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Archive for December, 2012

Que sera

Have you ever noticed the pundits who make predictions about what will happen ‘next year’ keep coming back and coming back to the same television stations…but no one ever questions them about their previous failures? That’s usually because theirs are not real predictions; they talk in such generalities that they cannot be pinned down to a yes/no, right/wrong, happened/didn’t happen answer on anything that they say. Can you imagine being so scripted in your mind that you answer a question by not really answering the question? I’ve even given it a name; I call it “Washington Words of Wisdom.’ I call it that because if you ever watch one of those Sunday morning political shows with Bob Schieffer or David Gregory, George Stephanopoulos or heaven-only-knows-who-else, you will notice that the political figures who appear never, under any circumstances, will give a direct answer to a direct question.  Only once have I heard a host say, “You have done everything but answer the question; will you now please answer it?” Even then, it was bullshit and evasion.

I’m not like that. My predictions are very straight forward, and I fully expect to be held accountable for any of those that are in error. Other than saying, “Hey, stupid, you were wrong,” there probably aren’t any punitive damages that can be sought because if you’re damned fool enough to put money on my predictions, you’re not playing with a full deck in the first place. So, here we go….I predict that…

  • The Boston Red Sox will, once more, end up with less than a stellar record and that all the roster changes they have made will do nothing to help the club;
  • The sun will rise in the east and set in the west;
  • There will be a minimum of three more school, mall, or theater shootings with loss of life…and nothing will change;
  • The Republican Party will continue to be the party of “No,” and will continue to fight the President in anything he wants to do to help the American people;
  • Robert Downey, Jr. will make another box office smash;
  • The movie, “Lincoln,” will win best picture;
  • Two more movie “stars” will have the word, ‘scandal’ attached to their names;
  • Another major magazine will go out of business;
  • Cars that can achieve speed of up to 130 mph will continue to be built and young people will attempt to achieve that speed on curvy roads with fatal results;
  • Stopped clocks will be right twice a day;
  • NCIS will again be top dog at CBS;
  • Judges will continue to give domestic violence violators a slap on the wrist and women will die because of their stupidity;
  • A cure for cancer will not be found but people with cancer will live longer because of new drugs and better research;
  • There will be at least one natural disaster with terrible loss of life;
  • The economy will continue to improve;
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars will not be in the Super Bowl;
  • Nor will the New England Patriots;
  • Life will go on, and finally;
  • I’ll live to make predictions for 2014.

I’d really like to be wrong about some of those predictions. Unfortunately, the way life is going, I’m not certain that will be the case. It would be a simple matter to defend each prediction, but that’s not the purpose of this little essay. The only one that scares the devil out of me is the last one. If that isn’t an invitation to disaster I don’t know what is! Que sera, sera.

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What can I say? It’s nearly the end of another year and the world is still hanging around.  So what does one ponder now that we know – well, we sorta think we know – that the world still has a few more… hmm, minutes? Hours? Days? Weeks? What-the-hell-ever to go before the rapture overtakes us.  Just as an aside, it’s you youngsters that have to “worry” and note that the word is in quotes.

Oh those crazy Mayans! I knew that had a sense of humor. It wasn’t all just war and killing one another nearly to extinction. Of course, there was that, too, but ending your calendar on 12/21/12, now that takes some one or some people with a genuine sense of humor. They actually had some ‘doomsdayers’ convinced that the whole thing was for real. It reminded me of the Orson Welles ‘War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast in 1938. That one managed to rattle a few cages…probably more than the Mayan prediction managed to terrify.

It really never occurred to me that the end of the Maya calendar would mean the end of the world. After all, who were the Maya? History records that they were “one of the most dominant indigenous societies” centered now, we believe, in Guatemala and surrounding areas. According to the History web page, “Unlike other scattered indigenous populations of Mesoamerica, the Maya were centered in one geographical block covering all of the Yucatan Peninsula and modern-day Guatemala; Belize and parts of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas; and the western part of Honduras and El Salvador. This concentration showed that the Maya remained relatively secure from invasion by other Mesoamerican peoples.” From what I’ve read, these were extremely skilled people who were proficient in math, pottery making, writing, and architecture. Cities that have been definitively linked to the Maya demonstrate the extent to which their architectural skills were developed. Various theories exist regarding the demise of the Maya, the strongest being that a combination of overuse of their land drought, and endless warfare certainly brought about the downfall of their civilization.

