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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

Dr. Doolitlle sang to us that, “The world is full of beautiful things; butterfly wings, fairy tale kings. And each new day undoubtedly brings still more beautiful things.” That was then, my good Doctor; that is not now. The world today is not filled with beautiful things. It’s filled with the ugliness of street protests; of wars directed at terrorists, but which kill mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, babies not yet a year old. It’s filled with airplanes being shot down by people who call themselves patriots but who are no more than rebel rabble, encouraged by a 19th Century soulless lunatic who fancies himself a god and who won’t be happy until he controls the world.

The United States is no more immune to this ugliness than any other country. Shootings in schools, hospitals, on the street, and in churches dominate our headlines. “We take you now to so-and-so who is kneeling by the dying body of a citizen we have identified as John Jones.” Forget the fact that no one as yet has notified the family…

“…Tell me, Mr. Jones, how does it feel to be dying of gunshot wounds? What’s that, I can’t quite hear you? Would you please speak up for our viewers? Oops too late. Well, back to you in the studio.”

It’s damn near that bad. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones, who happens to be watching the evening news, dies of a heart attack after seeing her husband killed on live television…but the news must go on.

What is wrong with our world? Children from Latin American countries coming streaming across the border into the United States because if they stay in their own countries they will be killed. That’s not right; it’s just not right. What makes these unaccompanied kids believe that they will not be sent back, that they might not be killed or worse here. America is filled with unscrupulous people who would love to get their hands on these kids for reasons so nefarious I won’t give anyone ideas.

Yes, the world used to be a beautiful place…but wait a minute; it wasn’t that the world was so beautiful; it was that we lived in ignorant bliss. It wasn’t beautiful during the Revolutionary or Civil War, World Wars I and II. It wasn’t so beautiful during the Crash of ’29. It wasn’t particularly pleasant during the period we look back on and call the Cold War, nor Korea, nor Vietnam. The world became less beautiful as we became more technologically proficient. Today, we can watch the missiles fly and the bombs explode. We can look at plane wreckage and pick out a leg here or an almost whole body there. Why? Because we can do it. Whether or not we should be doing it is not up for debate. And the majority of the American public laps this shit up like a thirsty dog at a water bowl.

The news must be reported. I have no quarrel with that. I watch the news and yes, I stay glued to the set when tragedy is the big story. Time was I wouldn’t watch news after six in the evening. Now I don’t watch it after seven. CBS has taken to ending their national news each evening with a “feel good” story, and I like that. The only problem is that the rest of the newscast is generally filled with blood, guts, and gore.

I also find that the news is filled with exaggeration and outright lies. Let me give you an example: This morning, a reporter attempted to speak with one of the parties in a supermarket feud that is happening in Massachusetts. The man absolutely refused to answer any of the reporter’s questions. He was polite and stated merely that he had to go to work and get ready for a board meeting. That was it. There was no interview per se. This afternoon, this same station led with, “Watch Byron Barnett’s exclusive interview with so-and-so.” That, my friends, is a bold faced lie. This morning, the station estimated the size of the crowd which was demonstrating as a part of this feud outside one of the markets. The talking head was trying to tell me that there were five to ten thousand people. Sorry, idiot, you’re speaking to someone who knows how to estimate crowds and there were less than a thousand people. This afternoon, when the camera went back, there might have been 2,500 but certainly no more. Stop; stop lying to me! Stop exaggerating.

Another line that is popular with those who read the news today – please don’t call them reporters – is “…a story you will see only on one station,” or “…a story you will see only on this station.” Fear not because other stations will have the same story; it will just be in a different format or from a different point of view.

Am I blaming technology for changing our world from a beautiful place to one of ugliness? No, we’ve done a fine enough job of doing that on our own. It’s just that we find out about tragedy and death and destruction as soon as it happens today. It’s almost as though ugly is the new beautiful. Blood and gore are the new June and Ward Cleaver, and the Beaver is the shooter…or is that Eddie Haskell?

Don’t worry, Dr. Doolittle; there are still many of us who believe that “The world abounds with many delights, magical sights, fanciful flights…and those who dream on beautiful nights…dream of beautiful things; beautiful people like you. Good is still the overwhelming force in our world. I hope and pray that it will remain that way forever.

 

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Recognizing fully that there are approximately seven billion people on earth who are more intelligent than I, far be it for me to suggest or dictate possible foreign policy decisions to those in my own nation who are in a temporary, at best, position to do so. It seems somewhat as ridiculous as attempting to tell General Motors how to make an ignition switch for their vehicles or how to tell American tourists which mountains to climb in the Middle East. In other words, speak well of what you know well and speak not of which you know nothing.

That having been said, I would propose that Congress begin impeachment proceedings against President Obama if he sends one soldier, sailor, marine, airman or woman, coast guardsman or woman, or even a member of the Boy/Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, or member of the 4-H into harm’s way in the Middle East before he clearly, articulately, and demonstrably proves well beyond the shadow of anyone’s doubt that we have national interests at stake in that region other than the protection of our oil interests or the interests of the so-called one percent. Please, do not tell me in the vaguest of terms that terrorists will use bases in the Middle East to plan and carry out attacks on our nation. I will not believe you. If you believe that to be the case, strengthen the protection of our borders at home; increase the use of HUMINT and other intelligence-gathering resources abroad, and devote greater resources to the same type of attacks that the terrorists carry out, i.e., sneak attacks on their targets before they can carry out their attacks on our targets.

