Archive for May, 2010

Many claim that America has the best health care system in the world. If this is the best, God help the rest of the world. I will admit that a friend from Canada once told me he had to wait six months for an arthroscopy on his knee because he wasn’t considered a “primary” candidate for the procedure, but hey, a scope is a scope is a scope.

Perhaps my view of our health care system is colored by the fact that I’m over 65…well over 65, and that I happen to be on a Medicare supplement. To the uninitiated, that means that my primary insurance isn’t with Uncle Sam, but with someone else…I think. It also means that I am at the mercy of someone called my primary care physician. When I was working full-time and had private insurance, this person would see me willingly; I’d call, we’d set up an appointment, usually within 24 hours or less, and he’d take care of the problem. If it was some situation requiring a specialist, I would tell him the name of the specialist or he would suggest several and I would choose the one I thought best fit my needs.  Then, I retired…from full-time work…from private insurance… from the luxury of selecting my own specialists or going to specialists I had used in the past…from even being able to see my primary care physician except as a last resort, or when he stops by to “stick it” to me as part of my annual physical exam…no further explanation of that is required, I’m quite certain.

Admittedly, I can have one visit per year with an eye doctor of my choosing…phew! Said eye doctor recently suggested that I have a cyst removed from one eye and a biopsy taken from “something unusual” on the other eye. She set up an appointment with an eyelid surgeon – now that’s what I call specializing – and things seemed to be moving along nicely. Oops, not so fast. My primary care told me that I would have to see “his” specialist; someone in “his” circle of medical care specialists. His office set an appointment. I could either keep it or pay out of pocket the $650 to see the person of my choice. I don’t know about you, but at this time of year…hell…at any time of year, that’s big money for someone who is living on a fixed income and supposedly health insured.

To tell you the story of my four-hour ordeal in Boston would just get you laughing hard enough to have “an accident,” something that you’d probably rather not do. Suffice it to say that we arrived at the medical building, which by the way, is immediately adjacent to the Wang Center, just as the buses were arriving for the matinee of the NYC Rockettes Christmas Show. This, in itself, posed several problems, eg, making the turn onto Tremont Street from Kneeland. That, however, is a different story for a different time.

Yes, my doctor had called; yes, he told ‘someone’ why I was there; yes, I was to see a corneal transplant specialist (right away, I should have suspected that something was – in Shakespearean terms – “amiss.”) After spending a little over an hour with a technician, going through the form that I had already completed, but that she then transcribed onto another form – “We’re never certain if people will complete the one we send them, so we just go ahead and ask them the same questions and fill in the answers while they’re here”…oy vey – I was then given an eye examination. “Look,” I kept saying, “I don’t need an eye exam; I had one less than a month ago. It’s not necessary. I just want this cyst removed from my right eye and this ‘thingie’ biopsied that’s at my left eye.” I was told that this would not be possible until I was given a complete eye exam. The question, “Why,” appeared to completely stump them.

Following the eye exam, my eyes were filled with dilation drops. “Can I get the anti-dilation drops later,” I queried. Of course, you can, I was told…lies, lies, lies. I then had to see a resident who was to ‘prepare me’ to see the DOCTOR. I gather this means that God was coming down from Olympus and that the underlings had better not mess up or they’d be sent to optometry hell Here, too, I was asked what brought me to these hallowed halls. Cyst, biopsy, right eye, left eye, I kept repeating…it was my afternoon mantra that did not seem to penetrate. “Can I get the anti-dilation drops later,” I asked again. Of course you can, I was told…more lies. Finally, I met THE MAN, who asked, “Why are you here?” It’s obvious that these people don’t really communicate with one another; they merely pretend to do so. Either that, or they’re all stone-deaf and just smile a great deal. “Oh, I don’t remove cysts…and I don’t biopsy.” Well, no kidding, Dick Tracy; I didn’t think you did. You’re a bloody corneal specialist. “But we’ll fix you up with someone who can do that. You just have to make an appointment to come in and have it done.”

The “kill reflex” is growing stronger by the nanosecond. My mantra is beginning to fail me. I just know I’m going to snap and launch several people through the ninth floor window to land on the unsuspecting crowd that is now exiting the Wang Center from the matinee. I have been in optometry hell for more than three hours. Even the Rockettes below have finished before I have. I can kill these people. It’s my duty to kill my tormentors and escape from this place, despite the fact that no one seems to have the anti-dilation drops; my pupils are the size of dinner plates, and the edges of my vision are a cloudy shade of milk…or milky shade of cloud if you prefer.

