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Archive for May, 2014

In Corinthians 13:11, it says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

“When I became a man…”

I suppose that by necessity we must all become men…of one kind or another. I am not certain, however, that becoming a man, or a woman for that matter, means putting all of our childhood thoughts behind us. Heck, when we become parents, most of us, at least for a while, revert to talking like a child, particularly to our babes in arms; truth be told, we even do that when we first become grandparents – and isn’t that most embarrassing when a nurse walks in and hears us cooing and oooing over our first grandchild. If you have yet to experience that particular joy, there is a real treat awaiting you.

“…I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

“Why” and “how” I sometimes ask myself. No question that we must do it. Our reasoning has to become more complex because as we grow our world becomes more complex, particularly since our exponentially expanding technology has compacted our world to the point where we are in touch with one another so rapidly that before we can LOL, we’re COEO.

Call me a sentimental old fool if you will, but I miss much of the time when, as Barbra Streisand sang, “Can it be that was all so simple then…” and I think, “Yes,” it was so much less complex. No one had the power to end mankind with the push of a single button. If someone had measles or chickenpox, we were told to go visit them so we could catch it young and get it over with. Our heroes were Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and even Jimmy Doolittle. Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga wouldn’t have been very well accepted when we were in our childhood, so yes, “…time [has] erased every line.”

At nineteen, I was still a teenager, but I drove across this wonderful nation of ours, stopping to see Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and mountains the size of which I had never seen before. On the verge of entering my third decade of life, I still found it difficult to accept all of the snow atop Mount Rainier in August or how much darker and more foreboding the Pacific felt when I swam in it. Does that mean that I hadn’t left my childhood completely behind? Who knows? If you wish to compare me to some kid who graduates MIT at fourteen, yeah, I guess I was a bit behind the times… but those certainly were fun times.

It’s tough being forced to grow up. I think of the children who lose a parent early on and are put in a position of becoming man or woman of the house, and I wonder how I would have reacted had I been placed in that turmoil. My answer is that you just have to do it. I recall my time in basic training in the Army. We were the extremes in age in our company. We had youngsters of seventeen and people of my age – 22 – and even older…Kemper Callahan was, I believe, 28 and held a doctorate in forestry. It was, to say the least, a motley crew. There were times when the younger ones behaved as veterans and other times when the older ones behaved like children. As an example, you don’t tell a sergeant to go find someone else to unload the milk for the mess hall just because you have a master’s degree in some obscure field. Sergeants-do-not-care-about-your-academic-credentials, particularly when they have drawn night duty and have to get a milk truck unloaded at three o’clock in the morning. Unfortunately, I was the acting barracks sergeant [still a trainee, however] and the mess hall was next to our barracks. My platoon wound up standing at attention in February outside company headquarters, and I spent an hour inside convincing the company commander that it would not be in anyone’s best interest to court martial the “yes sir, we all know he’s an asshole” and to let the academic idiot graduate from basic training and move on with nothing more than a notation in his file to keep him on a very short leash… an adult acting as a child!

Ah, the memories…”Memories may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget…” This year will mark the sixth anniversary of my wife’s death; same day; same date; it will be particularly painful because, as it is this year it was on Father’s Day that it happened. I choose not to forget the pain of that day nor will I ever…and that’s only right and just. I do choose to forget other painful memories. I can’t tell you of the painful days of the many surgeries I’ve undergone. For the most part, “…it’s the laughter [that] we remember whenever we remember the way we were.”

 

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Republican members of Congress scream for smaller federal government involvement in the rights of states and the rights of citizens. Know what, they are absolutely right. We, the American people have allowed the federal government to become too much a part of our lives. There are too many living off the government teat and, in the long run, everyone suffers.

Yes, I collect Social Security and I have Medicare. So what? The Social Security program was started under Franklin Roosevelt. Like everything else about the federal government, it has become too large and too bureaucratic. It appears that every federal program has become a dumping ground for someone’s brother, sister, aunt, or uncle. While the federal – and the state governments as well – claim that they are streamlining and getting rid of red tape and bureaucratic bullshit, the tape line grows longer and longer and the bullshit piles higher and higher. Bureaucracy breeds caution and contempt at a time when the country should be throwing caution to the wind and acting a little more humble in its dealings with the average American citizen.