It’s an entirely new era of warfare into which we have entered and America is lagging well behind the curve in terms of how it should be fought. Remember the days of the Napoleonic wars when great armies would face each other on the battlefield and exchange fire? Then, when the soldiers of King George III attempted to engage the “American Rabble” [note the capital ‘R’ please}, they were rudely shocked by the guerilla tactics of the Patriots. Those tactics plus planned operations such as D-Day, Operations Overlord, King Too, Charger, Casanova became the way to fight. What about civilians? Well, insofar as possible, America and its allies attempted to respect and reduce civilian casualties with noted exceptions. Today things are different. The people who are America’s enemies today prefer to use civilians because they are aware of America’s horror at seeing non-combatants used, abused, and slaughtered. Our enemies don’t care who they kill as long as they, the dead, don’t believe the way they, the terrorists, happen to believe on that particular day. Politely, we used to call it tribal warfare; it is not. ISIS or whatever the hell they are calling themselves are nothing more than a gang; no better than the Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Michigan Militia, or the Wah Ching. They proclaim to be religious jihadists, but that, I believe, is merely an excuse to kill others unlike themselves.

In 1961, President Kennedy stated that we were sending “advisors” to someplace called Vietnam. It wasn’t a popular decision, but we trusted Jack the war hero to do what was right. The advisors were followed by more advisors and then marines and soldiers who weren’t “advisors,” but who were right in the thick of things. The guys who fought and died in that war were patriots; make no mistake about that. The reason they were asked to fight, I regret to say, were never clearly spelled out. As a consequence, many people back in the states didn’t understand and blamed those who fought and died as much as they blamed future administrations. I didn’t like him and didn’t vote for him, but thanks be to God for Richard Nixon’s intelligence in ending that war that claimed over 58,000 American lives.

Now, this current President – for whom I voted twice – who has nothing to lose because he can’t run again is talking about sending 275-300 “advisors” and Special Forces to “train” Iraqi forces. When do the “advisors” and “trainers” become companies, regiments, battalions, and armies who shed blood? When might we reach the point of saying, “We need more young men and women so by executive order, we’re reinstating selective service?” That is, perhaps extreme, but maybe extreme is what is required to wake up the American people to the fact that our people are dying and the only thing we’re told is “…because it’s in our national interest.” Dammit, give me specifics, not glittering generalities, because right now, I’m thinking that your national interests are not my national interests nor are they in the national interests of those mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters who have gold star flags hanging in their front windows.

If Iraq divides into three states, we all know what will happen. The most war-like state will soon absorb the other two. They will then, in all likelihood absorb Syria and move on Iran. The United Nations will condemn them and they won’t give a damn. The Israelis will fight them and eventually use a nuclear weapon to defeat them, or perhaps by that time, the war-like state will have nuclear weapons and the world’s Armageddon will have come about. Only at that point will some sage declare, “It’s Obama’s fault for not sending in “advisors” and “trainers,” and once more, I will have been proven wrong…but it won’t really matter to me; I’ll be dead.

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A gentleman with whom I am acquainted – well, I assume he’s a gentleman; never know these days – teaches philosophy at a local private school. For a number of years he was the headmaster of said school, but then he decided to get a real job – as I have been told on too many occasions to count by teaching faculty from here to hell and gone – and became an “educator.” Since I went neither through a liberal arts curriculum nor did I attend a Jesuit institution…the only two collegiate programs where philosophy seems to be a mandatory requirement…I was never exposed to philosophical thought. After several conversations with said gentleman, I began to realize just how sadly lacking my education has been. Were this to happen today, I could probably turn around and sue my undergraduate institution for not providing a compendious educational program, but to attempt this after having been absent the classroom for more – well more – than half a century, I would doubtless be throwing good money after bad. That is not philosophical thought; just common sense.

All of the above having been said, I am going back to school! “So what?” you ask, to which I respond, “When you stop learning, formally or informally, you’re dead and just too ignorant to lie down.” It’s never too late to learn. There are several reasons I believe this, the first of which is that I would like to be able to discuss philosophy on a more intellectual level with my acquaintance. Another reason is that, as was said earlier, without philosophy, my education is lacking and incomplete. I plan to take the same approach with journalism at some point, sadly having been denied the opportunity to pursue any formal training in that area. There may well be other subjects available through the Internet, but right now I’m settling on those two. A third reason for doing this is that I find of late, television programming is (a) idiotic; (b) idiotic; (c) idiotic; or (d) all of the above. It is with a certain degree of guilt that I must also admit that my reading list has begun to lapse into the mystery/murder/thriller genre, and it would be nice to get away from that for a while.

I will not pontificate on what I have learned to date. To do so would be to prove the adage, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln appears to have a quote for every occasion; that is another of his great ones. Let me just say that now that school has adjourned for the summer, I will have a few months to study philosophy and perhaps be able to carry on a reasonably less pompous conversation with my acquaintance when he returns to school and to the gym next year. Oh, that’s right, I didn’t tell you; we met at a gym. You meet the most interesting people in some of the strangest of places. Think about it…talking philosophy in a gym; discussing labor law…in a gym; conversing about politics without coming to blows…in a gym; I have even managed to get my utility company to bill me electronically…by speaking to someone at the gym,  thus proving that nearly all things are possible given the proper environment.

One of the things that I find truly amazing about the Internet is the amount of course work in various field that I can study without having to enroll or pay money, that last being perhaps the primary reason I do not hold a terminal degree from Grand Canyon, Southern New Hampshire, or one of the many online programs that are available; well, that and the fact that I’m on a fixed income. However, I’m not certain I wish to take online courses that are going to tax me beyond my limited abilities. To gain the basics of understanding of a subject with which I have no familiarity may well be as far as I wish to go, but go I will because, in this case anyway, I know someone who is an authority on the subject…and I’m a brain picker!

