Archive for April, 2011

“A college degree is nothing more than a license to hunt,” I told a friend recently, adding, “and in today’s economy, the hunting isn’t all that great.  He agreed but added that not only was hunting season short on targets but that many college graduates are starting off with a $30 thousand or greater ball and chain attached to their ankles. “Between student loans and the ease of getting credit cards while you’re still an undergraduate, you can be saddled with a hell of a lot of debt before you even find a job,” he said.

According to several sources the cost of student loans has become the largest contributor to US debt and will surpass $1 trillion in 2011. I wonder how many graduates will default. I wonder what their total interest payments will be by the time they eliminate their debt. I wonder how many were suckered in to getting credit cards as undergraduates, only to max them out before graduation. “No payments until you graduate,” the ad may have said, but you can bet your ass that on the Monday following graduation, that first dunning letter or that first telephone call came, demanding immediate payment.

Obviously, the amount of debt that one amasses will depend on the college or university that one attends. If you, as a highly qualified secondary school graduate, choose a prestigious private institution, you can be pretty well guaranteed that tuition, room and board, and fees will run about $50,000 per year. In other words, you’re looking at around 200K for a four-year private institution of higher learning. Books, by the way, are not a thing of the past, so you’d better plan on another thousand or so for those each year. In other words, higher education is more expensive than ever before. Jobs are harder to find, and the chances that you’ll get a position in the field for which you prepared are not all that great. It’s estimated that before he or she retires, the average college graduate will have as many as a dozen career changes. That’s not job changes; those are changes in the career…engineers becoming teachers, or as radical as it might sound, doctors quitting the practice of medicine for something less stressful.

“I don’t want to fall behind my classmates,” is a cry that I’ve heard from a number of high schoolers. What the hell does that mean, “fall behind?” Why should you worry about what your classmates are doing? Chances are fair to middling that you may never see those people again…in your entire life. As strange as that may seem, that is exactly what happens. Therefore, why do you care about what your classmates may think or do? Are you in direct competition with these people? Do they govern your life? Do you have to impress them or “do better” than they do in whatever it is that you choose? You have your own life to live; your own goals to meet; your own career to think about. As harsh as it may seem, once you graduate from your secondary school, that chapter of your life is behind you. Now is the time to look ahead. There will be new friends as well as new challenges. There will be new profits and new losses; a new balance sheet on which you must begin working. I may be atypical, but it wasn’t until 50 years after graduation that I saw many of my high school classmates. My life took me in new directions. It wasn’t that I moved to Madagascar or some other country. I was too busy doing a job, helping to raise a family, and trying to find ways to put some of the monthly paycheck away to buy a house.

Today’s wise high school graduate is doing a couple of things differently. First, he or she is taking a couple of years to work. This does a couple of things for them: First, Mom and Dad will allow them to remain at home, either rent free or at a nominal charge; Next, this sweat equity that they’re building gives them a better understanding of what they want to study when and if they do go on to higher education. Third, it provides them an opportunity to begin saving for the expense of college, thus reducing their dependence on student loans. Finally, and this is highly job dependent, they get a look at some careers they never, ever, not in a million years, want to do for the rest of their lives. Working retail can be a wonderful career…for some people. I did it for eight years (I used to say “six,” but then I did the real math). During that time I learned to hate people. Well, that may be a bit strong, but many of them were unrepentant bastards who treated us like slaves.

Another smart move by a number of today’s high school students is to begin their career by attending a community college. They are far less expensive than a four-year private or even state institution. You get a feel for what college could be like. Some community colleges are no more than an extension of high school…the thirteenth grade, if that’s how you choose to look at it. However, the type of pressure is a bit different. You had to pass course ‘X’ if you were going to graduate from high school. Your parents and your teachers were all over you to get with the program and do better. There’s no more of that when you attend college. First, it’s your money that’s paying the bill. If you wish to piss it down the toilet, that’s your loss; Mom and Dad have nothing to do with it. Wasting your time and money here have much greater consequences, therefore, you have to decide that you wish to waste your hard earned bucks or get something out of them. Chances are pretty good that now that you’ve had to earn your tuition, you’re going to make darned certain that you get your money’s worth. It’s amazing how our attitude changes when we’re the one’s forking over the cash.

If community college “feels” like the route you wish to travel, you can always get basic classes out of the way. One of the most difficult transitions I’ve been told by students – I’m too damned old to remember my own transitional problems – is learning how to study on your own. Again, I return to Mom, Dad, and your high school teachers; they were always on your back about studying and homework. Now you’re on your own. The only one who’s going to push you to do your work is you. If you put pressure on yourself to do the things that need to be done, fine, you get a passing grade; if you don’t, you fail. It’s as simple as that. Taking a couple of years off before beginning college, whether it’s a community college or a four-year institution, gives you a better understanding of this. Why? Because you quickly learn that if you don’t do a job when you are working, you are out the door; there are plenty more where you came from. Yes, life is a bitch; get used to it!

Will a college degree help you amass more money in your lifetime? That’s what they tell me. However, once more it’s merely a case of “figures don’t lie, but liars know how to figure.” You can’t be an engineer without the credentials. The same is true in medicine, law, accounting, and any number of professions. However, you can be a damned good plumber, electrician, mason, carpenter, even landscape designer, or some other tradesperson, and make a more than comfortable living. The University of Maryland is one institution that did offer a program in landscape design. Apprenticeship with a designer can probably bring you many of the same benefits at a much lower fee. The value of a college degree isn’t as great as it once was. College grads are a dime a dozen and unless you have something else to bring to the job table, you’re just another bachelor’s degree graduate hunting for a job. In all too many cases, the same can be said for those with master’s degrees; you are just another competitor and to get ahead you need more than letters behind your name. Getting back to the debt thing, potential employers will also be looking at how much you saddled yourself with before getting out of school. It gives them an idea of how well you can manage finances…hmmm…hadn’t thought about that one, had ya?

