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Archive for February, 2016

We deserve better

I make mistakes all the time. One of my more dangerous mistakes happened recently at the gym. It was an error in judgement. A fellow I know and I were talking about the political slugfest that’s been going on in the Republican Party. I made what I thought was a passing negative comment about Donald Trump. The result was a tirade about my ignorance regarding Mr. Trump. My ‘friend’ believes that ‘the Donald’ should be president and that he would be a great one. When asked why, my friend launched into the same glittering generalities of speech that Trump has been mesmerizing audiences with for the past several months.

I know that he was never my favorite candidate for the nomination to run for President of the United States, and he probably would never rank up there on my list for anything but dogcatcher in East Bumfuch, Louisiana, but I do agree with Lindsey Graham that the Republican Party has gone bat shit crazy if they decide to nominate Donald Trump for President. That really is a paraphrase, however, he did say that his party is bat shit crazy.

I’d like someone to tell me, very, very precisely, why America is not a great country right now. Trump says that he wants to make America great again, but he doesn’t say why it isn’t great now other than tossing banalities and untruths such as a 42% unemployment rate. Who is he including in that group? Is it the kindergartners, and retirees? Is it possible he believes he can make America great by punching in the face anyone who disagrees with him? Does he feel that America will be better off if everyone can make fun of people with physical disabilities? Does he define great as being insulting to women and ethnic groups, by threatening to build walls to keep out immigrants and drugs? A clue Donald…drugs are not coming in over the walls that are already there; they are coming in underground and by water.

It’s extremely difficult for me to accept Donald Trump as anything more than a bombastic, narcissistic, spoiled little rich kid who has inherited and purchased his way to fame and fortune…if fame and fortune is what one wishes to call it. He is an accident on its way to a happening. When Hugh Hewitt, a right-wing radio host of whom I had never heard, asked, “Mr. Trump Dr. Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command, the control and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad – I sure as hell didn’t know what it meant – it refers to our land, sea, and air based systems for delivering nuclear strikes – The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It’s an executive order. It’s a commander-in-chief decision. What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?”

Guess what? Trump never answered the question. He said, “Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust who is totally responsible, who really know what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important.” Okay…now what’s your answer?

He then went on to talk about the wars in Iraq and Syria and kept going with, “The biggest problem this world has today is not President Obama with global warming, which is inconceivable, this is what he’s saying. The biggest problem we have is nuclear – nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That’s in my opinion that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now. “

Hewitt tried again to solicit an answer by asking, “Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority? I want to go to Sen. Rubio after that and ask him.”

Trump’s response was, “I think – I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

This from a presidential hopeful who wants to punch a protester in the face just for asking intelligent questions? If you really want the end of the world to happen, tell Putin to tell President Trump to go fuck himself…I kid you not…that would do it… the Donald would be on those buttons so fast, not even the doomsday preppers would have time to make it to the shelters!

Trump doesn’t have a clue about being President of the United States of America. He has a slogan: “Let’s Make America Great Again.” It’s a wonderful slogan, but what does it mean. Trump will lie and tell you that America’s in the toilet. He says that he watched Muslims celebrating and dancing on September 11, 2001; he says unemployment is over 42%; he says Mexicans coming into this country are rapists and murderers. He says we can’t let Muslims in because they’ll kill us. He says that all of our jobs are being sent overseas and he’s the messiah who can bring them back. He says bullshit, and there is a group of people out there, paranoid to the core, who believe him. He is a cruel fear monger, filled with hate. He mocks those who call him out such as NY Times reporter Serge Kovaleski who is disabled. Donald Trump is the 2016 version of Senator Joe McCarthy who, in the early 1950s, saw a Communist threat behind every door, and a Communist saboteur sitting behind every desk in Washington.

Do we need new leadership in this country? Absolutely. President Obama has tried his damndest to do what he has felt best for the nation. His report card is littered with C’s and D’s, with maybe a B or two along the way. His teachers have been the members of the United States Congress and if they were to be graded, D’s and F’s would dominate their cards. The one thing that Donald Trump doesn’t realize is that “politics” inside the Beltway is considered a blood sport. It is the dirtiest, filthiest, muddiest, shitiest, game ever played. Every politician has zippers with padlocks on their suit pockets. They shake hands with razor blades ready to eject from their sleeves. Those who are married are probably afraid to kiss their wives for fear that her lips may be poisoned by a rival who has bought her off.  That is Washington in the District of Columbia, in the heart of the United States of America in 2016. Any man or woman who believes he or she can tackle that is delusional. Until such time as someone dumps some Drano into the halls of the Legislative Branch of our government, no one, Donald J. Trump included, stands a snowball’s chance in hell of “making America great again.” I am so sorry to have lived long enough to see this travesty. The pathways across the aisles must be reopened; fear, threats, paranoia are not going to open them. Only with candor and cooperation, healthy debate and compromise can our government once again run as it is supposed to be run.