Think about this for a moment: You have died and on your first whatever in Heaven; I will assume you have gone to Heaven and not any of those other places, but on your first night, you are given the opportunity to dine with five other people of your choosing…and…there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion following dinner. Yes, I know, if you’re dead you probably won’t eat, yadda, yadda, yadda…give me a break, will you please? Who would you choose? Remember Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven? This isn’t like that. You pick five people; they may be people you have admired because of their contributions to the world…Mohandas Gandhi, Budda, or Confucius. It might be you’ve admired great warriors like Genghis Khan, Hannibal, or Alexander. I have to tell you that I would be very hard pressed to pick just five people with whom I’d like to exchange ideas. Recently, I watched – yes, back to television again, but this was Netflix or Amazon or one of those – a piece on Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Their fight for the rights of women might have put one of them at my table, but then I watched a piece on Jefferson and…well, you know what follows. Our world has been filled with those who could rightfully demand a place at your table or mine. What about our own ancestors; would they be a choice? If you have an interest in philosophy, would you have Epicurus, Aristotle, John Locke, or Plato at your table?

I can [and will…as always] offer a bit of advice on how to choose your dinner companions. Years ago, I taught a course in creative problem solving. The first step in what was known as the problem-solving wheel, was to identify all of the “messes” that required your attention. From that, your job was to identify the problem that first required your attention; which of the messes had to be cleaned up first before you could move on. In selecting that problem as the most important, I asked students and teams of students to answer one question when they felt they had identified the problem that they would attack. The question was, “Why?” If you can answer the question, why, five times in a row and receive a satisfactory answer each time, chances are you have the correct problem to attack. Perhaps that’s the question you should ask about your dinner partners. Why do you want Abraham Lincoln, for example? After you have given your complete answer, ask the question again and again and again, and one more time. If he stands the Five Why question, then he probably belongs at your table.

I leave you with this advice…use the Internet wisely; find out who attends your gym; and stay tuned for more about my foray into philosophy.

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The nation is more than 5,000 years old. It’s been fought over, pissed on, divided and subdivided. It’s been invaded by more conquerors than any of us can begin to imagine. And America, in its naïveté thought that they we, a nation formed by immigrants from all over the world, with our less than 400 years of experience and only one civil war thought we could bring a lasting democratic form of government to Iraq? What the hell kind of arrogance is that? Better yet, what kinds of stupidity is that?

America is a developed, highly technological, and somewhat futuristic nation. In parts of Iraq, they still stone people to death or cut off a limb. In its worst gangster days, Americans killed members of other gangs. In Iraq, if there is a feud, one kills not only the offending party but the entire family…mother, father, sisters, brothers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nephews, and nieces. Why…Because they want no one left to ever come after members of their family. I don’t know about you, but that to me is just a wee bit obsessive. In America, we can’t remember who our BFF was a year ago. In Iraq, they remember offending remarks or actions that go back thousands of years.

When we went to war to remove the dictator Saddam Hussein, did we honestly believe that we were doing them a favor? If we did, it was even greater naiveté plus stupidity on our part. The pot of humanity is always at the boil in the Middle East. Are we so ignorant that we haven’t seen that during our brief history? Have our ambassadors and various secretaries of state had their collective heads buried so far in the sands of the Middle East that they haven’t understood the mentality that pervades the region? Forget the few civilized members of the population in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, for while the few are trying to modernize their countries, the many are at war with both the few and with other ‘tribes.’ That’s what they are…tribes. Only in this case, the tribes have access to modern weapons and are not afraid to use them. They are not even afraid to strap explosives to their bodies and kill themselves if it means they can gain an advantage over another tribe or another invader, an infidel if you will.

Being religious is one thing; being a radical religionist is something quite different. The people to whom America and its developed country allies are trying to bring peace and harmony are completely unaware of the meaning of either of those words. When we pull our troops out of Afghanistan, do we believe that radical Muslims won’t attack Kabul, Kandahar, Heart, or Gardez? How stupid can the leadership of America be?

“It is in our national interest to remain in Afghanistan,” says President Obama. “We must invade Iraq because they have weapons of mass destruction that could be used against us,” said President Bush. Both statements were bullshit; pure unadulterated, straight from the butt bullshit! I find it impossible to agree with Fox military analyst, Retired General Dr. Robert Scales, when he insists that we must stay in the area to prevent chaos and to keep an eye on Iran. Why, why must we do this? We have satellites; we should be growing our HUMINT; we should not be sacrificing the lives of young American men and woman simply to support corrupt administrations that we put in place and that are attempting to bleed American dollars from a budget that could be far better spent on home projects.

If we stay in the Middle East for any reason, any reason at all, we are making a mistake. There are enough people in the countries I’ve named who hate America, Americans, and everything for which we stand that the jihadists will never quit. Hell, they’ll never quit anyway. All we have done is to provide them with the weapons they can use to carry on their wars…and we gave ‘em the good stuff, too!

While it is difficult for most civilized people to believe that anyone would choose to live under a code such as that proposed by Shariah Law, particularly females, we should not forget that it wasn’t until 1839 that women in America were allowed to hold property; that their rights were subsumed to their husbands before that time. Today, we talk of equal rights for women in this country when we all know that equal doesn’t mean equal at all. Therefore, if the radical Muslims wish to fight and create a state where the laws of Mesopotamia and Methuselah once reigned supreme, fine, let them have it. Better that they should kill one another and wipe out their entire race of people than to have them continually pissed at American invaders or corrupt government in their own lands.

