Archive for February, 2014

I don’t know about anyone else – and frankly, I don’t give a damn – but I have had it with the winter of 2013-2014. Now just how many Americans, Brits, Indians, and others around the world are uttering the same freakin’ words? Yet, in Massachusetts this is only the 54th coldest winter on record. My complaint is that I can’t remember the eight out of ten of the others in which I was alive…ah, the innocence of youth; ain’t it grand?

It’s said that we forget our unpleasant memories and tend to exaggerate those that we recall as being pleasant. I haven’t done the research on that, but it must have some validity. If not, why would mothers get pregnant a second time? Why would blood donors continue to give after having been stuck by the hollow harpoon the first time? Why would I have gone through a second and third back surgery had I recalled the pain of recovery from the first?  Why would any country ever go to war again, knowing the sacrifice and horror that any war brings? There are hundreds of examples that could be given, but we continue to repeat our painful and unpleasant memories. Remember what George Santayana said; “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

While we may believe that this winter has been an absolute bitch, there is one other I remember. We were in Quebec for a conference and visited the ice sculptures at the Carnivale. Instead of taking a cab Iback to the hotel, we decided to walk…silly us…Quebec in February…walk back to the hotel…can you say “idiots?” I had a full beard then and when the young woman I was with indicated that she could no longer feel her face, I looked at her and, simultaneously, grabbed my beard. Her face was blotched with white indicating frostbite, and pieces of my beard literally broke off in my hand. Although we didn’t know it at the time, the temperature was minus twenty-two degrees below zero. At the hotel, we immediately began putting cool compresses on her face. That’s one bad experience with winter that I really can recall.

There is one positive note about this winter; it has brought rain to the western states. Oh, no, wait a minute, the rain might help to ease the drought, but it’s also going to cause mud slides because of the wild fires that devastated so many acres of woodland over the past couple of years. How can one win? In the mid-west and New England, and even as far south as parts of Florida, the cold has killed people, ruined crops, and collapsed roofs. In California, the fear is that houses may be swept away or damaged by mud.  So tell me this…where the hell is it safe to live in these here United States? The answer is that nowhere is safe, neither from weather, cost of living, or crime. I was going to write that there might have been a time, but that’s not true either. There have always been earthquakes, tornadoes, droughts, and other weather disasters. We’ve adapted to them; and, we are adapting to this particular winter.

Is this winter a result of climate change? Has the polar vortex shifted south because the arctic is losing its ice cap? Who is to say? There appears to be major disagreement one minute and then complete accord the next. Scientists argue over this single degree of temperature or that. There is always some pissing contest going on in whatever scientific community is involved. As many people are aware, the AIDS virus had difficulty being clearly identified because French and American scientists’ egos got in the way. As far back as the invention of the light bulb and the telephone, scientists and inventors have been arguing over “who was the first?” Whatever the case, climate change or just a bad period of time, this winter has certainly given us some bad memories that we can hardly wait to forget.

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It is not my place to tell anyone how to live their lives. We’ve often heard it said of a decedent, “Well, he made some bad choices in his life,” or words to that effect. It’s true; we all make good and bad choices throughout our lives. One of the worst choices that my late wife, Joan, and I made was to smoke cigarettes. Now she’s dead of lung cancer and I have emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). I know; I know; I tell you how much I love the gym and that exercise really makes me feel great, and all of that is true…when I have the energy to get to the gym…which, thankfully, is still a number of times per week. This just happened to be one of those mornings when I didn’t have the energy or the breathing capability to go. As a consequence, I decided to sit at the computer and ponder just how badly I had messed up my life by smoking cigarettes for 51 years.

September 17, 2014 will mark my 16th anniversary without a cigarette…if I make it. The doctors tell me, “Oh sure, you’re going to live well past 80. You quit and now your lungs are nice and clear.” I don’t say it to them, but I’d very much enjoy telling them that they’re full of crap. They don’t honestly know the lasting effects of smoking. Did you know that, “Cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Smoking is directly responsible for approximately 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and approximately 80-90 percent of COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis) deaths.” That’s in a report from the Centers for Disease Control, and that’s some pretty serious stuff.

I didn’t stop smoking because of the effect it would have on my lungs. I quit because a neurosurgeon, Dr. Howard Blume, told me the night before he operated on my cervical spine, that if I didn’t quit, my spine wouldn’t heal, and that it would be only a matter of time before my neck snapped. That is one scary bloomin’ thought, I’ll tell ya. There you are, driving along some highway, doing about 75 and your passenger asks you a question you don’t quite hear; you turn your head to ask them to repeat and CRACK, slump, and next thing you know they’re scrapping the two of you off the highway with a super vac…what a picture, eh? The biggest problem with that is that you not only killed your passenger, but if it’s a busy highway, your selfish smoking might have killed others.

In the 1950s, smoking was cool. I don’t think we called it that; it just seemed to be an accepted practice. This, however, is the 21st Century. We’ve cured smallpox, measles, mumps, and even polio. We know a heck of a lot more now that we knew back then. As far back as 1966, health warnings were being put on cigarette packs. By then, I’d become an addict. There really isn’t another way to put it; smokers are drug addicts and their choice of drug is nicotine; my choice of drug was nicotine. I was in agreement with Mark Twain…”Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” And I had; by the time the surgeon general’s report came out, I had given up ‘my smokes’ many times. I remember sitting on the stairs at our house, shaking like a leaf. It had been four days since I’d had a cigarette and I was going through withdrawal. I didn’t make it through the fifth day.