Whatever you decide to do; whatever you feel is in your best interest, your decision is much more complex than it initially appears. If you’re about to begin a new chapter…LAHS or life after high school, don’t think of it as anything but the beginning of life’s struggles; that’s right, struggles. Most of you will learn that life is tough and you have to be even tougher to succeed in it, no matter your definition of success. Finally, remember the words of American humorist, Henry Wheeler Shaw, “Debt is like any other trap, easy enough to get into, but hard enough to get out of.”

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Let’s talk about colleges and universities. A bit of background first, if you will maestro…I attended college at a time when the bulk of them were not that difficult for admittance. This was at the end of the Korean War, which wasn’t called a war, but a police action. I’ve never really figured out who the police were in this case. Nonetheless, old men got pissed and young men and women died. I remember this largely because after the ceasefire had been declared, my cousin, Paul, and his best friend – a couple of crazies who had driven ammunition trucks to the front lines without ever getting a scratch – were posing in front of one of their trucks when a sniper’s bullet entered the forehead of Paul’s best friend, killing him instantly. It took years of therapy before my cousin was partially released from the nightmare haunting of that occasion. I suppose that’s neither here nor there, but to go on…

…I attended college because it beat the hell out of working full-time. That’s right; I was one lazy bastard and some have indicated that I haven’t really changed…screw them; they’re entitled to their opinion. We had a student population of around 12,000 in an institution, largely commuter that bordered on what was known as a “bad section” of Boston. In other words, the institution was nearly 100 percent white and adjoined a part of the City of Boston that was nearly 100 percent black. Without mincing words, racism was just as alive then as it is today; the only difference was that racism was openly practiced by both sides back then. Today, it is a much more, but just as violent, underground activity. There are exceptions to be certain, but the tension is still there. Just to digress for a moment…if someone can tell me why Black folks, who talk so much about being persecuted by whites, attack and murder so many other Black people, I sure would like to know. Anyway…

…The college had one, count ‘em, one single ‘security officer.’ Now this wasn’t a big campus (at the time), but to be so lax as to have only one man, unarmed, responsible for the security of the students, faculty, administrators, staff, and visitors seems to me today to be absolutely idiotic. In all honesty, I don’t remember all that much crime; I was too busy ‘applying myself’ to my studies – that means finding a nook on the second floor of the library and sleeping as often as I thought I could get away with it.

It wasn’t until I had graduated from college and had begun to work at my alma mater that the full extent of collegiate stupidity began to strike home. By that time, there were, perhaps, six or seven ‘security officers’ available to patrol a campus that was gradually transitioning from 85 percent commuter to about 50-50. Residence halls were being constructed or apartment buildings purchased. Security was becoming just a wee bit of a problem…break-ins, robberies, sexual assaults. The institution, however, seemed more concerned with building its academic reputation than protecting its inhabitants. Here’s one example of the depth of stupidity: It had been decided by the powers that be that no one in ‘Campus Police’ – what a bloody misnomer – could carry a weapon. The chief, an ex-cop, kept his gun in a safe. On one occasion, “Lester the molester,” as he had come to be known, was spotted going into a ladies room in the library. When a security officer attempted to apprehend him, Lester produced a butcher knife and threatened the officer. One does not take fists to a knife fight any more than one takes a knife to a gun fight. The officer wisely radioed the office. The chief removed his gun and went after Lester…still trapped in the ladies room. When the chief produced the weapon and confronted Lester, the molester’s words were, “Hey, you guys ain’t supposed to carry guns.” After Lester’s arrest, the chief was chastised for being armed. The chief went to the President of the institution, explained his plight, and within a year there were more than 20 trained and armed campus police officers. It was really surprising how much the reported crimes dropped.

Bring us forward a few years. I was now working at another institution. It was located in a community that knew little crime. Campus Police went unarmed and apparently didn’t feel the need for guns to protect their charges. In 1981, we had three alleged sexual assaults on campus. These occurred within a two-week period. Of the three, only one was a vicious, violent attack. The media, however, jumped all over the “three rapes.” The main point is that only one of the three was a real sexual assault. Following a rather extensive investigation by both Campus Police and by the local police department, the other two charges were described as “unfounded.” Back to the media…the question most often asked was, “How will you prevent this from happening in the future?” It’s a trick question. If your spokesperson indicates that the institution will be making any changes to further ensure the safety of its population, he or she is admitting that you were not prepared. In the case of the institution at which I was working, our lighting around the campus was sufficient; security had regular patrols, both in cars and on foot; although the campus was suburban and had forested portions, none of the alleged attacks took place in those areas. There was one other step that had been taken long before the “assaults” happened; Campus Police had installed bright yellow poles in a number of areas on campus. These were topped with a caged blue light and an intercom system that connected directly to the Campus Police office. Were we prepared? Absolutely. Could we have done more? Certainly we could have lit up the campus like a stadium, but that could have raised some other issues. The answer to the reporters’ question was, “We will remain as diligent as we are now, but we don’t plan on making any changes.” When follow-up questions came, we would turn it around and ask what the reporter might suggest…that generally ended the interview. One of the questions that I absolutely loved and for which our spokesman had been thoroughly prepared, was, “How would you feel if this was your daughter?” Our spokesman was the dean of students, a highly articulate gentleman. His answer was, “Tell me how that question is germane to what has happened on campus.” He was remarkably adept at defusing nasty questions. In a moment of unabashed egotism, I will admit that I had prepared a list of questions that I thought might be asked and had briefed our spokesman ahead of time…yes, the question about the daughter was one of them.

Other institutions have not been as fortunate as we were. When an assault occurred at a neighboring institution, the spokesperson talked about all of the improvements that would now be made because of the attack. When the lawyers for the assault victim’s family heard that, they must have licked their chops. Here was the institution admitting that it didn’t have proper lighting, proper security, or proper anything that might have prevented the attack. The only other thing I remember about the case was that the award to the victim was well over a million dollars. For a small institution, that sum could become tantamount to bankruptcy.

