Archive for January, 2014

How ironic it is that the very day after I had posted “Begin planning for tomorrow last “ I should be talking with someone about retirement. It was a little bit frightening. All I could think of mid-way through our conversation was the famous Yogi Berra line, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Let’s clarify something immediately. This is a man who has owned his business for over 25 years. His Dad owned it before him and turned over to his son and extremely lucrative enterprise. If he elects to retire in three years, he will be 53 years old. That’s right; he took over the business when he was reasonably young. Because this is a small business, he was president, ceo, cfo, director of personnel, OSHA officer and any other title of which you can conceive. His hours were ridiculous. He would begin his day, on average, around six in the morning and return home at ten o’clock in the evening…with luck. His health must be great because he speaks of never having had to take a day off for illness…what a constitution! His problem is not one of finances. His problem is one of life changes. While he has little formal education, thank the good Lord, he has a great deal of common sense and is so attuned to what happens when you give up what has been your life.

“I don’t know how I’m going to adjust if I no longer have this to come to every day,” he said

“Then how do you know you want to sell the business?” I asked.

“If I don’t sell it then, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a buyer later,” he told me.

I should clarify by saying that one of his employees has expressed an interest in buying the business and it’s someone my friend trusts and whom he knows will build the business. As I say, they have casually discussed it and the employee has given my friend some ideas. He’s hesitated to put them into effect, in large measure, because he’s not technology-savvy and right now does not have the time or interest to become so.

It’s obvious that his thinking is reasonably well thought out about this…or was until I asked him the next question. “What are you going to do with your time?”

“Oh, I’ve got lots of things to do,” he said. I’ve got the house on the Cape, my boat, and I love fishing.”

“Well, that takes care of three months of the year,” I responded, “well, most of three months…until you get days when the water is so choppy you can’t go out and that takes care of a couple of weeks. What are you going to do the rest of the year?” He came back with the traditional answer of everyone who doesn’t have an answer: “Oh, I’ve got lots of things to do.”

My response to that statement is generally based on just how well I know the person. This was the first time I’d ever gone beyond, “How’s business; how’re the wife and kids,” and a few other ‘babble’ questions. We were getting into serious territory here, so I merely said, “That’s not an answer, George. That’s called a glittering generality and it don’t mean shit!” I told you I didn’t know him very well. You should hear what I say to close friends!

“Whadda ya mean by that?” he said, giving me a glare I’ve seen him use on suppliers when he thinks they may be ripping him off.

“Are you a golfer?”


“Are you a reader?”


“You swim when you’re down the Cape?”


“You want to see Europe, Bermuda, Africa…maybe North Korea like Rodman.”

“Cripes, no, I don’t want to that!”

“How about your wife? What does she want to do?”

“She wants to continue to work, at least until she’s 60.”

“So, in other words, you’re telling me that you have plans for some parts of three months of the year, and the rest of the time you’re going to sit at home with your “thumb in your bum and your mind in neutral? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Uh…er…no, but…”

“Stop right there,” I said, and then proceeded to tell him about the number of people I knew who had died within a year or three of retirement because they didn’t know what to do with themselves. I told him about people who fell asleep in front of the television set and just didn’t bother to wake up. I told him about a man who dreamed all of his life of spending his and his wife’s retirement aboard cruise ships, but who found out after their first experience that they didn’t care for cruises. He had nothing else going for him…one night he took the dog for a walk and dropped dead…from no apparent health problem.

Retirement is fantastic…if…and that should really be IF in caps. Going into retirement does not mean sitting on your ass in God’s waiting room, holding your breath until some angel comes along and says, “Next, and you’re the only one there.” Retirement presents opportunities to do things you’ve never done before. Sure, a cruise – if you don’t mind some freaking virus – can be a great thing. Taking up golf, if you were once an athlete, can also be fun. Taking courses at a community college can not only expose you to other people – admitted most will be younger – but the learning experience can be fantastic. Not a reader, what subjects interest you? Explore them through the computer. Oh, not computer literate? Well, there’s your first community college course…or learn from a friend if possible. How about some volunteer work? My friend had mentioned ‘meals on wheels’ as something he might, just might, be interested in doing. I’ve done it, and it’s one of the most satisfying volunteer experiences one can have. When I mentioned to him that I enjoy latch hooking rugs while I’m watching television, he looked at me rather askance: “Is that like crocheting?” he asked. “Yeah, I said, you have something against crocheting?” He backed off immediately, but I don’t think he’ll be latch hooking or crocheting anytime soon.

