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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

                             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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It would appear that no matter how hard we try; how forcefully we put forth, pronounce, write laws, and scream from the rooftops, there are just certain occasions when “You can’t fix stupid.” The latest example of that is epitomized by the homophobes who wish to tell gay people how or even if they can march in parades that are privately organized. Constitutionally, I guess they have the right to exclude any group from any activity that is privately funded, which just goes to show you that there are still people who are living in the 20th Century and who don’t want to be concerned about moving forward in their thinking. Put another way…you just can’t fix stupid.

The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, according to some, is the celebration of Irish heritage. However, from what I can determine, it’s more a celebration of Irish Roman Catholic pride. For example, no one is allowed to march if they are marching for a cause. This includes pro-life Irish Catholics or anyone who does not subscribe fully to the teachings of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. In other words, if you don’t bow down to the Vatican, you can’t be in a parade. Perhaps these should be called “Hypocrites Parades.” They are parades of exclusivity rather than inclusivity, and in today’s world, that sends the wrong message to a great many people. I suppose that if you’re not Catholic but 100 percent Irish, they might allow you in the parade, but only if you’re draped in a loin cloth and nailed to a Celtic cross!

These people who are picking and choosing who is allowed to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, and heaven only knows how many other places are stupid. According to Timothy Meagher, a history professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., “The parades are a statement of showing our colors, showing our numbers, showing that we are powerful and important.” Meagher added that St. Patrick’s Day in the United States was first celebrated with banquets at elite clubs in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. This year, the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast should drive many of the bigots’ wild. It will be hosted by State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, a Haitian American who numbers, among others, South Boston in her constituent base, and it is tradition that the Senator from Southie has hosted the breakfast. Some have suggested that because she’s married to an Irishman (oy vey!) that it will be okay for her to serve as emcee.

Boston’s history of bigotry is really blight on the City. When segregation was mandated decades ago, Boston resisted about as harshly as George Wallace in Alabama did to allowing Blacks to attending college in ‘his’ state. One of my own kids is married to a man whose mother was proud of the fact that her picture was in a sociology book, shown protesting integration. Bless her soul, she has now gone to meet her maker, but bragging about that time in her life always shocked me.

We are better than all of these disputes. Yes, some of us are Irish, but not Roman Catholic. One of the early churches in the Boston area was an Irish Presbyterian Church. What people in this country seem to forget is that our ethnicity is secondary to our heritage. We are Americans. When we travel, we don’t identify ourselves as Poles or Jews, Italians or Irish, Lithuanians or Armenians; we are Americans. That’s how we describe ourselves and that’s how others think of us. Sure, be proud of your ethnic heritage, but don’t use it as a crutch to discriminate against those who aren’t exactly what you want them to be, particularly in your own country. Our doors have always been open to people from many lands. We laud the customs and culture they bring to our shores. Let us celebrate the diversity, not only of ethnicity but of other beliefs that are different from our own.

One of the things that I truly enjoy about St. Patrick’s Day – other than the corned beef and cabbage and the Irish stew – is the knowledge that all of these Irish men and women are actually celebrating a day that was given to them by an Englishman who was born in what today may be part of Scotland. That’s right; for those who haven’t heard the story, it goes like this:  St. Patrick was originally named Maewyn Succat, son of a rather well-to-do family. At the age of 16, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave back to Ireland or, as it was called in those days, Hibernia. Slavery was a little different then; no jail cells or chains. He was assigned to tend sheep in the fields and on the mountainsides. “… every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed — the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; … and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me — as now I see, because the spirit within me was fervent”. After six years, it is said that he was spoken to by God and told to leave Ireland. He did and become a priest, taking the name Patricus or Patrick. He did not bring Christianity to Ireland but was sent there to assist the Christian population and to bring Christianity to the largely Pagan population. Eventually, he became the patron saint of what we know as Ireland. During his lifetime, it is said that he baptized tens of thousands into Christianity. We don’t really know if he used the shamrock as a tool to teach The Trinity, but it makes a good story. In addition, there is no evidence that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, largely because there never were any snakes in Ireland…other than those in one or more of the many pubs that dot each village. “The old saint died in his beloved Ireland on March 17th, 460 A.D. The land that once enslaved him had now been set free.”1

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  1. Much of this paragraph has been drawn from many sources. Where quotation marks were necessary, they have been placed. Other historical references have been paraphrased. The story of St. Patrick is drawn largely from his Confession, written during his life and capturing his own version of what actually happened. Remember, this was one long, long time ago, almost before I was born.

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“I used to read your blog, but then you got boring…but I’m back now.”

Boring? Me, boring? Moi?

Damn straight, Skippy, and don’t you forget it.

