Archive for June, 2014

The Lawsuit

John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, is going to ask his colleagues to sue the President of the United States for overstepping his bounds by issuing executive orders. The President, in turn, has said that if Congress won’t do anything but sit on its collective hands, he’s going to move ahead in another way. Who is right? On the one hand we have a House leader who has vowed to block any legislation sent to the Hill by the President. On the other hand, we have a President who has noted the Speaker’s statement and is attempting to move the country forward by Executive Order. They are both acting in a childish manner and should be taken out behind the woodshed and have their bottoms tanned by a huge leather strap!

I find it inconceivable that these two men cannot reach some type of consensus on what it requires to move this nation in a direction that will help to build the economy, defend our homeland, and begin to pay off the trillions of dollars that the nation owes. What is so different about common goals? These are human beings who have sworn to defend this nation against all enemies foreign and domestic, and yet, they are acting like they don’t give a damn about outside influencers as long as they can take swings at one another. What seems to be lacking here is common sense. I deeply regret saying this but I’m afraid that a great deal of the problem deals with race; not necessarily from Boehner, but from too many of his colleagues who feel strongly that no Black man should ever occupy the desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Congress is the oldest of the ‘old boy’s club’ in the United States.  Mark Twain said it best: “We have the best Congress money can buy.” The problem is that those who buy the Congressional seats for the people they put in office want not a little return on their investment (ROI). The ROI might be in the best interest of the buyers but more often than not, it is not in the best interest of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public…and that is wrong!

Since the passage of the Obama Health Care law in his first term, Obama has been the target of the Republican right and the Tea Party which have taken control of the House of Representatives. It’s not a large group of representatives just as the Taliban wasn’t a large group in Iraq. I was told by a friend of mine who was teaching in Iraq at the time that the hard core Taliban probably numbered no more than a thousand. This same principle is also true in the House of Representatives.  It’s known as Pareto’s Principle, or the 80/20 rule. That is 80 percent of the trouble is caused by 20 percent of the population of any group. You can apply the principle in almost any situation…80 percent of the dirt exists in 20 percent of the house; in the places where there is the greatest amount of traffic. Teachers will tell you that 80 percent of the class participation comes from 20 percent of the class…unless it’s part of the grade and then 80 percent of the class tries to blow smoke up your skirt while the other 20 percent goes silent!

Now, with Eric Cantor being a lame duck, Speaker Boehner has been forced by the remaining idiots to pick up the far right cudgel and go after the President based on his executive orders. As the Washington Post reported, “…according to the Brookings Institution, this President has signed fewer executive orders per day than any president since Grover Cleveland.” It appears to this writer that the attempt at a lawsuit by Speaker Boehner is nothing more than another frivolous attempt by a do-nothing House of Representatives to draw attention away from their ineptness and attempt to cast a shadow over the White House. I fear that Mr. Boehner’s middle initial ‘A,’ is drifting away from its original ‘Andrew,’ to something far less attractive.

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“Getting old ain’t for sissies,” Bette Davis said.

“Old age is not so bad when you consider the alternative,” Maurice Chevalier told us.

“Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough,” Groucho Marx stated

“The idea is to die young as late as possible,” we are informed by Ashley Montagu

It really doesn’t matter who says what about the ageing process, let me tell you first-hand that growing older is not particularly enjoyable. Perhaps, as Chevalier says, the alternative might be worse. Then again, who knows, it might be a great deal better. “In my Father’s house are many mansions, etc., etc., etc.” We just don’t know but I don’t know of anyone who is all that eager to find out.

What I do know is that as we age, we lose physical strength; we develop more ailments; we lose our old friends; and sometimes those we love precede us in death. That is probably the most bitter pill that we are forced to swallow. While not wishing bad luck on any of them, I have been blessed not to have lost a child or grandchild. Oh, cut it out. I don’t believe in that, “Well, that’s the kiss of death” bullshit. Should something happen, I believe it was going to happen regardless of what this particular fool might or might not have written.