Other colleges and universities have behaved stupidly at other times. Most recently, a student from Stonehill College in Easton, MA was suspended because an 8-year old child accused him of rape. According to the child, it occurred in the back of the classroom, which was filled with other children, with the teacher present, and it occurred on numerous occasions. Oh, how horrible! A classroom filled with children; the teacher on duty; this child sitting in class getting raped; numerous occasions? It didn’t smell right from the git-go. What did the college do? They suspended the kid. In other words, “We don’t know if you did it or not, but we’re going to cover our ass.” Here’s the kicker; the charges were dropped. Whether or not the child finally told the truth; whether the circumstances were deemed too ridiculous to be believed; whether other kids came forward…we will never know. However, in reacting to the dropping of the charges, the college spokesman said, “We look forward to helping ***** reintegrate into college life and to supporting him as he makes that transition, if that is his wish,’’ he said. Somewhere here there is a lawsuit. That kid was put through the tortures of hell. The only people who believed in him were his family and his attorneys. The college (a) should not have taken any action until such time as the case was either dropped or proceeded to trial, (b) should have seen the circumstances for what they were, and (c) offered him the opportunity to pursue his curriculum in an online fashion similar to what Brigham Young did with its basketball star, Jimmer Fredette.

When crises hit colleges and universities, most aren’t prepared and most behave in ways they should not. Whether it’s a fire that destroys a dorm and takes lives such as happened at Providence College a few years ago or a shooting such as we saw at the University of West Virginia, officials should either be prepared to make intelligent and well thought out statements to the media or they should shut up. The President of Providence used to walk by the dorm where several young women perished. He insisted on speaking to the media and came off as a blubbering idiot because he could not control his emotions. He was the wrong spokesman and gave a bad impression. At West Virginia, they were well prepared and handled a tragic situation with dignity.

Crisis plans cannot cover every potential emergency. Knowing who should speak and what they should say is actually quite simple. Without some type of plan, the institution looks foolish and stupid…and no college or university wants that.

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Eleanor Roosevelt has said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” It makes me rather happy that Mrs. Roosevelt is not alive today to see what has become of American politics as well as media in America. It appears that today’s political wannabes and media gurus take great delight in personal attacks and overdramatizing events that demonstrate incompetence of one kind or another. Few of these ‘hacks,’ however, appear to be putting forth any concrete ideas for moving our country forward or for preventing the events which so many of them wish to overdramatize.

I suppose that critics have been around forever. Hell, look what Brutus and his buddies did to Caesar when they thought he was getting a bit too big for his britches…now that is what one might call “extreme criticism.” During the Revolutionary War, there were many members of the Continental Congress who expressed dissatisfaction with George Washington’s leadership as commander-in-chief of the Continental Forces, and several even took unsuccessful steps to have him replaced. Lincoln faced much the same problem in the ‘War between the States” – I’m trying to put a name on it that will mollify my northern, southern, and middle states readers, if they are out there – and he would have been crucified by the television anchors in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia for vacillating over which general would lead the northern troops. When, at last, Grant was selected, the hue and cry from critics was heard far and wide. After seeing how Sherman approached his duties, those critics should be damned happy that ‘Uncle Billy’ wasn’t given the command.

As the world has shrunk, figuratively speaking, people all over the planet have, for the most part, instant access to events and the ‘doings’ of people in positions of ‘relevance.’ We cannot deny the importance of television nor its impact on how and what we think of people, places, and events. For many years, reporters understood that their job was to report on events of genuine significance and report about people who were truly important. Today’s reporters and television ‘faces’ appear to believe that they are the ‘stars’ and that news consists of such things as Lindsay Lohan and her drug problems, Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck and their extremist views, as well as dramatically exposing the faults and foibles of anyone in a position of real power. This is unfortunate in that there are, as there have always been, assholes and idiots who understand the media and how to use it to promote themselves, even if it’s only for their “15 minutes of fame.”

The latest of these fools who want more air time is Donald Trump. Yes, he is a real estate developer who is also a billionaire. To claim, however, that he is of presidential quality is laughable. Trump knows only one thing…The Big Lie. The first of his big lies was to say that, “America is the laughing stock of the entire world.” On what does he base this statement? Who is laughing Donald? Why are they laughing? How do you know this? Do you have factual data to support your statement or is this just another one of your glittering generalities which you are unable to support? Prove it to me and I’ll congratulate you and apologize. I’ll even shake your hand…oh, that’s right, I’m sorry; you don’t shake hands with ordinary people, do you? Do you tell them you don’t shake hands with commoners or that you are germophobic? Which is it Donald or am I telling a lie? What would you do as president if you had to greet the head of state of another country? Would you insult them by not shaking hands? Truth to tell, Donald, that would make you a laughingstock…oops, I’m sorry, you already are.

As far as the birthplace of the current President of the United States, Donald, the fact the “your investigators” couldn’t locate it means only that your ratings on Celebrity Apprentice got another boost. Merely by raising the ‘birther’ issue again – as if it hadn’t been dead and buried about three years ago – ‘The Donald’ has once again demonstrated his desire to throw his name before the public. Donald, get with the program; this is a non issue. If what you said is true, and with your history, that is always doubtful, what the hell were you doing sending ‘your’ investigators to Hawaii? Is that an indication of how you would run your presidency were you to be elected? Would you have secret police going around and investigating those who spoke out against you for any reason whatsoever? That’s somewhat reminiscent of Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Papa Doc, and several other murdering bastards. Is that how you’d handle things, Donald; kill or imprison those who disagree with you by using “your investigators?”

As for your newest accusation regarding the President’s academic acumen, where the hell do you get off making such an accusation? For those unfamiliar with your ranting, here is the quote, “I heard he was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then Harvard? I’m thinking about it. I’m certainly looking into it. Let him show his records.” Gee, Donald, magna cum laude from Harvard sounds like a pretty smart guy to me. My own undergraduate record was no great shakes but that was largely due to the fact that I had “the complete college experience,” and I’ll let your investigators figure out what that means. In graduate school, I received one grade of ‘B,’ and with a grade point average of 3.9 out of 4.0, qualified for Phi Delta Pi national honor society…whoopee!