I’m home now. They’ve released me and removed that funny jacket with the sleeves that buckle in the back. The psychiatrist says I’ll be fine if I just don’t go near the Wang Center for about six months; something about ‘triggers’ and 21st Century health care. I don’t really seem to be bothered by it…the pills are very good.

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A man was sitting in church one day, as some men are wont to do. He was chatting with his God about this, that, and the other thing, more making statements than asking questions. Finally, he did ask, “God, life seems at times to be so long, and at other times it seems so short. What to you, for example, is a million years?” To the man’s surprise, a quiet voice, which seemed to emanate from everywhere in the church, replied, “I’ve been listening with interest to all that you have had to say. I’m not particularly busy at this time and so I will tell you that a million years to me would be but what a single second is to you.” The man was obviously awed that the Lord would take the time to speak to him or that he could even envision an answer to his question. However, he decided to press on. “Lord,” he said, “and on this earth, in this place, we use money as a form of exchange. Are you familiar with that? There was a gentle chuckle and the Lord replied, “Yes, my son, I’m quite knowledgeable about the concept of money.” The man thought for a moment and asked, “Lord, if you are familiar with the concept, how much would a million dollars mean to you?” Quickly, and a bit sharper, the Lord answered, “A million of your dollars would be less than a penny to me.” “Lord,” the man responded, “I have never been a wealthy man. If money means so little to you, would you please give me a million dollars?” “Why certainly,” replied the Lord, “You stay right where you are, and I’ll be back in a second.”

It’s a long way of telling a story that some see as a joke. Others see it as having no humor at all. No matter how you react to it, there are a number of morals to the story. One of the foremost to me is that you cannot expect your Lord, Allah, HaShem, or whoever to bestow upon you that which He, She, or It would not bestow on all.  Another thing that I consider in the story is the truth of the man’s first statement about time. When we are young, we can’t wait to become older…old enough to drive, old enough to get a job and make money, old enough to drink, old enough to defend our country, old enough to vote, old enough to do whatever we want without having our parents on our case. Perhaps we marry the girl of our dreams and have children. We can’t wait for the kids to be old enough that we can “do things” with them. There’s an old joke that goes, “We spend the first two years of our children’s lives trying to get them to walk and talk; then we spend the next sixteen years telling them to sit down and  shut up.”

As the children grow; as we watch our parents and sometimes even our contemporaries die, it begins to dawn on us that this thing called “life” really isn’t all that long. Things can happen…illness, accidents, stupidity, all can turn what should be longer periods of time into sudden or sufferingly long deaths; a relative dying of a slow-moving cancer; a thirteen-year old standing on her porch and becoming the victim of a drive-by; too much alcohol at a party and thinking one can fly from five stories above the ground.  Any, all, and more of these can cut what might have been a productive life shockingly short. We begin to realize this; we begin to understand that life is not infinite; we recognize that we are not invincible, inviolable, immortal…and we recognize that we may not get to do all that we wanted to do as we were “growing up.”

Although I was young and stupid at the time, I realize now what a fantastic opportunity I was given to be allowed to drive across the country in the summer of 1953. I was nineteen years old. We were in a 1949 Oldsmobile, a mother, her son, and I, driving to Spokane to see her dying sister. Our first night was spent at Niagara Falls. We drove though Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and into Spokane, Washington, where we stayed with the family of the dying woman.  Looking back on the things we did as we “crossed the states,” I wish that I had kept a journal of all that we saw; I wish that digital cameras were available that I might have captured the sight of Old Faithful spouting in Yellowstone National Park or the beauty of the Idaho forests, or hundreds of other sights I now recall with the eyes of age…which are not always accurate. Our return trip took us to the Grand Canyon, the Arizona desert, Oklahoma, Texas, and more of the southern states. The other beauty of the trip, and this I remember vividly, was that it cost me a grand total of $68.00 from my own pocket. That included the cowboy hat I purchased in Cody, Wyoming and that my children later wore…before it became so ragged we had to throw it out. Yes, my trip was paid for, lock, stock, and barrel, by the mother of my friend. It was only later that I realized the magnitude of the gift she had given me.