I believe that, surviving three heart attacks, allows me some leeway in what and how I write. Before the first one, I enjoyed a cup of coffee as well as the next person. Since that heart attack, I can’t stand the taste of the stuff. Although cancer killed my Dad, both grandparents, and took my wife, I feel blessed that so far basal cells are the only things I’ve had removed. They’re a pain in the ass, but they are easily removed. A couple of years ago I developed adult-onset-diabetes. That’s something I could have lived without, but what the hell, they tell me it’s “age-related;” how glorious is that. Add another pill twice a day to the already existing load. I have a couple of those weekly containers for pills. You fill them up on Sunday and each day is marked off with the week’s grab-bag. I keep two of them just because it’s always nice to be one step ahead of the pharmacy. I must admit that there are some little cubbies in my daily dosages that are getting quite full and somewhat difficult to close fully. At my physical recently, the doctor suggested that I might wish to take another pill to prevent me from having to get up and pee five, six, or seven times a night. I politely declined, indicating that at least when I get up, at least I know I’m still alive! He failed to see the humor in that but he’s only in his late 50s and what do children that young know of anything?

Someone said to me not to long ago, “Remember age is just a number; it’s not how old you are; it’s how you feel.” I didn’t have the heart to say that there are days when I feel like shit and other days when I feel like a larger pile of shit. I suppose that if one can get out of bed within a minute or so after waking up, one should be thankful. I watch former NBA star, Bill Walton, complaining about his feet being so bad that he couldn’t get out of bed. Then, the dumb son-of-a-bitch tells me he was cured by an arch support. I don’t know what podiatrist he was using, but the doctor should have been shot a long time ago. I don’t dare write to Walton and tell him that even orthotics eventually lose their effectiveness and you’re left with neuropathy that will require more pills and that those suckers aren’t all that effective.

Yep, growing old is a bitch. You begin to forget people’s names and if you’re lucky, it doesn’t go a hell of a lot further than that. I have several friends, younger than I, who have dementia of one type or another. Out of true love, their spouses are attempting to care for them. It will reach the point where they can no longer do so and have to put them in a home or it will kill them as they try to care for their loved one. You tell me which the fairest alternative is.

Losing your hearing as you get older is a bitch, particularly if you’re living with someone younger whose hearing is perfect. If the television volume is up where you want it, the other person has to put on earmuffs and still says it’s too loud. The doctor gives you a hearing test and tells you that while you’ve lost “a bit,” it’s still too early for a hearing aid…tell that one to the person who lives with me doc. You’ll surely get an earful!

I was never big into exercise after I graduated from high school. The first heart attack brought that home to roost in a big way. My idea of exercise before the attack was the inhaling of cigarette smoke into my lungs on a continuous basis and doing sixteen ounce curls at night. All of that changed during cardiac rehabilitation. I learned that cigarettes were bad, although I didn’t quit for another eight years, and I learned that exercise could bring about a natural high that was far better than any scotch I’d ever tasted. As a result, I joined a gym; had a cigarette just before going in for a workout; had a cigarette just after the workout, but finally said, “Screw it,” in 1998. The way prices skyrocketed shortly thereafter probably has saved me several thousand dollars.

I’m not advocating that anyone stick a gun in his or her mouth when they reach 65, but I am saying be prepared. If the choice presents itself and you’re still in good health, don’t retire. Don’t retire unless you have planned what you will be doing over the next 25-30 years; yes, you can plan to live that long beyond retirement if you’re sensible about it. If you don’t have plans for that amount of time, you’ll probably die within a couple of years; that could be a blessing or it could be a curse. Who knows? Who cares? Until someone comes back from the other side and tells me how great things are on the other side, I’d just as soon continue to smell the roses in the backyard.

I truly believe that there comes a point in your life when you just decide to let go and see what’s beyond that next hill. If you’re lucky enough, you get to make the choice; if not, somebody else will pull the plug. I’d just as soon make the choice myself.

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Yippee, Skippy; I’ve been invited to publish on LinkedIn. I don’t really know why, what, or how that will affect what I’m doing right now, but frankly, I think I’ll just stick with my own little blog that reaches half a dozen people or so.

One of the subjects on which I was invited to write was one I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately. It concerns “Trends in your industry.” Well, my industry was higher education, not as a member of the faculty of either institution in which I worked, but in various administrative posts, ranging from an assistant registrar to a dean to an assistant to a president. The teaching came later in my career and gave me something of a different perspective on the “industry” of which I was a part.

