Awesome People: Simon Moore - College Visions


Originally appeared in The Phoenix

The story of Janelle Williams is an all-too familiar one: a bright, young woman perfectly capable of going to college, but like so many of her friends, she couldn't help but feel like the deck was stacked against her. She was shut-off-the-gas-poor, attending an underperforming high school ("it sure isn't Classical") and despite living in a crowded household, she had no one she could really turn to for advice.

And then she came to College Visions, the seven-year-old advising program founded by Simon Moore that helps low-income and first-generation college-bound students navigate the treacherous waters of the college application process, from selecting the right schools, to filling out the dreaded financial aid forms, to making the final decision.

Moore grew up in Providence (he went to Classical and played basketball for a year at Brown) and other than the couple of years he spent working in Harlem and the Bronx, "I haven't gone outside of a two-mile radius."

He started College Visions because he saw a clear void when it comes to college advising in Providence public schools. Most schools don't have someone focusing solely on those who need help applying and guidance counselors simply don't have the capacity to meet with students more than a handful of times during their junior and senior years.

That's where College Visions comes in. Funded through private sponsorships and the AmeriCorps VISTA program, the nonprofit's full-time staff of five recruits students for its College Access Program during their junior year. The program is completely free for the students, who meet one-on-one with their adviser every couple of weeks (often much more) to discuss taking the SAT or ACT, filling out applications, writing the essay, and understanding financial aid packages.

It's not all fluffy "you can be whatever you want" or "we'll find a way to pay for it" advising either. As one struggling statistics student found out, staffers have no problem giving it to you straight.

"You need to make a decision," an adviser told the student. "You need to pick a day every week to get extra help. Colleges don't like Ds."

It's that level of honesty and open dialogue that had a half-dozen or so students hanging out in the College Visions office in the Mercantile Block Building on Washington Street well after 6 pm on the Friday night before April vacation. They trust Moore. They trust the staff. They trust the process.

"I wasn't thinking about college at all," Janelle said as she sat in a room lined with school pennants sent in as gifts from College Visions alumni. "I didn't even want to apply. I didn't have any money. But then I started meeting with my adviser here. Now I'm going to show my little brothers they can do it too."

Now Janelle has a decision to make. She has to choose between Salem College and Guilford College, two North Carolina schools well-known for providing maximum financial aid packages, and the University of Rhode Island.

But the support won't end there. College Visions also offers a College Success Program, which helps alumni make the successful transition to college. College Visions advisors mentor students, serve as financial aid advocates, and make sure their charges are able to find work.

The goal of this program, according to Moore, is to help address the most underreported crisis in American education today: the college dropout rate. Research from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education suggests one in three low-income students will enroll in college; just 11 percent of those graduate within six years.

"There are huge consequences for starting college and not finishing," Moore said. "We want our alumni to graduate because it will expand their access to everything. We commit to ensuring they complete college."

They've been wildly successful compared with the national numbers. The first class of College Visions graduates completed the program in 2005. It had ten members. Seven have graduated from college. Two are still enrolled.

This year, Janelle is one of 70 students enrolled in the College Access Program. As a group, they've been accepted to dozens of schools including URI, Rhode Island College, St. John's, and Holy Cross. Another 140 alumni remain active in the College Success Program, which has students at Brown, Boston College, Clark, and George Washington University.

The future for College Visions is as bright as it is for its alumni. Moore said the demand to join the program continues to rise, but while he's open to expansion, he wants to make sure all of his students continue to receive the constant one-on-one advising they deserve.

It always goes back to the students. And for someone who has barely left Providence, Moore has opened doors for so many.

Just ask Janelle.


Awesome People: After 'Black Friday,' a local poker player's lament

Originally appeared in The Phoenix

If you think the only thing on television these days other than those silly P90X infomercials is poker, then you're probably on to something. But that all stands to change, now that the feds handed three popular online poker websites what effectively amounts to a death sentence in the United States.

An end to online poker means an end to all those sponsorships and commercials that make televised tournaments possible. And without those glitzy ads around to lure moms, dads, and the 35-year-old sons who still live with them, the game is likely to revert back to its pre-2003 days, when the only people playing cards regularly were wannabe cowboys and guys named Huck.

Which could mean the very premature end to a potentially lucrative career for one Rhode Islander.

Bill DelSanto doesn't call himself a professional poker player yet. He still wants to sleep with women and finish college and he even works a part-time job at Citizens Bank to stay active. But considering he won $31,087.50 sitting in his bedroom on a single Sunday last May, it's safe to say the 21-year-old is more than a recreational player at this point.

DelSanto estimates poker has provided 90 percent of his spending money since he was a 16-year-old Bishop Hendricken student, when he would sneak into Foxwoods to play cash games for hours at a time. It's rare (and illegal) for someone so young to get their start playing live games in a casino, but he says, "I never wanted to leave a high balance online just in case they picked up and left some day."

When he finally entered the Interzone in earnest, his game took off. With the ability to play in four tournaments at once, he quickly began to master a number of less popular poker games. On television, the game of choice is almost always no-limit Texas hold 'em, but DelSanto prefers H.O.R.S.E., a mixed version of poker that many veterans avoid because of the difficultly.

It was a major online H.O.R.S.E. tournament he was prepared to enter earlier this month when he found out PokerStars had had been shut down to American players.

Players refer to it as "Black Friday."

"The feeling on Black Friday literally felt so depressing that it was numbing," DelSanto says. "I was driving home from work and got a message on Facebook and Twitter about the shutdown and I literally almost crashed."

The founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker were among 11 people indicted on charges of bank fraud and money laundering. The federal government reportedly hopes to recover $3 billion from the companies, which until recently ran commercials alongside every poker tournament on television.

Without the low buy-in qualifying tournaments held online, many poker enthusiasts believe the World Series of Poker, which normally pays over $5 million to the Main Event winner, will suffer from a severe downturn in players. And if the game wanes in popularity, ESPN will likely be the first to pull its support.

But DelSanto remains upbeat about the game he eventually wants to make a career out of.

"I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing with a lot more traveling in the picture," he said. "I'm still going to work at the bank, work on my degree, and play poker. I have the World Series of Poker in June and I am looking forward to seeing the world while hopefully amassing a fortune in the process."

For now, though, there is some unintentional irony in the online screen name he used to play under: ItbDone.

Sooner than he ever thought.


Awesome People: The Beer Guy

Originally appeared in The Phoenix

The next time you're chugging that seemingly endless cup of stale Keystone Light following a losing game of beer pong, Patrick McGovern wants you to think of it as a liquid time capsule.

McGovern is one of "maybe 10" molecular archeologists in the world focusing primarily on ancient booze and chocolates, which makes him a hit with a wide variety of crowds, ranging from the Discovery Channel nerds to NPR loyalists to, of course, college students, who believe time isn't wasted when you're getting wasted.

The Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, McGovern was in town this week to present "Uncorking the Past," an hour-long lecture that basically confirmed something you probably already suspected: Greek mythology was likely created under the influence of substances even the Waterman co-op kids can't get their hands on.

McGovern, who has penned two books about his research, said he and his team first discovered a 2700-year-old beverage recipe when excavating the tomb of King Midas in present-day Turkey. The group recovered an Iron Age drinking set and analyzed the chemical fingerprints left on different vessels to identify the ingredients used in the cocktail.

What they learned was that if King Midas and his buddies went on a pub crawl today, they probably would be looking for beer garnished with a lot of fruit. Flavor overload was all the rage in the Persian Empire. The fingerprints contained compounds for tartaric acid (grape wine), beeswax (honey mead) and beer stone (barley, for beer), all in the same drink.

In other words, the Persians drank jungle juice too!

Furthermore, if you've ever poured out a little liquor for your homeboys and girls, you'll be happy to know it wasn't Ice Cube who came up with this novel idea. McGovern explained that when King Midas died, his supporters threw a party and also shared the booze with their fallen comrade. You know, so he wouldn't haunt them.

McGovern eventually brought his findings to a variety of brewers hoping someone might be able to take the recipe and concoct something even remotely enjoyable to drink. Ultimately, Delaware-based Dogfish Head prevailed, creating a 9% ABV beer appropriately named Midas Touch.

Dogfish Head, which recently announced its products would no longer be available in Rhode Island, sponsored a tasting of Midas Touch and two other McGovern discoveries at the Brown Graduate Center Bar following the lecture.

Although McGovern billed Midas Touch as recreated for a king, it tasted more like something you would offer to an undergrad who "doesn't like the taste of beer." Yet. It was sweeter and fruitier than the beer you're probably used to, but not as sugar-filled as a Smirnoff Ice, which only pussies drink anyway.

The other drinks offered were Chateau Jiahu, which tasted like a combination of sweet boxed wine and flat beer, and Theobroma, a delicious mixture of chilies and cocoa powder that appeared to be the most popular in the room.

The recipe for Chateau Jiahu, according to McGovern, was inspired by a drink found in China 9000 years ago, which explains why the bottle features a seductive looking Asian woman with a tramp stamp on the label. The Theobroma has its origins in Honduras, which is believed to be the birthplace of chocolate-based alcoholic drinks.