The scandal at the Veteran’s Administration is nothing new. In 1929, Herbert Hoover proposed bringing the agencies that were administering veterans’ benefits together under one roof. On July 21, 1930 the three agencies, the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions, and the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers were brought together as the Veterans Administration. Remember when this was, i.e., the period of the Great Depression. I am willing to bet everything I have that not one person in any of those three bureaus lost his or her job when the consolidation took place. From that point on, the Veterans’ Administration did nothing but grow. It was Topsy reincarnate The Selective Service Act was passed creating more members of the military. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor throwing us into World War II and creating greater need for veterans’ services. How does America solve this greater need? Throw more money and more people into the mix. It doesn’t matter that the people may not know their butt from a hole in the ground, they will learn by doing. The bureaucracy just grows and grows and grows. It is not dissimilar to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Started over two centuries ago, It was an amalgam of railroad companies often chartered by the state legislature, and anyone knowing anything about the Massachusetts state legislature will tell you that one of the key words to describe it is ‘patronage.’  In 1947, the MTA was created. Government agencies began to take on transit services, consolidating many separate routes into unified system.  In 1964, the MTA became the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, serving a greater number of communities and creating an even larger bureaucracy.

Perhaps the best way to describe the Veterans Administration, the MBTA, and many other organizations that have expanded rapidly without closely examining needs is to use the old cliché, “There is never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over.” When it’s being done over, a new layer of bureaucracy is added to ensure that it’s done right.  Once whatever the task to be completed is finished, the layer of people, money, supplies, buildings, vehicles, etc. remains even though they are no longer required…”Well, we might need them again and if we get rid of them, we’ll never be able to justify bringing them back.” Eventually, the original purpose of the entire organization grinds to a halt because no one remembers precisely what the original purpose was in the first place. That is, without question, an oversimplification of the situation. However, in the case of the Veterans Hospital Administration, putting off the treatment of veterans appears to have taken a back seat to saving money in order to pay bonuses to the major decision-makers in the organization. The VA has identified the wrong problem for solution. At some level in the VA, the decision has been made that rather than solve the problem of increasing service to the customer, we have to solve the problem of appearing to increase the service to the customer without actually doing so. If we make the problem appear to go away, it will do so by a process of attrition. The hospital will look good and those eligible will receive bonuses because the hospital will appear to be well managed. In other words, “If you can say smoke and mirrors, you’re hired!”

Will firing Eric Shinseki solve this problem? No, it will not. The bureaucracy is already too ingrained in veterans’ hospitals across the country. Problem solving 101 says that the first step is to identify the actual problem. There may be many perceived problems, and everyone employed by the VA will have his or her own idea of what that problem is…and they will be right…and wrong. It will take an independent management group to determine the first problem to be solved; how to solve it, and then determine the next steps to be taken to solving the second greatest problem. Right now, General Shinseki is sitting atop a pile of bullshit surrounded by red tape that is not of his making. One might say that he is the heir to the bullshit and red tape fortune. By not knowing how to cut through the red tape and not knowing how to dissolve the bullshit or by being blind to both, he does bear some responsibility; however, to lay the entire mess at his door is unfair. There are a number of criminal layers between him and getting his job done. If his subordinates have been keeping him in the dark, it may well be because they have been kept in the dark. Somewhere in this vast bureaucracy that we call the Veterans Administration, there is a criminal layer. That layer has put its own welfare before the welfare of the customer, the veteran. The same has been true of the MBTA. CEO upon CEO upon CEO has been hired to “clean up” the MBTA and the job has yet to be completed. It’s one of the great truisms of bureaucracy: “Bureaucrats in numbers can generally beat down any attempt to destroy them.” They will lie, cheat, steal, and yes, they will commit murder, if their fear is great enough.

Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, says that he is withholding judgment on whether or not General Shinseki should be forced out. I’m with Congressman Boehner on this one – don’t faint – Shinseki just might be the solution once all of the facts are known. His military background could be the key to eliminating long-time bureaucrats who feel protected because of their tenure. Shinseki knows that if the job isn’t done properly on the battlefield, soldiers die; the same could be said here…if the job isn’t done correctly, former soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coast guardsmen and women will die. No military man worth his salt is ever going to let that happen, not on his watch!

Perhaps it is time to take a hard look at every government agency and to pare them back; force them to do more with less; eliminate all of the red tape and bullshit. Yes, it will cut jobs and it will inflate our jobless rate and no one, no one wants to see that. I would argue that it’s more important to be doing the job correctly than having a bunch of people collecting pay checks for doing nothing or for emasculating the jobs they are supposed to be doing.

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I am what you might call a T-shirt fanatic. If I see a T-shirt with a clever saying on it, I buy it, period, end of report. Shortly after my partner moved in I told her, “I’ve got to clean out the T-shirts I no longer wear.” I had shelves lined with T-shirts. They covered years of the Falmouth Road Race, the James Joyce Ramble road race, the Boston Marathon, Red Cross donor shirts, and over twelve years of Pan-Mass Challenge T-shirts that ranged from “volunteer” to “staff” to “crew” to whatever else might have been available at the time. Every holiday is represented by at least ten shirts including some that are wearable only around the house. I had one with a cartoon frog – sort of like the Geico gecko sitting on top of a school desk, looking mopey and with on hand holding up its chin.. Beneath the cartoon were the words, “I’m so happy I could just shit.”  That had to have come from my younger and wilder days. The storage bag into which the T-shirts were packed; you know the ones from which you can vacuum the air when you’ve finished; well, that was so heavy it took the two of us to move it into a spare bedroom. I’m told that someday its content, along with the new ones, will become a quilt. When that happens, Hell will have frozen over and people will be living on Mars…growing their own vegetables…outside!

My girlfriend loves squirrels. I’ve bought her the full-faced squirrel T; the “I can’t talk. The squirrels are watching me T; the “The squirrels are mocking me T; and several more squirrel – and chipmunk – T-shirts and hoodies. Recently I purchased one for me that says “With Age comes Oldness.” Whenever we travel – not often for me, but plenty for her – I receive a T-shirt or sweatshirt. I have them from Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Rockport, Gloucester, Portland, Maine, Leonardtown, Maryland, and soon I will be receiving one…or two…or three…from Nantucket. She’s taking her camera, hoping to find the man from Nantucket.

I want you to know that my T-shirts do not just ‘ride the shelf’ in my closet. Oh, no, my T-shirt are working shirts. I wear a different one to the gym each time I go there….other than the “I’m so happy I could just shit” shirt which is in the storage bag. When I wore the one that below a picture of the Capitol read, “Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups,” The Republican gym members all gave me dirty looks, while the Democrats laughed. I really don’t know why the Democrats laughed; hell, they’re as much at fault as the guys and gals on the other side of the aisle.

Am I trying to draw attention to myself by wearing outlandish T-shirts? Frankly, no, I’m not; I just happen to be a T-shirt junkie. However, I’m not going to buy them and not wear them. I almost wore one to the dinner last Friday; it says “Vetustior Humo,” that is “older than dirt,” but since I was one of the younger ones there, it probably wouldn’t have been appropriate; besides, the invitation said, “business dress.” The humorous part of that is that with very few exceptions, everyone there was retired. What’s business dress to one might be read as “retired casual” to others…you know retired casual; it’s an old T-shirt, torn shorts, no underwear, and a pair of sandals. Every time you put your feet up on something, children cry and women run screaming from the room!

Along with the squirrel T-shirts that just arrived were a couple of catalogs. I’ve already found some great T-shirts on which I can spend my children’s inheritance. The first one I intend to order says, “Anything unrelated to elephants is Irrelephanti, below which is a drawing of the magnificent beast. Another that I may order says “Sweet dreams are made of cheese. Who am I to diss a brie?” Think about it; I have the rest of this catalog and the other one through which to read. UPS loves me. I’ve gotten to know drivers by their first names!