Am I saying that America should just pull all of their troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan? Sure; why not; I don’t see how things could get any worse. Children won’t get educated in the area; women will be treated like crap; men will get pissed at their neighbor for stealing some goat’s milk and they’ll feud over that until one family or the other is eliminated; there will be chaos that Ayatollah’s won’t be able to control. The nations will be composed of the haves and have not’s – oh, gee, that sounds like today’s America – and the anger will eventually be turned back toward the United States. It’s at that point that we unleash our technological fury in such a manner that not one city, town, village, or person remains alive. Will that start WWIII? I rather doubt it because enough cooler heads will have seen the idiocy of the Iraqi and Afghani immorality and agree that strong action was demanded. “What about the United Nations,” someone will doubtless ask. Certainly the UN has done some wonderful things to help nations that have evidenced a desire to be helped, but there comes a point when nations that demonstrate their unwillingness to follow a peaceful path to development must either be abandoned or destroyed. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have proven so inept in putting honest governments in place; have demonstrated a total inability to control their own people; have sucked so much blood from the young men and women of other UN nations that it’s time the UN cast them aside and let them destroy themselves as part of a natural order.

President Obama, please, please, please, get those soldiers, marines, airmen and women, as well as naval personnel out of the area and brought back home. We don’t need any more gold stars in windows. Let’s concentrate on what needs to be done in America for Americans. You have a year and a half left; let this be your legacy…you brought home the troops.

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Tell me, do you know anyone, anyone at all who isn’t fascinated by cemeteries? From Stephen King to Doris Kearns Goodwin and everyone in between, nearly all of us have this blind attraction to these death beds. If we happen to be driving somewhere in the boondocks of New England, and I spot a small – ten to fifteen headstones – I just might stop…which is a bitch if you’re on a two-lane country lane and there’s hardly any room to pull over. These are the cemeteries that have no entrance for automobiles. They are wonderful for the history they give us and for the questions they raise within us.

“What in the hell brought this on?” you could be asking right about now. I’m glad you did because it leads right into my little story. You see, my Mom died some time ago. My sister came out from California for the services and then flew back with her husband. My younger brother had been handling our mother’s affairs over the past few years and indicated that he would continue to do so. Unfortunately, he developed some personal problems, became ill, and died…another cigarette-related passing. Anyway, time went on, and I didn’t give much thought to my parents or for that matter, my brother’s passing. Life moved blissfully and ignorantly along.

Last week, Juli and I were having lunch at a local restaurant. “Would you take a ride with me?” I asked.

“Since you have the car, do I have much choice?” she  queried.

“No, no, not like that.” I said. “I just got this weird feeling that I should visit my parents’ graves because I’m betting that no one had my mother’s date of death ever put on the stone.” I’m sort of weird in this way. Something will strike me and it’s like a dog with a bone; I just can’t let go of it, and this was a bone that was really stuck in my teeth.

“Do you even know where your folks are buried?” I was asked.

I had attended the funeral but it was a number of years ago. The only thing I could remember was the name of the cemetery. It was Mount Wollaston in Quincy…and by the way, it’s pronounced Quin-zee, not Quin-cee like Jack Klugman’s old medical examiner role on television. Beyond knowing the name of the cemetery, I hadn’t a clue as to where.

The people at the cemetery were tremendously helpful. We were told the section and row and even given a map of the cemetery…which is full…and huge. Every lot, not plot, but lot contains the remains of some citizen or other. It was founded in 1855 and has been laying people to rest since that date. It probably has several miles of paved roads that runners, walkers, and cyclists enjoy daily…the cemetery is massive.

We found the grave without a problem, despite the fact there seemed to be “Bishop” headstones everywhere. More about that later, but sure as shootin’ Mom’s date of death was not on the stone. I called the cemetery office and asked how I could have the date carved in the stone. I was told what to do, who to contact, and we are now in the business of having everything done.

The lady who met with me about the carving – and this is where this story takes a twist – was from Monti Granite in South Quincy. It’s probably the oldest granite company in the city as well as one of the oldest in the country. Linda Monti, 94, is turning the reins of day-to-day operation over to her son…soon. At 94, Linda is as sharp as a tack. I had done business with her 20 years ago and she had me in stitches when she talked of my paternal grandfather’s monument business that had been located in the same area.

Perhaps I should have realized when I first saw the headstone that my Dad’s father wouldn’t go for anything less than the best. After all, he was in the monument business. The stone is called gold pink or golden pink westerly, meaning it came from a quarry in Westerly, Rhode Island and is a cross between gold and pink in color. It stands close to six feet high and is carved with both a Masonic seal and leaves that extend outward from the centered seal to each side. I’ve been told that the intricacy of that carving can only be done on granite as fine-grained as westerly. It may be that you’ve never taken the time to look at headstones in cemeteries; although I was never knowingly part of the business, perhaps something is ingrained in my DNA that makes me look carefully at them.

I may coin a word here by saying that we “cemeterians” are fascinated by both the people buried in them and the headstones that mark their final resting place. For instance, buried in Wollaston is old-time actor, song and dance man, band Broadway star, Billy de Wolfe. I haven’t looked for his grave yet, but I wonder if it says de Wolfe or perhaps Jones, for that was his given name. Mum used to talk about him saving a seat for her at a theater in Quincy. He was an usher or began his career as such and every Saturday morning, mother would go to the movies, to the seat saved for her by Billy Jones. The manager of the theater, George de Wolfe, offered Billy his name for theatrical purposes and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, next time you’re looking for something to do as well as getting some exercise, park the car inside the entrance and go for a walk in a cemetery. Should you choose where the headstones are made of slate – the really, really old ones, you might want to bring paper and pen. Some of the sayings below the name of the deceased are worth writing down. Wherever you go, remember that cemeteries may provide a final resting place for some, they can provide great entertainment for those of us who still smell the flowers ‘from above.’

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How do you view life?

No, no, no, no; that is not acceptable. You can’t just read the sentence and move on. Take a minute and answer that question as if your life depended on it. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s a simple matter of asking yourself, “How do I look at life; how do I see it; if it resembled something, what would it be?

