December 12, 2008

ice

Cool picture, huh? ‘Dis ain’t no Vanilla Ice rap – dis is da real t’ang, dontcha know! Jes goes ta show, you go home in search of winter, you’ll find it…

Today we had ice – not as much as just ten or so miles north and west of us here in North Billerica, Mass, but enough to blow our Comcast Internet out of the water for several hours. Outside the 495 belt, like in the Dracut-Tyngsboro metroplex, fellow Goodboy Ben “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis reports it’s a war zone – sure the bars are open, but they’re having to serve by candlelight. Very romantic.

We’re hearing there are a lot of places with pictures like the above not too many miles away from here.

Had dinner tonight Mexican style at Margaritas in Waltham. South of here, and away from all the ice. Good food, great view of a big bright moon shining through the clouds racing before it. The wind was up over the Charles, and walking across the Moody Street bridge, icy wind whipping against my face and beyond tired and worn down after yet another hellish week at work, I couldn’t help but think of George Bailey on the bridge in “It’s A Wonderful Life”. In my case, I knew if I were to jump in, there’d be no angel to save me.

Tonight I can sleep in and look forward to (hopefully) a relaxing day tomorrow. Winter in New England is beautiful. Strange, then, the thought that I’d like to get back to Gilbert Arizona if only to put up a small silver Christmas tree by the swimming pool, ala the Eagles in their great “Please Be Home For Christmas” video.

Work and all the crap aside, it makes me realize just how fortunate I am in both my life and work. Being able to have the best of both worlds – I mean, how good is that? Another good reason indeed to live a life of gratitude to God for all the blessing He has bestowed upon us.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 21:57 | Comments Off on Ice Ice Baby
December 10, 2008

I love December in New England. Gray. Dismal. Sometimes rainy. Sometimes snowy. Sometimes icy.

I landed at Logan Airport on Monday night to 16 degree temperatures – a far cry from the low 40s we have been experiencing in the Phoenix area. And it felt great. I was home, and I was home in December.

The next morning we had some snow flurries, and while today was almost springlike in temperature, there has been no sign of sun these last two days. What a wonderful way to experience December! Even the weather forecast for later today sounds very December-ish.

The weather here suits my mood for this time of year. I love the dark and shortening days, and the way the Christmas tree and window lights try fruitlessly to bring some lasting color and joy to a year that is almost over in the gloom of a late afternoon.

Were I in a monastery, these days would be filled with the quiet anticipation associated with early Advent, the readings and Psalms all pointing to a season of brightness anticipated yet unseen beyond an equally brown/gray spiritual horizon. Just as you can’t have the joy of Easter without the desolation of Good Friday, you can’t have the feast of Christmastide without the gray anticipation of Advent.

I love the sight of bare trees stark against a gray sky, the brown/gray grass crunching under the feet, the sense of sweet desolation of nature no longer at work, but at rest for a few months waiting for the sun and the lengthening days of February and March. Right now, that all seems years away. And I like like it like that.

Seeing friends, enjoying the warmth and love of family, feeling the chill in the air and watching TV weather forecasters that actually have something to talk about. Sounds like a nice visit home to me.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 22:42 | Comments (2)
December 7, 2008

Just to drop everyone a line to let y’all know The Great White Shank is still alive. A whopping 83 hours worked last week to keep India and management happy. Wow. I’m heading back home for a few days – I know I’ll find cold weather; I’m just hoping I can find some snow. But before I go, a few odds and ends.

It isn’t just Hillary Clinton. Believe me, Barack Obama will rue the day he loaded his incoming administration with Clintonites – they’re freakin’ everywhere! These people have no soul and no allegiance to anyone except themselves and consolidating their own power. You thought the State Department under George W. Bush continually undercut him throughout his two terms in office? You ain’t seen anything yet.

The best opening line on any rock album anywhere is from Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” when a voice intones over the thumping heartbeat, “I’ve been mad for f**king years…”. Like millions of others, I always identified with that voice and thought he were speaking for me.

…But I still think “Wish You Were Here” was the best album the Floyd ever made.

…and “Comfortably Numb” their best overall song ever.

While we’re on the subject of music, “Oh Holy Night” is the best Christmas carol ever, hands down. Rickie Lee Jones’ version on The Chieftains “Bells of Dublin” is a fantastic version – kid you not.