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Friend of mine returned to the gym after about a week and a half away. Since it was too short a time for a vacation, I asked where he’d been. He said that he had some minor day surgery, but it was enough to keep him away from the gym for a while. Then his face took on a funny look, and he asked, “You know what those bastards gave me.” Any number of things came to mind but not wanting to appear any more stupid that I already am, I answered no. “They gave me a prescription for 20 oxycodone pills.” It didn’t surprise me that Pete was upset since I’ve had similar experiences.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (ASAM), drug overdose is the number one cause of accidental deaths in America. There were 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014 and that number is continuing to grow. Of those deaths, nearly 19,000 were related to prescription pain relievers. To give you an idea of how fast this epidemic is growing, “…the overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 was four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate. In 2014, 467,000 adolescents – those 12 to 17 years old – were current nonmedical users of pain reliever with 168,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers.” 1

When you are recovering from surgery, and you know this as well as I, there is often pain involved. That wonderful ‘kickipoo joy juice’ they give you to knock you out is great stuff, and if you’re having what I call “laundry service surgery,” that is, in by nine and out before five, the drugs in your system are probably still dulling the pain. Once the Versed and whatever else is in your system wears off, you hurt. How much you hurt depends a great deal (a) on what was done, and (b) your tolerance for pain. In all probability, you will receive, with your discharge directions, a prescription for some kind of pain relief. All too often, that prescription drug will be an opioid. “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit heroin as well as the licit prescription pain relievers, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and others.”1

In an article by Dr. Celine Grounder, a public health specialist and a medical journalist, she asks the question, “How did doctors, who pledge to do no harm, let the use of prescription narcotics get so out of hand?” Would that there were some simple answers. One reason is because an article that was written for Pain and a letter sent to The New England Journal of Medicine. In both cases it was suggested that opioids/narcotics could be safely used to treat non-cancer patients on what seems to be a longer term basis with little concern for addictive behavior. That opened the flood gates for pharmaceutical manufacturers of these narcotics to market their products aggressively for other kinds of pain. In other words, it became open season to create a new group of drug addicts…and it was all legal.

In doing some research for this essay, I came across one article which indicated that “A recent review of medical studies showed that addiction to narcotic pain medications exists, but is not too common. On average, only about 4.5% of patients using narcotic pain relievers developed an addiction to narcotic pain medication!” I really wanted to ask the author to which medical studies he was referring and also to ask what rock he’s been living under for the past decade. Every day, about 60 people die from opioid overdose; 44 of those are from painkillers and 16 are from heroin.

Why do I keep mentioning heroin? We all know it’s an illegal drug, but as I said above, it is one short step away from many of the legal pain relievers prescribed by physicians. In a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction, ninety-four percent said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioid prescriptions were ‘far more expensive and harder to obtain.’”2 Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) maintains that the pharmaceutical industry misled the medical community about the safety of opioids beginning around 1996. He believes that this led to a tremendous overprescribing of oxycodone and hydrocodone. In a speech given last September, he told the audience, “These two chemical alterations of opium are so similar to heroin they should be called ‘heroin pills.’”

Pete’s wife filled his prescription. He told me that because he has young kids and didn’t want that $**t around, he took them to the police station. I have to admit that my bottle is still in a cabinet but we don’t have callers so I’m not too concerned.

There’s no question that we have an opioid epidemic in this country. It will continue to result in more and more overdoses until such time as pharmaceutical companies are forced by law to chemically alter their “heroin pills” to reduce potential addiction. In addition, doctors should consider the patient and the potential consequences before so easily prescribing opioids. However, the most important person here is the patient. Yes, there are times when surgical pain can be tough and require medication, but does it really require something that could hook and then kill you?

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  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2. Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Surratt HL, Kurtz SP. The changing face of heroin use in the United States: a retrospective analysis of the past 50 years. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014:71(7):821-i826

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Oh, how times have changed…and not for the better.