Donald, you are currently demonstrating just how small your mind can be. You are doing what Republicans have been doing for years; you are trying to make Americans fearful of the incumbent. Instead of pissing into the wind and telling lies, why don’t you pull together some ideas that will help this president? You don’t like him? Is that your problem? Are you a racist, Donald? That’s the type of lie that could be spread about you, but I won’t. Why can’t you hold a marriage together, Donald? There’s another lie I could spread, but we won’t. No, what I will ask instead, is that you, as a fairly successful businessman, work with Republicans and Democrats, with President Obama and Congress to show them exactly how you, “The Donald,” would get America out of what you believe to be its current dilemma. When you do that, then you will have earned my respect. Until then, you’re just another crybaby, grinding his axe on the bodies of those who won’t even dignify your actions by fighting back.

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For those of you who have forgotten your bedtime stories, allow me to relate “The Little Red Hen” to you. It’s a great story and gives you some idea of what the United States is currently facing in terms of getting its house in order.

Once upon a time there was a little red hen. She lived with a pig, a duck and a cat.


They all lived in a pretty little house which the little red hen liked to keep clean and tidy. The little red hen worked hard at her jobs all day. The others never helped. Although they said they meant to, they were all far too lazy. The pig liked to grunt in the mud outside, the duck used to swim in the pond all day, and the cat enjoyed lying in the sun, purring.

One day the little red hen was working in the garden when she found a grain of corn.

“Who will plant this grain of corn?” she asked.

“Not I,” grunted the pig from his muddy patch in the garden.

“Not I,” quacked the duck from her pond.

“Not I,” purred the cat from his place in the sun.

So the little red hen went to look for a nice bit of earth, scratched it with her feet and planted the grain of corn.

During the summer the grain of corn grew. First it grew into a tall green stalk, then it ripened in the sun until it had turned a lovely golden colour. The little red hen saw that the corn was ready for cutting.

“Who will help me cut the corn?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I,” grunted the pig from his muddy patch in the garden.

“Not I,” quacked the duck from her pond.

“Not I,” purred the cat from his place in the sun.

“Very well then, I will cut it myself,” said the little red hen. Carefully she cut the stalk and took out all the grains of corn from the husks.

“Who will take the corn to the mill, so that it can be ground into flour?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I,” grunted the pig from his muddy patch in the garden.

“Not I,” quacked the duck from her pond.

“Not I,” purred the cat from his place in the sun.


So the little red hen took the corn to the mill herself, and asked the miller if he would be so kind as to grind it into flour.

In time the miller sent a little bag of flour down to the house where the little red hen lived with the pig and the duck and the cat.

“Who will help me to make the flour into bread?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I,” grunted the pig from his muddy patch in the garden.

“Not I,” quacked the duck from her pond.

“Not I,” purred the cat from his place in the sun.

“Very well,” said the little red hen. “I shall make the bread myself.” She went into her neat little kitchen. She mixed the flour into dough. She kneaded the dough and put it into the oven to bake.

Soon there was a lovely smell of hot fresh bread. It filled all the corners of the house and wafted out into the garden. The pig came into the kitchen from his muddy patch in the garden, the duck came in from the pond and the cat left his place in the sun. When the little red hen opened the oven door the dough had risen up and had turned into the nicest, most delicious looking loaf of bread any of them had seen.

“Who is going to eat this bread?” asked the little red hen.

“I will,” grunted the pig.

“I will,” quacked the duck.

“I will,” purred the cat.

“Oh no, you won’t,” said the little red hen. “I planted the seed, I cut the corn, I took it to the mill to be made into flour, and I made the bread, all by myself. I shall now eat the loaf all by myself.”

The pig, the duck and the cat all stood and watched as the little red hen ate the loaf all by herself. It was delicious and she enjoyed it, right to the very last crumb.

Good read, isn’t it? You can probably see where I’m going with this but allow me to elucidate: The pg I equate with all of those people who are wallowing in the mud of their own financial wealth. They don’t wish to stop their wallowing to do anything that even resembles work…I call them Republicans. The duck just swims around all day in the pond as if she doesn’t have a care in the world. Everything is beautiful. Of course, underneath the surface of the water, she’s paddling like mad to ensure that (a) she is reelected, (b) that her party remains in power, and (c) that she doesn’t have to do anything but be an idiotic duck…I call these people the Democrats. The cat is a late entrant into the game. She’s sly and cunning and likes to grab the spotlight where and whenever she can. She doesn’t really know her ass from her elbow but by god, she can criticize with the best of them. The only thing in which she has any interest is getting her unfair share and to hell with everyone and everything else…I call her the Tea Party.

As for The Little Red Hen, I guess you know who I’m talking about. She, or he in this case, is the only one who seems willing to do any work. He’s offered the pg, the duck, and the cat numerous opportunities to help, and they have refused. It’s too bad that The Little Red Hen will now become so unpopular with the barnyard menagerie. The pigs will wallow and grunt that The Little Red Hen is selfish because she would not share her bread; the ducks will run off and hide in the lake, paddling like crazy and trying to distance themselves from The Little Red Hen; and the cats will slink away, silently, until they can formulate a plan to shout to the rooftops about the gluttony of The Little Red Hen.

This is a tale of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Just imagine what would have happened if these four animals had worked together. The whole barnyard – that’s you and me by the way – would have benefited from their cooperation. I wonder if it will ever happen?

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“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound;                                                                       That saved a wretch like me.’

I think I’d like to change that opening stanza to, “how sweet the sight,” for I believe that is precisely what is happening as Spring begins to dawn in New England. The winter has been rough – here in the Boston area we received a little better than three feet of snow above our average – and anyone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was in deep trouble, but enough of that.