These ancient brews can be tough on the modern drinker's palate. Plenty of "bitter beer faces" proved that right away.

But hey, King Midas probably wouldn't have any love for Keystone Light.


Awesome People: Woman Donates Kidney on Valentine's Day

Originally appeared at GoLocalProv on 2/14/2011

Chocolate, flowers and jewelry all make for great gifts, but Elise Swearingen is going above and beyond this Valentine’s Day. The 27-year-old policy associate in Providence City Hall is spending the day at Rhode Island Hospital where she will donate a kidney to a colleague’s brother-in-law -someone she’s only known for a short time.

But the length of her relationship with Dr. Robert Robbio (the recipient of the kidney) means very little, the laid back Swearingen says. Simply put, she’s making the sacrifice because she believes it’s the right thing to do.

“It didn’t matter who it was,” Swearingen said. “There are a lot of people who need this and I wanted to help. It’s a personal decision, but I haven’t questioned it. I’m just like, I have two kidneys, I don’t understand why I can’t give one to him.”

We Barely Knew Each other

Swearingen isn’t the only person who wanted to step up to help the 59-year-old Robbio. He says there were eight others who went through the extended process that comes with donating a kidney. But for one reason or another, they were all unable to move forward.

Robbio learned that he was in urgent need of a transplant about a year ago after a routine doctor’s appointment. He said he’s had kidney problems for the last decade, but never thought it would get to a point where he would need to be hooked to a dialysis machine for five hours each day. But when his doctor called him one Saturday last February, he knew it could only be bad news.

That’s when he started searching for donors. He never thought of asking Swearingen.

“I had met Elise once or twice because she’s friends with my family,” Robbio said. “But if she were to walk in a room, I probably wouldn’t know who know who she was. Now she’s a member of the family.”

I Just Said I’ll Do It 

No one ever asked Swearingen to step up. Robbio’s sister-in-law, Sue, happens to be a colleague of Swearingen’s in City Hall. Sue approached her one day about setting up a Facebook group to generate awareness and possibly find Dr. Robbio a donor.

Almost immediately, Swearingen offered something better.

“I just said I’ll do it,’ Swearingen recalls.

Since then, she has constantly been on the go, from visiting doctors to making arrangements and Sue, who in a recent Facebook post she referred to as “my friend/sister/mother figure/sidekick,” has been there every step of the way.

“I’ve been at every doctor’s appointment and every blood test,” Sue Robbio said. “I can’t even begin to describe this. We had gone through our whole family and I just needed to make a Facebook page.”

A Second Chance

It was Swearingen’s altruistic spirit that put her in the position to meet Dr. Robbio in the first place. She grew up just outside of Kansas City and moved to Providence to volunteer with the City Year program. She expected to be in Rhode Island for a year. That was five years ago.

She took a job at City Hall and was quickly befriended by the Robbio family. Now she’s saving one of their lives.

“She’s giving a gift of life,” Dr. Robbio said. “It’s Valentine’s Day, but I look at it like it’s my birthday. I should have been dead and Elise has given me a second chance.“


A Guide to the Real Rhode Island, From A-Z

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

Did you spend all of Christmas break bitching about how there's never anything to do in Rhode Island? Well, that's probably because your nerdy tour guide during freshman orientation raved about the Athenaeum like it was Club Hell and you spent most of your free time playing video games in your dorm instead of video poker at Twin River. Why don't you do yourself a favor and make a belated New Year's resolution to actually enjoy the quirky city you'll call home for the next four, five, six years? To help, we've put together an A-Z survival guide complete with everything you need to know (and plenty you don't) about Lil Rhody.

Where your parents should take you to dinner when they visit. Be sure to wear a suit, preferably shiny or pinstriped. Sweatsuits are also acceptable, but they must be velour, not the kind you wear to track and field meets. And for God's sake, make sure your cheapass father knows that even though the sign says "Free Valet Parking," he still has to tip.

See also:AS220 | A hipster's wet dream. Leading reason Providence has one of the best art scenes in the country. Also a great place to see guys with bangs play loud music.

AMTRAK | Around junior year, you'll realize Providence is a fantastic place and never want to leave. Until then, you'll probably think your only true friends are stuck at community colleges back home. So here's some advice: When buying train tickets, always say your destination is two stops before your actual destination (i.e., if you're going to New Haven, buy tickets to New London). Then play the stupid college kid act and the conductor will usually let you slide. And you'll have extra beer money.


The happiest students in the world who will protest anything as long as there's a pretty sign and an ounce of pot involved.

See also:BLACKSTONE BOULEVARD | The street is made of marble and the fire hydrants spray champagne. You'll always know when a person lives here because they'll tell you. Twice.

BENEFIT STREET | The most historic mile in history is located on the historic East Side. There's a 76 percent chance you'll throw up here by the time you graduate.

BURNSIDE PARK | Separates Brown and RISD students from the ice skating rink. Even the pigeons shoot heroin here!

Definitely an upgrade over the Ellio's your roommate has in the freezer.


The sole reason the "Freshman 15" becomes the "Freshman 50" in Rhode Island.

See also:DOWNCITY | What locals call downtown Providence. No, those underdressed girls you see probably aren't hookers (we outlawed that shit two years ago). They're probably heading to one of the many clubs in the area to drink, dance, and scream in horror when someone inevitably gets stabbed.

DANCING COP | Cornered the make-an-ass-out-of-yourself-in-public market by arresting all the mimes.

Think Beacon Hill meets Dupont Circle. Living here allows you to tell law and med schools that you know all about the inner city without the hassle of ever actually having to see the inner city.


See "A", "O," and maybe a little bit of "C." The old money here is a little different than the old money on the East Side or in Newport.

See also:FARMERS' MARKETS | To be clear, you will never meet a farmer in Providence. But at these trendy little markets, aspiring novelists and painters will sell you a tomato, their latest creation, and the shirts off their backs for next to nothing.

Okay, it's not San Francisco or London, but Providence isn't Hicksville, Alabama either. The city is filled with great gay bars (Alley Cat, Dark Lady, Stable) and the Gay Pride Parade is by far the best parade of the year. And if you're lucky, the state might actually legalize same-sex marriage by the time you graduate.

See also:GASPEE DAY PARADE | Similar to the Gay Pride Parade in that everyone likes to play dress-up and get drunk. Commemorates the time we torched a British ship and lit off fireworks in celebration. As it often does, Boston would later copy us with some Tea Party no one can stop raving about.

Greasy spoon conveniently located next to City Hall and about 50 feet from the city's only cab stand. Perfect snack after a long night of drinking cheap beer downcity. Suggestion: Get the burger.

Rhode Island was the first colony to declare its independence from Britain. But because all the men who helped lead the charge were short, pale, and probably starving, we decided to build a statue of a tall, tan, and muscular man to overlook the State House. And we gave him a spear because spears are badass.

See also:IGGY'S | The reason most of us don't look good when we're on the beach.

INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME | Be on the lookout for Andre Agassi's wig.

Used to start the conversation, now just recaps it three days later. The only time you'll buy this is if someone takes a picture of you protesting whatever it is you'll protest in the next four years.

See also:JWU | Overeducating restaurant workers for nearly a century!

JEWELRY DISTRICT | What you'll know as the Knowledge District, Rhode Islanders know as the Jewelry District.

JOHNSTON | Where Jersey Shore gets better ratings than the Super Bowl.

Contrary to what Brown and RISD students will tell you, the buses and trolleys don't just disappear when they let you off at the Starbucks on Thayer Street. They end up here.

See also:KICKBALL | Our real sports teams suck. But if you're competitive and more importantly, like drinking, you can play kickball, bocce, dodge ball and ultimate Frisbee in various parts of the city.


One of the best places in the state to see a concert. Something for everybody. In the same week, you might get Wu-Tang, a Pink Floyd cover band, and an overnight sensation pop group welcoming teenagers into the wonderful world of clubland.

If you can't afford to catch a Sox game in Boston, definitely head to Pawtucket to see their AAA affiliate. It's cheap and there isn't a bad seat in the house.

See also:THE MET CAFE | A hot new hipster hangout located just outside of Providence. Live music, cheap beer, lots of open space.

MISQUAMICUT BEACH | Total tourist trap where kids from Connecticut go to skip school and pretend like they're in Seaside Heights. Most Rhode Islanders have never been. It's too far from everything.

Probably where your parents thought you were going when you told them you were going to school in Rhode Island. Home to all the mansions and a lot of people with names normal people give to dogs. If you can find 15 friends, you might be able to afford a tiny beach house down here for a week in the summer. Just don't fall off the Cliff Walk.

See also:NEW YORK SYSTEM WIENERS | Best. Hot dogs. Ever.


You've seen the movies, you know the deal. If you see a short Italian guy that kind of looks like Joe Pesci, it would probably be wise to turn the other way or at least not criticize his mother.

Where kids from Long Island and Connecticut go when they can't get into Boston College and don't want to go to Fairfield. Has many proud alumni who still pray Rick Pitino might come back and help the basketball team be relevant again.

