Archive for February, 2011

How come it got so late so early? Wasn’t it a decade or so ago that I was heading off to college? What happened to all of those years? It doesn’t seem that many years back that Joan and I were getting married at St. Phillip Neri’s Church in Waban, going to the Pillar House in Wellesley – I see that’s just a hole in the ground now, and going off to Martha’s Vineyard for our honeymoon. Where did those disappear? What happened to our children; our three babies, learning to swim at Newton North High School pool with Dr. Tocci? Our kids have three kids each now, and I’m not certain exactly how that all came about.

Did I waste my life that I’ve come to this point of asking such questions? Was I really in that much of a fog? No, probably not. It just seems that once you pass some magic point in your life – 76 in my own case – you start looking back and ask, “What the hell happened?” Taken separate and apart, we look back on moments in our lives and we can almost will ourselves to be back in that time and space; taking a dare from the custodian of our elementary school when I was in the first grade…”Give ya a nickel if you kiss Gloria Madden.” Today, the poor bastard would be hauled in as a pedophile, but I gave Gloria the kiss and I did get my nickel. I can actually see myself in Miss Lannin’s classroom, walking up to Gloria and giving her a smack on the cheek. Damn, but I was a ballsy kid!

Stop for a minute and see if you can take yourself back to elementary school for your first positive and exciting experience. C’mon, you remember the one; sure you do; go ahead, give it a try. I’ll wait. Dum, dum, de dum, dum, dum. Okay, get it? I’ll bet you did, and I’ll also bet that in recalling it, either you had a tear in your eye or a chuckle on your lips. But what happened between that time and this? It just doesn’t seem as though it was that long ago, does it?

Thomas Wolfe, author of “You Can’t Go Home Again,” wrote, “All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travelers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.” Very poetic it is, but I’m not certainly it’s anything beyond that. I imagine that the October refers to the “winter of our discontent” or the shortening of our days as we approach the end of this particular chapter.

If you’re under 40 you should probably stop reading; heck, you’re not old enough to have developed the kind of memories of which I’m speaking. All of your memories are much too fresh to be a part of this one-sided conversation. For the rest of you, what would you have done differently? Come on, now, honest injun, aren’t the things you did what you probably would have done even though you knew there would be consequences. There’s an air of excitement about doing ‘things’ when we are young. Old farts among us might say, “Oh what a waste of time that was; if I knew then what I know now, I certainly wouldn’t have done that!” Well guess what, every single one of us has the gift of 20/20 hindsight, but there are damned few, if any of us who can say that we have 20/20 foresight. These experiences that we had – good, bad, or indifferent – these are what make us what we are today. Do you regret who you are today? If so, too bad; I’m sorry for you, but who really is to blame. If you’re pretty happy in your own skin, good for you; I’m happy for you, just as I’m happy for myself.

There are, of course, things that we would have changed. For those of us who are beginning to make dirt look young, we probably would have taken better care of our bodies. I remember slamming around a basketball court, going to the floor after loose balls, taking and giving elbows to the ribs, and banging my knees to the point that while they may have been sore the next day, the day after that they were fine. It wasn’t until 20 years later when I tried to stand after kneeling on the floor for a while that all of that slamming and diving and banging of knees caught up with me. It took 30 minutes to unbend the left leg and surgery shortly thereafter. Since then, it’s been surgery on the other knee, three back surgeries, and countless other trips to the operating room…yeah, I think I’d treat my body a bit more kindly.

As for friends and acquaintances along the way, there have been very, very, very few that I’ve regretted meeting. I’d rather not have made the acquaintance of the three people who have pointed a loaded gun at me, but I guess that happens to everyone at some time or another. I’d like not to have been fired from a job, but if that hadn’t happened, a whole new world would have remained closed to me. It’s rather strange but almost everyone I know who has been fired or ‘downsized’ or however else you wish to recall a job you thought you enjoyed, has said, “…but I found something so much better.” It wasn’t that it was better; it was time for a new world to open to you. I’m not a religious person, but I am spiritual. I do believe that things happen for a reason. If I hadn’t decided to take advantage of a double minor and try teaching, I never would have met my wife with whom I spent 51 amazing years. Had I not lost my job at Northeastern, I never would have discovered the truly remarkable people at Babson. I certainly hope that it’s not just me – I truly know that it isn’t – who have had this type of thing happen to them, but so often we just take these things for granted.

Perhaps it all comes down to something as simple as this: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost; for want of the rider, the battle was lost; for want of a battle the kingdom was lost.  And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” For some of us our “wants” have been positive; for others they have been negative. Perhaps the luckiest are those who have seen both sides.

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Let me see; what pearls of wisdom can I cast out today? Actually, the answer is none. To be so arrogant that I believe that I have wisdom to cast forth indicates merely that my own ego is so large that it can never be satisfied. There are no ‘pearls;’ you could give me an education. Each one of us sees the world in a different way; experiences life as no other single person can experience it. What a marvelous thing this is. I was reminded of that fact this morning when someone sent me an interesting e-mail.