End of the world predictions are nothing new. American Christian Radio President, Harold Camping, thought we were all going to disappear on May 2a, 2011. Uh, Hal, I think maybe there was a communication problem there! Hey, look, I’m not gonna put the knock on Harold.  He might have been sipping too much of the communion wine and had a vision just before he passed out. Who can really say? Of course, he also predicted that October 21st was going to be the day. Perhaps he’d better go back to the Bible.

As far back as the year 44 BC, predictions that dealt with the end of our being were predicted, but the Bible says that no one knows when the end will come; “…not the angels in heaven nor Jesus Christ. Only the Father knows.” If the Son of God is not privy, I think it’s fair to say that mere mortals don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of predicting when and if the world will ever end. A very prominent Jewish sage, Zakkai, expected the Messiah to arrive about the time of his death in the year 80CE. I don’t know whether to call that arrogance or egotism, but since the Messiah didn’t show, I guess we can just say, “The guy died!”

According to one source, “To the citizens of London, 1666 was not a banner year. A bubonic plague outbreak killed 100,000 and the Great Fire of London struck the same year. The world seemed at an end to most Londoners. The fact that the year ended with the Beast’s number (666), didn’t help matters either. “You have to remember that neither NBC, ABC, CBS, or the BBC were doing a hell of a lot of reporting at that time. News coverage and event importance was generally relegated to about…your own town! If you think that’s bad, “Mary Bateman, who specialized in fortune telling, had a magic chicken that laid eggs with end time messages on them. One message said that Christ was coming. The uproar she created ended when she was caught forcing an egg into the hen’s oviduct by an unannounced visitor. Mary later was hanged for poisoning a wealthy client.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end of the world and the Second Coming so many times that it would take a single essay to describe their antics. At nine predictions, they have the record for end of the world predictions.

People have formed their own religious sects just, it would appear, to predict the end of the world. Oh, yeah, and to line their own pockets.  A man by the name of Lee Jang Rim “…started a church called, “Mission For The Coming Days.”  He was jailed for two years after embezzling 4.4 million dollars 10,000 of his cult followers. He had used the money to buy bonds that matured after the end of the world! Numerology was the basis for the date. Several camera shots that left ghostly images on pictures were thought to be a supernatural confirmation of the date. The cult looked forward to the Second Coming at 9:00 am on this day. They believed that Jesus would return through Sydney Harbor! They had their prayers and songs. At the fatal hour there was a loud countdown of the final seconds – 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, etc. The leaders disappeared after an hour hiding their faces from reporters. One reporter was punched. Some disappointed members committed suicide, probably because they gave all their worldly assets to Lee Jang Rim. Originally from Korea, Australia was the home base, which was abandoned and the phone disconnected for non-payment of the bill.”

In another beauty of a case, a woman by the name of Shelby Corbett, put up benches in Florida, advertising the rapture would occur in 2007. She had a web site and was actually just pushing her book. Gotta make your daily bread in some way, I suppose!

Perhaps I’m naïve but I don’t believe that the return of Jesus Christ to this earth would be such a bad thing If the Heavenly Father sent him back without a thorough briefing of the actions that have been taking place, Christ’s first reaction would probably be to cry; to cry so hard that deserts would flood and cities would be washed away. If that was not sufficient, I’m certain He would find a way to wreak havoc among those responsible for the status of the world in which we live. If you think that throwing the money lenders out of the temple was something, you’d better get out of the way because the bodies would be flying from all directions…from the drug dealers on the corners to the greed monsters on Wall Street, with a few religious zealots and warmongering dictators tossed in for good measure.  The earth’s population would go from billions to hundreds in a pretty short space of time. I would not expect to survive when the clearance sale begins…no particular reason except I can’t say that I’ve lived, in toto, the kind of life that would live up to the expectations of Jesus. If we’re all going to be honest with each other, there are very few of us who would expect to remain for the “new beginning.”

