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Archive for March, 2011

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President:

I voted for you, so I guess that gives me a bit of a right to tell you what I’m thinking. Whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent, I prefer to get things off my chest while I’m thinking about it, and lately, I’m not particularly pleased with the way my thinking is running.

First, let’s get off this “I’m your Commander-in-Chief” bullshit that you seem so fond of using as part of your remarks. You’re not the CIC and you damn well know it. You’re the guy that a bunch of rich king-makers thought would be good to throw to the wolves after the colossal FUBAR created by the Yale cheerleader over eight years. What they were thinking when they bought that numbnuts the office is far beyond me. If they hadn’t surrounded him with people only marginally more intelligent, he might never have found his way to a bathroom. However, that’s another story for another day.

Frankly sir, I’m afraid that the real reason you won is that the highly conservative left and right figured that Joe Biden could control “the Black kid” better than the possibility that McCain might have a stroke and die and we’d be left with the snow witch who learned her American History from Wikipedia…now ain’t that just a frightening thought. It’s really irritated some of those who thought Joe could take care of things so he’s now on the big boys’ shit list. Obviously, you’ve demonstrated that you have a decent set of brains and know, to a greater or lesser degree, what you are doing. Unfortunately, you have a tendency to get involved in racial tiffs and that says to me that you still have a few prejudiced bones in your body. The episodes with Henry Louis Gates and Sherry Sherrod are a couple of cases in point. That legislative nonsense with the Black farmers hasn’t come back to bite you yet, but I think I’d be prepared for that one come 2012.

I could be wrong but I get that “Sneaky Pete” feeling that you do a lot of consulting with others who are more knowledgeable when it comes to certain affairs of state. It must be a bitch to do so because it seems that no matter whose advice you seek, you never can tell what their own agenda happens to be. I guess part of your job is being able to read that in people, and that could actually be one of the major components in getting to where you are. I happen to be a great admirer of Warren Buffet and of Jack Welch. Of course, I’m also partial to Roger Enrico from PepsiCo and Paul Orfala. The only one I’d say I know personally is Roger, but I’ve met and talked with Paul and, as you well know, you get a gut feeling about someone within the first 10-15 seconds; your gut is a great judge. The unfortunate thing is that you really can’t ask the advice of a whole pile of people because then the word gets out and, even if you’re not, some folks get the idea that you can’t do anything on your own. My own philosophy has been that you go ahead and do it your way. It’s a hell of a lot easier to apologize than it is to ask permission. That’s where I give you credit on this Libya thing. Just don’t break your promise.

I know that everyone has their favorite or ‘pet’ project, but dammit, that’s an awfully big budget you’re putting forth there. We both know that there are certain things that just cannot be trimmed, among them, Medicare and Social Security, but I do think there’s still quite a bit of ‘give’ in what’s being proposed. I wouldn’t say that Messrs. Boehner, McConnell, and a few others who make the first two look a bit to the left of Marx, have your best interests at heart, but this seems to be one of those schoolyard fights where the only losers are those who aren’t even in the fight…the American people. Has everybody down there forgotten that they – you, your colleagues, and your challengers on the other side of the aisle – are supposed to be representing our interests? I’m 76; I won’t be around a hell of a lot longer unless they come up with a cure for COPD and congestive heart failure. However, I’d like my three kids and nine grandchildren to have something to look forward to other than working until the day they die. It just doesn’t seem fair, and it really pisses me off that the very rich get away with not paying their fair share. I read an interview with the Koch’s recently and thought I was going to lose my lunch. Those people are completely blind to the plight of those they consider beneath them. They’d be well advised to hope to hell the ‘revolution’ never comes to these shores!

We have a lot of problems in our country, Mr. President. Contrary to what you may believe, we really shouldn’t be the world’s humanitarian or the world’s policeman. We aren’t as much of a leader as we were fifty or sixty years ago. We lag behind in education. We’re losing jobs to places where they don’t worry about such ridiculous things as minimum wage or health insurance. Our infrastructure is broken and we don’t appear to be taking steps to repair it. Our commitments overseas are out of balance with our commitments to our own citizens. I fault you for that last one, boss, and if you won’t accept it, that’s where we can agree to disagree.

