is an administrator at Boston Medical Center, and the baby of the family, Virginia, is administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Weymouth.

So how did Murray fall into politics?

“My parents were staunch Democrats, but never had time for organized politics,” she says. “They must have passed the fascination on to me.” As a young girl, when most kids her age were collecting baseball cards, Murray was gathering political cards, those sepia handouts from the candidates. “I’d hang out at the polling places. Politics in Dorchester was a contact sport for me. There was always an opinion to discuss, always someone whose politics you liked or disliked. I was baptized in it.”

At 12, she got her feet wet in her first formal campaign—working the phones for Ted Kennedy’s initial Senate run. Her uncle, active in politics in Allston, got her the summer job. “I remember getting an invitation to the campaign event on Election Day,” she says. “I was so excited, but it was at night and my parents said I couldn’t go.” Over the years, Murray worked on numerous campaigns, including the gubernatorial bid of Michael Dukakis—volunteer work that ultimately landed her a post as Director of Mitigation for the Massachusetts Highway Department. The job offer came after attending college and holding hospital and human service positions and a job selling franchises for American Cablevision. “Mass Highway needed someone to do community relations for the Southeast Expressway project that was under consideration at the time,” she says.

Murray—who in the 1970s had moved to Plymouth with her husband (they are now divorced) and early on had declined several solicitations to run for public office— held the Mass Highway post until the early 1990s when she was summarily fired by incoming Republican Governor William Weld for being the wrong political color. “I made the hit list,” she says. “I lost my job, was a single mother at the time and had to find work.” So she sold real estate, and answered the call to politics, running for the state Senate in 1992 and beating a 20-year Republican incumbent her first time out—a time when the local economy was in the tank and incumbents were losing jobs and homes. Political payback is sweet and Murray has never looked back, only to reaffirm her roots and her instincts to help others.

“I was raised at a time of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War,” she says, noting the turmoil had an indelible affect on her. “I saw horrible things on television at night. Blacks being hosed, beaten and attacked by dogs, and thousands of soldiers killed in war. I will never forget it. I have an innate sense of caring and fairness from my parents. If I’m off balance on it, it makes me a little crazy.”

Her feral nature has been a great blessing to Massachusetts residents, who have benefited from the many welfare reform and human services enhancements she has successfully advocated through her work as chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Welfare Reform and on the Long-Term Care Committee—among them the Catastrophic Illness In Children Relief Fund and the Choice Bill that offers essential human services to seniors who want to say in their homes. She also has made significant contributions in the areas of local aid, public safety, transportation improvements, and law enforcement issues.

On balance, life has been good to Murray. There are few regrets. “I wish at times I could have been a better parent,” she says in a moment of candor. But don’t we all. As she sits today in her corner office overlooking the Common, surrounded by photographs of family, politicians (Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, John Kerry, to mention a few), she talks about her future, always looking forward to the next challenge.

“I like my work,” she says, noting her days often begin at 7 am in Plymouth and can run past midnight in Boston. “I think I can bring people together to get to ‘yes.’ It may take a while, but I usually can get there.”

Asked about the senate presidency, she replies, “If Trav decides to leave one day, I certainly would like to be considered. I think I have the same kind of openness that he has. If the position was available and the timing was right, I’d ask my colleagues to support me.”

“But one day at a time,” she adds.

Murray has lived one day at a time since her days in Dorchester, and understands the fragile, fleeting and changing nature of life. She carefully ponders a final question about that day in the future when she finally packs her boxes and moves out of the State House and on to another mission, perhaps private philanthropic work.

“When you’re out, you’re out,” she says, looking up from a conference table. “When you’re gone, people forget you quickly. I guess I’d like to be remembered as someone who cared and was a fine and decent person.”

In today’s self-centered, self-seeking world, that’s something hard to forget.

(Greg O’Brien is editor and president of Stony Brook Group, a publishing and political/strategy company based in Brewster. The author/editor of several books, he is a regular contributor to regional newspapers and magazines, a political columnist for Boston Metro newspaper and a television scriptwriter. He is currently at work on a book on crisis communications, and contributes regularly to his two blogs: Boston Cod and Codfish Press.)

Special Attention For A Special Need

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Grasping the emotionally charged subject of special needs, to most, is as amorphous as the study of autism. In the 1988 movie “Rain Man,” staring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, we were sensitized to the plight of Raymond, an autistic savant, and his obsession with the routine.

“Gotta get my boxer shorts at K-Mart,” Raymond, played by Hoffman, tells his yuppie brother Charlie Babbitt, played by Tom Cruise.

