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Sep. 4th, 2014


Why I Support Steve Grossman for Governor

I’ve mentioned in a few places that I am supporting Steve Grossman in his candidacy to be the new governor of Massachusetts. I know that some of my friends (and possibly others) are interested in my opinion and endorsement and where it comes from. So to that end, here’s a short article explaining why I support him. If you’re still undecided in this race, please consider reading it.

The short version is that having met Steve a few times over the past 12 years, I have seen that he is an intelligent man who also cares about the people around him and listens to the voters. He is one of those rare political figures who really does put other people’s interests and needs ahead of his own. Steve cares about making Massachusetts (and the world) a better place, and he has a lot of great ideas for doing so. Take a look here to see where Steve Grossman stands on the issues.

The longer version:

Obviously, Steve’s political leanings are consonant with my own, which is where my endorsement starts from. But here’s my personal experience with him, which is how my support for him crystallized.

Nomi and I first met Steve at a campaign event in 2002, when he first ran for governor.  We got to know him a little bit then, even though we only had a few minutes of personal time with him. One of our concerns at the time (which is still a concern for us) was the lack of affordable housing in the state. We mentioned this to Steve, and he not only explained his plans to us for building more affordable housing, but when it came time for him to address the whole crowd, he brought up affordable housing specifically as one of the issues he had been asked about. It showed me that he not only thought this issue was important when talking with us but thought that it was important enough to bring up with the whole group.

We didn’t meet Steve again in 2002, but I did read a news article at the time that impressed me. The voters of the commonwealth had passed a referendum to reduce the state income tax rate, and the legislature put together a budget that kept the old rate in place, basically saying that they couldn’t make it work. When Steve was asked about this, he said that he disagreed with the voters on this issue, but then he went further and noted that this was something that the majority of the voters wanted, and so if he was elected, he would make it work. I too disagreed with the reduction of the income tax, as I know how important those revenues are for state and local services. That said, Steve impressed me with his willingness to listen to the voters on this issue. I suspect that had the income tax rate been reduced, we wouldn’t have had the later referendum on reducing it to zero (which, thankfully, the voters rejected).

Nomi and I met Steve again in 2006 when he ran for Treasurer. Once again, the personal touch showed me how genuine Steve is, as he remembered us and our concerns. Steve made a bunch of promises and commitments when he ran for Treasurer, and when elected, he fulfilled every single one of them. Although Treasurer is an important job, it’s not one of those that seems to be high-profile, and many of my friends seem unaware of Steve’s accomplishments in the job. So I encourage everyone to do some research and read about his achievements. Here’s an endorsement from The Bay State Banner that goes into details, including Steve’s commitments to diversity and to women. And here’s Steve’s own agenda as explained on the website of the Treasurer’s office.

Finally, I met Steve again this year as he traveled the state talking with voters about the issues (which he talks about much more often than his own accomplishments). Steve’s campaign is very well-run; when I got in touch with the office and asked for the Brookline coordinator to contact me, I heard back the very next day. How efficient a campaign is run is a pretty good metric for how well the governor’s office will be run. Steve is humble when meeting the voters while at the same time passionate about his public service. He has a vision for Massachusetts that will make it a better place for all of us (again, see where he stands on the issues, such as earned sick time and supporting science and the arts). Furthermore, he has the background and experience to make it work.

I would encourage all my friends to strongly consider voting for Steve Grossman in the Democratic primary next Tuesday.

(About me: I am an elected Town Meeting Member and Library Trustee in Brookline, Massachusetts.)

Aug. 29th, 2014


The Brookline Parent: Kindergarten: The Journey Begins

In this week's The Brookline Parent, I discuss the decisions gnomi and I had to make as we send Muffin and Squeaker to Kindergarten in the new school year.

Read Kindergarten: The Journey Begins and find out what those decisions were...

Aug. 22nd, 2014


My Week in Facebook, August 17-22, 2014

Another week, another bunch of posts to Facebook. (I wish LJ were as active as it once was.) So what was my week like?

On Sunday, I congratulated the winners of this year's Hugo Awards.

On Monday, I posted a picture of me with Harold Feld (also known as osewalrus.)

I also continued playing the game Nomi and I play of finding band names.

On Tuesday, I expressed my shock at the cost of the new Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.

And I noted a conversation between me and Squeaker, which is either cute or morbid, depending on your mood.

On Thursday, I expressed my disappointment in the movie "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." And I also noted that my daughters are fans of both My Little Pony and Doctor Who.

And finally, I backed the Kickstarter for Chronosphere.

What did you do this week?

Aug. 15th, 2014


My Week in Facebook, August 10-15, 2014

Let's go through the week! Here are links.