See also:POLITICIANS | Fact: There are more General Assembly members than residents in the state of Rhode Island.

PAULY D | We know, we're sorry.

PPAC | Best way to catch a Broadway show without ever having to leave the state. When you factor in drinks, dinner, two tickets, and parking, you'll only be stuck about $300.

| So big you could live here without ever getting caught. It's been done. Seriously.


Before everybody teamed up to beat the shit out of the British, Bostonians decided Quakers shouldn't be allowed to practice their own religion. But Rhode Island accepted them with open arms and our population doubled to 28.

Remember that girl who wore a dress made out of newspaper cartoons to your senior prom? She goes to RISD.

See also:ROGER WILLIAMS | History doesn't give the man who founded Providence the credit he deserves. In fact, he doesn't even make Wikipedia's list of the 17th century's most significant people. Something Johnny Milton and Frankie Bacon probably tease him about every day.

Most popular majors: 1) Spending daddy's money 2) Debt accumulation 3) Sailing.

See also:SWAN POINT CEMETERY | Where kids who wear too much makeup go to play Ouija board on H.P. Lovecraft's grave.

A huge selling point for Brown and RISD, but the truth is you'll rarely spend much time here as the years go on. There's just too many high school students puffing their first cigarettes and trying to feel each other up to enjoy yourself.

Great place to party, but beware of the many frat guys who think Keystone Light is the shit, call everything gay, and say "bro" too much.

Rocky with a Rhode Island accent. On the Mount Rushmore of local athletes, he would be the one with the swollen eye.

Our quirky way of embracing the fact that our water is too polluted for anything to be living in it. Every other weekend each summer, we light the river on fire, play creepy music, and old people make out.

See also:WEST BROADWAY | What you get when a few pretentious East Siders decide they've had enough of the college kids and want to live somewhere else in Providence. Close to Atwells Avenue and a bunch of trendy bars.

WILD COLONIAL | Where you'll probably have your first legal beer.

Providence hosted the very first Summer X Games back in 1995 (you were like, way young). Unfortunately, Dodging Potholes wasn't as exciting as ESPN hoped it would be and the Games haven't returned since '96.


Why would you pay to go snow tubing here when you could slide down College Hill on cafeteria trays?

One of the coolest places most college students never seem to make it to in Providence. It's in Roger Williams Park. Be sure to check out the Pauly D Jersey Shore exhibit coming next summer.


Awesome People: The Renegade Wrestling Alliance goes Raw

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

For most boys growing up, professional wrestling, with its salacious storylines and otherworldly characters (who could forget the Ugandan Giant, Kamala?) serves as a rite of passage into adulthood. But at some point, boobs tend to replace bodyslams, Sasha Grey becomes your favorite entertainer and just like that, Monday is no longer the most important night of the week.

That wasn’t the case for Anthony DiIorio. The 29 year old says he fell in love with the sport after watching WrestleMania VII (in 1991) and has wanted to be a wrestler ever since. He can vividly recall an epic match between his hero Shawn Michaels and Bret “the hitman” Hart from 1996 and admits to spending hours browsing the internet for rumors regarding upcoming WWE storylines.

If that doesn’t qualify him as a hardcore wrestling fan, you ought to meet his two boys. Austin and Adam are named after -you guessed it- two of DiIorio’s favorite in-ring performers: Stone Cold Steve Austin and Adam Copeland, who goes by Edge in the squared circle.

DiIorio, his children and over 20 friends and family members were out in full force at The Dunk Monday night for WWE Raw, which bills itself as the longest running episodic television show in history. But unlike the majority of the other wrestling enthusiasts in the building, the group wasn’t there simply to be entertained. Many are members of the Renegade Wrestling Alliance (RWA), DiIorio’s backyard wrestling league, and were in attendance to pick up new moves and critique what they view as the big leagues.

The RWA was founded in 2007, about a decade after DiIorio and his wrestling-obsessed buddies started rolling around on mattresses set up in his Pawtucket backyard. From the very beginning, they videotaped their matches and before long, with encouragement from DiIorio’s mother, purchased a custom-designed ring for $2,600.

“We wanted to become legitimate and make a serious go of it,” DiIorio, who wrestles under the name T-Phoenix, said. “We didn’t have any real goals going in; it was just a bunch of us who loved wrestling. Now we’re a team and a family and we want to put on the best show possible.”

DiIorio said the RWA is split between guys who treat wrestling as their version of pick-up basketball and ones who really hope to make it big one day. He mentioned Stan Styles, a wrestler who drives in from Philadelphia on weekends, Jason Devine and JP Hansen as three performers who have the potential to become professionals.

The league gets together a couple of Sundays each month and rents out an old building just off the Nate Whipple Highway in Cumberland. The free shows are taped and aired on Public Access Tuesdays at 11:00 p.m. and Fridays at midnight. DiIorio has no clue how many people tune in (it’s gotta do better than the Joe Trillo Show, right?) but said he was surprised by the league’s growing internet following. Since starting a YouTube channel last July, the RWA has 123 subscribers and over 22,000 video views. Its Facebook page has 650 fans.

It’s not quite the same as the WWE’s rabid following, but DiIorio noted that a few RWA wrestlers do get spotted by random Rhode Islanders from time to time. For Raw he admitted to wearing the same Pittsburgh Pirates coat he often wears during RWA tapings just in case anyone recognized him.

So what did the backyard amateurs think of Monday night’s show?

DiIorio said his group can be pretty critical of the WWE and admitted to despising his kids’ favorite superstar, John Cena, who is the closest thing to what Hulk Hogan was 20 years ago. But for the most part, they all enjoyed themselves.

As for Austin and Adam?

“They loved it,” DiIorio said.

Of course they did. It’s in the blood.


Life: A Room Of Your Own

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

It's junior year and the thought of ever having to deal with another RA telling you to stop using your George Foreman grill in your room makes you want to vomit. You're independent. After all, you have an Idaho state ID that says you're 32. It's about time you move into your own place, where you don't have to hide the bong and friends can visit whenever they want. But first, you probably need some advice. So we've compiled a list of everything you need to know when looking for that first apartment.

There are a lot of landlords who want to rent to students, which makes complete sense given the amount of colleges in the area. But make sure you don't enter into a lease with anyone who might try to take advantage of you. Here's a good rule of thumb: Never rent from the guy who sells himself as the "cool" landlord. Usually he'll still attach a "y" to the end of his name (Joey!) and talk about ripping shots with you and your bros or tell stories about all the "hot broads" he rents to.

You don't want to deal with that shit. Allowing one of these douchebags to be your landlord will result in unannounced visits (you're supposed to get 48 hours notice) and a contentious relationship when you stop letting him drink your beer or refuse to sleep with him. Always remember that just because you're a student and this might be your first apartment, your rights are no different from the 45-year-old hippy who lives in the basement.


Craigslist can be an awfully deceiving place. All the women appear to be extra horny, everyone has something to sell, and the sheer volume of available jobs will leave you wondering how unemployment is at a record high. So if you think you found a wicked good deal for an apartment, make sure you turn on that thinking cap that got you into college in the first place.

If it's an East Side apartment that features a Jacuzzi, pool, and utilities included for $225 a month, you're probably going to get mugged when you check it out. If the alleged landlord asks you to Western Union $1000 to East Bumblefuck, Nigeria, don't. If you ask who to make out the check to and the e-mailer responds by saying, "straight cash homie," it would be wise to look elsewhere.

There are people who will tell you it is illegal for landlords to require first and last month's rent in addition to a security deposit when you move in. But according the Residential Landlord Tenant Act of 1987, he or she can do just that. If your parents are paying, this doesn't matter and you should just move along. But if you're working or using student loan money to pay rent, find a place that won't cost you so much up front and save that money for important things like booze and Gushers.

Even if you mistakenly take that apartment with Joey the Landlord, he can't just raise the rent because you didn't offer the last Bud Light in your refrigerator or refused to sleep with him because he's 40 and still collects baseball cards. In fact, you must receive a written notice 30 days prior to any increase in monthly costs.

This is crucial. If you're into staying up all night, smoking pot, and sleeping with everything on legs, don't live with the Christian kid who spends his free time at Bible study and has never been alone in the same room with a woman that wasn't his mother. He'll always resent you and he'll tell his friends you smell like a skunk. Also, you can bet horrible, HORRIBLE things will happen to your toothbrush throughout the year.

While Providence is a great place to live, you should probably know the city is dead broke. Which means it will constantly attempt to scrape every penny it can off of you while you live here. Last year, the Mayor tried to tax you simply for being a student in the city. So don't expect the 1–7 am parking ban to be lifted any time soon. If you have a car, make sure you're guaranteed a parking spot or be prepared to pay a lot in fines.

If you live in a first floor or basement level apartment, don't shit yourself when you see a tiny mouse run across the kitchen floor. Yes, they're disgusting, but you're the one who threw a rager and didn't bother to wash the floor afterward. Rats are a different story. If you see those guys anywhere near your house, feign the plague and contact your landlord immediately.