Each year, about 443,000 people die of illnesses that have a relationship to smoking. That’s more people killed by smoking than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, murder, and illegal street drugs…combined. A fairly recent study concluded that, nationwide, 18 percent of high school students are smoking and that 4 percent of middle school kids were also smoking cigarettes. I do and I don’t feel badly for them. If they smoke because they are addicts, there’s help out there; if they smoke because they think, as I did, that it’s cool, hip, young, and trendy, they’re idiots and should be treated as such.

This whole idea of “It won’t happen to me” is a bunch of crap. I want to ask high school smokers, “What the hell makes you think you’re so bloody special? How do you know that you’ll be the exception to the rule? How many people with lung cancer caused by smoking have you cared for in your lifetime?” I’ve been a care giver to a lung cancer patient. You’re on duty 24/7/365, and you’re exhausted. When you’re lying next to someone on oxygen and you hear the labored breathing and the soft moaning of the pain through which they’re going, you don’t think smoking is all that great. When you have to clean bed sores that are larger than a silver dollar and that have abraded a lesion that is so deep that bleeding and oozing are constant, you really don’t believe that smoking is cool. When you have to empty their urine bag or change their catheter, and you know that all of this was caused by that little white stick, you curse the day that you ever saw cigarettes for sale. If you sleep much at all, you know you have to get up every few hours to give your patient – the person you love and spent over 50 years of your life with – the morphine that will ease but not eliminate the pain. Then…one Sunday night in June, you go to the kitchen and get the morphine out of the refrigerator. You walk back to the bedroom, cross the threshold, and you know. You can feel it in the room; a soul has left. She doesn’t look much different from when you left the room less than a minute ago, but you know. You know the cigarettes have completed their job. You check for a pulse, but you know you won’t find one. You kiss her because her body is still warm. It won’t be in a few hours. Even before the funeral people come to take her away and you ask for a final moment, the last kiss is on a cold body.

If you’re a young smoker, don’t kid yourself because it can and it will happen to you. If you’ve been smoking for years and it hasn’t caught up with you yet, don’t worry, it will. Just ask me; I’m still doing some things I know that I wouldn’t be doing had I not quit. There are also a ton of things that I could be doing had I never started. Notice, if you will, that I have not once openly asked you to quit. The choice is yours; I made mine but it was too late. Joan never made the choice and I’ve told you what happened.

Now what?

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It’s very easy to be a cynic. Cynicism can explain a great many things. I have found that the real cynics I have met believe in nothing positive and are capable of turning a positive development into a negative one in the blink of an eye. I’m very fond of Stephen Colbert’s quip on cynicism:  “Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes’.”

Here comes the shocker…without realizing it, I have been a cynic for some time. For years, I was completely oblivious to most things around me. I had a great job, a beautiful and loving wife, and three good kids; hell, I might as well have been living in la-la land. Then something happened to turn me into a cynic. The event that prompted this cynicism was that I was fired from my great job. It wasn’t, “You’re fired because you’re doing a lousy job.” It wasn’t, “You’re fired because we caught you embezzling funds.” It wasn’t, “You’re fired because you’ve been having an affair with the President’s wife and he’s somewhat pissed about that.” It was – plainly and simply – “We’re abolishing your job…oh, and no one else on campus wants to hire you.” I’m not certain which part hurt more, the abolition o f the job or the no one else on campus wants you. I knew this was a revenge firing. It was as much of a revenge firing as one might find in the Netflix series, House of Cards. It was vicious, vindictive, and vengeful.  If I had gone to the National Labor Relations Board, I probably could have made a huge scene, won some kind of settlement, and left under a cloud that would have guaranteed I’d never again work in higher education.

For over three years, I made telephone calls – computers were not on desks but in rooms [plural] at the time so e-mail wasn’t an option – sent letters and resumes; read The Chronicle of Higher Education; applied for jobs that I thought might already be taken; and jobs that were far below and above what I knew or thought I could do.  Finally, and now I’m convinced it was far from being an accident, I landed at what would become my dream job. In hindsight, all of those other interviews; all of the phone calls; all of the letters and resumes were just a test…I’ve become convinced of that. However, I’ve become convinced of it only by looking back. I am now convinced that there is a higher power running my life. They say that hindsight is 20/20. They say that everything happens for a reason. They say that we all have guardian angels of some sort who are with us all of the time. Who “they” are, I’ve never known, but taking a peek over my shoulder, I’m now certain that ‘they’ are with me and that they guide me. Anytime I get into trouble, I just didn’t get the hint…they can be pretty subtle sometimes.

Yesterday morning, I bounded out of bed at 3:45 – that’s in the a.m. – threw on my gym clothing and prepared for a good, sweaty workout at Planet Fitness. It’s a few miles from the house and I had to have my apple juice and banana before leaving. I went into the family room to pick up my Kindle – I get to the gym early so that I can read in peace – and sat down in my chair…just for a minute. When I awoke, it was after 6; my partner, Juli, was up and taking the dog for her morning ablutions, and I had missed getting to the gym. Sure, I could have gone at 6, but it’s not the same as being there when the gym opens. Yes, I know that sounds wacky, but that’s just the way I feel.  Juli joked, “Maybe your ‘people’ didn’t want you to go.” It might have been humorous if I had felt differently, but I tended to think she might just be right.

