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Archive for March, 2014

According to the American Correctional Association,1 “Prisons have four major purposes. These purposes are retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. Retribution means punishment for crimes against society. Depriving criminals of their freedom is a way of making them pay a debt to society for their crimes. Incapacitation refers to the removal of criminals from society so that they can no longer harm innocent people. Deterrence means the prevention of future crime. It is hoped that prisons provide warnings to people thinking about committing crimes, and that the possibility of going to prison will discourage people from breaking the law. Rehabilitation refers to activities designed to change criminals into law abiding citizens, and may include providing educational courses in prison, teaching job skills and offering counseling with a psychologist or social worker. The four major purposes of prisons have not been stressed equally through the years. As a result, prisons differ in the makeup of their staffs, the design of their buildings and their operations.”

That sounds pretty reasonable to me. If someone commits a crime that is punishable by time in prison, that is where that someone belongs should be sent. It doesn’t really matter what gender that someone may be; it shouldn’t really matter what race or creed that someone is {wink, wink}. Social status should not be a consideration regarding whether or not that someone is put into the prison system. Put in the more popular vernacular, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

Are we on the same page so far?

Recently, there have been two reasonably high-profile cases that have made a joke of our crime and punishment laws in this country. The first was the case of a 16-year old Texas kid who, while driving drunk and on Valium, plowed his pick-up truck into another vehicle, killed four people and seriously injured several others. His alcohol level was three times the legal limit for the state of Texas, probably from the two cases of beer that he and two of his ‘buddies’ stole from a liquor store. His penalty is ten years probation. The judge maintained that it was not his fault; that his parents were to blame because they didn’t instill any values in their son. In other words, he was the spoiled little rich kid whose folks are so wealthy that rules don’t apply. In fact, the defense attorney indicated that the boy was so spoiled that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. There was so much controversy surrounding the initial sentencing that the judge refused reporters and cameramen inside her courtroom as she reaffirmed the sentence. One psychiatrist who testified for the defense coined the term “affluenza” in describing the boy. Had this kid been a minority or a young man from a middle class family, his ass wouldn’t have seen the light of day until he arrived at the Pearly Gates. In fact, the same judge, Jean Boyd, sentenced a 14-year old Black boy to 10 years in prison for killing another person with just one punch. What Judge Boyd is doing sitting as a county judge is beyond my understanding.

The second case concerns one of the heirs to the DuPont fortune. Robert H. Richards IV, unemployed and living off his trust fund, was convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter and assaulting his two-month old son. It appears that none of this would have become public had his ex-wife not filed charges accusing him of the crime. Richards was initially indicted on two counts of second degree child rape, felonies that carry a 10-year prison sentence for each count. In her decision, the judge said that Richards would benefit more from treatment and that he “will not fare well in prison.” Despite being six-four and 250-275 pounds, you can bet your butt that Richards would not have fared well in prison. There are few people more despised by prison inmates than child molesters, and to my mind, it’s highly doubtful that Richards would ever have left prison alive.

 

All of this points up a serious problem. Are the one-percent of the American population going to continue to commit crimes and use their wealth as an escape from the justice system? It seems to me that judges like Jean Boyd in Texas and Jan Jurdan in Delaware would do well to find another profession. At the very least, they should be forced to read the American Correctional Association purposes for prisons.

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For more than 125 years, the American Correctional Association has championed the cause of corrections and correctional effectiveness. Founded in 1870 as the National Prison Association, ACA is the oldest association developed specifically for practitioners in the correctional profession. During the first organizational meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, the assembly elected then-Ohio Governor and future President Rutherford B. Hayes as the first President of the Association. The Declaration of Principles developed at the first meeting in 1870 became the guidelines for corrections in the United States and Europe. At the ACA centennial meeting in 1970, a revised act of Principles, reflecting advances in theory and practice, was adopted by the Association. At the 1954 Congress of Correction in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the name of the American Prison Association was changed to the American Correctional Association, reflecting the expanding philosophy of corrections and its increasingly important role within the community and society as a whole.

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What about us?

Somehow, and I could be wrong on this, I thought that the world had gotten beyond the ‘posturing’ stage and progressed into a higher form of thought. Vladimir Putin, riding a horse bareback and shirtless, demonstrating that a “No-No” really does remove all hair from the chest and back, may have been fine back in the 50s and 60s, but the rest of us…I think anyway…are beyond the point of measuring penises to see who is more macho.