A group of students was asked to list what they thought were the present ‘Seven Wonders of the World.’ The following received the greatest number of votes: the Great Pyramids of Egypt; Taj Mahal; Grand Canyon; Panama Canal; Empire State Building; St. Peter’s Basilica, and; China’s Great Wall. As he was tallying the votes, the teacher noted that one student had not yet finished her paper. He asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. “Yes, a little,” the girl replied. “I couldn’t quite make up my mind because there were so many.” The teacher responded, “Well, tell us what you have; maybe we can help.”  The girl hesitated and then read, “I think the Seven Wonders of the World are to see; to hear; to touch; to taste; to feel; to laugh; to love.” The room was dead silent. “The things that we overlook as simple and ordinary, and that we take for granted, are truly wondrous. A gentle reminder that…the most precious things in life cannot be built by hand or bought by man.”

According to the World Health Organization, there are nearly 200 million blind or visually impaired people in the world. Try to imagine yourself going through life unable to see clearly the trees around you; the moon and stars, or the flowers in full bloom. Imagine not being able to view words on a page, a movie in the theater. And yet, those who have been blind since birth – at least the people I know in that category – don’t want sympathy. Sure, they have what many of us might call a ‘disability.’ Most of my acquaintances have, as we say, “built a bridge and gotten over it.” One of our friends was born without a sense of smell. Imagine living alone in a fourth floor walk-up in the city and not being able to smell smoke if there should be a fire in your building; pretty frightening, isn’t it? Another friend always looked like a grouch to people who didn’t know that his inability to smile was caused by a careless dentist who had accidently severed some nerves in my friend’s face.

Recently, I had an ultrasound. The technician was deaf since birth. She read lips without any problem and while her speech was, at times, drawn out, I was amazed at her abilities. I don’t believe I shall ever forget Emilee – that was her name – or the professional and friendly manner in which she treated me. Of course, the fact that she also discovered a problem and helped to save my life…well, that was just an added bonus.

Unquestionably, man has created some pretty remarkable things, and we all tend to focus on these. One could hardly give man credit for creating the Grand Canyon but the other major ‘vote-getters’  in the seven wonders poll are all manmade and what does that tell us about our own priorities. I don’t believe that I would have had the common sense to list what the girl had put down on paper. Neither would I have put down what the bulk of the students wrote. My list would have begun with Jonas Salk’s cure for polio. I would have added Edison’s invention of the electric light; the smashing of the atom, and a few other crazy things. I have never been to the Taj Mahal or seen the Great Pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China. I haven’t made it to St. Peter’s or been through the Panama Canal, so in all honesty, how could I consider these among my ‘wonders.’ I have stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and wow, it sure is a wonder…225 miles of canyon created by a river; yep, that’s a wonder all right.

Perhaps we shouldn’t try to narrow our list of wonders to seven. I guess it was a fine thing to do when the Colossus of Rhodes, the Temple of Diana, and the hanging gardens of Babylon were around, but times change. Wonders change. We change.

Sit down some time and think about your seven wonders. Sorry, you can’t take those of the girl. If you have those seven, you are rich beyond your wildest dreams. If one or more of them is missing from your life, you have a much greater appreciation of what she wrote than most of us.

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Ann Landers said, “Class is an aura of confidence that is being sure without being cocky. Class has nothing to do with money. Class never runs scared. It is self-discipline and self-knowledge. It’s the sure footedness that comes with having proved you can meet life.”  Malcolm Forbes stated, “The way to take the measure of a man is to observe the manner in which he treats those who can do nothing for him.” Rudyard Kipling noted that class “can walk with kings and keep its virtue and talk with crowds and keep the common touch.”

Why all this talk about class? Well, lately I’ve heard the President of the United States say that we should erect a statue to former Boston Celtic legend Bill Russell. Perhaps the only thing that the President knows about Mr. Russell is his exploits on the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden. There is no question in anyone’s mind that Bill Russell was one hell of a basketball player. He was also a classless individual who was insulting and a racist in his own right. You’d like an example? I was having lunch with Carl Yastrzemski one day. It was a small fund-raising group and I was fortunate enough to be seated beside the Red Sox slugger. Midway through, Carl excused himself, telling us Russell was receiving an award in a room upstairs. When he returned, I asked Yaz about it. It sounded like a nice honor. On leaving the club, I happened to be waiting at a stop light with Russell and a couple of his friends. I mentioned to Russell that Carl had told me of his award and I just wanted to say congratulations. Russell looked at me for a second or two and then told me to “f…k off.” Yep, that’s Russell…all class. I later asked Red Kelly, the chief electrician at the Garden what people who worked there thought of Russell. Using Red’s words would burn up the pages but, suffice it to say, he and many others who worked at Boston Garden thought Russell was an arrogant, racist, SOB. And this is the man for whom the President of the United States wants us to erect a statue? Being an excellent professional anything does not give that person to treat others as if they were dirt. If just being good at your job qualifies you for a statue, I can think of any number of people in the Boston area who would rank far, far ahead of Bill Russell.