You can’t drive across the United States for $68.00 today, not with three people. Even if you moved the decimal point a couple of places to the right, you might still have a tough time, what with the price of gasoline, rooms, and food. I remember that gasoline at the station in the Grand Canyon was forty-nine cents a gallon and we thought that was highway robbery; yes, those were different days.

There are two points with which I’d like to leave you: First, life is very short and very unpredictable. Enjoy every single second of it to the best of your ability. If you’re working at a job you absolutely hate, find something you absolutely love. It may not pay as much, but can you survive on what it does pay? I’m not asking if it can pay enough that you can buy a new car every few years or have a bigger house. I’m asking if money or love of life is more important to you. It’s your choice. When he was dying, my Dad admitted how much he’d hated his job, the job he’d held for nearly forty years. “I wanted to work with my hands, “he told me, “but I wasn’t sure I could make a go of it.” Can you imagine having to go to work for forty years and hating every minute of it? What does that mean to your life? What does it take from you…physically…mentally? I was fortunate. Yes, there were times when I was pissed off at a boss or at a task, but in the overall, I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing. Am I in the minority? Perhaps, but I worked at finding ways to make my job a pleasant one.

The second point I’d like to make is that working so hard that you make million or billions of dollars isn’t that important. Bill Gates made billions because he has a gift. If you hadn’t noticed, he and his wife are sharing their wealth. Soichiro Honda made hundreds of millions because he loved what he was doing and he was good at it. He died penniless, after ensuring his family’s well being. Why, because he wanted to. He shared his monies with those less fortunate, giving away millions. The Madoffs, Milkins, Boeskys, and others of their ilk may have made huge chunks of money, but at what price? The key is to understand that you will never have everything you want in life, and if you do, your life has been lessened by that achievement.

You don’t have to agree with me. I cannot and will not ask that. I will say that the past 75 years have been very interesting. I can only wonder what my next 75 will bring.

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            It started out simply enough. I planned to write a piece questioning the rationale of a Kansas group to picket the memorial service for the 12 miners killed in West Virginia. If you haven’t seen the movie, “The Laramie Project,” you may not be familiar with this particular organization. They call themselves the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and it seems that they are against anything and everything, anyone and everyone, who doesn’t believe as they believe. It appears that the word, ‘tolerance,’ is not a part of their vocabulary.

            One of the WBC’s press releases reads, “Thank God for 12 dead miners,” and “God is laughing, mocking and deriding hypocritical, fag-infested West Virginia.” The Record Delta, a newspaper in West Virginia, notes that the WBC release also states, “They died in shame and disgrace, citizens of a cursed nation of unthankful, unholy perverts who have departed from the living God to worship on ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and who have replaced the Bible with ‘The Da Vinci Code.’”

            Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read something like that, I become just a wee bit concerned that there are people in this country who are filled so completely with hatred of others. You might wonder who follows them; who can actually believe the garbage that they are putting forth? Unfortunately, there are all too many people who are willing to jump into bed with these people – probably a poor choice of words there, but you get my drift. In addition to protesting the trial of two men accused of killing Matthew Shepherd, the gay college student from Laramie, these idiots have also picketed the funerals of soldiers who have been killed overseas, claiming that, “…the killings are a manifestation of God’s wrath over homosexuality in the United States”; now they’re going after West Virginia coal miners. Their logic, or lack thereof, is unbelievable.

            The more I explored hate groups, the more disturbing the issue became. For example, would you believe that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there are eleven active hate groups in Massachusetts as of 2004. Six of these are Neo-Nazi groups, three are Black Separatists; and two are classified as ‘other,’ meaning, I guess, that they’re just plain pissed off at the world. The function of the SPLC is to monitor hate groups throughout the country and to bring lawsuits against those who violate the civil rights of others. Considered by some extremists to be radical in its own right, the SPLC has been responsible for a number of progressive movements in the area of civil rights, including equal benefits for women in the military and the elimination of several white supremacist groups through lawsuits which bankrupted the radical organizations.

            As I was doing research about hate groups and questioning how his might apply to the Westwood/Medfield area, I remembered that shortly after we moved to this area, a cross was burned on the lawn of a black family in our neighborhood. Several people with whom we spoke ‘justified’ the action by making derogatory remarks about the family, some of which might well have been true; however, when push comes to shove, it was an act of racial hatred against another human being and one that should not have happened.  Not long before we moved to Westwood, the town’s only Synagogue was burned and if that doesn’t qualify as a hate crime, I don’t know what does. The point is that the argument, “It can’t happen here” or “It was deserved” just doesn’t work in Westwood or anywhere else, particularly in the year 1986! It can and it does happen in every town throughout Massachusetts, New England, and the entire United States.