If I happen to be around when it comes time for the polls, I don’t know if I’ll be able to vote for you. I’d like you to prove to this old man that it would be worth my while, at least for the sake of my family, but you’re going to have to show me. If you can’t and depending on who the Republicans decide to put up against you, I just might have to switch sides…again!

Good luck big guy,

Dick

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Just Rambling

There was a time when I was a big believer in unions. There is no question that a century or so ago, management exploited its workers. This, to me anyway, was particularly true in the mining and timber industries, garment manufacturing and several other areas. Long hours and low pay meant greater profits for some and a hand-to-mouth existence for many. At sixteen, I was forced to become a member of the grocery workers’ union. My job was part-time so I didn’t really receive any benefits but my colleagues like Tommy Owen, Greg Canozzi, Herbie Foote, and all the other “full-timers” at the A&P were dependent on the union to watch out for them. Being ‘forced’ to join the union was not, to me a bad thing. I had a part-time job after high school. For Tom Cunniff, Dana Parks, and George Keefe, being in the union guaranteed them things that I couldn’t care less about. However, and this I believe is key, these were men like my Dad, with families – Tom Cunniff’s son, Larry, and I were good friends – and so my $3.00 monthly dues were just a part of ensuring the safety of the families of others.

My Dad was dependent on the shipyard workers’ union to take care of our family when he got laid off. I guess they did; I didn’t have to go begging on the streets. So from my point of view, the unions of the forties and fifties could be seen as being of benefit to the working man and as a check on those who were known only as “management,” the ones who were trying to siphon off the lion’s share of the profits to the detriment of those who were “in the trenches.”

It seems that everyone wanted to organize and get a piece of the pie…and for many, it worked. Hotel workers, teachers, craftsmen of all kinds, truck drivers and those who serviced their vehicles and just about everyone and his brother joined a union to protect themselves. College administrators were either too damned dumb or too egotistical to believe that they would ever need a union; from personal experience, I can tell you that that was a mistake. Unions for this group or that group sprang up everywhere. In some cases the unions became part of a larger union in order to protect their own small numbers. Unfortunately, some union bosses became greedy, got in bed with “them who shall not be named” and the union members got the short end of the stick. Today, unions are huge. They can bargain with employers for not only wages, but for health care, retirement benefits, what is or is not an offense against the companies, and a million other little details that have caused tremendous rifts between labor, management, and the state and federal governments.

As with everything else, people will join unions for a variety of reasons. If where you want to work has a union, you have to join it or you don’t keep your job. That’s a simple explanation of an extremely complex problem. Unions can provide job security…unfortunately. One of the complexities comes when the union has bargained sufficiently well that unless an employee is actually endangering the lives of everyone else with whom he or she works, eg, coming to work with a loaded AK47 strapped to their back on a daily basis, it can be a bitch to fire him or her. It’s only natural for union members to want their leaders to get everything they can from management – more vacation time or sick leave; company paying a greater share of this or that; higher wages to keep up with the cost of living and to be able to afford that 52” flat screen. However, it’s also only natural for management to fight back. It’s the fine art of compromise and it’s here that I have a problem with both unions and management. On the one hand, management seems to be trying to bust some of the unions, while on the other hand, unions are making unreasonable demands on management that don’t truly reflect fair and honest dealing.

I’ve written about my recent overnight stay in a Boston hospital and how I could hardly wait to get out because of the filth. What I did not write about was the cleaning lady in the ThoraciCardiovascular Unit (TCU), the intensive care unit to which I was moved immediately after surgery.  Since I was there for 24 hours, I had the opportunity to see her “in action” so to speak. To say she had ‘attitude’ is a complete understatement. She seemed to delight in standing in the middle of a walking space, leaning on her mop, and daring people to ask her to move. The fact that she was a big as a small house didn’t help matters any.  On several occasions, I saw her dawdle over to a trash barrel, lift the lid and look in, then drop the lid. Do it once and the barrel is not full, great; leave it alone. But, when you are in the same position, facing that barrel for – I kid you not – over three hours and you lift the lid a minimum of 10-15 times without doing anything, there is something wrong. When you push a few papers around in front of your mop and push them behind the trash barrel rather than putting them in it, there is a problem. This employee should not be working, except in an area where she is under constant and close supervision. I came to another conclusion: This was an employee who knew her union rights and if anyone questioned her, she would yell for her union rep immediately and begin screaming “racism.” “We’re not firing your ass because of your skin color, dear; we’re firing you because you don’t do your job and it doesn’t take Mr. Clean or the lady from Pine-sol to tell us that the area for which you are responsible is a pig sty.” This is an employee who gives unions a bad name.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a union guy. I’d hate like hell to think what our country would be like without them. However, I’m also a management guy in that I think there are times when unions are overly demanding and unrealistic in what they are asking for their membership. This is why we bargain collectively, and this is why, if we can’t reach a reasonable compromise, we bring in an impartial third party to negotiate a settlement. Unfortunately, if that third party is from the state or federal government, whatever settlement there is will be considered unfair by one of the two parties.