Let’s face it; the kid in North Korea is just an immature child who needs to have his backside slapped a few times by an old-fashion nun with a ruler. I don’t know if his advisors are Kukla, Fran, Ollie, and Buffalo Bob, but firing 500 rounds of artillery into South Korean waters is not what I would classify as how to make friends and influence people. Next thing you know he’ll be having a May Day parade to show off his missiles and might; oh, wait a minute, Putin already does that. And, how about the South Koreans? Not to be outdone, they have military exercises to show just how powerful they are, but I wonder why these were joint exercises with the Americans. What I really loved was China – who could kick the crap out of any of these macho idiots – treating North and South Korea as the backward nations they are and telling them to “calm down…” Had they added “…children, or we’ll take away your war toys,” it would have been beautiful!

The whole Eastern Europe and Asia thing is just such a pain in the ass. I really thought that things were getting somewhat better; then Putin puts his troops in the Crimea and forces a ‘vote’ – yeah, like that wasn’t rigged. It was something like a Bush/Gore tally, but enough about water over the dam or under the bridge or whatevah!

I don’t blame any of these countries that say without saying it directly, “Hey, America, don’t be so high and mighty; you’ve got your own share of problems that you’re not looking after. You’re trying to nationalize your health care system, and that’s not working out too well for ya! You’ve got three branches of government and there’s so much in-fighting there that laws aren’t getting passed and everyone hates everyone else. You’ve got a drug problem that we’ve already solved by just killing the dealers or anyone who commits a crime while they’re on drugs. You have an illegal immigrant problem to which you have yet to find a solution. Your infrastructure is collapsing; your education system is lagging…so before you go sticking your nose in our business, take a good hard look at yourselves… you major debtor nation, you.”

Whoa! I guess that’s telling us, isn’t it? Seems to me there’s a great deal of truth in what’s being said, and to those who wish to tell me, “If you don’t like it, leave!” I can only say, “Grow the fuck up!” We came to the aid of Europe in 1914 to stop a war. We came to the aid of Europe and the Far East in 1941 to stop a war. We came to the aid of Korea in 1951. We came to the aid of South Vietnam, knowing full well that it was a war that could not be won. Now we’re doing battle in the Middle East and we don’t have the God-given common sense to get the hell out and let the tribes go back to doing what they’ve been doing for thousands of years.

We have a great many problems in 21st Century America, and we seem to prefer telling everyone else in the world how stupid they are while pretending that we have all of the answers. The problem is that we don’t appear to be addressing some of those problems. Two of the biggest are a crumbling infrastructure and a changing climate. The first is one with which we can probably deal; the second is, I’m afraid too far gone and will probably be the number one factor in the extinction of man as a species…unless that little shit in North Korea finds a way to get his finger on “the button.” Then we’ll just have to worry about a Nevil Shute “On the Beach” scenario.

I really was beginning to believe that we were chugging right along for a while; the economy appeared to be growing; granted, it was a slow process, but we were moving forward. The stock market began to top the sixteen thousand mark on a fairly regular basis and that seemed to bode well for my retirement. The housing mess looked as if it had reached a peak. Hell, I even received a letter of congratulations from my electricity supplier that said we were using less juice since we began to apply some energy-saving strategies…whoopee. Perhaps the best news of all was that Macy’s was back to having their one-day, rock-bottom, and never-to-be-seen-again-prices sale every week…as seen on television.

Then, in another part of the world, far, far away, trouble strikes as the Syrian Civil War escalates; Russian troops go into Crimea; and North Korea starts lobbing shells. What happens? America has to step in and say “These things are wrong; it’s us to the rescue!” Bullshit. It should be us keeping our noses on our own problems and not sticking them in where they are not welcome. We give the Ukraine a billion dollars to help them get out of debt. To whom do they owe that billion? Why, to Russia, of course. If Putin wanted a loan, why didn’t he just ask rather than making a big deal out of it?

Meanwhile, back in the world where real people live, the hungry are not being fed; the poor are not being clothed, droughts and floods are becoming more common; the glaciers are melting and affecting the salinity of the oceans; food sources from the sea are ‘drying up;’ and, Nancy Pelosi takes the time to sends me a survey – with a request for money, of course – asking me what issues Congress should be considering for 2016, chief among them, of course, is how to stop the Republican juggernaut from taking over Congress. She will never see my two-page response, but it might provide a few minutes of enjoyment for some lowly staffer.