On Sunday, the family attended the Boston Comic Con. We had a blast. I posted a photo album called Boston Comic Con 2014. It includes pictures of Squeaker posing with cosplayers, me and the kids emerging from a TARDIS, me meeting some of my favorite comic creators, and more. Go on and take a look.

We also got a TARDIS and Dalek salt and pepper shaker set.

On Monday night came the news of the death of Robin Williams, and I posted something I call Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society, and My Teaching on Facebook. I decided to post it on LiveJournal as well, and for what it's worth, I got a lot of response to it on Facebook and none (as of this writing) on LJ. Moving on...

Tuesday I linked to a post by David Mack on the need for diversity in science fiction. Here's his post on LJ, as infinitydog.

I also reminded people about the Kickstarter for Chronosphere. Come on, folks, I want to play this game!

And I took these pictures and posted them: Robin Williams Bench, Boston Public Garden, 2014-08-12.

Wednesday night we showed the kids the move Aladdin.

Thursday I ate lunch.

And today I posted a link to our new The Brookline Parent column, Adventuring Through Comic Con. But if you keep up with my LiveJournal, you already know that...


The Brookline Parent: Adventuring Through Comic Con

In this week's The Brookline Parent column, gnomi writes about us taking Muffin and Squeaker to Boston Comic Con, and all the fun we had. There are lots of pictures of Squeaker with cool cosplayers; check it out!

Adventuring Through Comic Con

Aug. 14th, 2014


This Day in History, 2003: The Great Northeast Blackout

Eleven years ago today was the Great Blackout of 2003, which hit much of the northeast United States and parts of Canada. Where were you?

I was at home (in Brookline, Massachusetts, which did not lose power) on the computer when the phone rang at 4:33 PM. It was my younger brother, Josh, in New York City, calling to ask me if I knew what was going on. As I had left the TV news on in the living room, and the TiVo was recording its buffer, I was able to start describing the news to him and I learned of the blackout as I told him what was going on.

I served as the point person for my younger brother, my sister-in-law, and my mother for the next few hours. Josh had to sleep overnight in Manhattan. Rachel had to care for their new baby daughter, and I gave her information on New York City emergency lines and hospitals. And Mom stayed home.

I recorded NBC Nightly News that evening and the Today show the next day, and a few months later I gave the VHS tape to Josh so he could see what he missed.

As I mentioned above, Massachusetts (and pretty much most of New England) didn't lose power. After one of the major blackouts a few decades before, the people in charge in New England had decided to set up a series of switches that could be opened should there be a power surge that might lead to a shutdown. Thanks to their foresight, I was able to help out my family as I described.

Aug. 13th, 2014


A #GISHWHES Story: The Magic of Friendship

[This story was written for the team TravelingMattsLovesFriendshipisMagic. You can see how I used team names and the names of the team members to ensure that each of the 63 stories was original. Story is copyright ©2014 by Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.]

The Magic of Friendship
by Michael A. Burstein

They were always quarreling, and Laura Salvati was tired of it.

“The Elopus is my pet!” shouted Misha Collins.

“No, it’s mine!” Queen Elizabeth II shouted back.

Misha and the queen each tugged on four separate tentacles of the Elopus. It honked out its trunk in pain.

“Enough!” cried Laura. She lifted her magic wand and pointed it at the quarrelsome duo. “By the power of the Travelling Matts, you shall be friends!”

Sparks flew out of the wand. The next thing Laura saw was Misha and the queen dropping the Elopus and shaking each other’s hand.

“Let’s share the Elopus,” Misha said.

“I agree,” the queen replied.

The Elopus glanced from one to the other, and then scurried away.

Aug. 12th, 2014


Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society, and My Teaching

[Copied over from Facebook at ]

Okay folks. This is about to get somewhat personal, but I feel I owe it to Robin Williams to note this.

I saw Dead Poets Society when it first came out, when I was still in college. At the time, I knew that part of my eventual career path would take me into teaching. I had had many teachers I loved (and yes, I was very lucky for it) and I did what I could to learn from them how to be a teacher.

But I also studied the character of John Keating, the teacher that Williams played in Dead Poets Society. And I tell all my former students now: I tried to model a lot of how I interacted with you guys on him. It's a lot harder to do it with Physics and Mathematics than with Poetry, but I tried to show you how much a part of the world those things were too. I tried to share my passion for Science with you, so that even if you didn't like Science, you could appreciate the passion. So that you could go out and find that passion of your own.
I also tried to show you all what the world was like. That it's filled with glory, and wonder, and hope, and dreams, along with all the gloom that comes along with being human.

Most of all, though, I tried to let you know that you all mattered.