This morning I did get to the gym. I had a great workout. As I was about to leave an old friend came in. He generally arrives after I’ve left, but this particular morning, I had done a longer workout and he had arrived somewhat earlier than usual. We were chatting and I mentioned the strange circumstances of the day before. “Funny you should say that,” he said. “I take my dog out for a walk every morning at four o’clock. Yesterday, walking the dog was the most treacherous day this winter. There was black ice everywhere; even the dog was slipping and sliding; it was just a miserable damned morning.” He wound up by saying, “Don’t discount those guardian angels who kept you from coming here yesterday. They just might have saved you some trouble.”

Now, more than ever, I’m convinced that I have some folks watching out for me. It was just too odd. I wanted to work out yesterday.  When I say that I “bounded” out of bed, I mean that I was up and raring to go before the alarm went off.  It was promised to be a sunny day with temperatures high enough to begin melting the 15 to 20 inches of the white stuff in my back yard. So what happened? I’d certainly had a good night’s sleep; no weird or bad dreams. There was nothing that should have prevented me from getting to the gym. ..except…

…Perhaps this was the beginning of the final chapter. Perhaps coming to terms with the fact that our lives are, to a certain degree, governed by others is acceptance that we are being watched over and guided. When we mess up, maybe it’s because we didn’t catch the clue or hint that was passed to us in some way we didn’t understand. As I look back now, today, with the gym experience behind me, I can recall other times when good things took place and I found no logical reason why they should have happened. Maybe this is what “they” refer to as faith. If so, it’s a bit of a bitch to think that it took me seventy-nine plus years to figure it out; perhaps I’m living proof that you can fix stupid!

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“I cried because I had no hat till I saw a man who had no coat.
I cried because I had no coat till I saw a man who had no shirt.
I cried because I had no shirt till I saw a man who had no socks,
I cried because I had no socks till I saw a man who had no shoes.
I cried because I had no shoes till I saw a man who had no feet.
I cried because I had no feet till I saw a man who had no legs.
I cried because I had no legs till I saw a man who had no life.”

The author of this poem, to be best of my research and knowledge, is unknown. Some say that it’s somewhere in the Holy Bible, although no one seems to be able to find it. Others attest that it is an ancient Persian Proverb, and there is research to support that thinking. Attribution to a single author, however, is sadly lacking. Whatever and whoever may be responsible for this aphorism, it is something with which each and every person should identify.

I’d love to have a larger pension; then I talk with someone whose IRA was stolen by this crook or that, and now they have damn near nothing. I’d love to be able to go someplace warm in the winter; then I hear about people who have lost their homes to foreclosure or to tornadoes. I’d love to get a new car, and then I see the people who don’t have cars and rely on public transportation. I’d love a lot of things, but I read that proverb and think, “You really are one lucky son-of-a-gun; you have three children who are successful; you have nine wonderful grandchildren; you have a roof over your head, reasonably good health, and twice you have been blessed by women who love you and whom you love. What the hell more could you want out of your life? Go ahead and die tomorrow ‘cause it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Lately, the Boston news media have been covering the situation of David Ortiz, the designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz was a great acquisition from the Minnesota Twins when the Red Sox traded for him. He has been a wonderful addition to the roster and certainly has, in part, been responsible for the success of the team over the past few years. Ortiz, however, has a bit of a problem. It seems that a $12.5 million dollar a year contract is not enough money for Ortiz to stay in Boston. He wants the Red Sox to either ante up or he’ll go where the money is. Ortiz is 37-years old, and in major league baseball parlance, that’s getting near the end of a career. Ortiz’s net worth is $45 million; that sure seems to me to be enough to put his three kids through college; to buy a few homes here and there; and  still have a couple of bucks left to buy a new car or two each year. If, per chance, you don’t agree that Ortiz should be making much more money than he is, you are, in his own words, a “hater.”

On the one hand, Ortiz says that he loves Boston, that it’s his city, that he loves playing baseball here; after the Marathon Bombing last April, Ortiz addressed the Fenway faithful, saying in part, “This is our fucking city. And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” That it came from the heart, there can be no doubt; that he went on to have a great season, there can be no doubt; that his contribution to the 2013 World Series Championship, there can be no doubt, but David, I have some words for you…”You didn’t do it alone; I can’t begin to name every other player, but each one contributed in some way to that World Series win.” Twelve point five million dollars a year is a lot of money for anyone to be making, particularly when there are so many who are making less than twelve thousand dollars per year. Yes, Ortiz, like any professional athlete, can suffer a career-ending injury at any time, but with a current net worth such as his, there should not be a problem.

Should Boston allow Ortiz to go elsewhere? No, no, this is a case where John Henry and company should ante up. Ortiz means a great deal to this city, but to be really great, both sides should come together before the start of the season in a sensible fashion. That means that Ortiz stops publicly speaking about his salary and that the Red Sox make a fair and equitable offer that will allow him to finish his career at Fenway Park.

