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Archive for September, 2010

Isn’t it wonderful; The FBI issues its latest statistics saying that crime is down throughout the country. Murder, rape, assault, burglaries have all seen a marked decline over the past several years. Oops, forgot about Boston. Well, you know, there’s a bad apple in every barrel.

Boston’s murder rate is up and it’s up at an alarming rate. By and large, it’s Black people killing other Black people. Why? The Jesse Jackson’s and the Al Sharpton’s of this world will tell you it’s because Black people have been oppressed. The more conservative and less outspoken will tell you that it’s because the Black community is unwilling to take responsibility or accept accountability for what is going on within a small group that wants to become rich without working. I’m speaking, of course, about those who believe that dealing drugs and robbing those better off than they are acceptable forms for achieving wealth…and wealth is often determined by the amount of ‘bling’ you wear.

The recent murders in Mattapan, a small section of Boston, serve as a perfect example of how messed up much of the Black community is today. At 1:30 in the morning, four people are gunned down. These include two naked men, a woman in her pajamas and a two-year old child. Okay, here are some questions that I want answered:

  • What is this woman doing outside with her baby and two naked men, neither of whom is her husband or the father of the baby as far as we know?
  • The sole survivor, shot and gravely wounded says this was a pot deal gone bad. Were the men naked because they were being search for pot by the murderers and what did the woman, who had plans to study criminal justice at a local community college, have to do with a pot deal?
  • Why would you bring your child to a drug deal?

There are many, many questions that have to be answered about these murders; chief among them is why so much of this is taking place in one racial grouping. The majority of the Black community in Mattapan are justifiably outraged, and with good reason.  When someone is killed in Brockton or New Bedford, it will, in all probability, turn out to be a Cape Verdean or a person of color. If it happens in Wellesley or Needham, the victim and the killer are generally white. But it doesn’t happen in the latter communities with the regularity that it seems to within the Black community. Why? Is this some cultural thing that says if you don’t get what you want, you just kill the person who doesn’t give it to you? I don’t understand it and I never, ever will.

I see a total lack of understanding among some of the community leaders in Mattapan. When one says, “We built a new library so these kids would have a place to go,” I have be open in my incredulity. It’s not enough to build the facility; you have to provide the incentives that will attract people to it. This is like giving a kid in the jungles of deepest, darkest wherever a computer. Since there is no electricity, it can’t be turned on, and since the child doesn’t speak the language of the instructional manual, and because the child doesn’t know what the hell the thing is in the first place, how can you expect him or her to use the computer effectively. Wouldn’t it be easier, when your back is turned, for the kid to hit you over the head with the computer; steal your clothing and your shoes, and; trade them for something of value…like food? Yes, that is the invidious comparison I am making. It is easier and faster for many members of the Black community in Mattapan and other areas to kill somebody over drugs than it is to learn how to make an honest living; how to improve one’s life style legitimately, and; help to change a culture of violence into one where people can live safely.

This is not a nice world in which we live. The statistics offered by the FBI mean squat to the people who live with violence every day. More police are not the solution; that merely drives the problem underground until such time as the naïve politicians make an announcement that the community is now safe. Dream on, you hacks, dream on. The community will not be safe until the community accepts the responsibility for making it safe. In the case of Mattapan, this means Black fathers accepting responsibility for their families. It means Black girls saying “No” to getting knocked up and having the father abrogate his responsibilities. It means Black boys being lured by older members of the community into the illegal world of drugs, burglary, assault, and yes, even murder have to wise up and walk away before more of them take a bullet. Why is it, I would ask, that Black grandparents are the ones who are out saying the very same thing and yet, in their day, some of them – not all, but some – were the same part of the same problem? Older and wiser is no excuse. Easy money by peddling drugs is no excuse. Owning a gun and believing that this entitles you to take what you want is not an excuse. How many of the kids in Mattapan idolize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. DuBois, Jack Johnson, or Berry Gordy with the same intensity that they idolize athletes like Michael Viick or Alan Iverson or some of the rappers who advocate “Beating the bitches,” or “Killin’ da ho’s,” or “Takin’ down da man.” Who the hell are the role models?