Today, I worry about higher education for a number of reasons. Perhaps the greatest worry concerns the influx of online institutions where one can earn credits toward and even achieve everything up to and including a doctoral or terminal degree.  In addition, historically relevant academic institutions are providing online credit courses, and it makes me wonder about how this affects the collegiality or spirit of a college education. Having worked at both a largely commuter institution and then a largely residential college, I saw a great difference in the types of students that each produced. It’s known as “the collegiate experience,” and it entails the amount of learning that goes on outside of the classroom. Whether it’s bull sessions late at night with a group of friends or participating in some type of organization that one cannot possibly do as a commuter, there is a learning that rounds out what is done inside a classroom. I see as one problem, the loss of that interaction which appears to be such an integral part of a college education.

As online education grows, I cannot help but wonder about the loss of enrollment in some of our colleges and universities. Many people are questioning the high cost of higher education. Between tuition, fees, room and board at campus institutions, and the cost of textbooks, higher education is becoming a luxury as much as a necessity. Many students who graduate with huge debt get the feeling that the sword of Damocles is hanging over their head and question, “Was it really all worth it,” when they are in the beginning jobs that rarely offer what the grads believe is a working environment and salary commensurate with their abilities.

As colleges and universities continue to erect facilities one after the other, I question the wisdom of doing so in light of the online education revolution. Critics tell me that I’m dreaming to believe that enrollments will drop to the point where institutional residence halls and even classrooms will become vacant, but frankly, I’m not as certain as some of my peers. While some may have thought of the internet as some kind of fad, it’s been around long enough and has proven its value sufficiently for any number of industries to be concerned that the manner in which they did business as recently as a decade ago will change drastically well before the end of the 21st Century. I can see the possibilities not only in higher education but in the manner in which public education is delivered.

While reports abound that college graduates will make more money over the course of a lifetime than workers with a high school diploma, colleges must also take a hard look at other attractions for post-secondary candidates. Manufacturing jobs in America are going wanting in terms of highly-skilled blue collar employees. The technicians who do not require an engineering degree are in limited supply according to several studies. In an article a few years ago, Michael B. Sauter, editor of 24/7 Wall Street, noted,  “One of the major reasons for a shortage of skilled labor is the problem of ambition. Too few young people who could become welders and fitters view the positions as desirable. As a result, they do not acquire the skills, either because they reach the white-collar workforce or fail and join the bottom of the workforce. According to the report, to deal with this issue business and government need to provide incentives to pursue these kinds of skilled labor positions and obtain the necessary training.

“The second major issue limiting skilled labor numbers is that available skilled workers cannot reach prospective employers. Either they are unable or unwilling to relocate domestically to the area they are needed, or government immigration and integration policies are in place which make importing labor from overseas impractical, despite the obvious need. According to the report, the best way to deal with this problem in the short-term is for governments to improve their immigration policies and provide incentives for companies to “in-source” workers for these positions.

“If these two issues are not addressed meaningfully, global businesses will be affected – as technicians, electricians and truck drivers are harder and more expensive to hire. By the time governments recognize the issue, global growth may suffer a major setback.”

Is this a direction to which higher education should be turning, supplying skilled blue-collar workers? There are still too many snobs in higher education that will turn up their collective noses at such an idea; however, if classrooms are to be filled, this may be an idea whose time has come…look out U.S. News & World Report, you may be forced to reassess your “Best” definitions.

Something that has always bothered me is why children are allowed immediately to attend colleges and universities directly from their secondary institutions. While the students coming into colleges today are genuinely better prepared and more goal-oriented than in past years, they still bring little “to the table” as it were; certainly less than if they had spent some time in the business, engineering, medical, manufacturing, or whatever world prior to attending an institution that offers what they might now be seriously be searching for.

Given the trend toward greater online education, which can be delivered far less expensively, what will happen to institutions with vast campuses? I guess only the future will give us the answer to that.

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“Customer service sucks!”

“Whoa, Big Fella; them’s fightin’ words if you happen to run into someone from the legal department.”

“Well, why not start this story from the beginning. That way, we’ll all have some idea of what the hell you’re talking about, okay?”

Alright, enough with the quotation marks that fake a conversation.

About three months ago, my girlfriend decided it would be nice to have Netflix, Amazon, and all those other fancy things on our reasonably new – less than a year old – Samsung 40” flat screen television set. The best part is that she even offered to pay for this service. I mean, hey, when someone offers to pay something from which I’m going to receive some benefit, I am not rejecting it out of hand, right?