There is an ad currently running on television from T. Row Price, a Baltimore investment firm. They talk about how what takes place in one country affects something else in another country and what that does to affect another thing in another country. It’s a clever advertisement. Perhaps I’m being too laissez faire about this, but every time I see it, I want to say, “But what about us?” Yes, the world has grown smaller in terms of trade and things that can be manufactured or tilled or mined that can help everyone….but dammit, we seem to be the one everyone looks to for solutions, but what about us?

Yeah…what about us?

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Somewhere out there is a child. He or she – probably a she since we’ve been such a male dominated society for so long and have really messed things up – may be in elementary school, possibly even in kindergarten or still in the womb. I’ll use the feminine pronoun from here out…she thinks a bit differently from most of her classmates; she looks ahead. She wants desperately to learn. Sometimes, the teacher actually goes to slow for her and she jumps ahead; sometimes she gets bored and finds herself in trouble. Who is this ‘girl’ who is just a bit different? Why she’s the next great American entrepreneur. She is the person who will make us think differently about…

…I don’t really know how this child, girl, woman will affect us, but she’s out there. She’s the seed, pushing harder than the others through the frozen ground to be first to break through and become the flower whose destiny is to achieve something of which no one yet has the faintest idea. She won’t be another Bill Gates, Madame Curie, Warren Buffet, or Marc Zuckerberg. No, here achievement will be greater in her field than those others. She will see beyond the horizons, where others are unable to see. She will be criticized, particularly by the male side of the ledger, but she will persevere, and she will change our way of thinking.

What will our kindergartner cum woman see that the rest of her counterparts will not? Oh, Lord, how I wish I knew. Thankfully, we, as a nation, have always been blessed by an adventurous few who have been willing to step up, take a chance, and make something good happen. Indeed, it is the foundation of America. Of the 104 arrivals who settled Jamestown in 1607, only 38 survived the winter, but 38 survived. When the “first comers” landed in the New World aboard the Mayflower, they were 102. When they landed at Plymouth, there were 99. By the time that first winter ended, there were only 50. But 50 were enough. It has been so throughout our history. There have always been those who have survived and who have wanted more. Their reasons have been many; all too often, we have said the reason was greed, and in a few cases that may have been so. While we talk about the decline of the middle class in today’s society, it can’t begin to compare with the nearly extinct middle class of the 19th Century…but we survived. Some prospered; some died…actually, they all died, as will we. As someone said, “Birth is a life sentence.”

Think about this: At one time, gasoline was a waste product. It was too volatile and flammable to be used in lamps and thus was thrown away. Along came the automobile and clean gasoline – the waste product – was perfect for powering the new engine. We’ve seen typewriters progress from manual to electric; from electric to self-correcting; from self-correcting to adding different features; from different features to room-sized computers; and from room-sized computers to something you can wear on your wrist.

What’s next? Sorry, but only our child in kindergarten has her finger on that pulse. She may not even be aware of what she will do, but she’ll do it. Perhaps she’ll find the cure for all disease, and although that will create its own share of problems, it’s certainly a positive. Perhaps she’ll eliminate surgery as an alternative form of cure. She may be the one to lead a colony to an earth-like planet in another galaxy or find the solution for peace in this fractured world.

Our little girl will not shatter the glass ceiling; her predecessors will already have done that. Of one thing I’m quite certain…she will not be political or a politician; their views are too narrow, and few of them are as visionary as they would have us believe. Another thing of which I’m certain is that her commitment to whatever it is she is doing is total. She will eat, sleep, and breathe it until her goal is accomplished. She will not be interested in a Nobel Prize or awards and accolades of any kind. Her reward will come with her accomplishment.

I deeply regret that I will not be around to watch you succeed, child, but I have faith that you will achieve; that you will change the world, and that the world will become a better place because of you.

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Have you ever been sitting on your bed, perhaps in the morning after you’ve been awake for a few moments; perhaps later in the day when you’re fresh from the shower; or perhaps even when you’re in whatever it is you wear to bed – don’t tell me; I don’t want you to be sharing TMI –  and you’re just about ready to turn off the light after a long day…you know what I’m saying…and someone sits down beside you? You turn…but there’s no one there. You felt someone sit down. Sometimes, if you stare very carefully, you can even see where the blanket, coverlet, quilt, or just sheet, seems to be just the tiniest bit depressed…you know that they – whoever he or she might be – is there. You can’t put your finger on it, but there is a sense of a being there. Has it ever happened to you?