I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to live a life of poverty. Many of the people in Mattapan are right at the poverty line, most through no fault of their own. My family was lower-middle to middle-middle class. I grew up in a suburb, a small town of 11,000. There were three Black families in town. To us, they were families; they were like us except for skin color and that really didn’t matter. I went to school in Boston, right on the edge of Roxbury, what was then considered “The Black Section.” I’d been told it was a tough area and that white folks weren’t welcome, but I really didn’t believe it until I watched three Black men throw a fourth from the roof of a four-story building…now there’s an eye-opener! I went to a bar in Mission Hill, another Black section. The bar was owned by Jim Nance, a running back for the Boston Patriots. Until we told the other patrons that Jim had invited us, our reception was quite a bit less than friendly.

Until we get to the point that we all begin to accept responsibility for our actions, murderous scenes such as recently occurred in Mattapan will continue. Until everyone in this country is held accountable for his or her actions, we will continue to have problems. In other words, nothing is probably going to change. We will bitch and wail and bare our chests; scream for the criminals to be caught and punished. The media will continue to philosophize about people coming together…and then some other tragedy will occur that will knock the Mattapan murders right off the front pages of the newspapers and right out of the half hour newscasts on TV.  Cynical? Me? Oh, how can you say that?

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Death and creativity

Death or the prospect thereof is really a frightening thing. You hear people say, “I’d rather be dead than…” or “Death is just another part of life,” which makes no sense to me whatsoever. If you’re dead, you’re dead, and that means that you’re not alive so how can it be a part of life. The gravediggers in Hamlet noted that they began their work the day Hamlet was born. Heck, given that proposition, some gravedigger began his or her work the day each of us was born. “Death holds no fear for me,” some will say; “My faith will see me through.” That’s very admirable indeed, and I admire those people greatly. I cannot help but wonder, however, when they are drawing their last breath, if they will be able to hold their faith. Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark, and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.”

Most of us have witnessed death in some form or other. A favorite pet dies; a grandparent, parent, spouse or friend dies. Rarely do we think of this in terms of our own being…or perhaps we do. I’m no psychiatrist or psychologist or mind reader. Perhaps, as we age, or when someone close to us dies, we think of our own mortality, although watching some of the drivers on the less-than-super-highways in Massachusetts, I don’t believe many drivers consider their own mortality for a second. In fact, I’m convinced that they still believe they are invincible, inviolable, immortal, as well as superhuman.

Death will come to us all at some time or other. A friend recently lost her dad; he was 75; that’s a year younger than I, and, most assuredly, that brought the matter home. As Dr. Wayne Dyer noted in Your Erroneous Zones, “Look over your shoulder. You have a constant companion. For want of a better name, call it your own death.” So, it’s always there, whether we like it or not. The question is, “Do we live our lives thinking of life or do we live our lives thinking of our own death.”There comes a time when we do begin to recognize that, “Wow, this sure can’t last forever!” For me, I believe that thought first occurred as I was plummeting toward what I was certain was the ‘valley of death’ on the roller coaster at Nantasket Beach – I was probably 15 at the time. Others of my youth recall the first time they were caught in a rip tide and were certain that tomorrow was not a distinct possibility. By and large, the truth of the matter is that we rarely we consider our own demise in an everyday world of work and play.

“Hey, wait a minute. This is the fourth paragraph and he still hasn’t made a point. Why am I continuing to read?” Probably the reason you continue to read is that you think there will be some brilliant philosophical illumination that will soon occur. Nah, sorry, I was just thinking about death and decided to start typing. I find that death, just like life, raises all sorts of wonderful questions. In life, I ponder things like how can any human being kidnap, torture, and kill a child? What happened to this person that he or she felt so empowered that they could do such a thing? What was the killer’s childhood like or did something just snap or go haywire with the synapses of the brain? I wonder if we’ll ever find a cure for cancer or what I might be able to do to speed that process. I’m not a wealthy person; when I donate money, it’s not always easy, and cancer seems to mutate so easily that I often ask if we’ll ever find a cure. Then I think of the number of people who must have asked the same question about smallpox and tuberculosis, and polio and I can smile knowing that those have been conquered. These are the kinds of things that run through what is left of my mind.