[Picture me sitting here…waiting for you…you sure? Okay, we’ll move on}

There was a time when I pictured life as a bell curve. Life began and climbed slowly up a straight line to its peak; it rested there momentarily and then went slowly downward to the end of the curve which we could call death. Perhaps retirement was the peak and, because it was slightly rounded, those would be the years when retirement was enjoyable and the body was still physically capable of doing all of the things it could as it climbed the peak. In retirement, there merely wasn’t as much time to enjoy those same things, or it took longer, or something else interfered.

I don’t view life that way anymore. It’s not a bell curve, a single-dimensional existence. No, I see life now as more of a mountain, a craggy and jagged mountain. One might be able to climb it; perhaps not. It may appear just too formidable and so we give up, go nowhere, die at its base, both literally and figuratively. It may be reasonably difficult but have trails that are clearly marked and lead you to the top without much of a challenge at all. It might be a demon mountain; one that has been climbed before but not without serious challenges and pitfalls, tricky crevasses and dead end trails that cause doubt in one’s mind and perhaps stops progress altogether. Climbing the mountain, of course, is another way of describing the years during which we grow and the paths we pursue to become adults. It’s about the choices we make; some will be good; others perhaps not so wise.

At the top of our mountain, there is a mesa. That mesa is a metaphor for the retirement years. Therefore, the size of the mesa can only be determined by you. Do not, however, delude yourself into believing that the mesa is perfectly flat or that it holds no dangers. These are the ‘wary’ years. Have we so abused our minds and bodies that retirement is sure to be of short duration? Will there be thinly disguised soil or trails that might drop you into that bottomless pit of death before you even have a chance to head down the other side of the mountain…a stroke, heart attack, terminal illness. Then, of course, there is the clearly marked trail to the bottom of the mountain…the end of the trail, if you will.

When I look at life as this mountain, I think of it as the Matterhorn on the border of Switzerland and Italy. It’s well over fourteen thousand feet in height, but it relates will to my view of life. It is dangerous; it is filled with pitfalls; it has trails; it can be climbed; there is space at the top for resting, although I would hardly call it a ‘mesa’ the way we think of them in old cowboy movies. Climbing the Matterhorn of life is also dangerous, with pitfalls, some of which can shorten one’s life and end one’s search for the peace or pleasure of standing at the summit, seeing the rest of the world, and taking a moment to rest on the mesa. Few of us follow the easy trail. How we climb depends on many things. Are we the risk-takers who will pursue the more dangerous trail? Do we change to an easier or more difficult trail as we move up the mountain? Are we the entrepreneur who pursues the most difficult trail of all, in danger of falling to our literal or figurative death with each step?

As we climb our own personal Matterhorn, we become molded by the trail or trails we follow. Will we get injured along the climb? You’re damned right we will. Climbing the mountain of life is no easy task. We will suffer cuts and bruises, both to our mind and body. We may reach the point where we say, “I can’t climb anymore.” But if we stop, what awaits us? We will shrivel up and die…so we climb. There will be moments of great joy in our pursuit of the mesa. We will reach a stopping point where we will camp. This might be equated with a momentous achievement, e.g., graduating from college; finding the love of your life and marrying; the joy of a first child. Remember, though, that this is merely a stop along the way. The crest or summit is still a ways off. So we climb; we fall; someone helps us up; another tries to push us back down…we climb.

Eventually – if all goes well and we do not plummet into one of those bottomless pits or get trapped in a cave we stopped to explore – eventually we will reach the summit. It may be the Promised Land that was exactly that for which we were wishing. It may be a place of extravagant and grandiose beauty for as far as the eye can see and in every direction. It may also be a place of disappointment. Perhaps you reach it alone after having climbed most of the way with partners you loved but who perished along the way. Now you have no one with whom to share the beauty of the summit; therefore, it holds no grandiosity for you.

Here, I will make some very unwarranted assumptions. I’m going to assume that despite the cuts, and bruises, the broken dreams of an easy climb, the potential loss of a loved one or more than just one, you have achieved the summit with all intact. You have achieved the pinnacle, ergo, you’ve lived to a happy retirement. Along with the innocence of childhood, these might even be referred to as “the wonder years.” You’ve worked your butt off to get here; you may have even become chairman of the board, or chairman of the bored; it matters not. These are your years. How many will depend on so many factors of which I’m not aware that I won’t even use a number.

There will come a time when the wonder wears away and you begin your trek down the other side of the mountain. Who can say how long the trip will be. The only saving grace is, perhaps, that it’s downhill all the way. A fissure may open up almost immediately and you’ll be gone in an instant. A cancer may find you halfway down and your trip to the base of the Matterhorn will be accelerated. Perhaps, however, as is the case with so many cancers these days, you may have only a brief interruption before you lace up the hiking boots, pick up the ice hammer, and continue on your way. The manner of decent matters little. It is a trail that we will all take at some point. We can take it begrudgingly or we can look forward to what lies ahead in the valley where we can see the lovely cottages and the smoke drifting toward us from the fireplaces.

When does the trail end? We have no idea. All that we can say is that we have climbed the mountain. The Matterhorn which is our life has been conquered, and despite some of the shortcuts we tried to take and were rejected; despite the bumps, bruises and lost trails, despite the trails taken by others who did or didn’t reach the summit, we are all successful because we have lived. I have watched a nine-year old with a tumor, the size of a basketball, go silently to her grave. I have watched a magical and magnificent woman of 79 shrivel and die. I have seen car crashes, bloody and gory, that have claimed the lives of teenagers who stopped thinking of the dangers of their mountain for just a minute too long. So where does our trail end? I’m not certain I really want to know. I do know that I’ve stood on the summit; I’ve explored the mesa; and now I’ve started down the trail. Will I find one of those thinly-covered crevasses and plunge through to an early end. Will I stumble over a ‘cancer-bush’ and descend more and more rapidly toward the end of the trail without hope…or perhaps win the battle and rise again to walk on?

