Don’t give a sociopath a cookie

Don’t give a sociopath a cookie. Why not? Well, let’s walk through this courtesy of deep research on my part by googling it and finding a handy readable take on WikiHow.

You think someone you’ve met might be a sociopath. But you’re not sure. What is a sociopath exactly and since you’re not sure why do you think this person is one?

You’ve also just baked a batch of cookies. Everyone loves cookies and you’re a generous person who likes to share. Incidentally this means you’re not a sociopath. But something is holding you back from sharing your cookies with this person.

Could he – or she – be a sociopath?

So, from WikiHow. A sociopath is a person who has anti-social personality disorder. This means they have a number of recognizable traits. They lack shame. They might publicly abuse others and feel no remorse. They accept no blame and in fact blame others.

They will hurt others to achieve their goals. Because of this trait many are highly successful in business or in life. They are seemingly charming because they are focused on getting what they want; in this case your cookies.

Sociopaths lie and can feel uncomfortable telling the truth. If caught in a lie they will lie to get out of it. They lie about their past and go to great lengths to convince you their lies are true. They believe the lies they tell, regardless of how absurd it may sound. Charles Manson said “I never killed anyone.”

Sociopaths can go through an emotional event without displaying emotion. They don’t receive events in the same way as a non sociopath might. This is called disassociation – an utter lack of empathy.

Although charming, sociopaths have a hard time paying attention to you for long periods of time. They are smart, sometimes really really smart. They understand human weakness. They gravitate to people who are sad or insecure or searching for meaning.

Sociopaths like to be in control of every situation. They don’t like to be around strong people. They create drama out of nothing. They can be seen as outwardly calm but capable of snapping at any moment.

Sociopaths have big egos. They have a sense of entitlement. They are narcissists, immature, selfish, needy, avoid responsibility by delegating it to others while taking credit.

They have trouble holding eye contact which creates human connection and leads to empathy.

So, you can probably determined by now if your friend is likely to be a sociopath or not. If so…..

Be as boring as possible.
Remain calm.
Don’t argue with them.
Pretend you have nothing they want.

Don’t give them money.
Don’t give them your time.
Don’t give them a cookie.

Oh, one last thing. Don’t vote for them.


Cleveland, city of light, city of magic.

Day 2:  Walking back over the bridge that spans the Cuyahoga after an hour passing out water bottles in Public Square, we passed the white supremacists heading down to the action, if action is part circus freak show and part show of military force of the publicly authorized kind.

The police wore black.  The supremacists wore camouflage.  Both were armed to the teeth.  But the action on Public Square was more circus and self indulgence than anything else.  

The Blue Lab and I have been spending our time at the Masonic Temple in Ohio City, the Somerville of Ohio. Opposition groups leased it to serve as communal HQ and a vibrant collection of causes fill the rooms working on their laptops, spray painting slogans, smoking hemp, yelling about Uber ownership but calling it anyway when they need to get downtown.

 A friend put me in touch with Felipe Witchger who had flown in the day before to help a physician friend who had started STAT (Stand Together Against Trump), a collection of previously non political medical professionals opposed to the Republican nominee.

I was enlisted to help with messaging and the five Blue Labber’s who made the journey out by car dove right in.  They have spent two days building out STAT’s on line and communications presence.  We’re preparing for the STAT protest march and rally on Thursday.  

Because media were looking for something to cover and there wasn’t a whole lot of organized protest going on today STAT handed out water to all comers, inviting questions with their t-shirts

A Paraguayan TV station inquired and a Blue Labber was able to accommodate, in Spanish.

The perimeter around the Quicken Loan convention hall, the Q, is intimidating and presents and eerie scene.  It’s as democratically accessible as the government fortress in Havana.

The natives are friendly and hesitate at the light, even with multiple lanes.  I must resist hitting the horn.  Anyone will talk to you.  Lunch for 6 at an excellent Middle Eastern restaurant near protest HQ cost 62 dollars.

I walked into the bar in my “hotel” this evening to write this.  I was wearing shorts and a Brockton Rox t-shirt.  A patron asked me if I was a salesman. I said “dressed like this?”  He pointed to my IPad and said “you look ready to take sales orders.”  

Yes I am.  I’m selling American democracy.  Step on up.