There are so many, many things about which we should all have some thought. When teaching creative problem solving to police officers years ago, I would always start with an exercise that would test their creativity skills, allow them to work in teams with complete strangers, and force them to use public speaking talents. Here’s how it went: “I’m going to break you into teams of [five]. You will have a scenario about which you are to build a believable story. You will have fifteen minutes to create this story which you will then present, team member by team member, to the rest of the class. Your telling of the story will be no longer than five minutes. You must then defend your story to your classmates. This torture will last only ten minutes. Should your classmates decide not to torture you, I will do the honors; therefore, you should hope that they and not I will do the questioning.” Each team was then given a scenario which might read like this: “The year is 2375. Schools, as we know them today, are a thing of the past. All “education” must take place through teleconferencing. Even the course work is nearly unrecognizable from that of the year 2000. What happened to create this situation and what are some of the “courses” that are now being “taught?”

This idea of forcing people to think outside of their level of comfort isn’t as “bad” as you first might think. Without creativity, we’d still be reading by candlelight and books would be few and far between. Therefore, perhaps we should, when we consider our own demise and what lies beyond, be creative in our thinking. As Woody Allen said, “Death should not be seen as an end, but as a very effective way to cut down on expenses.” Now, that’s creative thinking! Even the late Erma Bombeck had a few words to say on the subject…“If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.”

We began with the prospect of death being frightening. It’s only fitting and proper that we should conclude with the idea of death as being somewhat humorous or even philosophical. Perhaps the entire matter was best summed up by Connecticut clergyman, author, and rogue of renown, Henry Ward Beecher, who wrote, “Living is death; dying is life. We are not what we appear to be. On this side of the grave we are exiles, on that citizens; on this side orphans, on that children.” We can only wait and see.

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In 1994, the Republican Party released a “Contract With America,” It was well written. The document indicated that “Like Lincoln, our first Republican president,, we intend to act ‘with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” Without detailing all of the paper, let me say that I saw both good points and bad points to it. It was a blatant attempt to invoke the name of our most popular President of these United States; an undisguised effort to invoke the name of God (as being a Republican) to get voters to see that He was on the side of the Republicans, and; an amazingly simplistic approach regarding how Congressional politics actually works. Let me use the very first point as an example of the manner in which these folks appealed to the gullibility of the average American. “On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will pass the following major reforms aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government. FIRST, require that all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress.” Does this mean that Congressional members would not retire at full salary and benefits such as their own health care plan?  Does this mean that crimes committed by members of Congress will be tried and punished by the same courts as the rest of the American peons? It didn’t and doesn’t and probably never will work that way. Congressmen and women are a breed apart. What’s okay for them is not what’s okay for the rest of the country. To be very, very fair here, it is not only Republican members of the Congress who are first-order shamans – and that’s with apologies to shamans – Democrats, as well, are the 21st Century versions of the carpetbaggers that followed each of our wars.

Suffice it to say that the 1994 “Contract With America” was a hit. With this “Contract,” the Republican Party was able to get a majority in Congress, something that had not been achieved in four decades. It worked, and therefore , in 2010, the Republican Party is trotting it out again…hey, if something works once, why not give it another shot. All one has to do is change a word here or there and let the gullibility of the American public work to your advantage.

I have sifted through the 21 pages of “A Pledge to America.” I use that word, “sifted” because to read it as thoroughly as I might like literally turns my stomach into knots. It is the rhetoric of the party that is not in power casting aspersions on the party that is in power. In its opening statement, the “Pledge” contends that “An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down long-standing laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people.” That sounds exactly like something that the Democrats could have written during the eight years of Republican leadership, when a national DNA data base was begun with newborn children, or when illegal wire taps were merely a way of doing business, or when private security firms were being awarded no-bid contracts. The “Pledge goes on to state that “Rising joblessness, crushing debt, and a polarizing political environment are fraying the bonds among our people and blurring our sense of national purpose.” Gee, all of this has been done by a party that has been in control for less than half of its term? It rather makes you wonder how things actually got so bad in such a short space of time and what led up to this crisis of confidence.