Because of the positions I was fortunate enough to hold while working in higher education, I was exposed to a number of folks who might be considered ‘celebrities.’ Detroit should, if they haven’t already, erect a statue to Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown. He was a hard man in a hard business but no one can deny his contributions to the development of so many music hall of famers. I wonder if Atlanta has ever erected a statue to Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. After her husband was assassinated, she carried on his work for many years. I could do nothing for her, yet she treated me with kind words…and she wasn’t looking over my shoulder to see who else was in the room!

I was delighted when they erected a statue in honor of Arthur Fiedler. Considered by many in the Boston Pops Orchestra to be mean a cruel taskmaster, Fiedler was a perfectionist whose contributions to the musical scene in Boston and the world are beyond measure. He also had a great sense of humor and an outrageous ‘puckish’ streak.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events, and; small minds discuss people.” Therefore, by commenting on people with whom I’ve had interaction, I suppose that I might be called “small minded.” While that may well be true, I also believe that the ‘idea’ of putting up statues to honor anyone, requires very careful study before any decision is made. If statues begin to proliferate the landscape anywhere, it merely decreases the value of the honor.  

Does Bill Russell belong in the Basketball Hall of Fame? He most certainly does. His skills on the hardwood led Boston to eleven championships. He was outstanding in every aspect of the game, from rebounding and scoring to being a defensive nightmare for those who he was guarding. That is an honor of which he is most deserving, but don’t put him on the same list as George H.W. Bush, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Warren Buffet, Yo-Yo Ma, or many of the other recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The President of the United States has wide ranging powers and great latitude in his choice of who to honor. I would offer that the Medal of Freedom is, without question, an honor that few deserve. However, before anyone is considered for this prestigious award, due diligence regarding all aspects of the individual should be considered.

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Does the latest revelation mean that one cannot be a success in life unless one is physically, mentally or sexually abused as a child? Between Scott Brown, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, and several other big name ‘celebrities,’ I begin to wonder if perhaps I missed something that would have made my life more meaningful and would have led me to greater – correct that – a more spectacular career path than the one which brought me to my present state.

Just think of all the pedophiles out there who are saying to themselves, “See what I did for that person. Without me, he or she would never have reached the pinnacle that they have achieved.” What bullshit! Build a bridge; get over it. The world does not need to know that this was “what made you stronger,” or whatever spin you wish to put on it. In Brown’s case, I get the feeling that he will milk this all the way to a run for the White House.

As a youngster, I had two experiences which might have bordered on what Brown faced. We had a Boy Scout leader who I found just a wee bit creepy. He would make statements in our Scout meetings that I found ‘not normal;’ at least they differed from the way in which my parents were raising me. I left the Boy Scouts because I didn’t trust this man…he later was asked to leave the Scouts…score one for my side. The second episode involved a clergyman. For some reason – and perhaps I’m suppressing something here – I stopped going to church. I say “suppressing” because I just don’t remember much except I didn’t like the man; he was too damned saccharine for my young mind. Did he ever touch me or make inappropriate comments? No, not that I can remember and I believe that’s the type of thing that one would remember…vividly! For example, I still remember going to the house of one of my friends and learning for the first time that he, his mother and brother, lived in a two-room tarpaper shack.  He never complained about it and my bet is that he never released a “ memoir” about it either.

Being a public figure does not mean that the public needs to know every dirty little secret about your life. I don’t care how old you were when you lost your virginity or how many times a week you masturbated after reaching puberty. It’s not necessary for you to tell me that you cheated on your college essay by having someone write it for you. I just don’t care. Do you want to know that I used to shoplift baseballs if we needed one for a game or that I have a juvenile record for breaking and entering? I rather doubt it. Of course, I’m not a United States Senator, former President of the country, a talk show host, movie actor, or rock star. They seem to be those who people demand let it all “hang out,” so to speak.

Celebrities claim that by telling their stories, they will help others. No they won’t. Those who have hidden their abuse may or may not feel compelled to reveal what happened to them. They may or may not receive sympathy or empathy. I’m sorry but what is done is done. If it has had a negative impact on your life, talk about it with a psychologist or psychiatrist. I feel very badly for the men and women who were abused when they were younger. I know some of them; I’ve heard some of their stories; they get really irritated when they listen to those who have gone public. “I wish they’d just shut up,” one victim told me. “It just brings back memories that I’ve tried to put behind me.” Is that what these “public acclaimants want, to remind others of what they share?” Since I have no frame of reference, I can’t say, but at least I’m honest enough to tell you that.

Sexual abuse is fairly easy to define. You were touched inappropriately. You and some adult performed an act that you later realized was sexual abuse. Mental abuse is probably just as easy to identify for those who feel that they were abused or bullied by their siblings, parents, or others. Some would say that physical abuse, being knocked around on a regular basis, is also a simple call to make. How about these two situations: (1) I told my mother when I was 16 that I wouldn’t walk up to the center of town to get some ice cream for dessert. I must have told her in a way that really upset my Dad. He’d heard the exchange as he was coming in from the yard. He hit me with one punch that knocked me across the room. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the floor with blood coming from my nose. Was I abused? I sure as hell didn’t think so; I knew right then and there that I should never refuse my mother a request. Dad had made that very clear. He spent the rest of the day apologizing for what he had done. So, in 16 years that was the only time my father had hit me? Probably not, but the others had to have been spankings when I was younger…and those were probably also well deserved. (2) My sister and I were having our usual verbal disagreements over something. My mother was telling us to “break it up;” Dad was at work. Mom got so mad she picked up a heavy glass candle stick and flung it in our general direction. Unfortunately, I was the one who was the benefit of her aim – or non-aim if you wish – and took one in the jaw. It must have been really thick glass because the only thing that broke was the skin inside my mouth. It stopped the argument so Mom’s purpose was accomplished.

