Thursday, June 27, 2013

On Nelson Mandela, George Washington and Greatness

Nelson Mandela appears to be gravely ill, and tributes are beginning pour out from all corners of the world. Clearly, I am in no position to say anything special that won't be said elsewhere, but that isn't going to stop me from postponing work this morning for a couple of minutes while I give you my thoughts.

I think we have established that I am not an overly sentimental person, nor do I tend to overtly idolize people I don't know (although I have maybe been known to be a little bit hyperbolic). I also tend to be pretty hard on elected leaders and public officials. But you know what I am going to throw out there today? For all of the praise heaped upon Mr. Mandela, I actually think he is somewhat under-appreciated as a historical figure.

I'm sure that seems a little strange to say about someone who is pretty universally adored and rarely, if ever, criticized. So, let's examine the whole story...

Mention Mandela, and almost immediately the thoughts of most listeners go to his achievements in leading the fight to overturn Apartheid. And indeed, he led a revolution from a political prison, laboring tirelessly under extreme oppression to push a consistent message of equality and democracy. Ultimately, his revolution came peacefully, through negotiation and election.

But that, to me, is only a small piece of the story. History is littered with revolutionaries, many of whom suffered similarly to throw off horribly oppressive regimes. What there are very few of, however, are revolutionaries that transitioned seamlessly into effective governors. In fact, there is a much longer list of revolutionaries who became absolute monsters - Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Amin, the Ayatollahs...

Mandela joins only a small list of people who led a revolution, but then became a nation-builder. He served as the first democratically elected leader of the post-apartheid South Africa, and his government was marked by inclusion, openness and development...never once with feelings of revenge or retribution. He spent 27 years in prison for demanding equality, but from the day he was released, his entire focus was on moving forward, not on delivering punishment for the past.

There is, as far as I can see, only one real historical parallel to Mandela: George Washington. While they led very different types of revolutions, both were the unquestioned leaders of their struggles. After winning their prize, though, both instantly became effective executives firmly devoted to the business of governing and to the principles of democracy and self-rule.

And most importantly...the truly remarkable, unmatched historical event...they both voluntarily ceded power. After the American Revolution, Washington appeared before Congress to return to them the commission as Commander in Chief that they had bestowed upon him early in the war.  He ignored the likely temptation to use his status as head of the army to install himself King, and established the principal that no man is bigger than the nation, and that the military answers to civilians. It was this act that led George III to say "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."

Just to drive the point home, Washington did the same thing again after he was called out of "retirement" to serve as President. After serving two terms, and guaranteed of an easy, landslide election for as long as he cared to serve, he voluntarily chose to step down and once again established a standard (now a law) that no person should hold the Presidency for longer than two terms.

Nelson Mandela did the same. He served one term as President, establishing a forward-looking, conciliatory tone for the new South Africa, and then turned down the opportunity to be President for life, with an unlimited ability to expand his own power.

And that, more than leading a revolution, is why I think he is under-appreciated. He stands, in all of recorded history, on the smallest and tallest of pedestals reserved only for those immune to the corrupting influence of power.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Things that Entertain Me

Last night was the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge in Boston...a massive (like 12,000 people) race from Boston Common, through the Back Bay and back.

I didn't run, but a handful of guys from our company did (also, The Boy did, so I stayed home with the girls instead of walking, which I could have done).

Two relevant facts about the guys I work with... First, they are hyper-competitive. It is totally normal for lunch to turn into a sandwich-eating contest, and they can turn almost any activity into some kind of a game. Also, they can wager on it...

Second, they are largely ex-athletes, with a focus on the "ex". None of them are quite in the shape that they were 10 or so years ago...but their desire to beat each other remains very strong.

The result? I would describe the office today as looking something like a scene out of The Walking Dead, only the zombies are all wearing suits... And there is a lot of groaning and grimacing...

I assume that my job, obviously, is to think of reasons why they will need to carry things, bend over and pick them up, or reach onto shelves to take this down or put them away...I appreciate any ideas you may have!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


How did nobody tell me that the Bruins are playing the Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup? I'm going to have some pretty serious rooting conflicts here...

Monday, June 10, 2013

OK, OK, no more Munchkin bragging...after this last one...

I am full aware that I have written nothing of late other than stories about how awesome my sister is, and how much everyone loves her, me included. And I absolutely promise to stop, as I am sure that it is not the least bit interesting for most of you.