We were told by our parents that we should treat our school teachers exactly as we would treat our parents…with both courtesy and respect. Those of us – yep, I was one of ‘em – were punished accordingly if a note was sent home that we had, in any way, misbehaved in class. The only time my folks didn’t drop the hammer was when the teacher, Miss Lannin, sent a note home saying that I had kissed Gloria Madden. Of course, Miss Lannin didn’t know that I’d been dared by the ‘janitor’ to do it and had received a nickel for my efforts. Mom and Dad had a difficult time trying to bawl me out while holding in their laughter.

Later, in my academic career – fifth grade to be exact – I received a sharp rap across the back of my hand from Miss Shea, a former nun, who was exceptionally skilled in the use of a ruler as a weapon of individual destruction. My crime was in mispronouncing the word frigid – looked like frig-it to me, but evidently, Miss Shea found my interpretation bordering on the edge of indecency. How the hell would a nun know that? Ah, well, I guess we’ll never know.

Later, I sat in Bertha Tenney’s math class in junior high school, and when Billy Bailey decided to act up, Bertha knocked his ass right out of his seat and onto the floor. Billy was tough. How the hell she could have put him flat on the floor is something that still confounds me.

There were several other examples of corporeal punishment that I could relate about my own high school experiences, but I believe you can see where this is going. What happened to me after the Holy Roller incident and to Bill after Bertha took him out with one swift back hand was nothing to what happened to us when our parents learned of our misdeeds. Yet, in spite of all of this, Bill and I grew up, went off to college, achieved a modicum of success…depending on how you define it, and raised children of our own. Were we as tough on them as our parents had been on us? I doubt it, but if a teacher told me that my kid had disturbed a class, I kind of doubt that I would have blamed the teacher.

Today, it would appear, that the teacher is never right, can’t lay a hand on some little puissant who is disturbing her/his class, and can be sued at the drop of a missed call in class. My reaction to this is one of horror. Recently, a teacher with 16 years of experience clapped a piece of candy out of the hand of a 14-year old who had been disrupting her class. She is now being taken to court over this…she left a mark on the poor child’s wrist. She should have left the little punk with a couple of black eyes.

There is a law now that says teachers cannot touch students. Are we afraid that some teacher is going to go “postal” and wring some kid’s neck? I rather doubt it. I won’t reiterate what I did to one of my sophomores in high school, other than to say that two weeks after I’d punished him, the Massachusetts State Police came and took him away on felony charges.

These are different times. Latch-key kids whose lives are programmed from the moment they rise in the morning until their heads hit the pillow at night are given little outlets for some of the hormones that begin raging in their bodies earlier and earlier. The word, “Discipline,” is foreign to them. They aren’t disciplined at home…”You’re grounded; go to your room!” Go to the room with your cell phone, computer, and every other electronic device one can think of; that’s not discipline; that’s peace and quiet. Sparing the rod and spoiling the child has become too much of a mantra for today’s parents and it has carried over into the legislatures which are makings laws that completely handcuff teachers in their efforts to do what they are poorly paid to do…teach children who are eager to learn. If a child is a disturbance in a classroom, he or she should be disciplined to the degree possible and that doesn’t mean giving up a cell phone for 24 hours. Punishment must be meaningful and fitting. Unruly child…refused to listen…created a disturbance in the classroom…was eating candy openly…hey, kid, I’m so sorry that you didn’t know Miss Tenney. Had you lived, you would never have forgotten her.

Years ago, teachers were treated with the honor and respect due them. What happened? Where did all of the respect go? Did teachers change that much? I taught high school for a brief period of time. It was in the same school from which I had graduated. I gained an even greater respect for teachers, now colleagues, in whose classrooms I had been a student. Did teachers, as a whole, become people to be disrespected and not believed? Has television and social media been responsible for the lack of respect shown to these people who, generally, want nothing more than to increase the knowledge and intelligence of those with whom they work day-in-day-out?

Perhaps the parents of captain-candy-eater should be in the dock with the teacher. After all, who raised him to be disrespectful to other adults? I cannot imagine what this child gets away with at home. There is no such thing as “Stop it Bobby; stop it Bobby; stop it Bobby; stop it Bobby” ad nauseum. There is only one “Stop it Bobby,” and if it is not stopped, Bobby will wonder if anyone got the license plate of the truck that just ran him over.