Thankfully, my partner keeps me somewhat in line; otherwise I might appear on television as one of those hoarders who dies in his own house, smothered by a mountain of T-shirts…or from an invasion of squirrels who are really pissed about the number of shirts that are critical of them.

See, I keep telling you, “You have to get a hobby!”

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As if this Congress wasn’t already as useless as balls on a priest –well, that used to be true, but one never can be certain nowadays – they have now taken it upon themselves to interfere with the names of National Football League teams? Please, give me just a bit of a break. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a national debt of trillions of dollars; we have a poverty problem that is damn near equal to  the Congo, Liberia, or Burundi; we haven’t found a cure for cancer; we have killers running amok in our schools, malls, and streets, and you’re worried about the Native American name of a football team? Are your collective heads stuck so far up your collective butts that you’re breathing through collective esophagi? Who the hell do you think you are, the NCAA?

Boy, did Donald Sterling open a can of worms or what? Sure, his remarks were way off base. They were beyond racist; they were disgusting. However, follow-up remarks by Mark Cuban were right on the money. Remarks that Bill Cosby has been making for years…right on the money. The Black family dynamic is not broken; it’s shattered. The condition of the Native American population in Alaska is crap as are the living conditions for Native Americans wherever they happen to be located in this country. Why the hell isn’t Congress doing something about that? Forget the friggin’ name of a god damned football team and start doing something constructive, you bunch of fools!

Several years ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association went after schools that used Native American terms for their mascots. The Stanford and Dartmouth Indian, the Fighting Illini of Illinois, the Florida Seminoles…oh, wait a minute; they still are the Seminoles. I wonder what happened there? The NCAA and the United States Congress…yep, a couple of hypocritical bodies if I’ve ever seen them. The NCAA  won’t go near any team that brings big bucks into their coffers and the US Congress doesn’t have a clue about resolving major issues so they assault the minor ones and tell America how great they are.

Several years ago, a group of women at one college attempted to have the mascot changed because they felt insulted by having a beaver as the institution’s pride and joy. For those of you who have been living under a rock, the beaver is a slang term for a woman’s vagina. I’d love to see the NCAA take the lead in eliminating that one from Oregon State, MIT, Cal Tech, Babson, or U. Maine-Farmington.

The United States Senate, half of whom wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, don’t really give a damn about the Redskins name. It’s a ploy to direct criticism of their lack of productivity away from the Senate. Either that or these men and women are finally beginning to understand just how badly the tribes were mistreated by our white ancestors. I love the fact that Senator Bill Nelson of Florida was one of the writers to Goodell. Excuse me Senator, what have you had to say to Dr. Garnett Stokes, President of Florida State, about the Seminole name…whoops!

Have Native Americans been mocked and humiliated since the Pilgrims – hell, since DeSoto – landed on our shores? You bet your ass they have; if Native Americans, here long before invaders from other countries…we call them explorers and settlers; it’s so much more polite…if Native Americans got in the way of what others wanted, it was no problem…kill them! Stab them, burn their villages, shoot them; do whatever you wish to them; hell, they’re just ignorant savages. Ugly doesn’t begin to describe what we did to the original inhabitants of this continent. And now, 400 plus years later, we’re asking a football team to change its name because it offends some old white guys? Oh, puh-leze, don’t even try to explain that one. I wonder why the Senate hasn’t gone after the Kansas City Chiefs or professional baseball’s Cleveland, Indianapolis, Gulf Coast, or Spokane Indians or Atlanta Braves. Perhaps President Obama should write to the NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman and tell him to change the name of the Chicago Blackhawks. The extent to which this whole thing could be carried is ludicrous.

Maybe the Senate’s next move will be to ask people to change their names because those old farts in Washington don’t believe them to be politically correct. They would probably come after me – although I’m a ‘B’ and it would be Centuries before they got to me – and tell me that I’m too profane [or honest] to have the name, Bishop. Perhaps my son’s great grandchildren would be the ones to tell them to “Kiss my rosy red…cheeks!” Anyone with “Saint” in their name would be tarred and feathered at the very least or perhaps burned at the stake as a heretic. Hell, if we’re going to go back to our old ways, why not? Heck, Oklahoma is already heading back toward the old days with their “open carry” law on guns. The not-so-humorous part of that is that my Dad said that would happen shortly before he died. “It wouldn’t surprise me,” he said, “if before you die, you don’t see places where carrying a gun in public will be legal again.” Those might night have been his precise words, but I always gave Pop the benefit of the doubt!