Even if you've got a roommate you hope dies in his sleep, have started naming the rats, and have less water pressure than most South American huts, you can't just stop paying rent. It doesn't work like that and anyone who tells you it does probably still lives with his mother. If you have a complaint, you must notify your landlord and give him 20 days to fix the problem. If the problem persists, you must give two weeks' notice that you plan to terminate the rental agreement. Keep your documents!

If you happen to be late with rent, it's not the end of the world. Many landlords will allow you to work it out as long as the problem doesn't become habitual. And even if you do have someone less than accommodating to deal with, there is still a process (it usually takes over a month) they have to go through to evict you. So don't worry that you're going to come home one day to find your lava lamp on the pavement and the locks changed on the doors.

In addition to finding the right roommates and paying your rent on time, make sure you're always aware of your surroundings. Much as you'd like to think otherwise, this isn't your city. You go home to mom every other month. So before you decide to terrorize the neighborhood with crappy music and garbage fires, remember the people trying to raise families here. You can still have a great experience without being a douchebag.


Awesome People: Corsets, Goggles, and Game Geeks in Warwick

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

Are you an aspiring warlord, dragon slayer or munchkin? Do you find Queen Victoria strangely sexy? Well TempleCon 2011 might be right up your alley.

The sixth annual convention of gaming and retro-futurism — think geeks getting off on old-timey visions of the future — returns to the Crowne Plaza in Warwick February 4-6 and is expected to bring in as many as 1500 attendees from all over the world.

The event attracts both hardcore and casual gamers, fans of science fiction and fans of fantasy. TempleCon will offer dozens of competitive tournaments (three Flames of War national qualifiers!), alongside panel discussions, presentations, fashion shows, and a retro-futurist ball.

The idea, according to TempleCon co-founder "Madame" Ximon Dundaine, is to provide a little something for everybody, whether you're the intense gamer or the poor significant other who gets dragged along for the ride. She said her event has become known as a couple's destination in the retro-futurist community.

"When we started this, we wanted to have the kind of event to go to that we desired," Madame Ximon says. "After going to a lot of other conventions, we hadn't yet found that. Let's say you hate gaming, we still have a lot going on."

Retro-futurism has become an entire subculture complete with games, novels, and paintings. Among the genre's most popular forms is Steampunk, which is often set in Victorian England and fetishizes steam power.

It is, among other things, a good excuse to wear corsets, petticoats, and goggles.

There are more in Rhode Island who take to this sort of thing than you might imagine. Madame Ximon, co-owner of the Temple, a retail hobby game store in Pawtucket, says the Ocean State has among the most game stores per capita in the country.

Gaming enthusiasts who have not yet registered for the conference may be disappointed — most of the tournaments are already filled. But you can still dress up like Dickens and grab an autographed copy of C.J. Henderson's Steam Powered Love: Tales of the Pelgimbly Institute for the Advanced Sciences And the Chaos It Caused.

Sounds romantic.


Politics: The 2nd Most Powerful Man in Providence

Originally Appeared at GoLocalProv in February, 2011

On the first Monday of the new year, Providence City Hall was filled to capacity with everyone from Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee to the family and friends who came out to support the soon-to-be-sworn-in City Council. It was inauguration day and the energy in the building was obvious.

But lost in the overwhelming amount of attention paid to Mayor Angel Taveras, who had just delivered an inspiring speech to hundreds on the steps of City Hall, was the gentleman about to become the most important man in Providence: Michael Solomon.

After a narrow primary victory over incumbent Patrick Butler in 2006, Solomon, the Ward 5 Councilman, did not face a challenger in the most recent election. So rather than fighting for votes in his own neighborhood, he launched a campaign in which he would only need the support of eight of his fellow members of the City Council. Just after the September primary, he issued a press release confirming that he had acquired the necessary votes to become Council President.

Solomon is unlike many recent Council Presidents in that he has only just started his second term. In comparison, the two previous Presidents, Peter Mancini and John Lombardi, were veterans by the time they ascended to the top role. But while he’s short on experience as an elected official, Solomon, who briefly considered running for General Treasurer, is considered a talented politician who knows Providence as well as anyone.

“He’s been around for a long time,” Lombardi said. “His father was General Treasurer and he was on the Ward Committee. He grew up in Providence, knows the city and he’s clearly a politically savvy guy.”

While his father, Anthony, served six terms as the state’s General Treasurer, Solomon developed a reputation as a tireless worker and continued to work his way up the political ladder. Former Mayor Joe Paolino said he will make an excellent Council President.

“I appointed him to the Providence Redevelopment Agency,” Paolino said. “He had a very good tenure on the PRA. He got a lot of exposure to neighborhood concerns and he has represented the Mount Pleasant and Elmhurst well.”

Solomon made headlines in 2009 as a Councilman when he proposed an ordinance that would prohibit youths under 18 to work in adult entertainment venues around the city. The legislation was met with almost universal support and passed in October of that year. He also sponsored the Worker Retention Ordinance, which requires employers to retain employees for at least six months following a change in management.

Both Lombardi and Paolino said Solomon was able to seize the Presidency thanks to the large turnover on this year’s Council. Seven new members were elected, leaving very few veterans to stand in his way.

“It’s not like one of the new Councilmen were going to be President,” Paolino said. “I like Michael Solomon a lot. He’s hard working. He’ll work 24/7 in that role.”

The new Council President has mostly stayed out of the public light in his first month at the helm. Although he supported Steven Costantino during the Mayoral race, Mayor Taveras’ spokesperson Melissa Withers said the two new leaders have “met and spoken many times over the last three weeks.”

But Solomon’s influence has already been felt internally on the Council. Last week, GoLocalProv reported that he his leadership team had left four Councilmen completely off any of the six Standing Committees and this week, Chief of Staff Thomas Glavin stepped down.

There has been no indication as to who will replace Glavin, but a source close to the Council President said it will likely be someone close to Solomon.

“He knows what he’s doing,” the source said. “He’s making his mark on the Council.”

Note: Council President Solomon did not return multiple phone calls asking for comment.


Business: A Mixed Bag For Rhode Island's Downtowns

Originally Appeared at GoLocalProv in January, 2011

President Obama made Main Street a major theme of his 2008 campaign, but how are Rhode Island’s downtown areas faring today? The answers, it appears, are mixed. Along the urban corridor, cities have clearly shifted from survival mode to rebuilding mode while the more affluent areas are coping with the reality that it may take a long time to return those pre-recession profits they enjoyed.

Business leaders in Providence and Pawtucket are spending a lot of time talking about potential these days. They’re pointing to new businesses entering the downcity area in Providence and the creative campaign launched to rejuvenate downtown Pawtucket.

In Newport and West Greenwich, where the hospitality industry is so vital, the opinions are mixed. Some business owners fear 2011 could be another slow year while others believe the slight uptick in sales that occurred in 2010 is a sign of better times to come.

Sense Of Clarity Helps Providence
During election season, the candidates for Mayor of Providence couldn’t go a day without answering questions about the capital city’s depleted downtown area. But now that the city –and the state for that matter- has all of its elected officials in place, Alden Anderson, Senior Vice President at CB Richard Ellis, says businesses could be more comfortable sitting down for a conversation.

“Knowing the people making the decisions helps,” Anderson said. “It was a funny market in 2010. Some buildings had a lot of occupants and others struggled. I think we’ll see an uptick as the economy swings. On a macro level, I’m more optimistic than I was last year.”

According to a report released by CB Richard Ellis, Providence’s downtown office vacancy rate increased from 17.21 percent at the end of 2009 to the current 18.90 percent. Anderson said he is hopeful that number will shrink this year and pointed to Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios gaming company as one of the businesses that will be moving in.

Last week, Mayor Angel Taveras announced a national search was being conducted for an Economic Development Director, which the city hopes will be completed within 100 days.

Potential In Pawtucket?
For as long as anyone can remember, leaders in Pawtucket have referred glowingly to all that their city’s downtown area could be. Unfortunately, the reality has been that the conversation has usually ended there.

Now, with a newly elected Mayor and a concrete vision for the future, it appears Pawtucket might finally be on the right track to realizing its dream. Thomas Mann, Executive Director of the Pawtucket Foundation, says the city should be able to attract business based on its proximity to Providence and multiple transit options.

“We have a unique opportunity here,” Mann said. “The I95 bridge will be completed in three years and we’ll have direct access from downtown to the highway, a commuter rail stop, rapid bussing and a beautiful bike path.”

The infrastructure is one of the key factors that will help Pawtucket see resurgence according to Maia Small, a partner at Thurlow Small, who is leading a downtown design plan for the city and has launched a website at

“Pawtucket has this very vocal, very active community,” Small said. “It’s a creative community with real entrepreneurs and while this isn’t going to happen overnight, I think [the city] will be in a good position when the economy comes back.

The Federal Hill Of South County
Steve Cinquegrana has been a business owner as long as anyone in West Greenwich and says he’s still waiting to see the economy return to its old self. The owner of Main Street Coffee, Cinquegrana says he is cautiously optimistic about what the future will bring.

“We’ve noticed increases, but only around two percent,” he said. “Growth would be three-to-five percent. Obviously around this time, it’s very slow, but from St. Patrick’s Day on, we’re good. [Downtown East Greenwich] is the Federal Hill of South County, so I’m optimistic things will improve.”

