Archive for May, 2012

This is Memorial Day weekend 2012. On Friday I watched the evening traffic reports on television. Backups of traffic heading to the beaches delighted me because I wasn’t in one of those cars. Many were piled high with bicycles, surfboards and other accoutrements required for a summer of sand, sea, surf, and sunburn. I could not help but wonder as I watched this abysmal exit from the city how many of those people fully understand what it took for them to enjoy this unofficial ‘beginning’ of summer.

The count is roughly a million and a half. Yes, 1.5 million men and women who have sacrificed their lives in order that we, generations before, and generations who will come after us, can celebrate Memorial Day weekend by heading off to our summer places on Cape Cod or in Ogunquit, Maine, in the Green Mountains of Vermont, or the White Mountains of New Hampshire. If you happen to be from another part of America, you’ll have to think about the spots you vacation.

Our greatest loss, of course, was in the Civil War, the War for Southern Independence, the War Between the States, or however one wishes to refer to that period of time from 1861 to 1865. Over 610,000 died of battle wounds or disease.  Perhaps some of the battlefields on which that war was fought should be a vacation destination for more Americans this summer. It’s quite possible, if your family has been here for a while, that the blood of one of your ancestors has soaked into the soil at Petersburg, Cold Harbor, Spotsylvania, The Wilderness, or Gettysburg. The 25th Massachusetts was one of the regiments that fought at bloody Cold Harbor.  If you know for a fact, that you had an ancestor fighting, have you ever mentioned it to the younger generation? Our nation, we hope, is stronger because of their sacrifice.

I’ve often thought that when old men get mad young men die. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to WWI and the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese which brought America into WWII seemed more the exception than the rule. The Korean War was a battle of ideologies, with the Communist North battling the Capitalist South. Since America seemed so terrified of the “Red Menace” and Senator Joe McCarthy seeing a communist killer under every rock, the US felt the necessity of helping the capitalist south. In hindsight, it was an unnecessary loss of 36,500 American lives. The Gulf of Tonkin incident certainly didn’t seem to qualify as justification for going to war against North Vietnam with the resulting in the more than 58,000 US deaths. To say that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can only be explained by what happens after American troops pull out. I still find it difficult to believe that we went into Iraq as part of a hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Perhaps all of my bitching and wailing comes because as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more aware of the futility of war as a solution to damn near any problem. I’ve also become aware that from my generation to the present one, there doesn’t seem to be the gratitude that we should be expressing, particularly on this weekend in May which has been set aside for that specific purpose. Oh sure, there will be Memorial Day Parades, but how many of the kids watching them know exactly why they are being held. Children and their parents may watch the parade, but how many of them will go to the site where the parade ends and listen to the words of thanks delivered by some VFW Commander or an American Legion officer? I guess it may be time to come down off the soapbox and ask that all of those vacationers in their cars, heading for the mountains or the beaches, take just a minute to say, “Thank you” to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that you can be enjoying this long weekend.

I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t tell you the story of one man who does recognize the importance of paying the ultimate sacrifice for fallen soldiers. The man’s name is Larry Eckhardt. He’s from a small town in Illinois that has a population of 331. Since 2006, he’s lined the funeral route of fallen American soldiers with more than 1,000 flags that he hauls along in a trailer. Larry never served in the military. He was what I like to call a, “tweener;” too young for one and too old for another. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe. He travels from Illinois to Indiana to Kentucky to wherever he can get to in time to erect the flags along the funeral route. He doesn’t charge for what he does, but he recruits veterans, Boy Scouts, and other community groups to help get the flags up along the funeral route.  According to Mr. Eckhardt, “This is my feeble attempt to say thank you to every soldier who has ever served and fought to protect the freedoms that I have.” Your attempt is far from feeble, Mr. Eckhardt. It’s an inspiration, and I’m just sorry there aren’t more people with your creativity and patriotic heart. Thank you.

Americans live in a great country. I’m certain that there are many people who say that about their own nation, but I just happen to be one proud 77-year old Yankee who, on this Memorial Day Weekend, wants it known that America didn’t just “become” great. Young men and young women bled and died to make our country great. God Bless Them and God Bless our Nation.

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Have you ever noticed just how quickly “big news stories” can disappear from the front pages of newspapers or from television or other news sources? For weeks after Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge, the media was all over the case. Gay bullying came to the fore once again. It had been nearly a decade and a half since the death of Matthew Shepard, and this was just a new form…call it cyber-something-or-other of “putting gays in their place.” Some might say that the two cases are totally unrelated. To that, I say, “Bullshit!” Bias is bias and Dharun Ravi was biased against the lifestyle that Tyler Clementi chose to live. His very actions proved it, and just like the Shepard case, the result was the death of another member of the gay community…and the media sucked it up like there was no tomorrow.

Then something else more sensational came along and Tyler was relegated to obscurity. The media stopped reporting because, “There was really nothing to report.” That’s true; there was nothing to report, except perhaps for telling the story of how the gay community was affected and was reacting; except for the fact that Ravi was, “…a prisoner who was afraid to go out” for the past 20 months. The media had an opportunity to once again expose the general attitude that exists toward gays, lesbians, transgenders, etc, who are completely ignorant of alternative lifestyles, but something more bloody took the place of an opportunity.

Mr. Ravi was found guilty of all 15 counts for which he was indicted, including invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering, bias intimidation for both setting up the camera and another count for knowing that setting up the camera would be intimidating, hindering apprehension, and all of the rest. He could have received a 10-year sentence on the first two-counts alone. Instead, Judge Glen Berman elected to sentence him to 30 days.