If you have a pet – dog or cat, anyway – have you ever noticed them staring at nothing…just staring? We have an overhead fan between the kitchen and family room. It’s pleasant in the summer, but we don’t use it in the winter time. However, our last dog, Vikki, and our present dog, Widget, often stare in the direction of the fan. They don’t bark; the fan’s not moving; they just stare. There are times when their eyes will move a bit, as though whatever they see is going to another part of the room. It’s exceedingly spooky, but it has happened to us on numerous occasions.

Am I an amateur spirit hunter or ghost seeker? No, I am not, nor do I even pretend to believe in ghosts. I’ve never seen a spirit of any kind; felt the presence, yes, but seen with these baby blues, nope. However, I cannot deny things that have happened to cause me to wonder. Recently, I woke rather early…and thoroughly. So I left the bed, performed the morning ablutions, got dressed for the gym and had my apple juice and banana. It was much too early to actually ‘go’ to the gym, so I sat down to read. I can’t explain what happened next; I’d like to, but I really cannot. Something in my head told me to stay where I was and not to go to the gym. You have to understand that I love the gym, but something told me, “Don’t go!” When Juli got up at 7, I was still reading.

“Go to the gym?” she asked.

“No,” I answered. “Something told me to stay home today.”

She was fine with that, but I was a bit confused. The next day, I was talking to a fellow gym rat. Now this man teaches philosophy, was the headmaster of a private school, and is one savvy fella. I told him what had happened, and that I was bothered by it.  His response was a bit frightening.

“Be happy you stayed home,” he said. “I walk the dog every morning at four. Yesterday was the worst morning of the winter. There was black ice everywhere. I fell on my butt a couple of times, so we shortened the walk and went home.”

Was that a spirit voice telling me to stay home? Did I, subconsciously, just want to blow off my workout? Would something bad have happened if I had attempted to go to the gym? Am I over thinking this entire episode? Can anyone give a definitive answer?  I can, and the answer is, “I don’t know.” What the hell, it’s an answer. All I know for certain is (a) I stayed home; (b) it’s not my nature to blow off a workout because of how good It makes me feel; and (c) evidently, the roadways were extremely treacherous that morning.

Since that episode, I have done a little bit of net surfing regarding ghosts, spirits, guardian angels, etc., and I find that close to forty percent of Americans believe in some supernatural being that is a part of their life. Oh, sure, there are some really kooky sites; they generally wind up wanting money if you want to “explore further your angel’s background,” or words to that effect. There are others that appear to be more informative and raise questions that I sure as hell can’t answer. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have beliefs in guardian angels who God charges with the lifetime care of humans. Ancient Greek philosophy, for example, claimed that guardian spirits were assigned to each person for life. This was also true of Zoroastrianism.  In the Bible and in the Torah, there are numerous references to the angels that protect the living.  In one source on Islam, it is noted, “The Qur’an says that God has made more angels than human beings, since groups of angels guard every individual person among the billions of people on Earth: ‘For each person, there are angels in succession, before and behind him. They guard him by the Command of Allah [God],’ (Al Ra’d 13:11).”

It is said that everything happens for a reason. I have always believed that I am on earth, was given life because God had a purpose for me. I’ve said this before on a number of occasions. I’ve also said that when I complete my task, I will go home – wherever that happens to be. On the other hand, maybe I’ve been given a certain amount of time to complete whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, and if I can’t get it done, I’ll get called back and someone else will complete ‘my’ task.

The one thing of which I’m certain is that someone or something has sat on the bed, been in the kitchen and family room, and has brushed by me in the hallway. I’m paying more attention to things like that these days. When I feel “he, she, it,” or “them,” I simply say, “If you’re from God, then you can stay; if not from God, please go away.” Oh, and yes, I still throw salt over my left shoulder, pick up pennies from the sidewalk, and do other things that contribute to the belief by my friends that I’m absolutely nuts.

What do you think?

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                             Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.                                                                                           Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s rather difficult to take issue with the longest serving first lady of the United States and, without question, the most politically active and decisive woman ever to be in the White House. However, the quote above is one with which I must disagree in that it is often the ideas of great minds that sets in motion events that, if not disruptive to the nation as a whole, can certainly prove disruptive to thousands of others within our nation itself.