The reader who sent me that comment was absolutely correct, and I thank him or her for doing so. There’s no question that there are plenty of times I climb up on the soapbox and pontificate about this happening or that. In so doing, I get diarrhea of the mouth compounded by mental constipation. The result is what can often be found on this blog. I think I may have said this before, but let me reiterate that I really don’t write for any reason other than to get people like that reader quoted above to react; good, bad, or indifferent, I don’t care.  If someone reads something I’ve written and thinks I’m mistaken in my view, I want them to come back at me with an opposing view. If the man or woman can back it up with research, I’ll even print the response on the blog.

Right now, for example, I’m somewhat irritated with the President of the United States and his minions. The problem is that I haven’t read the Affordable Care Act in its entirety so I’m on shaky ground when I begin to criticize it. First, it was late being rolled out; part of the reason for that was that the House of Representatives kept trying to get it repealed – Forty-one freaking times they’ve tried – but it was still rolled out to the public…late. Not only late, but people couldn’t get on the web site to sign up. The company that built the web site screwed it up…badly. Therefore, why was it rolled out? Why didn’t the President, as chief honcho of this bill, have the balls to come right out and say, “We’ve got some problems here, and we’re going to hold off on this thing until we get those problems resolved?” That would have been the transparent thing to do. There is no shame or embarrassment in saying that you moved to quickly in an attempt to bring a health plan to the public – “which seven of my predecessors were unable to do” – and that you, as Prexy, are going to have a bipartisan committee review portions of the Law – note upper case – because it is a Law, passed by Congress and signed by the President, before putting it before the public.

There is no question in my mind that people like Rand Paul, Eric Kantor, Ted Cruz, and some of the other Tea Party Crazies – that’s how I’ve come to describe them; even capitalizing the last word – will look on this as a significant victory, but we all know they’re so full of crap that when they breathe, they smell like great granddaddy’s outhouse, so who cares about them. And some members of his own party will have harsh words about the President’s inability to stand his ground, but frankly, that’s bullshit!

In its current format, the Affordable Care Act is a bad law. It hurts people. In some cases, people can’t even keep their own doctor…after having been told by their leader that this would not be the case.  In other cases, people are going to have to choose between food and medical insurance after having been told that the insurance would be “Affordable.” In other cases, people can’t get the care they need because the hospital that can give that care is “outside of their circle.” Listen to the American people, Mr. President. This act that you signed into law is not good. There is not one person in this country who wouldn’t agree with you that the nation is in need of a national insurance plan. In addition, what works here in Massachusetts, may very well not work in Mississippi, Minnesota, or New Mexico. Personally, I believe you would have been wiser to demand the governors of the fifty states to present plans for their states to a Federal health agency for approval. At the point of approval, the plans could be launched with the backing of some federal dollars, raised by a national sales tax of one or two percent on everything from dog food to diapers and allocated by population density. Plans from one state would be honored by those of other states. Don’t worry, abuses would soon be noticed.

Mr. President, you and I both know that the health care needs of the people in West Virginia are not the same as those in the people of Colorado. I’m not into making invidious comparisons, but attempting a national health care law seems to me like make a one-size-fits-all shoe. Yes, we are fifty states that are united, but in health care? I have no idea what governors do at a governor’s conference, but when the issue of health care became so important, it seems that the governors should have recognized the problem, taken their heads out of their butts, and gotten busy. There’s no question there would have been some ‘foot-draggers,’ but that’s where the federal government could have stepped in and provided a little incentive to get things going, e.g., no more federal funding for a governor’s pet project. Certainly, this wouldn’t have been a feather in any President’s cap, but spinning a story is done every day in Washington; what’s one more?

You, Mr. President, and many members of your inner circle, will say, “It’s too late. It’s the law of the land and we will stand our ground and work this thing out.” That’s all well and good, but you know damn right well that the next Republican president is going to try his/her damndest to repeal that law…and they will succeed.

These things I know: In 2016, the country will have a new leader. I will be 82 years old. Tom Brady will still be the quarterback of the New England Patriots and LeBron James will still be leading the Miami Heat to NBA titles. Gay marriage will still be the issue it is today although many of the homophobes will have gone quietly away. America will still be at war somewhere, but we won’t call it a war, and caskets of young men and women will still be landing at Andrews, mothers, dads, and siblings will be there with moist eyes, but whoever is the new leader will find some excuse for continue the slaughter. The NRA will still be saying that guns don’t kill people, but there will be more shootings at schools and colleges and nothing will be done. We still won’t be free of our dependence on fossil fuel and cancer will not have found a cure-all.

These are the things I know. What I do not know would fill the Smithsonian a thousand times over. What I’d like to know is if our current President has the courage to say, “This isn’t working, but I’m going to make damned certain that before I leave office, each state in this Union will have health care for all of its citizens supported by both state and federal funds.” Isn’t that worth a try?