That Judge Berman should so shamefully hand down such a sentence says a great deal about the judge. It says that he doesn’t truly understand that bias intimidation and hate crime are equal. He says that they are not. How he can say this in this particular case astounds me. Was I privileged to review all of the documents or listen to all of the information presented at trial? No, I was not, but I prefer to take a much more simplistic view of the situation. Tyler Clementi asked for privacy…twice. Dharun Ravi did not give that request any consideration. Clementi, after seeing the video that his roommate had posted, chose death over embarrassment and jumped from the GW. “Oh, but there’s really no link between the two,” argued the defense. Here’s a question: “What if the shoe had been on the other foot and Tyler Clementi had videotaped Dharun Ravi having unnatural sex with an animal or beating a woman, while having unusual sex with her?” And what if Dharun Ravi had been so disturbed by seeing this that he’d taken a gun and shot himself? Would Tyler Clementi have received a 30-day sentence, particularly if the judge knew he was gay? Would the media have made anything of it? The answer is, “No and no” from the way I’ve seen this case handled.

Both the defense and the prosecution are talking about appeals. I don’t have a clue why the defense team wants an appeal. Their client got away with a sentence that is a joke. The judge got away with talking a good talk, but he sure as hell, as Nancy Grace indicated didn’t walk the walk. No case involving international relations or the gay community should ever come before Judge Berman again.

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It must be one of the ways in which society has developed…bullying, that is.  We have entered the fourth decade of acknowledging that bullying is a “serious” problem, if not worldwide then at least in most of the civilized world. It was in 1970 that Swedish psychology professor, Dan Olweus, began studying the problems along with victimization of school children in Norway. Considered the ‘founding father’ of bullying prevention, Olweus developed anti-bullying programs in Scandinavia long before the problem gained notoriety in the United States.

I began writing cases about bullying in the early 80s. The New England Institute for Law Enforcement Management began offering workshops for school resource officers in the mid-eighties. Only one community in Massachusetts took the Institute’s offer seriously. Following the workshop, the town devoted a full day of mini-workshops in the high school and middle schools to the subject of bullying. What has happened since that time is anyone’s guess. I’ve retired; the police chief of the town, who was so influential in promoting the program has also retired; classes have come and gone, and; my bet is that bullying is just as common in that community as it was before the program.

Bullying is a condition of society. It’s survival of the fittest… and it’s been around since man first learned to walk upright. We can talk about how bad it is until we’re blue in the face, but it’s not going to go away. Now we have cyber bullying which allows greater anonymity for the bully. What we haven’t been teaching are the real ways in which the bullied should handle their situation. I’m not talking about revenge with guns, knives, or bombs. I’m not talking about killing yourself because that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.  No, I’m talking about developing a thicker skin than the bully. I’m talking about knowing how to defend oneself against the bullies of the world. It’s not easy to defend oneself against bullies. Being a target means surrounding oneself with as many allies as possible and using those allies as part of one’s defense. It’s possible to suffer verbal and even physical abuse during the early stages of being bullied…this is where the thick skin comes in. Until the bully can be made to recognize the error of his or her ways, he or she will continue the assault. No ‘workshop’ or lecture or film about bullying is going to stop a real bully. He or she will merely laugh at those attempts to alter the situation.

The real key to stopping a bully is to speak out. Yes, speaking out is taking a chance. It may backfire. The bully may become more aggressive. Speak out again and speak out as often and as loudly and to as many people who will listen. The problem today, at least as I see it, is that people don’t really know when they are being bullied, or when they are merely being teased. Yes, words can hurt; they can hurt deeply, but what do they hurt? Are they as painful as a fist in the face or a bullet? Of course not. Therefore, words are just that; they are the weapon of choice for bullies. If a bully does more than use words, it’s a crime. Pushing, shoving, or hitting a victim is a crime. Boys tend to do this to one another many times. If they do it as a form of bullying, it’s known as assault. That is unacceptable and society must understand that. Girls tend more to use words or to ostracize the victim. Suck it up; if they are willing to ban you from their group, you never wanted them as friends anyway. Life’s a bitch; get over it.

Bullying doesn’t stop as one matures. Management by intimidation is more common in business than you might believe. I once refused to give a recommendation to someone because his management style was not one that fit in with our organization. I told him this when he called with his request. He was stunned; couldn’t believe I would refuse his request; said that I’d never worked for him so how would I know. It wasn’t easy to let someone know that he wasn’t really a good manager. I’m certain it hurt, but the truth often does.

I don’t honestly understand why the hell someone would take his or her life because he or she is being bullied. I understand it no more than I understand taking up arms and destroying the bullies and taking other lives as collateral damage. It boggles my mind.

I’ve been a victim of bullies. I’ve fought back. When a bully and his or her friends sees that their opinion doesn’t really matter to you; when they find that you’re ready to call them out for what they really are; when they see that you are mentally tougher than they ever thought of being, you have won. If you are physically abused, fight back. You may well get the crap kicked out of you, but fight back just as though your life was in the balance. Kick, bite, and gouge. If you give the bully something to remember you by, he or she will think twice before attacking again. Never give up and never give in to those who bully. Life is too important to let them take away even a small piece of it.

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“Ole Massa Cha’ly, he don’t give a damn. He jes’ thinks we’s all a bunch a lazy niggas anyhow. Some day, dat ole man gonna find out we jes’ as smart – mebe smarter than he is – an we can do a lotta things he can’t do…even wif all his big talk.”