I had to leave, but I told him that if he wanted to continue our talk to give me a call. I doubt that he will, but what the heck, the offer is on the table. The one thing I forgot to tell him is that most retirees I know who are really happy are also so busy they have trouble doing everything they wish. In retirement, the key seems to be to keep yourself so busy that you don’t have time to die!

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When you work your ass off for over 50 years; when you pay union dues…for which you get absolutely nothing; when you contribute to Social Security – I got a raise this year that amounts to thirty-five cents a day – and when you contribute to a pension fund where the foundation president makes over half a million dollars a year, you hope that just maybe, just a tiny wee bit of maybe, that fixed income on which you’re going to retire will be all it takes to get by until they plant you or scatter your ashes somewhere pleasant. If you happen to have saved a few bucks along the way or invested your income wisely, so much the better. I took advice from a broker [former] friend of mine and was taken for a little bit of a bumpy ride, and since that didn’t work out so well the first time, there was no second. It’s rather like the old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

The thing that I have learned is that anyone who attempts to retire solely on Social Security may as well just shoot themselves and be done with it.  Now hold on there, just a minute; I’m not saying that Social Security isn’t worth the powder to blow it to hell. The principles of Social Security are quite grand indeed. They stem from the English ‘Poor Laws.” In England, as economic security began to depend more and more upon the crown rather than upon guilds and “friendly societies” such as the “Freemasons (which came to America in 1730); the Odd Fellows (1819); Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1868); Loyal Order of Moose (1888); and the Fraternal Order of Eagles (1898)” relinquished some of their efforts to aid those less fortunate than their organizations.

According to the history of Social Security, “When the English-speaking colonists arrived in the New World they brought with them the ideas and customs they knew in England, including the “Poor Laws.” The first colonial poor laws were fashioned after those of the Poor Law of 1601. They featured local taxation to support the destitute; they discriminated between the “worthy” and the “unworthy” poor; and all relief was a local responsibility. No public institutions for the poor or standardized eligibility criteria would exist for nearly a century. It was up to local town elders to decide who was worthy of support and how that support would be provided.

“As colonial America grew more complex, diverse and mobile, the localized systems of poor relief were strained. The result was some limited movement to state financing and the creation of almshouses and poorhouses to “contain” the problem. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries most poverty relief was provided in the almshouses and poorhouses. Relief was made as unpleasant as possible in order to “discourage” dependency. Those receiving relief could lose their personal property, the right to vote, the right to move, and in some cases were required to wear a large “P” on their clothing to announce their status.

“Support outside the institutions was called “outdoor relief” and was looked upon with distrust by most citizens. It was felt that “outdoor relief” made things too easy on the poor who should be discouraged from the habit of poverty in every way possible. Nevertheless, since it was expensive to build and operate the poorhouses, and since it was relatively easy to dispense cash or in-kind support, some outdoor relief did emerge. Even so, prevailing American attitudes toward poverty relief were always skeptical and the role of government was kept to the minimum. So much so that by as late as 1915 at most only 25% of the money spent on outdoor relief was from public funds.”

Two months before I was born, in June of 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in recognition of my mother’s impending birth of a new star in the firmament – did you ever hear such drivel in your life? – informed Congress that he was going to create a Social Security program. Its two major components would be “Title I- Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance, which supported state welfare programs for the aged, and Title II-Federal Old-Age Benefits. It was Title II that was the new social insurance program we now think of as Social Security. In the original Act benefits were to be paid only to the primary worker when he/she retired at age 65. Benefits were to be based on payroll tax contributions that the worker made during his/her working life. Taxes would first be collected in 1937 and monthly benefits would begin in 1942,” which eventually began in 1940.