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It may sound rather inappropriate to some people, but I don’t believe the NRA can take much blame for what happened in Newtown, Connecticut. There’s enough blame to go around without condemning an organization I’ve condemned for years. Let’s begin with the dead mother; she saw significant signs of a troubled youth and she pulled him from regular classes and home schooled the young man. She didn’t see this coming, but I’ll give odds that a school psychologist might have been sufficiently troubled to have taken additional steps. Would it have stopped Mr. Lanza? Hell no; not if they merely tried to drug the guy silly. And if not Lanza, it would have been some other person in some other small town somewhere in the United States. You could also cast some blame on the Congress of the US for not enacting gun control legislation with teeth in it…and here, I suppose, you could say that the NRA lobby is responsible.

Assault weapons sales are not banned in this country. Why should they be banned? There are hundreds, if not thousands, if not tens of thousands of responsible men and women who own guns of all sorts. I’ve mentioned in another piece one person who actually had a working tank on his front lawn. That doesn’t mean he’s going to launch shells at the local school or police station or wherever. There are probably more privately owned arsenals in this country than in any other country in the world. There should be because we are the most violent nation on this little round blue marble.

After Columbine, one town in California moved concrete planters in front of the entrance to the high school.  That’s not a bad idea, and let me tell you why: Since the day that tragedy struck the Sandy Hook Elementary School, every news channel in the Northeast, on every news show, in every football stadium, and heaven only knows where else has made it known that the way to get to the Americans is through their children. No one has said the jihadists are stupid. They have now learned where to hit us to make the biggest impact…and I’m betting that right now some son-of-a-bitch is thinking exactly the same way. Concrete barriers near the main entrance, hell, they should be going up all around the schools, every school everywhere. We are in an undeclared state of war with crazy-ass jihadists from all around the world, and we just told them exactly how to make us hurt. Let us not wait and say, “Oh, it can’t happen here.” Haven’t we had sufficient evidence that not only can it happen here, but it already has…and on numerous occasions. When the hell are we going to learn that there are people in our own community who, for one reason or another, would like nothing better than to shoot the hell out of this or that school. We bitch and wail and piss and moan about what happened at Sandy Hook. We say that this is different because Lanza was a troubled youth – youth, my ass; he was a grown man – and we make excuses for this shooter or that shooter, but what do we do to protect these kids? The answer is that we really do very little. “Oh we can’t put metal detectors in the schools; that will traumatize the students and take too much time.” Bullshit. “Oh we can’t have armed police officers walking the halls and scaring our children.” Bullshit again. “Oh we shouldn’t lock all of the doors because our children will feel like they’re in a jail.” Bullshit for the third and final time.  Ask yourself this simple question: “Do you want your kid to come back to you in the afternoon in the same shape you sent him or her to school in the morning?” As I say, the question is simple. If your answer is “Yes,” and without any “buts” then welcome to life in America in the 21st Century.

I have a former colleague who has vacationed in Israel several times. When he was younger, he studied one summer in a kibbutz. When he returned to Israel for his first vacation he was somewhat taken aback by the fact that every street corner and intersection had one or two soldiers, armed to the teeth, standing guard over their assigned post. Has America reached that point yet? No, no we have not…but we’re getting there. As sad as it may sound, we are getting there. I remember when Dad was dying. We were watching the news on television and he said, “…at the rate we’re going, everyone will be strapping on six guns again.” I laughed, but maybe Dad knew something that I didn’t know; maybe he was exercising his Nostradamus abilities. I don’t know, but I do know that I’m getting a bit tired of seeing the Joey Pintos, Emilie Parkers, Chase Kowalskis caskets being removed from churches on their way to cemeteries. It just isn’t right.  You know it and I know it.

Joan and I managed to get our kids through public school and even through their college years without incident. I guess those were different times, but things certainly seemed pretty much the way things seem today. I wonder what happened. Should we blame Nintendo, television, movies, X-box, or whatever the latest version of ‘violence is good’ game for our problems?  Maybe we should look at the types of food we’re eating; yeah, sure, that’s as good a thing to blame as any other. How about Uggs or whatever the latest clothing style is for our troubles. Hell, while my youngest was in college, a kid she knew refused to give up his bomber jacket to a gang of toughs; they shot him in the head and took the jacket anyway.  I’m just happy my child wasn’t with her acquaintance.