Almost daily we see or read stories of management or union greed and/or corruption. We read about politicians who turn out to be nothing but criminals in pretty suits and criminals who are trying to move into this industry or that. Our society has become so complex, it’s difficult to know or understand what is genuine and what is no more than a false pagan god. I certainly can’t envy people growing up in today’s society; you have it rough. You might wish to adopt a few lines from Hamlet as your creed. Remember Polonius’ advice to his son, Laertes, “This above all; to thine own self me true. And it must follow as the night the day, thou canst then not be false to any man.”  My advice is a bit different: “Live by your own standards, but set those standards high enough that you will be the envy of all for your honesty, courage, and forthrightness.”

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Grow up America

It makes me kinda happy that there are times when I couldn’t care less what people think. I get e-mails on a daily basis that tell me this whole economic mess that we’re in, the high unemployment rate, the low interest rates; hell, even these two bad tsunamis we’ve had, are all the fault of the Democratic Party. Back when the Republicans were in office, it seems I was getting the same damned e-mails with just a bit of a twist. In addition to the economy, unemployment, and interest rates, the Republicans were responsible for 911 and Katrina. Someone even had the gall to send me the same damned photographs from The Wizard of Oz, this time with Obama’s face rather than Bush’s. Perhaps if there’s ever a third party candidate to win the Presidential election, the hate mongers from both the Democratic and Republic gutters can get together and come up with something really creative. Naw, that would be asking too much. They probably figure that the old tried and true would work no matter who the elected leader happened to be.

I’m still waiting for a Karl Rove clone to come out of the woodwork and blame the entire Middle East crisis on the Democrats. It’s not as easy as it was when the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress but I’m confident there is some “brain trust” – the mere use of those words upsets my stomach – working somewhere to find a connection. If it isn’t John Boehner and Mitch “Lipless” McConnell, it’s probably Michele Bachmann and some of her buddies. I watched Senator Richard Lugar (R) Indiana make an absolute ass of himself yesterday on one of the Sunday talk shows after Hillary and her puppet, little Bobby Gates, tried to clarify the problem in sand land.

Somehow, I have the feeling that no matter what occurs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, the UAE, or any of those countries over there, the US is still going to be viewed as the Great Satan. We are in a lose-lose situation. We will never have the respect of the people in the Middle East, and that includes Israel and we will continue to sacrifice the lives of young men and women in an effort to earn that respect. We have the greatest men and women in the world in our military. They go above and beyond the call of their duty at every opportunity; yet we continue to seek out ways to put more and more of them into a meat grinder from which there is no return.

It seems to me that Americans find it easier to bitch and wail about who is running the country rather than get off their collective fat asses and go out and do something about it. I never ran for public office. However, I wrote letters of support for those who were running. I might not have cared for an opponent to one of my candidates but I never did; never would have done, and; never would have condoned anyone else undermining an opponent’s candidacy by pulling dirty stunts.

If someone could convince me that we are on the ground in the Middle East for any reason other than to protect our own oil interests, I would love to have them try. If we’re there for humanitarian reasons, then why weren’t we in Darfur, the Congo, or the Ivory Coast? Better yet, if we’re so concerned about being the great humanitarians, why don’t we redirect some of our energies to solving the humanitarian crises that exist on our own turf…eliminating American poverty; eliminating American homelessness; eliminating illegal immigration that takes jobs from some of our own citizens…and don’t try to tell me that some of the homeless or downtrodden wouldn’t take those jobs. I always maintained that having a job, any job, also gives you self-respect.