As our society has advanced, Social Security has found it difficult to keep pace. While, as I have said, the intent of the program was terrific, it never quite achieved what its originators hoped to accomplish, and pension plans became part of retirees’ hopes and dreams.

The problem that many retirees face today is that while their income is more or less fixed, the cost of living is increasing at a more rapid rate. For example, it costs me approximately one thousand dollars more per year for groceries than it did in 2011. Health insurance has increased at almost the same rate during the same period. Real estate taxes have increased by nearly three thousand dollars. At the same time, Social Security and pension benefits have increased by $200. For many of us, aging also means an increase in the number of prescription drugs we are required to take. Certainly, Medicaid or a health insurance program covers much of the cost, however, I recently paid nearly $350 for one drug, and that is not noted as a particularly expensive medication.

Am I advocating more help from the government? No, that would be farcical at best and a tragedy at worst. No, I’m not advocating anything other than to warn those who are in their forties and fifties to plan, if you haven’t already, for a retirement that will be far more expensive than any of which you can conceive. I don’t have any sound financial advice for you other than that. Poo-poo my advice at your peril, and if you think you can keep up with the Joneses, remember, the Joneses are in debt!

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This is the time of year for inaugurations, state of the states, state of the union, town meetings, and, of course, the Grammy Awards. It’s that period where we take stock of what we have or haven’t, how we’ve done during the past year, and what bullshit we will perpetuate or inaugurate on the unsuspecting public during the next year. Therefore, in keeping with this time-honored and non-sensible performance, I shall present my own state of the mind for the upcoming year and for time in perpetuity, a.k.a. Bishop’s banal diatribe….

…My fellow Americans, illegal immigrants, alien terrorists on US soil, and children of all ages…to put things mildly, the Union is not in very good shape. There is too much violence in our own nation, whether on our college and university campuses, our local schools, our shopping malls throughout the land, the streets of our inner cities and – more and more – in neighborhoods where violence has not existed before. This is both unacceptable and intolerable.

After months of discussions with the FBI, CIA, NSA, DOD, PTA, DARPA, CASE, CUPA, NRA, BSA, GSA, 4-H, ICOP, and several private contracting firms, we have reached agreement that, beginning, immediately…that means tomorrow for those of you nodding off…American soldiers and sailors, in pairs will begin patrolling every avenue, street, road, and drive in every city and town with a population of more than 500 people. Schools, from kindergarten to high school will have a pair of armed military in each and every classroom. Writ of habeas corpus is immediately suspended for the foreseeable future, and the penalty for any crime which inflicts any kind of harm on any American citizen will be punishable by immediate death. I have been reading, watching, and being told of too many crimes and I’m sick to death of it. We have ‘deevolutionated’ – okay, I made it up – back to cave man tactics as a society and, therefore, those who wish to act like Neanderthals shall be treated as they were back in the Neanderthal period. When the nation evolves back into a 21st Century society, with the mores expected of 21st Century men, women, and children, we will…slowly at first…begin to eliminate our police state.

Our plan calls for the withdrawal of all American armed forces from all bases throughout the world. I am sick to death of watching planes land at Andrews Air Force base to unload the coffins of young Americans who have died on foreign soil for no particular reason other than to make a small group of fat cats in our own nation get fatter. Just as we never see John Boehner smoking or drinking, so now, we will never see military caskets being brought home from foreign lands. In addition, we will not tolerate any attempt by any nation or combination of nations to invade – overtly or covertly – our land. We are open to free trade between our nation and others. However, the days of the US as world cop are over. If nations wish to make war among themselves or with other nations, have fun. If any nation should consider the use of nuclear weapons as acceptable, then and only then, will the United States turn the offending nation to glass. Granted, this will end the world as we know it, but what the hell, you started it, and we are fully prepared to end it.

Our native form of speech is American. While it was English for a while, it has been bastardized by various groups who now use such words as “whatevah,” “selfies,” “hinky,” and other bullshit words which have no place in a civilized society. Students using any slang in the classroom may be immediately bitch-slapped by a teacher or either of the two military peace keepers in the classroom…or all three. We will return to speaking a combination of correct English and American beginning tomorrow. Before immigrating to this country, those from other nations must demonstrate a proficiency in the English/American language that is free from native accent.