…but “Once In Royal David’s City”, done right with a big chior and church organ, will bring tears to my eyes.

And what would Christmas be without Loreena McKennitt’s “To Drive The Cold Winter Away”?

…and you can’t beat Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ version of “Let It Snow, Let It Sow, Let It Snow” from their Christmas album.

The Red Sox locking up Dustin Pedroia for the next six years was a shrewd move. Building your team around hard-nosed players like Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Josh Beckett will never do you wrong.

We’re throwing caution to the wind in these uncertain economic times and resuming our crusade against our credit cards. God willing we’ll pay the next-to-last-one-off this month, leaving only the “Big Kahuna” Chase card ($8K balance) left for one last all-out assault in the New Year.

If given the choice between Italian and Mexican, as much as I love the latter, I gotta go with Italian – especially if Pagliuca’s in Boston’s North End is anywhere near.

That’s all fer now, see y’all in the eastern time zone!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 23:46 | Comments (5)
December 3, 2008

Is there a season of the year that evokes so many conflicting emotions as Christmas? So much is going on around the time – you have the typical conflict and contradictions between the religious and secular, you have that whole transition thing where one year is ending and the prospect of a new one is just around the corner, and then there are all the family traditions (or lack thereof) that add to the stresses and strains.

For us, the Christmases of the past decade haven’t really been joyful, but they haven’t been bad either – feeling as if we were living in a form of exile, we simply chose to let the season happen around us without getting involved much emotionally, and it just seemed right. Being able to return to my New England home between Christmas and New Years to share some holiday cheer with family and friends and experience cold and snow was nice, but I never felt upon my return to Arizona on New Year’s Eve where no tree was up or a spirit of the season prevailed that I was missing anything – far from it.

This year, for some reason, it all changed. Oh, I suppose it that holiday spirit had never totally left – after all, we’d never gone a year without putting lights in our windows or hauling out the small ceramic tree my mom gave us so many years ago – but this year we decided to go the whole nine yards. I got a great deal on a nice fake Christmas tree at Lowe’s on Black Friday, and restocked all my window light bulb needs. On Saturday we put the tree up, and on Sunday got our box of ornaments out for the first time since 1999. (We remember the ’99 tree because that was the year our dear departed cat Sparkle kinda tried to climb into the tree just after we went to bed one night and took the whole thing down with her. She was pi$$ed, I was not pleased.)

So the years passed by and the tree ornaments and lights remained boxed and out of sight, seeing the light of day only once two years ago when we needed lights for the Tiki Bar out back. After a while, it got kind of hard to even remember what a festive occasion putting a tree up used to be – you know, moving the furniture around, going to tree place, getting it inside your front door as needles flew everywhere, putting the tree up, looking for your favorite ornaments that conjured up all those ghosts (good and bad) of Christmases past, and, finally, the glowing satisfaction of standing back once the last ornament was in place and the final adjustments made, glass of scotch in hand, and reveling in this new presence in your house all decked out in all its Dickensian splendor.

Frankly, I never missed it. Until this year. So we now have a beautiful glistening Christmas tree decorating our living room.

The ritual of putting it up felt very strange to me; it was almost as if I had been away or in prison for ten years. Ten years without a home Christmas. Maybe it was because I knew I had changed significantly since that time – physically, spiritually, psychologically. Better? Worse? No, just different. Maybe it was seeing and touching all those once-familiar ornaments and holding them in your hand, allowing the memories they brought back from 10, 20, or even 50 years ago to trigger their own individual memories.

While the experience was pleasant enough, even joyful at times, I would have to say a spirit of melancholy prevailed more than anything else. All those Christmases of the past gone forever, their memories meaningful only to you, and lasting in you only as long as you have life or a mind to remember them. Ornaments given by people now gone, from couples no longer married, from once-close friends now just faraway acquaintances, or from places you’ll never visit or experience the same way again. All indicators in their own way of the passage of time and just how swiftly the years pass. All reinforced by the fact that another is about gone, to be lost forever.