Let us stop talking about doing something and start doing it. Metal detectors, armed officers of the law, concrete barriers, bullet resistant glass on outfacing windows, and any other precaution is worth the money. It’s a way to show our kids that we really do love them; that we really do want them to have an education; that we really do want them to see what life in America is like in the 21st Century. After all, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better…if it gets better.

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It helps me to write

Who can explain it; who can tell you why?

“Fools give you reasons; wise men never try.”

Remember that song – Some Enchanted Evening – from South Pacific, the musical.

In the show it was a love song but that was in 1949 when it first appeared on Broadway. Today, while I guess some might still see it for what it originally was, too many others hear those lyrics and think something entirely different. Who can explain why people do the things they do? The jihadists will tell you that they kill for Islam; yet Islam is a peaceful religion. Gangs will tell you that they kill to protect or expand their territory, whatever that means. However, for someone to lose it so completely and as viciously as Adam Lanza did in Newtown, Connecticut, there is no explanation. He’s dead; he can’t tell us what was going through his mind or why he killed. Scientists may examine his brain and conclude that, “Ah, that’s the reason,” but they’ll be wrong. There is only one Being that knows why Adam Lanza went on his murderous spree and, since that Being allowed it to happen, we, as little atoms in this vast universe, will never figure it out.

That ‘stuff happens’ is something is something with which we’re all too familiar. Why are some children born to die; never to reach puberty? Why did my wife have cancer? Why did ‘Sully’ Sullenberger land that plane so beautifully and save the lives of all on board? Is someone, some single person on that plane supposed to do something later which will either save or end lives?  The answer to all of these questions is, “We don’t know?” We aren’t allowed to know. And this, of course, leads us to the next question: “Why aren’t we allowed to know?”

This isn’t “Philosophy 101” or “Religiosity102;”  This is me saying that if I try to figure out why these  heinous crimes, these accidents of fate, these miracles of life saving all take place, I will, without doubt, lose my sanity. Is there a way in which we can prevent the criminal part of fate from taking place? The answer, I regret to say, is, “No; no we can’t prevent it any more than we can prevent earthquakes or tornadoes or hurricanes or tsunamis. Violence is as much a part of life and is peace. Certainly, we understand that the animal kingdom kills to live; one kills to eat. Man is wired differently. We kill, in part, because we’re greedy and want to expand…just like the gangs. We kill because we want what the other guy has. We kill because we think the other guy is getting too big for his britches. We kill for revenge. We kill; we kill; we kill.

For those of you who are desperately searching for reasons behind this latest catastrophe, forget it. Stop, pray for the souls of those who were killed…if praying is your thing. Pray for those who remain and who will never see their son or daughter, mother, wife, sister, or brother again, and then get on with life. If you don’t you’ll go mad,, but it happened. And it will happen again. We little atoms have no clue to stopping such behavior. We cannot identify who will be doing it. We cannot predict what will cause it to happen again. All we can do, selfishly, is hope to heaven it is not our loved one who is lost.

 

(I write about these things because it helps me to ease the pain I feel for the families of Newtown and the kids lost at Virginia Tech and their families. I write about these things because we managed to get our three kids to adulthood and because I’m terrified for my nine grandchildren, but it helps to ease the agony I’m feeling for the people everywhere who have lost their young children. I can only hope that I never have to experience it.)

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If we didn’t have guns, chances are pretty good that we’d be speaking German, Japanese, Chinese, or Russian. Guns and tanks and battleships and airplanes and bombs are all “necessary” in the world in which we live…and the world in which we have lived for centuries. It does seem to me, however, that there is something wrong with a system which allows guns to get into the hands of people like Adam Lanza, Eric Thomas, Dylan Kliebold, One Goh, T.J. Lane, Steven Kazmierczak, Seung-Hui Cho, Charles Carl Roberts IV, Jeffrey Weise, Robert Flores Jr, and on and on and on. Those are killers, all of them. Whether you believe that some of them have funny names and are not Americans doesn’t matter a tinker’s dam. They killed faculty, students, and staff at American schools. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter whether they were flunking out, being bullied, or just plain pissed off at the world; it’s what they did. They killed sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and if they didn’t off themselves, they now sit in a cell getting three squares a day and people with guns to protect them.