If our life is our mountain, it is as majestic as only a mountain can be. Live your life; get to the summit. Take your time on the way down…and watch your step!

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According to the American Correctional Association,1 “Prisons have four major purposes. These purposes are retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. Retribution means punishment for crimes against society. Depriving criminals of their freedom is a way of making them pay a debt to society for their crimes. Incapacitation refers to the removal of criminals from society so that they can no longer harm innocent people. Deterrence means the prevention of future crime. It is hoped that prisons provide warnings to people thinking about committing crimes, and that the possibility of going to prison will discourage people from breaking the law. Rehabilitation refers to activities designed to change criminals into law abiding citizens, and may include providing educational courses in prison, teaching job skills and offering counseling with a psychologist or social worker. The four major purposes of prisons have not been stressed equally through the years. As a result, prisons differ in the makeup of their staffs, the design of their buildings and their operations.”

That sounds pretty reasonable to me. If someone commits a crime that is punishable by time in prison, that is where that someone belongs should be sent. It doesn’t really matter what gender that someone may be; it shouldn’t really matter what race or creed that someone is {wink, wink}. Social status should not be a consideration regarding whether or not that someone is put into the prison system. Put in the more popular vernacular, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

Are we on the same page so far?

Recently, there have been two reasonably high-profile cases that have made a joke of our crime and punishment laws in this country. The first was the case of a 16-year old Texas kid who, while driving drunk and on Valium, plowed his pick-up truck into another vehicle, killed four people and seriously injured several others. His alcohol level was three times the legal limit for the state of Texas, probably from the two cases of beer that he and two of his ‘buddies’ stole from a liquor store. His penalty is ten years probation. The judge maintained that it was not his fault; that his parents were to blame because they didn’t instill any values in their son. In other words, he was the spoiled little rich kid whose folks are so wealthy that rules don’t apply. In fact, the defense attorney indicated that the boy was so spoiled that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. There was so much controversy surrounding the initial sentencing that the judge refused reporters and cameramen inside her courtroom as she reaffirmed the sentence. One psychiatrist who testified for the defense coined the term “affluenza” in describing the boy. Had this kid been a minority or a young man from a middle class family, his ass wouldn’t have seen the light of day until he arrived at the Pearly Gates. In fact, the same judge, Jean Boyd, sentenced a 14-year old Black boy to 10 years in prison for killing another person with just one punch. What Judge Boyd is doing sitting as a county judge is beyond my understanding.

The second case concerns one of the heirs to the DuPont fortune. Robert H. Richards IV, unemployed and living off his trust fund, was convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter and assaulting his two-month old son. It appears that none of this would have become public had his ex-wife not filed charges accusing him of the crime. Richards was initially indicted on two counts of second degree child rape, felonies that carry a 10-year prison sentence for each count. In her decision, the judge said that Richards would benefit more from treatment and that he “will not fare well in prison.” Despite being six-four and 250-275 pounds, you can bet your butt that Richards would not have fared well in prison. There are few people more despised by prison inmates than child molesters, and to my mind, it’s highly doubtful that Richards would ever have left prison alive.

 

All of this points up a serious problem. Are the one-percent of the American population going to continue to commit crimes and use their wealth as an escape from the justice system? It seems to me that judges like Jean Boyd in Texas and Jan Jurdan in Delaware would do well to find another profession. At the very least, they should be forced to read the American Correctional Association purposes for prisons.

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For more than 125 years, the American Correctional Association has championed the cause of corrections and correctional effectiveness. Founded in 1870 as the National Prison Association, ACA is the oldest association developed specifically for practitioners in the correctional profession. During the first organizational meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, the assembly elected then-Ohio Governor and future President Rutherford B. Hayes as the first President of the Association. The Declaration of Principles developed at the first meeting in 1870 became the guidelines for corrections in the United States and Europe. At the ACA centennial meeting in 1970, a revised act of Principles, reflecting advances in theory and practice, was adopted by the Association. At the 1954 Congress of Correction in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the name of the American Prison Association was changed to the American Correctional Association, reflecting the expanding philosophy of corrections and its increasingly important role within the community and society as a whole.

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                             Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.                                                                                           Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s rather difficult to take issue with the longest serving first lady of the United States and, without question, the most politically active and decisive woman ever to be in the White House. However, the quote above is one with which I must disagree in that it is often the ideas of great minds that sets in motion events that, if not disruptive to the nation as a whole, can certainly prove disruptive to thousands of others within our nation itself.

Perhaps the most recent idea that had to have come from some reasonably great minds is the General Motors debacle over the problems with their automobiles.  For example, can you possibly believe the Rick Wagoner who chaired GM from 2000 – 2009 did not know about the problems with the 1.3 million cars that were built between 2003 and 2007? He was chairman and CEO and this was kept hidden from him? Puh-lease, give me a break? So, what happened after he had milked GM for $63.3 million during his tenure, excluding a $10 million retirement package, and was finally forced to resign by the White House? Another of GM’S ‘old boy network, Fritz Henderson took the reigns – well, at least for eight months he held onto them. The Board forced him out and put the Chairman, Ed Whitacre, in his place in a move that shocked the automotive industry…can you say, “Old boy network continues?” Oh, and by the by, still no action on faulty cars that have been rolling off the assembly line. Daniel Ackerson, another GM board member succeeded Whitacre with an eye to improving GM profits.