I come back, part one

I have never lived anywhere other than Massachusetts.  I joke, but the spirit is true, that my ancestors traveled from Scotland to Boston in the late 17th century and moved steadily west to Belmont where I live now. We’re easing ourselves into America.  We’ll stand by the door with our coat on in case we hyperventilate.

So Iowa was an adventure.  I quit working for a Massachusetts congressman, a risky move financially.  But I wanted to work on a presidential campaign ever since volunteering for John Anderson in 1980.  I drove my extravagance for a staffer salary, a 1986 red Camaro, to Council Bluffs, sporting a Dick Gephardt for President bumper sticker.  We won, but Iowa proved our high water mark.

I’ve been back, to work and to watch, but there is nothing like the first visit.  I remember driving through Indiana on my first journey, not wondering what I would find, but how amazing just driving through Indiana was.  Ohio had been amazing too.  And then I got to Iowa.

So I come back, with Cate Ferson, Syracuse poly sci major, to observe.  We are amateur anthropologists.  We are sociologists.  We tweet.  I probe in the jetway.  Two returning businessmen talk about the onslaught of calls each evening.  “20 or so each night.  Candidates, pollsters, newspapers, everyone.  TV ads constant.  I’ll be happy for Tuesday.”  One of them wonders about the economic impact, how much money stays in Iowa.

On the plane I open up “Boys on the Bus” and the guy next to me asks about it.  He’s a NYTimes reporter covering de Blassio who’s coming in to knock doors for Clinton.  He wonders if anyone will know the mayor of New York, or care about him. Remembering, I laugh inside.

In 1988 I was offered a congressman seemingly every day.  Gephardt was the fourth ranking member at the time and his colleagues descended.  They were there to help elect the first member of the House to the presidency in forever.  But field work is pretty straightforward.  I can ID a Gephardt voter.  I don’t need a rock star to help me.  And if a congressman comes to town, I’m staffing her or him, he or she’s not helping me.  God bless the Clinton staffer pulled away from real work to knock doors Des Moines with the mayor of New York.  “Hi Ma’am, I’m Bill De Blasio, here to talk about New York values..”

We’re staying by the airport.  We had prime rib for dinner.  The TV ads in the breakfast room at the Quality Inn are non stop.  The billboards extol and attack.  Forecast is 38 and cloudy on Monday right now, but the weatherman is all excited about a storm on Sunday.

The caucuses

Iowa grows stuff.  Though I’ve not seen it.  I was first there in November 1987 working to make Dick Gephardt president.  I had such a good time I came back, and dragged my entire office in 2004 to help, to make Dick Gephardt president.  Today, if he were willing I’d do it again, but he is not.

So here I am, in Chicago, waiting for a flight to Des Moines to meet Cate Ferson, tweeting @its_fersonal, while I tweet @scottferson.  We are going there to watch.  Like little birdies.  Tweet. If I see Dick Gephardt I’ll let you know.  Course everyone in Iowa looks like Dick Gephardt.  SF

Climbing Mt. Olympus is easier than paying to have it built.

It’s easy to make fun of Boston 2024.  Insert your favorite blunder here.  But let’s take a look at the situation at the beginning, as if we haven’t watched it unfold in all its non-medalling glory.

Can Boston host a summer Olympics?  Speaking for the Hub of the Universe, I believe we can.  We are that great.  A lot of people from around the world come here to go to school, and a lot of them are athletic.  They run on the Charles, crew on the Charles, velodrome….bike along the Charles.  We are way better than a whole bunch of venues who have already hosted Olympic games.

So, yes.  We can host the games.  The question becomes how to pay for them.  We can pay for them or someone or someones who will see it as an opportunity to make money can pay for them.  Or it can be a combination of the two.  Why would we want to pay a portion of the tab if we aren’t going to make money?  Well, we do this a lot.  The Central Artery.  Public Higher Education.  We clearly see the benefit of both of those, I say humbly as a commuter into Boston and a graduate of UMass Dartmouth.

Insert your favorite Big Dig joke here.  But the reality is that both the Central Artery and public higher education have paid off big time for Massachusetts.  There are 250,000 graduates of UMass living, and paying taxes, and employing people, in Massachusetts.