            Before you think I’m on the “holier than thou” trip, let me say that each and every one of us is biased. It’s a part of the human condition. After all, religious persecution has been given as the major reason for the founding of our country, and our past is riddled with examples of how bias and hatred have been tolerated in America; just ask any Native American or any black who is descended from slaves. During World War II, Japanese Americans were objects of scorn; following Viet Nam and until very recently, Asian Americans continued to be the targets of hate crimes. After 911, Arab Americans, Muslims had and continue to have an increasingly difficult time.

            Every hour someone commits a hate crime somewhere in America. Every day at least eight blacks, three whites, three gays, three Jews, and one Latino become hate crime victims. Every week a cross is burned. This isn’t something I’ve made up. This comes from reliable sources…and it scares the hell out of me.

            More often than not, hate crimes are committed by groups rather than individuals. People who hate this violently are often cowards who need the support of others. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “A hate group is an organized group or movement that advocates hate, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, religion, or other sector of society. The term, hate group, is not used by these groups themselves, but rather by those who oppose them, and sometimes by sociologists or historians who study them. Many groups described this way disagree with the term as misconstruing their motives or goals.”

            There is some good news to report. All around the country people are beginning to stand up to hate, promoting tolerance and a spirit of cooperation, and taking control. Bullying, an early indicator of potential problems, is being attacked and the school children in Westwood and Medfield are to be congratulated on their joint efforts in this regard.

            In the next article, we’ll talk about how hate groups work and the stages they go through.

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            “Hate is like a cancer. It doesn’t matter if you have a little cancer or a lot of cancer – it’s still cancer!” The author of this quotation is unknown, but whoever she or he is, they’ve certainly summed up hatred as simply as possible. If you ask the question, “Why do people hate,” on any of the Internet search engines, you’ll find nearly eighty thousand sites mentioned. When you go to 99% of these sites, you find that the question doesn’t end with the word, “hate.” It’s, “Why do people hate”…America, Jews, Muslims, Christians, gays, Martha Stewart, trolls, Wal-Mart, Windows, Macs, and yes, even why do people hate me (that’s a generic ‘me’ by the way)? That’s a very small sampling of the listed sites. In other words, the Net, for all of its many wonders, cannot provide an answer to why people hate. 

           Put in its simplest terms, people hate because they can – they have choices – and they’ve been taught. In the musical, South Pacific, Bloody Mary sings, “You’ve got to be taught…to hate all the people your relatives hate; you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Frankly, we’ve all done a pretty damned good job of teaching. And when those who hate find others of similar persuasion, a hate group is born. It’s just as simple as that.

            One definition of a hate group is that it is “…an organized group or movement that advocates hate, hostility or violence toward members of a race, ethnicity, religion or other sector of society.”  Of course, the people in a hate group don’t think of themselves in that way. Many of them feel persecuted and misunderstood. Gee, all they’re doing is ‘dehumanizing’ or ‘demonizing’ the target of their hate. That’s because their targets are all conspiring to tear down the fabric of the nation…or some nonsense like that. Many claim to be a minority that is actually speaking for the vast majority of the population, those too timid to speak out, and they have their own “authoritative” publications to prove how correct they are.

            John Schafer and Joe Navarro, a pair of FBI agents wrote, “The Seven-Stage Hate Model – the Psychopathology of Hate Groups,” in the March 2003 edition of the Law Enforcement Bulletin. “Haters,” they say, “pass through these seven successive stages without skipping a stage. In the early four stages, haters vocalize their beliefs. In the last three stages, they act on [those] beliefs.” First, the haters gather, seeking and finding others who believe as they do. This helps to strengthen their self-worth. It also enables them to do things as a group that they would never do alone, thereby reducing their accountability. Next the haters define themselves as a group. Identities are formed through symbols, rituals, and mythologies, which enhance the members’ status while simultaneously degrading the object of their hatred. In steps three and four, the group first verbally attacks the object of their hatred. These attacks then escalate to taunting and offensive gestures, designed to instill greater fear in the victims, thus instilling a greater sense of power in the haters. This latter stage is where one might begin to see graffiti in areas where the haters congregate.