If you don’t see something wrong with this picture, I think perhaps your head needs a bit of tending. Please don’t get me wrong.  I believe in exactly what the Second Amendment says…“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” People have taken those words and twisted and turned and played with them to such an extent that some people believe it’s okay to have an operational tank sitting in their front yard, “just in case.” People who eat what they shoot need guns; people who hunt for sport want guns. I have to admit that I’m not a hunter, but I understand the reasons for keeping a shotgun and deer slugs. I can understand a 30.06 for killing game. I can even understand having a pistol in the house for home protection, but if our schools have now become targets for people who are pissed off at the world, I’m all for having armed guards at every door and in every classroom in the country. In fact, we should probably start at pre-school, so that the children can get some idea of the world into which they are growing. Why not? The NRA would love it; more guns for more people…excuse me, but who (a) is going to conduct the psych evaluations on our ‘armed guards;’ (b) pay for these armed guards; (c) teach them to shoot anything that comes into a classroom, or; (d) expect them to make split-second life-saving decisions that we can all tolerate?

I swear to God that if my brother had not had guns in his house, he would not be serving a life sentence today just because he and another driver got irritated with one another.  He had to go home, get the gun, relocate the other driver and then shoot him in the head five times. Now that, my friends, is road rage carried to the extreme. The fact that my brother was on so damned many medications at the time that he probably couldn’t and certainly wasn’t thinking straight doesn’t enter into it. It’s an excuse and nothing can excuse shooting someone five times.

People tell me, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and it’s true. My question is why do the people who kill people with guns have them in the first place? All we do is make excuses for these people. They were bullied; they just lost their job; they got mad at their wife’s boss or their own boss or the boss of the bosses boss. Cut the crap. They had no right to have a gun at that time. Guns are too readily available to the wrong people.  There have been tens and perhaps hundreds of stories about gun shows where all you are required to have is a driver’s license – real or phony – and the right amount of cash, and you, too, can become the proud owner of a Glock .40 or whatever kind of weapon you desire. You don’t even need a weapons permit. What they do with that weapon after they leave “the show” doesn’t seem to matter to those who sell them the guns.

I cannot conceive of one of the people I know who are gun owners doing what these other assholes have done. I can see some of them becoming so upset that they eat their own barrel, but not taking their rage out on someone else. Do these people never get angry? Oh, boy, of course they get angry, but they also understand the consequences of their actions. That’s where I think we’re wrong in our requirements for owning a firearm in this country.

For me to drive a car, I was required to read a booklet, pass a test, and ride with a Registry of Motor Vehicles Inspector to see  if I knew what the hell I was doing. It didn’t make much difference. Six months later, my license was suspended for speeding. No one gave me any kind of test that might possibly determine if I was sufficiently mature not to pass another Registry officer on a curve doing 70 mph…on wet roads. Had there been such a test, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to drive until I was 21!

Is it possible to develop examinations that can tell us whether or not a person should be allowed to own a gun? I don’t know the answer to that. What I know is that there are too many guns in the hands of people who have no right to own them. We no longer settle disagreements with our fists; we have to shoot the son-of-a-bitch who wronged us (in our own little minds), and if we can’t kill them then to hell with it, let’s kill anyone who happens to live on the same street or in the same neighborhood, or maybe even the same city or town.

We had darn well better do something soon. We’ve learned that locking the doors at schools doesn’t work. We’ve learned that movie theaters and shopping malls also make excellent shooting galleries. We even found out that you can modify your car to make it an excellent sniper’s platform. So what do we do you NRA members who bandy about slogans that mean squat? How do we stop your kids and my grandchildren from being afraid to go to school? The ball is in your court. You’re so anxious that anyone desiring a gun be given one or ten or a hundred; how do we stop them from killing the innocents?

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This little essay is not meant to be inciting, irritating, or berating of children everywhere. It will sound that way so let’s get that nonsense taken care of right up front.