So, where did Boston 2024 go wrong?  Well, we’re all adults here. Us taxpayers have learned what things cost and how things are paid for.  My father in law told me, when my children were small, that I shouldn’t worry about paying for their college.  I took this to mean, in my relative youth, that he would pay for it.  I now realize that he meant that I shouldn’t worry about paying for their college because it was so far off.  My adult self is now facing that reality, and paying for Syracuse and Boston University.

Boston 2024 is now stuck.  It told us it wouldn’t cost us anything.  And, childlike, they hid the evidence of their transgression. Did you build a stadium and put it on Dad’s credit card?  No?  Really?   You told Mom that everyone who game from Europe would be happy that we paid to extend the Blue Line to Lynn so they could take the T to watch volleyball in Nahant.  That wasn’t true, was it?

The Big Dig cost 24 billion dollars of public money, and I would argue it will pay dividends.  Harvard is raising 6 billion dollars in a capital campaign, and that will pay dividends.  Businesses will make money off of the Olympics.  Tell us how much, and who, subtract from the total cost of hosting the games, and come clean on how much public money you need.

Syracuse and BU are both 60 grand.  That’s how much my kids have requested I pay. I will weigh the benefit to me, to them, and calculate the return on investment.  I’m looking favorably on it.  They have a lot of promise that I think can pay off over time.  I think the same about the Olympics.

Just be honest about it.

I paid for this microphone

The 2016 Presidential contest invites comparisons to elections gone by.  The large GOP field looks to me like 1980, when Ronald Reagan paraded his colleagues as props on stage in Nashua to confront a moderator who wanted a debate between the top two candidates, he and Bush.  If they knew they were props they were thankful at that point for the inclusion.  Turns out George Bush was the real prop in the exchange that brought Reagan back from his loss in Iowa.

“I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green!”  Mr. Breen, not Green, turned out to be a prop bump (like speed bump) on the way to the presidency.  Big ROI on that mike.

A hybrid of Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Sanders if you will – a fiery populist screed coming from the mouth of a governor who looks like a president – might be a stand in for the Kennedy run against a Hillary Clinton playing it Jimmy Carter safe.  If only she could sneak into the Rose Garden and sit it out.  Nothing to see here folks.  Keep moving.

But back to the main event. In 1980 there were seven candidates who made it out of the starting gate to Iowa, with Reagan in the front.  He had run formally in 1976 and informally before that.  He was ahead in all the polls.  He faced an accomplished field:  George Bush, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, John Connally and a pair of congressmen, John Anderson and Phil Crane.

Who doesn’t love a huge field?  Democracy!  Except we don’t.  It’s too much.  We want a contest.  O’Sanders is getting pretty good play while we kick the tires on Hillary’s inevitability.  Even the Clinton camp thinks this “contest” nonsense could get out of hand.  Or haven’t you read about Senator Sanders’ salacious youthful musings on bondage and rape?

But those candidates on stage in Nashua on February 23, 1980 were props in the narrowing of the field. Reagan’s invitation wasn’t to expand the field in the nation’s second contest, but to narrow it further, by squeezing the oxygen out of the Bush bubble launched with his Iowa victory.  Reagan did lose Iowa, 27% to 33% for Bush, with Baker at 14%, Connally at 10%, Crane at 7%, Anderson at 4% and Dole at 3%.  but he went on to win 44 states to Bush’s 6. Beating Bush in New Hampshire by more than two to one was the game.

It makes sense in hindsight that it was Reagan and Bush.  But Bush, despite his resume, was not well known.  The real story that might have been was Howard Baker.  He was a folksier Bush, a better connection with the electorate, one could argue, in Iowa and New Hampshire.  But the political horse race has little room for more than two horses.

One caveat to that: There is always room for the candidate who speaks the truth.  The one who will surely lose but his or her supporters will be eternally proud to have supported.  Ron Paul.  Jerry Brown.  John Anderson.  Anderson came to national prominence during the Des Moines Register debate.  Reagan absented himself and Anderson said, “How do you balance the budget, cut taxes, and increase defense spending at the same time?  It’s very simple, you do it with mirrors.” 1  Mike Doonsbury joined his campaign after that.  Chris Christie, cautioning us on the solvency of the social security system will be receiving the John Anderson talk alike award this year.