Were my parents abusive? Absolutely not. Those are the only two violent incidents from my youth that I can recall. I can also recall a great deal of hugging and kissing and being told, “be careful” when I went to play basketball on the local courts or just when going out the back door. I can recall races with my Dad and his attempts at teaching me to play a good game of tennis. I can recall long talks with my Mom about getting as much education as possible and the funny stories she could tell about why she’d dropped out of school in the sixth grade – you could do things like that in the late 1800s…yeah, I’m old and so were my folks! I remember my parents as teachers, teachers of life. My uncles, Joe and Stanley, were also good men. I don’t think they were above giving their kids a good swat now and then, but they were good people. I’d like to believe that we constitute a majority in American families. Our memoirs would never make a best seller list. There are two reasons for that: (1) our lives were our lives and we don’t need or feel the desire to let the rest of the world know about them, and (2) they’d be so damned dull that no publisher would get within a million miles of them.

Have I no empathy for these ‘stars’ who have written about the turmoil that was their youth? No, not really. Okay, they’ve made a name for themselves and now they feel the urge to purge. As I said earlier, do it with a shrink, privately. I don’t need you to “encourage others to come forward,” or to give pedophiles the idea that they did nothing wrong because you turned out so great. Give it a rest; just go do your job.

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It would probably be possible for me to pontificate about the events that have taken place in Egypt over the past umpty-ump days; however, then I would begin to sound like many of these know-it-alls who visited the country once or read a book or who have followed the news carefully and have now become experts on the nation. I won’t do that. While the history of Egypt has always been fascinating to me, I wouldn’t pretend to know the politics of the country. Yes, I remember when General Gamal Abdul Nasser led a revolution that ousted King Farouk and basically drove the British out of Egypt. I was a senior in high school and while it was a big deal to some, what high school senior really understands what it means when a king is displaced by a military dictatorship?

The Egyptian leader who made the greatest impression on me was Anwar El Sadat. From readings I’ve learned that he was a colleague of Nasser and succeeded him after his sudden and untimely heart attack. The thing that left a lasting impression was the handshake between Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin shaking hands after signing a peace treaty between the two countries. As you may recall, for his efforts Sadat received the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, in 1981 Arab fundamentalists assassinated Anwar Sadat who was replaced by the man who ‘ran’ Egypt for 30 years, Hosni Mubarak. Now that reign has ended and Egypt faces an entire new set of problems.

I wish the nation of Egypt well as they enter this new chapter of their history. Fair warning my Muslim friends; there will be wolves at your door attempting to tell you how to do and what to do and when to do it. Don’t listen. Whatever form of government you choose to move your nation forward, it must be your choice and not subject to the influence of the ‘big dogs’ like America, China, Russia, India, or any of the other players. This is your time; your task will be daunting; the challenges will be enormous. Heck, we’ve been at it since 1783 and we still have enormous problems.

It certainly seems to be a step in the right direction to put the country under the control of the military until such time as free and open elections can be held. During the peaceful revolution just past, the military proved its common sense by not firing on the peaceful demonstrations…what a wonderful first step.

Your country is much older than my own, a form of civilization that is nearly 200 times our age, but we had a pretty rough start also. Like you, we were under British rule for a number of years, and also like you, it took a revolution to get us on the path to independence. Whereas you had Nasser to lead you toward a time of prosperity, I think I’d probably have to say that our primary leader was a fella named George Washington. The two men were alike in only one way, however; they both wanted what was best for their country. I’m certain that many of my colleagues are probably screaming right about now over the dramatic differences in the two men, but both had great qualities of leadership. Washington was a devout Christian; Nasser was a devout Muslim. We can stop right here, but I think you get the picture.

The point that I’m trying to make is one that my old boss, Bill Glavin, made to me some time ago. He said, “Babson has always had horses for courses.” He further explained that the college where he had just assumed the presidency had been blessed with having the right leader come along at the right time and under the right circumstances. America has been something like that. We seem to have had the right leaders when we needed them. Oh, sure, we’ve had our share of screwups as President, but by-and-large, they’ve been a fairly effective group. You seem to be running along a similar course. My advice to you right now is, “Don’t screw it up!”

This may be just one old man talking to an entire nation, but this old man has been around the block a few times. The opportunity before you absolutely takes my breath away. I would love to live long enough to see your success, but I won’t. As the song says, “It’s a long, long road from which there is no return…” You opened the gates to that new road several weeks ago. May Allah bless your journey, and remember, “A scholar’s ink is worth as much as the blood of the martyr.” Move forward with that ink and avoid that bloodshed.