It’s about time that politicians, all politicians, stopped trying to justify their own self-interest and stopped treating the rest of us like a bunch of fools. Please stop jerking us around by stating that you’re still investigating the costs of wind energy or nuclear power. Nuclear power may never be perfectly safe, but we learn every time there’s a disaster how we can improve on reactor building. It’s like any emergency plan…it is impossible to plan for every contingency. You cannot do it no matter how much you would like to believe you can. How do you plan for the unthinkable?

In 1981, the director of campus police told me that the campus was too quiet. “We have no plan in place for emergencies,” he said. He then went on to list several possibilities where we would have to react. Among them incidentally, was a student going berserk with a handgun. We met with my boss who met with the President of the College who told us to draft a plan. Within a year of that plan being put in place, we had no less than three alleged rapes, an automobile accident that killed several international students, and a grad student who went downtown and calmly shot his stockbroker, came back to his dorm room and went back to studying. We also had a faculty member arrested for driving drunk…on campus and another who was arrested for shoplifting…women’s clothing…for himself! These were not major crises. No one tried to blow up the campus. There was no earthquake or fire with loss of life. Our nation was not imperiled by these occurrences.  But on our own little piece of turf, these things caused quite a stir. We could handle them because we had a plan in place; people knew what to do and what not to do. We had a chain of command and everyone in school knew what it was.

Can a tiny little college of less than 2,000 students compare with the crises that face our nation? Of course not, and I’m certain the US has crisis plans of all types and sizes in place. How many businesses know what crises they may face? How prepared are they to face them? What agency of the state or federal government brainstorms with them to help them prepare? How are we, as a town, city, state, or nation prepared to move ourselves forward without a bunch of bickering and cartoons depicting the “other guy” as bad? In other words, grow up, America.

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Years ago, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) had a terrible reputation. It had nothing to do with the fact that the subway stations smelled like a combination of sweat, urine, and other odors to noxious to mention. It had nothing to do with cars that rattled to the point where one could easily imagine them falling to pieces as the rounded the curve going into the Boylston Street station. Graffiti was rampant; homeless people were curled in most nooks and corners; MBTA police had a blind eye to just about everything, and those weren’t the worst of the problems. No, the major problem with the MBTA at that time was its soaring budget, a budget spent paying people who were political appointees but who showed up only to collect their paychecks, thus leaving no monies for cleaning, hiring police officers who would do their jobs, buying new equipment, and in general, transporting the public properly.

To a certain degree things have changed at the MBTA. Many, not all, but many of the political appointees must now put in their time and do a little something to collect their wages; the police have received better training and are now far more alert to what goes on both on the trains and in the stations. In other words, despite the occasional idiot who is drunk or doing something other than his or her job, the transportation system in Boston is vastly better than it was when it was a part of my daily commute.

However, political shenanigans haunt Boston today just as much as they did when James Michael Curley ran for mayor from his jail cell and won. Most Boston politicos know that if you cross Mayor Tommy Menino, you might as well take your family, leave the state, and don’t give anyone a forwarding address. When, on election night, you’re sitting at home and your phone rings, you might believe it’s someone asking if you’ve voted yet. Sorry, this call is for your son who is overseas in Iraq. “Your son hasn’t voted yet. Can we give him a lift to the polls?” is the question you’re asked. They know that you and other members of your family have already cast your ballots, but the good mayor wants to make certain he also has your son’s vote. Now that, my friend, is a political machine!

By far, the worst political screw-up in recent Boston history has been the Big Dig. The project itself was considered to be the “largest, most complex and technologically challenging highway project in the history of the United States” designed to “significantly reduce traffic congestion and improved mobility in one of America’s oldest and most congested major cities.” What it was not designed to do was to make materials providers rich by selling below standard product; contractors rich by mismanagement and cost overruns, or make unqualified employees rich, ie, the barber who quit his job to become a $3,500 a week general helper. But these things all happened. The cost overruns, the “discovered” faulty building materials, and the phony jobs have all served to give what was supposed to be a marvel in expediting highway problems through the City of Boston the uninviting name of the “Big Pig.”