Last fall, my partner planted over 750 flower bulbs. Never having had a garden, I didn’t really understand the meaning of the one, two, and three on the boxes. She explained that each  would have a different bloom time so that we’d have flowers throughout the Spring rather than having one big burst followed by a great deal of green leaves which wouldn’t mean a thing. “Yeah, right,” I thought to myself. “My neighbors are the ones with the green thumbs but don’t tell me anything’s going to grow here.” I should note that she prepared the ground for planting by dumping more damned manure than I’ve ever seen. It appeared that every time we walked into a store last summer, whether it was Home Depot, Lowes, the Dollar Store, a supermarket, or even Ocean State Job Lots, we would come out with more bulbs. “Too much is not enough,” was my lady friend’s motto on buying bulbs. As for me, I didn’t have a clue as to where they’d all be deposited. However, deposited they were.

When the first crocus poked its head through the salt marsh hay she had lain down to protect the bulbs. I was impressed; then the rest came barreling through and she was out removing the hay to let them have all of the sun they could soak up. Suddenly, instead of the winter ‘blahs,’ I was beginning to see the rebirth of life. Both small plots on either side of the front door were filled with purple, white, and yellow crocuses. They were a beautiful sight and gave me hope that I too would soon be able to get outside and soak up the warmth of the spring sun. Alas, the crocuses were soon blanketed with another three inches of snow, and my hopes were dashed. “Will this kill them,” I wondered. Actually, I should have known better. Within a couple of days, those little suckers were poking their heads up through the snow and the white background only made them more beautiful.

Over two hundred bulbs were planted around the light pole near the path to our front door. While the crocuses were blooming, daffodils were coming up through the chicken wire that had been placed there to protect the bulbs from our hungry hoard of squirrels, skunks, and other bulb eaters. Stupid me; I never realized there were so many kinds of daffodils. There are white with golden centers; yellow with an orange trumpet. There are what I now call “traditional” daffodils. Then there are the ones that have a flower within the flower; frilly daffodils, and you name the rest. But there aren’t enough. Remember “too much is not enough.” That’s right, we’re back in the stores, hunting for daffodils that can be planted now and will bloom in the summer.

The sight of all of these flowers coming to bloom has rekindled a new life in me. It has been less than one month since my surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurism and the more I’ve heard about this surgery, the more I understand why the recovery has been so slow. A slow recovery means I don’t get back to the gym as quickly; not getting back to the gym means the endorphins are not being released into my body; no endorphins being released leads to a depression about not being able to work out and more time sitting around either watching mindless television, reading books that are so-so, or writing this blog. The strange thing is that writing the blog used to be fun. Now, I rarely feel like writing. You want to talk about a vicious spiral into depression? I have a new resolution…no more surgeries in the winter or early spring!

Now along come the flowers; the crocus standing tall in spite of the snow that tried to cover them; the daffodils with their myriad hues of color; the tulips straining to pop open their buds and to demonstrate that they will not be held back. I look at them and think, “This is a new beginning; this is spring, a time of rebirth for all of nature. It’s not just the flowers; it’s the baby rabbits in our side yard; it’s the three fawns that my neighbor told me about a week or so ago; it’s the turkeys walking around the neighborhood, and the cherry tree up the street. Dammit, if it’s a new beginning for nature, I’m going to make it a new beginning for me.”

Amazing Grace; how sweet the sight, the smell, and yes, even the sounds of new life beginning…that will get this wretch out of his doldrums, will end his one man pity party, and will get him back into this game we call life. To the best of my knowledge, we only come this way once, but if we do it right, once will be just perfect enough so that when we leave, we’ll be smiling. To paraphrase the old saw, “Don’t take time just to smell the flowers; plant a few so that next year you, too, can watch the rebirth that only spring can bring.

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I probably shouldn’t say it, but it appears that the bulk of the Tea Party representatives are quite young. The polls actually debate that, stating that the average tea partier is over 45, male, better educated than most, and is likely to be white and wealthy. That would figure…”I’ve got mine and screw you; I don’t want to give it up. In fact, I want more, more, more, even if it’s at your expense.” They behave like a bunch of spoiled children despite what the polls tell us. I tend to liken this to a decrease in family values. It’s rather like, “Okay Mom and Dad, thanks for the leg up; now go die somewhere because I’ll be damned if I’m going to care for you.”

I have a real thing about these tea partiers. They are today’s America. “I want it and I want it now. If someone else gets hurt by what I want, that’s their problem, not mine.” They remind me of a bunch of selfish little brats who aren’t willing to work to make government more effective. Their only answer is, “No, you can’t do that; you can’t spend money on social programs because I don’t care about ‘those’ people.” The Tea Party mission statement reads as follows: “The impetus for the Tea Party movement is excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.” It sounds to me suspiciously like what everyone in America wants. The problem is not with the mission statement. It lies in the “educate, organize, and mobilize” part of the statement. It appears that the tea partiers want everyone to think as they think, do exactly what they want as they want it done, and gather together and stamp their feet until they get their way. I’m sorry, but that’s not life. Life lies in the individual differences that we espouse and in which we believe.

Let me get very specific here. Cut the defense spending by one-third to one-half. Defense spending, in this case, refers to the redundancy of effort on the home front. If you’ve ever worked in Washington, you can see this redundancy all over the place…different agencies doing the same job. We have more people doing the same damned things than you can shake a stick at. There doesn’t seem to be a minute during the day when the Pentagon coffee shops and cafeteria aren’t packed. Why? What are those folks supposed to be doing while they’re drinking coffee or munching on steamship roast beef? That’s only partly facetious because there certainly seems to be a lot of ‘people waste’ and that’s only in the Pentagon. My god, it’s as bad as the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA). The only difference seems to be that in Washington, you have to show up to get your paycheck. Let’s put some of those people to work investigating Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Oh, wait a minute, that might not be such a good idea; if they’re accepting money for doing nothing now…well, you get the point.