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Ethical behavior has been on my mind a great deal recently. I tend to wonder how ethical it is for the President of the United States to ‘steal’ or ‘paraphrase’ a quotation from one of his predecessors; it didn’t bother me that much because it was done in such a way that you knew he was just paraphrasing; I do wish he had given credit where credit was due, however. I have also wondered about the Speaker of the House of Representatives saying that he would be pleased to work with the President to get people back to work and help build the economy; yet the first job he takes on is trying the impossible by attempting to repeal the Obama Health Care Act. Ethical behavior, of course, goes far beyond government behavior. The results are finally in on the over three million Toyota recalls and the upshot is that, for the most part, it was driver error, not Toyota error that was causing all of those sudden accelerations.

As part of my research I visited the University of Santa Clara and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. In addition, I read some of the material contained on the web site of the 88-year old Ethics Resource Center located in Arlington, Virginia. Can you believe there are nearly 87 million hits when you Google the word, “ethics.”  You can cut that back to about 16 million if you’re just looking for a definition of the word, and you can reduce it to two million if you’re just looking for ‘centers for ethical behavior.’ In spite of the excellent work being done at many of these, I still believe the Markkula Center lays out as good a program as any when the people there talk about ethics and ethical behavior. Much of what follows has been adapted from the Markkula Center and I owe them a great deal of thanks for making all of the research material available online.

“Simply stated, ethics refers to standards of behavior that tell us how human beings ought to act in the many situations in which they find themselves—as friends, parents, children, citizens, businesspeople, teachers, professionals, and so on.” There are three words in that definition that I find key…”ought to act.” You find a $20 bill in the parking lot of your gym. What do you do? Do you bring it back into the gym and tell them to see if anyone inquires about having lost the money? Do you stick it in your pocket and mutter “finders-keepers?” That’s probably a bad example because how do we know, if we turn it in, how it will be handled ethically by the person to whom you give it? Let me give you a real life example: When our children were younger, one of them found a beautiful diamond ring in the sand at the beach we visited all of the time. Ann, who was probably around 12 at the time brought it over and asked if she could keep it. We informed her that it had to be given to one of the lifeguards. The guard told Ann that if no one claimed the ring in a couple of weeks, she could have it. This was a guard in whom we had complete trust. As luck would have it, about two days later the guard sought us out and gave Ann a $10 bill. “This is from the lady who lost the ring,” he told our daughter. “She said that she cried when she realized her ring had been lost and she wanted to give you a reward for being so honest.” There was more to the story but you get the point. Ann’s honesty and ethical behavior paid off, not only in money but in a sense of pride that I know our daughter had.

According to the staff at the Markkula Center, there are certain things that ethics are not. They tell us that “Ethics is not the same as feelings; ethics is not religion; nor is it following culturally accepted norms, and ethics is not science.” Perhaps the most interesting “not” that I read had to do with the fact that “Ethics is not following the law.” Was the behavior of Adolph Hitler in the thirties and forties lawful? It was for Germany and the Nazi party. Was it ethical? Hell, no, not by any standards of behavior of which I’m aware. “Law can be a function of power alone and designed to serve the interests of narrow groups. Law may have a difficult time designing or enforcing standards in some important areas and may be slow to address new problems.” Wow, does that sound familiar? How many times have you heard that Congress has passed this bill or that bill because it had in it something for everyone? Legislators call it “compromise;” I call it a violation of ethical behavior. The earmarks that are attached to Congressional legislation are an ethicist’s nightmare.

While I harp about ethics in Congress, I have certainly seen questionable ethical behavior in higher education over my 40 years. There have been times, looking back from a retiree’s point of view, when I cringe about my own behavior—doing what seemed to be right based on feelings rather than doing what was ethically correct. Did I feel badly at the time? I don’t really know if I did or not. I do remember one situation when I behaved unethically…but it was funny. I had approached my boss about a week before we were to have a budget meeting. I told her that unless we promoted one of the people working for me, I was afraid we were going to lose her. We worked things out so that my responsibilities would change and my employee would have greater responsibility and a salary increase. The only people in the know were my boss, the employee, yours truly, and the president of the college. At the budget meeting, my boss said that we had to find a way to cut our budgets by a certain amount. She then looked at me. Sure, it was a setup, unethical as you’d ever see, but I just dug right it. “Fire me,” I said. “That will save a little bit.” That drew both shocked looks and a few chuckles. “Okay, you’re fired,” the boss said with a straight face. The looks on the faces of the others in the room were beyond priceless. I stood up and began to walk toward the door. “Aw hell, c’mon back,” my boss said, starting to laugh. “We may as well tell everyone what’s going on.” Unethical? Sure it was, but it also made a point about how far we might have to go if people didn’t start making significant cuts in their budgets…and it worked!

The decisions we make will not always be ethical; after all, we’re human beings, subject to the frailty and foibles that possess each of us. Before that decision is fully made, however, just ask yourself one question: It may satisfy everything we want but is this really ethical?