So we don’t really have a Reagan, the front runner way ahead of the pack.  In a “can’t we get off this treadmill” political world it’s probably Jeb Bush.  Who’s the Bush to Bush’s Reagan?  And keep an eye on who’s playing Howard Baker.  My early money is on Carly Fiorina.

Next time:  The fight over who can be Pat Robertson
1. “the Pursuit of the Presidency, 1980.  The GOP;  Lou Cannon.  Pg 137

EMK Institute

Most of us don’t think we’ll ever walk into a museum dedicated to an old boss.

The thought is odd enough that when I actually walked into the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Study of the Senate it hit me only when I was half way through the tour of the almost completed building that this was history, and not just any old boss.

Kennedy had a vision, and a passion, for telling the story of our democracy and it’s brilliant conception and continued deliberation of the great issues facing the nation.

The Senate, the most exclusive of clubs, product of the grand compromise between the populous and not so populous states, was designed to be ponderous, or deliberate, and it shines here, on Columbia Point, next to his brothers’ Library.

From the moment you walk in and get your IPad to guide you through the tour to the time you find yourself on the floor of the meticulously replicated Senate chamber voting on an important historical issue, you are taken in, and become a decision maker in our democracy.  And the great issues of the country were decided in the Senate. The deliberations could be ugly and they could be triumphant. This body, conceived as a check on the more raucous House of Representatives, is largely where big national issues are concluded.

It is right that we have a space dedicated just to it, and it is our good fortune that it is here, in Boston. It could be anywhere, such is the impact of individual senators and the outsized power some yielded. But the dream of Senator Kennedy, the “Lion of the Senate”, is brought to life next to his brother’s Presidential library. Side by side, the study of two co-equal branches of government.

Ted Kennedy loved the Senate. Of course he would have loved to have been president, but he always thrived in the deliberations on the issues before the body, great and small.

Half way through the tour of the Institute I’m in a replica of Senator Kennedy’s Washington DC office. It’s familiar to me, though I haven’t been in the real office for five years, and this office’s access is restricted by glass barriers. It has been meticulously recreated. Everything is familiar.

I ask about a photo of his boat, the Mya, taken in front of the JFK aircraft carrier, which I had helped arrange, and I remembered being on the wall. It’s pointed out to me and I start to tell the story behind the picture.

I’m looking at the photo, remembering out loud, and then I look at the four young museum staffers looking at me, and I feel old. They encourage me to go on, and I feel even older.

Museums are for the examination of artifacts, what we can learn from them. We can learn a lot from examining the legislative life of Edward Kennedy, but his Institute tests the thinking of future leaders, giving them real time experiences, testing them in the rarest of real world deliberative settings.

Senator Kennedy valued the past. His could have lived out his life basking in his family’s and his accomplishments. He didn’t. He died in the public service, and he leaves us a legacy next to his brothers, on Columbia Point, focused on study and instruction.

There is an outer office to the senator’s DC replica, and former staff have been invited to staff it. I look forward to doing so, to return to why I love our country and our government, back to listening to real family problems, and to trying to help solve them.

Apology template

Cleopatra’s press secretary must have pitched a fit when he heard Marc Antony was spotted lurking about the palace, confirming that the Queen of the Nile had taken up with yet another Roman overlord.

We public relations types wake each morning to the prospect that our clients in business or government, the captains of industry or the politically powerful, may present us with news so scandalous that it could end their career, fell a government, or plunge a stock price.

We say that no problem is too big to be handled, and we see time and time again that no scandal is too small to topple the mighty.  A while back David Patraeus ran into a salacious public relations moment that turned out to be personally embarrassing but not publicly significant. He might not need professional public relations counsel so much as a chat with Bill Clinton.  Clinton had an affair in the White House and two Speakers of the House lost their jobs.  Well done sir!

What’s amazing is not that public people do stupid things.  David Patraeus, grown godlike in stature, turns out to be as human as Cleopatra turned out to be.  It might seem puzzling that public people don’t, as we say, learn from history.

But this is to be expected.  We are dealing, in crisis, with people, and their families, and their friends and colleagues, and their bosses and employees, and in some cases history.  It is hard to pivot from behavior, to recognition of transgressions and disclosure, to fighting against or embracing stonewall depending of circumstances, to apology and, we hope, closure, with recognition that closure is never permanently afforded public indiscretions in this internet age, and in fact warrant a delicate handling in one’s obituary.