I have the greatest respect in the world for the United States Military. The soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coastguardsmen who protect us are truly worthy of our admiration. One of my fellow gym rats recently left for his fifth – that’s right, fifth – tour in the Middle East. His wife and kids weren’t crazy about the idea, but from his viewpoint, he said that he was doing it for them. This man is my hero; he’s a career noncommissioned officer, a gentleman of the first order who wouldn’t hesitate to pay the ultimate price to protect his buddies and his country. All of that having been said, I want him home. I want him and his buddies back in the states, training if necessary; in civilian garb if not. I do not understand why we interfere with the troubles of so many other countries. “The Middle East will destabilize if we’re not there.” Will it really? Has it destabilized over the last 2500 years? Have the peoples of the Middle East gone to hell in a hand basket in that time? You bet your ass they have not. We’re just trying to protect our oil interests in those countries. How will we ever become independent of fossil fuels if we’re interfering in what’s happening “over there?” Maybe what we need is to have the spigot shut off. Maybe, just maybe, that will get our butts in gear over reducing our dependency. Get the troops out; save money. While we’re at it, why are we still in Germany? If the United Nations has become such an ineffective organization that we feel the need to have our military all over the world, why is it still in existence? If it is a viable organization, let’s use its power and get the hell out of some of these countries where (a) we’re just wasting our manpower and (b) pissing off the natives who view us with disdain and sometimes outright anger.

 “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” Who said it? Why, Karl Marx, of course, and he was as anti-capitalist as you can get. I can’t advocate Marx’s total package, but it seems to me that this past decade has promoted the exact opposite…”From each, no matter how needy they may be; to the few as much as they can get.” The rich have gotten richer; the middle class has all but disappeared, and; the poor and poverty stricken have increased exponentially to the detriment of the country. Yes, I believe that the wealthy should pay their share of taxes and not be allowed to shelter as much as they do. Yes, I believe they should pay a higher rate than the poor shmoe who is barely making ends meet but who dutifully pays his “fair share” every April 15th.

Tea partiers, grow up. You can’t have it all. You can’t have it all right now. It was your kind who helped to get us into this mess. Rather than crying like a bunch of babies, organizing and spouting big words; crying that the nation is not fiscally responsible, which it is not…quite yet, get behind the small steps that are being taken. As people work together, the steps will become larger, and only by working together will we all be able to reduce this deficit. It’s going to take time; we will all have to make some sacrifice. You may have to make a greater sacrifice than others. Suck it up. Build a bridge and get over it. America is not just for you and your “friends.” America is for everyone. You say you won’t need Medicare because you have your own insurance? That’s great and thank you for contributing so that someone who can’t afford private medical care can get it. You say Social Security won’t benefit you because you have plenty of money for your retirement? That’s wonderful and thanks for paying in so that some other poor slob will be able to survive. This must become your attitude. You must begin thinking of those less fortunate and how you can help them. America is not a ‘me’ country; it’s an ‘us’ country and don’t ever forget it.

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“It seems like old age just decided to descend on you all at once,” my partner told me the other day. She’s right. One day everything was fine and the next day I felt as if I’d been hit by a truck…a very large truck…with eighteen wheels!

I’m told that 70 is the new 50. First, I don’t know who the hell decided on that but I can tell you right now, whoever the idiot was, he or she (a) doesn’t know his or her ass from the elbow and (b) I’m damned certain that this person hasn’t seen either age yet. At 50, I was still smoking, still drinking, and sex was an integral part of my life. Hell, I even had what I considered to be a full head of hair…well, except for that little ‘tonsure’ thingie on the back of my head that made me look like I’d worn a yarmulke for much, much too long. Yes, life was pretty good at 50. I had yet to have my first heart attack; that would come six years later, and the bulging belly of middle age had yet to make its appearance.

By 70, however, I’d quit smoking, quit drinking, had forgotten a great deal about sex – after all, I was married – had three heart attacks under my belt, a hell of a lot less hair on my head, and the belly looked as if the baby was due any day. So don’t go handing me this crap about 70 being the new 50. That’s as big a load of bullshit as ever came out of the pasture. There was, however, an upside to being 70…I was a bit wiser, thus, the no more drinking and smoking nonsense. Red meat still tasted great, but just not as often. Sixteen ounce curls had been replaced by a rather rigorous cardiovascular regimen and a bit of weightlifting. I’d run a 7.2 mile race; well, it was more of a walk/jog thing where I started dead last and finished in the same position…the key being that I started and I finished.

Even at 75 things were looking, if not up, then at least rather level. There was a rough patch as my beloved wife fought but lost her battle with lung cancer…another victory to be claimed by R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, and a few of their friends. The kids were grown with families of their own, and there was a bit of loneliness until my friend from California decided to move in and turn the backyard into a horticultural masterpiece. We had many things in common; we both loved to laugh, although she’d been through that same cancer scene with a man she loved; we both enjoyed the same kinds of books, television series, and even some of the same craft projects. She’s younger and says that she’s robbing the crypt, but I think by robbing the cradle, I got the better end of that bargain. She loves baking and I love eating. It’s a dangerous combination but I figure we ought to have it under control in another fifty or so years.

All of a sudden, six months into my 77th year, however, I find that things are starting to fall apart. The cigarettes that I gave up in 1998 are beginning to wreak their havoc on my lungs. For a while, everything was great; not so anymore. Despite having COPD, I can still exercise and go through a good cardio workout, but I have trouble walking up and down stairs and even walking from one end of our small ranch house to the other. It’s not only my wind that seems to be gone, but the joints, which lost their cartilage a long time ago, are rebelling against this bone on bone rubbing. People tell me that I’ll “come back” from my recent surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurism, but I still question whether that will be possible. The old joke, “Of all the things I’ve ever lost, I miss my mind the most,” is apropos of my own…what was I saying…oh, yeah, condition, but I continue to struggle along with what I consider to be half a brain.

The way I look at it, I figure that there’s another ten to fifteen years in these old bones. I’m going to spend a good number of those years searching for the son-of-a-bitch who first came up with “70 is the new 50.” When I locate that individual, I’ll probably have to throw my false teeth – I’ll probably have them by then – at the rat fink or swing my cane from a wheelchair. Just as long as I can exact my revenge.

Who am I kidding? If I should die tomorrow, it’s been a great run. Many of my high school and even college classmates have already bid goodbye to this old earth of ours. They’re looking at the roots rather than the flowers. One day I’ll join them, but I think there may still be one or two comebacks yet in these creaky joints. However, if I make it to 90 and some idiot tries to tell me it’s the new 70, old or not, feeble as I may be, I’m going to be going on trial for murder!