Once we…yes, I was a child at one time; you can’t possibly believe I was born this pissed off at the world…but once we reach a certain age, get married, if we do, have children or other commitments in our lives, it’s really quite horrifying at how much we don’t wish to be bothered by those things entitled “parents.” Oh, they’re lovely enough to have around at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and on their birthdays or those of our children – they bring cash – but other than that, they ask embarrassing questions and remind us that we, too, are growing older and it’s something that we really do not wish to see or hear. Some people out there will by now be saying, “Oh you horrible person.” I love my parents so much that I see him, her, whatever every week. I know people like that; when you pin them down; when you dig out the real truth, they are by and large resentful of the time they share with their parents. Whether it’s  that they feel they should be at work, doing things around the house, paying more attention to their own children, or whatever, there is a definite undercurrent being intruded upon, and that my friends is resentment.

Perhaps this is a confession piece of writing; I can’t honestly say. When my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer – yes, from those f*&king cigarettes – we lived perhaps 40 miles apart. We had three kids and it seemed that every weekend there were swim meets here, there, and everywhere…never anywhere near where Mom and Pop were living. There were times when I was unable to attend the meets because of work…and which is more important, parents, wife, children, or work? Every single person who may read this could make a strong argument for any one of that quartet. Did I visit my Dad enough? No, he had lung cancer, was dying, and I should have visited him more. In one way I have to admit to being somewhat terrified. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about oxygen, but I did know that oxygen and fire don’t play well together. Whenever Dad would light a cigarette with oxygen cannula in his nose, I’d cringe and wonder if their mobile home was about to be scattered in pieces around the park and our bodies along with it.  It was an excuse; a lame one I’ll admit, but I have to say that having one’s body delivered to my family in a small box was really not my idea of a good time. Obviously, it never happened and in my dotage I can see that the chances were not all that great in the first place. It was an ‘out;’ a way that I could avoid seeing my Dad degenerate. After he died, it was Mom’s turn. She lived less than 45 minutes from where we were. My wife always had to be home with the kids and my trips to see mother grew fewer and fewer. Eventually, we wound up in an argument over the time that elapsed between visits and we no longer spoke to one another. If you don’t believe that’s not the dumbest excuse in the world, you haven’t been listening. It was my mother, and for the last three years of her life we didn’t speak…stupid, incredibly stupid. But, quite candidly, that’s what we as children are. Our age doesn’t matter; as long as our parents live, we are still stupid children. In many cultures, parents are revered; not so in the majority of western society. There are other cultures where the elderly are openly abandoned to die. We call those cultures uncivilized. What does that make me and so many others like me?  What does that make my daughters and six of my grandchildren whom I haven’t seen in over two years? The invitation comes every Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the woman who is my partner knows how the kids feel about her, and she’s very uncomfortable in their presence. The words the children utter seem nice enough, but there’s an undercurrent that makes them sound acerbic.  Funny, but I spoke with a friend today who is going through the same thing with his only child. Maybe it’s a part of childhood midlife crisis. I don’t know, but I do know that I’m not going to worry about it.

One day, when my sister and I were arguing over nothing, I remember my mother saying, almost under her breath, “May you have many children and may they be just like you.” Good call, Mom, you hit the nail smack dab on its head! Perhaps that’s exactly what happened. Our kids grew up to be exactly like us…all except my sister who graduated from high school, went to New York, had an outstanding career as a model and advertising executive; moved to California, got married, never had kids, and didn’t look back. Did she come back for the funerals? Of course she did? Did she love our parents? Of course she did. Did she visit as often as we did or should have? Don’t be ridiculous; New York City and anywhere in California are not drop-in spots when you live in Massachusetts!