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This is the time of year for inaugurations, state of the states, state of the union, town meetings, and, of course, the Grammy Awards. It’s that period where we take stock of what we have or haven’t, how we’ve done during the past year, and what bullshit we will perpetuate or inaugurate on the unsuspecting public during the next year. Therefore, in keeping with this time-honored and non-sensible performance, I shall present my own state of the mind for the upcoming year and for time in perpetuity, a.k.a. Bishop’s banal diatribe….

…My fellow Americans, illegal immigrants, alien terrorists on US soil, and children of all ages…to put things mildly, the Union is not in very good shape. There is too much violence in our own nation, whether on our college and university campuses, our local schools, our shopping malls throughout the land, the streets of our inner cities and – more and more – in neighborhoods where violence has not existed before. This is both unacceptable and intolerable.

After months of discussions with the FBI, CIA, NSA, DOD, PTA, DARPA, CASE, CUPA, NRA, BSA, GSA, 4-H, ICOP, and several private contracting firms, we have reached agreement that, beginning, immediately…that means tomorrow for those of you nodding off…American soldiers and sailors, in pairs will begin patrolling every avenue, street, road, and drive in every city and town with a population of more than 500 people. Schools, from kindergarten to high school will have a pair of armed military in each and every classroom. Writ of habeas corpus is immediately suspended for the foreseeable future, and the penalty for any crime which inflicts any kind of harm on any American citizen will be punishable by immediate death. I have been reading, watching, and being told of too many crimes and I’m sick to death of it. We have ‘deevolutionated’ – okay, I made it up – back to cave man tactics as a society and, therefore, those who wish to act like Neanderthals shall be treated as they were back in the Neanderthal period. When the nation evolves back into a 21st Century society, with the mores expected of 21st Century men, women, and children, we will…slowly at first…begin to eliminate our police state.

Our plan calls for the withdrawal of all American armed forces from all bases throughout the world. I am sick to death of watching planes land at Andrews Air Force base to unload the coffins of young Americans who have died on foreign soil for no particular reason other than to make a small group of fat cats in our own nation get fatter. Just as we never see John Boehner smoking or drinking, so now, we will never see military caskets being brought home from foreign lands. In addition, we will not tolerate any attempt by any nation or combination of nations to invade – overtly or covertly – our land. We are open to free trade between our nation and others. However, the days of the US as world cop are over. If nations wish to make war among themselves or with other nations, have fun. If any nation should consider the use of nuclear weapons as acceptable, then and only then, will the United States turn the offending nation to glass. Granted, this will end the world as we know it, but what the hell, you started it, and we are fully prepared to end it.

Our native form of speech is American. While it was English for a while, it has been bastardized by various groups who now use such words as “whatevah,” “selfies,” “hinky,” and other bullshit words which have no place in a civilized society. Students using any slang in the classroom may be immediately bitch-slapped by a teacher or either of the two military peace keepers in the classroom…or all three. We will return to speaking a combination of correct English and American beginning tomorrow. Before immigrating to this country, those from other nations must demonstrate a proficiency in the English/American language that is free from native accent.

Beginning tomorrow, all citizens with assets of over five billion dollars will be required to establish foundations to benefit the less fortunate. The initial investment will consist of one billion dollars. I have requested and received consent from Messrs. Warren Buffet, William and Melissa Gates, Harry Reid, and Eric Cantor to select a board of no more than fifteen people of their choosing to administer this fund.

Beginning tomorrow, welfare families will be required to perform twenty hours of community service to be eligible for benefits. Babysitting services for children under the age of six will be provided by the National Board of Children’s Services. All adults over the age of 18 who are not attending school or college and who are unemployed will be required to participate in this Civilian Community Service Program. Those who refuse will be shot.

I could go on, but if you believe this sounds dictatorial and impossible, you’re right. That’s not the way America operates. Would we like to see our children and grandchildren more protected in our schools than they have been over the past half century? Of course we would. Does that mean patrolling the corridors of our classrooms with armed members of the military? No, not in this country…not yet… not anymore than we consider having our military patrol our streets.

Can we demand that people speak English? No, we can’t demand this. In American schools, English is the language of choice. Those unable to grasp this concept should either learn our language or return to where they won’t be burdened with having to learn it. I have always been embarrassed when I’m in Canada, not to be able to speak French, and I generally apologize for my inability to do so.

Can we demand that our billionaires use their monies to help others who haven’t been as fortunate? Of course we can’t. People like Mr. Buffet and Mr. and Mrs. Gates, just to name a few, are already doing more than their fair share to help others. As far as Harry Reid and Eric Cantor are concerned, well, you take your pick as to which one is the greater idiot.