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I visited my wife today; brought her a yellow rose…her very favorite. The florist had put it in one of those vial things, along with some baby’s breath and a couple of greens. Then they wrapped it in clear plastic and tied it with a white ribbon. I dug around a bit and put the entire package, standing straight up, about four inches into the ground. It was kinda tough getting down on these old knees and I actually had to hold on to the headstone to lower myself to the ground. She’s buried with her Mom and Dad and her Aunt Eva. There’s room in the plot for a couple more people, but I don’t believe I’ll be one of them.

I stood by the grave site before planting my little package. It may sound stupid, but I really never know what to say, other than, “I love you; I miss you; I know you’re in God’s arms, and for that I’m happy, because I know now that your pain is gone and that you’re at peace.” It may seem stupid to some people that I stand and talk to the ground, where I can see nothing but a few old leaves, some pachysandra that’s starting to get its spring growth and a few new tufts of grass. That’s me, however; that is a part of my belief system just as it was part of Joan’s, Frank’s, Anna’s, and Eva’s. So I stand, and I talk to them; then I recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm, not because these are particularly meaningful to my wife or her family, but because they mean something to me.

Widowerhood – if there is such a word – is a relatively new thing for me. My wife of 50+ years died on June 15, 2008. It hasn’t even been three years. Sometimes, it seems like it was yesterday, and I well up; the tears fall as I remember the things we used to do…having a drink at Maria’s Keyboard off Mass. Ave, listening to the singing waiter and waitress whose voices were magnificent and who would sing show tunes all night. Joan and I both enjoyed musicals, whether on the screen or on the stage. I’d remember times at our old summer place in Falmouth, like the time the kids – fairly young at the time – had a water gun fight that expanded to include the adults, a hose, and finally ended with our ten-year-old dousing one of our friends who was hiding under the covers of our bed with a gallon bucket of water. Yeah, those memories would be so close; so enjoyable; so sad. At other times, it seems as though Joan has been gone much, much longer. If you’ve ever lost anyone to cancer…in this case, lung cancer…you know that it’s no walk in the park. Joan had refused chemotherapy or radiation therapy. She preferred quality of life versus quantity of life. She also wanted to die at home, not in a hospital, and we were able to grant that wish.

I really don’t know how widows or widowers who lost their loved one 10, 15, or 20 years ago are able to handle it. As I’ve said, I’m pretty new to this thing. I don’t like it, not one little bit. I’m reminded of the Shawshank Redemption and the line, “You gotta get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.” Since I don’t believe in suicide, it appears the former is what I have to do. If you’re a long time widow or widower and you have any suggestions, I’m open to hearing them.

This past year, a friend from California moved in with me. She had been a one-person support group when Joan was dying. She, too, had lost someone she loved to cancer, and she was a wonderful shoulder to lean on, even from 3,000 miles away. She was going to retire, had lived in California all of her life, and was looking for a new adventure. I guess I’m supposed to be it…yeah, right. She likes things that I don’t and vice versa. It sort of makes us the perfect couple. As long as we stay out of each other’s way, life is good. She loves to bake; I love to eat; doctors love to tell me to lose weight; I love to tell them to go to hell. It’s a pretty good arrangement. Another thing that she loves is gardening. I’m not a gardener. Last fall she planted 763 bulbs. Now it looks like about 762 are gonna bloom. A number of folks walk by the house on their morning stroll and we’re already getting some comments. I can’t take any credit, but I can smile at the way my friend beams when people say nice things. If she can’t be outside in the garden, she loves to knit and crochet. She even talked me back into doing latch hook, which was one of those things I did years ago and then quit.

Will we decide to get married? Nope, it’s not in the cards. We agree that we’ve both had the love of our lives and each is now gone. Do we love one another? Yes, but not in the way that she loved Ken or that I loved Joan. Will she ever forget Ken or I Joan? No, we will never forget them, nor will we ever stop loving them. I guess that, too, is a part of true love.

Enjoy your love. All too soon it will be taken from you, one way or another. If you happen to be the one who dies first, you have only two things to worry about; you go to Heaven or you go to Hell; you go to Heaven, you have only two things to worry about; finding your parents and making friends with a bunch of strangers. If you go to Hell, you have also have two things to worry about; getting all of those friends together on a Friday night for another party, and who’s gonna stoke the fires while you and your friends are partying!

Whatever the outcome may be, I guess I’ve reached the point where I can understand the old saw, “Don’t take life too seriously, ‘cause you’re never gonna get out of it alive.” It’s good advice; wish I’d said it.

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The world is filled with assholes and idiots. Other than those who pervade the D.C. scene and some others from the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, we now have a new player vying for his fifteen minutes of fame. You might say that I’m encouraging that by even writing about this ‘supposed’ man of God, but some things are just too difficult to pass by.

Terry Jones, whom I will not dignify by using the title he has given himself, has caused irreparable damage between Muslim communities everywhere and with the Christian community in the United States. What’s next, Terry, are you next going to burn a Torah because someone who is Jewish took your parking place at Walmart?

Personally, I disagree with Shariah law. That’s my personal belief. I’m not going to burn a Quran. I also disagree with several things in the Holy Bible. I’m not about to burn a bible The Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps turn my stomach. I’m not about to firebomb his house as a part of my distress over what he and his family – incestuous though I think it probably is – do at the funerals of young men and women who died protecting his right to protest.

The Southern Poverty Law Center listed over 600 hate groups in the United States in an intelligence report they issued about a decade ago. I’m betting that number has jumped considerable over the past ten years. We seem to have become a nation of hate rather than a nation of tolerance. These really aren’t the groups that concern me. It’s the one-time Terry Jones, John Hinckley, Timothy McVeigh types who suddenly pop up out of nowhere and do such horrible acts that really bother the daylights out of me. These people are mentally retarded and morally repugnant to me. Jones’ actions have cost the lives of God-only-knows how many members of the military and civilian bystanders. How can he justify that? The point is that he cannot, largely because he can’t see beyond his own burning hatred and the lens of the television camera that’s filming his ugliness.