I’m beginning to think that maybe we don’t have to worry about being taken over by some foreign country a few Centuries from now. We’re doing such a wonderful job of messing up our own nation; we might’s well just continue to let the politicians screw us up. Hell, when less than half the eligible voters in West Virginia, Texas, or Oklahoma turn out to vote in a Presidential election, and when just over half of the nation’s eligible voters go to the polls, we deserve exactly what we get. But…by God and all that’s holy, we cannot have a football team in the nation’s capitol that bears the name, “Redskins;” no sireee, Bob, and if you don’t believe me, just ask the members of the Senate of the You Knighted States of America!

 

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I’m beginning to believe that ‘political correctness’ is the new term for ‘bullshit.’ Granted, it is fit and proper that we probably should not use racial, religious, ethnic, or homophobic slurs when speaking about others but what if that is exactly how we feel? What if we were raised to speak the truth about how we feel? Are we supposed to keep these feelings to ourselves and nod politely when someone makes some comment regarding race, creed, religion, or ethnicity with which we don’t agree? Is that what political correctness means? Maybe sitting back on our haunches with our mouths shut has brought us into some of the messes that we’re in today.

The terms we used to use are, today, unacceptable. As Americans we have ‘matured’ sufficiently that we no longer refer to Italians as Guineas or Whops or Dagos. We no longer call the Irish, Micks or Harps or Fookin’ Finnians. We no longer call the French, Frogs; the Mexicans or Latinos, Spics. After you’ve recovered from your fainting spell, sit down somewhere and let me tell you something…there are still people in this country who use those terms…many people…many biased people…because America is no more pure in thought than it ever was. I know people who won’t go into East Boston because they believe the Italian mob still rules that part of the city. There are others who won’t go into Southie because they’re afraid that Whitey Bulger’s buddies might ‘get them.’ We are a nation of bias and prejudice and anyone who says his or her heart is pure is full of crap!

I moved into my house in 1986. The week before we moved in a cross was burned on the lawn of the home of the only Black person in the neighborhood…that was 1986; less than half a Century ago. My next door neighbor was the first Rabbi in town. His temple was burned suspiciously shortly after it was built. Prejudice is alive and well and living right here in Massachusetts…and the rest of America…and let no one tell you it isn’t!

Politically correct my ass. It is the fear of being criticized or ostracized that keeps the great majority from speaking their minds; saying what they really feel or mean. Is my position somewhat extreme? I don’t believe it is because there is such a thing as good manners and common sense. If anyone uses the ‘N’ word to describe the current President of the United States, he or she isn’t speaking his or her honest opinion; they are demonstrating poor manners, a lack of common sense, and a strong desire for attention that they don’t deserve. You cannot tell me, because I will not believe you, that many politicians in Washington have not used that same word to describe the President…sometimes within their own small circle of friends. The difference is that the pols know with whom they can use it.

Shortly after I joined a gym, I noticed a number of Latino members would always nod, smile, say “Hi,” and I would do the same. I tried to learn some of the phrases they used in speaking to other Latinos. Would you classify that as ‘patronizing?’ I didn’t think it was and when I began to use them, guess what, they didn’t think it was patronizing either….because I asked several if they thought it was. To improve the condition of my horrible back pains, I began to get weekly massages – they work by the way – from a young woman whose home country was the Czech Republic. The Internet provided a great source for phrases and pronunciation. Soon, she was teaching me conversational Czech. I’m sorry she, her husband, and children moved back to Europe; she was a great teacher.