Perhaps I’m wrong to pick on David; in fact, I’m not really picking on him. He just happens to be the most public figure on the greed scale at the moment. I was talking with Ted Williams years ago. We were walking across the campus at Babson while his son was speaking with folks in the Admission Office. We talked about a lot of things, but I remember Ted saying how much he loved playing baseball. “Where else can you have a job that is playing a kids’ game every day, outdoors in the sun, and they pay you money for doing it?” he asked…or words that were certainly very close to that. I later heard some line like that in a movie and it reminded me of Williams.

Times have changed since the Williams days. I’m not certain that there isn’t more pressure to build that bank account because who knows what’s around the corner; what the economy is going to do; what climate change may hold for us. It’s a “Get it while you can” mentality and that may be fine, but what’s enough? How much is too much? What do we do to help those with nothing? Better yet, how do we help those who have given their body parts on our behalf…the men and women who have defended our country and paid for it so dearly? We may cry because we only feel deprived; how about those who have actually been deprived?

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“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Will someone kindly remind news and sports reporters around the country and, perhaps, around the world that this is the Olympic creed and tell them to stop trying to turn these ‘amateur’ games into some political sparring match? This concept of “It doesn’t matter if you win or not; it’s how you play the game” is colossal bullshit in today’s Olympiad.

Countries put together multi-billion dollar packages for the right to host the summer or winter Olympics. Why do they do this? Is there no understanding of where the true need for dollars is in most of these countries, including the United States?  I have no quarrel with a group of amateur athletes from all around the world competing on the best stage possible but I’m not certain that Beijing, China, one of the most heavily polluted cities in the world, or Sochi, Russia, at best known as a summer resort on the Black Sea are the best sites. Certainly, places like Albertville, France or Lillehammer in Norway make sense for the winter Olympic Games; any venue that one can be guaranteed true winter conditions will exist would suit me just fine. I’m certain that there are other cities or sites in Russia where the ‘snow factor’ wouldn’t be a concern. I can hardly wait to see what happens at the next winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018. Ask any veteran of the Korean War [not ‘Conflict’] and they will tell you that South Korea can be a bitch in the winter, but as in Sochi, security could be a problem.

Security of visitors from any country to any large, international event appears to be a security risk these days. Terrorists seem to strike with impunity across the globe and create horrific problems for even the most stable of the countries, whether they are in the West, the East, or anywhere in between. America, so terribly security conscious, was unable to stop a bombing at the 1996 Summer Games, and while Vladimir Putin’s ‘Steel Ring’ appears to be working well to date, there is still a long way to go in Sochi.

Beyond location and security are the Games themselves. These are supposed to be the best that amateur athletics can provide. There are no amateurs anymore. Every athlete who competes is a professional. They train and train and train. They are subsidized, subsidized, subsidized. It’s like calling the athletes who play Division 1 athletics ‘student-athletes’ when we know that the majority of their times is spent in the weight room rather than the classroom. Is it one hundred percent of D1 athletes. It absolutely is not, but don’t try to sell me on the idea that it’s below 85 percent. When the “Miracle on Ice” occurred at Lake Placid in 1980, it was the closest thing to amateur athletics that we’ve seen in a long time…and this may well be the last year that Canada and the United States field teams from the NHL. It also would be nice to see collegiate athletes also competing on the basketball court again rather than a bunch of professionals. Gold, silver, or bronze medals mean a hell of a lot more to young collegians than they do to multimillionaires.

Back to my original premise as a closing; yes, this is a competition, but it’s a competition between each person on each team or in each event. It is not the United States against Russia; it is not France against Germany. It is not the Norwegians against the Swedes or the Finns or whoever. It’s Daisuke Takahashi versus Jeremy Abbott and every other skater; its snowboarder versus snowboarder and screw the country from which one may come. It’s good, honest competition. The only sport I can address with any degree of knowledge happens to be swimming and that, of course, is not a winter Olympic sport. If an athlete can lower his or her time by 1/100th of a second and continue doing this that makes them smile. If they lose a race but better their time by less than a second, they can smile, because they know that they can and will do better. Does it hurt to lose? Of course it hurts and that’s exactly why they train…so that they will not lose. Would I prefer to see an American athlete win gold? Of course I would because I am an American, but if someone from another country wins, good for them; they trained harder and on that particular day had a better performance…so be it, but let’s judge the athletes and stop with this country competition.

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I don’t mean to be a party-pooper, but it seems to me that education at almost every level has a great deal of catching up to do. Reading and writing are basic skills, and these can be taught at an early age and improved upon with time. Once the basic skills of math, i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are mastered, the rest can probably be learned on line. It seems to me that there is a free or nearly free course on line for just about anything you ever wanted to know. Forget writing term papers on “The History of Democracy in the United States,” or “The Fundamental Theory of Hydrogen Bombs,” or even “How to Make a Thermonuclear Device in Your Cellar.” You will find much better information on line than you can in your local library.  Hell, you can even gather a great deal of information on “Strategic Thinking in a Business Environment.”

The one course you cannot get on line, or maybe you can, but it’s probably not worth the powder to blow it to hell, is how to interact with others; how to manage and be managed. How to engage in peer negotiation and consensus decision-making cannot be taught on line. Team building and a team approach to problem solving requires teams that can work together.  Joe Weintraub, a faculty member at Babson College used to teach – and for all I know, still does – a course entitled, Psychology of Leadership. I was fortunate enough to sit in on a few of Joe’s lectures. His greatest strength, however, in the opinion of this small mind, was in getting students, working in teams, to spotlight their own leadership capabilities without ever telling them that this was what he was doing. He was a master of bringing students out of their shells, allowing them to emerge on their own. Did it work for every member of the class? Of course it didn’t because some people do not possess the qualities of a real leader.