In order to receive Netflix, one needs to have (a) a television set that can receive a wireless signal, (b) an Internet connection and (c) a ‘router’ to provide that wireless connection. If you wish me to go into greater detail, provide schematic drawings, and use highly technological gobbledy-gook language, I cannot. As a matter of fact, I don’t know for certain that what I just explained is the way it actually works…but I think it is. Anyway, we purchased a router and a friend hooked it up to the computer. This friend, by the way, could provide schematic drawings and use the highly technological language because he is…well…he’s a nerd wannabe, but he has too many other interests to be a genuine nerd. In addition to which, he has a lovely wife and two beautiful kids…not my idea of nerdliness!

Once the router was hooked up and Netflix purchased or rented or whatever the hell one does with Netflix, we attempted to watch a variety of videos on our new service…it didn’t work so we tried the programming on Amazon If you have Amazon, then you may well know the golden circle. The golden circle is just what it sounds like, and it spins round and round as it attempts to get a signal from the router to send to the television set. If router, Internet connection, and television set are all located in the same room, it seems that everything is wonderful. If these devices are separated by any distance; however, if you put one in another room, there can be problems. Unfortunately no one told this to my girlfriend until we were ready to throw someone off a very tall cliff onto sharp rocks and boiling surf.

In order of hair-pulling, it went something like this: First, she called Internet provider to ask why we were having problems with our connection. Their response was that Netflix was the problem; Netflix blamed Amazon; Amazon blamed that Samsung television sets were at fault. In other words, this blame game was almost as bad as what we see with the Legislative and Executive Branches of government in Washington these days.

This blame game was followed by an Internet chat with Samsung; not one person at Samsung but several. As she was sent from one person to another at Samsung, a transcript of her previous conversations followed right along with her. In other words, it was unnecessary for her to repeat to one representative what she had already told the predecessor. In addition, while Samsung could not provide definitive answers – other than to say it wasn’t them – she was able to print her entire conversation with the Samsung representatives.

Once more into the breach dear friends as she went back and forth with Amazon, Netflix, and our Internet provider [who shall remain nameless to protect us from failure]. Since all eventually wound up stating that the fault belonged at Samsung’s door, we actually went out and purchased a Vizio [upon the advice of our nerd-wannabe friend.

A 40” Vizio television set, with stand, weighs fifteen pounds. This is truly a light-weight television set…in more ways than one. Setting it up was simple. Getting it to work properly was impossible. I went to bed. She [note bold face italics} was determined to settle the problem, Contacting Vizio, she spent forty minutes in a ‘chat’ before being passed to another representative, this time in Utah.  By now, it is 10:30 pm back here on the East Coast. My girlfriend is tired. She’s physically tired from the running around that we’ve been doing as part of the daily routine. She’s mentally tired from having chatted on the computer with someone at Vizio who treated her as though she was a child, e.g., “Well, move the router closer to the television; you can’t do that? Well, move the television closer to the router; can’t do that either? Well, you have to do one or the other.” Wait for it; we’re getting close; it’s almost here. Finally, the customer service representative from Vizio, – in Utah, miles and miles away – states, “Well the router can be only twenty-five feet away from the television for it to work.”

Seventeen words; only four of those word are polysyllabic. These are simple words. They could have been uttered at any point along the way. They could have been posed as a question: “How far away from your television set is the router?” We have now reduced the problem to ten words…but no one did. “Where’s your router?” Good heavens, we’ve dropped the problem to three simple words! But no, everyone assumed that our router was as close as their router is. They ass/u/me, and assumption is the mother of all screw-ups. Sometimes, technology is simple; other times, it’s highly complex…so a word of advice to all you customer service folks out there…Don’t treat the client as an idiot, but treat him or her as someone not as wise in the ways of technology as you are until they prove that they are. And no matter what happens keep your tone of voice even and calm, particularly when you want to crawl through the telephone or Internet wires and beat the caller severely about the head and shoulders.

Technology is moving ahead exponentially; the general population is keeping pace arithmetically. For the very few who understand the exponential movement, please have patience with the rest of us who do not.

Note: The following day, we returned the Vizio television set, place the Samsung back to its original position, and moved the router six feet closer from a its original site in the computer room down the hall. It’s now about forty-five feet from the television, but things appear [cross your fingers and toes] to be working well.