Perhaps the most recent idea that had to have come from some reasonably great minds is the General Motors debacle over the problems with their automobiles.  For example, can you possibly believe the Rick Wagoner who chaired GM from 2000 – 2009 did not know about the problems with the 1.3 million cars that were built between 2003 and 2007? He was chairman and CEO and this was kept hidden from him? Puh-lease, give me a break? So, what happened after he had milked GM for $63.3 million during his tenure, excluding a $10 million retirement package, and was finally forced to resign by the White House? Another of GM’S ‘old boy network, Fritz Henderson took the reigns – well, at least for eight months he held onto them. The Board forced him out and put the Chairman, Ed Whitacre, in his place in a move that shocked the automotive industry…can you say, “Old boy network continues?” Oh, and by the by, still no action on faulty cars that have been rolling off the assembly line. Daniel Ackerson, another GM board member succeeded Whitacre with an eye to improving GM profits.

There’s a pattern forming here that should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense. The emphasis was in turning the company around without bothering to examine how this was being accomplished. Bottom line became more important than quality of product.

It is solely my opinion that the men of General Motors, finally realizing just how badly they had messed up, even while bringing the company out of bankruptcy, decided they needed a sacrificial lamb on whom they could lay all of the product problems that were plaguing the company. Welcome to the head of the class Mary Barra, Chief of Product Development, to which I say, “Just put your head right on this block My Queen, Dear Antoinette; it will only hurt the first time!”

It may be wrong of me to believe this, but it’s the way my mind works. I’m betting that all of these men from the old boy’s network intentionally through Mary Barra into the number one position solely so that she will take the heat for their errors. Guess what, boys, Mrs. Barra has more guts and more courage than any of you, because she will stand up and admit that GM really messed up between the years 2003 and 2012, and that her job is to make it right. She will also resolve that nothing like this will ever happen again on her watch…and it won’t.

Now that the secrets are no longer, perhaps it’s time that the White House stepped in once more and revoked the $10 million retirement package given to Rick Wagoner. Perhaps liens on his assets to the tune of that retirement compensation could be used to partially compensate the families who lost members due to the failure of those GM vehicles. New research is saying that it is no longer just 12 people who lost their lives and the number may climb to over 300. Perhaps liens should also be place on those who succeeded Wagoner up to time that Barra took over. Will all of this bring back the family members who lost their lives? Will this bring “closure” to the families? Lord but I hate that word, “closure.” There is no such thing because closure would mean having daughters, sons, mothers, and fathers back as living, breathing, laughing, and loving members of families, and that’s just not going to happen.

I’ve seen your videos Mrs. Barra. You’ve been kind to your predecessors, but as you have noted, you’re not just the first woman to head a major automotive giant; you’re a family person, a mother of four, and someone who knows what this loss really means. No one is asking you to micromanage, but everyone is asking that you become more involved than your predecessors about the day-to-day operations and engineering designs. I’m certain you have the ideas about which Mrs. Roosevelt has spoken. You bring to the table much broader experience than the boardroom boys. Let me put it another way: I think you’ve a hell of a lot smarter, tougher, and more empathetic to the consumer than your recent predecessors. Go get ‘em, Mary; give ’em hell!

 

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As if I didn’t have enough problems in my life, now the computer…or at least the AOL portion thereof, is telling me I may have a number of “senior health challenges.” I don’t know who the hell they thought to whom they were appealing in this ‘informative’ [note tongue firmly in cheek on that one] piece, but it most assuredly wasn’t those of us in the elder bracket. Hell, we already know the challenges. It wasn’t for those who are about to become elderly; they don’t want to hear about the problems they may be facing. And it sure as shootin’ wasn’t the younger audience who are totally unaware of the fact that they are not immortal, invincible, or inviolable and don’t want to hear otherwise. Fortunately, they did this before St. Patrick’s Day, so I could go out and enjoy my corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes with plenty of butter and those darlin’ little carrots!