“What difference does it make where you buy underwear,” Charlie protests. “Underwear is underwear…whether you buy it in Cincinnati or wherever!”

“Boxer shorts. K-Mart!” Raymond insists.

“I’m gonna let ya’ in on a little secret, Ray. K-Mart sucks,” Charlie rails.

What is happening to the funding of special needs education throughout the nation and in Massachusetts (ranked tops in the country) is worthy of a Charlie Babbitt invective. “The cost of educating special needs children in Massachusetts public schools has increased by more than $400 million since 2001 and totaled $1.6 billion for fiscal 2004, the latest year for which a total is available, or roughly one-fifth of school spending,” Peter Schworm reported in the Sunday Boston Globe. Special needs students, he wrote, presently make up 16.3 percent of total enrollment.

Meanwhile, state appropriations to keep pace with the swell are detoured in discussions of conflicting agendas—a diversion that also is placing great pressure on the general academic programs of schools throughout the state. A case in point is the Nauset Regional School District on Cape Cod. High-achieving Nauset High School and Middle School are ranked among the ten highest in the state in MCAS scores, and the district’s elementary schools are in the top 15 percent. At Nauset, special needs budgets are increasing annually at a rate of ten to 20 percent, while general academic programs are held to annual increases of three percent or less, barely covering the cost of inflation and diminishing the quality of general academic programs.

Education today should not be a Hobson’s choice; both programs need suitable funding. Toward that end, school superintendents met last week with top lawmakers to seek changes to the state funding law for special education—an adjustment that should be a top priority of the new Deval Patrick Administration and the Democratic-controlled legislature.

‘This nation is founded on the premise that every individual matters,” says Nauset Superintendent Michael Gradone. “And that’s what special education is all about.”

Reversal Of Misfortune: Parenting The Parents

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press 

In the 1960s, Tom Gregory, then a television news anchor at WNEW-TV in New York, sent chills down the otherwise dense spines of parents with the catchphrase opening to his nightly newscast, delivered in a commanding, resonant voice: “It’s 10 PM. Do you know where your children are?” On cue, anxious viewers would often search their homes in a frantic game of Where’s Waldo, poke heads out of kitchen windows into the stark night, and, if necessary, work the phones like a multi-tasking overseas directory assistance operator.

Now, a generation later, the roles have changed in a reversal of misfortune, and many of us are wondering each morning: “It’s 10 am. Do you know where your folks are?”

Parenting the aging parents is making Baby Boomers bald these days, and is standing hairs on the back of the necks of “thirtysomethings.” The MTV Generation is even watching in unsettled anticipation. Many independent-minded parents, my own included, are opting to stay in their homes, shunning assisted living and nursing facilities. But help could be on the way. To assist boomers, a Global Positioning System chip, embedded in a pair of sneakers, can now track elderly parents. For short money ($350), you can locate your parents anywhere in the world with the press of the button. Of course, you have to get them to buy into it.

Recently, my 85-year-old father and 83-year-old mother resisted a family intervention for a less invasive home medical alert system—finally consenting under pressure, but not without a scrap, some if it humorous.

“You think I’m going to die, don’t you!” my Irish father, confined to a walker with serious circulation issues, braced me last week, entirely missing the point.

“No Dad, I don’t,” I replied calmly—the oldest boy in a family a ten and the appointed spear-carrier for this mission. The first-alert system in question, I told him, was “for an emergency.”

“Do you know that this thing doesn’t work within 300 yards of the house,” he responded.

“Dad,” I said, with a degree of sarcasm, “You haven’t been beyond 300 yards of the house in ten years!”

“That’s not the point,” he hammered. “This whole thing is unnecessary!”

My Mom then interjected with a sidebar comment that a man with a “Scottish” name was installing the alert system the next day. 

“Is his name McGeorge?” I inquired.

“No,” she replied, raising her voice. “It’s a Scottish name!”

“Is it McGregor, McBundy, MacDonald, Mackintosh?” I asked.

“Nooooooo,” she said, even louder. “I told you, it’s a SCOTTISH name!”

My folks then began arguing in a deafening banter over the surname of this executioner. Finally, Mom reached into a pile of papers and read from a lithe form. “He’s Scottish,” she insisted. “SCOTISH, I told you! You just don’t listen! Here it is: the guy’s name is…ah…It’s Johnny Walker!”

I needed a shot or two of Johnny Walker when I returned home that night. 

God bless ‘em!


The Irrational Rationale Of Winning: Do The Owners Really Care?