It would be wonderful to believe that the “Ole Massa Cha’lys” of this world is a thing of the past, but before the election of 2012, he and his ethnically-challenged colleagues will most surely rise again. There will be a new degree of sophistication in order that the less educated or the easily led – whites, blacks, reds, yellows, pinks, and even greens – won’t quite understand the nuances, but ethnic ineligibility will be there for Mr. & Mrs. John Q. to see. It’s too bad really because I just happen to think that our first black President of the United States has done a pretty fair job, particularly since an entirely new party has emerged during his administration whose sole purpose appears to be disinformation, confusion, and an outright abhorrence of anything this particular president is trying to accomplish to reset the country on a more positive course. If you can look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that the Tea Party has any goal other than to return the Office of the President of the United States to a white rich guy who has absolutely no understanding of what a middle or lower class actually is, I will have no choice other than to call you a prevaricator of the greatest magnitude.

When George Bush left office, his successor inherited two wars on foreign soil that had already cost more than 5,000 American lives. In addition, America’s international favorability rating was at its lowest. We were part of a global recession, and the average American was in what could best be called an extremely pissed off mood. The automotive industry was damn near defunct. Wall Street had seen the Dow take a nosedive, and we turned around and elected a one-term Senator from Illinois to bring us out of the morass. To top it off, the guy was the first President of the United States to be of mixed parentage, and you couldn’t help but notice that his skin was considerably darker than his 43 predecessors.

Critics decried that Obama had no experience, particularly in foreign affairs. “What has he ever done other than be a community organizer in Chicago?” some asked. In his inaugural address, Obama acknowledged that getting over the mess left to him and said, “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.” Once again, critics cried out, “See, he’s backpedalling already, saying that he can’t get it done right away.” There was a harshness that greeted Obama the likes of which I’d never seen. I’m white and I was pissed at some of the racial slurs I heard, and no, I won’t repeat any of them here.

So what happened? Well, in the first 100 days he managed to get Congress to expand health care for children and “…provide legal protection for women seeking equal pay.” He persuaded Congress to pass a $787 billion stimulus bill to promote short-term economic growth. The auto industry was bailed out with the promise that all loans would be repaid (and they have been); Quoting from Biography, Housing and credit markets were put on life-support, with a market-based plan to buy U.S. banks’ toxic assets. Loans were made to the auto industry, and new regulations were proposed for Wall Street. He also cut taxes for working families, small businesses and first-time home buyers. The president also loosened the ban on embryonic stem cell research and moved ahead with a $3.5 trillion budget plan.

During his first 100 days, President Obama also undertook a complete overhaul of America’s foreign policy. He reached out to improve relations with Europe, China, Russia and open dialogue with Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba. He lobbied allies to support a global economic stimulus package. He committed an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan and set an August 2010 date for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In more dramatic incidents, he took on pirates off the coast of Somalia and prepared the nation for an attack of the Swine Flu. For his efforts, he was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

When I look at this overall picture and when I look at what Governor Romney accomplished in Massachusetts, there is just no comparison. Where Obama has been open in his dealings, the Governor was more secretive in his. Where Obama had no preconceived notions about how a government ought to be run, Mr. Romney has had the benefit of learning at the knee of his former-governor-father. Frankly, I think the ‘rookie’ has outplayed the ‘veteran.’

It took President Bush eight years to get us into the mess that was left to Obama. I’d like to give this President another four years to see how much further he can go in turning things around. I’m fully aware that in the back rooms and even in small public gatherings, the ‘n’ word will be tossed out as a reason to get Obama out of the White House. We’d all be better off if we just took a look at accomplishments rather than skin color.

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Beware the writer who begins with no idea of where he or she may be going.

Such will be the beginning, the middle, and the end of what you have had the courage to, so far, pursue.

It’s alright to grow old. So many people don’t have the opportunity to make that statement. I once held an eight-month old baby who two weeks later died of crib death. He was a handsome baby, big and strong. He had a great smile and an even funnier laugh. When Justin laughed, everyone around him either smiled or joined in his laughter. It doesn’t take much to make an eight-month old laugh, and it’s such an innocent laughter. It’s too bad he never lived to grow old. What would he have been? Would he have made what society calls “major contributions to the well-being of mankind,” whatever that might mean? Would he have been a serial killer and blight on society? Or perhaps he would have just been a man; a man, who lived his life, was wounded in some military conflict, got married, had kids, owned a house, made enough money to send his kids to college, grew old, and died. We’ll never know.

Who is to say what sets one person apart from another. Why, for example, was it Jonas Salk who discovered the cure for polio? He came from Russian Jewish parents who were immigrants and who possessed little formal education. Why did he decide to pursue scientific research instead of medicine when he was, of all things, attending a medical school? Certainly, back at the time of his studies, the practice of medicine would appear to have been more lucrative than the pursuit of scientific ‘discovery.’ Perhaps he had taken to heart what President Calvin Coolidge had to say, that, “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” But why Salk? We’ll never know, but the fact that he did has saved millions of lives.

Are we failures if we don’t make “contributions” to society? Will we die earlier than others? What is a contribution, anyway? Is being the best father or mother you can be a contribution? How about being the best husband or wife? Better yet, in today’s society, how about being the best partner, male or female? Why are some lives snuffed out at eight months and others go on for over a century?

Let me twist a bit here and tell you what I believe. I believe that there is some Power greater than any of us. You may call that Power, for want of a better word, God. You may also call the Power, Allah, Elohim, Jehovah, or any other name by which you wish to designate your particular Power. One of our children was born shortly after my wife’s father died. My wife was talking with her about her grandfather when the child was about five. “I knew him; I met him when I was coming down,” the child said. It was a statement that both terrified and horrified us. Our daughter was dead serious…scary stuff.