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It’s the American way of the 21st Century: Do the crime; admit it; serve – or not – your time; go to rehab; come out and apologize; then go and do whatever you want to do…all is forgiven. All is forgiven my ass! For Michael Vick to be awarded “Comeback Player of the Year” is nonsensical.  He’s a convicted felon who has cried his way back into playing professional football in much the same way that Pete Rose guaranteed himself a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame by crying to a group of people about how bad he was when he bet on his own games. This is stupidity at its finest. There were plenty of other competitors for the “Comeback” award; people of whom it was thought might never play the game again. It seems that with criminal celebrity, comes forgiveness.

Ask your kids sometime…how would they feel if their neighbor a couple of doors down said it was okay for young children to have a sleepover in his bed; that there was nothing wrong with it. As one child told a friend of mine, “My parents would kill him!” Oh, but it was okay for Michael Jackson to do it because he was a “big star” who could dance backward? In Vick’s case, he had been a Mr. Everything at Virginia Tech and was a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons. In the case of Pete Rose, he was “Charlie Hustle,” “Mr. Baseball,” all-time hits leader, yadda, yadda, yadda. Big freaking deal; color me unimpressed.

I’m not saying that these people should be shunned or ostracized by society. However, neither should they receive recognition for doing something just because they did it. Anyone who believes that Jackson wasn’t a pedophile; that Vick didn’t enjoy the viciousness of the dog fights; that Rose wasn’t hoping to make a fortune by betting on his games; or that other celebrity criminals didn’t believe they were getting away with ‘it,’ should put on their Pollyanna pigtail wig and go play in the traffic.

Several years ago, a Garry Trudeau “Doonesbury” cartoon  showed Rick Redfern and his Joannie, his wife, admiring all of the trophies their son, Jeff, had earned at summer camp. One was for showing up at camp on the right day; another was for remembering his computer password; a third recognized the fact that he hadn’t missed too many archery practices. At the end, Joannie asks her husband, “Who knew it was a self-esteem camp?”Everything in American society today seems to be geared toward not allowing the child to fail; to build his or her self-esteem so they won’t know the “agony of defeat.” Horse hockey! Life serves up curve balls every once in a while and you aren’t going to connect with every one of them.

When I first managed a Little League team – I was conned into it; don’t kid yourself – I told the kids what my philosophy was…of course, you don’t use the word, “philosophy” with eight-year olds, but I think that I put it this way. “Baseball is a game but there are other things that are more important. Your family is the most important thing; after that comes school; then comes your church or your synagogue – our area was big on religion; and finally comes this game that we’re going to play. I never want to hear that this game came before your family, your school, or your religion. If I do hear that, I’d just as soon you play for another team. If we win, great; I want us to win the championship. But, if we lose, the other team was better than we were in that one game and we should congratulate them.” Looking back on it, the whole thing sounds kind of preachy, but I was still relatively young…and stupid. We won the championship, by the way, but we took a couple of hits along the way. The first loss was a real kick in the teeth for several of the kids, but we talked it through. They were told that losing is a part of life just as much as winning. You have to accept that; you don’t have to like it, but you have to accept it.

Funny, but I still hear from a few of those “kids.” They’re grown men with their own families now, but they seem to remember the part about family and winning and losing. It usually comes up somewhere in our conversation. I guess that’s a good thing.

Today, it seems to be different. Everybody makes the team because “We don’t want them to feel badly.” Everybody has to play, even if they haven’t been taught how to hold a bat; they have to play in the field, even if they don’t know which hand goes into the glove. What do Mommy and Daddy say? My son/daughter is on the team; he/she is part of the team, complete with uniform and cap and all of the accoutrements. Seems to me that what we’re doing is rewarding failure rather than saying, “Learn to do it or do something else.” I love the true story of a high school senior going into the office of a friend of mine one day and announcing that he was going to play for the NFL. “Wait a minute,” my friend asked, “I don’t recall you playing for the high school.” The student admitted that he had not. “Well, are you going to college on a football scholarship?” he was asked, “Naw, I’m not goin’ to college. I’m just gonna go straight to the NFL.” When asked how he thought this possible, his response was that he knew how to play football because he’d watched them all the time on television. Get real, will you please! Life doesn’t work that way.

Then again, perhaps I’m completely wrong. It would certainly seem so. All you have to do today is admit you have a problem or that you were wrong; go into rehab or jail; come out and say how ‘sorry’ you are for what you did, and’ get on with your life as if nothing ever happened. Therefore, don’t be at all surprised if the Pittsburgh Steelers should happen to win the Super Bowl that Big Ben, “Sex Machine to the Unwilling,” Roethlisberger is named MVP.

Just remember, you can’t undo what you’ve already done.

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Somehow, I find it very difficult to believe that when one dies, a switch is flipped and all you ever were; all you ever knew; all you ever learned; all of you is gone.  I just happen to believe that death is just another chapter for us and that there is a God who determines what that chapter will be. Call me crazy if you wish but somehow, it just doesn’t seem very logical to me. Of course, when you stop to think about it, very little in life is logical. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I have.” As with everything else, the quote has been bastardized in one way or another over the years but the meaning’s the same. Perhaps life is all about a series of ‘lucks,’ good, bad, or indifferent. I’m getting a bit far afield here; is that just a lucky coincidence?

