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Archive for February, 2015

“When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is extremely difficult to remember that your original task was to drain the swamp.”

C’mon, you’ve heard it before; saw it on a poster somewhere; laughed your ass off the first time you saw it.  Today might be the perfect day to pull that poster out and stare at it one more time. We really aren’t up to our collective asses here in New England. We are far beyond that point. If my girlfriend’s feet were to touch the ground in our backyard, the snow would be well, well over her head. I am over six feet tall and if my feet were to touch the ground in any plowed spot in our driveway, I would be well over my head.

Some ingenious peckerhead is currently planning how he or she can be the first ones out with the, “I survived the blizzards of 2015” bumper stickers, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and whatever other paraphernalia will hold a sentence of that length. Don’t worry, they’ll be coming out, and the same assholes who are walking around the streets of Boston today will be the first ones to criticize those who are buying them while secretly purchasing as many of whatever as they can.

What is it with people who go outside in the middle of a blizzard; who get in the way of snowplows; and then bitch that their streets aren’t cleared. During the week, some people have to get to work in various cities and towns. That is a given; but on weekends, when the governor of the state and the mayor of the City of Boston have clearly and distinctly asked the citizenry to stay off the streets, why do these assholes insist on risking their lives and probably the lives of others by traipsing around the city like they’re looking for a duck boat parade?

(a bit later)

So here it is…another weekend with more snow promised for Sunday night going well into Monday. Yes, you may read that as “Another friggin’ Monday when I have to commute in a snowstorm,” and don’t you forget it. The only saving grace about this entire winter is that the Northeast is not alone. Some of the southern states have been getting hit with the white stuff, and they really-do-not-know-how-to-handle-it. I would not be very surprised to learn that some of the smaller southern communities have no equipment for fighting snow, including sanders or plows of any kind other than those used to bring in crops. Chuckle if you will; while the amounts may not be what we have seen, anything over three inches can shut down Washington. Imagine what it would do to some towns in South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, or Alabama.

What was the “gently falling snow” of the past few weeks has now become the “concrete foundation” of the snow on the streets. Shoveling this rock solid mass is nearly impossible. Large firecrackers or small blocks of Semtex are more effective, but they tend to really piss off the neighbors, particularly if their car is buried under one of the piles where you have placed your charges.

Word on the street is that Bahstan Mayor, Martiwalsh (everyone says it so fast it sounds like one word), is meeting with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee early next week. Tomorrow is the first day of March, and the mountains of snow are so great that the streets still can’t be cleared by St. Paddy’s Day? I want you to know, however, that there is no such thing as climate change; it’s all a figment of Al Gore’s imagination.

If, as the saying goes, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” the floods we will face in the spring will be nothing short of gigantic. And don’t forget, “April showers bring May flowers;” We can all stand around and watch the daffodils float down the street, followed by the tulips, followed by…well, you get the picture.

It’s been one hell of a winter, but guess what, this too shall pass, and next summer while the roofers and carpenters are repairing our houses, we’ll look back on this and…naw, we won’t laugh; we’ll still be just as pissed then as we are right now.

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Okay, Jihadi, John, any plans you may have had for terrorizing the United States can now be put on hold. You’ve won, baby, and you didn’t even have to drive a tank down Pennsylvania Avenue or march around the Lincoln Memorial – that would have really fucked up DC traffic if you did it at rush hour. See, here’s the way this is going to work…you send a couple of guys into Congress; one goes to the office of the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and the other goes into the office of House Speaker John Boehner. Each delivers a bill that relates to the Department of Homeland Security. The one to McConnell will be falsely authored by Boehner and will include nothing on immigration. The bill to the House Leader will be a fake, supposedly written by McConnell that will include a section that would nullify the Presidential executive order. By the time they determine the fraud, both houses of Congress will be so confused, they’ll be shooting at each other. Just stand back and wait, Johnny-Boy, and our own legislative branch of government will implode.