America was once called “the melting pot.” We accepted everyone. Remember what Emma Lazarus wrote so many years ago…”With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’” What a marvelous greeting to immigrants first espying Lady Liberty with her torch on high. And they came; and they worked hard; and they achieved. Yes, some went down a crooked path, but for the most part, these are the people who created America; a “land of the free” and when it came time to defend her, “the home of the brave.” Unfortunately, our melting pot has become poisoned by the descendants of some of our “wretched refuse” who don’t fully understand what America is and what America means.

Maybe I’m a little off base here, but I think it might not be a bad idea to round up the members of some of these groups and ship them off to Somalia or the Ivory Coast or another of the spots around the globe where intolerance of their actions would bring swift and permanent consequences. America is a much more tolerant society than most of those these groups would find if they were elsewhere. The kicker is that these idiots know that; they know they can get away with things in America that would never be tolerated under a different type of leadership. You piss some of those folks off and you’ll find yourself holding your head literally in your hands and wondering WTF!

I began by saying that the world is filled with assholes and idiots. Perhaps it should be added that America seems to have more than her fair share. We have laws to protect us from some extreme behaviors. Shouting “Fire” falsely in a crowded theatre violates the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech. It’s a slippery slope to tighten some of these amendments, but something must be done to halt the actions of an idiot like Terry Jones who, by burning a book that is considered holy to millions upon millions of people, also caused the deaths of more people than he has in his entire congregation. I wonder if, perhaps, we could ask Terry to personally set up a branch of his church in the Congo; then we could send Fred Phelps to Gabon – it’s just the next tiny country abutting the Congo – and they could collaborate to sell “their” form of hatred to the citizens. Gee, wouldn’t that be fun.

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At one point I believed it was impossible to overestimate the stupidity of politicians. I’m slowly changing my mind…oh, not about their stupidity; I still believe that if these are the brightest bulbs we have to offer, there just has to be something in the Washington water supply that dumbs them down. No, it’s their arrogance that gets to me.

“If the government shuts down, it will be their fault.” You don’t have to be an elephant or an ass to understand that statement, as heard from every freaking politician in the District, is a blackmail ploy. My response is, “Go ahead, you goddamned fools; shut it down. You all seem hell-bent on doing things as you damn well please, so go ahead, shut down government. Cut off Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and all of those other wonderful government programs. You’ll all be looking for jobs come the next election if you decide to do this, so go ahead, ladies and gentlemen. Do what you are threatening to do and let’s see just what’s going to happen.”

I’m fully aware that things don’t become quite as desperate as I make them out to be, but these arrogant bastards speak as though the world will come to an end if “they” don’t do something to keep the government operating. What it actually means is that several thousand or hundreds of thousands of government workers will be furloughed without pay. Congressmen and Senators will still be paid. They may – note the word, “may” – have to lay off a staffer or two, but they won’t suffer significantly. No, in reality, the people who will suffer will once again be the people who can least afford to be furloughed, just so a bunch of arrogant pompous idiots can once again use scare tactics to try to accomplish their goals.

Is the proposed Federal Budget realistic? Probably it is not. I would venture that there are items in the budget that could be eliminated without the country suffering any great loss. There’s pork in any Federal Budget. There’s no question in my mind that the Defense Department is too large. Social Security is broken, but rather than fix it, we just keep adding more money to it in the budget. It’s like trying to put a band aid on a ruptured femoral artery…it isn’t going to work. Do Medicare and Medicaid need an overhaul? There’s no doubt about it. The Republicans don’t want overhaul these systems; they prefer to keelhaul them and then blame the party in power. The Democrats don’t want to overhaul them because if they do and do it properly, they will lose a great deal of support come the next elections. The best way to describe the Federal Budget is that it is the most perfect Catch 22 ever inflicted on the American public. It is the cause célèbre that allows Congress to continue to operate. If there was not the annual great debate over the Federal Budget, it might mean that Congressmen would actually have to work, enact real legislation for the benefit of all in the country. My God, this would be catastrophic! But no, the budget provides the fodder for one side of the aisle or the other to fight, fight, fight for cuts, cuts, cuts.

Since the government now has to contend with a third political party, the Tea Party Republicans, the ones who believe that others in their own party are too liberal, we have an additional monkey wrench being thrown into the budget mix. If members of the Republican Parties can’t agree among themselves, can you even begin to imagine the chaos that is taking place in the backrooms and alcoves of Congress at this time? The very thought of it reminds me of a three stooges movie where no one has a clue regarding the real problem so they just go around hitting each other over the head. It may be hilarious but it’s also quite threatening.

As a senior citizen, I see the proposed Republican budget plan as a danger to people like me. I worked my ass off for over forty years, making my FICA contributions and paying other taxes along the way. If you’re now going to take this away or reduce my benefits to put me further below the poverty line, why the hell don’t you just take a gun and shoot me? “Sorry, Mr. Bishop, you’ve reached mandatory death age. Bye.” Bang! Oh, by the way, don’t forget to wear something over that $5,000 suit you’re wearing so you don’t get any of my blood on it.

We are a nation in financial trouble. Of that there can be no question. How we got there and who has put us in this position does not matter. What matters is that we are here. If the idiots in Washington cannot find a way to compromise and begin to bring us back into line, we will become more of a debtor nation, lose more of the respect of the rest of the world, and eventually be taken over by some other nation. Is this possible? No, I don’t believe it is. We’ll muddle along until something really catastrophic finally binds us together and gets us back on track. We worked well together after 911…for at least two weeks. What is wrong with us, correct that, what is wrong with the United States Congress that it puts party affiliation ahead of the public good; that it puts damning the party in power ahead of moving the nation forward? I do not understand this. I don’t believe that the vast majority of American citizens understand it either. Ross Perot said, “Wake up America!” Too bad we haven’t listened.

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