No, I can’t give a state of the union address. We have checks and balances in this nation that protects the general public from the manner in which I sometimes express myself. But…we have many problems in this country that do need to be addressed. We seem to pay lip service and crocodile tears when a shooting occurs at an elementary or high school, a college or university, a theater or a mall, or on the streets of Boston, Chicago, or Detroit. In reality, we haven’t done a damned thing to prevent similar tragedies. We put thousands of troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, but I don’t see the same effort being put into eliminating the cartels in Central and South America, and they are killing probably more Americans daily than are being killed on the sands in the Middle East. Our problems are myriad and many, and rather than face them head-on, we quibble; we squabble; we have elected officials who are more interested in loyalty to party than they are in loyalty to America. These are our real terrorists because they refuse to let the nation move forward. As the late Thomas P. O’Neill, former speaker of the House of Representatives, said, “Country first; state second; party third. Or, if you prefer, how about Rodney King’s, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Take your pick…either one works for me.

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It appears that no matter how hard I try, I find it impossible to understand why people kill. War is one thing; the objectives of war…to obtain mineral rights; to expand your own nation; to right a perceived wrong or insult, this I understand. However, to kill someone you love…a wife, a husband, your own child, someone who cheers for a different team; for a pair of sneakers or a jacket you admire…these things are beyond my comprehension.

“You will never understand murderers,” people tell me. “You’re mind is not their mind; your anger isn’t the type of anger they are capable of feeling,” they say. “You’re incapable of understanding the kind of violence that is within them because it’s not within you.” I’m not certain that I can accept those statements. I believe we are all capable of killing, particularly to protect those we love. Would I kill because of an insult? Man, I have been insulted by professionals. There is so little that can be said to insult me, it’s pathetic. Insults merely show the ignorance of the person delivering them; remember that, and you’re protected.

I don’t stay up late enough to watch the nine, ten, or eleven o’clock news. Hell, by eight, these old eyes are thoroughly closed and gathering sand, sounding like a freight train, and incapable of being roused other than by the thunder after a direct lightning strike on the other side of the bed – Juli’s till up at that hour so I know she would be fine. However, back to the news; psychologists will tell you not to watch the news as the last thing you view before going to bed. I don’t know whether these broadcasts are intentionally designed to send you to bed with visions of bodies in the streets or cars wrapped around telephone poles or this murder or that killing, but they say that watching this stuff is just not good for the psyche as you’re heading off for dreamland. I believe it!

Movies are movies. Action movies with folks like Arnie, Sly, Jason, Jet, Chuck, or Jackie will kill hundreds – I once heard that the record was held by Schwarzenegger at 500 killed in a single film…I think Arnie had a scratch on the back of his hand. I mean, come on. I’m not against a little violence in a movie but one person killing that many…hell, that’s a comedy!

One of the people to whom I turned for information on the mind of a killer was Professor Jim Fallon, who teaches neuroscience at the University of California Irvine.  A synopsis of his biographical information says that, “Through research [Jim} explores the way genetic and in-utero environmental factors affect the way the brain gets built – and then how individuals’ experience further shapes its development. He lectures and writes on creativity, consciousness, and culture, and has made key contributions to our understanding of schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.” A relatively new part of Fallon’s research has been devoted toward the subject of psychopaths — specifically those who kill.

Fallon has studied nearly 100 brains, some of which have been those of serial killers. He concludes that a gene, passed from mother to son, brain damage, environmental exposure to violence, e.g., living where a war is taking place are all contributors, are all contributors to the development of a psychopathic killer. According to Fallon, because the gene is passed only from mother to son is the contributing factor that makes psychopathic killers predominantly male.

Another “student” of murderers is Jonathan Pincus, chief of neurology at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Washington and a professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Over the past 25 years he has examined, through questioning, 150 murderers. Like Fallon, he has concluded mental illness (gene) neurological damage (violence) and abuse (environmental/family) are the contributors for creating killers.

This began as a simple essay. Research proves that the subject is really deep and far beyond my scope of understanding, Whether it’s reading the FBI study on serial killers, listening to Professors Fallon or Pincus, or examining any number of articles about murderers, I’m glad that it’s early morning when I’m writing this…it may be time to go watch the road runner or Tom & Jerry!

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“I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate.  It is, after all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.”            Leo C. Rosten 

 If you’re Jewish, you obviously know Leo Rosten. I’m not and I didn’t, but his quotation certainly gave me a great deal to ponder. People who work – always open to question – or prowl the West Wing or the halls of Congress should take a few moments to read – another unwarranted assumption — some of the things Rosten has to say.