I firmly believe that the Power puts us on earth with a purpose in mind for each of us. We have no idea what that purpose is. Perhaps it is merely to entertain or be good to someone or some people for a few days, weeks, or months. That may be that being’s sole purpose. If that is the case, then it must also be that the being is also responsible for bringing unbearable sorrow when it leaves. My wife and I had nearly 51 years together. When I tell others that she died of cancer, they invariably say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” While I never take the time for a long discussion, I will usually respond with, “Please don’t be. Death from cancer is very unpleasant.” I suppose that death by IED or car crash or anything else isn’t all that great, particularly if you’re in your twenties, but watching someone waste away from cancer isn’t exactly a joy to behold either. Anyway, in our time together, Joan worked at a job that might have been considered more difficult than my own – I worked at an income-producing job. She worked at raising three kids and instilling values in them, and did one hell of a job doing so. She did Girl Scouts and mini-boy scouts. I did Little League. We both spent 25 years in chlorine-filled swimming pools with our “jock-wannabes;” We saw all three go through college, fall in love, get married, and have kids of their own. Did we make a contribution? Is that why the Power put us here on earth? Why did the Power take my wife back before ‘it’ took me? Am I being punished, or do I still have another job to do? When I die, will these questions be answered for me, or will the light just go out with answers remaining only as questions? Is this really Philosophy 101?

I’m getting along in years now. I’ve made it this far, but the stairs get higher most days; the print on this page is kind of blurred, even with my ‘computer glasses’ on. Exercise is a great help, but I notice on those days when I don’t, I feel a little more tired, and that becomes a concentric spiral downward. I do hope that there is something left that is expected of me. Might be nice to stick around and perhaps even learn what that something is.

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Exercise gurus and fitness fanatics will “prove” to you that you, whatever your age or lifestyle may be, can look like the person in their ads in only one, two, three, six, – ah, to hell with it – weeks if only you will purchase their equipment. They’ll show you pictures of men and women – clearly not your age – which have gone from being flabby and fat to toned and terrific. They’ll share videos of these very same people using the equipment with big smiles on their faces. What a pile of puke! The problem is that there are folks out there who swallow that line of guff, purchase their equipment, use it for a few weeks, don’t notice any changes, shove it under the bed (whew; long sentence), and there it gathers dust until the neighborhood yard sale.

What these people, these pitch people, including the karate kid, Chuck Norris, will not tell you is that, in addition to a proper diet, you will have to incorporate cardiovascular exercises and weight training into your regimen in order to look like their models. Yes, that’s what they are, models. These people get paid to look as they do. Did they ever appear as the ‘before’ picture indicates? Let’s just say the Photoshop can work in many directions.

My first heart attack didn’t occur until I was 56. Prior to that, I smoked like a chimney; drank like a fish, and my exercise program consisted of sitting on the couch and watching those very same ads…key word is “watching.” If you survive your first myocardial infarction (clever, eh?), a part of your recovery program will consist of a meeting with a nutrition “x-spurt,” a physical therapist or ten, and a nurse who will monitor you closely until it is determined that you will not suffer another cardiac problem while walking on the treadmill, riding a bike, or maneuvering an elliptical machine…free weights will also be included. All of this might be considered a “wake up call” for the way in which you have mistreated your body, either since birth; since high school or college graduation, or; since you learned that money is necessary to survive and to hell with your health. (Don’cha just love all this free advice?)

It does not matter how much you take all of the excellent advice offered by the cardiac rehabilitation team; it matters not which advertised equipment you now purchase and put downstairs, in a room cleared for the very purpose of exercising, or kept in its original packaging in the garage with the promise to “…get to it tomorrow,” you will never look like the professionals on television. For example, I am fully aware that I have six-pack abs. However, in the spirit of not being a braggart, I have elected to conceal them behind a keg. Crunches, abdominal machines, leg lifts, and so forth have made my keg q rock…but it’s still a keg, and my six-pack is still in hiding. My left bicep is massive. Unfortunately, it rests somewhere around my left elbow because it has torn away from the shoulder where it was originally attached. When I ask about reattachment, the orthopedist merely chuckles and shakes his head…I guess that means, “Forget it, Charley; ain’t gonna happen!

So, is all hope gone now that you have developed the “Fifties Spread?” Absolutely not! I kid about being in non-shape and it’s certainly true that obesity seems more common that it was forty or fifty years ago, but there are a great many things to do, some of which will not only improve your health, but will even make you smile a bit more. First recommendation is, “Don’t try to do it alone.” You may have a treadmill or a bike and a TV you can watch while you’re working out. It is not the same thing as joining a gym and seeing just how out of shape some of ‘those people’ are. If you don’t like to socialize, fine; go in, do your workout, and go home. However, I have met some of the most fascinating characters before, during, and after my workouts. There are doctors, nurses, police officers – both active and retired – teachers, civil servants, and everything in between. It’s heterogeneity at its very finest. You say this doesn’t interest you; that you’d rather be on your own? Great, but the folks I know are more encouraging and friendly than damn near any other people I’ve ever met…and they don’t look like the models in the television ads. I’m comfortable because so many are in worse shape than I am. The biggest thing of all is that these are people who understand the benefits of exercise. Some never touch a weight. Some believe that cardio exercise and weights are a good combination. They’re people, just like thee and me. Some exercise because of medical conditions; others do it because it’s fun. Give it a try. After all, what do you have to lose?