If it was possible to hope that some things were changing, you are reading the words of one who had such hope. Unfortunately, all I read was the same old nonsense about God, gays, and guns; love the ends and hate the one in the middle. Repealing the current health care bill, creating jobs, end economic uncertainty, making America more competitive, stopping the out-of-control spending, and reducing the size of government are all part of this “Pledge.” There is also a plan to reform Congress and restore trust so that the people will have the power in their hands, and finally “We offer a plan to keep our nation secure at home and abroad that will provide the resources, authority, and support our deployed military requires, fully fund missile defense, and enforce sanctions against Iran.” Right there, the “Pledge” contradicts itself. How can one promise to reduce spending when the cost of fighting in the Middle East surpasses $200 million per day? Here again is a scare tactic designed not to end the fighting but to perpetuate wars around the globe, wherever these folks think necessary…not the people of the nation into whose hands is promised the power, but into the few in Congress who believe a war needs to be fought here or there to protect those people.

Repealing the current health care bill signed earlier this year is merely a tactic to discredit the current administration. Getting a national health care plan is a major accomplishment for any administration. The “loyal opposition” can never be positive about a major accomplishment by their opponents. What the “Pledge” does not say is that the plan that would replace the one currently in effect would insure far fewer people. Creating jobs and ending economic uncertainty is the job of any administration. Is the current group in power moving in that direction? It appears so. Can it be turned around in two years? Unfortunately no, and if a magic wand could be waved to do so, Merlin would be on call to the White House ASAP. The “Pledge” talks about reigning in the “Red Tape Factory” in Washington, yet this “factory” has existed longer than I’ve been alive. This is gibberish as is most of “Our Plan to End The Uncertainty and Create Incentives for Job Growth;” everything here is merely attempting to counter whatever is being tried at present. Here is where polarization truly shows through

There are charts and graphs and other lovely illustrative materials in this report. Unfortunately and admittedly, I did not review them as carefully as I wish that I could. The reason is very simple; I found so much of the text blatantly deceptive that I feel quite confident the accompanying illustrations would also distort the truth. There was plenty of fear in this pledge. For example, “Today, Washington spends $7 million every minute of every hour of every day. That is twice as much as was spent per minute in 1980.” Nowhere, however, other than in one of those crazy pie charts, did I see a full explanation of how that money is being spent, how it compares to what was being spent per minute under the last several administrations, or why it will “double by 2020” as promised.

We demand truth in advertising and, of course, we don’t get it. We demand truth from our kids to us and back to the kids. Usually, it’s bent in some way shape or form. Lying as an art form has been raised to new heights by politicians of all parties. The Republican Party’s “A Pledge to America” is just another set of lies being laid before the American people. Many will be swayed. Seats in Congress will change parties. If the House becomes a bastion of Republican naysayers rather than a group of men and women who are willing to work with their opposite numbers, then God help the United States of America.

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Clearing the brush

Driving along the highways and byways of New England, I am constantly amazed at the number of road signs that are partially or wholly obscured by bushes and tree limbs that have been allowed to hide them. Some of these don’t mean much…”Road ends in 30 feet;” “Ninety-degree curve next 100 yards;” “Bridge out; exercise caution.” What the heck, these we can handle; we’re New England drivers, although I do feel rather sad for those who aren’t familiar with our peculiarities. It did, however, give me an idea for a jobs creation project. We should hire a crew or two to drive every road in the state and eliminate the brush that obscures them. This would require a pickup truck or some appropriate vehicle, a driver and probably a co-driver, knowing the way things are done in New England. In addition, the vehicle would have to carry a “chipper” to reduce the offending brush and branches to a manageable load; a “chipper” operator, someone to cut the brush away from the signs, another person to bring the brush to the chipper, and at least one person to put out the cones and stand guard while all of this is going on. This is a minimum of five people per crew. In all probability, except in Rhode Island, once all of the brush had been cleared, it would be time to start back at the beginning. We could keep these folks busy right up to retirement time. Of course, we could also assign it to the state prisons, but I’d really want to check on who was cutting the brush and operating the chipper…that could be a bit tricky.

In a further effort to create jobs in New England, it would be something if we had people who could travel the state checking our infrastructure. The various gas companies could retrain some of their more experienced troubleshooters to check gas lines to forestall any potential problems. At the same time, they would hire additional “rookies” to learn some of the more mundane jobs that had been handled either by the troubleshooters or those who took their place after retraining. By the by, if any of this required that roadways be excavated, there would be a state house office that would coordinate the excavation to ensure that both electrical lines, water pipes, and any other underground  utilities would be checked simultaneously. In that way, the ground would be excavated once and repaved once, rather than having a series of “do overs” for each particular utility.