Being politically correct isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, when you are lying to yourself or disagree with what is being said, no matter the subject, why not have the honesty to come out and say, “I don’t agree.” For example, I believe we have allowed too many Muslims into our country. I’m certain that many are wonderful people, but based on what the few have done, I tend to tar almost all of them with the same brush. When the City of Dearborn, Michigan voted to implement Shariah Law, I had to say, “Whoa, big fella!” Then, thankfully, that turned out to be a hoax. We already have laws in this country. What would Shariah law say about the Tsarnaev brothers if Shariah was part of our legal system? Were they breaking Shariah law or would the Muslim community celebrate what they did? If it’s the latter, and I believe it was, then what the hell are we doing allowing foreign-born terrorists to dictate what kind of laws we have in America? There have already been a number of cases in state law where the question of Shariah law should be melded with Western law in meting out sentences; that’s idiotic! I would be guilty of not telling the entire truth here if I did not mention my friend Ahmad Aslam. He is a graduate of Babson and a devout Muslim. I keep his cell number on my list of contacts. Unfortunately, I look upon him as the exception to the rule rather than the rule itself. Perhaps, in the final analysis, it all comes down to people being people and not groups being mobs.

If honesty is the best policy, I agree with Mark Cuban that if it’s late at night and I see a Black man coming toward me with his hood up, I’ll cross the street; the same holds true for the man with the shaved head and exposed skin covered with tattoos. I don’t believe that’s being racist; I believe it’s being cautious. This ‘game’ of knockout has become all too common. To play that game with someone my age or even younger could prove fatal; oh, wait, it already has proven fatal.

When we begin to talk about immigration reform in the United States, perhaps we should reconsider why we allow certain émigrés as well as whom those immigrants happen to be. If you want your fresh produce on the table, there sure seem to be a great number of people from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries who are willing to work to guarantee it. Are some considered undesirable in other ways; yes, probably.  Would American Muslims work in the field or is that beneath them? Would the man with the shaved head? Would the Black man with his hoodie?

If you are offended by what I have to say, please let me know; if you agree, I hope that you will also write. To quote Patrick Henry, “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

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In Flanders FieldsBy: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.

Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow I

n Flanders fields.

Dr. McCrae wrote those words in the spring of 1915 while taking a brief rest from caring for the wounded. It wasn’t until December of that year that it was published. He had actually crumpled the piece of paper on which he’d written it, but another officer had seen and rescued it.

As we approach Memorial Day, 2014, it’s good to remember that although the United States entered WW1 late, we still lost nearly 121,000 men to that “war to end all wars.” There are only 368 Americans buried in Flanders. All over Europe, nearly 105,000 Americans lie in soil not native to them. They died that you and I might live, yet we treat those who did return like dirt. Oh sure, immediately following the second “war to end all wars,” we provided advanced education, built places like Levittown and other cookie-cutter communities. Their brothers and sisters who followed them into Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hot spots came back to somewhat less hospitable greetings, but I don’t believe that anyone in their right mind would ever think that the people who sent them off to kill or be killed would betray them as horribly as this Veterans’ Administration has done.

At one point, WWII veterans were dying at the rate of a thousand per day; I don’t know what that number might be now. All I know is that they are dying fast. Those who came home were, so we thought, the lucky ones. It would appear that as they have aged we have been trying to kill them off, not helping them to age and pass gracefully.

I have never gone to a VA hospital even though my veteran status entitles me to do so. Why should I take time and/or space away from those who saw and did much worse than I? I would urge every veteran to contact his or her Senator and Congressman and demand the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. It is ultimately his job to know what is taking place at VA hospitals and offices nationwide. He has not done that job and should be replaced.

We, the American people, the folks who live in the “land of the free” do so only because it is also the “home of the brave.” The men and women who have defended us deserve every kind of break we can give them. They do not deserve to be told that because some bureaucratic son-of-a-bitch is trying to get a bonus that they have to wait months for a medical appointment…during which time, that same bureaucrat is hoping like crazy that the veteran will just die!

America is a great country, and we have the scars to show why and how we’ve become great. Unfortunately, we are also a country that contains people who are greedy, self-centered, arrogant, malicious, vicious, and ignorant. This latter group permeates every field we can name and a few dozen more. From Wall Street Bankers to Washington bureaucrats; from lying lobbyists to pharmaceutical fakirs; from everything wonderful to everything horrible, it might just be time for America to consider giving itself a massive enema!