            The next three stages take the hatred to an entirely new plateau. The hate group begins to search out vulnerable targets and physically assaults him or her. Interestingly, this is physical assault without weapons. It appears that beatings also introduce an adrenaline high to the haters; it can also be called ‘thrill-seeking’ violence. At step six, weapons become evident. These may be guns, knives, broken bottles, baseball bats, screwdrivers, and any manner of tool that can be used to inflict serious harm or death.

            In the final stage of this seven-step model, the hate group destroys the target of its wrath. The hater feels that he or she has been given the power of life and death. As the authors write, “…in reality, hate physically and psychologically destroys both the hater and the hated.” Hate groups destroy their victims, themselves, and the communities in which they reside.

            That’s the bad news. The good news, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), is that throughout the country, people are speaking out against hate, developing and implementing programs that encourage tolerance and inclusion. The Center, founded in 1971 as a small civil rights law firm, is internationally known for, among other things, its tracking of hate groups.

            More often than not, the SPLC notes, when hate comes to town, love rises up against it, usually in greater numbers. For example, when the Westboro Baptist Church hate group decided to picket the memorial service for the 12 miners killed in West Virginia, the Patriot Guard Riders – www.patriotguard.org – a motorcycle group that originated in Kansas, contacted the West Virginia memorial organizers and indicated their willingness to form a picket line around the pickets. To date, more than 1,200 riders have assisted families of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose funerals were threatened by pickets. “We are not a protest group,” insists Chris Brocksmith of the Patriot Guards. “We show up only when requested by the family or organization. We turn our backs on the protesters, but the one thing we won’t do is confront them. They want you to lash out; then they sue and put money in the bank. We know how they operate and we don’t want to build their bank account.”

Next we’ll talk about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ten principles for fighting hate. We’ll also discuss what Westwood is doing to reduce hate in this community. That’s right, dear readers, hate in Westwood is alive and well. However, a small group of men and women are taking definitive steps to diffuse that hatred.

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            Whether it’s gay bashing in Boston, New Bedford, Chicago, or Laramie, Wyoming, anti-Semitism in Newton, Baltimore, or Coeur d’ Lane, Idaho, or white supremacist hate crimes in more towns that I care to count, hatred and its consequences are everywhere. Westwood has not been immune. From anti-Semitic slurs and gay bashing in the high school, to a cross-burning in Islington, this town has known its share of hatred. Westwood, however, is doing something about it. Reporter Priscilla Yeon attended a recent meeting of the No Place for Hate committee. I hope you’ll read her special report regarding the community’s plans to reduce and, hopefully, eradicate ‘hate’ in Westwood.

            What happens when hate does come to town? All too often, we hear, “Yes, but I’m only one person. What can I do?”  The answer is, “You’d be surprised at just how much you, as a single person, can do.”  The Southern Poverty Law Center has put together a guide with ten principles for fighting hate. It wasn’t long after I read it, that I learned just what one person can do. Let me explain.

            The first principle put forth is “Do something.” It doesn’t have to be drastic. Just say or do something that demonstrates your opposition to prejudice toward others because of their race, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or other differences. Recently, a friend began to tell me a ‘gay joke.’ When I mentioned that I didn’t appreciate that kind of humor, she said, “C’mon; lighten up; this is the gym; you’re losing your sense of humor.” I don’t believe I’m losing it, but I have a number of gay friends, both men and women. I’ve become sensitized by them regarding what they have to endure…it’s not a pretty sight. They’ve made a lifestyle choice, and I accept it. Making light of that choice or criticizing it is as bad as making racial slurs, something my joke-telling friend would never do. So speak out when you hear or see bigotry or hate. When you do nothing, your apathy is interpreted as acceptance. It reminds me of the statement by Protestant Pastor and former head of the World Council of Churches, Martin Niemoller, “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”  Speaking out is doing something.

            The second principle is to “Unite.” There are others, just like you, who are opposed to hate and hate groups. In Westwood, it was Reverend Peter Lovett and a few friends who got together and said, “Enough.” It was no big deal. They saw a problem and united to find a solution. The upshot has been the formation of a committee, working with the Anti-Defamation League to build Westwood into a community in which there is No Place for Hate. From those early beginnings have emerged some of the most dedicated and hardworking people I’ve met in a long time. I’m honored to be on the fringes, working with them. Perhaps you’d like to become a part of that committee…just ask.