They tell me that if I can make it to 65, I’m probably going to live another 19.2 years on average – who the hell came up with the .2 is beyond me, but you know these statisticians…they do remarkable things with figures these days [almost as good as the plastic surgeons]. I’m told that if I eat a healthy diet…there is so much controversy about what constitutes a healthy diet that I’m not certain anyone knows precisely what ‘healthy’ actually means anymore. On the one hand, someone says, “Don’t eat meat;” the next day a new study comes out that states, “Meat is a good source of vitamin B.” Then you hear, “Don’t drink alcohol;” the next week it’s, “Be sure to have one glass of red wine a day.” Next time you look, someone is telling you to eat more fish; then another research project tells you that fish is bad for you because of all of the mercury and something called a PCB, whatever the hell that is. I often wonder who exactly pays for these studies. Is it the united meat growers; the red wine distillers, the fishing lobby, or some idiot who cut open a striped bass and found a thermometer? I’m only partially kidding on this one, but what the heck is a healthy diet. Sometimes I feel like Popeye, the sailor man, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam…so I eats what I eats and that’s all I eats.” Obviously the last part is an add on, but it fits, so go with it!

I was delighted to learn that the number one condition affecting people 65 and older is arthritis. According to Dr. Marie Bernard, the deputy director of the National Institute on Aging, arthritis affects over 51 percent of the adults over 65. I would advise them to start looking at people over 35 if they really want to see arthritis in action, or just ask anyone who has ever played high school or college contact sports. Most will tell you what time the rain will arrive because of their arthritic joints. Arthritis is the least of my problems.

Number two on the least is certainly nothing new. It’s been the number one killer of adults over 65 years for as far back as I can remember. When I was a smoker, it was the disease the doctors said would probably kill me. I’m speaking, of course, about heart disease and it calls somewhere close to 600 thousand people each year in the United States. I’ve survived three heart attacks and have five stents in my heart. I’ve been lucky. It doesn’t mean that a heart attack won’t kill me, but it does mean that I exercise a great deal, get a good night’s rest, and try, despite the Popeye quote, to eat healthy meals.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the USA. You and I know of at least one cancer death either in our family, in the family of a close friend, someone at our workplace, or wherever, but it has touched everyone in America somewhere along the line. It killed my Dad, my grandparents, and finally, it killed my wife. It is a horrible, horrible disease. I volunteered for an organization that, in 35 years, has raised over 410 million dollars to fight this disease. This is only one organization; there are hundreds across the country, and we have not been able to find a cure. That doesn’t mean that some cancers haven’t been beaten; they have. The problem with cancer is that it seems to mutate, take on a new form and defeat the cures we keep finding. We can probably all say that we’ve known too many people with cancer. If we can add that we also know someone who has been cancer-free for over a decade, we should thank our lucky stars.

Older folks are highly susceptible to respiratory diseases. Smokers and ex-smokers face the real possibility of emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease…whoopee, I have both. These make me and people like me (a) former idiots if we’ve quit smoking; (b) idiots if we haven’t; and (c) more vulnerable to pneumonia, which is a major killer of senior citizens.

I intended to make this piece as light-hearted as possible, but it appears I’ve drifted into a more serious vein for which you have my apologies. However, over 5,000 adults over 65 die each day in our country, so there’s nothing really light-hearted about any piece dealing with us old farts. Whether it’s from Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, diabetes, the flu, falls, substance abuse, obesity, depression, oral health, or even poverty, we do face many challenges. What really irritates the daylights out of me is the lack of concern on the part of so many of our children. I hear about it from others when working out at the gym; I experience it on a regular basis with my own kids. The idea of the consanguinal family where family members care for one another seems to have become old fashioned and outmoded. I bear some of the guilt for that with my own family, but not in the manner in which I hear about it and experience it on a daily basis.

If there’s one single point to be made here, perhaps it’s to remember that everyone you love is serving a life sentence. As that sentence comes closer and closer to its eventual outcome, take the time to learn about the person. Take the time to care. Take the time to understand the challenges they face and that, one day, you too, will have to face. As I have aged, I have developed an insatiable desire to know more about my mother and father. Years ago, I loaned a small tape recorder to a young woman who was, as a high school project, doing an oral history with her 100-year old grandmother. When she returned the recorder she had only one request: “May I keep the tapes?” she asked. I don’t know whether or not she bought a recorder on which to play them, but she knew that she had captured her grandmother’s voice on tape and that meant a great deal to her. I still find handwritten notes that Joan left…recipes, notes in the checkbook; old pieces of paper with questions about the house. Her voice I can still conjure up in my head, sometimes, but I do wish that I had a recording of her voice. Think about that the next time you’re going to visit an elderly relative. Will you remember their voice when they’re gone?