Beginning tomorrow, all citizens with assets of over five billion dollars will be required to establish foundations to benefit the less fortunate. The initial investment will consist of one billion dollars. I have requested and received consent from Messrs. Warren Buffet, William and Melissa Gates, Harry Reid, and Eric Cantor to select a board of no more than fifteen people of their choosing to administer this fund.

Beginning tomorrow, welfare families will be required to perform twenty hours of community service to be eligible for benefits. Babysitting services for children under the age of six will be provided by the National Board of Children’s Services. All adults over the age of 18 who are not attending school or college and who are unemployed will be required to participate in this Civilian Community Service Program. Those who refuse will be shot.

I could go on, but if you believe this sounds dictatorial and impossible, you’re right. That’s not the way America operates. Would we like to see our children and grandchildren more protected in our schools than they have been over the past half century? Of course we would. Does that mean patrolling the corridors of our classrooms with armed members of the military? No, not in this country…not yet… not anymore than we consider having our military patrol our streets.

Can we demand that people speak English? No, we can’t demand this. In American schools, English is the language of choice. Those unable to grasp this concept should either learn our language or return to where they won’t be burdened with having to learn it. I have always been embarrassed when I’m in Canada, not to be able to speak French, and I generally apologize for my inability to do so.

Can we demand that our billionaires use their monies to help others who haven’t been as fortunate? Of course we can’t. People like Mr. Buffet and Mr. and Mrs. Gates, just to name a few, are already doing more than their fair share to help others. As far as Harry Reid and Eric Cantor are concerned, well, you take your pick as to which one is the greater idiot.

No, I can’t give a state of the union address. We have checks and balances in this nation that protects the general public from the manner in which I sometimes express myself. But…we have many problems in this country that do need to be addressed. We seem to pay lip service and crocodile tears when a shooting occurs at an elementary or high school, a college or university, a theater or a mall, or on the streets of Boston, Chicago, or Detroit. In reality, we haven’t done a damned thing to prevent similar tragedies. We put thousands of troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, but I don’t see the same effort being put into eliminating the cartels in Central and South America, and they are killing probably more Americans daily than are being killed on the sands in the Middle East. Our problems are myriad and many, and rather than face them head-on, we quibble; we squabble; we have elected officials who are more interested in loyalty to party than they are in loyalty to America. These are our real terrorists because they refuse to let the nation move forward. As the late Thomas P. O’Neill, former speaker of the House of Representatives, said, “Country first; state second; party third. Or, if you prefer, how about Rodney King’s, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Take your pick…either one works for me.

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At my age and with about as much mechanical engineering ability as a fly on an elephant’s ass, I put forth the following for some younger and more technologically advanced individual than yours truly.

First, picture this…you have a lovely house, a beautiful [in your eyes] wife, two remarkably brilliant and gorgeous children, and one rather yappy, but gentle Beagle. One night, at about one o’clock in the morning, the smoke alarm in the upstairs hallway wakens the entire household. You smell smoke; you shake your wife, grab the kids and the dog and, with nothing but the clothing on your back, you escape into a freezing night with the wind chill at minus eight degrees. Neighbors come from everywhere. They grab blankets and jackets and try to warm you; they invite you to their house, but you are mesmerized by the sight of all of your possessions going up in smoke and flame.

The fire department arrives and hooks up hoses the hydrant in front of your house. It’s frozen. Quickly, they drag their hoses down the street and hook up to the next available hydrant…frozen. Meanwhile, one side of the roof of your house has collapsed. Why the hell are the firemen doing something? They’ve already used up the available water inside their trucks but it’s a futile effort. By the time an unfrozen hydrant is found, they have to drag their hoses nearly half a mile away from your home. It’s too late. What was your house is now a smoking shell. The photo albums, your insurance papers, the car in the garage off the kitchen, your marriage license, the kids’ birth certificates…everything…gone…ashes.