According to Stephen Lombardi, Executive Director of the West Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, businesses are becoming more attracted to the area.

“We have a lot offer because of our Main Street and the waterfront,” Lombardi said. “Memberships at the Chamber have increased and were looking to bring more new businesses in. Considering the economy, I think we’re doing very well.”

Up Is The New Flat
As people start to feel more safe with their jobs, Newport County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jody Sullivan says they’re starting to become more comfortable with spending money and going on vacation. And while she admitted to being concerned that Newport could price itself of out the market compared with the Cape or Boston, she said 2010 was a good year.

“We’re slowly getting it back,” Sullivan said. “We’re definitely seeing a trend, many temp agencies are hiring again and the numbers give us a reason to think that will continue. Last year things were actually up, but as everyone is saying, up is the new flat.”

Newport got bad news last month when San Francisco was chosen to host the America’s Cup, but the world’s most famous regatta may still host preliminary events in the Ocean State. If that comes to fruition, Sullivan said it could be a huge boon to the downtown economy.

“It would definitely help retail,” she said. “We believe there’s a very good chance we’ll get to host some of those events. I’m extremely optimistic.”


Politics: Councilmen Blacklisted by New Leadership

Originally Appeared at GoLocalProv in January, 2011

Two veteran local lawmakers are citing political retribution as the reason they were completely left off Standing Committees for the first time in either of their careers. Providence City Councilmen Kevin Jackson (Ward 3) and Luis Aponte (Ward 10) say their lack of support for new President Michael Solomon (Ward 5) has put them in the dog house with council leadership and now it’s the residents of their respective neighborhoods who will pay the price.

Freshmen Councilmen Davian Sanchez (Ward 11) and Bryan Principe (Ward 13) were also kept off any of the six major committees. Sanchez says he supported Aponte’s bid for Council President while Principe says he didn’t endorse either candidate. The other five freshly elected Councilmen all received committee appointments.

Reached at Thursday night’s Council meeting, Solomon would only say, “The assignments speak for themselves and I’m committed to working with the whole council.”

They’ve Disenfranchised Four Neighborhoods
Jackson supported Aponte’s run for Council President as well, but said the unprecedented act of payback also could be because he supported Mayor Angel Taveras during last September’s heated Democratic primary. He said it was sending the wrong message to citizens in four parts of the city.

“In my 16 years on the council, I’ve never seen this happen,” Jackson said. “Even when [Peter] Mancini and [John] Lombardi were serving as President, they still gave everyone opportunities. What they’re doing here is disenfranchising four communities by telling these people that they don’t get a seat at the table. They said they would be inclusive. This isn’t inclusive.”

Jackson, who had been on the City Property Committee for 16 years, is the senior member of the City Council. From 1999 through 2007, he was Chairman of the Finance Committee.

It’s About Power
A council member since 1998, Aponte never publically supported a candidate for Mayor, but said he believes he is being punished following an unsuccessful attempt at running for Council President.

“I can only attribute this to being about power and retribution,” Aponte said. “I ran for Council President and didn’t have the votes and now this is happening. To me, it’s all about power. I’ve been on Committees ever year. This isn’t normal at all.”

Aponte agreed with Jackson’s opinion that not allowing a councilman to be a part of any committee is a huge disservice to their neighborhood. Both men said they plan to stand up and make their presence known at Council Meetings and they were among the few who spoke during Thursday’s brief session.

Aponte called on his fellow Councilmen to be ready to make tough votes during tough economic times and said it was time to fix some of the mistakes made in previous years.

Principe And Sanchez Respond
The freshmen councilmen left off all committees had a more optimistic view despite being shut out by the new leadership. Both Principe and Sanchez agreed that it was a little strange to not be invited to join a committee, but said they were looking forward to working with everyone on the council.

Said Principe, “I don’t think it diminished my voice. I support Council President Solomon and plan to work with everybody. If this was political retribution, I find it very unfortunate because the issues this city are facing are too big for that.”

Regarding the Council President race, Sanchez said he was neutral until Solomon told him there would be Committee positions available. That’s when he supported Aponte. He said he wasn’t too worried about being left in the dark.

“I don't think it will effect me in anyway. I feel like it’s actually a good thing not being in a committee. More time for me now to work in my ward.”


Education: Leaders React To Proposed Diploma Changes

Originally Appeared at GoLocalProv in January, 2011

Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and the Board of Regents are pressing forward with a plan to implement a three-tiered high school diploma system that would reward students who perform better on the NECAP by 2013.

But skeptics argue students from poor performing urban school districts will have virtually no chance to receive a top tiered diploma. They say the three-tiered system will do nothing more than highlight the wide achievement gap between white and minority students.

Gist fired back Thursday, criticizing a Providence Journal story she felt was incomplete and dispelling the notion that any students in Rhode Island would receive a certificate in lieu of a diploma. The second year Commissioner defended the initiative and blamed the current culture for allowing partial proficiency to become the status quo.

A Culture Problem
More stringent graduation requirements are nothing new to Rhode Island. Gist said the Board of Regents agreed to make changes to the system in 2003 and again in 2008. Under the new proposal, which is likely to be voted on in March, a Rhode Island diploma would be given to those students who do not pass any portion of the NECAP, but still pass in school. A Regents diploma would be awarded to those who demonstrate proficiency on the test and an Honors diploma would be given to those who score highly.

Gist said incentives like the advanced diplomas could help raise the bar in some schools.

“If we have a culture where people are offended by higher performing students,” she said. “Then we’ve got a problem with the culture. Too often we aim to hold everyone to the lowest standard. This has always been partial proficiency, so it has become the standard.”

System Only Enhances Differentiation of Students
In an e-mail forwarded around earlier in the week, President and CEO of the John Hope Settlement House Peter Lee said the three-tiered diploma proposal “only enhances the differentiation of students” and “It does not implement additional supports, nor does it establish a climate in which academic success is attainable and rewarding for all.”

The subject of the e-mail was titled “Race, Equity and the Achievement Gap…” Lee also questioned the point of the plan and asked if it will really provided great support for students.

“I believe the proposed plan, for all its good intentions, is short-sighted. I believe there are strategies we have not yet fully embraced that can make a difference for our children. Across the country, we hear superintendents saying that districts can’t do ‘it’ by themselves. But has the ‘it’ been clearly articulated?”

The College Factor
Another concern expressed by naysayers has been whether the three-tiered diploma system will effect college admissions. GoLocalProv contributor and Founder of College Admissions Advisors Cristiana M. Quinn said the new system probably won’t change much of anything when it comes to what colleges are looking for.

“I don’t see the three-tiered diplomas playing a significant role when it comes to admissions outside of Rhode Island,” Quinn said. “But it may for some of the state schools.”

The concern has been that students graduating with the third-tier Rhode Island diploma might be looked at in a negative light for not achieving a higher-tiered diploma. But Gist has made it clear that the Rhode Island diploma would be exactly the same as the one students receive today.

“One doesn’t count any more than the others,” Gist said. It’s just a reflection of [the students’] performance. The majority of Rhode Island students go on to Rhode Island schools. I’d actually like to see a day where maybe the Honors diploma means you get automatic admission or that you earn some sort of scholarship.”


Politics: RI Gov's Debate Review

Originally Appeared at Rhode Island's Future in October, 2010.

Welcome to the shove it state, national media. Forgive us if we spill our coffee milk on you. We’re a little star struck. Rhode Island hasn’t gotten this much attention since Operation Plunder Dome and we’re not used to seeing ourselves on television unless it’s Family Guy. This is big. Drudge blew up one of our local news blogs. Chris Matthews talked about us. We even made The Today Show.

But while you allow us our 15 minutes of non-animated fame, please take some time to learn about the wacky governor’s race you’re opining on. For instance, you should know that while it’s shocking that anyone would tell a sitting President to shove it, it’s no more surprising to us that the guy who did it happens to call himself a Democrat. You should also keep in mind that the guy with all the union support who loves Dickens and the weather and sort of reminds you of your pot smoking hippy father actually used to be a Republican.

As for the actual Republican in the race, it’s worth mentioning that what you saw at last night’s debate was new to us as well. He’s surging now and yet, in a time where the entire country seems to be trending to the right, nobody in Rhode Island knew who John Robitaille was a month ago. Oh, and that witty Ken Block guy who takes the incredibly unsexy position of being in the middle of everything might just make the best governor of all.

These are things you need to know. With President Clinton coming to town in an attempt to fix this Shoveitgate mess on Sunday, I imagine you’ll be sticking around through Election Day. So here’s a guide to each of the four candidates based on last night’s debate…

Frank Caprio
To make sense of the Democrat who told the President off, you first have to understand the Rhode Island electorate. The numbers suggest we are one of the most liberal states in the union, but that isn’t exactly true. We seem to have a lot people who vote Democrat but think gays are icky, brown people are scary and call it “Obamacare”. So Frank Caprio is courting that crowd and alienating the progressives.