It’s time we reinstated two words in the classroom…RESPECT and DISCIPLINE…on both sides of the desk. Teachers have known those two words for years. It’s too bad that today’s children have not been taught their true meaning before they even begin school.

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Kid got killed here recently; got hit by a train. That doesn’t sound like a very pleasant way to die. His mother was out looking for him, and she stopped a group of his friends, asking if they’d seen him. They admitted that they had but didn’t know where he was. It was about this time that the state police helicopters started circling overhead, not far from where the mother and the kids were talking. It got me to wondering…was this an accident or was it suicide. Today, a week after I wrote what you just read, I learned the truth…he stepped in front of that train intentionally. He had been bullied to the point where he felt that his life was no longer worth living. How, in the name of God, does one reach that decision?

Kids growing up today have it much tougher than I did and even tougher than my own children. Heck, social media was a term that I don’t believe my kids ever heard. Today, there are chat rooms, dark chat rooms, and probably more kinds of rooms that you have to be “in on” in order to access. Cyberbullying has been added to the lexicon of the 21st Century, and it’s causing some serious problems.

One of the resources that I used in preparing this essay is The Anika Foundation in Australia. One of its objectives is, “To raise awareness about, the problems of youth depression and suicide.” I have found their research to be sound, sane, and very informative. It’s not limited to the happenings “down under,” but is international in its scope. For example, one of the first citations in their research is of a paper written by Harvard Professors David Cutler and Edward L. Glaeser, along with Assistant Professor Karen E. Norberg of the Boston University Medical School. In their study, they note that “Suicide is now the second or third leading cause of death for youths in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many countries of Western Europe.” While this study was published in 2001, other articles from more current sources agree that suicide is still number two or three, overtaken in some years only by homicide among youth.

Recently, two high school friends in Texas killed themselves hours apart in what appears to have been a suicide pact. Less than a week later, Arizona State University junior, Thomas Wagoner, jumped to his death from a campus building. The victim of bullying in high school Wagoner was known to have suffered from depression because of his experiences; it was something he mentioned in his suicide notes. According to his roommate, Jared Blevens, “He mentioned being depressed. I had known he was depressed, but I didn’t realize how depressed he was. I thought he would talk to me or one of our friends.” Blevins added, “I would say if you are concerned at all then you should get help…because I didn’t realize how bad it was with Thomas. And I knew him better than anyone else.”

These are sad stories, crazy stories, stories that didn’t seem to happen when I was growing up or when my children were growing up. It makes me worry for my kids and their children. Getting inside the head of a teenager is about as easy as herding cats or nailing jello to a tree, ergo, it cannot be done. If they are depressed or suicidal, most of them appear to hide it well, and if they go ahead and commit suicide successfully, we never know the reasons because they take those with them. Suicide.org says that “…teens who attempt suicide and survive tell us that they wanted to die to end the pain of living. They are often experiencing a number of stressors and feel that they do not have the strength or desire to continue living. We also believe that the majority of youth who die by suicide have a mental disorder, like depression, which is often undiagnosed, untreated or both.”

I care about this for two reasons (1) I have grandchildren, some as young as five. I probably won’t live to see him to adulthood, but I don’t want my daughter and her husband to suffer the pain of losing a child. I don’t want any of my kids to lose a child. I think the greatest fear that Joan and I ever experienced was that of having to bury one of our own. Perhaps, in a way, she was fortunate to have died when she did. I still live with the fear that one of my kids may go before me, and it terrifies me. (2) I worked in higher education for 40 years. During that time I saw students who had friends who had committed suicide. When a young person looks you in the eye and asks, “Why do you think…?” how the hell do you answer them? Their pain is palpable and feeling it along with them is just too easy to do. One young woman sat in my office after missing mid-terms. She had gone to the funeral of her best friend in Washington, D.C. The friend had hung herself. Frankly, working with this young woman was physically and emotionally draining. She got through it and graduated. Her faculty members were wonderful in their understanding of what she was going through.

How do we know when a person is getting ready to commit suicide? Wow, that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question. As a parent, a teacher, or a friend, you just have to keep your eyes and ears open. It’s been estimated that perhaps eighty percent of those thinking about suicide want other to know they’re hurting and want to stop them from dying. If they begin to give away things that they’ve highly prized in the past; if they seem hopeless or depressed; if they show signs of a preoccupation of death, it may be time to step in or to call for help from the professionals. As I say, knowing the signs, seeing the signs, is not the easiest thing in the world for an untrained friend, teacher, or family member. Several years ago, a high school student I know surveyed her class about suicide. She found that thirty-two percent of the class had considered it. Fifteen students had actually tried it unsuccessfully. She was shocked as were other members of our committee.