With all of this, we can all benefit from a template of responsibility and contrition, designed for any betrayal of the public trust, at no charge to you!  Please feel free to adapt to your specific transgression. (all references are based in actual political transgressions):


I’m standing before you today because it’s best to come clean, and part of that is being honest by telling you that my media handlers have told me it’s best to come clean.

So, I’m sorry.  I’m particularly sorry that I asked my wife and children to stand with me today in front of all these cameras.  It seemed like sound advice at the time. The stress of having to appear today and deal forthrightly with my failings had made me lose all faith in my judgment.   But I now realize that I have indeed compounded my transgressions.  Honey, I’m sorry, and as I continue, if you and the children want to take baby steps back and off the stage, I understand.  And I’m sorry.

First, let me apologize to my daughter for leaving her in that bar alone after lunch.  I know voters have a right to ask, if I can’t do a simple head count of the children while leaving a restaurant, how can I keep accurate account of the public finances?  It’s a valid question, but let me assure you it was enough of a scare that I will always check twice.

Of course, this episode, so shortly after making the mistake of posting a picture of my school mascot tattooed on my backside on my twitter feed when I thought I was texting it to my dermatologist so he could check several new moles compounded the problem .  For any children following “my school is the best in 140 characters or less” twitter contest, well, let me just say that if you’re going to get drunk and honor your school with a tattoo on your left buttock, maybe pick a school without a turtle for a mascot.

So, I will also no longer start public meetings with a magic trick, and if you weren’t a direct victim of one gone horribly wrong, but found it creepy, well, I get that now.  I’m also sorry that I am in no physical shape to even think about sending naked pictures on purpose to constituents.  I will go to the gym three times a week, and I apologize in advance for breaking that promise in the near future.

Nor will I ever call voters morons, even when doing so is not technically a mistake on my part.  And to the gentleman who was highly offended when I wore my brown suit with black shoes, well, I really don’t know what I was thinking there.

I do know that I will never apologize for enriching myself at the public’s expense.  I will never say I’m sorry for betraying those who have put their public trust in me.  I will never have to second guess that my actions as an elected official were always motivated by a sense of civic and community service, and a belief in giving back to my community because I have gotten so much from it.

I know I will never apologize for any of that, because I will never need to.  On that, I am rock solid.

But I do hope that, standing here with my loving fam….  well, standing here by myself,  I can regain your trust in me, for all the other things, and for anything I may actually do in the future.  Now, does anyone know how to change a twitter profile?


A funny thing happened to the Massachusetts Democratic Party on the way to the corner office this November. While losing to Charlie Baker, forces unseen remade it. This was done without the coordination of the party leadership or of its titular head, Deval Patrick.

How the party apparatchik responds will tell if this is a watershed moment in crafting a vision for our party and for our state today and for the next dozen years, or merely a refreshing of the individual players in the state’s elected organizational chart.

We know of the power of the Democratic Party in this state, but it is not monolithic and it lacks a machine like boss, one capable of electing or defeating candidates for office, as is the case in southern New Jersey. Just ask the boss’ brother, the new congressman-elect. Martha Coakley may have been a good or a flawed candidate, but there was no directive from on party high that hopes should be pinned to her.

In fact, when what some think is the power of our party gathered in Worcester to place or deny ballot access, it collectively chose to keep three new candidates off the ballot; Juliette Kayyem, Joe Avellone and James Arena-DeRosa, each an important voice for the present and future of our party, proving to be more mercurial than monolithic.

But real change happened. Take a step back, and take a look. Setting aside Senators Warren and Markey, one on a national stage and the other focused on long range national policy, the senior Democrat in state government is the new Attorney General, Maura Healey. Spare me the constitutional line of succession, I’m talking party politics, and Bill Galvin is not the future of the Democratic Party.

It’s Healey, who held no previous office or partisan party post. She is joined by a trio of congress people; Joe Kennedy, Katherine Clark, and Seth Moulton. These four were no where in the power structure five years ago.

But the path of each of the four was not through party power politics. They rose, each of their own choosing. Healey and Moulton defeated the party favorites, and Clark and Kennedy smartly pressed their advantages independently.

