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Archive for the ‘Alcoholism’ Category

As if you don’t have enough to do as we enter this holiday season, I have every intention of compounding your life by asking you to join me in celebrating the days leading up to Thanksgiving which, as I understand it, is considered to be our official entrance into the silly season of holidays. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, or some other day or days of gift-giving and merriment, or whether you just sit back and say…no, you’re not allowed to say that, here are some pre-holiday events that you might wish to consider…for what, I don’t have a clue, but you might wish to consider.

Today, for instance is Sunday, November 19, 2017, four days before we carve the bird…or whatevah. It is also known as, “Have a bad day” day. This day has been created by those wonderful folks…no, not those folks, by the wonderful folks at Wellcat.com. Go ahead, look ‘em up. In a way, I rather like it. Yesterday, as a friend and I were leaving the gym, she yelled across the parking lot, “Have a nice day.” Since we often banter back and forth, I responded, “Don’t tell me what kind of a goddamned day to have!” She just chuckled and continued on to her car.

Continuing on from yesterday, today is Absurdity Day. So, if you are, as Steve Martin proclaimed, “a wild and crazy guy” or other person, go ahead and do something absurd. I already did. Last week I was in Wegman’s. A man was emptying trash into a larger trash bin. He stopped me and asked if I was wearing compression stockings. I told him that I was…nice guy…we chatted for a few minutes, and I checked out…of the store…whew! Later in the week, I had to order a few more pair of those socks, and I thought, “What the hell, get an extra pair and see if you can find this guy again.” The socks were left on the front stoop last night, and I managed to locate the guy this morning, gave him the socks, and wished him Happy Holidays…kind of absurd but it felt pretty good. So, get your butt in gear and go do something absurd. Don’t let this day pass you by.

Today is also Beautiful Day as well as Universal Children’s Day. No one seems to know who, what, when, or where Beautiful Day originated, but what the hell, every day is a beautiful day if you can get out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t matter if you’re greeting the sun, the rain, the sleet, snow, or hail, your feet hit the floor and that make it a Beautiful Day. Universal Children’s Day is another story…and I quote, “In 1954, the UN General Assembly recommended that all countries should establish a Universal Children’s Day on an “appropriate” day. We are not sure, but perhaps each country did….at various different dates during the year. The resolution was adopted on November 20, 1954.”

Tomorrow is a ‘twofer,’ that is, we get to celebrate False Confession Day and World Hello Day. You really have to think that first one out carefully…like…don’t walk into your local police station and tell them you just robbed a bank…not wise. You could, however, walk into church, go into the confessional, tell the priest that the Mother Superior over at Saint Whoever’s is hooking at night…although, on second thought, I wouldn’t do that unless I was certain I could outrun the priest. “World Hello Day was created in 1973 by Brian McCormack, a Ph.D. graduate of Arizona State University, and Michael McCormack, a graduate of Harvard University.” It was at a time when war between Egypt and Israel was raging. These two men thought it would be a great idea just to say hello to ten people – ten strangers if you will, just as an expression of peace. Not a bad idea…until you get flipped off by a white supremacist.

This year, November 22 is the day before Thanksgiving. About now, you need a break, something that will take you away from the chaos of getting ready for tomorrow. You should be doing something for yourself. Here are some recommendations (not in quotes, but I did copy them from Go For A Ride Day.)
• Take a sleigh ride.
• Ride a horse.
• Ride a horse-drawn carriage.
• Snowmobile rides are always “cool”.
• A bicycle is a great, way to ride and exercise.
• A boat ride, if you’re in a warmer climate.
• Doesn’t a plane ride to a sunny vacation spot sound like fun!?
• You can’t ride in my little red wagon. Okay, you can ride in it.

Had enough yet? Of course not. November 23, 2017 is Thanksgiving. I guess we’re thankful that we finally shot enough Native Americans, took over their lands, rounded them up and put them on the shitiest land we could find, so now we can celebrate. Naw, I’m not really bitter…wait, yeah, the more I read about how they were treated, I’m not certain this is a celebratory day. It’s also Eat A Cranberry Day, National Cashew Day, National Espresso Day, and my personal favorite, National Tie-One-On Day.