Jared Blevens said about his friend, “I didn’t know how depressed he was.” Perhaps the one-time use of any word that’s even associated with depression should be a key to begin talking. Or, perhaps, communities should begin developing programs to talk about suicide in much the same way they now openly talk of bullying and cyberbullying. We cannot allow this to continue to be the second or third leading cause of death among our youth. If we do nothing, it could easily challenge motor vehicle accidents as the number one cause of teenage fatality.

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Four score and a bit over a year, it has come to me that the Lord, yes, the same God who judges us all after we exit stage left, right, or into the orchestra pit, has a remarkable sense of humor. Man works like hell to solve problems, and it seems that just when he has the answer to one, the Good Lord smiles and tosses man another little problem to solve. Examples? How about the diseases that plagued London in the 18th Century? There was sewage in the streets and filth everywhere; smallpox was killing people by the thousands. Bye the 19th Century, however, man had semi-conquered smallpox with a new device and sera called vaccinations. No sooner was smallpox considered more of a minor irritant than cholera and typhoid appeared. It was rather like the God saying, “If you’re going to do nothing about sewage and cleanliness, I’m just gonna keep tossin’ these little diseases attcha until you wake up!” Of course, mankind did finally wake up, which is perhaps one of the reasons for the cliché, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but let us attempt to keep the clichés to a minimum.

In 1845, the Great Famine that killed over a million people in Ireland was another little gem tossed to the beings on the planet. It took 168 years to figure what the hell it was, but in 2013, scientists finally figured what the infestation was that caused crop failures worldwide, but that hit Ireland particularly hard. According to one source, Ireland has yet to recover its full population.

I really shouldn’t say the God is responsible for the famine and disease that has plagued the earth since the time Eve took the first bite of an apple. Man seems to have done a fairly good job of mucking up the gene pool on his own. The Native Americans were far healthier than the European settlers who landed in North America. According to Native American Netroots, “The diseases brought to this continent by the Europeans included bubonic plague, chicken pox, pneumonic plague, cholera, diphtheria, influenza, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. The diseases introduced in the Americas by the Europeans were crowd diseases: that is, individuals who have once contracted the disease and survived become immune to the disease. In a small population, the disease will become extinct. Measles, for instance, requires a population of about 300,000 to survive. If the population size drops below this threshold, the virus can cause illness and death, but after one epidemic, the virus itself dies out.” Nonetheless, our European forbearers did a pretty good job of infecting the Native Americans with disease. Other than stealing their land, this seems to be a pretty good reason for the Indians to be pissed at the settlers.

When I was a child (okay; no wisecracks; no, I did not know Adam and Eve…or their kids), my world was terrified of chickenpox and measles. It was believed that exposing us to a neighbor child who had one of the diseases would give us a lesser case or at the very least would give us immunity after the disease had run its course. Today, we know that the chickenpox virus remains in the system and can result in shingles in later life. It was just last year that my own doctor recommended a vaccination to prevent the virus from resulting in shingles. In addition, I don’t believe it’s any accident that one of my pox scars later turned into a basil cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that is rather easily cured.

Another frightening disease throughout my childhood was infantile paralysis or polio. It’s a disease that has been around probably has long as man has been here. In The History of Vaccines, it is noted that “Polio reached epidemic proportions in the early 1900s in countries with relatively high standards of living, at a time when other diseases such as diphtheria, typhoid, and tuberculosis were declining. Indeed, many scientists think that advances in hygiene paradoxically led to an increased incidence of polio. The theory is that in the past, infants were exposed to polio, mainly through contaminated water supplies, at a very young age. Infants’ immune systems, aided by maternal antibodies still circulating in their blood, could quickly defeat poliovirus and then develop lasting immunity to it. However, better sanitary conditions meant that exposure to polio was delayed until later in life, on average, when a child had lost maternal protection and was also more vulnerable to the most severe form of the disease.” The one thing that I know for certain is that a 16-year old named Jerry left work at the A&P in Rockland on a Saturday night in 1951 feeling great. On Tuesday Jerry was dead from polio. I still pray for his soul. He was a good kid, and I’m sorry I never got to know him better. Thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk and company, polio has nearly been eradicated, although 250,000 cases still appear annually in lesser developed countries.