            The third principle put forth by the Center is to “Support the Victims.” You don’t know any victims? You might be surprised. How about that kid at the Downey, Deerfield, or Thurston School who’s been a victim of bullying? How about those kids in the high school who are never asked to be a part of “the in group” because, “they’re weird?” You may not think you know a ‘victim,’ but I’ll bet you do. It’s not confined to youth; it’s anyone of any age or ethnicity. It’s someone who is different.

            What constitutes a hate crime? Principle number four is, “Do Your Homework.” You have to understand the difference between a hate crime and a simple matter of bias. I’m so sick and tired of hearing, “Oh, boys will be boys,” when it comes to bullying, that I want to vomit. Bullying is the formative stage of hate. If not intervened in its early stages, it’s been shown to escalate into behavior that is not appropriate in a civilized society. We aren’t born filled with hate, filled with disrespect for others. We are taught, and the only way to break that circle of hate is to reverse those teachings by “Creating Alternatives,” which is the fifth principle. Remember one thing: People who preach hatred have as much right as you do to oppose them. The First Amendment to the Constitution gives them that right. As much as you might like to retaliate, confrontation only serves the purposes of the perpetrators. When one group of white supremacists attempted to rally in Pulaski, TN, they found that the town had closed for business, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. They couldn’t get a burger or even find a place to go to the bathroom.

            Principle six is, “Speak Up.” You have as much right to denounce those who are spewing hate as they have under the First Amendment. Don’t try to debate with haters; they’ll always turn it into a confrontation. Let your voice and that of others who believe as you do ring out in the media.

            The Westwood No Place for Hate committee is following the seventh principle to the letter by “Lobbying Leaders.” Mike Jaillet, the Town Administrator, a representative from the police department, and other community leaders are all pitching in to build partnerships that will ensure the success of the program.

            Hate doesn’t generally begin from outside the community. New Bedford, a No Place for Hate Community, learned this the hard way not long ago. However, because their committee had already “Looked Long Range” – principle number eight, by the way – their response was immediate and strong. Within hours after the attack at Puzzles Nightclub, plans were well underway, and a large group of concerned citizens turned out the following evening for a candlelight vigil to protest the hate crime.

            The ninth principle, “Teach Tolerance,” is something that is being done in my town and a number of communities. Unfortunately, I don’t see the message sinking in that well. If you’re a parent, discuss tolerance with your kids. It’s only through frank and honest discussion that we can learn what everyone is thinking.

            Finally, “Dig Deeper.” Friends know that I’m not some kind of religious nut; however, I believe firmly in the statement, “As you do unto the least of these, so you do unto me.” It’s taken me a long time to discover that I’ve had some pretty deep-seated biases. I’m not even certain that I don’t still have some…but I’m trying. I hope that you’ll think about these ten principles for fighting hate, and that you’ll join with others in making your community an even better place in which to live.

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( Joan has been dead for almost two years now. Recently, I came across this piece. I felt the need to put it on my blog so that others might understand.  If you’ve been touched by cancer, you will understand my need. If you’ve not been touched – and I don’t anyone who has not – you may not enjoy this; forewarned is, after all, forearmed .)

            A Cherokee elder sitting with his grandchildren told them, “In every life there is a terrible fight—a fight between two wolves. One is evil: he is fear, anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and deceit. The other is good: joy, serenity, humility, confidence, generosity, truth, gentleness, and compassion.” A child asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The elder looked him in the eye. “The one you feed.”

            Perhaps it came from dealing with people who always had hidden agendas. Perhaps it was from speaking with the more than 4,000 law enforcement officers with whom I dealt over a lifetime in education…the ‘cops’ who attended one of my classes, seminars, or workshops. Maybe some of it came from the ‘characters’ at the gym, people who, like me, had dealt with those who seemed innately evil. Wherever it came from, my tendency was, for the most part, to be guarded around those I did not know well. It was the, “No one likes me; everyone’s out to screw me syndrome.” Cancer changed that.     

I began to see the innate goodness in people; strangers who had heard of Joan’s illness came up to me at the gym and said, “You and your wife are in my prayers;” “Your family is on my prayer list,” and similar words of encouragement and thoughtfulness. One man whom I know came by the elliptical machine on which I was walking and put a book on my gym bag. The book, “Embraced By The Light” by Betty Eadie, was inscribed, “Dick…I hope this book can give you as much peace as it gave me.”  A high school classmate, who I have not seen in over half a century, made a quilt for Joan and brought it to the house.