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It would appear that no matter how hard we try; how forcefully we put forth, pronounce, write laws, and scream from the rooftops, there are just certain occasions when “You can’t fix stupid.” The latest example of that is epitomized by the homophobes who wish to tell gay people how or even if they can march in parades that are privately organized. Constitutionally, I guess they have the right to exclude any group from any activity that is privately funded, which just goes to show you that there are still people who are living in the 20th Century and who don’t want to be concerned about moving forward in their thinking. Put another way…you just can’t fix stupid.

The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, according to some, is the celebration of Irish heritage. However, from what I can determine, it’s more a celebration of Irish Roman Catholic pride. For example, no one is allowed to march if they are marching for a cause. This includes pro-life Irish Catholics or anyone who does not subscribe fully to the teachings of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. In other words, if you don’t bow down to the Vatican, you can’t be in a parade. Perhaps these should be called “Hypocrites Parades.” They are parades of exclusivity rather than inclusivity, and in today’s world, that sends the wrong message to a great many people. I suppose that if you’re not Catholic but 100 percent Irish, they might allow you in the parade, but only if you’re draped in a loin cloth and nailed to a Celtic cross!

These people who are picking and choosing who is allowed to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, and heaven only knows how many other places are stupid. According to Timothy Meagher, a history professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., “The parades are a statement of showing our colors, showing our numbers, showing that we are powerful and important.” Meagher added that St. Patrick’s Day in the United States was first celebrated with banquets at elite clubs in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. This year, the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast should drive many of the bigots’ wild. It will be hosted by State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, a Haitian American who numbers, among others, South Boston in her constituent base, and it is tradition that the Senator from Southie has hosted the breakfast. Some have suggested that because she’s married to an Irishman (oy vey!) that it will be okay for her to serve as emcee.

Boston’s history of bigotry is really blight on the City. When segregation was mandated decades ago, Boston resisted about as harshly as George Wallace in Alabama did to allowing Blacks to attending college in ‘his’ state. One of my own kids is married to a man whose mother was proud of the fact that her picture was in a sociology book, shown protesting integration. Bless her soul, she has now gone to meet her maker, but bragging about that time in her life always shocked me.

We are better than all of these disputes. Yes, some of us are Irish, but not Roman Catholic. One of the early churches in the Boston area was an Irish Presbyterian Church. What people in this country seem to forget is that our ethnicity is secondary to our heritage. We are Americans. When we travel, we don’t identify ourselves as Poles or Jews, Italians or Irish, Lithuanians or Armenians; we are Americans. That’s how we describe ourselves and that’s how others think of us. Sure, be proud of your ethnic heritage, but don’t use it as a crutch to discriminate against those who aren’t exactly what you want them to be, particularly in your own country. Our doors have always been open to people from many lands. We laud the customs and culture they bring to our shores. Let us celebrate the diversity, not only of ethnicity but of other beliefs that are different from our own.

One of the things that I truly enjoy about St. Patrick’s Day – other than the corned beef and cabbage and the Irish stew – is the knowledge that all of these Irish men and women are actually celebrating a day that was given to them by an Englishman who was born in what today may be part of Scotland. That’s right; for those who haven’t heard the story, it goes like this:  St. Patrick was originally named Maewyn Succat, son of a rather well-to-do family. At the age of 16, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave back to Ireland or, as it was called in those days, Hibernia. Slavery was a little different then; no jail cells or chains. He was assigned to tend sheep in the fields and on the mountainsides. “… every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed — the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; … and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me — as now I see, because the spirit within me was fervent”. After six years, it is said that he was spoken to by God and told to leave Ireland. He did and become a priest, taking the name Patricus or Patrick. He did not bring Christianity to Ireland but was sent there to assist the Christian population and to bring Christianity to the largely Pagan population. Eventually, he became the patron saint of what we know as Ireland. During his lifetime, it is said that he baptized tens of thousands into Christianity. We don’t really know if he used the shamrock as a tool to teach The Trinity, but it makes a good story. In addition, there is no evidence that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, largely because there never were any snakes in Ireland…other than those in one or more of the many pubs that dot each village. “The old saint died in his beloved Ireland on March 17th, 460 A.D. The land that once enslaved him had now been set free.”1

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  1. Much of this paragraph has been drawn from many sources. Where quotation marks were necessary, they have been placed. Other historical references have been paraphrased. The story of St. Patrick is drawn largely from his Confession, written during his life and capturing his own version of what actually happened. Remember, this was one long, long time ago, almost before I was born.

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