There’s a pattern forming here that should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense. The emphasis was in turning the company around without bothering to examine how this was being accomplished. Bottom line became more important than quality of product.

It is solely my opinion that the men of General Motors, finally realizing just how badly they had messed up, even while bringing the company out of bankruptcy, decided they needed a sacrificial lamb on whom they could lay all of the product problems that were plaguing the company. Welcome to the head of the class Mary Barra, Chief of Product Development, to which I say, “Just put your head right on this block My Queen, Dear Antoinette; it will only hurt the first time!”

It may be wrong of me to believe this, but it’s the way my mind works. I’m betting that all of these men from the old boy’s network intentionally through Mary Barra into the number one position solely so that she will take the heat for their errors. Guess what, boys, Mrs. Barra has more guts and more courage than any of you, because she will stand up and admit that GM really messed up between the years 2003 and 2012, and that her job is to make it right. She will also resolve that nothing like this will ever happen again on her watch…and it won’t.

Now that the secrets are no longer, perhaps it’s time that the White House stepped in once more and revoked the $10 million retirement package given to Rick Wagoner. Perhaps liens on his assets to the tune of that retirement compensation could be used to partially compensate the families who lost members due to the failure of those GM vehicles. New research is saying that it is no longer just 12 people who lost their lives and the number may climb to over 300. Perhaps liens should also be place on those who succeeded Wagoner up to time that Barra took over. Will all of this bring back the family members who lost their lives? Will this bring “closure” to the families? Lord but I hate that word, “closure.” There is no such thing because closure would mean having daughters, sons, mothers, and fathers back as living, breathing, laughing, and loving members of families, and that’s just not going to happen.

I’ve seen your videos Mrs. Barra. You’ve been kind to your predecessors, but as you have noted, you’re not just the first woman to head a major automotive giant; you’re a family person, a mother of four, and someone who knows what this loss really means. No one is asking you to micromanage, but everyone is asking that you become more involved than your predecessors about the day-to-day operations and engineering designs. I’m certain you have the ideas about which Mrs. Roosevelt has spoken. You bring to the table much broader experience than the boardroom boys. Let me put it another way: I think you’ve a hell of a lot smarter, tougher, and more empathetic to the consumer than your recent predecessors. Go get ‘em, Mary; give ’em hell!

 

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As if I didn’t have enough problems in my life, now the computer…or at least the AOL portion thereof, is telling me I may have a number of “senior health challenges.” I don’t know who the hell they thought to whom they were appealing in this ‘informative’ [note tongue firmly in cheek on that one] piece, but it most assuredly wasn’t those of us in the elder bracket. Hell, we already know the challenges. It wasn’t for those who are about to become elderly; they don’t want to hear about the problems they may be facing. And it sure as shootin’ wasn’t the younger audience who are totally unaware of the fact that they are not immortal, invincible, or inviolable and don’t want to hear otherwise. Fortunately, they did this before St. Patrick’s Day, so I could go out and enjoy my corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes with plenty of butter and those darlin’ little carrots!

They tell me that if I can make it to 65, I’m probably going to live another 19.2 years on average – who the hell came up with the .2 is beyond me, but you know these statisticians…they do remarkable things with figures these days [almost as good as the plastic surgeons]. I’m told that if I eat a healthy diet…there is so much controversy about what constitutes a healthy diet that I’m not certain anyone knows precisely what ‘healthy’ actually means anymore. On the one hand, someone says, “Don’t eat meat;” the next day a new study comes out that states, “Meat is a good source of vitamin B.” Then you hear, “Don’t drink alcohol;” the next week it’s, “Be sure to have one glass of red wine a day.” Next time you look, someone is telling you to eat more fish; then another research project tells you that fish is bad for you because of all of the mercury and something called a PCB, whatever the hell that is. I often wonder who exactly pays for these studies. Is it the united meat growers; the red wine distillers, the fishing lobby, or some idiot who cut open a striped bass and found a thermometer? I’m only partially kidding on this one, but what the heck is a healthy diet. Sometimes I feel like Popeye, the sailor man, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam…so I eats what I eats and that’s all I eats.” Obviously the last part is an add on, but it fits, so go with it!

I was delighted to learn that the number one condition affecting people 65 and older is arthritis. According to Dr. Marie Bernard, the deputy director of the National Institute on Aging, arthritis affects over 51 percent of the adults over 65. I would advise them to start looking at people over 35 if they really want to see arthritis in action, or just ask anyone who has ever played high school or college contact sports. Most will tell you what time the rain will arrive because of their arthritic joints. Arthritis is the least of my problems.

Number two on the least is certainly nothing new. It’s been the number one killer of adults over 65 years for as far back as I can remember. When I was a smoker, it was the disease the doctors said would probably kill me. I’m speaking, of course, about heart disease and it calls somewhere close to 600 thousand people each year in the United States. I’ve survived three heart attacks and have five stents in my heart. I’ve been lucky. It doesn’t mean that a heart attack won’t kill me, but it does mean that I exercise a great deal, get a good night’s rest, and try, despite the Popeye quote, to eat healthy meals.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the USA. You and I know of at least one cancer death either in our family, in the family of a close friend, someone at our workplace, or wherever, but it has touched everyone in America somewhere along the line. It killed my Dad, my grandparents, and finally, it killed my wife. It is a horrible, horrible disease. I volunteered for an organization that, in 35 years, has raised over 410 million dollars to fight this disease. This is only one organization; there are hundreds across the country, and we have not been able to find a cure. That doesn’t mean that some cancers haven’t been beaten; they have. The problem with cancer is that it seems to mutate, take on a new form and defeat the cures we keep finding. We can probably all say that we’ve known too many people with cancer. If we can add that we also know someone who has been cancer-free for over a decade, we should thank our lucky stars.