Like polio, cancer has been around for thousands and thousands of years. Hippocrates, yep, the same guy for whom the oath was named, used the terms, “carcinos,” and “carcinoma” when describing some ulcer like sores that spread and killed. Today, we are still fighting the fight to find a cure for the disease. I do not know of one person I have ever met who has not, in some way, been affected by cancer. I lost my wife, my Dad, and two grandparents to the disease. You have either lost someone or know somebody who has lost a parent, child, or some other relative. Cancer is the most insidious disease I have ever known. Yes, Jerry died of polio and that was terrible. Worse is watching as your spouse, the mother of your children, waste away and stop breathing. Cancer will not be cured in my lifetime. Hopefully, it will be eradicated by the time my great grandchildren are born.

It’s easy to toss a lot of the disease and death in God’s lap. ”Man plans and God smiles.” No, that’s not really it. Perhaps the Good Lord did throw us a few speed bumps when things first got going, but we have certainly done a fine job of creating our own little killer bugs. I wonder what’s next on the agenda.

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Good luck, Simon

There are ways to bring about change and there are ways that change will never happen. Unfortunately, St. Mary’s University President, Simon Newman, took the later course of action. It has resulted in national attention now being paid to the institution and not in the best light.

When Newman was hired last year, it appears that the selection committee had found just the man for the job. Known as an excellent fund raiser, the 51-year old “devout Catholic” seemed a perfect choice for increasing the institution’s modest $52 million endowment. In addition, his thoughts on increasing academic excellence and adding new programs made sense for America’s second oldest Catholic University. Newman’s mistakes began when he began talking of identifying freshmen who were performing poorly and encouraging them to leave school.

In a Baltimore Sun report it was reported that, “A search committee had been looking for a new leader with fundraising, strategic planning and fiscal leadership skills. Newman was introduced at a Mass on the Emmitsburg campus on Monday.

“Newman said he is interested in deepening the core liberal arts programs, expanding study abroad and building up science, technology, engineering and math courses, particularly in biochemistry. Eventually, he said, he would like to see the university have a doctorate program. In the next six months, he said, the university will develop a strategic plan for the future.”

However, no sooner was the President in office than he asked faculty to identify students who were struggling in their first year in order that they be culled from the student body. There is a great deal of misinterpretation of who said what when and where. The upshot was the firing/suspension of two faculty members and a faculty vote of 87-3 asking the President to resign.

Dammit, Si, if you’d just taken the time to talk to a few folks before stepping into a pile of hot, steaming doo-doo, you might have saved yourself a wee bit of trouble. While you may not believe this, God did not send you to St. Mary’s to be His representative. If you had only taken the time to get the pulse of the campus, you would have become aware that filling the shoes of your predecessor was going to require tact and diplomacy, not “Hitting the ground hard,” as you so eloquently put it. Announcing that the University would be develop a strategic plan within six months was tantamount to saying, “Everything is going to change no matter how it’s been done in the past.” Uh-uh, colleges and universities don’t work that way. You know you want to get going and I know you want to get going, but take it from someone who had to deal with innumerable @#$%^&* in higher education for over 40 years, there are ways to get the job done and there are ways by which each and every faculty member, administrator, and staff person will spend their days throwing tacks under your tires and their nights wondering how they can screw you the following day.

It may sound like a long time Simon, but here’s a bit of advice for your first year (1) Meet with small groups of faculty over lunch and ask why nearly a quarter of the students are leaving after the freshman year. Should they have been told to take a couple of years of community college study before attempting the more rigorous curriculum at Mt. St. Mary’s? Did the admissions staff not understand the screening process – oh, and make certain you have lunch with your admissions folks also, perhaps even to the point of including one or two at some of your faculty luncheons. (2) Get to know the seniors. What have they liked about their education? What have they disliked? (3) Which of your faculty, tenured or untenured, will never be happy with any change that takes place. (4) Who among the alumni have a strong interest in seeing the university move into new areas? (5) Has your development office identified leadership gift prospects if you are contemplating a development campaign? (6) Who will be included in helping to develop a strategic plan? If you expect it to work, you’d better include every element of the university community, from the top faculty and trustees to members of the secretarial staff and physical facilities department. You’ll get some great surprises when you hear from ‘everyone’ on campus. Certainly, filters will be necessary at some point, but at the outset, everything should be fair game and everyone should have the opportunity to speak. (7) do more listening than talking in your first year. If people truly believe that their viewpoints are being heard, introducing a strategic plan that will undoubtedly upset some will be swallowed a bit easier when people know that at least they were heard.