There are many ways in which we can put the unemployed back to work. The Civilian Conservation Corps model is still in effect through community service agencies, and there seems to be no reason why we couldn’t pattern our new programs on their model. Just as foundation help was required to get the CCC off the ground, there is no reason why we cannot call on some of our foundations and other major profit centers to help bring these programs to fruition.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “The problem we face today is unemployment not among the unskilled labor force but along the lines of the middle-class being able to find jobs. With all due respect to the middle class, my argument is that a great many of them didn’t try to grow with the times. I know people who consider themselves middle class who are terrified of computers. That’s a major drawback in today’s working environment. Our middle school children are far more technology savvy than many of their parents. Perhaps we should be establishing training programs to bring this people into the 21st Century.

We don’t honestly know what our needs are going to be over the next century or two. There must be think tanks that are trying to answer those questions. Somewhere there are preliminary reports regarding those needs. We must get busy refining those reports; defining the educational requirements to meet those needs, and preparing now to roll our “middle-class unemployed” into that future. Will they be worth what they once were in dollars and sense? Absolutely not. Will they have a leg up and perhaps move more quickly into positions of responsibility that will bring them back their status? My guess is that for some of them, the answer will be yes. For others, those unwilling to make changes in their work habits, learn new skills, accept the fact of societal change, their lives are going to be a living hell, and I can’t think of a simpler way of putting it.

Recently, I had my telephone land line removed from service. I then notified, by e-mail, friends, family, businesses, professional contacts, and everyone listed in my Personal Data Assistant (PDA) of my change from a land line to a cell phone. It’s not much, although one of my college classmates e-mailed back that he thought it was a courageous thing to do. In the long run, I may regret this; I rather doubt it, but I’m willing to give it a try. My kids want me to learn to text them. I refuse to do that…right now. I enjoy hearing their voices. Texting and e-mail are highly impersonal. However, I can see the day in the not too distant future when I will be required to text. Perhaps I can complain about arthritis in my hands and buy myself a few more years.

In 1998, I purchased my first home computer. In the twelve years that have elapsed, I’ve had three upgrades. My PDA has more power than the computers that carried men to the moon. I envision the day several decades from now when there will be no school buildings; when children will be taught in their homes by instructors who represent many countries, but who are the very best in their fields. I see the time when social interaction skills will plummet and then be recognized as an integral part of a child’s education. Therefore, some special centers will be established where children will be taught to interact properly with others; will learn athletic and artistic skills; will become more socially aware than their parents ever dreamed of being.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Some see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’” The late Robert Kenned later borrowed the line for one of his speeches as he campaigned for President. It’s a quotation we should all adopt. It’s all right to dream. Without dreams, nothing new or remarkable would ever be accomplished. Perhaps, in addition to clearing the brush away from the road signs, we should clear the brush that is blocking our own creativity.

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(The following blog is rated R. This is presented as a warning to those who might be offended by reference to sexual advertising on television. It is a marked departure from what is generally found on this blog; however, you never can tell what’s going to fascinate the old man’s mind!)

Cigarettes and all sorts of tobacco products are carcinogenic; we cannot deny that, and it’s really a good thing that advertising those products has been removed from our daily television viewing. Of course, it infringes on the rights of smokers and chewers and the like, but what the hell, it’s for their own good, right? We can still advertise beer and wine and good ol’ Jack, but those things aren’t really bad for you, unless you’ve consumed a great deal and then get behind the wheel of a car. Shucks, we even have ads that warn you about the evils of drinking and driving. All this from a man who used to smoke like a chimney and drink like a fish…perhaps it’s one of the benefits of having survived those years in time to wise up.

When the ads for tampons first appeared on television, our children were relatively young. Fortunately, the girls were not particularly inquisitive; I blushed. Granted, “the curse,” as my late wife called it, is a natural part of a woman’s life. I, however, did not see any particular reason why it had to be blabbed all over the boob tube…oops, sorry. You’re advertising sanitary napkins or tampons to boost your market share; somehow, it just doesn’t fit.