 By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

(*Excerpted from a recent article by the author in [email protected] P. Carey, an online publication of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona)

Think Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman is looking over his shoulder today as he hails a cab in the windy city, while Super Bowl victors, the Indianapolis Colts, are feted in public less than 164 miles away, almost in range of Adam Vinatieri. You bet! Whether in Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia or elsewhere, sports fans may be witlessly in "love" with the hometown team, but the character of their emotion is a far cry from the ideal. Ask any sports psychologist what drives this ancient, often unrequited, love, and they will tell you it is propelled by a primal need to win and boost self-esteem—passions as basic these days as the beauty of a bunt single, bounce pass, or quarterback sneak. And in Chicago, otherwise amorous fans have a headache tonight. A big one!

All things equal, observed the late Isaac Asimov, a prolific writer and keen spectator of life, "you root for your own sex, your own culture, and your own locality. And what you want to prove is that you are better than the other person. Whomever you root for represents you, and when he or she wins, you win!"

And when a partner fails, don’t let the door hit the loser in the derriere on the way out.

Viewed through such a prism, the irrational, dysfunctional zeal of sports fans begins to add up. "The self is at stake here," says Robert Cialdini, the Regents' Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and Distinguished Professor of Marketing in the W. P. Carey School of Business. "That's why hometown crowds are so grateful toward those who are regularly responsible for home team victories. And that is why the same crowds are so ferocious in their treatment of players, coaches and officials implicated in athletic failures."

Pity former Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca, an All-Star pitcher and 20-game winner, who will always be remembered in defeat for one infamous pitch in a 1951 playoff game to the cross-town rival New York Giants. "The shot heard round the world" came from the bat of Bobby Thompson, a walk-off home run that gave the Giants the National League pennant.

Still cringe over hobbled Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner? The Sox castoff let a lazy grounder roll through his legs, and gift-wrapped the 1986 World Series to the New York Mets?

What about the 1980 New Orleans "Aints," whose putrid records in past seasons prompted mortified fans to cover their faces with paper bags. What a difference a season makes; as the Saints headed off to the playoffs, hundreds of fans turned out at 10:30 pm on a misty Christmas Eve to greet them after a win!

And consider the extreme case of Andres Escobar, a member of the 1994 Columbia National Soccer Team, who accidentally tipped a ball into his own team’s goal in a World Cup loss against the United States that eliminated Columbia from the competition. Two weeks later, Escobar was executed in a Columbian restaurant by two gunmen, who shot him 12 times for his miscue.

Sports obsession "is not about rationality; it's about raw association," Cialdini, author of the bestsellling “Influence: Science And Practice,” affirms in a recent interview in [email protected] P. Carey, a bi-weekly online resource that offers key business insights, information and research from a variety of sources. Winning is an adrenalin shot of prestige, he  adds. "It gets back to our deep-seated need to feel successful, to bask in reflective glory, a core emotion from our hunter-gatherer days in primitive times. When the warriors prevailed, everyone in the tribe succeeded.”

Lead warrior Tony Dungy of the Colts was quick to ascribe religious overtones to his Sunday victory—comments, to some, that might have suggested “da Bears” were not on the Almighty’s short list. Winning, says Michael Mokwa—chairman of ASU’s W. P. Carey School’s marketing department, which has gauged the sports fan phenomenon—“is one of those archetypical events in life, like a faith experience or a religious event, a highly emotive, unconscious response where we push off our normal, rational selves.”

But make no mistake: sports is a business, and the charged, and the often murky environment of fan love creates challenges for all sports franchises. No matter how much adoration is lavished or lost, sports unquestionably is first a business that drives a passion.

 "Sports is an affected release from our real lives and the stress and strain of what we do at work, at school and elsewhere," says Ray Artigue, the former senior vice president of the Phoenix Suns, who is now a professor of practice and executive director of the W. P. Carey MBA Sports Business Program. “A good sports business plan accounts for this, quickly adapts to it” and maximizes the upside, he adds.

 But is all this basking "true love" between fans and the object of their affections—a college or a professional sport's franchise—or are the teams just looking to spend a night with their fans? Pinch yourself, if you're a major university or a sports franchise owner. What other business or institution in the past could claim that its customers were agog in love, and all they had to do in general marketing terms was shower, shave and show up for the date?

Indications, however, are that the romance, at least at the professional level, is heading for trouble, as franchises continue to move, star players are regularly traded, and many teams balk at returning an emotional commitment to their supporters, and when they finally do, it's usually too little, too late.