Water leakage has been a major problem for this $14.6 billion – yes, that is a ‘b’ – dollar project. Enough water has poured in over various periods to ice up parts of tunnels, thus closing lanes. It’s flooded tunnels and caused major traffic backups. For a while it appeared that standard gear for the tunnel traveler should include a wet suit, ice skates and other assorted SCUBA gear.

As everyone knew it would, a genuine tragedy finally happened. A piece of the ceiling in one of the tunnels collapsed, crushing a car and killing the female passenger. I hope the family now owns all of the assets of Bechtel/ Parsons Brinkerhoff, the responsible contractor as well as half of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It won’t bring back your loved one but at least you can prevent these bastards from killing another innocent.

The latest in the “Big Pig” woes was announced recently when a 110 pound light fixture let go and fell to the tunnel below. These lights were inspected eight months ago and none were found to be corroded or in danger. Tell me, if you can do so with a straight face, that corrosion happens that quickly, not to one light – the one that fell – but to over 350 that have had to be replaced. Here are a couple of questions: Who inspected those lights last April? What kind of report was issued; to whom; by whom; and who signed off on the “no corrosion” bullshit that was in the report? Why, given the problems that the Central Artery Project has already incurred, wasn’t Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan riding herd on this whole thing a little bit more closely. If you know, as I’m certain Mullan did, that you are surrounded by a bunch of political hacks who are in these jobs only for what they can milk out of them, why aren’t you watching them like a hawk? True, you used the light episode to get rid of one of them, but they have infiltrated your department, and until you find a way to get rid of more of them, you’d better become the most abhorrent micromanager of all time. Perhaps that’s the key to driving them out. If there are two questions the hacks can’t stand, they are, “When will it be done?” and “Why is it costing that much?” Making people justify is a damned good way of whipping them into line. Of course, you’d better hire a food taster and have someone else start your car for a while. These boys have been known to play a bit rough.

It really is unfortunate that what was supposed to serve as a model for other cities has become the laughing stock of the country. Once again, greed and selfishness have overruled any need to serve the public.

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It’s the evening before that causes all of the problems.

You think you’re tired and want to go to sleep; your eyes feel kind of sandy or gritty, and you think that if you could just lay your head on the pillow and close those gritty eyes, maybe, just maybe, sleep will come. It won’t. There’s too much thinking to be done; too many questions to be asked.

“Is it possible I could really die,” you wonder. What if somebody screws up? It was different a few years ago. You didn’t worry because you knew, in your heart of hearts, that nothing could go wrong. You were younger, more invincible, more inviolable, more cocksure of your own abilities to tough it out and see it through. Whatever happened to those days? Is this one of those signs of growing older; that you become less certain of your own abilities?

Hell, it’s not your personal strength that’s on trial here. You either make it or you don’t. It’s not you; it’s them. Do they really know what they’re doing? What if something doesn’t go right? Can they adjust? Can you adjust with them? Who’s the real boss on this job? It most assuredly isn’t you. When push comes to shove, you’re not really going to know what’s going on anyway. You’re putting your entire future in “their” hands.

So you go to bed wondering, trying to sleep. With every toss and every turn more questions surface. You certainly have a great many more questions than you have answers. When they called in the afternoon, she asked point blank, “Do you have any more questions?” That’s just great! The bloody phone rings; you’re expecting someone else, and out of the blue, directions are flying at you fast and furious. “Change of plans; you have a pencil? Take this down. It’s the main entrance. You have all of that written down? Okay; you have any more questions?” It’s all said so quickly that you haven’t had time to think of the questions until the conversation is over and she’s hung up. How did I ever talk myself into this? What was I thinking?

I hope that sleeping pill works.

Pill didn’t really work. I kept tossing and turning all night. The biggest question: Am I really up for this? Can I come through this with the same certainty as I did when I was younger? Hell, this is a whole new game with a whole new cast of characters.

The day’s pretty enough; one of the warmer ones that we’ve had this spring. The ride to the arena is pretty smooth. My daughter enjoys driving; my posslq – that’s “person of the opposite sex sharing living quarters – hasn’t driven in years. We get dropped off at the main entrance; damn, but this place is big. I sure hope I know what I’m doing; for that matter, I sure hope they know what they’re doing.