What really bothers me today are the sex ads. You probably won’t find them on adult channels – I don’t even know if they have ads. Viagra and Cialis are bad enough…”When the moment is right, will you be prepared?” What, I look like a boy scout or something? What if you’re never sure if the moment is right? What do you do, ask, “Is the moment right?” And what if she says, “No, and it never will be!” Here you are, having taken your Mr. Happy pill and you’re walking around with an erection screaming for help…this is not a good thing…particularly when they tell you that if the erection lasts more than four hours, you should seek medical help. You don’t need medical help; you need hooker help or a willing volunteer with a condom, and you need it now! There is now a new pill on the market for men. It’s a “blend of herbal complexes that can truly make a difference in your life” This thing guarantees the “bigger is better” philosophy that is peddled by “those in the know!” I love this ad because it appeals to our brainlessness.  “All it takes is taking a simple capsule,” we are told. “A capsule may seem too simple (oh yeah) but it’s not. Simple capsules have been make a difference in our lives for over half a century… from relieving pain, improving our health, managing our weight (oh really) and increasing our energy.” The ad goes on, but this stuff is for television?

I also admit to being shocked – maybe I’m just too old for this stuff, or perhaps values are changing – the first time I saw a couple sitting up in bed holding packages of his and her KY jelly. That’s right; one enhances his pleasure while the other brings greater joy and moments of ecstasy for her. I supposed this is something that should have been anticipated. At first it was all about male pleasure and female menstrual cycles. Now we’ve graduated to talking about his and her pleasure zones

Well, the other side of that sexual coin is now being promoted on television and ya just gotta love it. Now we have Zestra, a topical something or other to enhance encounters for the female of the species. “After the kids were born, sex just wasn’t the same.” Of course not, you idiot; you were trying to sneak quickies in before one of the little darlings woke up, walked in, and became traumatized by seeing the two of you doing the horizontal mambo. Viagra or no, daddy’s willy has gone south and mama’s feelings of sexual gratification from Zestra is replaced with the urge to kill; first it will be daddy for forgetting to lock the bedroom door, and second, the kid for spoiling “the moment.”!

In light of some of the soap operas that are on TV in the afternoon; because of the subjects that are discussed or disgusted on shows like Dr. Phil, Oprah, and a few others, and; in view of some of the specials that we can be exposed to on cable, I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked. I watched “Dexter” and found that while it might have been a bit gruesome, it was well done. I watched “Rome” because I’ve always been fascinated by that period of history. That was a bit of an eye-opener, to say the least. I supposed that could have been how things were “back in the day,” but I’m not certain it added a heck of a lot to the plot to have it paraded before our eyes.

Please don’t get me wrong. What we do, see, watch, buy, use, etc., in the privacy of our own homes is our own business. Don’t want to watch the folks in the bathtubs pushing boner pills, hit the mute button or change the channel. Don’t like the blood and gore you find on some station, hey, turn off the TV and pick up a book. We don’t read enough in this country anyway. However, I can’t help but wonder what is next from our friends at the local ad agency. Will we be watching couples going at it while proclaiming the virtues of a “tempurpedic” mattress? Will some local furniture store be advertising recliners by showing us how easy it is for coitius to take place in their “special” chair? Will “in flagrante delicto” become the newest theme to show us how much room there is in the back of a Chevy Suburban?

Ah, yes, the joys of advertising. Perhaps we are on the verge of yet another sexual revolution in America, brought to you this time by the makers of…..whatever!

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My naiveté regarding the political arena is absolutely astonishing. Please don’t misunderstand me when I say how wonderful it is that we, the United States of America, are pledging one billion dollars to help in the recovery of Haiti from the devastating earthquake that struck that country recently. Our effort is truly commendable; let me correct that statement…The efforts of the current administration in Washington are truly commendable. At the very same time, they are shameful and selfish, and it’s about time that someone spoke up for the people in America who are being screwed over because a bunch of political hacks think it will help them in upcoming elections…horse hockey!

The US is the world’s largest debtor nation. We owe so many countries so much money that we might just as well declare bankruptcy and start all over again. Our increase in imports and decrease in exports has been going on now for nearly four decades. Our country racks up trillion dollar deficits the way you or I might put off paying the light bill for several months. Of course, the consequences are a bit different…we start to go without power…oh, wait a minute; maybe the consequences aren’t quite so different. After being viewed as the world’s policeman for so many years, we are now gaining the reputation of being interlopers who are trying to force our own form of government on others to serve our own interests.