This is the season when we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. If your parents are still alive, I hope that you will think about this time as being one of renewing your own miracle of birth and the people who were responsible for that miracle. I’ve used myself as a perfect example of what you should not do. Looking back to my much, much younger days, I realize just how much my parents loved and taught me. My folks taught me responsibility and accountability. They taught me ethics and manners. They taught me the meaning of what’s right and what’s wrong.  They taught me to hold on to my beliefs and to never, ever give away my integrity. Yes, school and college were great learning environments, but they couldn’t compare with the living examples in my own home. Dad had a ninth grade education and Mom left school in the sixth. I still have to laugh about the time my mother came home from work. She’d taken a job as a bookkeeper when Dad had gotten laid off. Her only qualification I think was that the place she worked was owned by a family friend and that she kept a pretty tight budget in her own home. One afternoon she walked in and yelled to my Dad, “Hey, honey, what’s double-entry bookkeeping? The auditor said it was great that that’s how I’m keeping the books.” Yep, that was my Mom, a smart one without even knowing it!

These are the memories I have. I’d rather have the memory of sitting and talking with my Mom during those last three years. I’d rather have the memory of being with my Dad as the cancer continued to eat at his body. My own wife died of cancer. Now I know how much better it would have been had I spent more time with Dad. It’s too late for me; I just hope it’s not too late for my kids.

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This is a season of giving. It’s not merely a case of giving to loved ones, to family and friends but also a time when we are asked to consider those less fortunate. This is a good thing. We get to do something to help someone else and, quite frankly, we get to feel good about ourselves because we did so. Before you make a gift to any charitable organization, however, it’s a smart move to determine exactly how much of that donation is actually helping and how much is going for overhead.

There are any numbers of charity watchdog organizations that can help you make your decisions about which charity is really putting its money to work and which is merely helping to stuff the pockets of a few executives. For example, when Todd Bassett was heading the Salvation Army, his salary was $13,000 and ninety-three cents of every dollar was being spent directly to benefit those who needed it. With Israel Gaither at the helm, the salary jumped from somewhere between $79 and $243K and I have no information regarding how that changed the 93% figure, but you can bet your bottom dollar it made a shift. You might want to check out Charity Navigator, The American Institute of Philanthropy, or The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

I will not give to the American Red Cross. I figure that any organization where the CEO is making a salary of over half a million a year and has a number of other perks is not really my cup of tea. In addition, I’m not crazy about the United Way for the very same reason. My gifts are important to me. I want them to mean something, both to me and to the organization that receives my limited resources. My late wife loved the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In lieu of Christmas presents to each other, I would give to Make-A-Wish in her honor and she’d make a gift to a charity of my choice. Don’t get any big ideas here; the gifts might be anywhere from $10. to $250, but if you give enough over the years or if you have a couple of extra bucks in your pocket – oh stop laughing; it’s not a joke – why blow it when you can help someone else. Of course, the ultimate gift is the one you put in the plate on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Churches need help all the time. It’s not a ticket to heaven, but if you know your priest or minister and enjoy what he or she has to say, it’s a damned darn good cause.

When I read about charitable organizations that pay their executives exorbitant salaries and give them so many extra perks, I just wonder about the wisdom of the board of governors or trustees. Have they lost sight of the purpose of the organizations? There aren’t many people with managerial skills who are worth more than half a million dollars a year. In addition, the executive who wants that kind of money should be subject to some very serious scrutiny by those about to hire him or her. If that salary includes allowances for clothing, travel, housing, etc, then certainly it becomes a different story. However, if there are separate allowances for those costs, look out!

I’m in a very good place. I don’t have the worries that too many younger people have. My three kids each have three kids. My children worry about their mortgages, college tuition, and other major expenses. That’s behind me; my worries concern property taxes and medical bills. As a result, perhaps I’m being a bit paranoid about giving to charity. Each year since retirement I’ve tried to donate one month’s worth of retirement income to various charities. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the goal that I’ve set for charitable giving each year. Before anyone gets my bucks, however, there are two simple questions that must be answered:

  1. What percentage of your gifts go to directly benefit the recipient and what percentage is going for organizational overhead?
  2. What is the salary of your organization’s chief executive officer and what is the salary of the chief financial officer?

Two very simple questions, and if the answer to the first one is that less than seventy-five cents of every dollar goes to the recipient, you’ve lost my money. If I don’t like the salaries of the two people mentioned, you’ve lost my money.

You may not be as fussy as I am about where my charitable contributions go. But, perhaps you should be asking yourself, “Am I really helping those who are deserving or am I just lining the pockets of another greedy son-of-a-bitch?”

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