After this one more:-) And I will warn you right up front, this is incredibly stupid, and largely reads like a bad subplot in a John Hughes movie. But, it's my blog, I will write whatever I want!

As mentioned, Munchkin has a good boy friend from Generic Suburb, and she went to the Generic Suburban High School Prom with one of his friends last Friday night. She probably has half a dozen "good friends" from this school through this friend and through a girl in her previous class that is also a good friend (and was also at the same prom with another boy from the same group of friends.)

Munchkin's date, who I will call Billy for absolutely no reason, is a cute, sort of shy boy that she has known for a few years. He also has something of a crush on another girl in his class, who I will call Rachel for similar non-reasons. Billy wanted to ask Rachel to the prom, but he chickened out, waited too long and didn't ask her before another boy did...a boy who has been described to me only as "a douche."

During the prom, Munchkin was talking to Rachel, who she also knows through all of these kids, and was asked if she and Billy were dating at all. Munchkin told her that no, and that Billy probably would have much rather come with her. Rachel admitted that she was hoping Billy would ask her, and was disappointed that he never did...but didn't really know if that was because he really wanted to go with and had already asked Munchkin, or if it was something else.

So, Munchkin, playing Matchmaker, told Billy that he should ask Rachel to dance, and that he should tell her that he really wanted to ask her, and that he feels like an idiot because he waited so long. And not to be afraid to tell her that it was because he was nervous because he really likes her. And then maybe to kiss her, too:-).

Which he did, which led to Rachel ditching her douche of a date and heading out for the weekend with Billy and Munchkin and friends. And explains why Munchkin was so happy about her date leaving her for another girl:-)

Yea, I know that's a stupid story, but I found it cute!

Thursday, June 06, 2013


In addition to her speech writing skills, Munchkin is an enormously in-demand socialite. This is always a busy time of year for her (I'd be pretty surprised if anyone in America has gone to more proms than her) and this year is particularly full. If possible, next year will be worse...since she has more friends from her original class (who are now juniors) than her graduating class. But, for your enjoyment, here is her schedule for this weekend. The next two weekends look pretty similar. You will notice a common dynamic: the kids in her class have school friends, but they also come from a variety of different places, and they all have "home friends" as well. That leads to a lot of different circles of friends.

Tonight, she is going to the senior prom of a town not far from of her good friends at school lives there, and both that friend and Munchkin are going with friends of hers. For simplicity's sake, I will refer to this as "Group A". After the prom, the kids in Group A are staying at someone's house for the night, and then they are heading to  the Cape for the weekend tomorrow.

Munchkin is staying over with them tonight, but coming back home tomorrow so that she can go to another prom tomorrow night. In this case, the High School is in the home town of a boy in her class, and she is going with one of his friends (the boy from her class is going as well). I will call this "Group B", and their agenda is similar to Group A. She is staying with them tomorrow night, but then catching up with Group A on Saturday.

On Sunday, when Group A heads back home, she is going back to Group B, and then coming back home on Monday. She is headed to a graduation on Monday night for another friend ( the best friend of a girl in her class).

Those kids, whom I dub "Group C", are going North to New Hampshire for a couple of days after graduation, and she is going to go with them. Part of the reason for this is that she had to skip their prom despite her deep adoration for the boy who asked her, because it conflicted with, of course, yet another prom with an entirely different group of people.

Common question...what does she wear to all of these proms?  Answer: almost always black, and almost always from one of her pretend sisters' closets. She re-wears dresses a lot.

She doesn't get her hair done for every one of these, does she? No. She does it herself or has me or a friend help. Honestly, when you look like she does in a black dress and heels, there isn't much needed beyond pinning it into any kind of an updo. Throw in a stray curl here and there, and you're gonna be the best looking girl at the party...

Makeup? Same...she isn't one to wear much makeup (unless someone else gets ahold of her), and never does much extra for things like this. I think she gets this from me:-).

Wow, she sure does make an impression on a lot of boys, doesn't she? Sigh... In fairness, most of these are not boys trying to impress her romantically. I'm not sure she would go with someone that she thought had a real interest in her like that.  Usually, they are boys that are friends and friends-of-friends that she has known for a couple of years. Tonight is a good example...through her friend from school, she has a lot of good friends at this High School, and they are all kind of going together. The actual boy she is going with probably asked her partially because his girl and guy friends wanted Munchkin to come with them all, and he appreciates being able to bring someone that is fun, will know other people and makes friends fast. And looks great in the pictures, too:-).