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Recognizing fully that there are approximately seven billion people on earth who are more intelligent than I, far be it for me to suggest or dictate possible foreign policy decisions to those in my own nation who are in a temporary, at best, position to do so. It seems somewhat as ridiculous as attempting to tell General Motors how to make an ignition switch for their vehicles or how to tell American tourists which mountains to climb in the Middle East. In other words, speak well of what you know well and speak not of which you know nothing.

That having been said, I would propose that Congress begin impeachment proceedings against President Obama if he sends one soldier, sailor, marine, airman or woman, coast guardsman or woman, or even a member of the Boy/Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, or member of the 4-H into harm’s way in the Middle East before he clearly, articulately, and demonstrably proves well beyond the shadow of anyone’s doubt that we have national interests at stake in that region other than the protection of our oil interests or the interests of the so-called one percent. Please, do not tell me in the vaguest of terms that terrorists will use bases in the Middle East to plan and carry out attacks on our nation. I will not believe you. If you believe that to be the case, strengthen the protection of our borders at home; increase the use of HUMINT and other intelligence-gathering resources abroad, and devote greater resources to the same type of attacks that the terrorists carry out, i.e., sneak attacks on their targets before they can carry out their attacks on our targets.

It’s an entirely new era of warfare into which we have entered and America is lagging well behind the curve in terms of how it should be fought. Remember the days of the Napoleonic wars when great armies would face each other on the battlefield and exchange fire? Then, when the soldiers of King George III attempted to engage the “American Rabble” [note the capital ‘R’ please}, they were rudely shocked by the guerilla tactics of the Patriots. Those tactics plus planned operations such as D-Day, Operations Overlord, King Too, Charger, Casanova became the way to fight. What about civilians? Well, insofar as possible, America and its allies attempted to respect and reduce civilian casualties with noted exceptions. Today things are different. The people who are America’s enemies today prefer to use civilians because they are aware of America’s horror at seeing non-combatants used, abused, and slaughtered. Our enemies don’t care who they kill as long as they, the dead, don’t believe the way they, the terrorists, happen to believe on that particular day. Politely, we used to call it tribal warfare; it is not. ISIS or whatever the hell they are calling themselves are nothing more than a gang; no better than the Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Michigan Militia, or the Wah Ching. They proclaim to be religious jihadists, but that, I believe, is merely an excuse to kill others unlike themselves.

In 1961, President Kennedy stated that we were sending “advisors” to someplace called Vietnam. It wasn’t a popular decision, but we trusted Jack the war hero to do what was right. The advisors were followed by more advisors and then marines and soldiers who weren’t “advisors,” but who were right in the thick of things. The guys who fought and died in that war were patriots; make no mistake about that. The reason they were asked to fight, I regret to say, were never clearly spelled out. As a consequence, many people back in the states didn’t understand and blamed those who fought and died as much as they blamed future administrations. I didn’t like him and didn’t vote for him, but thanks be to God for Richard Nixon’s intelligence in ending that war that claimed over 58,000 American lives.

Now, this current President – for whom I voted twice – who has nothing to lose because he can’t run again is talking about sending 275-300 “advisors” and Special Forces to “train” Iraqi forces. When do the “advisors” and “trainers” become companies, regiments, battalions, and armies who shed blood? When might we reach the point of saying, “We need more young men and women so by executive order, we’re reinstating selective service?” That is, perhaps extreme, but maybe extreme is what is required to wake up the American people to the fact that our people are dying and the only thing we’re told is “…because it’s in our national interest.” Dammit, give me specifics, not glittering generalities, because right now, I’m thinking that your national interests are not my national interests nor are they in the national interests of those mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters who have gold star flags hanging in their front windows.

If Iraq divides into three states, we all know what will happen. The most war-like state will soon absorb the other two. They will then, in all likelihood absorb Syria and move on Iran. The United Nations will condemn them and they won’t give a damn. The Israelis will fight them and eventually use a nuclear weapon to defeat them, or perhaps by that time, the war-like state will have nuclear weapons and the world’s Armageddon will have come about. Only at that point will some sage declare, “It’s Obama’s fault for not sending in “advisors” and “trainers,” and once more, I will have been proven wrong…but it won’t really matter to me; I’ll be dead.

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Big news…Lisa Ling, writer, reporter, journalist, has been diagnosed with ADD at the age of 40! Wow, who’d a thunk it?

By reaction to this startling revelation is, “Yeah, and your point is?”