Examine the quotation above for just a moment. If the purpose of life is, as Rosten says, “…to be usefully,” why do we, you and I, run across so many useless people day in, day out. We go to work – well, you do; I don’t have to do that stuff anymore. I’ve done my time in hell – and each day, you see someone and you are absolutely convinced that their sole purpose in life is to walk around and chat with others. You’ve never seen them doing anything that you would call work. Rosten, with his Yiddish humor, might call them a ‘nebbish.’  That’s the person who, when they walk into a room, people look at one another and ask, “Who just left?” Rosten also claims that the purpose of life is to “responsible and honorable.” Oh, Leo, I’m so happy you’re dead. This purpose of which you speak has changed drastically in the nearly twenty years since you passed. Today, the purpose appears to be ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dishonorable’ and one has to look no further than your fellow Yiddishe Kopf, Bernie Madoff, to see how badly things have become. On the other hand, Leo, you
do have someone like Michael Bloomberg, the outgoing Mayor of New York, who has spent over six hundred million dollars of his own money to help the city with some of its problems…now that I would call compassionate.

People, Leo, don’t appear to be will to stand up for anything; they don’t want to matter; they just want to bitch. It’s rather like if they don’t have something bad to say about whatever, they stay quiet. However, give them something to bitch about and they’ll be right down front, screaming with the rest of the crazies. They won’t have a solution; they won’t stand up and be counted in the plus column, but boy, can they piss and moan. I sometimes wonder if too many Americans today want to have a negative impact rather than a positive one on our country. A whole pile of folks seem to take great delight in making our own President the butt of comic fodder. “Reagan fell asleep in meetings.” Oh, really, did you ever look at his accomplishments and weigh those against being so damned tired from working that he had a right to nod off periodically? Look at every President we’ve ever had and with very few exceptions, their contributions far outweigh their lapses. Of course, we can’t all be the leader of the free world, but we can try to make something positive happen each day; make “some difference [to prove] that you [we] had lived at all. I like your quote, Leo, and I guess that as long as one is not completely useless or irresponsible or dishonorable and lacking in compassion, they’re off to a pretty good start. In addition, I know that the one thing I can do each day to make a difference is to make one person smile, or laugh out loud; even trying to get them to think is making some kind of a difference. At my age, there aren’t too many other things I can do, but I try. Thanks, Leo, for reinforcing and even reminding me to live a life with purpose.

I would like to have known Leo Calvin Rosten. Obviously, he was a brilliant and funny man. The brilliance may be found in many of his writings, and I guess that’s also where we can find much of his humor. For example, “Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense.” One has but to read the biography of a famous life to see just how strange truth can be. This lesson can also be learned by sitting outside a Walmart for half an hour and watch the outfits that enter and depart…now that’s strange! And to end this brief essay with another Rosten quote, “Proverbs often contradict one another, as any reader soon discovers. The sagacity that advises us to look before we leap promptly warns us that if we hesitate we are lost; that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but out of sight, out of mind.”

Yes, it would have been pleasant to have known Leo Rosten.

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There are times when the arrogance of my own country, particularly toward its citizenry, is so shocking that something must be said. The chutzpah displayed by President Obama in his first term to get a national health care bill into law, while admirable, has proven ill-conceived, poorly-promoted, and terribly presented to the American public. From a document that is so long few will read it, to hiring a company with a proven record of failure to computerize it, the health care bill has been, and I fear will continue to be nothing short of disastrous. Rather than simplify matters further by delaying implementation until the whole damned thing is ready, the President and the Democrats use the arguments that “the other side” is just being – once again – the party of “No.” I don’t care for John ‘The Orange Man’ Boehner; neither do I have any great love for Mitch ‘Lizard Lips’ McConnell, but when they say that this is not a good bill, they are correct. So it’s “Fuck you Americans and full-speed ahead because we just have to prove a point.”

Before you think I’m fully praising the Republican Party, hold on a second. They have shown their arrogance and “Screw you citizens” in equal measure. It all depends on which party is in power. When Georgie involved us in an unwinnable war in the Middle East, he was merely proving that he was born with the proverbial silver foot in his mouth. Going after Osama bin Laden by attacking Iraq makes about as much sense as Bush’s comment regarding Afghan fighters, “”And they have no disregard for human life.”

However, it is now evident that it’s not only Washington that has a complete disregard for the public in general. Well, perhaps there have been a few signs before this; you know, things like the mortgage tragedy; the fact that parts of Louisiana still haven’t recovered from Katrina; bailing out the auto industry and big Wall Street Firms while allowing one in four American children to live in poverty. Now it’s extended to the field of collegiate athletics as the cancellation of a domestic airline flight to fly the University of Florida basketball team to Connecticut has shown. Here is just another case where the lives of average Americans were usurped because something as stupid as a collegiate hoops contest was deemed to be more important. To compound this travesty, passengers were told that their plane had mechanical problems. Meanwhile, the passengers were watching the Gator basketball team board ‘their’ plane.