Sound impossible? It isn’t; it wasn’t. It seems to be happening nightly in Massachusetts right now. I’m certain it has been happening in other parts of the country as well. Why so many frozen hydrants. Well, it’s just possible that December 2013 and January 2014 might go down as two of the coldest months in history. When you have days and days and days in a row that are at zero degrees or minus, fire hydrants are going to freeze.

So what can be done to prevent catastrophes’ such as the example given above? The answer is simple; design a fire hydrant and build water pipes that will ensure the water won’t freeze. I can hear you now: “Yeah, right, genius. How the hell are you going to do that?” I don’t have a clue, but there is an answer. Just because it has yet to be done, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. While what follows is, admittedly, a poor example, it may give you some idea of how to get started: Many years ago, my late wife and I owned a 45-foot Marlette mobile home. After we’d purchased our first house, we moved the Marlette to a trailer park on Cape Cod…our first summer house; how thrilling. Water came into the mobile home through copper tubing located under the trailer [tell it like it is] and attached to a community water supply. That tubing was exposed to the elements year round. You might believe you had drained the tubing for the winter, but you might have accidently failed to get every bit of it. In case you did fail, any water left in the tubing, whether it was inside the mobile home or out, was going to freeze and probably burst the tubing somewhere in its journey. The solution was simple; first you wrapped the outside tubing with a wire coil that was attached to a plug. This was then plugged into the central electrical outlets which were on each plot of land. The wire had some kind of thermometer and when that thermometer reached a certain point, the electricity came on automatically, heated the coil, which heated the tubing which prevented the water, outside and in, from freezing and bursting the copper tubing.  By the way, you also wrapped the outside tubing with an insulating material.

Fire hydrants in areas that experience freezing have valves that are usually sunk below the frost line. This year, New England has experienced an unusually cold winter, making the idea of a hydrant that can be heated to prevent valve freezing an idea whose time may have come.  Is it a crazy idea? Will we ever have a winter to match the one we are currently experiencing? These and hundreds more questions must be answered by the adventurous inventor. That person, whoever you are, may become a millionaire because of your invention. You also may not make a penny. Remember, it’s the challenge, not the completion; the journey, not the arrival…and all of those other clever [and not so clever] clichés that will…wait for it…guide you along your path to glory.

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No matter how hard he tries, Justin Bieber will never be another Michael Jackson. Aside from the fact that Bieber is white…Michael was just a wannabee when it came to that category, but anyway, aside from the ‘race card,’ Michael in his prime made the 19-year old Bieber look like a bloody amateur.

Why am I comparing these two performers? Young Mr. Bieber is demonstrating some of the crazier characteristics that affected Jackson in his later years. I was shocked to read what he had written in the guest book at the Anne Frank house…”Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber,” Did he honestly understand the significance of what the Frank family was going through. Bieber is a child who has never known hunger or tattered clothing or shivering, except maybe from some of the drugs he’s taken.

There is no excuse for the actions which have been demonstrated by young Bieber. Of course he and his friends were responsible for the egging of his neighbor’s house; they just weren’t caught. What happened in Florida…blocking off a street with SUV’s so he and his buddies could drag race…drunk and under the influence of God-only-knows-what-other-drugs may not be the last straw, but it’s certainly one that is putting a hell of a heavy load on the camel.

Justin Bieber is what promoters call “the talent.” Their job is to go on a stage somewhere in the world and perform. Whether it’s juggling chain saws, performing magic tricks, singing, dancing, or whatever, that is their job. Supposedly, they have a gift that will draw a following. Ricky Jay has a following; Tony Bennett has a following; Lady Gaga has a following; Bono and Jimmy Buffet, and hundreds of performers have followings. They perform, wipe the make-up from their faces and get on with their lives in a civilized manner…yes, even Lady Gaga. Master Bieber – you can’t call him Mister yet; his antics don’t warrant that degree of maturity –  is now developing a James Dean complex with his drag racing performance.

Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that she hoped in made it to adulthood. He won’t if he keeps acting like Paul Walker or James Dean. He won’t if he continues to drink, take drugs, and drive. He won’t if some adult doesn’t take him aside and beat some sense into him. He’s trying to burn the candle at both ends without realizing that candle is actually a stick of dynamite.