Older folks are highly susceptible to respiratory diseases. Smokers and ex-smokers face the real possibility of emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease…whoopee, I have both. These make me and people like me (a) former idiots if we’ve quit smoking; (b) idiots if we haven’t; and (c) more vulnerable to pneumonia, which is a major killer of senior citizens.

I intended to make this piece as light-hearted as possible, but it appears I’ve drifted into a more serious vein for which you have my apologies. However, over 5,000 adults over 65 die each day in our country, so there’s nothing really light-hearted about any piece dealing with us old farts. Whether it’s from Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, diabetes, the flu, falls, substance abuse, obesity, depression, oral health, or even poverty, we do face many challenges. What really irritates the daylights out of me is the lack of concern on the part of so many of our children. I hear about it from others when working out at the gym; I experience it on a regular basis with my own kids. The idea of the consanguinal family where family members care for one another seems to have become old fashioned and outmoded. I bear some of the guilt for that with my own family, but not in the manner in which I hear about it and experience it on a daily basis.

If there’s one single point to be made here, perhaps it’s to remember that everyone you love is serving a life sentence. As that sentence comes closer and closer to its eventual outcome, take the time to learn about the person. Take the time to care. Take the time to understand the challenges they face and that, one day, you too, will have to face. As I have aged, I have developed an insatiable desire to know more about my mother and father. Years ago, I loaned a small tape recorder to a young woman who was, as a high school project, doing an oral history with her 100-year old grandmother. When she returned the recorder she had only one request: “May I keep the tapes?” she asked. I don’t know whether or not she bought a recorder on which to play them, but she knew that she had captured her grandmother’s voice on tape and that meant a great deal to her. I still find handwritten notes that Joan left…recipes, notes in the checkbook; old pieces of paper with questions about the house. Her voice I can still conjure up in my head, sometimes, but I do wish that I had a recording of her voice. Think about that the next time you’re going to visit an elderly relative. Will you remember their voice when they’re gone?

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In the midst of a world that is confounded by international terrorism, attempted takeover of nations, barbarism, an out-of-control drug problem, disrespect and harassment of those who are different, white collar, blue collar and any-other-collar-you-wish-to-name, I find myself surprisingly happy. Perhaps because it’s Friday, but that doesn’t fit because I’m retired and every day could be Friday for me. Perhaps it’s because winter is slowly, very slowly, beginning to give way to spring. However, I’m fully aware of what a fickle bitch winter can be, having lived through a late April blizzard and a May ice storm, so that probably negates that as a reason. No, I believe my happiness of today comes from something far simpler. I’m happy because I’m alive and functioning fairly well in a world that, despite all of its problems, is also alive and functioning reasonably well.

Would I, could I be happier if I was dead? I don’t know the answer to that question. My faith tells me that the answer is yes. The way in which I look back on my life says that, in my own mind, I have many sins for which to atone…and I’m not certain whether my God is Old or New Testament. If mine is an Old Testament God, I’ll probably burn in the fires of Hell for eternity. If He is from the New Testament, I’ll still burn in Hell, but it may not be for quite as long. Am I trying to mock the writings contained in the Bible? No, of course not; none of us can, with any degree of certainty, know what lies ahead of us when we shuffle off this mortal coil. You know the old saying, “Man plans; God laughs.” But, for today and for the foreseeable future, I plan to be happy just to be alive.

I went to a new doctor for something or other several years ago. He was a specialist, but frankly, I don’t even remember the ailment or the occasion. The one thing I do remember is that after looking at my medical history, he half-jokingly said, “My God, it’s a wonder you’re still alive.” I didn’t care much for the comment which is why he and his practice escape my memory, but his words linger on. In other words, don’t judge me by what I’ve been through; judge me for who I am right now.

Think about this for a moment…you, if you’re reading this…are alive. You’re a living breathing person, complete with soul. You can look up at the sky and see the sun; you can look at night and see the moon and the stars; you can watch buds come onto trees in the spring and smell newness in the air, a rebirth of the season that has its own distinctive odor and feel. Sure, you’ve got problems; they may even be life-threatening, but not right now; not this second. This second, you have the gift of life. Take the deepest breath you can, let it out; go look out the window and shout, “I’m alive and I love it!” [Notice I didn’t ask you to open the window; wouldn’t want the neighbors calling the cops.]

If this piece was being read by anyone under 25, they’d think I was nuts…and that’s okay. I believe you have to be over 50 or even 65 to appreciate how great it is to still have a bit of a bounce in each step you take. Since Juli came into my life, following the death of my wife, I have learned to have a greater appreciation for things that grow and bring new life. Anyone who has been a care giver for a period of time will tell you that you begin to lose a bit of perspective, and when the one for whom you are caring dies, there is not only a sense of loss, but a sense of “what do I do now?” that is quite difficult. You have actually been living their life for the past weeks, months, or years and suddenly, you have to begin living your own life again. It can be quite an adjustment.

Perhaps that’s what happened to me this morning; I began to realize that I’m entitled to be happy once more. I don’t believe this was some kind of revelation or epiphany. New things happen to us every day, but we aren’t always aware of just how new they are. We hurry through our lives, rushing from one thing to another and all too often, we don’t recognize all of the wonderful things that are happening to us and around us. Yeah, you’re right, it’s the old stop and smell the roses cliché, but that’s a bitch to do in the winter.

I hope you’ll take a moment – after you finish reading, of course – and make a couple of columns on a piece of paper. Write down every single reason you’re happy to be alive on one side and on the other, reasons you’d prefer to be dead. When you finish, I’m willing to bet that ‘alive’ column is going to be a hell of a lot longer. Hopefully, it will help you or reinforce your belief in just how great it truly is to be alive.

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