So there you have it...the life and times of a young socialite...

She looks good in pictures, too:-)

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Munchkin's graduation speech

Munchkin's speech, as written. I feel like she made some changes when she delivered it, but this is the written version.

Keep in mind, she graduated with 25 other kids, so it is a small group that knows everything about everyone, and she was definitely speaking to her friends and their families as such.

Fellow students, principal X, staff members, guests, our wonderful teachers and our parents. Thank you all for joining us today. Every one of you has contributed to making our time at [School Name] everything that it was, and celebrating our graduation wouldn't be the same without you.

In preparation for this, I asked most of my classmates what graduation meant to them. I got two answers. First, that graduation was an end. An ending to this stage of our lives and our education. An ending to childhood, to dependence, and to our time living at home and seeing everyone at our wonderful little school every day.

The other answer I heard was that graduation is a beginning. A beginning to growing up, and to adulthood. To the next stage of our lives. To moving away, meeting new people, seeing new places and studying new things.

But everyone agreed that it is a celebration. A celebration of an achievement, and of a milestone. More than that, I'd like to think of it as a celebration of people. Of all of us, and all of you who helped us get here, and will help us with our next adventures.

I joined you partway through our journey, and my experience was always unusual. I came from a different place in a different world, and some might say that it was a result of some bad luck. But I caught two amazing breaks. First, I am blessed to have what I am sure you all agree, without exaggerating, is the very best big sister in the whole world.

(Then I got an ovation:-) Hee hee, bragging again! This is also probably where I lost complete control of myself.)

And wonderful friends who have treated us both a family since we came here. Second, I was blessed to end up here, at this school with all of you. I found myself dropped not just into classmates who welcomed me and a group of teachers who have been great role models to us all, but into all of your families, as well. Families that treated me, as they have treated all of us, as one of their own children.

It is important that we remember that we are not here just because of our own families. We are here because of everyone in our community: parents and teachers and brothers and sisters and friends.  Parents who drove their own and other kids to soccer games, and to movie theaters. Parents who took other kids on vacation with them. Older brothers and sisters who chaperoned our dances and came on field trips and helped us all with homework. Friends who brought us to things outside of our own small circle here.

In four months, we will be scattered across the country, but we will carry with us the relationships we made here and the memories of our time growing up together. I hope that what we remember is the way we treated each other, the way our parents treated us, the way our teachers treated us, and the way they have taught us to treat others.  I hope that we remember how important this little world has been to all of us...this perfect, welcoming, caring, doting, loving little world. Whatever you do, and whoever you become will be in part because of the wonderful people that have surrounded us through our years here.

Since we can't agree on whether this is a beginning or an end, let's just agree that it is a moment. A moment made possible because of the amazing group of people that we are lucky enough to share it with. And a moment to celebrate everything they have meant to us, and everything we can all mean to each other forever.

Monday, June 03, 2013


I've been a terrible blogger lately...basically nothing for like a week and a half. Short version...stayed home Memorial Day, went to New York for two days, which was...interesting...then graduation, then a weekend of graduation-related things. I'll skip the details.

And then I was all prepared to post Munchkin's speech, and even brought a copy of the text with me to transcribe here. Of course, I got a third of the way through and found myself crying uncontrollably in my that is going to have to wait;-). I'll get through it, but it will take a while!!!

Synopsis: she was awesome. poised and calm and grown-up, and she absolutely killed it. Papa Bear did a little bit of wordsmithing for her (and warned me that it was gonna cause me to cry an awful lot - I didn't wear eye makeup), but she wrote the whole thing herself.

I may or may not have gotten an ovation, too...but I'd have loved it even without the need to feed my own ego!!!

We had an impromptu dinner celebration for her on Friday, which was a blast. Twin Sister took the girls for the night, and the whole pretend family was three of our cousins from Chicago who came out for the graduation. Then there was a long stream of visitors who dropped by to say congratulations and wish her well. Just a really, really good time.

She had a bunch of parties to go to on Saturday and Sunday (hers isn't for a few weeks yet), and I went to a couple of them with her for a little bit. In between that, there was a trip to the splash park with the girls and some other assorted mischief.

I'm still dying for a trip to the beach, but this was a pretty good alternative:-)