One of my most precious possessions is a letter from one of my former students, who apparently felt suicidal at times in high school. She was one of many students I engaged with as a teacher, and I had no idea -- absolutely none -- what she was going through at the time. Some students you can tell are dealing with a tough time and you do what you can to help them through it. But others appear happy and cheerful, and you have no idea what's bubbling under inside. I'm privileged to have learned years later from a few of those students how much I helped them without even realizing it.

And as for the letter I mentioned... It's a letter in which this former student of mine basically told me that I kept her from killing herself in high school. I was gobsmacked when I received it some time after she had graduated. Not to make this about me, but in a way it was validation of everything I had been trying to accomplish. I made many sacrifices in my life during the time I was teaching, but apparently I had managed to save a life, without even realizing it. It meant that I mattered too.

And you matter too, folks. You all do. That was the message that Williams's character was trying to get across in Dead Poets Society, and that was the message I was trying to get across to you. And when I see one of you post about an achievement in your life, or when I think of those of you who came to help me out when my kids were born, I feel like I succeeded in some small way.

Robin Williams mattered too. I'd like to think that he knows that again.

And I thank you all. Let us take his legacy, our legacy, and make the best of ourselves that we can.

[Tom Schulman's words, spoken by Robin Williams as John Keating: "They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."]

Aug. 11th, 2014


A #GISHWHES Story: Simon Says Shatner

[I have been told it is now safe to post or publish the stories we wrote for GISHWHES. I like all the stories I wrote, but this is one of my favorites. I was inspired by the name of the team that requested it and by the name of the team member who contacted us for it. Story is copyright ©2014 by Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.]

(For lehighvalleyLovesDefeatWilliamShatneLovesfoolofatookLovessimonsaysgishwhes)

Simon Says Shatner
by Michael A. Burstein

A shirtless Misha Collins, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Elopus stood helplessly, frozen in the force field, as Amanda Kann grinned evilly.

“I have trapped the three of you! No longer will you be able to thwart my plans to take over the world.”

“We must do something!” the queen said.

“Elopus!” Misha shouted. “Summon Bill!”

The creature honked, and suddenly William Shatner appeared at the door of Amanda’s lair.

“KANN!” he shouted as he fired a taser at her. Amanda crumpled to the ground.

Shatner pushed the off button for the force field, and the three friends emerged from their stasis.

“Now what?” the queen asked.

“Now,” Misha said, “I put my shirt back on.” He paused. “You too, Bill.”

Aug. 8th, 2014


A Final #GISHWHES Thank You

To begin with, consider this an official notification that I am done writing and providing stories for the GISHWHES 2014 scavenger hunt. I know the hunt is still going on, but I've been up late many nights this week writing stories, and I need to reconnect with my family. :-)

In the end, I provided stories to 63 teams. In addition, I published one story that the team decided not to use ("Ashley and the Moon") and ended up with one other story for which the team that requested it never got back to me. (Actually, a few teams requested stories and then told my assistant that they managed to secure a story from another writer; I wished them well, rewrote those stories, and provided them to other teams.) So, 65 flash stories written in the space of a week, 63 being used for GISHWHES. Not bad.

I am delighted by how many of these stories I managed to churn out and I am frankly hoping that I provided more stories than any other writer. Will someone let me know if I set that record once the hunt is over?

And now for the thank-yous...

My first thank-you goes to my sister-in-law Rachel, who is very involved with GISHWHES and has done this before. I provided her with the first story I wrote for this madness, and she generously gave me permission to provide stories for other teams, even though that would make it harder for her team to win. So, thank you Rachel, for all that.

My second thank-you goes to all the teams who were willing to buy my story collection I Remember the Future as a condition of having me write you a story. When I saw that so many teams needed stories and weren't going to get them from Neil Gaiman, I realized that this gave me an opportunity to expose more people to my work. Some writers mentioned online that they were approached by people in a rude way; I am very pleased to say that not a single person who contacted me was rude about my own request, or complained about it. I'm hoping that those of you who bought the book will actually enjoy the stories contained within; and that fact is that every single story in that book save one was either a Hugo nominee, a Nebula nominee, or both. So at least one of those stories has to have been worth your $5. So thanks to all of you for your own random act of kindness to me. I hope you all win.

Finally, thanks to Annie Houston and especially Misha Collins. I must admit that I do not watch Supernatural, although it is exactly the sort of show I would watch. My wife and I did watch the first season, but then had to give it up for other things. (See The Brookline Parent for an example of what occupies our time.) Making item #78 one that required the teams to find a previously published science-fiction writer was a stroke of genius on your part. I hope you'll do something similar next year. I stand ready to serve.

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