Don’t get me wrong; I admire Billy Donovan and the job he’s done at Florida. I was a big fan of former UConn coach Jim Calhoun as far back as his days of coaching at Northeastern. This isn’t about the two programs; it’s about the manner in which Americans were treated by other Americans because some idiot thought that transporting a college sports team was more important than anything the other passengers had to do. One person reportedly missed a funeral over this stupidity. I’m surprised the airline – Delta in this case – didn’t say that they had polled every passenger. What the hell; if you’re going to tell a lie, you might as well make it a big one. Do you suppose that if this had been the University of Florida Drama Club and orchestra, preparing to present Camelot in a national competition at the University of Connecticut, the same courtesy would have been extended? No, of course not, but this is ‘D1’ basketball which brings millions of dollars into the coffers of the two teams involved as well as into the treasury of the NCAA. As one newspaper reported, “At the end of the day, a game was put ahead of people’s lives—and for that much, there’s no worthy explanation or defense.”

This mentality – athletics taking precedence over common sense, politicians exercising their right to use power over understanding – is a disturbing sign for our country. Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development administered the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams to 15-year old students from over 60 countries. About half a million students from North and South America, Europe, Asia and some countries in the Middle East took the exams.  America failed to reach the top twenty in any of the tested subjects. Overall, the USA ranked 36th in math, reading, and science. I cannot recall when, if ever, an American athlete has been that far down the rankings in any Olympic event, can you.

In fairness, the United States has never faired all that well in the PISA test since the testing began in 1964.  Despite this, we are still considered the world leader for innovative development. It’s somewhat difficult to understand the dichotomy between standardized testing and real world production, innovation and economic development. Do we have a problem with our education system in this country? Yes, yes we do; our problem is that we are willing to spend more money on athletics than we are on academics. Does athletic participation help to broaden the individual? It appears to be so for those who wish to participate and are sufficiently talented to do so. Even the term “dumb jock” is heard less and less, particularly in intercollegiate athletics although it seems to be getting replaced with criminal behavior on the part of athletes.

It seems to me that the politicians in Washington don’t really understand their constituents, what they want or what they really need. It’s time that we understand that our political process is broken and needs some serious revision. And it seems to me that much of this country’s fascination with athletics needs to be toned down to the point of sanity, and a greater amount of money, time, and research done to guarantee that our children – from kindergarten to terminal degree – receive the very best education to allow them to continue to compete in a real world environment.

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Aha, oho, eureka, and all that good ‘stuff;’ here we are back in the time of William “The Bard of Avon” Shakespeare once more. This time we are listening to Puck, that mischievous elf from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as he decries, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” We will not criticize, dramatize, synthesize, or even analyze what he is actually saying [about the lovers], but the pintsized elf makes a damned good point.

It appears that ever since we learned to rise up and walk on two feet – thereby negating the need for Johnson & Johnson band aids for the hands – man has been behaving foolishly throughout history. Take fire for example; you just know that some damned fool was going to cook his hand or foot before he discovered that it was a pretty good thing over which to cook dinner or into which one could toss enemies. We think the smokers of today, who flick their cigarettes out the window and into the forest, thus causing the destruction of tens of thousands of acres, are spawn of the south end of a horse going north; it’s a wonder that earth survived the first fire users. Doesn’t it make you wonder if anyone ever tried to eat a burning stick…oy, oy, oy!

I like to picture the person who invented the wheel, standing at the top of a hill, ready to test this new thing. At the bottom of the hill is his buddy, getting ready to stop it from rolling on forever. The only problem with this is that the wheel is made of stone. It may weigh fifty pounds; it may weigh 500; it doesn’t matter. This mortal at the bottom will receive a very rude awakening when he steps in front of this stone wheel to stop it…clunk. While the steamroller – not Mannheim – would come about several hundreds of Centuries later, we must assume that the mortal at the bottom of the hill was, indeed, a flattened fool and that this was not exactly a “eureka moment” for him.

Who was the first mortal fool who had the idea to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Adventure, no; foolish, yes, but in 1901 Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to successfully ‘barrel’ down the falls and survive. Annie was hoping that this misadventure would bring her fame and fortune…and it did…for a while. However, she died a pauper twenty years later. For those who read Remember Who?, it answers one of your questions.

Walter Camp is considered to be the “Father of American Football.” I think it’s quite possible that if Camp were alive today, he would echo Puck in declaring those who play the game to be fools of the first order. I say this with all love and affection for watching the game on television. Those who declare, “Oh but you don’t get the true feeling for the game if you’re not there!” Thank you very much, but I can probably see the game much better, not to mention the fact that I’m not freezing my ass off or sitting so high in the stands that the players look like ants and that the only way to differentiate the teams is by the colors of the uniforms. While the fools in the NCAA and the NFL are coming to understand the price that players pay, it certainly doesn’t appear that they are willing to make changes to protect these players. America is a violent country and football an exceedingly violent athletic event.