You don't send me flowers anymore, gripe many fans on the heels of losing seasons. Meanwhile, single-game ticket prices, parking and food for a family of four approach the cost of two nights in the Bahamas, and stadiums and arenas across the country fill up with the affluent and the corporate types. It's no surprise that cracks -- large fissures in places -- are forming around the base of this time-honored love relationship. The media is offering viewers more sports and entertainment options, and fan loyalty in some parts of the country is heading the way of the junk ball Eephus pitch -- a delivery that doesn't rely on the pivoting foot. There is no grounding here any more.

Take the hint, fans are falling out of love! Count the empty seats at Florida Marlin, Kansas City Royal, or even LA Dodger games, to note a few, or at NBA and hockey arenas coast to coast. There were more fans at a local high school game than the normally-packed Wachovia Center the night former Philadelphia 76er star Allen Iverson fled to the Denver Nuggets.

"Let's say there are a lot of small cracks," notes marketing department chairman Mokwa. "Sports franchises need to be sensitive to that. We don't have a big schism yet, but we have a lot of foundation cracks. The fan-franchise relationship today is a marriage in need of work. Franchises need to pay attention to this, or these cracks could become large."

 "Are fans really falling out of love?" ponders professor of practice and former Suns vice president Artigue.

"Maybe temporarily," he notes. "But it's not likely to stay that way long." Artigue says that sports franchises are "working overtime in cultivating meaningful relationships with fans, through an array of sophisticated added-value, fan loyalty programs -- many of them borrowed from the airline, hospitality and hotel industries."

For example, he says, season ticket holders now earn "loyalty points" for attending games -- points that can be redeemed in a variety of ways -- and loyal fans are also offered greater access to the players at special events. Franchises, he adds, are also assembling affordable family ticket packages.

"There will always be room for individuals and families. Franchises have gotten creative with family nights, church nights or scout nights, packaging a hot dog and a coke with a game ticket. You may sit in a different location than a corporate attendee and you may attend fewer games, but there's always room for you."

Fan appreciation and affection is genuine, insists W. P. Carey marketing professor James Ward, who has studied customer loyalty in a range of services and products. "It's not smoke and mirrors. I think teams, in general, do love their fans, their ticket holders. It's a two-way relationship, one that encourages loyalty on both sides of the equation." In simple emotional and business terms, he adds, they need each other.

But do they? Rob Stearns, professor of practice at the W. P. Carey School and chairman and chief executive officer of Quepasa Corporation in Phoenix, gives an emphatic "no," and offers a more skeptical perception of professional sports, one that is starting to take hold with many observers.

"The economics of sports has changed," he says. "Owners do not covet their fans as they once did. The reason is that they no longer require their stadiums to be filled to make money. They make their profits today from splits in the media pie that are handed out to the owners through their respective leagues. It's much more important that the league does well, than any individual owner."

While Stearns concedes that empty seats concern owners cosmetically, he notes, "It bothers them only at the margins. As a practical matter they would rather have a fan in a seat than not, but the reality is that most owners would make money playing in front of an empty stadium. I'm not making a statement for better or for worse; I'm just saying the way it is now. The media has altered how the sports business is conducted. The owners court a generic fan. For instance, as long as the NFL has 'x' millions of viewers on any given Sunday, whether you are an owner in Tennessee or in Jacksonville, you don't care [about the home crowd], so long as the collective revenue is flowing in."

Sports today has become an "entertainment spectacle," says Stearns, and fans are tuning in and out at will, depending on the wide menu of options before them.

 "The owners know that most people attend sporting events or watch them on television because they are a spectacle -- that's the reason for all the music, fireworks, lightshows, the dancing mascots and cheerleaders," he says. "It's a circus. Why is that? It's because fans now have tremendous choices in how they want to spend their time. You can flip on a television -- in some cases a 52-inch, high definition flat screen in surround sound that offers a better view than most seats -- and instantly have a choice of 42 different sporting events 24 hours a day, seven days a week!"

There will always be exceptions to the rule, he says, noting teams in more traditional markets like Boston, Chicago and New York will continue attracting loyal sellout crowds -- as even franchises like the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks will when they are winning -- but ask him if the love affair between fans and franchises will persist and he replies without hesitation, "I think what you have is: Let's be friends."

"Five years from now, you'll have some avid, hardcore fans in places, but most ticket holders will be the corporate or well-heeled purchasers, then you'll have other people who will attend once or twice a season on the rationale that when the circus is in town, you go to the circus," he says. "And television coverage will continue to be a total vanilla experience, with more violence, no character to the presentation, and every announcer with the last name of Buck." The games are commodities, he adds, around which advertising is sold.