The second recommendation is, “Don’t stick to any diet.”  There is one problem with diets: They are demanding. If you decide that, for medical or weight reduction reasons, you have to be on a diet, go off at least once a month…make that “just” once a month. The reasoning is simple: If you don’t go off the diet every so often, there will come a time when you will abandon the diet forever, and you will have negated everything you’ve worked for. It then becomes a vicious cycle, because next you will abandon the exercise program. Finally, you’re back to the same old you…if you live that long!

Third, cut out the fattening snacks. They are my downfall but I’m very careful. Often, I’ll substitute a bottle of water for a snack. It may not sound very satisfying, but if you drink about half a liter of water, it fills you up, makes you less hungry and helps to cleanse the kidneys…yucky but true.

Finally, and here I quote from Sir Winston Churchill, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” It sounds kind of corny, but if you look at it carefully, it describes our situation – yours and mine accurately. It’s easy to give in and skip a day at the gym. One day soon becomes two, etc. It’s just as easy for someone to ‘force’ you to go play golf, go to the beach, or do yard chores that can wait. As far as the enemy is concerned, he, she, or they can be people who know you, see that you’re trying to make some positive changes in your life, and are afraid of what you might be like as you’re changing…people are funny that way.

In the very first paragraph of this little tome, I talked about people walking around with smiles on their collective faces. One of the great benefits of exercise is that it releases endorphins. These are natures little pain killers that also bring about a euphoric feeling. I call it my brain’s drug of choice. I may be soaked in sweat from working out, but I’m happy as the proverbial clam at high tide. Enjoy your life; don’t destroy it.

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My wife died on Father’s Day, June 15, 2008. Her battle with cancer that spread from her lungs to her breasts to her bones to her brain was a long and difficult one…no, correction, it was an agonizing one, and a war in which no reinforcements could be brought in to assist her fight. Over a period of 13 months, she fought. She wanted to die at home. No chemo; no radiation; “Just keep me comfortable on pain meds, and please, please, let me die at home.” Hospice came in once a week; I called them “angels of mercy.” They gave me the chance to get some groceries – mostly frozen dinners that could easily be ‘nuked,’ and to get to the gas station, although I didn’t need to get there as often. Both daughters would swing by almost daily for an hour or so, and a friend of the family would come by for about four hours a couple of days a week. That gave me a chance to get to the gym and vent my frustrations. To say that I was mad at the world is an understatement; to say that I cursed God for putting my wife through this agony is truthful. I blamed myself for allowing her to smoke, even after I’d quit. I blamed myself for not being a better husband or a better father, or a better whatever. If you’ve been through it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

We had been together nearly 51 years, Joan and I. We had raised three kids. They all went to college, found people with whom they wanted to spend the rest of their lives, and began to have kids. All three had come back with their spouses – and sometimes kids – to live in our in-law apartment while they were in transition.  Eventually, they all had their own houses and their kids became paramount in their lives just as our children had been paramount in ours.

Shortly after Joan began to feel ill – she hated doctors and refused to go for a long time – I received an “accidental e-mail.” It arrived as a case of a mistaken address, but resulted in a platonic relationship between life on the East Coast and life in California. After Joan’s diagnosis, the writer admitted that she had nursed her boyfriend through his cancer until his death nine years before. “You are no longer a husband,” she wrote. “If Joan wants dinner at four o’clock in the morning, you get your ass out of bed and make dinner. When she says she can’t eat it, you smile and say, ‘Maybe tomorrow, honey,’ and if she eats even one bite, you congratulate her.” This woman, let me call her Pat, became a one-person support ‘group’ whose advice was invaluable. We continued our 3000-mile conversation until Joan died.

About a year after Joan’s death, Pat wrote and asked if she might visit. “I’ve never been east of Wisconsin and you said you have a spare bedroom downstairs.” To shorten the story, she came, spent a while; flew back to Sacramento; came back again several more times, and eventually, I asked her to stay. What I didn’t know at the time that was my oldest child was ‘investigating’ to ‘check this woman’s background.’ Exactly  how she performed the investigation remains a mystery, but I was told that Pat had just been released from a county jail…a complete fabrication.

The upshot of this entire episode is that I now have an eldest child who doesn’t speak to me. Oh sure, there were episodes in between that exacerbated the situation, but they seem inconsequential in the telling of the ‘divorce.’  I have told my children that I wish to be happy in my old age (77), but on my terms, not theirs. To my eldest, I finally wrote, “I love you dearly; however, I love me more. My happiness is paramount to me during the last years of my life. You have many years to go; please allow me to live my few remaining years on my own terms.

I know there are people who will believe that I am being selfish. Meredith Maran, a writer for AARP Magazine, appears to be one of them. In a recent article, which is largely quotes from others, she appears to lay the blame at the door of the parent. She cites all sorts of Ph.D’s  – In higher education, we used to refer to that as “piled higher and deeper” – and faculty from prestigious institutions. From what I can see, these people are living in a Utopian world where everyone is a friend to their child rather than a parent. I, too, can cite a child psychologist whose name I won’t use but merely say he was The Today Show’s authority for a number of years. I don’t believe he ever told The Today Show folks of what he informed his kids, “The day you graduate from college is the day you move from this house, and begin your own adult lives.” His youngest didn’t believe him until he returned home a day after graduation and found all of his belongings on the front porch and the locks on all of the doors changed. Is that cruel? Not in my mind. There comes a point where the umbilical cord has to be cut. There comes a point when both the child and the parent must decide if they can get along as adults or if there must always be a parent/child relationship. My youngest said to me not to long ago, “But you’re my father; you’re supposed to protect me.” She’s 42, married, and has three children of her own. If I dared interfere in how she raises her kids, all hell would break loose, but I’m supposed to protect her? I just don’t understand that.

Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist, is cited heavily in the AARP article. Here’s a bit of his advice: “Take responsibility for mistakes you’ve made. If there’s a kernel of truth in your child’s complaint, acknowledge that.” Acknowledge what? Acknowledge that as a new parent you don’t always make the right decisions about everything. Christ, I’d be apologizing for the rest of my life. My kids deny to this day that they snuck out a second-story window to go out on the town with their friends, even though Joan and I both knew that they did it. Is admitting mistakes a one-way street? It certainly sounds like it. Here’s another one: “accept a contrary view.” “Even if you think you acted in your child’s best interest, your child might not have experienced your actions that way. Don’t try to prove your child wrong.” Hey doc, if my child is a child, and I did something that I thought was in their best interest, it probably was. If now, 30-40 years later, they think I messed up, let them make a different decision for their own children, but don’t tell me that I have to apologize.

One of the major problems with the manner in which today’s kids are being raised is that there is no sense or accountability or responsibility. You can always tell the kids who have been overly nurtured. They are the ones whose parents always respond with, “That couldn’t have been my child,” or “My child would never do something like that.” I confronted one of my grandchildren one day after I’d seen her stick an elbow into another soccer player’s ribs and double the kid up. “Why’d you do that,” I asked. “To send a message,” She responded. When I mentioned it to my daughter, she said, “Oh, she’d never do that. You must have been mistaken.” Hot damn; can you say, “Denial?”

Today, when too many kids get bullied, they take one of two courses of action: (1) They hang themselves in a “Look what you made me do,” attention-getting scenario, or; (2) they get a gun and go on a rampage in a “Look what you made me do,” attention-getting scenario. It’s all about them. It’s not about those who love them and lose them. It’s not about the lives they take. It’s all about the world revolving about them.

The AARP magazine is intended for people over 50. The article, “The Stranger in Your Family,” appears to have been written for people under 30. If your child ‘divorces’ you, that really is unfortunate. However, understand something very clearly…as parents, we all make mistakes of one kind or another. If you beat your kid when he or she was growing up, they have every right to get the hell out of your life as soon as possible, and you belong behind bars. If they weren’t talented enough to make the Little League team and you didn’t sue the league, good for you; the child has to learn sometime that life can be cruel…might’s well let them learn early. If a teacher hassled your kid and you didn’t listen to the child’s side, shame on you. That doesn’t mean that the child was right; maybe the teacher had some good points also. As parents, we were not always right…but we always tried to do the best for our kids. Sometimes, we couldn’t side with the child because the child was wrong. If, later in life, the child still believes we were mean for not defending him or her, that is not our problem.

Allowing your children to grow by letting them make mistakes is a part of parenting. It’s not a part of bad parenting, just being a parent. Sometimes, it hurts but it’s necessary. “If you do this, here are the consequences.” If the child goes ahead and does it, expecting rescue from the parent, that’s too bad. Would I let my kid step in front of a bus? Are you nuts? Of course not. Would I warn my kids about the dangers of driving on ice and snow? I did and one of them still totaled a car on an icy road. Thank God, she wasn’t injured, but she was later asked what she had learned. That was 25 years ago and she hasn’t had an accident in the snow and ice since.

If your child isn’t speaking to you, don’t take it personally. You can still love them from afar. Remember them as they were, not as the people they’ve chosen to become.

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You will have to pardon me, but I believe that the nation and the world have greater things to consider than whether or not Barack Obama is for or against gay marriage. We can rule out the North Carolina vote by merely saying, “What else did you expect.” The state has some wonderful educational institutions and the ‘golden triangle’ is a heart of research, but, unfortunately, the students are, for the most part, too young to vote and the faculty and researchers couldn’t care less. Guess who voted? It was the God, gays, and guns crowd; love two and hate one! In addition, I really don’t give a damn if Mitt Romney held someone down and cut the kid’s hair. To me, that’s merely Romney’s character showing through at an early age.

Our problems in this country are much larger than the piddly-ass jokes being played by the media. Among these problems is lowering of the jobless rate and putting more Americans back to work. We have a poverty income line that seems to be rising and that’s making class distinction more and more blatant. In turn, this appears to be approaching where the many will be governed by the few who can afford to buy their positions and continue to hold the vassals down until we wind up in a revolutionary position that no one wants.

We have a public education system in our own country that is shot to hell and is not really preparing future generations for positions of leadership. Curriculum reform is not a once-per-decade examination; it is an ongoing effort. The idea of keeping kids in school for longer periods of time to ensure that they are learning everything they need to know is not anathema to our system. However, neither can we punish our teachers by forcing them into situations where they are required to do more with less. We don’t have to increase teaching loads if we bring on board more educators. “Oh, but our tax base can’t afford it,” is a bullshit excuse. No one likes federal government interference but if that’s what it takes to train good future leaders, then I say, “Go for it.”