On a more serious note, I am so sick and tired of the Congress of the United States that I’d almost be willing to move to Canada. The only thing preventing that is that the Canadians are beginning to sound almost as idiotic as the Americans. Excuse me, but if you’re a Canadian citizen and you wish to buy an airline ticket for Turkey, the answer is a resounding “No.” If all of you took classes in Islamic studies from a known Islamist, (a) double “No” and (b) the government will buy the ticket for the known Islamist and fly his ass directly to Syria.

If, as has been publicly said, the United States is conducting terror investigations in each of the 50 states, why hasn’t some action been taken? If we are already aware of whom the catalysts in our prisons are, why hasn’t some action been taken to weed them out, isolate them, or martyr them? If we know, and I’m quite certain that our intelligence agencies know – oh, god, I hope I’m not wrong about this – the mosques and imams who are radicalizing our citizenry, why the hell hasn’t action been taken to close the mosques and ship these people back from whence they came? Have we become so politically correct that we are willing to turn the other cheek until the jihadists decide that slitting our throats is easier?

The time has long since past when America should tolerate extreme Islamists. Whoever they are; wherever they are, they should be shut down now. “Oh, but if we do that, it’s a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution!” Bullshit! When a sect or cult begins to threaten the rights of the people who built this country, their First Amendment rights no long pertain or exist. Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus during the civil war. We are currently engaged in another, undeclared civil war right now against a group of foreign invaders who, if not dealt with as soon as humanly possible, will be flying the black and white over cities, towns, and hamlets all across America.

Do I sound paranoid? I’m too old to be paranoid. I am not yet old enough, however, to stop loving my country or to see that it is being eaten away from the inside out. The “new” Congress, controlled by a single party, was elected by the people because they promised to break gridlock and “govern.” Since that time, they have passed one major piece of legislation and that was vetoed by the President, as they knew it would be. Now, the houses cannot agree on a piece of legislation, which if not passed, will leave the security of our nation, closed for business. If that is what the Congress calls “governing,” then many of them have stuck their heads in the sand or somewhere else where the sun doesn’t shine.

The problems that we face cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the Legislative Branch of the United States government any more than they can be fully blamed on the Executive Branch. More than ever before, I blame the American people for electing the same political hacks who promise everything and deliver nothing, for creating the fix in which we now find ourselves. Google the number of criminals who are serving in the United States Congress; you’ll find that most of the investigations and arrests involve money. Income tax evasion, illegal campaign funding, illegal use of campaign funds…and you think that these people give a good goddamn about the people who voted for them? The answer to that depends entirely on how much which voters contributed to get them elected.

Ross Perot said it years ago; “Wake Up America.” From infiltration by jihadist terrorists to an inept legislative branch of government that can’t agree on anything, we are, to use an old saw, “up to our collective asses in alligators,” and the swamp remains undrained.

I propose that before any candidate for national public office is allowed to run, the same type of background investigation be conducted as is done for members of the military to be granted a Top Secret Code Word clearance. That would include a polygraph examination as well as random drug testing.  Given sufficient time, I’m quite certain that other requirements could be developed that would separate the wheat from the chaff.

Think about this for a moment: We are a nation of 320 million people, ninety-five percent of whom don’t give a damn as long as they have a roof over their head, a meal on the table three times a day, a new car in the garage or carport every six or seven years, and shoes without holes. On the other hand, you have the one percent who wants more than their fair share. You also have about 46 million children going to bed hungry every night. According to a UNICEF study, the United States has one of the highest rates of childhood poverty in the world. Is it any wonder that ISIS is able to recruit young people to its cause?

There you have it…from Jihad John to an inept and a somewhat corrupt government to a castigation of the American public and the way it treats its poorest, we have a great deal to overcome. Lordy, Lord, how I don’t envy the generation charged with pulling us out of this shit pile!

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“And the Class of ’57 had its dreams.

“We all thought we’d change the world with our great works and deeds.

“We all thought the world would change to fit our needs.”