Whether you’re in the mountains or by the shore; whether you’re sitting in your backyard or attending a Little League game; grilling or Googling, I hope you’ll take a little bit of time to reflect on all of those men and women who never made it home. Just close your eyes for a few seconds and mutter, “Thanks. I can do what I’m doing because you did what you did. Bless you for your sacrifice.”

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Fellow at the gym noted the other day that, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. If it’s true, personally, I’d prefer a bit of constipation, but that’s just me.

From beginning to end, I guess life is what you make of it. There are those people who either plan or whose parents plan for them. Youthful plans often seem to fall apart because of one choice or another. As I look back on my own life, I have to think, in all honesty, that I had to have been one of the laziest bastards ever to come down the pipeline.

No, this isn’t going to be another Matterhorn of Life or anything like that; at least I hope it won’t. I happen to be alone today, taking care of house and dog, and with not much else to do, I began to pound away on the keys to see what would come out. I was watching some news show this morning and was struck by a young man of twelve who has his entire life laid out before him. He was speaking of his goals and how he is going to fulfill them to become a research scientist as well as an MD. I wish him well and hope that he is able to fulfill his dreams. Perhaps they aren’t dreams at all, but it seems to me that if you have your entire life mapped out before you at that young age, your life might become rather sterile. It’s the old “What will happen if” syndrome. I certainly hope he and others like him have considered that possibility.

Life seems to have a way of blazing its own way for each of us. Truthfully, I was about the least motivated person you would never have wanted to meet when I was in high school. My life consisted of eating, sleeping, doing as little in class as possible, doing as much as I could on the basketball court, and working in the A&P. In my sophomore year, I couldn’t see further than the beginning of my junior year and the same held true for my final year of secondary education. If my mother hadn’t pushed as hard as she did, I never would have thought of going to college…and I barely got in at that. The best thing about going to school when I did was that a great many Korean War veterans were in my classes. They all knew the importance of education and, like my mother, a few of them also kicked my ass into line. Nonetheless, I was what I have come to call, a ‘thistle.’ Whichever way the wind happened to blow my wayward self, that was the direction in which I was going. Others, like Al Birrell, Dick Barrows, Pauline Andrews, Bernie Pearmutter, and my friend, George White, all appeared very focused and directed. I probably envied them, but breaking my own mold of lethargy was not yet to be.

Robert Frost, America’s Poet Laureate, said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –  I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” That’s probably what happened in my case, although frankly, I think it was a fear of the world of business that pushed me into higher education. It was a road I had never considered but looking back, I cannot think of another road that would have brought me greater happiness. It’s possible that everyone can make that statement, but I don’t really know. Some have reminded me, “But you were fired from your job at your alma mater,” and they’re right…in a restructuring, my job was abolished, and I was told there was no place for me. Even in that, however, there was a positive outcome. The last 20 years of my life were spent at an institution where a paycheck was secondary to the joy of the job. I know that sounds strange, and sure, none of us ever receive the reward of our worth, but what the hell…money runs a distant third to job satisfaction and recognition by your peers; at least it does in my book.

To the 12-year old and others who believe their lives to be completely within their control, I would say that having goals is wonderful. I was speaking to a young collegian the other evening. She was flying to Ghana the following day for a teaching internship. She admitted that she has other goals, but appeared a bit fuzzy on some of them. My advice was as follows: “If you don’t have solid goals, you’re like a ship with no rudder and will be blown every which way by whatever wind happens along.” How about that for a bit of wisdom from the old ‘thistle?”

I was fortunate to gain some direction when I was about 22. Wonderful people, a magnificent wife, and a mind that finally began to see the real world helped me on my way. Have there been a few detours and maybe even some choices that should have been different? Yes, and I’m not certain I would trade them for the way my own life has turned out. And even though the toilet paper on the roll may be spinning a bit faster, there’s still plenty left so perhaps it’s time for my Mirilax. Aside from that, enjoy your life.

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