All of this leads us to another problem we have in this country. It’s called the national debt. We are not going to reduce the national debt by cutting this program or that program. We cannot expect that tiny snips here and there are going to do anything more than piss off one or more groups. We require wholesale revisionist thinking. Here is a fact for you: within 50 years, Americans over 65 will comprise nearly a quarter of the population. What is that going to do for retirement and health care programs in the country? The days of the family as a unit disappeared decades ago. “Granny and grampy living with us? Are you out of your mind? We can hardly afford football, soccer, computer, tennis, rhythmic dancing, and ballet classes as it is!” Go ahead; change that kind of thinking in less than four decades. We can’t just take the old folks out and shoot them and their own families truly cannot afford to care for them. A good part of that burden is going to continue to fall on the federal government and right now, federal government is not taking the long, long, long view. Yes, people, if they so choose, will be able to work longer, but should they have to do so? Social Security and Medicare were fine when they were established, but they are not the programs of tomorrow. Who is working on that? Who is trying to develop health care and retirement programs that will be adequate even fifty years from now? I certainly won’t be here, but my grandchildren will. I cannot help them by leaving them financially independent; hell, I’m not even financially independent? Who is working on this and not just from a theoretical point of view? It sure as hell isn’t anyone in Congress; that’s for damned sure. Those people can’t see beyond the next election or when the next lobbyists check is going to appear on their desk. It sure as hell isn’t Obama or any of his predecessors, although I will give him credit for at least getting some kind of universal health care off to a start. So who is doing the thinking?

As our personal lives have become more complex and complicated, the life of local, state, and federal government have become exponentially even more complicated. We now have a Federal Tax Code that is nearly 75,000 pages in length; tell that to your local CPA, and watch him pee his pants! That’s ridiculous! “Well, we have to close all of the loopholes,” we’re told. Who created the damned loopholes in the first place? How were they allowed to occur? Do you think that maybe if the tax code were simpler, some of those loopholes might automatically be closed; huh, do ya think? We had better do something because right now, the ‘loophole-finders’ appear to be light years ahead of the ‘loophole-closers’ and that, my friends, is a very bad sign.

We are now moaning about an “obesity epidemic” in our country. We have no one to blame but ourselves. As food producers have learned what America really wants, good diet has been replaced by what tastes good. And what tastes good is generally not what is good for our bodies. We have altered the manner in which our food is produced. More chemicals have been added to ensure best taste, although we don’t have a clue regarding its true impact on our health. Our lives have sped up to the point where we eat on the go or grab the thing that is most quickly disposed of but tastes good on the way down. It seems to come down to lifestyle choices and the food that is available. Since those foods are not going to go away, our obesity problem is probably only going to grow. It becomes a question of how do we change human nature. The answer to that is, “We don’t.” It appears that once the pattern is established, it just moves along the continuum. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

The upshot of all of this is that we have to make a very big deal out of who can and cannot love one another. We’ve also adopted bullying as a national tragedy that needs to be addressed. Illegal immigrants, many of whom just want to do the jobs that “Americans” feel are beneath them, become a major issue for our society. We take major issues, blame one another, and don’t do a damned thing about them. We take minor issues, blow them all out of proportion, and fight about them. It’s all about priorities, folks, and I fear that, as Americans, we’ve allowed ours to be sidetracked. Is this a great country or what?

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You better have a plan!

This afternoon I was speaking with a quality health care specialist. He drops by periodically and he calls once a month just to see how I’m doing. He checks my medications and asks all sorts of questions, but in the final analysis, there is only one question he really wants me to answer; “How are you doing?” Damn, that single question encompasses so much in just four little words. Since I hadn’t seen this man for a while, I took a moment before answering. In the final analysis, the response had to be that I’m doing pretty damned well for someone of my age. In fact, I’m doing a whale of lot better than many people my age.

Before I retired, I had a plan. It really was quite simple. If I could keep my mind active through reading, writing, and challenging it in every way I knew how, my mental acuity should stay reasonably sharp for several years  (despite the comments from a few diehards who maintained I was never the sharpest knife in the drawer anyway). I enjoy venting about everything from athletics to politics and a few things in between, so starting and maintaining a blog was part of the plan. Physically, I am and have been for several years…a wreck. Both knees have been surgically repaired; three back surgeries; one shoulder surgery; wrist and foot surgery; five stents in the heart and one in the abdomen…yeah, the old ‘bod’ has seen better days. However, physical activity is never a problem as long as one uses an elliptical machine or a recumbent bicycle. I was capable of doing limited volunteer work for a couple of events; that was challenging to both mind and body. My wife was an avid reader and we had more books around the house that I had never had the chance to read, and now I’d be able to discuss them with her. As for travel, we both loved Bermuda and there were some sights we had yet to see in the USA, but if this didn’t happen, neither of us would lose any sleep over it.

So the plan in retirement was to keep mentally alert and physically as fit as possible. It was and remains a very simple plan…but a plan nonetheless. That, in effect, is the beauty of the plan…its simplicity. I asked a number of friends what they were going to do when they retired. Many had grand plans to travel the world; to play golf five days a week; to serve on various boards; to devote more time to their hobbies of woodworking or this or that…and they died within three years of leaving full-time work. My personal belief is that their plans were too grandiose. You cannot do everything; you cannot plan to do things that may cause you stress. Retirement is not a vacation; retirement is moving from one job with responsibilities to another ‘job’ with different kinds of responsibilities. The new job won’t be as stressful unless you make it so. It will probably be one you can do at your leisure…no more 9-5 (yeah, right) hours or whatever they were when you were trying to make a buck. The key to retirement, at least in this old man’s mind, runs along the lines of the KISS principle…Keep It Simple Stupid!