If you don’t know this classic country hit by the Statler Brothers, you’re probably not alone. They just happen to be one of my favorite country groups, and that song is one to which I can tell you every word. While not from high school, I was from the collegiate Class of ’57…and quite frankly, I’m not certain that many of us knew exactly what awaited us when we walked across the stage to receive our degrees It should be noted that we were not a small class that packed the old Boston Garden that Father’s Day Sunday in June. What I do remember about the Garden on that day was that any resemblance to a garden was a joke. You see, about a week before our ceremony, the circus had been in town. If you think it’s easy to get rid of the smells related to a circus, dream on my friend. Between the odors of panther and tiger urine and whatever it is that elephants dispense, the area where we congregated provided a truly gaggable moment. Add to that, temperatures in the 80’s, and a spot designed to accommodate 1,000, crammed with over 1,500, and you have some idea of how the Class of ’57 began its commencement ceremony.

Did we all go on to achieve our dreams of success and glory? I guess that depends on what you call “success and glory.” Some of us went on to die in the jungles of Vietnam, thousands of miles from home, wondering what the hell happened to our plans to marry Betty Sue, have kids, and become the greatest engineer of all times or something like that. More of us passed the CPA exam and went on to work for big accounting firms, stayed with them for 30 – 40 years, and retired with the gold watch, three grandkids, a wife with an alcohol problem, and a waist twice the size of that of which we had on graduation day. A few of us didn’t even bother to finish the curricula we began, but dropped out and went on to achieve great success in our chosen field of endeavor. The stories are endless as are the degrees of glory and success.

It’s true of all classes, at whatever level you may wish to discuss…other than kindergarten, elementary, middle school, or whatever. Some teachers could actually tell you who they suspect will go on to achieve ‘success.’ Even some guidance counselors believe they can predict who will achieve something of note and who will be prone to sticking a gun in ‘its’ mouth. At the very least, we have finally come around to admitting that we can be wrong a great deal of the time.

I look back at people who achieved success only to see it vanish before their very eyes. Take Donald Burr, the founder of People Express Airlines. The airline began in 1980 when Burr and a few executives from Texas International Airlines form a carrier that would be based in Newark, New Jersey and that would service between New Jersey and New York and several other northeast states. Cheap rates, no frills, and a non-union work force allowed the airline to successfully enter the market. When deregulation came along, People’s went under and eventually went out of business. Don Burr, in speaking to a small audience of students, faculty, and community members at Babson College, called himself a “failure.” He was called out for that remark by an anonymous woman in the room. “If you were a failure, then every one of us who worked for you was a failure,” she said, “and I don’t consider myself to be a failure.” The room erupted with applause. It was apparent that Burr was deeply moved by her comment. Did he succeed or did he fail? The airline ran beautifully for nearly seven years. It was only by a change in regulations and bigger fish entering the market hard and fast that caused Burr’s line to shut down.

So what does success really mean? If it is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose,” the Burr, along with many other individuals and ideas are successful.  If we consider success as the attainment of popularity, glory, or profit, there are many out there who meet the criteria. But, what about that accountant who graduated from college, passed the CPA exam and worked for the same company for 30 or 40 years? Was he a success? Sure he was if he accomplished what was his goal. To me, this is why success is such a bitch to define. Nolan Bushnell used to say that unless you had made and lost your first million dollars by the time you were 30, you were a failure. I don’t subscribe to that dictum. Success is how you measure it, not how anyone else sees you. To me, success is also the pride you take in doing a job and doing it well for as long as you feel good about doing it. Too many people equate success with the almighty dollar or their name up in lights. Success is also being blessed with having healthy children to raise; you and another have created life. What greater success could one ever achieve?

So, the next time, you’re tempted to look at what your old classmates are doing or have done, think long and hard about how you evaluate each one if that is your wont to do. You can probably sit back and say to yourself, “Wow, we really were a successful group of people, and we did some pretty damned good things.