Years ago, our youngest daughter repeated second grade. We were told that she had dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. As a parent you ask yourself, “What did I do wrong? Is this a genetic disorder and if so, which of us is responsible?” You ask yourself a ton of questions like that.  Then you – intelligently, I might add – stop focusing on your own shortcomings and begin asking what you can do to help your child. We were advised to put our daughter on Ritalin. After a week, she told us she felt like a zombie…goodbye Ritalin, hello special help from the schools. She graduated high school, went to college on a swimming scholarship, held all of the butterfly records for her athletic conference, held a part-time job in the registrar’s office and added to her course load each semester. At the end of her collegiate career, she graduated cum laude.

Our daughter now has three kids of her own, runs outdoors or on a treadmill on a regular basis, and enjoys reading. Like her, the children all have learning disabilities; for all I know, perhaps her husband also had them. They are all getting along reasonably well and I’m certain that when they put their minds to what they wish to do, they will succeed.

The point I’m trying to make here – and doing a pretty piss-poor job of it, I might add – is that learning disabilities are not some horrible disease that will prevent those affective from having successful lives. I enjoy telling the story of Paul Orfalea, the founder of the Kinko’s company. Paul has/had the same problems as our daughter. He had a tough time getting through high school and an even more difficult time getting through UC-Santa Barbara, but he saw a need and met it by duplicating papers for college students. He later sold a stake in the company to a private equity firm that left him wealthy enough to invest in other businesses, be part of the speaking tour on entrepreneurship as well as learning disabilities, and in general, enjoy the life he’s living. We spent a couple of hours together walking on the Babson College campus one day and we came to the conclusion that everyone learns at a different rate, but barring other physical or mental problems, everyone can learn. Some will argue with that and that’s their right to do so.  However, I also recall my boss’s comment when my daughter was diagnosed….”We’re probably all learning disabled in some way. The trick is to accept it and move on to do the best we can.” My boss was at that time the President of Northeastern University.

Am I saying that learning disabilities are psychosomatic? That would be rather foolish as well as completely erroneous. Learning disabilities are very real. According to the National Centers for Learning Disabilities, LD’s “… affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, respond to and communicate information.” Being learning disabled is not the same as being intellectually disabled or physically disabled through deafness or vision impairment. As a matter of fact, people with learning disabilities are often of above average intelligence. Just ask Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Norman Rockefeller, or any one of a thousand well-known geniuses’s who had to overcome some form of learning disability.

LD’s have been fairly well-defined here in the 21st Century. Probably by the 25th, they will be a thing of the past, but for now, we identify them as Dyslexia, a problem with processing language; Dyscalculia, difficulty with math skills, remembering math facts and problems with time and money; Dysgraphia, characterized by illegible handwriting and difficulty organizing ideas for writing…no, doctors have a course that teaches them to write that illegibly [just kidding]. Dyspraxia is characterized by a lack of fine motor skills such as the use of scissors, buttoning, or drawing. The National Centers for Learning Disorders also identifies auditory and visual disorders on the LD scale as well as ADHD, that miserable LD that prevents us from focusing. When our youngest took the SAT, she performed in what one might charitably call a “less than spectacular” fashion. Because of her athletic ability and the fact that she had been offered a full scholarship for that ability, I contacted the NCAA seeking suggestions. “Have her take them untimed,” was the solution of the inmates that populate the National Collegiate Athletic Association.  No amount of explaining the diagnosis of ADHD would allow the mentally deficient administrators to understand why untimed would also be a waste of time. I firmly believe that had she been a ‘he,’ and had ‘he’ been going to a major Division 1 football power, and had ‘he’ been a highly regarding MacDonald’s All-American or some such, there would have been answers galore!

If there is just one point to be made here it is do not worry if your child is diagnosed with a learning disability. Don’t lay a guilt trip on yourself, your spouse, or your child. Things work out. As Orfalea said, “We all learn at different rates.” I would add, “…but we all learn one way or another.”

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A gentleman with whom I am acquainted – well, I assume he’s a gentleman; never know these days – teaches philosophy at a local private school. For a number of years he was the headmaster of said school, but then he decided to get a real job – as I have been told on too many occasions to count by teaching faculty from here to hell and gone – and became an “educator.” Since I went neither through a liberal arts curriculum nor did I attend a Jesuit institution…the only two collegiate programs where philosophy seems to be a mandatory requirement…I was never exposed to philosophical thought. After several conversations with said gentleman, I began to realize just how sadly lacking my education has been. Were this to happen today, I could probably turn around and sue my undergraduate institution for not providing a compendious educational program, but to attempt this after having been absent the classroom for more – well more – than half a century, I would doubtless be throwing good money after bad. That is not philosophical thought; just common sense.