A few more questions and then I have to change into my uniform. Like any good player, I’m running the possibilities through in my mind, doing some deep breathing exercises, trying to relax. The rest of the team finally arrives. They’re already dressed for the ‘game.’ Hell, this is no game. I might as well stop pretending. I’m the key player here because it’s me they’re going to be cutting open. The rest of the team consists of nurses, anesthesiologists, and a couple of surgeons whose toast I hope wasn’t burned this morning. That’s all I’d need is a pissed off surgeon!

The procedure is called a triple ‘A;’ it stands for abdominal aortic aneurism. The aorta, of course, is the largest artery in the body. It carries oxygenated blood to all of the other arteries, veins, etc. As we get older, and this is particular true of smokers or ex-smokers, the connective tissue that our bodies manufacture can’t quite keep up with the deterioration of the existing connective tissue. In the aorta, that means that there may be a weakened area which starts to balloon a bit. The aortic aneurism takes a number of years to develop to the point where it’s dangerous, but, being the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, I guess you could say that it’s nothing to mess around with when it grows to a certain size. Mine had reached that size!

The first night, I stayed in the intensive care unit. This was fine except I hadn’t been allowed to eat from midnight the day before the operation and I was getting a wee might hungry. It was 30 hours before I finally convinced someone to get me some food. By that time, the anesthetic had, for the most part, worn off in the parts that had been sliced and diced and I was sore, starving, and steaming.

When the surgeon came in, I was sitting in a chair reading a book and wondering how I was going to be able to talk my way into being released. It must have been one hell of an acting job because he indicated that I could go home that afternoon. Here comes the SNAFU; this hospital’s policy dictates that one cannot be discharged from an intensive care unit. That means that I would have to be admitted to another floor and then discharged immediately. The only problem stems from the fact that “the other floor” didn’t have a bed for me so I was forced to wait in the ICU until there was one available. Shortly after noon, I was transferred. I’m quite certain the ICU nurses were as happy to see me go as I was to leave. The nurse in the room to which I had been assigned couldn’t quite believe that I was there just to be discharged. We agreed that there are times when bureaucracy absolutely sucks!

There is no reason to tell you the name of the hospital. All large hospitals are the same. After my first heart attack, they kept trying to take me down for chemotherapy. After my first knee surgery, the pull bar came out of the bathroom wall and my wound popped open. These things happen. Just make certain you’re ready for all contingencies when you walk in the front door. Put on your game face, let ‘em know who’s boss (until they knock you out), a fight for your rights.

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“There will be no U.S. troops on the ground.”

Where have we heard that before? How far back would you like to go? How about as far back as WWI, the war to end all wars? Yet, there we were when things were finally concluded, dead on the battlefields of Europe. Franklin Roosevelt kept promising that no American troops would become involved in the battle taking place in Europe in 1939. Hmm, seems to me that one didn’t work out too well either thanks to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war against us…suckered in again. Korea came along and we, along with other U.N. troops, had to stop the nation below the 38th parallel from falling into the hands of the “Red Menace.” Since we’re a bit slow to learn, we put more young men and women in harm’s way by going into the jungles of Vietnam. Looking back at what we accomplished there, I feel terrible for the young men and woman who paid the ultimate price. In retrospect, it just seems so unnecessary, but as the saying goes, “When old men get mad, young men die.” I was a hawk during the Vietnam War, but I’ve learned my lesson. I’m sick of seeing kids die just because someone uses catch phrases such as “We’re fighting them over there so we won’t have to fight them over here;” or “We’re defending America by being here;” or “They have weapons of mass destruction that can be used against us.” Really? I just don’t believe that’s the case.