Nowhere is a person viewed to be more a fool of the first order than when he or she decides to run for a political office that will take him or her to Washington, D.C. for the performance of her or his duties. Time and time and time again, politicians publically demonstrate the truth of the hypothesis that those who want the job the most are those who are most unqualified for it. After Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demonstrated to 60 Minutes Charlie Rose the drone delivery program the company is working on, he went on to explain all of the complexities involved with FAA regulations among other issues. The next day, Massachusetts’ junior Senator Edward Markey spoke to the media explaining that the program could not hope to happen for years because of FAA regulations. Excuse me, Senator, but Mr. Bezos explained all of that on 60 Minutes. It’s just another case of a politician who would prefer to use his head for a cork for his butt rather than use it for intelligent analysis.

It was back in 1969  when Lawrence Peter and Raymond Hull first introduced the Peter Principle which, when defined, states, “The Peter Principle is a proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence. … “ Following 40 plus years of employment in higher education, I can state without fear of contradiction that nothing could be closer to the truth. Friends who have worked in law, accounting, engineering, town governments, etc, ad infinitum have regaled various and sundry other friends with tales of remarkable stupidity…the classic being, “We never have time or money to do it right the first time, but we always find the time and the additional funds to do it over.”

Scientists constantly question whether or not there is intelligent life “out there.” Frankly, I have to agree with those who believe that there is, somewhere, in some galaxy, a life form that so far exceeds the intelligence they have already seen on this land of milk and honey that they believe we are beyond redemption; that we are neither trainable or educable and, therefore, decline at all costs our dreary attempts to contact them. Perhaps they echo Puck and say, “What fools these mortals be!”

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We are entering – once more – the season of insanity.

Thursday, November 28th is the fourth Thursday of this month and, by tradition, a day on which we celebrate Thanksgiving.  Defined, it is often referred to as “…an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey. The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621.” Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. George Washington named Friday, November 26th, 1789 as a day of “public Thanksgivin,” and until Lincoln, every President made a declaration of when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The Sixteenth President declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. That was fine until…

…In 1933 and again in 1939, November had five Thursdays. In ’33, some retailers asked President Roosevelt if he would move the celebration back a week indicating…”You will appreciate the importance that an additional week incorporated in this great holiday season will have upon the distribution activities of the entire United States and the added impetus that will be given thereby to the efforts of the administration and the N.R.A.1 to increase employment and purchasing power.” Roosevelt declined but in 1939, he did relent and move the celebration back a week. It was until 1941 that a Congressional declaration set aside the fourth Thursday in November as the official date for Thanksgiving. Two things become clear here: (1) Retailers pushing for more shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas isn’t a new thing; it’s been going on since the nation was coming out of The Great Depression, and (2) Congress has been sticking their fingers in the pie as far back as 1941 [the pie, of course, being mince or pumpkin].

Today, retailers are even more aggressive in their approach to relieve consumers of the contents of their wallets, and while most appear to desire green, any color will do if it happens to be plastic. The Friday following our day of thanks for the bounty that we, in some cases, have is known by many names, among them “retailer-salivation-day,” “come-on-suckers-and-bring-your-cash-day” “Ooh-have-I-got-a-deal-for-you-day,” and by its more acceptable terminology, “Black Friday.” This term has been applied because it is supposed to be the biggest shopping day of the year, and the one that will put retailers firmly in the black. Saturday is now being named “small-business-Saturday.” Thanksgiving, the day when families are supposed to be gathered around the harvest table and giving thanks is now being called “Brown Thursday.” It would appear that some retailers’ greed exceeds their consideration for family togetherness and therefore, their doors will be open on this national holiday. Woe befalls the employee who calls in sick or declines to work this day. Managers and supervisors need only remind them of the seven point three unemployment rate in the country or some other bullshit story, and they will be at work.

I don’t shop on Black Friday and I can tell you right now that I sure as hell will not be shopping on Brown Thursday. Next thing you know, we’ll have mauve Monday, taupe Tuesday, and Wisteria Wednesday…and those will be before Brown Thursday. This year, the day after Christmas is going to be renamed “Take Back Thursday” while “Find Bargains Friday” will follow.

I’m happy that our economy is on the rebound. I’m delighted that the Dow finally broke sixteen thousand. I’m pleased as hell that the United States is no longer dependent on foreign oil. I’m happy as a clam at high tide that I have a roof over my head, heat in the house, a new ‘smart’ television set, a car – albeit thirteen years old – in the garage, and a new puppy that is already housebroken. I’m even more delighted that I have a wonderful partner with whom to share all of these things plus all of the joys of the holiday. The pup was an early Christmas present to her and Widget has already brought great joy to both of us.