Let me give you an example of keeping things simple. I’m a morning person; always have been; probably always will be. Nothing starts my day better than a sunrise or just watching dawn turn into day. Birds start singing between 4:00 and 4:15 a.m. in my neighborhood. If the day’s warm enough or I have a jacket handy, I’ll feed the dog, let her out, and listen for a few moments. It makes me feel good. When the dog comes in, I throw a bottle of water in my gym bag and head for WOW. Now this may sound strange, but the gym serves several purposes beyond physical exercise. It is a social gathering. I have been to birthday parties, restaurant gatherings, wakes, and funerals with gym friends. I once drove the manager of ‘our’ gym to the wake of a member. When we walked in, she was shocked. “It’s the whole morning crowd,” she said, somewhat shocked. “I told you we’re family,” I explained. Until that moment she didn’t understand what friendships could be formed from such a heterogeneous group. Doctors, lawyers, accountants of various stripes, teachers, school administrators, nurses, physical therapists, hairdressers, and a multitude of people bound together by one thing, the enjoyment of staying fit.

The remainder of my day consists of a long hot shower, errands, reading, checking e-mails, and online newspapers from around the world, researching topics that strike my fancy, and the next thing I know, it’s time for a bit of TV (NCIS is a favorite) and then off to bed. Alternately, I may spend some time latch hooking a rug, planning a road trip, reading – I’m late but I’ve finally gotten around to Steig Larsson’s trilogy – or even writing a piece for this blog.

I suppose that if one has a boatload of money and can do what they wish, this might sound like a boring existence. I don’t have that boatload; I have enough. Enough means I can take a trip but it won’t be first class all the way. Enough means that I’m comfortable with what I have. Enough means I’m retired and I really don’t give a damn…just trying to keep it simple.  If you’re getting close to retirement, just remember two things: (1) Have a plan, and; (2) Keep it simple.

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If there is one thing in life that I truly enjoy, it is pissing off pomposity, shitting on the shitters, and lambasting the liars. Perhaps this is why I find it so laughable that Rick Santorum, the man who called Mitt Romney, “…the worst Republican in the country,” is now endorsing the candidacy of Governor Romney for the presidency of the United States. I’m fully aware that some things are said in the heat of the moment during presidential or any other debates, e.g., “Rick, I’ll tell you what — $10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet,” but doing a 180 degree turn such as Santorum has made only illustrates the deviousness of the potential Republican candidates. At least Texas Governor, Rick Perry, had the good sense to say that he wasn’t in “…the betting business.”

After all of the acrimony that seemed to dominate the Republican presidential debates, everyone except Ron Paul seems to have kissed and made up. Even Perry has capitulated, stating, “Mitt Romney has earned the Republican Presidential nomination through hard-work, a strong organization, and disciplined message of restoring America after nearly four years of failed job-killing policies from President Obama and his administration.” I begin to wonder if the debates weren’t just a show for all of the candidates to demonstrate that they were completely clueless about what is needed in America today and how to get there.

Former candidate, Newt Gingrich’s endorsement seemed to be rather backhanded. Gingrich said on ABC’s Face the Nation that as far as he’s concerned, he’s already endorsed Romney. “Compared to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney is a solid conservative … on basic principles, he is a conservative,” Gingrich stated. Well, I sure hope so Newt because they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum.  You see, Obama and the Democrats are viewed as “liberals,” rather than conservatives. You’re a very bright man, Newt, and either you made a stupid statement or you were merely making an invidious comparison of the two men.

When Mitt Romney became Governor of Massachusetts, I was one of those who voted for him. He’s since become so busy clipping coupons and hiding his inherited fortune that he has totally lost sight of American needs and American values.  The late Texas Governor, Ann Richards, might as well have been speaking of Mitt, when she said of George Bush, “Poor George , he can’t help it if he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” My update of that would be, “Poor George Romney, he can’t help it if his wife gave birth to a greedy, uncaring son-of-a-bitch.” Of course, George compounded it by giving the kid a kick start with a few million with which to play around. Is this just sour grapes? No, Romney has led a patrician life from birth. While he smiles easily, it’s a surface smile; while he shakes hands readily; it is a chore because the ‘little people’ are so different. His true persona showed through when, as governor, he ran the state from the corner office and was rarely seen in discussion with senate colleagues. In other words, Mitt Romney is a cold fish who really doesn’t give  a damn about people, only achieving the pinnacle of political success, the Presidency of the United States of America.

The “ABO Syndrome” that has infected every Republican in this country is extremely frightening. What does “Anyone But Obama” really mean? I never heard it used against Clinton, Carter, Reagan, or even George Bush.  Is the incumbent president really that frightening to the conservatives in this country? If so, why, what is he doing or what has he actually done that is so terrible? Joblessness is less now than it has been decreasing; the economy has been turned around and is on a rebound, albeit more slowly than anyone would have wished. Al Qaeda’s leader has been eliminated and troops were withdrawn from Iraq earlier than first hoped. Is my personal retirement income back where I’d like it to be? No, it is not, but I can’t lay that at Obama’s door. It dropped like a rock under his predecessor’s administration.  I’m not completely happy with Barack Obama. Like every president before him, he hasn’t had the courage to tell the Saudis that they’re a bunch of thugs who train terrorists while appearing to be everybody’s friend. Like every president before him, he sucks up to Israel, largely, I presume, because it’s the wealth of American Jews that keeps the Democratic Party going.

I had high hopes that the Republican race would be a hell of a lot closer than it’s proven to have been. Sure, Ron Paul may well be able to throw a small monkey wrench into Romney’s cogs, but my bet is that it will be spit out on the first day of the convention. Dr. Paul seems to be the only one with the sense to see Romney as the fraud that he is and with the gumption to keep on fighting in spite of the ‘machine’ that is the Romney campaign.

Perhaps I’m just going to begin an “ABR Syndrome” in an attempt to keep Mitt out of the White House.

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