If we are to believe the nihilists, there is no life after death. Oh, wait a minute; let me tell you how Mr. Webster defines ‘nihilism.” It is, “a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless.” It goes on with a few more thoughts along the same line, but basically, it would define a nihilist as believing in nothing. Whew, what a way to go through life; now, that is what I call attitude! At least agnostics allow for the possibility of life after death and other things. “The official definition of agnosticism is ‘the belief that the truth regarding things such as the existence of God, life after death, the soul or reality itself is unknown’.” A third group trying to confuse the daylights out of me is the atheist. He or she will tell me that there absolutely is no God; no higher power or omniscient presence in the universe. So to summarize, I have the nihilists telling me that everything I hold near and dear is useless. I have the agnostics telling me that what I believe requires further study. And I have the atheists telling me that when I die, I die and that there is no God. Then, to further confuse the issue, I have Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush telling me, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizen, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.” Thankfully, no one ever asked him if lactose intolerant people should be considered bigots!

I find myself thinking about death more, lately. It’s winter in New England and that means snow, low temperatures, not being able to get out as much. Some folks call that ‘cabin fever,’ and I believe it affects all of us in one way or another. For far too many of us, it also means that our rheumatoid arthritis acts up on a more regular basis. Aches and pains of all kinds seem to become exaggerated in the winter but I can’t afford to go south and am not too certain I’d even want to do so. Hell, they call Florida “God’s waiting room,” and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend three months contemplating whether or not I’ll get back to my beloved New England before I kick the bucket.

When I think about death, it always reminds me of the wonderful quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that, “When an old person dies, a small library is lost.” It makes me wonder why all of the “small libraries” that have gone before me have never been examined by the people – yeah, me included – who have succeeded some of those very wise people. We can go back to the Goths, Visigoths, Vikings, Romans, etc., and see that war wasn’t really an answer to solving any real problems. We can also go way back and find that the ‘haves’ didn’t do all that well in the long run and while the meek may not have inherited the earth, there were times when they got mad enough that they made damned sure the strong weren’t going to have much of it either. Perhaps I’m doing no more that what George Santayana told us, that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I just don’t know where the “wise men” of today get off thinking that things are different. The air we breathe, other than what we’ve done to it, is the same air breathed by those first amphibians who crawled out of the mud. The earth, although we’ve certainly managed to muck that up pretty well, is basically the same earth that was tromped on by the dinosaurs’. We’ve come a long way in terms of innovation, but all that means is that these small libraries are probably larger than they were several hundred centuries ago.

So, when my time comes and God – the one in whom I so strongly believe – when he calls me to come home, I’ll go, and I’ll take my little library with me, and then I’ll move on to the next chapter in my being. Notice, if you will, that I didn’t say, “Chapter in my life.” My life, as you and I know it, will be at an end. This shell, which hasn’t served me all that badly over the years I must admit, despite all of my bitching and wailing…well, that shell will get burned up and fed to the fish. I’m more than that shell; at least that’s what I believe. Some call it the “soul.” Is that the sum of the library’s parts? The Bible says that the soul never dies; that it is immortal. However, I’m enough of a cynic to say that the Bible was written by man and man is not infallible. Therefore, as everyone who believes in something will tell you, “Don’t believe everything you read.” People far more intelligent than I; scholars who have made the study of the human soul their life’s work, disagree about the mortality, weight, location of the human soul. Given that and given that I’ve read some – very few to be exact because there are hundreds of thousands – of these scholars’ opinions, I just wind up more confused than ever.

I have another theory about death, while we’re on the subject. I believe we’re all born with a purpose in life. It’s predetermined; no, not “preordained,” but predetermined. I think that when we come into being, we have a job to do. Our job may be completed by the time we’re five years old and we die at that age. Yes, it’s a horrible thing to contemplate…”He/She had his/her whole life ahead of him/her.” Yeah, but the job is done! Others live to be 100+ before their job is done…or maybe they never accomplish what they were meant to do. Are you even remotely aware of the number of scenarios you could write regarding this theory? What if the five-year old accomplished the task in those first five years and went on to live to 120? Why, why would they live that long? The job was done; why not call them home so they could escape the agonies of such things as puberty, a broken heart, and tragedy all around them?

I have often said that the purpose of each essay on this blog is to get the reader to think. I won’t pretend to be an academic or a scholar. Sometimes I think about things and I write about my thoughts. If it makes others consider the same things, that’s great; I’ve done my job. No, no, no, no, don’t say that; I have no idea what my job in life might be, just what my writings may be. I’d like to stick around a while longer. Who knows, I might even have an intelligent thought one of these days!

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Do a favor for me?

It saddens me deeply to see young people smoking. You see, there isn’t a thing that I can do about it; it’s none of my business if they wish to pollute their lungs and damage other parts of their body. I’m told, “They are not your concern. It is his body or her body; it is his or her life; stay out of it.” My friends who, will all of their good intentions, tell me this have never smoked. They have never known the joy of filling their lungs with a deep drag of burning tobacco; and then another, and another, and another.