It’s a whole new world of learning out there, folks. We are on the cutting edge of that new form of learning. Forget all of the outside distractions like falling in and out of love seven times a week or the chores you have to do, I believe it would be so excited to be a high school freshman once more with all of the knowledge that is so readily available today. Of course, as a high school freshman, I probably wouldn’t think that way, but what if I could. No more suffering through the reading of Shakespeare in Miss Howarth’s class. She could assign readings that I would do on computer, but she wouldn’t ask us to read Portia’s soliloquy; she would ask for interpretation and in what other court cases similar pleas have been offered. We would be required to really work to understand what our own world has become in the legal system. There would be no more sitting through John O’Hayre’s, “Open your books to page whatever and read what so-and-so says about such and such, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum; You may have given me good grades, Johnny Boy, but you sure as hell were not a very good teacher.

Today’s scholar is different in many ways. More and more of them contemplate what the world would be like without them. That’s right; more high school and college kids commit or consider committing suicide. Over 25 years ago, I worked with a group of high school seniors to present a day-long program of seminars on topics of their choosing. Among these topics were Bullying: What’s it like to be homeless: Aging and its Problems: Suicide Prevention, and many more. One of the most frightening statistics that came out of that entire day was that 32 percent of that senior class had either considered or attempted suicide…that was a quarter of a Century ago. What course helps our children and young adults work through that problem? Conversely, how do we identify those who have problems that are sufficiently dangerous that they might cause harm to others? We don’t have the means to do so right now and that means we are going to have more school, college, university, and workplace shootings with unnecessary loss of life, and that is unacceptable behavior in the 21st Century.

Just as scholars need to be treated differently in this new Century, so, too, do our educators. Today’s educator must have a global perspective with a local emphasis. It, to be quite frank, is a bitch of a job, and one that is not recognized by the majority of school systems anywhere. Yes, of course, money is part of the problem, but it is not the only one. Teachers face the same problems that middle managers face in business. They have to educate their multi-lingual, multi-sexual, multi-everything constituents, while pleasing administration officials that include a principal, a superintendent, a school committee, and a group of parents who know that the teacher is not doing his/her job because their child is not yet doing what ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ expect them to be doing. I remember an elementary teacher who used to work out with us at a local gym. In their school, fifty-three different languages were spoken at home…in addition to English. Why the hell anyone would go into that profession on the elementary or secondary level where they face so many daunting problems is far beyond my scope of understanding. In another life, they must have enjoyed being fed to the lions in the coliseums.

We wonder why we are behind the curve of many other nations. I believe the answer is far less complex than others would have us believe. Those other nations were forward thinking while the United States was still clinging to late 19th and early 20th Century thinking in terms of education…at all levels. It’s time for us to eliminate some of the bureaucracy; give our teachers some freedom, eliminate tenure as a form of guaranteed employment, pay teachers what they’re worth, rather than some arbitrary scale. At the collegiate level, let us broaden our thinking in considering our student market. What is it that they are seeking? Listen to people like Marni Baker Stein, Chief Innovation Officer, Institute for Transformational Learning, at the University of Texas System, who, in a recent paper, noted, “How, for example, are we going to more effectively serve and interface with student populations that…

  • “attend, perhaps more than ever before, to the outcomes of their education;
  • “expect a return on their investment and increasingly demand internships, practical experience and “direct windows into possible employment paths from the very start of their post-secondary careers;
  • “value personalization that is embedded in their day-to-day experiences and that responds to both their weaknesses and strengths;
  • “prefer optimized pathways that recognize and credit prior knowledge and experience and allow them to move at their own pace;
  • “opt to work across multiple institutions and multiple instructional contexts to get to goal; and
  • “demand a student experience accessible anytime, anywhere, and on any device.”


We most assuredly are not ready for candidates of that caliber. Higher education must move ahead immediately and with a different type of thinking if we are to meet the real needs of today’s students.

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“I used to read your blog, but then you got boring…but I’m back now.”

Boring? Me, boring? Moi?

Damn straight, Skippy, and don’t you forget it.

The reader who sent me that comment was absolutely correct, and I thank him or her for doing so. There’s no question that there are plenty of times I climb up on the soapbox and pontificate about this happening or that. In so doing, I get diarrhea of the mouth compounded by mental constipation. The result is what can often be found on this blog. I think I may have said this before, but let me reiterate that I really don’t write for any reason other than to get people like that reader quoted above to react; good, bad, or indifferent, I don’t care.  If someone reads something I’ve written and thinks I’m mistaken in my view, I want them to come back at me with an opposing view. If the man or woman can back it up with research, I’ll even print the response on the blog.