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We really are lucky

We bitch and wail, piss and moan about the record-breaking snowstorms we’ve had this winter in New England. We scream about cabin fever because the path from our front door to the street is so narrow, we have to slide sideways to get out. We can’t shovel the walk to make it any wider because we’re afraid of an avalanche and besides, we can’t throw the snow up high enough to get it over the “ridge line.” So the walk stays narrow and the driveway is under so much snow, we can’t see where the car is now strategically parked. It all sounds terrible, hazardous, troublesome, and dangerous, but we’re lucky. That’s right, those of us who live in the Northeast have blessings that many in the country do not have.

We get to see this snow go away; we get to see green and red tree buds bloom and watch the rebirth of our leaves and our grasses. We get to experience the smells and sights of spring. We will experience the heat of summer and make invidious comparisons with the bone-chilling cold of this past winter. Then we will ooh and ah over the beauty of fall, and if you’ve never see fall in New England and the Northeast, you have missed the vista of nature’s beauty that is second to none…leaves of orange and brown, yellow and rust, red and gold make the hillsides come alive. It’s God’s palette for the entrance to fall, the third of our four full seasons that we get to experience and the most enthralling of all. I believe we enjoy fall more than any of the other seasons. The ocean is slow to lose its summer heat so there are days, even in October, when a swim may be in order. It’s the time of ‘last’ barbecues, final cutting of the lawn, and raking the leaves we watched blossom last spring.

While we might complain loudly about winter and summer, we also welcome back the robins and other species in the spring. Who knows, we might be lucky enough to see another clutch of baby turkeys at the back door, along with their moms. If they don’t show up on their own, I also have Ol’ Betsy, my slate-style turkey call to call them to the house. It was a Christmas gift from Juli. Admittedly, I haven’t taken Ol’ Betsy out of its packaging quite yet, but I’ll get to it before spring. By the time the young ones have hatched and are walking with their moms, I’ll be fully prepared. As a fall-back plan, we always have Juli’s “hear, kitty, kitty, kitty” which has worked so well in the past.  Many of the turkeys who are in the area will come running when they hear Juli, although for the life of me, I can’t figure it out…can you say “turkey whisperer?”

We experience four distinct times of the year. How many Floridians, Californians, Mississippians, or Texans can make that claim? A number of years ago, my youngest daughter’s freshman roommate collected leaves of various colors to send to her folks in Florida. She’d never seen anything like them before. Could it be that those of us who live here take these things too much for granted? Is it possible that we have become impervious to the beauty that we see every day? I’ve taken the time to put on my sunglasses and look out at the snow, sparkling with the glint of diamonds where it’s been untouched and pure; despite the amount, it’s still a form of beauty that we should all appreciate.

Well, time for me to go back to my igloo and sulk. Enjoy the winter for spring will soon be upon us.

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I’m attempting to put my teaching hat back on as it relates to law enforcement. The police officers whom I taught over the years ranged from the very, very serious to those who looked on what they were doing as just another job – I never really understood the latter group – that they would get up and go to each day. I could have been reading them all wrong, but perhaps it was just that they didn’t believe I couldn’t understand them because I wasn’t a ‘cop,’ a word more common among them than ‘police officer.’ Be that as it may, my job was to teach them to understand how to work in teams, rather than as individuals, and how to understand the underlying problems that contribute to the larger and more visible problems that they see on a daily basis. When asked to describe the major problem in their community, I would always ask, “Why,” why is that the major problem? What causes that to become the major problem? In other words, we would break the problem into its various elements, finally reaching the point of understanding that the perceived problem could not possibly be solved until the underlying problems had been taken care of.