Sounds like the Kevin Costner futuristic movie, "Waterworld."

 "It is, to some extent," says Stearns. "In spite of lip service to the contrary, sports owners believe that fans want to see increased violence, whether it be in football, basketball, baseball, hockey or NASCAR. And it's becoming more vulgar, more bump and grind. Fans, in the end, crave the wildest, craziest experience; they want traditional sports to push the bounds of entertainment for the sheer excitement of it. And that's reflective of the demography sports owners are going after nationally."

Not only has a myriad of media options eroded the local fan base, but free agency also has taken a bite out of fan loyalty, as franchises struggle to build a team identity, moving away from promoting individual players, as Robert Kraft as done successfully with the New England Patriots.

"Many of us years ago, for example, rooted for the New York Yankees because Mickey Mantle was on the team," says Stearns, who was raised in Westchester County, outside the Bronx. "If Mantle were a free agent and left for Detroit, we probably would have started rooting for the Tigers."

As for professional athletes today, there is universal agreement that they play harder, train harder, and are more competitive than the Mickey Mantles and Whitey Fords of decades ago. Perhaps there are fewer role models only because the media reports on a marquee player's every move off the field, as opposed to the furtive antics of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. But staying competitive in a sports world where owners like George Steinbrenner spit gold coins every day is a taxing challenge for everyone, particularly in smaller media markets. "To be successful," says Mowka, "you still have to put a competitive team on the field."

 "The pressure to do this is tremendous; it drives up other operating costs," says Ward, in a comment that underscores Stearns's appraisal of the state of sports.

Artigue agrees in part with Stearns' blunt assessments, but notes that it is "unreasonable to suggest that an owner doesn't care about winning a championship or keeping the fan base happy. "In the end winning cures all ills. It's the best business strategy, and the perfect antidote to a strained relationship."

Love them or leave them, sports owners and their franchises will be at the core of the nation’s psyche at least until the Second Coming. On that sacred note, just a few days before pitchers and catchers report! All’s forgotten with the promise of a new season.



Fr. Robert Drinan: Man Of Conscience In A Time Of Fleeting Principles

Priest, Politician, Peacemaker

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

drinanrobt_01There was nothing secular about Robert Frederick Drinan. He was a Catholic priest from his clerical robes to his Roman collar—a model for the church today in its disordered times, a man of great obedience who spoke from his heart no matter the consequence. While his critics often argued that his heart was misplaced, bowed to the left, the Jesuit scholar forever stood firm in his conscience and in his resolve. Difficult to stereotype, Fr. Drinan understood the principles of a higher authority, and conceded to a Vatican ruling in 1991 after representing Massachusetts’s 3rd District in Congress for ten years—resigning with “pain and regret” after the Chair of St. Peter had ruled that no priest, not even a human rights activist of Drinan’s ilk, could hold elective office. The silencing of independent thinkers would come back to haunt the church.

This nation has lost a clear, challenging voice that compelled one to think. Politics de jour from the left and the right seize on ideologues; Drinan spoke to edify and, like the law school professor he was, to cause us to confront our demons and reflect in logic. He was “a man without rancor” whose deeply held personal and political beliefs never prevented him from viewing every person as “deserving respect and possessing dignity…Few have accomplished as much,” Georgetown University Law Dean T. Alexander Aleinikoff told The Washington Post shortly after Fr. Drinan’s death Sunday at 86.  Former dean of Boston College Law School, Fr. Drinan had taught law at Georgetown over the last 16 years.

Drinan’s political and academic accomplishments have been a subject of note in media across the world: author of a dozen books, recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees, a visitor to 16 countries on human-rights missions, founder of the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, honored in 2005 with the Congressional Distinguished Service Award, and recipient in 2004 of the American Bar Association Medal. The ABA called Fr. Drinan “the stuff of which legends are made.”

Far more than his accomplishments, it was his ethics that drove him. Fr. Drinan was a man of firsts when it wasn’t popular to be at the front of the line: the first Roman Catholic priest to serve as a voting member of Congress; one of the first clergy in Boston to speak out against the desegregation of the city’s public schools; one of the first to condemn the Vietnam War as “morally objectionable”; and as a fixture on the House Judiciary Committee, the first member of Congress to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon.

I met Fr. Drinan about 17 years ago as a political reporter for the Boston Herald American and continued the source relationship as a writer at Boston Magazine, then publisher of The Cape Codder. His devotion to his personal convictions was stirring. I didn't always agree with all is positions, but I always respected the man. Respect for an individual, many would agree, is better than a life with sycophants. Concur with his beliefs or not, his death marks the passing of a true legend, a person of conscience who was never reticent to show it.