I neither know nor do I wish to know Justin Bieber’s background. He appears to have quite a following of young people who think he’s worthy of adoration. Right now, he’s only worthy of spending some time in jail to learn just how ugly life can be.

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It’s already started for some. “One more term; one more semester; one more quarter…and I’m outta here! No more term papers; no more eight o’clock classes; no more listening to Mr. So—and-so’s boring astronomy lectures…my liberal arts requirement, but what a bitch!”

There are any number of college seniors who cannot think farther ahead than graduating and getting their degree. They seem to forget several things, among them…no more summer vacations; no more Christmas/Holiday breaks that last over a month; no more spring breaks wherever the ‘spring breakers’ are breaking this year; no more sleeping in if you don’t feel like going to that eight o’clock. All of these are gone, out-the-window, fini, kaput, nada, nyet, no mo.

If they haven’t signed up for interviews, they soon will. Companies and organizations will come to campus, conduct interviews, have a hard time not laughing at some of the idiots who believe they’re qualified to start off as a vice president and move on from there or perhaps they just shake their collective heads about how pathetically prepared the interviewee is to face the real world.

The good ones will get an offer or two; those who aren’t prepared will wonder why “he/she got an offer and she/he didn’t.” These people will congratulate their classmates but inside, way down deep in their gut, they get mad; then they begin to question themselves. “What did he have that I didn’t?” “I’m as good as she is so how come she got the offer.” With many, something will come along quickly to distract their thinking, which is, of course, part of the problem.

Then comes senior week or however long it might be. Most know they’ve made it. Some are sweating out a course or two, talking to the faculty member about the final exam…this, by the way, is when faculty members go into hiding [ not really, but it makes for a better story]. If grades are posted, there are cheers and dejection; laughter and silently drooping heads, hoping the course will be a summer offering so they can make it up and graduate…after their friends are gone.

Then comes the day when they put on the cap and gown. Some will adorn the cap with tape or white pain with messages like “THANX MOM + DAD,” or sometimes just one or the other.  Hell, the cap is only twelve inches square with a button in the middle, so there’s not room for much of a message. They’ll march in the academic procession to the tune of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and they’ll be looking around, trying to find their folks. Of course, if they are graduating from a humongous institution, they won’t even try to find their parents or grandparents. Depending on the school from which they receive their degree, they may wear a different colored tassel…blue for education; white for the liberal arts; orange for engineering, etc. If the school from which they receive their degree is smaller, the tassels on their caps might mean something else. Often, they will stand for level of honors received…red for cum laude; white for magna cum laude, and gold for summa cum laude, the highest of the three Latin honors.

Generally, there is a senior speaker or two. It will be midway through the first of these — often the valedictorian or person with the highest grade point average – that the light suddenly dawns on those wearing the black tassels, i.e., no honors, no job prospects, and a lot of OMG’s. The smile that was on their collective faces as they walked in the procession disappears. Their thoughts run along these lines: “I’m not going to have the summer off. I have to find a job. I’m not coming back here next year. Mom and Dad spent all that money. And finally, Holy shit, what do I do now?”

After working in higher education for over 40 years; after having planned and conducted over 50 graduation ceremonies, I’ve seen all of the things that I’ve mentioned actually happen. Graduation should be a time of great joy. For better than two-thirds of the graduates and their families, it is a time of great rejoicing. It’s that other third that sticks with me. All that money wasted; all that time…wasted; four or more years of your life…just shot to hell.

Will the third make it in the world? Heck, some of them will go on to be highly successful, maybe more successful than that valedictorian. Maybe the wake-up-hammer will hit them over the head while sitting in their chair at graduation. Maybe it won’t hit them for a year or two. Then again, maybe they will never be inspired to get off their collective butts and do something to pay back that two hundred thousand or more dollars.