As I watched the 60 Minutes report on the terrorists who have been attacking in France and in Denmark, it occurred to me that these types of attacks will become as great an epidemic as ISIIS or ISIL or whatever the hell you wish to call them because there is an underlying problem that first must be solved within each country…Why do these homegrown terrorists have such hatred for the nation that spawned them? What has caused their anger? Do they feel that their nation has rejected them? Persecuted them? Done nothing for them (and what do they expect the nation to have done for them)? At some point they have been radicalized against their own nation. Why? How? What is at the very root of their hatred?  It’s quite easy to say that there is a certain part of the population in any area that feels the world has forgotten about them or doesn’t give a damn about them. They drop out of school the minute they turn 16 because they don’t see the value of education. In addition, there is money to be made on the street and “It ain’t flippin’ burgers at the arches.”

Have we, as a society, failed this group of people? Have their parents failed them? What and where is the problem? Until the very basic problem is identified and the road is paved toward solving it, we can expect to see more homegrown terrorists in every country in the world because the terrorists abroad are way ahead of the good people of the nations in propagandizing and converting dissatisfied youth to their side of the street.

The French found out the hard way about who is and who isn’t dangerous. Said and Cherif Kouachi, along with Amedi Coulibaly were well known to French Police as young thugs who had served time for various crimes. Contacts within prisons helped to convert these three young people to violent radical jihadists who could take their hatred out on their own country. In Denmark, Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, the 22-year old shooter, was another home grown terrorist with a record as a local criminal. Okay, where are the commonalities here? What is the basic problem? All had police records from a young age; hell, plenty of kids have that and grow up to lead good lives (I happen to have a sealed juvenile record, and I haven’t done too badly); what brings these four people together or does anything? These are the questions that are facing law enforcement officials all over the world.

In the case of the French shooters, so much appears to be known about their lives that perhaps they could be used as models with certain base characteristics to help law enforcement organizations to put together some type of profile. Nah, that would be too easy, to unsophisticated. Perhaps it might also be too overwhelming a task because of the number of (a) youthful offenders who have served time, come out, and are now lost; (b) the number of recruiters in prison who have already converted some of those in the ‘a’ category who have now gone to ground; and (c) the dearth of people in the law enforcement system who are unable to keep track of the youthful offenders because they have a caseload that would choke an elephant.

“It’s impossible to keep track of all the possible,” I’ve been told. My answer to that goes back to the outset of this very essay…Why? Why is it impossible to keep track of all of the possible? Is it a lack of trained personnel? Is there a personnel pool out there that is being underutilized? How are we using our military police personnel who are being released from active duty? How about those who may be coming back as wounded warriors who are finding it difficult to adjust?  Somewhere, somehow, there is an answer to keeping better track of those who may be preparing the same thing or worse that was done in France and Denmark. The ACLU wouldn’t care for it a whole hell of a lot, but I’d rather be more protective of our general citizenry than less.

Let’s start asking the right questions and let’s begin a campaign to protect all Americans from facing more attacks on this wonderful place we call home.

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Do you remember any of yours? I’m quite certain you had one, two, three, maybe more along the years when you were growing up. They were the people you went to when whatever you had in mind was not for the ears of your parents…or even your friends. They were teachers, custodians – we called them janitors back then – or maybe even…heaven forbid…a school administrator of some kind. These were the people where there were almost no boundaries, no topic of your concern too touchy to be discussed. They weren’t friends because these people wouldn’t gossip. They weren’t parents because they didn’t judge. They were sounding boards who, if asked might give advice; if not asked would just nod their heads or pop in a question that you hadn’t considered.