Make no mistake about it: Caprio’s attack on the President was as calculated as everything else he has done in his campaign. On Tuesday, he defended his comments, explaining to debate viewers, “if it takes telling someone to shove it, I’m going to tell them to shove it, because I’m going to fight for Rhode Islanders every day up at that State House.” His grade for Obama: Incomplete.

Caprio sells himself as the pro-business Democrat who wants to hold the line on taxes and create jobs by making more capital available. Although it has been reported that he considered running as a Republican, Caprio is sharp enough not to blame the state’s social programs for many of its problems the way Robitaille does. But he always seems to find a way to criticize Chafee for being too tied to unions and has made a habit of saying his union support comes from “people who actually build things.”

Among other topics discussed last night, Caprio said his first two priorities as governor would be to institute his $600 million dollar small business loan fund and to go down to the DMV and not leave until “we straighten that place out.” He gave the General Assembly a C for its performance; attacked Chafee for raising Warwick’s property taxes as mayor; and said he’ll give the EDC one week from the day he’s elected to close the 38 Studios deal or he'll “find a better way that works for the taxpayers.” He also enjoys long walks on the beach and his favorite book (seriously) is Lord of the Rings.

Lincoln Chafee
There are times when Linc Chafee leaves you wondering if he knows what year it is, but the man is doing something right. Chafee is building what can only be described as the strangest coalition the state has ever seen. He has the support of the older conservative crowd who remember his father and thought he did a good job as mayor of Warwick as well as the far left who consider him the most progressive candidate of the bunch.

He’s in an interesting position because his biggest flaw is also his greatest strength. His opponents, namely Caprio, attack him for being too close with the public unions, but those are also the people who are going to help him Chafee out the vote on Election Day without any party machine behind him. Unlike some of the other candidates, Chafee has a lot of supporters who live for the first Tuesday in November. They organize. They turn out. They get results.

Chafee is running as an independent and is the only candidate who has proposed a one percent sales tax on currently exempted items. He always makes sure to mention that he is not the one who got us into this mess and that all the experts say a sales tax is far less cumbersome than allowing cities to raise property taxes. Last night, he made it clear that he would veto anything above a one percent tax, citing the need for the General Assembly to stay disciplined.

In his continuing quest to woo Latino voters, Chafee said his first priority as governor would be to repeal E-Verify, which he said has done nothing to lower the state’s unemployment rate. His other top priority would be tackling the budget crisis. He refused to grade the General Assembly because “I have to work with them." He also threatened to come after the EDC if the 38 Studios deal goes bust. His favorite author: Charles Dickens.

John Robitaille
No one had more to prove than the Republican candidate last night. And I think he succeeded. The usually mild-mannered, above-the-fray Robitaille was highly critical of his opponents, especially Caprio, who he said “behaved like a petulant little child who did not get his way” regarding the Democrat’s comments about the President.

I don’t agree with much of anything Robitaille has to say, but his climb in the polls is directly related to Caprio’s downfall. There were a lot of Republican-leaning independents (the anybody-but-Chafee crowd) who thought they had to vote for the Democrat in the race, but that has changed and Robitaille is the benefactor. We won’t see it in any the polls because most took place prior to the Caprio flap, but there is no doubt the Republican could pull off the upset next Tuesday night.

Robitaille said his first two priorities as governor would be to cut spending and cut spending. As Republicans tend to do, he criticized the state for spending too much on social programs and said he doesn’t believe the government can create jobs. He gave the General Assembly an F for its performance and said “that’s being charitable.” He made it clear that he would veto any budget with a tax increase and emphasized the need for the state to become more business-friendly.

Robitaille was also responsible for two of the best punch lines of the night: 1) When Caprio referred to the state’s pension fund favorably compared with other states, the Republican said “that’s like saying the S. S. Minnow isn’t sinking as fast as the Titanic. 2) When asked about something his former boss Governor Carcieri did wrong, Robitaille said, “I think he made a big mistake when he endorsed Linc Chafee over Steve Laffey for Senate in 2006.”

His favorite author: David McCullough.

Ken Block
Let’s put it this way. Ken Block’s Moderate Party will remain on the ballot for years to come. Block was again impressive and full of sharp one-liners throughout last night’s debate. He tugged at people’s hearts when he described creating jobs as being about sitting at the kitchen table and staying awake at night to figure out how to make it work. The other candidates just don’t match up when job creation is the topic.

Block called Caprio a knucklehead for his comments about the President and criticized Chafee for wanting to sue the EDC. He said the state made a deal and it was time to honor it. He said his number one priority as governor would be to give the state’s IT department 30 days to “get the dead people off the welfare rolls,” which prompted WPRI’s Ted Nesi to tweet “Ken Block sees dead people.” Block said his other top priority would be to meet with the General Treasurer and secure one percent of the state pension fund to start his investment plan.

He gave the entire political system and F for a grade and said the General Assembly deserved a D, but mentioned that he was willing to stay after school to help them out, drawing laughs from the crowd. His plan focuses on cutting waste and fraud from the state and he claims to be the only candidate who has a track record for doing so. His favorite author: Orson Scott Card.


Awesome People: Four Questions For A Hypertext Pioneer

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

As both an author and illustrator, Shelley Jackson has looked beyond the limitations of singular genres or techniques to create a novel style of work. Perhaps best known for her 1995 creation, Patchwork Girl, Jackson is considered a pioneer of hypertext fiction, an interactive, nonlinear form replete with links. Jackson was at Brown University this week to read a piece from her latest project, which she calls newspaper collaging, and the Phoenix caught up with her for a Q+A.

Well, Brown encourages experimental work, so it's not like I was having to buck the system at Brown. [The school] is unusually welcoming in that way and it was at Brown that I encountered hypertext and kind of played around with it. Partly it's just temperamental, due to the fact that from an early age I always was really interested both in writing and in art and I resisted the idea that I would ever have to choose between them. I always insisted that I could do both and other things too. It seemed more interesting to go in all different directions and that's just always how I've worked.

In the beginning, I realized that it provided a way to explore things I was already interested in exploring in print in a way that was a lot more natural. I'm not a particularly linear thinker in any case and that's not what most interests me in writing. So in a way, my goal even in print was to find ways to slow down that propulsive drive toward an end . . . and set things in parallel — not just a line with a beginning, middle, and end. Hypertext provided a way to really literalize that because you could start at one window and go in multiple directions from there. To me, it felt like moving around in a physical space and it made it easy to see that I could incorporate visual art or sound or any number of other things in a way that is really hard to do with a printed book.

My ambition increasingly has been to push the boundaries of what writing is, what it can be, and resist defining it more narrowly. It seems to me that even a book is a more multifaceted object than we credit it with being. Every time we read, we're also engaging with this sculptural object; we're using our hands to move it, to manipulate it. It's a kind of performance; it only comes to life in our reading of it and in the particular experiences we bring to it and so each performance is unique. So it seems to me the text already leaks off the page in all directions and engages human bodies in interesting and complicated ways. A lot of my work is thinking about the body as it relates to text, so I thought I'd push that and make it more literal and the obvious way to do that seems to be this way we already publish on our skin.

I think it just came out of the material. That particular front page had a dead man's face smeared across it. He was a member of Al-Qaeda who had been killed and confirmed dead. That may have been working on an unconscious level as I engaged with it. I think all of these newspaper collages have been sort of clownish in some ways with some kind of comedy, but then a balance of the creepy seriousness. That seems to be a mode that I really enjoy, those two things weighing against each other. But I didn't specifically try to push it in a dark direction; it just seems to be in the subconscious of the New York Times. I think, in a way, the news is dark.


Politics: RI Gov's Race Too Disappointing To Call

Originally Appeared at Rhode Island's Future in October, 2010

I turned 18 in September 2004. It was my freshman year of college and of the few priorities I had that fall, picking the right candidate for President fell somewhere behind constructing the perfect bong and making sure I wound up in as many classes as possible with Becky from across the hall in order of importance.

Besides, I already knew who to vote for. That summer, my hippy older sister forced me to listen to some black guy from the Midwest explain why John Kerry was going to save the world. If that didn’t seal the deal, this did: Eminem hated Bush, and even though I was a few years past my bleached-hair phase, I still considered him the voice of my generation.

But before the November election, I figured it might be a good idea to learn something about Kerry. Not because I had my doubts, but because I needed ammo when the College Republicans came to seduce my buddies with promises of better beer and prettier women. What I found out left me frustrated. He was nothing like that man on TV said he was. He was just another stuffy white guy who gave underwhelming speeches and was wishy-washy on most issues. Needless to say, I still voted for him, but let my friends go over to the dark side without much of a fight.

In retrospect, I probably should have cast a protest vote. But I felt protest votes were wasted votes and for the most part, still do. I have no real reasoning behind this, except that I like for my vote to count and the competitor in me would rather pick an average electable candidate than one with zero chance of winning. Bottom line: It would take a pretty awful cast of characters for me to support a fringe candidate or write-in Brian Hull on my ballot.

Which brings me to our governor’s race.