Which brings me back to emotional conflicts I wrote of at the start of this post. I guess that’s why a lot of people dread the holidays – they enter them with more emotional baggage than the cargo hold of a fully-loaded Boeing 747. Me? I’ll allow the melancholy of the season to have its place – after all, that’s as much a part of secular Christmas as anything else, but I also see that melancholy for what it is. Because there’s a greater joy that come with the Christmas season – a joy that comes from hearing familiar carols, the expectation of seeing loved ones, the anticipation of welcoming the Christ child once again into a world sorely in need of God’s renewed promise of eternal love, light, and redemption, and the joy of tossing some extra dollars to the charities Tracey and I support.

That’s the melancholy and joy of Christmas and the holiday season. My take is, it is what it is, so you can’t be afraid of it. Embrace it, drink deeply of the extremes the season brings emotionally, and don’t hold back in any way. Put up a Christmas tree, even if you haven’t for awhile.

May God bless us all this holiday season.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 22:39 | Comments (3)
December 1, 2008

Ed.note: As most of you who frequent this humble little outpost in the blogosphere well know, I spend a lot of time sending work over to, and communicating with, an offshore team in India. Today we received this letter from the head of our offshoring group. I thought I’d share it with you – how poignant it seems given the sentiments of this Advent season I wrote about just the other day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 night was when most of us heard the news of the terror attacks in Mumbai. Some of us found out the next morning. It is now over 48 hours (at the time I write this article) and the combat still continues. This is undoubtedly the worst terrorist attack in India and is comparable to the 9/11 tragedy in terms of the meticulous planning that the terrorists seem to have done to cause maximum damage.

It is at times like this that we need to stand as one country, leaving aside all our differences. It was heartening to read that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Leader of the Opposition, L K Advani plan to travel together to Mumbai, accompanied by the President of the ruling party, Sonia Gandhi. Whatever be our ideologies and political beliefs, national security has to be above them. Terror knows no religion, no language, and no caste. I am sure that if we were to look at the demographics of those that were killed in the attack, we would find people of all creeds and nationalities. Each one of them leaves behind grieving families and friends, too shocked to comprehend how their loved ones have been brutally snatched away.

While many of us will be lucky to escape this personal trauma, we will continue to hear of friends or friends of friends who suffered. As an example, I just heard that the person, who supplies all the chairs for our Pune office, was at dinner with his parents and wife at the Taj and all of them lost their lives, except his wife, who survived with serious injuries.

While there will be the usual platitudes about strengthening the intelligence and response teams, we might fall back into the usual political blame game, and delay the necessary changes. Be that as it were, all of us need to do our bit to contribute to the security preparedness. As an example, we as a company, do rigorous background verification checks of all new hires and terminate any employee who is found to have given fraudulent information. All of us need to be vigilant in our day to day lives to make sure that we build a culture that ensures better security. For example, we should have complete details of any servants or maids working in our households, and also file a copy with the nearest police station. If we rent out any flat or house, we should verify the antecedents of the tenants and also register the documents. If the tenants are not Indian nationals, then this information also needs to be registered with the police. If we see any suspicious activity, rather than rationalizing the same, it should be reported to the police, even though it might turn out to be perfectly legitimate.

We need to be united in this hour of crisis. This is not only a national priority, but also a world priority. The world is reeling under a financial meltdown already. Such acts can only push the economies of the world into a deeper abyss. The Indian tourism industry, including medical tourism, which can help [us] sell our software in India, will be particularly affected. It will also impact the decisions of others who might have been looking at outsourcing to Indian companies. Given the slowdown in the outsourcing industry that we have already seen, this could mean the final nail in the coffin of several Indian outsourcers. The only way we can recover from this body blow to the economy, is by taking urgent steps to ensure that such terrorist attacks never recur.

I request you all to give a thought as to how we can individually contribute our mite towards ensuring a terror-free world. Let us also keep the unfortunate innocent souls who lost their lives in our prayers.

You read a letter like this, and only the most hard-hearted person would fail to realize that yesterday’s New York, or Madrid, or London is today’s Mumbai, is tomorrow’s who-knows-where. Our brothers and sisters halfway across the world need to be kept in our thoughts and prayers during this time of pain and mourning. We are all part of the human condition – a people who along with all of creation groans under the weight of sin and death. It’s a damned sad business.

This Advent season we pray for God’s coming once again in glory in the hope and grudging awareness that He – and no matter how hard we might try, only He and not we, has the power to redeem and reclaim the world into a new creation, where the light and peace of Christ is eternal, and pain and suffering is no more. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of India.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 23:52 | Comments Off on Terror Strikes Mumbai

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