One noted disconnect here: The party was near unanimously for Tolman for Attorney General and steadfast in its support for Congressman John Tierney. The editorial pages were nearly so for Healey and Moulton. What did these observers in the media see that those in the party missed?

So we are presented with a rare opportunity. As Democrats we have no leader, no governor. We also have no clear platform. “We control everything” (but the corner office) is not a platform. But we have been remade. By seeing this as an opportunity and not a time for hibernation, we might offer an actual policy contrast to the Baker administration. There will be conflict in the next four years, it might be grounded in competing visions.

Healey, Clark, Kennedy, and Moulton offer new thinking, but join or recently joined institutions that are set in their collective ways. As they press and promote new apps for our democracy, let’s see if we can pull our party apparatus, even more arcane, from the mentality of the French court, one that must be catered to, but holds only the power to chop off your name from appearing from the ballot, into a true democracy.

Our future will be made through disruption of the existing system. We can do this as a conscience strategy, or the next Maura Healey will do it for us. It will be better for the party, and for democracy, and for the future of our state, if we encourage and welcome this expansion of thinking.

A tale of two election nights

On September 11, 2001 Seth Moulton was a 22 year old recent Harvard Physics grad who had just joined the Marines and was waiting for his orders. He joined the military, one not engaged in an active conflict at that time, because he wanted to serve his country. His mentor, the Reverend Peter Gomes, instilled in him the importance of public service. He chose military service.

On that date, an Election Day in the then 8th congressional district in Massachusetts, Stephen Lynch was a state senator running in a special election to replace the late Joe Moakley. He was an iron worker, a lawyer, and a former state representative.

That morning’s sky, as we remember it frozen in memory, was brilliant, the weather campaign perfect. Stephen, with his daughter Victoria in his arms, marched down G Street in South Boston with his wife Margaret, to the poll to vote, media in tow. We left in a couple of cars to tour the polls.

The rest, as they say.

We made our way to campaign HQ and as Stephen, who as a state senator represented a number of families with loved ones on planes that day, handled their requests for information, I left election headquarters and sat in my car.

I couldn’t reach my wife, the network was overwhelmed and as I learned later, she was helping a neighbor who lost her husband on the first flight.

Knowing we would have to discard the victory speech I had helped write, which I believe did not mention foreign policy and certainly not war, I took out a pad of paper and wrote a new draft, which after input from Stephen, he delivered at 10PM that evening. It started with recounting the news and prayers for the families. It mentioned his victory only in noting the voters faith in him. It ended:

“We will not be cowed, nor change our principles, but will continue to set an example for the world. And by these actions, we will show the true strength of America.”

Stephen Lynch won the general election in October, but his seating in Congress was delayed by the Capitol anthrax scare. Since being seated he has focused on our handling of our foreign entanglements and is one of the most traveled members to war torn regions. At home, he safeguards services for veterans.

As I mentioned, his original victory speech was scant on military affairs. It hadn’t come up much during the campaign. The Cold War had ended ten years before. The focus was on bread and butter issues, and the differences between the candidates was on social policy and who was best suited to fill the very big shoes of the legendary Joe Moakley.

I’d like to say that the words I wrote, and Lynch delivered, proved true. But we were cowed. Every time I go through an airport and take off my shoes because of the terror of the “shoe” bomber, I’m comforted he didn’t hide his bomb making liquids in his underwear.

Congressman Lynch, now a veteran member, seeks transparency on the origins of the attack on 9/11, even if it implicates our allies in the Mideast. This is leadership, one borne of circumstances not anticipated on the morning of September 11, 2001.

For Seth Moulton, 9/11 changed his expectations of service. He was in the first platoon to enter Baghdad. He fought in Najaf after being assigned there as a military advisor to the Iraqi army. He served four tours total, two as an assistant to General Patreaus.

He came home, he got his graduate degrees, he started a business, and he was asked to make a run for congress.

He did so. The primary election was September 9th. 13 years minus two days from that date.

9/11 shaped two men called to service; one elected to congress on that date who has learned about and focused on our foreign entanglements, and one who opposed the war in Iraq but served with distinction in the Marines, and seeks to be a congressman informed by his experience there.