Whether you agree with me or not, you have to agree that we have no business promising US dollars to places like Haiti or Mexico while the Ninth Ward in New Orleans is still suffering the effects of a devastating hurricane or while poverty is still so rampant in America. Granted, there are those living in poverty who have no intention of getting jobs or who will stop suckling at the government teat unless they are forced to do so. There are others who feel, that because they are minorities of one type or another, it is their due to take what they want, when they want, however they want, and from whomever happens to have what they covet. They are wrong, of course, and when they’re caught, they go to jail where they get their “three squares and a bed.” In some cases, it may be the best life they’ve had. There are still others who wish no part of the government and who will survive in their own “leave me alone” way…God bless them for they have discovered a tranquility that few of the rest of us ever achieve.

Recently, I discovered a perfect example of how stupid people can be. Leaving a doctor’s office, I noticed two young men moving chairs into the elevator. These weren’t old, worn out pieces of garbage; these were perfectly fine padded secretarial chairs. They were on casters; had adjustable backs and heights, and the fabric appeared nearly new. I gave the boys a hand getting four of the chairs on the elevator. That’s all that would fit with me included. One of the young men and I rode down to my floor in comfort. “Nice chairs,” I commented. “Yeah,” said the kid; “they’re throwing them out?” “Why,” I naively asked. “Doc didn’t like the color. Why, you want them?” So, I took one of the chairs – I really should have taken two – and put it in my car. I have a perfectly good use for a perfectly good chair that was being thrown out because some idiot didn’t like the color. The color? What the hell is wrong with people like this? I’ll bet these chairs cost around $200 each…even at a discount store. It’s wasteful to “throw them out;” it’s disgusting to “throw them out;” it’s American to “throw them out.”

A friend told me, not too long ago, “You have to focus. You try to include too much in your articles; too many topics.” I agree with her, but when the ranting starts, it’s difficult to control. I disagree with her to the extent that I’m not alone. We, as a nation, have lost our focus. We are concentrating on being a “friend” to the rest of the world to the neglect of our own citizenry. Oh, our politicians talk a great game, but when push comes to shove, we don’t care for our own people as much as we try to care for those in different lands. There are over half a million Haitians living in the United States. I will bet you my life that these “Americans” will not be satisfied with whatever is done to help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti.  

Just as Haiti had its earthquake, Pakistan had its floods and we are now being urged to contribute to help the Pakistanis’. We must ship supplies to these countries to help them recover from their natural disasters. Excuse me but we have a natural disaster in our own country. The state of Louisiana has gone into the poor house. First it was Hurricane Katrina and now it’s been British Petroleum. Grand Isle, LA will never recover from the tourist dollars lost because of the BP disaster. Oh, BP has promised to pay; to make up for all of the lost monies along the Gulf. Does anyone honestly believe that money is the only measure of loss here? People are fickle. Some may return to Grand Isle and other Gulf beach towns but many others will not. They will have found other spots, free of BP pollution where they found new things to do and new places to have fun. I hope that Grand Isle can recover. I hope that somehow, miraculously, the state of Louisiana can recover from the terrible disasters that have befallen it over the past few years.

Yes, I feel badly for the people of Haiti, Pakistan, Rwanda, Darfur, Sri Lanka, and many other places around the world. Mostly, however, I feel sorry that we aren’t looking at the troubles in our own country first. One in seven people in the United States are living below the poverty level. Child poverty is up to more than twenty percent. Blacks and Latinos have been hit because of their higher rates of unemployment…and those are legal Blacks and Latinos! More metropolitan areas are seeing gains in poverty, including Detroit, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, and several others. Focus? Let us focus inward before we focus outward. Lyndon Johnson must be spinning in his grave; his “War on Poverty” is being waged by the United States in other parts of the world, not in our own backyard. We have a Democratic administration in power now, the party that first expanded the federal government’s role in social welfare programs. We know that if the balance shifts that neither Tea Party officials nor those in the Republican Party won’t give a damn about the poor in America. It’s time for each of us to stand up and defend our own poor, demanding that they become the number one priority in their own country.

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               A youngish boy walks up to his friend who is sitting on the back steps of his house. “Watcha doin?” asks the new arrival.

               “Nuthin’” answers the boy on the steps.

               “Aw, c’mon,” responds the first. “Ya gutcha be doin’ som’pin.”