Right now, for example, I’m somewhat irritated with the President of the United States and his minions. The problem is that I haven’t read the Affordable Care Act in its entirety so I’m on shaky ground when I begin to criticize it. First, it was late being rolled out; part of the reason for that was that the House of Representatives kept trying to get it repealed – Forty-one freaking times they’ve tried – but it was still rolled out to the public…late. Not only late, but people couldn’t get on the web site to sign up. The company that built the web site screwed it up…badly. Therefore, why was it rolled out? Why didn’t the President, as chief honcho of this bill, have the balls to come right out and say, “We’ve got some problems here, and we’re going to hold off on this thing until we get those problems resolved?” That would have been the transparent thing to do. There is no shame or embarrassment in saying that you moved to quickly in an attempt to bring a health plan to the public – “which seven of my predecessors were unable to do” – and that you, as Prexy, are going to have a bipartisan committee review portions of the Law – note upper case – because it is a Law, passed by Congress and signed by the President, before putting it before the public.

There is no question in my mind that people like Rand Paul, Eric Kantor, Ted Cruz, and some of the other Tea Party Crazies – that’s how I’ve come to describe them; even capitalizing the last word – will look on this as a significant victory, but we all know they’re so full of crap that when they breathe, they smell like great granddaddy’s outhouse, so who cares about them. And some members of his own party will have harsh words about the President’s inability to stand his ground, but frankly, that’s bullshit!

In its current format, the Affordable Care Act is a bad law. It hurts people. In some cases, people can’t even keep their own doctor…after having been told by their leader that this would not be the case.  In other cases, people are going to have to choose between food and medical insurance after having been told that the insurance would be “Affordable.” In other cases, people can’t get the care they need because the hospital that can give that care is “outside of their circle.” Listen to the American people, Mr. President. This act that you signed into law is not good. There is not one person in this country who wouldn’t agree with you that the nation is in need of a national insurance plan. In addition, what works here in Massachusetts, may very well not work in Mississippi, Minnesota, or New Mexico. Personally, I believe you would have been wiser to demand the governors of the fifty states to present plans for their states to a Federal health agency for approval. At the point of approval, the plans could be launched with the backing of some federal dollars, raised by a national sales tax of one or two percent on everything from dog food to diapers and allocated by population density. Plans from one state would be honored by those of other states. Don’t worry, abuses would soon be noticed.

Mr. President, you and I both know that the health care needs of the people in West Virginia are not the same as those in the people of Colorado. I’m not into making invidious comparisons, but attempting a national health care law seems to me like make a one-size-fits-all shoe. Yes, we are fifty states that are united, but in health care? I have no idea what governors do at a governor’s conference, but when the issue of health care became so important, it seems that the governors should have recognized the problem, taken their heads out of their butts, and gotten busy. There’s no question there would have been some ‘foot-draggers,’ but that’s where the federal government could have stepped in and provided a little incentive to get things going, e.g., no more federal funding for a governor’s pet project. Certainly, this wouldn’t have been a feather in any President’s cap, but spinning a story is done every day in Washington; what’s one more?

You, Mr. President, and many members of your inner circle, will say, “It’s too late. It’s the law of the land and we will stand our ground and work this thing out.” That’s all well and good, but you know damn right well that the next Republican president is going to try his/her damndest to repeal that law…and they will succeed.

These things I know: In 2016, the country will have a new leader. I will be 82 years old. Tom Brady will still be the quarterback of the New England Patriots and LeBron James will still be leading the Miami Heat to NBA titles. Gay marriage will still be the issue it is today although many of the homophobes will have gone quietly away. America will still be at war somewhere, but we won’t call it a war, and caskets of young men and women will still be landing at Andrews, mothers, dads, and siblings will be there with moist eyes, but whoever is the new leader will find some excuse for continue the slaughter. The NRA will still be saying that guns don’t kill people, but there will be more shootings at schools and colleges and nothing will be done. We still won’t be free of our dependence on fossil fuel and cancer will not have found a cure-all.

These are the things I know. What I do not know would fill the Smithsonian a thousand times over. What I’d like to know is if our current President has the courage to say, “This isn’t working, but I’m going to make damned certain that before I leave office, each state in this Union will have health care for all of its citizens supported by both state and federal funds.” Isn’t that worth a try?

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On prior occasions, I have spoken at length (a) about the number of prescription and non-prescription medications that are my daily fare, and (b) about the warnings that generally take up one or two pages of small type which I am expected to read and understand. In the information booklet of one product on drugstore shelves is this warning: “Do not use if you cannot see clearly to read the information in the information booklet.” They’re kidding, right? No, they are not! Perfect eyesight is not actually a prerequisite for reading these pages…a 50 to 100 power magnifying glass will do quite nicely, thank you very much! If you don’t believe me, go to your local drug store – not dealer, store – and pick up a bottle of, hmm, okay a bottle of Aleve. Go ahead, I’ll wait…not all day, but I’ll wait.

See, see what I told you; the label unfolds and unfolds and the print is so damned small a Hobbit couldn’t read it. I don’t really know what that has to do with it, but you get the point. I don’t believe they actually mean that you should read the directions. They believe that if you watch enough television, you will see their ads where some poor schmuck gives up his Aleve for the day and is in agony by the time he or she gets home. Are they nuts? What person in his or her right mind would give up something that works for something that – for them – doesn’t? Whatever happened to ‘truth in advertising?’