Bush: Born Again On Global Warming?

By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press

Does George Bush finally have religion on global warming? Not likely, but at least he may be in the pew. President Bush is scheduled tonight to speak to the issue in his State of the Union address—proposing, the Boston Globe notes, “what his aides have billed as a bold new national strategy to confront global climate change and work toward energy independence.”  The Globe reports that administration officials “have strongly hinted” that Bush will outline steps to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, that experts say are fueling global warming. Sources have told the Globe that government initiatives may concentrate on accelerating automobile fuel economy standards, controlling plant emissions, and more backing for renewable energy sources.

 The operative word here is ‘mandatory.” The Bush Administration appears stuck on a Junior League approach to responding to the life-changing threats of global warming: volunteerism. Call it, an inconvenient truth. In spite of the chilling realities of record carbon dioxide build-ups, an alarming worldwide temperature surge, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, killer heat waves and other extreme weather, the Bush Administration seems fixed on the trickle down theory—that concerned with the safety of future generations, profitable and polluting energy and manufacturing companies will dip into their largesse to throw us a few bones to fix the planet. 

 So don’t expect much tonight in the form of compulsory controls on greenhouse gas emissions; it will likely be more of a feel-good, corporate pep talk—too little, too late.

 On the subject of cheerleaders, Bush ought to pay heed to antagonist Al Gore. While Gore didn’t invent the Internet and wouldn’t make a short list of dinner guests in most households, he stood many of us on our ears recently with his thorough and credible global warming documentary. Something to consider from the Gore script: more than 279 species of plants and animals have already reacted to global warming, moving closer to the poles; deaths from global warming are expected to double in the next 25 years to 300,000 people a year, as sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet in places with the dramatic loss of shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica, inundating coastal areas worldwide; the Artic Ocean could be free of ice by the summer of 2050, and more than a million species worldwide could be driven to annihilation.

 Volunteerism, Mr. Bush, is good for well-heeled women in party dresses. Action on global warming must be compelled. If you’re in the pew, come to Jesus on this!

The New Democrats: Male Hot Flashes And Hormones

The All New for 2007 Alpha Male Democrat 

By Greg O’Brien. Codfish Press

alphamale_400_01The rarified air over Washington yesterday, as the plane landed from Boston, seemed laden with hormones. Democrats and Republicans in the new Congress were itching for more infighting over troop strength in Iraq and “benchmarks” for success, and the public stench of Saddam Hussein’s hanging continued to make a martyr out of evil incarnate. Democratic congressional leaders have pledged to use powers of policy oversight and spending cuts to confront President Bush’s strategy to increase U.S. military forces in the country by as many as 20,000 troops in a stated Bush Administration effort to quell the violence.

But with swords out and control of both houses under thumb, Democrats—who finally seemed to have gotten it right in the mid-term elections—appear headed toward an identity crisis, quicker than you might say: Pass the gavel! In a simple head count, they seem poised at least to be masters of a collective destiny, but the body language suggests a mixed message. It makes one wonder if anything—in spite of all the hype—will get done in the next 12 months, other than political chest beating and Barack Obama chasing Hilary Clinton’s skirt up in New Hampshire.

For starters, the Democrats seem more schizophrenic than ever—led now by an articulate Nancy Pelosi, who adorned cultured pearls and surrounded herself with young children at her installation as the nation’s first woman speaker, and flanked in Congress by a brood of bruising new macho recruits, the “Alpha Male Democrat,” as the New York Times calls them, newcomers who may not play nice with the softer, more metro-sexual wing of the party, nor do they share some of their core values.

Vetting these attaboys—an eclectic range of former C.I.A. agents, F.B.I. agents, N.F.L. quarterbacks, sheriffs and vets—The Times, quoting from a Tom Edsall Op-Ed piece, did the chilling math, noting, “2006 was a bad year for Democratic women. Nine of the party’s top 11 male House candidates won, while only one of the organization’s top 11 female candidates prevailed,”

Is this the new Democratic Party, or business as usual, buttressed by a swarm of Ninja Turtles with onomatopoeic names like Jon Tester, the burly Montana farmer with the Joe Friday flattop?

Feuding Republicans, meanwhile, are stalled in a drifting, no-win war that is costing taxpayers $2 billion a week.

Ah, dysfunctional Washington. All adds up to a lot of primping, prancing and posturing in 2007. The hormones are flying here!