Today’s young folks are just the way we were…exactly the way we were. Old people – those above the age of 30 – knew absolutely nothing about us and should mind their own damned business. They’re right; it’s none of my damned business. They are just as immortal, invincible, inviolable, and impregnable as we were; well, that last might be a stretch because so many of them are having babies, but you get what I’m saying and I think that word would be different; something like “impregnatable.”

I can’t very well walk up to these young people and tell them that smoking killed my grandfather and my father (a) because they couldn’t care less; (b) because they didn’t even know “Bumpa” or my Dad; (c) because cigarettes aren’t as dangerous as they were ‘back then’ (where this concept comes from is beyond me but it’s out there), and; they aren’t like my parents or grandparents…it can’t happen to them.

These kids are 100 percent correct when they tell me to mind my own business. After all, it is possible that they will suffer no ill effects from smoking. Yes, you heard me correctly. My late wife and I were speaking with a pulmonary specialist – matter of fact, he’s the chief of pulmonary medicine at a local hospital – after her cancer diagnosis. He told us that only three out of every ten people will suffer ill effects from smoking. That must be a difficult statistic for someone in his position to swallow. I’ll give him credit, however, for his courage in tell us. “You’re one of the three,” he told Joan. So sure, there’s a chance that these kids I see will escape the diseases that cigarette smoking can cause. Looking back on it now, I probably would have taken the gamble; I just don’t know.

When we were young, smoking was cool. It was the thing to do, even if you had to sneak a few out of the pack of your mom or dad…that made it even “more bettterer,” as my Auntie Ev used to say. There were no warnings on cigarette packs. In many drugstores they were out front, on a display shelf, not dissimilar to the way some stores display candy today. How ironic is that…cigarettes being displayed just like candy? Well, I suppose that one could say that candy isn’t very good for the teeth; although I’m not all that certain that a cavity is going to kill you quite as easily as cigarettes can.

Those of us who smoked still ran track and cross country; we played football and basketball, and we didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects. Joan didn’t begin smoking until she was in college and then it was just to relieve stress. We, each of us, had an excuse for smoking. We didn’t really need one because everyone with whom we “hung out” was a smoker. There were no smoking sections in the college cafeteria or in any of the local restaurants. People who objected to our smoking and said something about it were viewed as jerks…looking back, I have to ask, “Who were the real jerks?”

On September 17, 1998, the night before I was to undergo surgery on the cervical part of the spine, the doctor came into the room. ‘We have a slight problem,” he said, and went on to explain that since I was a smoker, there was a good chance that that spine wouldn’t fully heal. “It’s a different story when we’re dealing with the big vertebrae around the thoracic or lumbar areas,” I was informed, “but the small vertebrae in the neck don’t have much ‘wiggle’ room.” He recommended that I allow him to put on a nicotine patch and that I stop smoking. The conversation was much more detailed that I have written here but it came down to “stop smoking or in about three months you’ll step off a curb; you’re neck will break; and you’ll die.” Yeah; okay; that’s what it came down to; hell of a way to quit smoking, but given the pain that the neck was already giving me, the options were few and far between. In addition, cigarettes were beginning to become a major item on my own gross annual expenditure balance sheet, and the decision was reasonably clear. After more than half a century of sucking some really bad stuff into my lungs, I quit.

It was already too late for Joan. Although cancer cells do take some time to develop in various genes, once they do, the little bastards procreate faster than rabbits. It seems, if my research is right that there are three different types of genes in a cell than can make it cancerous: (1) genes that encourage the cell to multiply; (2) genes that encourage the cell to stop multiplying, and; (3) genes that repair other genes. I don’t understand all of the technical jargon, but I gather that when a cell is influenced by some carcinogen such as cigarette smoking or something else, normal cells start to become abnormal. The cancerous cells begin to multiply out of control. The genes that encourage the cell to stop multiplying are overpowered and become abnormal themselves and the genes that repair other genes become mutated and things get truly messed up.

Joan’s genes had become cancerous only God knows how many years ago. By 2003 she was on oxygen in order to be able to breathe. You’ve seen these people carrying around their oxygen tanks. I’ve seen kids smirk at my wife. I’ve wanted to smash their little mouths in but I’d probably have gotten killed. I just wish that those kids could have spent the last eight months with Joan, cleaning her bed sores, wiping her butt, getting her on and off the toilet, listening to her screams at night, dosing her with morphine, knowing that it wasn’t doing all that much for the pain, and then, watching her die.

So, as I say, it saddens me to see young people smoking. Fine, you may be one of the seven to whom nothing will happen. It may also be that you’ll wise up and see just how unacceptable smoking is in today’s society. You want to rebel against society? Fine, do it another way; you don’t have to try to kill yourself or anyone else for that matter. Get a tattoo. Our son has one. He’d like to have it removed because he realizes how stupid it looks, but what the heck, it’s okay. Get a piercing; that you can always remove. Better yet, rebel by trying to make this a better world in which to live. Just do me a favor, okay? Don’t smoke…ya look like a dumbass and it just might kill ya!

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