Not since that presidential election six years ago have I been so thoroughly disappointed by the favorites in a race I’m obligated to vote in. And I don’t see much changing over the next two weeks. Bill Clinton couldn’t convince me to go door-to-door for Frank Caprio and Meg Curran sure as hell hasn’t instilled in me a new level of trust for Lincoln Chafee.

The two frontrunners have spent the majority of their time attempting to one-up each other with sleazy attack after sleazy attack while offering nothing more than basic talking points for, you know, fixing the state. In short, Caprio believes that if your son can expand his lemonade stand by one job, Rhode Island could be saved. Meanwhile, Chafee thinks taxing said lemonade will somehow attract new businesses to the state.

These guys make Governor Carcieri look like a genius. The problem is the next candidate on the ballot actually believes the governor is a genius. When John Robitaille inevitably finishes third, you have to wonder if he’ll regret never being able to name even one thing his former boss did wrong in his two terms. While largely avoiding the mudslinging between the frontrunners, he has also failed to separate himself, forcing Republicans to wonder aloud if a vote for Robitaille is a vote for Chafee.

Which brings me to the question of the day: Is Ken Block deserving of a protest vote?

He has easily come off as the most likable of the bunch and when given the chance to talk during debates, he has been impressive. The problem is you often forget about him while focusing on what his opponents have to say about each other. We know he’s too conservative for this blog and too liberal for that other blog, which is precisely what he strives to be. Unfortunately, the “in the middle of everything” strategy, by design, doesn’t allow you to stand out. Not even among this disappointing group.

So how will I vote?

Let’s put it this way: Unless Eminem has a horse in this race, I remain firmly in the undecided and unenthused segment of the population.

Hey, at least I’m in the majority.


Politics: Rhode Island Primary Review

Originally Appeared at Rhode Island's Future in September, 2010

Promising to serve with an open heart, an open mind and an open door, Angel Taveras accepted the Democratic nomination for mayor of Providence late Tuesday night. His victory in the four-way primary all but guarantees the city will elect its first Latino mayor in November’s general election, where he’ll face Independent candidate Jonathan Scott.

It will be interesting to see how Taveras handles life as the overwhelming favorite in a race after effectively playing the role of the little-known outsider against his veteran opponents in the primary. His team seemed to relish its underdog role so much that I expected Mr. Taveras to kick his victory speech off by yelling, “We shocked the world.”

But did they really?

Taveras clearly didn’t have same name recognition as Steven Costantino or John Lombardi at the start of the race, but he had the blueprint for success from the very beginning. From the outset, Taveras had all the right people and resources in his corner: Myrth York’s financial support; Lauren Nocera’s talent as a campaign manager; energetic young leader Meg Grady and her vast reach among Young Democrats; and yes, Jerzyk behind the scenes. When you combine his dynamic team with the fact that his opponents were fighting for the same vote from a dwindling population, it becomes easier to see why Taveras won by such a decisive margin.

Just as many pundits predicted when he entered the race (before backing off near the end), Taveras built the same east side/south side coalition that made Mayor David Cicilline so difficult to defeat in 2002 and 2006. I know, I know. He claimed victories in other parts of the city as well. But that was simply icing on the cake.

And by Tuesday evening, when everyone was fretting about low turnout, we now know the underdog was just running up the score.

Scott’s Ideal Opponent
Jonathan Scott would have to shock the world in order to win the Providence mayor’s race, but as I’ve mentioned before, a faceoff with Taveras was his best bet. The sad reality is that there are a lot Lombardi/Costantino supporters who will find it very difficult to vote for a Latino in November. And they will turn out, because they’ll have a governor’s race to vote in.

That’s not to say that all of Scott’s supporters are just racists who hate Taveras. I actually like Scott a lot and think if nothing else, he’ll add to the discussion over the next two months. To become a serious contender, he’ll need to raise a lot of money in a hurry and find a way to separate himself from his opponent, which was a struggle in some of the primary debates.

The City Committee’s Relevance
On a warm June evening at the Rosario Society Hall in Silver Lake, Steven Costantino won the Democratic City Committee’s endorsement for mayor of Providence. This came just days after rumors started to circulate that Costantino might run as an independent, leaving Taveras and Lombardi to battle it out in the primary. That night, he told me those rumors were completely fictitious and that he never considered running as anything other than a Democrat.

It became clear that he was simply using a different strategy than his opponents. While Lombardi was running around to every birthday party, bar mitzvah and book club meeting throughout the city and Taveras was building the foundation of his campaign, Costantino was winning over ward committee members in hopes that support from the Democratic machine might carry him to city hall.

You have to wonder if he’s kicking himself for taking that route today. At one time, support from the City Committee may have meant a great deal, but it hard to imagine it meant much more than the 80 or so votes he picked up that evening. Neighborhoods no longer vote as one. I don’t know a single member of my ward committee and I highly doubt they helped rock the vote for their candidate on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s Best Story?
How about 21 year old Davian Sanchez winning the Democratic primary in the 11th Ward? It will be interesting to see how he’ll fare against Independent Carrie Marsh, who considered running for mayor, in November. Sabina Matos also warrants a mention for unseating Josephine DiRuzzo in the 15th. Thank god.

Monday Morning Quarterback In CD 1
The most oft-uttered phrase by candidates in the 1st Congressional District in the months leading up to the primary was, “if the election were to happen today, Undecided would win.”

That may have been true, but I think they were giving Undecided a little too much credit. I find it hard to believe the majority of undecided voters throughout the district were undecided because the candidates were all so strong and appealing. Chances are they were undecided because a race between four white guys they’d never met all promising to help them was the last thing they cared about. In the end, Undecided probably went with the name they recognized – Cicilline – or they were among the many no-shows on Tuesday.

David Segal deserves a lot of credit for earning 20 percent of the vote. I guarantee no candidate had more organization than he had on Election Day; but he would have needed to broaden his support base to have had a shot at defeating Cicilline. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do next, but everyone seems to agree that it’s not a matter of if he’ll run for office again, it’s when.

Bill Lynch wound up being the major disappointment of this race. I found it strange that someone who comes from a family of politicians had so little organization within his campaign. He was nowhere on the internet. His television ad was well done but came too late. And you can’t make term limits the number one issue of your campaign when the majority of voters couldn’t tell you how long one term in the House lasts.

Anthony Gemma was the wild card in CD 1 and he ended up doing pretty well. His jobs plan was actually quite impressive and he ran an aggressive campaign. Of course, in doing so, he might have helped hand the seat over to Republican John Loughlin. Something tells me Cicilline won’t be asking him to help over the next month.

You have to wonder just how big Cicilline’s victory would have been if not for all the mudslinging over the past few weeks. To still get 37 percent of the vote despite all the accusations and bumps that popped up along the way shows what strong name recognition and solid organization within a campaign can do for a candidate. Eric Hyers deserves a lot of credit.


Awesome People: Hangin' With Lizz Winstead, Co-Creator Of The Daily Show

Originally Appeared at Rhode Island's Future in July, 2010

Everyone remembers that one person who helped set them on their career path. Maybe it was a teacher, a coach, a relative or some kind of mentor. For Lizz Winstead, the credit goes to a douchebag.

About two decades ago, Winstead was having drinks on a blind date in New York City when everybody’s eyes turned to the bar’s television. It was right at the onset of the Gulf War and Winstead recalls being taken aback by the pageantry of the events taking place – the graphics, the reporting, the way violence was being sold to the public. She says it made her sick.

Her date’s response? “Wow. This is so cool.”

In that very moment, Winstead, who had been a standup comedian since the early ‘80s, says her act changed. She hated the way hypocrites in the media were packaging the war and decided to start focusing on politics and current events. Within a few years, Winstead began working with Comedy Central to create an everyday show that would respond to what was happening in the world, with the media as a central character. The Daily Show was born.

Winstead has become a leading voice among progressives around the country, co-founding Air America Radio, where she also hosted a show with Rachel Maddow and Chuck D. Last month, she served as a keynote speaker and panelist at Netroots Nation, where she called the progressive movement the voice of sanity in our country.

Winstead is in Rhode Island this weekend to perform her latest solo project, called My State of The Union. The Mixed Magic Theater in Pawtucket is hosting her for a pair of shows this evening at 7:00 and 9:00 and another two at the same time tomorrow night. Tickets are still available.

I caught up with her Wednesday before she spoke to a large crowd at Drinking Liberally at the Wild Colonial. Aside from learning that she orders her steak rare (Paragon may have dropped the ball on that one) I found her to be as insightful as she is hilarious. We talked a lot about women in comedy and she said she believes that a female will have a late night show on a major network within ten years.

Unfortunately, thanks in part to the internet and 24/7 media, she thinks the Letterman’s and Leno’s of the world (she doesn’t put The Daily Show in this class) have started to lose their relevance. In her opinion, radio is a great way to connect with an audience. She said she loves how listeners can keep the host honest and how they’re the ones dictate how the show goes.

Winstead said she feels the right still owns talk radio because the goal of conservatives is simply to “scare the shit” out of the audience. She thinks people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are willing to shovel dishonesty down their listeners’ throats because they are the most opportunistic people in the world and given the state of the country, it’s easy to take advantage of the public.