However, I’m mad as a son-of-a-bitch at the greedy bastards who have decided to open their doors on November 28th and who have pressured their workers to come in. I’m madder yet at the idiots who will elect to go shopping on that day. If you are one of them at least have the courtesy to apologize to the sales person who is ringing up your purchases. But, for cripes sake, don’t wish them a “Happy Thanksgiving!”

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True or False…This is the most ineffective group of Senators and Congressmen in the history of the United States of America.

It appears that 75 percent of the Americans think that this group of men and women certainly rank right up there with the very worst. Not since June 2013 has a Congress been so mistrusted. They are on target for the fewest bills ever sent to a President since the time when records were kept. They passed the Affordable Care Act and have since tried over 40 ways to repeal it while other important pieces of legislation have been sitting in committee. Republican Ted Cruz of Texas made an absolute ass of himself and drew the ire of fellow Republicans for his 21-hour faux filibuster against funding the Affordable Care Act. Cruz then turned around and criticized members of his own party for a “defeatist attitudes.”

During my working years, I admit that I was not as involved in the political process of our community, state, or country. Looking back, I think that I’m probably just as well off not having done so; however, I now see why some of my more politically active friends became as fanatical as they were.  I believe it was Ronald Reagan who said “It’s been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.” Ii is my contention that nothing could be closer to the truth, particularly with the members of the 112th Congress. As Harry Truman put it [on more than one occasion], “My choice early in life was either to become a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference. I, for one, believe the piano playing job to be much more honorable than current politicians.” This current crop of whores, pimps, and con men make the “Do-Nothing-Congress” of Truman’s time look like a hard-working bunch of public servants. If one were to write a television script for a dysfunctional government and use this as a model, producers would laugh the plot out of any office as being too implausible. The problem, as we are seeing first hand, is that not only is it plausible, it’s starring in its own form of TV comedy every night…we call it the evening news.

Washington political actions are an embarrassment to America. The question of whether to attack Syria had Congressmen and Senators waived sheaves of papers over their heads, screaming that their constituents didn’t want America to become involved in another war. That was the first time that I had ever heard this group blaming their constituents. They didn’t even have the courage to say, “No, Mr. President, we, the legislative body, strongly advise you not to go to war.” Many were pleased, I’m quite certain, because it appeared that Obama was backing down from that line in the sand, and anything that made the President look bad was a good thing for his opponents.

This Congress is so dysfunctional that they wouldn’t know how to cross the aisle if they were given a guide dog a white can, and a pair of sunglasses. In elementary schools today, conflict negotiation is taught to resolve problems between disagreeing parties. Really, how sad is it that peer negotiation isn’t a compulsory workshop for Congressmen and Senators every two or four years. Party politics has no place in the political process today. Ours is a fractured nation and we are demonstrating that to our allies and our enemies on a daily basis…and that, my friends, is an exceedingly dangerous position in which to be.

Ezra Klein is a writer for the Washington Post. A little over a year ago, he published a list of 14 reasons why the 112th Congress is the worst ever. With all due respect to Mr. Klein, his list made me want to vomit…not because of any inaccuracies, but quite the contrary. He was so on target and so concise in his reasoning that seen in this light, it made  two things clear all over again: (1) The American people don’t really give a damn about who represents them, and; (2) the people who are supposed to be representing the American people don’t really give a damn about them or THIS COUNTRY! They are a greedy bunch of naïve spoiled children who are playing at being politicians.

Here are a few of Klein’s observations:

  • ·        The Congress is not passing laws – To date, 219 bills have been signed into law. That is the most abysmal record since Bill Clinton had to face Newt Gingrich and the Republican Revolutionaries. Even then, 333 bills made their way to the President’s desk.
  • ·        Unpopularity – This Congress ranks just above Fidel Castro in terms of popularity. They are less popular than British Petroleum at the time of the major oil spell. They rank below Banks in 2011, Nixon during the Watergate Investigation and Paris Hilton in 2005. Now if that ain’t below the scrapings on the bottom of the barrel, I’m not certain what is.
  • ·        “They are incredibly polarized” – There was a time when Congressmen and women would listen to both sides of an argument and might cross the aisle to vote with the opposite party. You do that today and you will be ostracized from your party immediately. Instead of “my country right or wrong,” it has become “my party…never wrong.”
  • ·        Congress has delayed economic recovery – At a time when the nation had begun its recovery, adding jobs month by month, the Republicans began a pissing contest over the debt ceiling. Business, seeing this, slowed down and damn near came to a stop in terms of hiring. This, as much as anything, has served to delay economic growth and recovery.

I invite you to locate Mr. Klein’s list of 14 reasons this Congress is the worst ever. It’s well worth the read. As for me, I just weep for America. We have allowed people with no interest in us to rule us. The next time you decide not to vote, take a second and think just how badly you are getting screwed by the crowd that now “works” {???] on Capitol Hill.

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