            How do you explain the ‘goodness’ in people? Am I too cynical? Have I become so hardened that I’ve been blinded to what people really are, to their true virtue? It was Aristotle who said, “Virtue means doing the right thing, in relation to the right person, at the right time, to the right extent, in the right manner, and for the right purpose.  Thus, to give money away is quite a simple task, but for the act to be virtuous, the donor must give to the right person, for the right purpose, in the right amount, in the right manner, and at the right time.” The prayers and kind words, the book, the quilt, and so much more have made a profound change in my way of looking at people. Perhaps it’s God’s way of sending me a wake-up call. If so, I’m sorry He waited so long.

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            Suppose for a moment that a complete stranger walks up to you, stares you right in the eye, and says, “I’m taking your name and everything you have;” then turns and walks away without another word. What would you do? The person has gone. The threat has been made. It couldn’t have been serious. Maybe you just imagined it. Maybe you didn’t.

            Three months after your encounter, when you’ve forgotten all about it, your phone rings. “Hello, my name is Bob Turner. I’m with ‘X’ bank.” Right away you think, “That’s where I have my MasterCard,” or whatever credit card it might be. Then come the questions: “Did you order a batch of checks to be sent to you at…” and it’s an address you’ve never heard of.  “Are you in the process of opening a new account at…” and it’s the same or even a different address. First, how do you know this person is for real? How do you check the reliability of this telephone call? Does all of this sound preposterous? Take it from one who’s been there, it’s not. This stranger or someone has turned out to be your worst nightmare.

            Was it a hacker who broke through your firewall, sent in a Trojan Horse, a worm, or some other virus? Did they somehow manage to pluck your Social Security Number, mother’s maiden name, or some other confidential piece of information that you thought was protected? No, it was not. Well, in all probability, it was not. It might have been a Script Kiddie or a Cracker, or even a “black-hat” – negative terms generally applied to illegal entrants –  but despite what many people think, the majority of hackers appear to be interested in something far more important than breaking your bank. For the most part, they just wish to test their skills and knowledge against a system that is supposedly protected. It’s the minority of cybervandals who will maliciously try to rob you of your identity, crash your hard drive, or just plain give you fits.

            The terms, “hacker,” and “hack” have their origin at The Model Railroad Club at MIT somewhere in the 1950s. At least, that’s the attribution by author Steven Levy in his book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. There are earlier references but seeing that MIT has been the home to so many remarkable computer firsts, we’ll accept the birth of the hacker as just another feather in its beanie.

            No matter how you slice it, hacker is most commonly referred to in some criminal context. According to Professor Herb Mattord  of Kennesaw State University in Georgia, “It’s come to mean anyone who works their way around legitimate controls in systems.”  Hackers do not consider themselves as criminals. Despite the glamour of hacking, portrayed in such movies as War Games or Hackers, most say that they hack for the intellectual challenge, to gain greater knowledge of computing, or for the adrenaline rush that it provides. Hackers, like many creative people, are not content to know that something works. They prefer to know both how it works and how they can make it work better. If this means stretching beyond the limits of what others consider legal, so be it. Richard Thieme, who has written extensively about computer security as well as lecturing at security conventions, feels that hackers are “…unconventional thinkers, people who are unconventional in every way and who refuse to accept no. If they’re told the machine wasn’t meant to do something, they figure out a way.”

            Am I advocating hacking as something to be encouraged? Absolutely not. According to Information Week, “Hacker is a loaded word. The hacker community – and it’s a thriving online community – includes technophiles, curiosity seekers, cybervandals, and outright thieves and fraudsters.”  Those who fall in the latter categories are criminals and create serious problems.  Industrial espionage can be profitable for those who know how to crack the system. Estimates of the cost to business from computer hackers range from $200 million per year to more than $1.6 trillion. The actual figure is probably closer to the former than the latter. Several companies have offered rewards for information that leads to the capture of those responsible for unleashing virus or worm attacks.

            Believe it or not, there is an up side to hacking. Many people who have been hackers in their youth use the skill to become security consultants and protect others against the less desirable element in hacking. Some, like Marc Maiffret of eEye Digital Security, have founded their own firms to make security software for others.

            Having been the victim of identity fraud and not really knowing whether or not it was computer-related, I use to cringe and clench my fists at the word hacker. Today, however, after doing a bit of research, I’m a bit more tolerant. It’s now much easier to see that hackers actually can be good guys…I think.

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