People tell me that I should not forget that it was Muslims who hijacked four airplanes; ran two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and the fourth one, thanks to a group of courageous people, who fought back and gave their lives, never achieved its goal of striking the White House but wound up instead in a Pennsylvania farm field. That may be a run-on sentence, but it says exactly what I’m trying to say. What happens? We don’t go after the man who planned the attack. We use his actions to take out a dictator because it was an opportunity to do so. I would love to “go behind the green door” to see what ‘brilliant’ military strategist or group of idiots presented to justify that attack. Those who have worked at Disney Land East will know exactly what the “green door” is and for the rest, let’s just let it ride. Yeah, okay, we got the dictator out of the way; found him, tried him, and hanged him. How much better off are we? Are the people who replaced him really any better? How long will it be before they turn their backs on us and accuse the United States of not doing enough to rebuild their country? How long will it be before their country becomes another terrorist training ground because this high placed official or that one has been paid off to say that there are no terrorists. By the by, those hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon. So why did we attack Iraq? It seems to me that then President Bush used the opportunity to get back at the man who wanted to kill his Dad. He had the power and the resources to do just that. Thus, the phony story of the weapons of mass destruction became the fear tactic to draw us into “The Private War of Georgie Bush.”

Years ago the United States supplied arms to the Afghanis and a young leader by the name of Osama bin Laden. It was to help him and his followers drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. It worked. The Soviets lost more than 25,000 soldiers with a great many more being wounded. The unstoppable might of the Russian Army was brought to its knees by a bunch of guerillas…gee, does Cuba mean anything to anyone? Hey, Osama, we helped you. How come you turned on us? The simple answer is that Osama is a radical Muslim, and he’s not alone. Islam is the predominant religion in the countries in the Middle East. Its tenets conflict with the beliefs in America and many other countries. Because the United States is viewed as a world leader, it’s also viewed by many in the Muslim world as a decadent, modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. We will always be in conflict with some group or other who doesn’t believe that America is or should even be called the “Land of Opportunity.” Hell, we have our own militias and supremacist groups who don’t agree with everything that goes on in our country. We have domestic terrorism that’s bad enough. It goes back as far as John Wilkes Booth and probably even before that. For those of you who believe domestic terrorism began with Timothy McVeigh, do a little reading and have your eyes opened. With all the problems we have in our own country, we should now have to go abroad and piss off even more people?

We just don’t seem to learn. Now we’re sending missiles into Libya and leading air strikes against that nation. Even with their supposedly antiquated weaponry, I guarantee that the day will come when a U.S. fighter is shot down; the pilot subjected to torture before television cameras; and we will begin clamoring for the heads of those who killed him. From that point on, it’s one slippery slope to having troops on the ground in retaliation. Once again, we’ll be suckered in. Young folks will die. More gold stars will appear in more windows, and if it isn’t in the planning stages already, the Middle East Wars wall will be erected.

Am I being insensitive about all of this? It doesn’t seem to be so much insensitivity as it is being honest and truthful. World War II was beneficial to the United States, believe it or not. Yes, we lost over half a million men and women who were in the military. I was young and only knew of one on my street, but Harry Hunt has and always will be a hero in my mind…his plane was shot down over Germany. Remember something else, and this isn’t very nice. America was then, as is true today, trying to claw its way back from the Great Depression. While our recent bout with the economy may seem devastating, it’s relatively mild compared to what took place during the mid- and late thirties. World War II helped America to recover economically by providing thousands of jobs for men and women who were not serving in our Armed Forces. It provided the impetus that strengthened the country immeasurably.

We live in different times. Wars are different. Economies are different. Believe it or not, we are one world, interdependent yet still filled with jealousy and hatred for one another. We have not yet learned to live with individual differences. As a world, we are still in the Stone Age; we remain intolerant of those who do not believe as we believe or who are of a different skin color or religion. We are still tribal in nature despite our technological advances. We can put men on the moon but we can’t have peace on our own little planet. I will be soon leaving this place I’ve called ‘home’ for the past seven plus decades. I will never see real peace in my lifetime and that saddens me, but I guess as long as there is mankind, there will be war of some sort. We’re just too damned stupid to know any other way.

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Look out Old Dominion, the Butler Bulldogs are back! And the Wildcats of Villanova had better bring their ‘A’ game against the George Mason. The Patriots haven’t forgotten the last minute win by Villanova in Puerto Rico, particularly after George Mason had built a thirteen point lead.

Ah, yes, the ‘madness’ is upon us. Once again, the NCAA Basketball Tournament is taking the stage in offices of major corporations around the United States and in branches all over the world.

“Have you printed your bracket yet?”

“You filled in your brackets yet?”

“You picked Oakland over Texas? Are you nuts?”

“ (fill in the blank) has the easiest bracket to the final four…oops, The Final Four.”