But, enough about Aleve and its dreaded competitor, Tylenol, let us move on to some of the more idiotic warnings that one can read in various medical pamphlets. On the directions for a sun shield – you know; the thing that reflects sun from your windshield in the summer – “Do not drive with sun shield in place! Sounds pretty logical to me. I can’t say that there is anyone in my circle of people I know who would do such a thing but I suppose it is possible…no, it can’t be possible, but…it’s in the directions. Here’s one that you may find on a coffee cup: “Caution: Hot beverages are hot.” Well, duh, do ya think? Remember a while ago when airline pilots were complaining about people aiming laser pointers at them. Perhaps these are the same people who didn’t read this warning on their laser pointer: “Do not look into laser with remaining eye.” Hey, I don’t make these things up; I’m just saving you the time of not having to look these up on the web.

There is only one explanation for these warnings or instructions or whatever the hell you wish to call them. It’s called CYPA; it used to be called CYA, but some folks thought that a might extreme, so now we say, “cover your posterior area,” rather than “cover your ass.” It is, of course, conceivable that some people misinterpreted cover your ass with “throw a blanket over your donkey,” or even, “walk around with your hands violently clutching both butt cheeks; embarrassing, but…orders are orders.

This entire CYPA protocol is particularly evident in hospital pre-op rooms. If you haven’t been in one of these lately, count your blessings; if you have, you know exactly of which I’m speaking. There you are, laying on a bad with your butt exposed to cool [read “freezing”] sheets. The IV nurse has hooked you up to a bottle of saline solution and you’re just waiting to be wheeled in to have your head amputated or whatever. In walks the anesthesiologist or, if you remember M.A.S.H., the ‘gas passer.’ Just kidding, they don’t use gas anymore. He introduces him or herself and begins a long explanation of what is going to be used to put you to sleep. He – it’s a generic term – then goes on to explain precisely, damn near down to the last molecule, what the various drugs will do to or for you. They don’t give a damn about what you’d like to hear; they are required to tell you everything and more about the drugs will be using; it’s the law…to hell with the fact that the more this guy talks, the more you want to rip out the IV and head for the nearest door; he is required by OSHA or HIPPA or the YMCA or whoever, to impart this information to you. Here’s how you stop him. “Is there any anesthetic in my system right now?”

“Not yet but we’re going to…”  he begins

Cut him off. Do not let him get beyond the word, “to.”  You then ask, “Will you be using Versed?”

He will then begin with, “Yes, we will be using Versed, and…” If you allow him one syllable beyond “and,” you’re nuts! You don’t care to know what else they might use…unless, of course, you’re allergic to anesthetics; then you might let him prattle. In any other case, once he has said, “Versed,” let it go. You’ll be fine. Here comes the tricky part. Your anesthesiologist will now say something to the effect of this: “Just gonna give you a little something right now to relax you,” and he will inject some liquid into a port – it’s what they call it – in your IV. What this stuff is, I have never learned, but it is soooo gooood! It’s generally at this point that the surgeon comes in to explain the procedure. He or she waits until this kickipoo joy juice has been injected before stepping through the curtain. They always ask if you know who they are; it’s a standard procedure. I’m always tempted to say, “I’ve never seen this man before in my life,” but operating rooms run on a tight schedule, and one is only allowed to have so much fun. The last time this happened, my response was, “I do, but you’d better talk fast; this stuff is great!” That is the last thing I remember before waking up in recovery. In came the surgeon, still in his scrubs and began to explain what he did. Why do I care? It’s over; done with; we can’t take it back. All I want to hear is one of two words; ‘success’ or ‘failure.’ If it’s the first, we have nothing more about which to speak. If it’s the second, he’s not going to be going anywhere because my hands will be wrapped around his throat demanding an explanation…never really have had to do that.

I sort of got off track there, but back to the warning labels. Just remember a few common sense things: Batteries are not made to “explore” as the label on one indicates. Believe the stroller warning when it says “remove child from stroller before folding.” Don not use silly putty as earplugs…they tell you that although I’m quite certain that some child, somewhere, has already done it. And, by all means, obey the sign in the railroad station that says, “Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.” Wow, whoever heard of prosecuting a dean person? Yep, orders is orders; follow carefully!

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Contrary to what some people have called me, I assure you that my mother and father were married long before I came along. Therefore, I feel fully justified in telling those who attempt to insult me that I am neither the single word nor the variations on the other four words. It’s merely that I have developed relatively strange and – for some people – rather unpleasant beliefs over the years and I’m rather outspoken about them.

Perhaps the strangest of my beliefs is my open disgust with anyone who smokes. Why is this strange; because it’s coming from a former four-pack-a-day smoker? It’s been said that nothing is as bad as a recovering alcoholic, a converted Catholic, or a reformed smoker. Since I don’t really know about the other two, yes, I am in the third group. For example, a friend walked by me in the gym a week or so ago and I remarked, “Was that a cigar or cigarette you had just before you came in?”

“How the hell do you know,” he asked.

“I can smell it on you, asshole,” I replied.

This friend, rather than getting all pissed off about it, actually turned around, left the gym, and returned later in different clothes. He walked over and asked, “Can you smell anything now?”