College is not for everyone. College is not a place you go because ‘everybody’s doing it.’ College is not some four-year vacation or grades 13 through whatever. College is where you go when you have selected a field of study that you truly believe is what you want to do for the rest of your life. College is like a four-year trial marriage because you will be doing something for the next 40 or more years. Even so, the chances are unusually high that the final job of your working life may not be what you trained for in college. In today’s working world, the average college graduate  will change ‘careers’ anywhere from six to ten times…perhaps more. There’s nothing wrong with this. If you go to a college or university and your choice of career calls for advanced degrees, you’ll probably stick with that career. If what you view yourself doing for the rest of your life can manage with a baccalaureate degree, you’ll probably be a career-changer.

The most important point that I wish to make is that you not make foolish choices. Don’t go to college just to go to college or because that’s what your friends are doing. What fields are out there that really fascinate you? What will the future hold in terms of jobs that are far from the minds of others, but that you think might be required? Make your mind work for you before make a college or university choice.


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It appears that no matter how hard I try, I find it impossible to understand why people kill. War is one thing; the objectives of war…to obtain mineral rights; to expand your own nation; to right a perceived wrong or insult, this I understand. However, to kill someone you love…a wife, a husband, your own child, someone who cheers for a different team; for a pair of sneakers or a jacket you admire…these things are beyond my comprehension.

“You will never understand murderers,” people tell me. “You’re mind is not their mind; your anger isn’t the type of anger they are capable of feeling,” they say. “You’re incapable of understanding the kind of violence that is within them because it’s not within you.” I’m not certain that I can accept those statements. I believe we are all capable of killing, particularly to protect those we love. Would I kill because of an insult? Man, I have been insulted by professionals. There is so little that can be said to insult me, it’s pathetic. Insults merely show the ignorance of the person delivering them; remember that, and you’re protected.

I don’t stay up late enough to watch the nine, ten, or eleven o’clock news. Hell, by eight, these old eyes are thoroughly closed and gathering sand, sounding like a freight train, and incapable of being roused other than by the thunder after a direct lightning strike on the other side of the bed – Juli’s till up at that hour so I know she would be fine. However, back to the news; psychologists will tell you not to watch the news as the last thing you view before going to bed. I don’t know whether these broadcasts are intentionally designed to send you to bed with visions of bodies in the streets or cars wrapped around telephone poles or this murder or that killing, but they say that watching this stuff is just not good for the psyche as you’re heading off for dreamland. I believe it!

Movies are movies. Action movies with folks like Arnie, Sly, Jason, Jet, Chuck, or Jackie will kill hundreds – I once heard that the record was held by Schwarzenegger at 500 killed in a single film…I think Arnie had a scratch on the back of his hand. I mean, come on. I’m not against a little violence in a movie but one person killing that many…hell, that’s a comedy!

One of the people to whom I turned for information on the mind of a killer was Professor Jim Fallon, who teaches neuroscience at the University of California Irvine.  A synopsis of his biographical information says that, “Through research [Jim} explores the way genetic and in-utero environmental factors affect the way the brain gets built – and then how individuals’ experience further shapes its development. He lectures and writes on creativity, consciousness, and culture, and has made key contributions to our understanding of schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.” A relatively new part of Fallon’s research has been devoted toward the subject of psychopaths — specifically those who kill.

Fallon has studied nearly 100 brains, some of which have been those of serial killers. He concludes that a gene, passed from mother to son, brain damage, environmental exposure to violence, e.g., living where a war is taking place are all contributors, are all contributors to the development of a psychopathic killer. According to Fallon, because the gene is passed only from mother to son is the contributing factor that makes psychopathic killers predominantly male.

Another “student” of murderers is Jonathan Pincus, chief of neurology at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Washington and a professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Over the past 25 years he has examined, through questioning, 150 murderers. Like Fallon, he has concluded mental illness (gene) neurological damage (violence) and abuse (environmental/family) are the contributors for creating killers.

This began as a simple essay. Research proves that the subject is really deep and far beyond my scope of understanding, Whether it’s reading the FBI study on serial killers, listening to Professors Fallon or Pincus, or examining any number of articles about murderers, I’m glad that it’s early morning when I’m writing this…it may be time to go watch the road runner or Tom & Jerry!

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