               “Okay, then, I’m contemplating my navel,” is the retort, to which his friend retorts in an intellectual pique…

               “…Huh?”

               “It’s what my folks say to me all the time,” says the step sitter. He also knows that it’s something he’s told when he isn’t wanted in the room, but that’s okay because sometimes his parents would rather be alone…the way he’d like to be alone right now. It works for his parents, and he wonders why it doesn’t work for him.

               And so it goes. We are no longer allowed to sit on our back steps and just think; perhaps stare off at the trees and wonder how old they are; how they got there in the first place; why do certain birds use them as homes and others don’t. We may begin to wonder where do those other birds make their nests. How do they make them? How do they begin? How do they learn to make them? What do they do when the rain comes down on their nests and their babies get all wet? Why don’t their nests get destroyed? We may well be thinking these and thousands of other thoughts – some nice; some not so nice when our friend arrives.

               It appears that we are all, young and upwards alike, in too much of a hurry or are too programmed to just sit back and think. Time management experts will tell you that you have only 168 hours in a week and you already spend too much of that time sleeping, commuting, and watching mindless television. You have only “525,600 minutes” according to the musical, Rent. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to spend some of those minutes just “contemplating one’s navel.” I use the term very loosely and yes, I am aware that there are those omphaloskeptics who actually meditate while contemplating their singular navels.

               Does great accomplishment take place because we take the time to relax and think, allowing ideas to flow into us because our minds are more open, relaxed, and able to accept the unacceptable? As Will Rogers once noted, “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.” Perhaps taking the time or spending the time or even wasting the time to think of creative solutions to all of the problems we face today just might lead to the elimination of some of those problems. I am continually amazed at the hypocrisy of those who complain the loudest about certain problems when they have within their grasp the wherewithal to solve those problems. We seem to be so intent on making a living that we forget that our real purpose is to make a life.

               Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong in my approach to life; it’s a distinct possibility. I’ve been wrong about any number of choices I’ve made over three-quarters of a century, and I’m damned sure certain that I’ll be wrong about choices I make in the future. One of the choices I’ve made is to speak out against perceived wrongs: Wars in nations where we, as a country, have no right to be or to sacrifice the blood of our young men and women; politicians who seem to care more about party loyalties than constituency problems, and who are even more loyal to lining their own pockets above all else; illegals who cross our borders to take money but who are unwilling to become a part of our foundation; militants who believe that violence against our form of government is the only way they will, personally, achieve peace of mind; people, sometimes just like me – and I sure have been guilty of it at times – who complain for the sake of complaining without offering any concrete solutions.

               When I was working and trying to help my late wife raise our three children, I found little time to volunteer, that is unless it affected my family directly. In retrospect, it was selfish and I really could have made the time to help others; I just didn’t do it. In retirement, one of my greatest joys was working in a kitchen at a senior center and driving meals on wheels to those who were unable to get out. I found that volunteering made my own life better. I guess that one of my suggestions to business leaders would be to ensure that they and all of their employees become involved in community volunteer activity, even if it’s only a couple of days each month. Scribes have written all sorts of quotes about how giving is its own reward or about how you always get more back than you ever can give…that may be true of time, but I’ve never seen anyone get their money back once it’s donated. It doesn’t matter what is written; what matters is how you feel for having done it. Certainly, there are some people who just aren’t created to volunteer or to give back. Hey, that’s fine. If you’re one of them, just go along with your own life, but do so without bitching about the rest of the world.

               The point of this entire diatribe is to get you to first, contemplate your own navel sometime, and while you’re doing it, think about what you might do to help solve some of the problems of the world. Yep, you are only one person, and nope, you can’t win the war against poverty or stop crime all by yourself. Those problems are just too massive. But you might have a little time to drive someone to a chemotherapy appointment or to visit a nursing home or to do something else that might only take an hour or two a week. If each and every one of us took the time to think about what we could do to help, perhaps we might have an impact. I look at the way in which Habitat for Humanity started and I cannot believe how many people have been helped by the volunteers, particularly the college students, who spend part of their time each year building houses for others.

               As Americans, we probably have many more opportunities to help one another than most other people in other parts of the world. If we would just take the time to think what we can do and not what we want others to do for us, we can return to the greatness that we once had.

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