I see that more and more in smokers; they’re furtive in their addiction, almost as if they’re ashamed of the habit…which they should be. It’s nasty, costly, and affects those around them. I’m embarrassed that I smoked for 51 years; I really am. My Dad smoked; most of my friends smoked; we were athletes and we smoked. It was what you did growing up in the fifties. How dumb were we? Why did people who grew up not smoking do that? What prevented them from falling into the trap? What stroke of remarkable luck allowed them to escape? If there was a single thing, someone should bottle it and put in on the shelves of CVS.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that on October 1, 2014, CVS will stop selling tobacco products. It’s a bold and unprecedented move that will cost the company somewhere around two billion dollars. That’s broken down as 1.5 billion in tobacco sales and another half billion in products that people buy when they drop in to buy tobacco. That is an extremely courageous move on the part of CVS. What company have we ever heard of that gives up two billion dollars in sales voluntarily. If I didn’t consider CVS to be the Shreve, Crump & Lowe of drugstores, I might even consider switching my prescription drugs back to them; however, they are overpriced on too many products so while they are to be congratulated on a complex business decision, I’m certain they will find a way to recoup any losses…can you say Affordable Care Act provider?

It matters not what my beliefs are…about smoking or about CVS. It’s a personal decision of where to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products if that’s your inclination. My wife died of lung cancer caused by cigarettes. It’s not a pretty death, watching someone struggle to take a breath, unable to eat because they can’t gather sufficient breath to chew of swallow food or drink; unable to move in bed so that bed sores the size of silver dollar and larger form on their backside, and it seems no matter what you do to treat them, the stink still fills the air.  They’re given morphine to aid the pain but after a while, a full bottle can’t ease it. They beg you as their care giver to do something so they can die, but you’re helpless. That hurts as much as anything you see…the feeling that the person to whom you’ve been married for over 50 years is begging you to help, and for once, you can’t…so you sit and you watch them die. No, it’s not a pretty death at all.

As far as CVS is concerned, I do applaud their efforts as well as those of Target and other stores that have stopped selling tobacco products. I’m just hopeful that more and more stores will take the position that they are not in the business of trying to addict more people to this drug that kills.

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Sex is not the object


When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr.

The original spelling of the last word in the very first sentence of this poem, The Man in the Glass, was, originally, ‘pelf.’  It’s Middle English from Anglo-French. Not that it matters a whole hell of a lot, but the word actually means money, money that is probably somewhat painted. Therefore, I would say that Mr. Wimbrow knew exactly what he was writing. Only those who never took the time to examine the poem carefully would be so arrogant as to change the word to self. Seems to me they’ve cheated that “man in the glass.”

I enjoy this poem not just because it was written the year I was born, but it also is a part of what I like to think of as my own code…broken time and time again, but I’d like to think of it that way. There have been mornings when I’ve arisen and hardly been able to stare that man in the eye. Thankfully, the times that have happened have been far exceeded by the times I’ve been able to look at him and smile. In the final analysis, I smile at him most of the time nowadays.

What are we talking about in this situation? Are we talking about ethical or moral behavior, or are we speaking about one’s integrity? If it’s integrity, I guess it’s “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness…being honest, sincere, and truthful.” Ethical behavior relates more to the moral principles within a given field or profession. So right off the bat we have a dilemma, not that it really matters. What matters is not what others think of us, but what we think of ourselves.

I tell this story in many ways, and I’m going to tell it again. Over my forty-plus years in higher education, I’ve probably heard close to 150 commencement addresses. Most have bored me to tears. Pick a cliché and I’ve heard it used in a commencement speech. Pick a quote from Mark Twain, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, Winnie the Pooh, or a hundred others, and someone has said it in a commencement speech through which I was forced to sit. By the way, ethical behavior also means sitting through each of those speeches and applauding politely at the end. There was, however, one speech to which I always listened and yes, it was basically the same every year. It had to do with one’s integrity, and the speaker, a man for whom I was working, tagged it on to the end of whatever speech he happened to be giving. He always began with, “There’s one other subject I want to talk to you about before I finish…” and he would speak to them of their integrity. “No one can take, buy, or steal your integrity,” he would say. “You have to give it away. Don’t give away your integrity.” His remarks were longer than that – generally about three minutes – but he made his point. It was around the third year of hearing it that I noticed there was always an alumnus or alumna, standing at the back of the tent – we had one huge mother of a tent for our graduation – and the graduate was waiting for the president to come from the stage. One year, I was at the rear of the tent and I spoke to the grad.

“Think Bill will have a minute to talk to me?” he asked. Bill was our president and everyone, from the lowliest freshman to the most senior member of the faculty called him that.

“Sure, I said. Everything okay?”

“No really,” he said. “I quit my job with…” and he named a company of which you would have known.

“What happened?” I asked.

“That’s what I want to tell him,” he told me, adding, “They tried to take my integrity, and I remembered what Bill had said. I wouldn’t let them take it, so I quit.”

When graduation ended, the two of them did talk, and Bill walked away with a little extra spring in his step. We talked about it the following Monday. For the next six years, until his retirement, Bill and I would talk about the alumnus or alumna or maybe more than one who had spoken to him following graduation. It was always the same thing…people who had refused to give away their integrity. I will say that most of the time it hadn’t cost them their job, but…on a few occasions…

There will be plenty of times when you don’t want to look at that man [or woman] in the glass. Maybe there’s a good reason or maybe it’s just a hangover. If, in the long run, the man in the glass is smiling, you can smile right back and say, “Yeah, you and me, buddy, we done good.”

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