All of the above having been said, I am going back to school! “So what?” you ask, to which I respond, “When you stop learning, formally or informally, you’re dead and just too ignorant to lie down.” It’s never too late to learn. There are several reasons I believe this, the first of which is that I would like to be able to discuss philosophy on a more intellectual level with my acquaintance. Another reason is that, as was said earlier, without philosophy, my education is lacking and incomplete. I plan to take the same approach with journalism at some point, sadly having been denied the opportunity to pursue any formal training in that area. There may well be other subjects available through the Internet, but right now I’m settling on those two. A third reason for doing this is that I find of late, television programming is (a) idiotic; (b) idiotic; (c) idiotic; or (d) all of the above. It is with a certain degree of guilt that I must also admit that my reading list has begun to lapse into the mystery/murder/thriller genre, and it would be nice to get away from that for a while.

I will not pontificate on what I have learned to date. To do so would be to prove the adage, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln appears to have a quote for every occasion; that is another of his great ones. Let me just say that now that school has adjourned for the summer, I will have a few months to study philosophy and perhaps be able to carry on a reasonably less pompous conversation with my acquaintance when he returns to school and to the gym next year. Oh, that’s right, I didn’t tell you; we met at a gym. You meet the most interesting people in some of the strangest of places. Think about it…talking philosophy in a gym; discussing labor law…in a gym; conversing about politics without coming to blows…in a gym; I have even managed to get my utility company to bill me electronically…by speaking to someone at the gym,  thus proving that nearly all things are possible given the proper environment.

One of the things that I find truly amazing about the Internet is the amount of course work in various field that I can study without having to enroll or pay money, that last being perhaps the primary reason I do not hold a terminal degree from Grand Canyon, Southern New Hampshire, or one of the many online programs that are available; well, that and the fact that I’m on a fixed income. However, I’m not certain I wish to take online courses that are going to tax me beyond my limited abilities. To gain the basics of understanding of a subject with which I have no familiarity may well be as far as I wish to go, but go I will because, in this case anyway, I know someone who is an authority on the subject…and I’m a brain picker!

Think about this for a moment: You have died and on your first whatever in Heaven; I will assume you have gone to Heaven and not any of those other places, but on your first night, you are given the opportunity to dine with five other people of your choosing…and…there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion following dinner. Yes, I know, if you’re dead you probably won’t eat, yadda, yadda, yadda…give me a break, will you please? Who would you choose? Remember Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven? This isn’t like that. You pick five people; they may be people you have admired because of their contributions to the world…Mohandas Gandhi, Budda, or Confucius. It might be you’ve admired great warriors like Genghis Khan, Hannibal, or Alexander. I have to tell you that I would be very hard pressed to pick just five people with whom I’d like to exchange ideas. Recently, I watched – yes, back to television again, but this was Netflix or Amazon or one of those – a piece on Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Their fight for the rights of women might have put one of them at my table, but then I watched a piece on Jefferson and…well, you know what follows. Our world has been filled with those who could rightfully demand a place at your table or mine. What about our own ancestors; would they be a choice? If you have an interest in philosophy, would you have Epicurus, Aristotle, John Locke, or Plato at your table?

I can [and will…as always] offer a bit of advice on how to choose your dinner companions. Years ago, I taught a course in creative problem solving. The first step in what was known as the problem-solving wheel, was to identify all of the “messes” that required your attention. From that, your job was to identify the problem that first required your attention; which of the messes had to be cleaned up first before you could move on. In selecting that problem as the most important, I asked students and teams of students to answer one question when they felt they had identified the problem that they would attack. The question was, “Why?” If you can answer the question, why, five times in a row and receive a satisfactory answer each time, chances are you have the correct problem to attack. Perhaps that’s the question you should ask about your dinner partners. Why do you want Abraham Lincoln, for example? After you have given your complete answer, ask the question again and again and again, and one more time. If he stands the Five Why question, then he probably belongs at your table.

I leave you with this advice…use the Internet wisely; find out who attends your gym; and stay tuned for more about my foray into philosophy.

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