I began thinking about this the other day when I received a message from a friend of mine. She was forwarding the memorandum from the President of Babson College, notifying everyone on campus that Bill Cruickshank had died. That name means nothing to you, but to me it was the passing of an era. You see, I knew Bill for more than 20 years; I worked with him, sometimes side by side; other times from a distance. Bill wasn’t “Mr. Chips;” no, he was more like a reincarnation of Roger Babson, the College’s founder. Well, that’s not true either because I don’t believe Mr. Babson would have given you the shirt off his back the way Bill would do. Bill was 90 when he died, which ain’t a bad run as age is concerned. He’d graduated in 1949, coming back from WWII with a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster and a Bronze Star for valor. We were on a retreat once and had some time to go to the beach. It was there that a saw a couple of the machine gun scars that Bill had. You see, he was gunned down and left for dead in a French farmyard. The farm family took him in and nursed him back to health, but I’ll tell ya, I saw where those bullets had hit him and I have no idea how the hell he survived…but he did…and that was Bill. He didn’t teach, but he worked like hell with his alumni class to raise money for scholarships. More than 200 students benefited from Bill’s hard work and the largesse of the Class of 1949. Those 200 will never forget him; that’s for damn sure. There’s a lot more to say about Bill, but I’m just going to leave it with my tears and a friendship that will never be forgotten.

There are different kinds of “Bills” at every level of education. Remember Miss or Mrs. So-and-so in the fourth grade, the one you could go to whenever you had a problem you couldn’t solve by yourself? And Al, or Sam or Mr. Jackson, the janitor who could dispense wisdom any time you sought it. Today, those same people would probably be arrested for some stupid damned crime or other if the even said, “Good morning” to you. In many ways, there’s a sadness as to how things have changed.

I remember that in high school the one man I could always approach was the assistant principal, Joe Cogan. He was the disciplinarian of the school, and for most people who had to see him, it was not a pleasant experience. To use the vernacular of today, Joe was perfectly capable of tearing a new one for the unruly student. He had another side, however, and that was dispensing good advice to those who sought it. Joe was also the baseball coach, but he taught one hell of a lot more than how to hit a curve or field ground balls. He was a “life” teacher, the most important kind of all.

As an undergraduate, at Northeastern University in Boston, there were a couple of people sought out by many students. I never knew how that grapevine worked, but it seemed as if you had a problem, you could go see Dean Harold Melvin or Professor Raymond Fennell. Funny thing was that Dean Melvin was a full-time professor and Ray didn’t teach a damned thing to the best of my knowledge…but boy, could they dispense wisdom to help bring order out of your chaos.  Ray survived a heart attack, and this was back in the early fifties, when heart attacks were far less survivable than they are today. “When you knew you were going to be alright,” someone asked him one day, “what went through your mind?” I was in my third year so I was still pretty soaking behind the ears, but I have never forgotten Ray’s reply. “Out my window were trees and I remembered thinking how green the leaves were. I hadn’t remembered that they were that green. And I didn’t remember the sky being that blue. Now that I’m recovered, I appreciate the colors around me more than I did before the heart attack.”  When I had my first heart attack in 1990, I was laying in a bed at Mass General. My room was on the eleventh floor, so I didn’t have any trees to see, but I remembered Ray’s comment about the sky. He was right; it did look different. I could also see up the Charles River and look out on Fenway Park…and I thought of Ray, and I thought of how things that I took so much for granted could become so different when you go through a life-altering experience.

The people I knew; the people I went to as an undergraduate; the people, who worked with me years later at Babson, are all gone. And now Bill is gone too. There will be others to take the place of Linda Adams, who dispensed her wisdom through the cloud of cigarette smoke above her head. There will be someone new with a weird electronic object on his or her desk to replace Professor Jack Hornaday who attracted students like a magnet, but I won’t know who they are. I’m out of that business, and good riddance to me. My memories of those people I’ll take with me, but damn, they sure were great “life” teachers in addition to their regular jobs.

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Bad poetry – 1

To write once more

of those I loved

Would be a maddening task.

For they are gone, and I am here

Still writing to the last.

Their love was true as was mine

Both heavenly and quite divine,

But they are gone, and I am here

In stillness, to opine.

 

To those I love,

I wish you well,

Wherever you  may be

A candle in my window bright,

Still calls you back to me.

I’ll dry my tears and write my words

‘Til you return to me.

 

Oh love, why must you be so cruel,

To steal my loves away,

To take from me unendingly

My loves of day to day.

I will survive, and I will write

Of love so very deep

And I will hide these mournful words,

Within the castle keep.

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