For many, it’s a religion…as well it should be. The excitement generated by this particular series of athletic events that takes place over the next three weeks seems to put a charge into people who take no interest in athletics of any sort at any other time of the year. Part of the reason, I’m convinced, is that people are so sick and tired of winter, particularly in the Northeast, that this tourney is a sure sign that Spring is just around the corner; it buoys their spirits and, even as I’m writing this, I’m watching a snow shower outside my window.

For nearly 20 years, I was as absorbed in this tournament as any ‘poolie’ has ever been. One of the most poorly kept secrets at Babson College was that “Bishop is ‘doing’ the pool again.” Now you have to understand that gambling is frowned upon by many collegiate administrators, particularly in the dean of students area. We took it a step further; we ensured that the dean of students and the director of residential life were part of the pool…along with the director of admission, dean of the graduate school, the vice president for development, and a few other muckey-mucks along the way. That, in no way, means that they were shown any favoritism; it was more like protection for the underlings if anyone ever complained about our illicit activity.

Let me tell you how our pool worked. At that time and for most of the time that I ran it, the pool went something like this. Sixteen people threw $20. Into the pot. This means that it wasn’t a huge payout, but that wasn’t the reason for the pool. The main reason was just the thrill of watching how your teams were doing. Each person then drew a number from one to sixteen. That was the order in which he or she would have a team picked. The names of the 16 teams from a region were then tossed into a cap… literally, someone was charged with bringing a baseball cap to our meeting. As a team was drawn, it became the “property” of that individual. For example, let’s suppose that you were the eighth person; you were not allowed to pick a team from the hat; someone else did that for you. Now, let’s assume that in the East Region (2011) neither Ohio State nor Princeton had yet been chosen. I’m willing to bet that you really were hoping for Ohio State. That would give you a #1 seed; get #13 Princeton and you can pretty much forget your chance of winning the East Region. This simple drawing was done four times; you now have four teams in the tournament. It’s conceivable you could have gotten all number ones, all number sixteens, or a mix of teams.  The drawing was usually done over breakfast in a local restaurant. Much of the enjoyment came just from that drawing as boos, hisses, and even a few “atta boys” were heard during the overly long breakfast meal. For the next few Mondays, campus extensions would be ringing with both congratulatory and not-so-congratulatory remarks being passed.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the pool in 1983. One of my teams was the North Carolina Wolfpack, coached by the late Jimmy Valvano. The head coach of basketball at Babson, Serge DiBari, had drawn the overall #1 seed in the tournament, the University of Houston. He’d called me the day of the championship game, “Don’t bother to bring it up; I’ll come to your office tomorrow to pick up my winnings,” he’d said. That night, a miracle happened. With seven seconds remaining, the score was tied. State’s Dereck Whittenberg threw a desperation shot toward the basket as the seconds ticked away. The ball fell short of the rim with two seconds left, but NC State’s Lorenzo Charles grabbed the ball and slammed it home for the game-winning basket. It was, perhaps, the greatest upset ever to take place in the NCAA Tournament. It also caused my home phone to ring off the hook for the next several hours. They were calls of “You lucky bastard,” to “Did you rig that,” to “Serge will not be a happy camper,” and finally the call from DiBari himself…”It was a helluva game with a great ending. Guess I won’t be coming down tomorrow.” I might add that from that time forward, I never again won in March (I do, however, revel in going back to see the video every so often).

Even after several of us had retired on moved on to other positions, both in state and as far away as Arizona, our pool continued. Eventually, the original sixteen dwindled as people became more interested in pools in their own ‘new’ organizations. For a couple of years my late wife, Joan, an avid fan, became part of the pool. Her luck proved to be worse than my own…after that one unforgettable year. The pool is a thing of the past now, but it sure was fun while it lasted.

Other pools operate in a completely different manner from ours, but operate they do. They may be extremely simple or complex; they may offer a small payout or a very large payday. One of our sons-in-law won over $4,000 in his office pool one year…now that is a good payoff! With all of the tragedy that is taking place in the world; with the economy still struggling to recover; with unemployment improving monthly by the smallest of increments, perhaps the NCAA Division I basketball championships are exactly what much of America needs to boost its spirits. I sure hope so!

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