Finally, tell your wife and kids that it’s been nice knowing them. You won’t be seeing much of them for a while, not if you’re going to do the job the trustees feel you are capable of doing. Good luck, Simon. Just give me a call when the alligators reach your butt.

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Milk every drop

How does one measure the worth of a human being?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So said the Declaration of Independence…and we all know that document to have been written by white men without regard to women or to those who had a strange accent or whose skin color was not the same as their own, ie, people who were different from the framers, ergo, when push comes to shove, it’s a bunch of bullshit. In other words, the only individuals with any worth were what the writers thought they should be.

So the worth of a human being has not really meant a whole hell of a lot back as far as when this country was founded, and anyone who disputes that is a big fat liar. While we may have an opinion of our self-worth, the skill sets we possess, and what those skills might be worth on an open market, there is always someone who considers him or herself a better judge of what we may be worth to them in a particular situation.

There are any number of factors that contribute to determining the worth of a human being. First, let’s clarify what we mean by the words, “worth of a human being.” Child molester, rapists, people who physically abuse others because they think they can get away with it, cold blooded murders, and several others you may wish to mention have no worth. They have no right to be using the air that we breathe. They may have great self-worth and believe that they are just wonderful; you and I, as judges, disagree. And that brings up an interesting point…who are we to judge these people? “Well everyone knows…” is not an answer. I’m told that serial killers could be charming and delightful. True or false, I rather doubt you’d find any takers for inviting them into a home for dinner. Therefore, the perception of others is a part of what makes up “worth.” I remember an economics professor, when I was in college, who said, “You are all beginning with a grade of ‘C;’ how you change that grade, up or down, is entirely up to you.

If you wish to make some kind of scale, say zero to ten on a linear line, the horribles mentioned above should fall just a bit below the zero, assuming that is about as bad a one can get. Everyone else is a five. It’s only by hard work and great effort that they can reduce or increase their position on our scale.

In all cases, your true worth depends entirely on many factors. How your worth is valued by others depends on what is required in the short-, medium-, and long-term.  If you go to the emergency room with all of the signals of a heart attack, I’m not certain you want a dermatologist or even a proctologist to be your doctor. Certainly, they have the skills of a physician, but they just ain’t what you need at this particular moment. Put yourself in a similar situation…no, no, no, not the heart attack, unless you happen to be a cardiac specialist, but, let us say…a situation that requires the ability to organize people into teams; that requires you to be articulate; that requires you to be calm in a crisis; that requires you to design and implement some type of program; that needs you to be accessible, direct, capable of working in diverse groups; that demands physical agility; that necessitates proactivity versus reacting to what may crop up. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming you…Yours is the Earth and everything in it.”

Each of us has to determine who and what we are and how we are positioned on our scale. One Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil…” If you covet it above all, you may raise yourself in the eyes of many. After all, you can never have too many houses, cars, boats, etc., but if you are willing to earn what you need to live in the style you wish, and you are able to help others through charitable efforts, whether it’s from your resources, your time, or your talents, you are of a much greater worth in my own mind. That’s me; others may think you’re a damned fool. Still others will tell you, “You’re better than that.”

What I’m telling you is that your worth can only be determined by you…both your self-worth and what you are worth on the open market. Is a quantum physicist worth more than a garage mechanic, for example? The garage mechanic’s family may think far more highly of him than the physicist’s family, so who is worth more. We’re on this earth for a very brief moment. What we do to make that the very best moment for each of us determines where we land on our scale. We may not even care where we fall, and that’s okay, too.

I once applied for a job and was told, “We can’t afford you.” It’s a great sentiment and a little bit of a head swelling statement, but this, too, governs your worth. Is the situation worth your effort as a human being or is it one where you can walk away and say, “You’re right, I’m worth more than you can pay.” Ego said, “Walk away;” the need to work and the desire to put bread on the table said, “Don’t be a damned fool.” In the long run, taking the job was one of the wisest career decisions of my life. I didn’t make a whole, helluva lot of money but my worth, at least in my mind, went far beyond dollars and cents. I helped people…and people helped me…and boy, that is milking the very last drop out of life.

Go. Milk that last drop. Enjoy.

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