Gerald R. Ford: A Man Of Great Default

Couldn't chew gum and walk at the same time

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

fordfallsGerry Ford lived a valiant life by default, an irony of existence that in death has endeared us to him, for he is the consummate common touch, a stumbling, bumbling jock of a man who seemed at times that he might have played football without a helmet—as President Lyndon Johnson once cracked of him—but yet an heroic, caring individual who was a simple, truthful, honorable leader at a moment when this nation cried out for one. Nice guys don’t have to finish last.

On many public occasions, Ford regrettably was his worst enemy: tripping while the cameras rolled as he flummoxed down the stairs of an airplane above; beaning a spectator on the golf course with a wildly wayward tee shot; and suggesting in a televised debate with then-contender Jimmy Carter in the throes of the Cold War that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”
“I’m President and you’re not,” Saturday Night Live comedian Chevy Chase frequently mocked of Ford, who seemed exceedingly at ease and good-natured about the skits. Perhaps it was because Ford didn’t take himself too seriously.

And how could he from the start? He was the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics. His birth name, Leslie Lynch King, Jr., was changed by default to Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. when his mother remarried a man of the same name after a divorce from his natural father. Ford, who didn’t learn his true identity until almost a teenager, had no full siblings to lean on, inheriting half-brothers and half-sisters by the second marriage—the only U.S. President other than Franklin D. Roosevelt with no immediate family members.  

Untested and as green as the Grand Rapids, Mich. grass in August, Ford won a congressional seat his first time out in 1948 due to a default in GOP leadership. He was then elected House minority leader in the Democratic landslide of 1964, and fellow Cong. Charles Goodell of New York later said of him, “It was just that most Republicans liked and respected him. He didn’t have enemies.”

That fact alone primed Ford’s chances in 1973 of replacing defaulting Vice President Spiro Agnew—who really was a crook—and finally, Ford’s ascension to the White House throne, sitting in for tortured Richard Nixon, was perceived nationally as a placeholder. In another touch of lasting irony, Ford’s pardon of Nixon, on grounds that he thought it best for the country, led to his political demise and loss to an unknown peanut farmer.

It was no surprise that as Ford’s flag-draped casket lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, the former president would be overshadowed by the execution of evil incarnate.

But Ford saved the best paradox for last, leaving no chance for default. He has left us a legacy of healing and enduring accomplishment if building faith in a disaffected nation is to be venerated.

Coming To Terms With Christmas: A Soul-Searching Journey

Troubled words
By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press

Ah, that Chrismas spirit! Resembles modern day Bethlehem more than anything else, with its violence and mayhem, and shoving in line. What is it about this time for soul-searching peace that turns us into Antichrists? It is the greed, festering materialism, or are we just victims of the hard sell? Mea culpa. I’m Irish Catholic, and guilty as sin on two of three counts. Oh, holy night, just one of them left to shop. And with apologies to author Chappeau de Roquemaure, as “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn, fall on your knees, oh hear those” cash registers rejoicing!

Call it what you want, but Christmas today has as much to do with a nativity as cloning; it has morphed into the politically correct “holidays,” a celebration in tinsel and bright lights, washed down with plenty of good red wine or dry chardonnay. I had dinner the other night over a fine cabernet with an associate who even suggested that Christmas had evolved into a paean festival. She thought it was a good thing. Now isn’t that special!

Read the storyU.S. News & World Report earlier this month created quite a festive buzz with its front page cover, “The Gospel Truth: Why Some Old Books Are Stirring Up A New Debate About The Meaning Of Jesus.” Citing the usual suspects—The DaVinci Code, Gnostic principles and the newly discovered Judas Gospel, the betrayer’s come-to-Jesus memoir—the magazine plays on modern interpretations of the scriptural life of Jesus as more of a “symbolic event.”

“To the Gnostics, or at least to many of them, Jesus was not the son of Yahweh sent to redeem fallen humanity through his death and Resurrection; he was an avatar or voice of the oversoul sent to teach humans to find the sacred spark within,” observes the magazine.

If that were true, Christmas by all counts should have about as much meaning to the faithful as it does to the masses today: Jesus Christ, Superstar, but not the Savior. Excuse the digression here, but in a Boston Herald American interview many years ago upon the death of John Lennon, I asked a bishop of the Boston Archdioceses, who was then an ardent Beatles devotee, what he thought about Lennon’s humanistic statement that the Beatles were more popular than Christ. The bishop paused in answering the question, then replied, “I wonder what John is thinking now?”

