Friday, September 26, 2008

School daze

It's been a busy couple of weeks. 

Not in Salem, however, where it's been the usual weird crimes, political infighting and general citizen apathy. 

Windham's been where its at, all thanks to the new high school. What once was a town without a center, without a heart and without an identity, has suddenly emerged as a rollicking hotbed of partisan politics. 

It can be surprising what gets people motivated to speak out and to take an active role in government, especially town government. For the residents of Windham - a bedroom community known for its upscale residents more than anything - a multimillion dollar high school that may not even open on time has galvanized the public. 

As one elderly man said pointing a finger at selectmen during a debate over the possible construction of a second access road required by the fire department in order for the school to open: "We don't trust you anymore."

Voters rejected that proposition to take an extra $1.25 million out of taxpayer pockets for an already over budget $55 million project by a wide margin only a few weeks later. 

More so than anything else, the new high school has given this once docile (and no community likes to think of itself as "docile") town and inspired it. No matter how it plays out - odds are the town or school board will get its hands on the money to meet the fire department regulations one way or the other - it'll be interesting. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Quote of the day

There is a certain joy in hearing outside perspectives on U.S. politics and policy. Europeans offer some of the sharpest, most biting, and strangely accurate assessments of the modern American landscape. Gerard Baker, of the Times Online, offers a compelling analysis of the closeness of this year's presidential election today along with this great description of the Republican Party:

"Democrats," he writes, "are more eager than ever to align the US with the rest of the Western world, especially Europe. This is true not just in terms of a commitment to multilateral diplomacy that would restore the United Nations to its rightful place as arbiter of international justice. It is also reflected in the type of place they'd like America to be - a country with higher taxes, more business regulation, a much larger welfare safety net and universal health insurance."

As for the Republicans:
The Republicans, who still believe America should follow the beat of its own drum, are pretty much against all of that.
Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Big Something...

Found this today on Might be a bit outlandish as far as analysis goes, but the commentary and supporting arguments are priceless. Read the last paragraph and play the thirty second bit from the movie and try not to laugh out loud. 

I couldn't. 

The Dude speaketh. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Notes from abroad: Ghost Recon revisited

Certainly, the old communist fears have been on the backburner for a few - maybe ten or so - years now. For anyone born after 1979, the fears of nuclear war, Soviet aggression and socialist revolutions in Iowa were replaced with fears of nuclear meltdowns, rogue nations and terrorist attacks by the mid-90's. While for that epic greatest generation of Tom Brokaw fame viewed the threat of the Soviet Union, and international communism, as paramount in the years after the end of the second world war, their children and grandchildren are more concerned with the state of major league baseball.

That all changed - or at least shifted slightly - with the Russian invasion of Georgia. With the subsequent (and probably permanent) annexation of two rebelling provinces and the beginnings of what looks to be a Russian Anschluss the old geopolitics of the Cold War seemingly reemerged, coming full bore from the woodwork. 

Prague remains a symbol of Soviet - and Russian - aggression in the post World War II world. No where else were the aims and tactics that embodied the Soviet Union during that period of world history better displayed. 

Marking the height of the Prague Spring in 1968, Russian tanks allied with their Warsaw Pact partners put an end to burgeoning political freedoms in the Czechoslovakia. Though there was no military resistance to the occupation, 1968 marked a low point for the West, which watched on earnestly as one of the earliest attempts to shrug off the stranglehold of Stalinism failed spectacularly. 

With the current Russian invasion of Georgia still fresh in the mind, the site of the beginning of the end of the Prague Spring takes on special importance, as does the city of Prague itself. Here is a place that for the past four hundred plus years has served largely as a political football for the larger European powers, who suffered under Austrian, Nazi, and then Soviet control for decades and faced defeat and failure at every attempt to pull itself back together until 1993. 