She said progressives need to roll up their sleeves and find a way to be heard. She pointed to all the brilliant people on the left who are well-known (Bill Maher, Jon Stewart) but said the next success probably won’t come from television because there isn’t any syndication money out there. She said she wishes MSNBC “had the balls” to put a real progressive show on its network.

Her key message to progressives, however, is to bring the internet to real life.

“A lot of times, we only get together two or three times a year,” Winstead said. “Progressives need to meet up for social occasions – have BBQ’s and rallies, start attending school board meetings and city council meetings. Infiltration is fun. “

Someone ought to find that douchebag.

And thank him.


Book Review: Bill Simmons' Good Book...Of Basketball


Originally Appeared at Mediaite in November, 2009

Remember when you were in high school and your English teacher made you write a paragraph, then cut it in half, and then cut in half again in an attempt to help tighten your work? Well Bill Simmons stayed up late watching Cheers the night before and skipped class that day. No one likes words more than Simmons, who, as his ESPN colleague Rick Reilly once said, might be the only columnist in history to have his column jump to another page.

But it might be just that, the tangential style that intertwines endless pop culture references with hilarious personal stories and occasionally well-researched topics, that has made him one of the most popular writers in the country today.

In his latest book, The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy, you essentially get a 700 page Simmons column, complete with lists of the 96 greatest players of all time, the ten best teams in history and of course, around 1,500 words on how Kobe Bryant compares to Teen Wolf.

After reading the book in its entirety, I’m convinced of one thing: Nobody knows more about the history of basketball than Bill Simmons. At times, it reads as though he’s trying to prove that to you, particularly when he writes about the sport prior to 1975. He was born in ‘69, so in those parts, he relies heavily on the hundreds of books he read to fill in what he didn’t witness firsthand.

From there, it’s vintage Simmons. For a guy who calls the year he stopped writing and smoked way too much weed the best decision he ever made, the man has a remarkable memory. He tells the laugh out loud story of how his developing love for basketball made him wish he was black (haven’t we all?). And he comes off as guy who recognizes how privileged he was to grow up in a time where he and his father could afford season tickets to some of the greatest Boston Celtics teams in history. It’s actually quite endearing.

For those who read him regularly, the book meets all expectations. He even addresses some of his longstanding beefs with certain players or coaches. Early on, he describes how Isiah Thomas, a man he crucified over the years in his column, taught him the secret of basketball. The secret is a theme throughout the book; players and teams who understood the secret were rewarded. Those who couldn’t were guys like Vince Carter, who Simmons is harder on than just about anyone who ever played, with the exception of Kareem Abdul Jabar.

While some sports writers use lists as a lazy way of mailing in a column or giving length to a book, Simmons’ top 96 players list is the central premise and unquestionably, the best part of The Book of Basketball. Spanning 338 pages, from Tom Chambers at 96 to Michael Jordan at 1, he recreates the basketball Hall of Fame the way it should be, devising a pyramid that separates the players by level of greatness.

All of it, of course, is his opinion. But he backs so much up with statistics, knowledge and his passion to persuade everyone to think exactly the way he thinks, that you have to question yourself before you start calling Simmons a homer who let all that pot get to his head. Full disclosure: The minute I received the book, I skipped to see where he listed my favorite player of all time, Allen Iverson. He has him about 30 spots higher than I expected.

From there I was sold.

And chances are, you will be too. The book isn’t without its flaws. It occasionally reads like a 700 page book might and the pop culture references will surely be out-of-date by the time Simmons’ children are old enough to read it. But he also delivers the most entertaining history of an entire sport you’ll ever read. Baseball is a sport too stuffy, too set in its ways, to have a book written like this. Football is too much team, not enough individuals.

Basketball is just right. And Simmons was the perfect author to capture it all.


Politics: Providence Mayoral Debate Review

Originally Appeared at Rhode Island's Future on 7/15/2010

Give perennial loser Christopher Young credit for one thing: The man provides fireworks superior to anything we saw over Fourth of July weekend. On a night where the candidates for Mayor of Providence delivered civil, prepared remarks with zero follow-up from the moderators, Young’s screaming diatribes made the Providence Mayoral Forum at Regency Plaza well worth the price of admission. (Full disclosure: It was free.)

For the most part, each candidate focused on jobs, city services and education. It’s only July, but it’s already clear that Steven Costantino is your guy if you want the city to be more fiscally responsible; John Lombardi is the pick if you want the Mayor to focus on trash pickup and graffiti cleanup; Angel Taveras will concentrate on education; and Young is the right choice for the conspiracy theory, tinfoil-helmet wearing crowd.

A couple notes:

Make no mistake about it. This was no debate. It was a trial run. The candidates were given mostly-generic questions ahead of time and managed to refine their mostly-generic answers down to the second of the time allotted to them. For that reason alone, I say the winners of the night were each candidate’s communications teams.

The line of the night came from a young, African-American John Lombardi supporter who I overheard while I was leaving the event. He pointed out that every candidate seems to want to one-up each other when it comes to how hard they had it when they were young. He’s right. I call this the Tupac-story (I’m from the gutter and I’m still here). Angel Taveras grew up in a single-parent household. Lombardi was an orphan. Young was an orphan. And once, Steven Costantino had to eat Ragu for dinner.

From the look of things, there weren’t many undecided voters in the room. I happen to be one of them. Most people were wearing stickers in support of one (or more) of the candidates and so it was difficult to get a feel for how people thought the forum actually went. Even Young had a fan or two. On to grading the realistic candidates…

Steven Costantino
Overall Grade: B+

Costantino comes off as a little bit more polished than the others with his business-first message and I think it resonates with voters. He said the city is facing a $50 million deficit and he’s the best candidate because he has proved that he is willing to make the tough decisions. He said the city will need to look into cutting department budgets across the board and that he will develop a rainy day fund. He was also the only candidate to mention regionalization: “Rhode Island is a 30 X 40 state that acts like it is Texas. It’s about time we look into consolidating services with other cities.”

He said that one of the city’s major challenges is attracting new businesses. “There isn’t a business out there that wants to invest with a city that can’t control it finances. “ He also pointed out that vacant spaces aren’t ready for new businesses to move in. He said we need to make those vacancies into smart spaces so new businesses actually want to fill the void.

On education, he said Superintendent Tom Brady is doing a great job, but the city is dealing with an infrastructure based on an enrollment that was much higher years ago. He emphasized again that he was willing to make the difficult choices and that it might mean closing some schools. He strongly defended the education funding formula because it was predictable and ensures that “every child in Providence will have a chance, at least the start.”

John Lombardi
Overall Grade: C

John Lombardi sounds tired. This wasn’t the first time I noticed this with him. It’s only July and it appears like he’s already exhausted from the campaign. At two different points, he was caught in a daze when it was his turn to answer a question. It’s too bad because he seems like the most likeable of the three serious candidates, but if he already appears down and out, how will he look in September?

He continued to harp on the delivery of city services and said the city has actually become a problem for businesses. He said businesses are closing because they can’t use their sidewalk or have delivery trucks park in front because they will be ticketed. He also complained about the graffiti problem and people defecating in the streets and pledged that the laws already in place will be enforced if he is elected Mayor.

When asked about the importance of downcity, he said “So goes downtown, so goes Providence, so goes the state of Rhode Island.” He said the city needs to figure out what to do with the Arcade and that the problem with the nightclubs is that the city needs to do a better job handling the traffic problems created when they close.

On education, Lombardi said “we need to hold teachers accountable, but we really need to hold parents accountable.” He said Providence can’t be one size fits all because of its diversity, but as one person pointed out to me, he makes it sound like families are to blame for failing children and even if that were true, it doesn’t actually help anyone. It’s just as bad as Bill Lynch accusing Providence children of being lost during the Congressional debate.

Angel Taveras
Overall Grade: B

Angel Taveras gets better every time I listen to him. He came off as awkward and unprepared early on, but has worked his way to sounding more confident and now delivers a clear, concise vision for the city. I have two pet peeves. 1) The Head Start to Harvard line now generates more eye rolls than smiles. 2) He has to stop telling people that he sees a bunch of little Angels in our children. Old, white Italian families do not want to hear that.

Taveras is best when he’s talking about education. It’s clearly the issue he cares most about and not surprisingly, he’s the only one with an actual plan on how to fix it. He wants to implement a Children’s Zone similar to the one Geoffrey Canada created in Harlem and “no one is going to tell me Providence can’t do it.” He believes in a wrap-around model for school services and said it starts with early childhood education and that we need to look into alternate pathways for students.

When it comes to jobs, he pointed out that while the city’s unemployment rate hovers around 15 percent, some neighborhoods are suffering from 25 percent unemployment. Similar to what Anthony Gemma said on Tuesday night, Taveras feels workforce development is a key issue. He said that while others are focusing on new businesses, he feels Providence needs to do a better a job retaining the current ones and helping them create more jobs.

Taveras mentioned that recovering from the current fiscal situation will take a “shared sacrifice” and that the city can’t just tax its way out. He promised to sit down with every union, the colleges and universities and every department to see what can be done about cutting the budget deficit.


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