What are we all thinking now? Christmas, in the moment, is indeed about Christ the Lord, and last Sunday morning I sat elbow-to-elbow with fellow sinners squirming in the hard pew as our pastor lamented from the pulpit that the Christmas spirit was now defined in terms of our self-inflicted stress, and by what we want, what we get, and what we don’t give in terms of meeting the needs of others.

There are numerous books and tips to deal with this stress. For starters, he recommended Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Most, however, gravitate toward the self-help websites and paperbacks to get a grip. The American Psychological Association, for example, suggests the obvious: identify the factors for “holiday” stress; recognize how you deal with stress; change one behavior at a time; and take better care of yourself.

“Pay attention to your own needs and feelings,” the association offers in self-absorbed counsel that appears ambivalent on the role of the Almighty.

No surprise, the Anxiety Recovery Centre advises “more sleep,” “better financial planning,” and a deep, extended breath. “Stress, anxiety and depression are common during the festive season,” the Centre notes, giving correct emphasis to the cold reality that many are foundering in deep emotion turmoil during the Christmas season for a variety of personal reasons. “If nothing else reassure yourself that these feelings are normal.”

Wouldn’t it be edifying if “normal” at Christmas meant greater peace. No need to scavenge under the tree for it. John 3:16 is a far better place to look—Bethlehem as it was meant to be.

Merry Christmas!

Big Cheese: A Thug By Any Other Name

Mafia underboss Carmen “The Big Cheese” DiNunzio
A chubby Michelin Tire Man

carmenthebigcheesedinunBy Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press

Analyze this: With the arrest last week in the North End of reputed Mafia underboss Carmen “The Big Cheese” DiNunzio (on right trying to hold up his pants) on illegal gambling and extortion charges, the face of the mob in Boston, where DiNunzio is the alleged kingpin, will likely morph into yet another mug. Not that the firm didn’t need a facelift by traditional La Cosa Nostra standards. The pin-headed DiNunzio, who looks more like the Pillsbury Dough Boy or chubby Michelin Tire Man, had all he could do to keep his pants up while being led away by State Police. Even the $6,000 wad of cash stuffed in his pockets didn’t lighten his girth.

DiNunzio, whose moniker comes from ownership in the Fresh Cheese shop on Endicott Street, was dubbed Boston’s “capo regime” about three years ago by purported Providence boss Louis “Baby Shanks” Manocchio, and is assumed to be second in command in New England, according to published reports citing police sources.

With impressive state and federal “smackdowns” of wiseguys in recent years, the mob may be on the verge of scraping the bottom of the gutter for new blood. Withered former Boston capo Gennaro “Gerry” Angiulo, sitting out a generation in federal prison on racketeering charges, looks regal compared to this crowd, not to mention the star-power likes of the late Raymond L.S. Patriarca, Salvatore Maranzano, first leader of the American Mafia, and former New York crime bosses? “Lucky” Luciano, Carlo Gambino, Dapper Don John Gotti and the exiled Joe Bonanno, who I chased around the Arizona desert many years ago as an investigative reporter for The Arizona Republic.

While the faces and pedigrees of today’s Mafioso have dumbed down, and that’s a good thing, the nicknames are just as wacky, challenging the 1999 parody of comedian Billy Crystal, playing the stressed psychotherapist Ben Sobel in a classic Mafia spoof with Robert De Niro in the role of chieftain Paul Vitti.? “Who I am? Or who am I? My name is Ben Sobel-Leone,” the character hoodwinks inquiring minds at a Mob warehouse gathering. “I’m also known as Bennie the Groin, Sammy the Snout, Elmer the Fudd, Tubby the Tuba, and once, just once, as Miss Phyllis Levine. But that was at a party; it was years ago…and suddenly I’m in fishnets and singing show tunes. These things happen.”

Made men, now and then, get their nicknames from an assortment of sources: family members, close friends, “business associates,” the police and the press. Former Chicago mob boss Tony Accardo, for example, was nicknamed “Joe Batters” by Al Capone “after he dealt out a pair of savage beatings with a baseball bat,” notes Daniel Engber, writing for And “Joey the Clown” Lombardo earned his handle from the media for his “zany” behavior, including “converting a newspaper into a makeshift mask with eye-holes and racing out of the courtroom,” Engber wrote. ?

"Mob boss Vincent 'Chin' Gigante (whose nickname was short for 'Vincenzo') insisted that his name never be used aloud," Engber adds. "His wiseguys were told instead to rub their fingers across their chin."

So in spite of his dim-witted appearance, Carmen DiNunzo was in step with mob nicknaming as he posed Friday for his yearbook photo at the State Police barracks in Danvers.

Say “Cheese!”