Now, a bustling tourist city, opened to the west fully for the first time since the interwar years, Prague stands as one of the most poignant symbols of rejection of Marxist-Leninism. A single tank still stands outside of the National Museum, along with a bent cross consisting of warped and shredded wood to commemorate the victims of communism. Around these two symbols - and the grossly commercialized American owned "communist museum" down the street - a bustling, democratic, free market city has emerged. 

You might miss it for the discotheques, designer clothing stores and street vendors if you're not careful. Fitting, I think. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Notes from abroad: The Czech connection

Rarely in my life have I been in a place where I could not understand one word of the language, not even to make out the meaning of a road sign or decipher a menu. Prague (Praha), the capital of the Czech Republic is one of those places.

Saying "thank you" or "you're welcome" became a herculean task of flipping through guide books and attempting to sound out what must have come as pure gibberish to the poor Czechs watching me with flabbergasted expressions (Dekuji vam - pronounced "dyek-ooee vahm" - means 'Thank you' while the slightly easier Prosim - pronounced "proh-seem"- means 'You're welcome' and 'Please'). 

Only Paris and Rome, with my unbelievably limited knowledge of the French and Italian languages, came close to baffling me as much. 

Truly, it is a unique experience, one that I imagine many foreign correspondents around the world must enjoy on a daily basis. Certainly, this must be true with American reporters, who - if they speak a second or third language - are most likely to have a romantic European language under their belt as opposed to the currently much more valuable Arabic or Urdu. 

From the perspective of a tourist, you depend on the good will of the people you meet and the hope that because it is a city full of vacationing Germans, Brits and even the occasional American they might understand english. 

I would hope that as a journalist you might be better prepared and equipped with a translator or guide. In some cases I know this to be true, judging from the stories I have heard Charlie Sennott tell of reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Globe. 

Entering into a new, foreign environment, getting a handle on everything that has and will happen while not losing the subtleties in the meanwhile, must be a remarkable challenge. Shifting from state to state, market to market, in American may proof difficult enough, but can you imagine making the same leap to the lesser known points on the map? Places like Somalia, Lebanon or Thailand? 

It must be unbelievable. 

Photos: Street life in Praha (Prague) outside one of the larger underground stations (top). A jazz band plays for the throngs of tourists crossing the Charles Bridge under the backdrop of the Prague Castle complex (bottom). 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Notes from abroad: Army life

Dropping my brother off at his office so he could finish up the paperwork he had to get to after spending the last couple of weeks out in the field training - after he had bought beer and other much needed supplies for us at the PX - it struck me that his base in Grafenwoehr, Bavaria looked a lot like a college campus.

Just with a lot more discipline. 

Perspective seems to be something a lot of people are missing these days. The ability to take something and place it into a context, to analyze it based on past events or behaviors is a basic part of human nature. Without perspective we would be unable to process the incredible amount of information we receive each day - a quantity that has exploded with the Internet. 

Which makes a distinct lack of perspective all the more curious. More and more members of the media, politicians, pundits, bloggers and even your average civic citizen seem to be taking things out of context. Perspective, it would seem, has been thrown out the window.

Maybe this is a result of the Internet, a backlash against the inundation of ideas, news, opinions, commentary. Maybe the Internet fundamentally impairs our ability to imagine anything happening outside of "now." 

Perspective, it must be hypothesized, comes with experience. Whether that experience stems from years of studying or from hands-on application does not seem to matter. What does matter is the ability to use that experience to filter out bad information, link good information and arrive at a conclusion that is both aware of the past and weary of the future. 

What does that have to do with an Army post in Germany? Not much on face value, I suppose, but it was a chance to expand horizons. Having met and interviewed soldiers throughout my short career as a journalist it was always interesting to listen to them draw parallels and comparisons to life as a university student. Now I can see all of those similarities and differences up close. 

Photos from the top: My brother chatting it up at his barracks as we get ready to go out to a beer garden for dinner in town. The overlooking tower at the Gofenwoehr base.