Since you’ll probably be camping out at Walmart, Best Buy, Target, or some other retailer, I don’t have to tell you that the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday. It’s also Buy Nothing Day (yeah, right), All Our Uncles Are Monkeys Day, and Evolution Day, this last in honor of the day on which Charles Darwin published his highly controversial Origin of the Species, which is probably why we celebrate All Our Uncles…aw, forget it.

Thanks for tuning in, and have a wonderful week. Remember, if you see me on the street, you can still say, “Hello,” even if it isn’t Tuesday.

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When I asked about one of my high school classmates recently, I was told, “Aw, he drank himself to death some time ago.” I thought to myself, “Well, that makes two from our class that I know of.” It’s not a pretty picture. How many others, I wonder, abused alcohol? We had less than 80 people in our senior class, and while two out of eighty might not sound so bad, you go ahead and do the math as it may concern the teenage and adult population in the United States. Let me save you some trouble…there are more than 12 million alcoholics in the United States.

Hindsight is a truly wonderful thing. As the cliché goes, it’s 20/20. Looking back to my days at Northeastern and at Babson, I can now recall people I knew who always had alcohol on their breath and who would act confused at times. Naïve little me, I guess. Today, I can honestly say that I was really too damned dumb to notice erratic behavior. Perhaps that’s because there were more than a few mornings when I was nursing a hangover. Thankfully, Joan and I came to our senses before things went too far.

Looking at the statistics on alcoholism, I find that three-fourths of all adults drink alcohol, and 6% of them are alcoholics. That’s really a staggering number – no pun intended – of people who abuse alcohol. Americans spend $197 million each day on alcohol…and that’s not even counting moonshine. In the United States, a person is killed in an alcohol-related car accident every 30 minutes. Perhaps this explains why, even on my early morning drive to the gym or whenever Juli and I are out in the car, my eyes are always shifting to what’s going on in the oncoming lane. Sure, I’m going to die, but I’m not eager to have it be at the hands of some drunk I don’t even know! Two other facts that were somewhat surprising…people with a higher education are more likely to drink, and the same is true for people who are considered to be wealthy. I’m not certain what the correlation is, but it seems that if you’re well educated and rich, you’re more likely to be a drunk…for some reason, that just doesn’t compute, but it’s out there.

A friend of mine recently went to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He told me that he’d finally had enough and that it wanted to quit drinking. His feeling was that he couldn’t do so without help. He indicated that he was shocked when he went to his first meeting because he knew every other person in the room. As I’ve learned over the years, alcoholics are very well versed in how to hide the disease from others. Yes, alcoholism is a disease. It’s not a choice that most people make. It consumes the mind and body of the alcoholic, but it also affects those around him or her. While there are 12 million alcoholics as I’ve said, there are another 50 – 60 million friends and family members who are affected by this debilitating disease.

At this point, time has elapsed since the last paragraph was written. I became angry while writing it, and that’s when objectivity leaves, ergo I’m better off walking away and coming back when I’ve cooled down. My anger stemmed from the fact that I can remember, during my drinking days, of how my family was affected by my drinking. I didn’t like who I was or what I did, but thankfully, those days are long past and there don’t appear to be any residual effects.

Just because you or I may live in a ‘dry’ town doesn’t mean that alcohol isn’t easily accessible. There seem to be more “Town Line” liquor stores abutting the dry town lines than there are restaurants or any other type of establishment. No, liquor is a very easy thing to get one’s hands on. Drinking is one of society’s more widespread and accepted forms of addiction, so how do we spot the alcoholic? ‘We’ don’t have to spot someone with an alcohol dependency. Alcoholics know who they are. It’s one of the few self-diagnosable diseases there are. Asking one’s self a few simple questions can provide answers. Do you drink to relax or feel better? Do you hide your drinking or bottles of liquor? Do you drink to the point of blacking out? How often do you drink to this point? Are you unable to stop once you start drinking? Do you drink in dangerous situations, e.g., when you may have to get behind the wheel of your car? Is your tolerance to alcohol increasing? Do you find that you are neglecting things at home, work, or school? Have you tried to quit but find that you are unable to do so? These are just a few of the signs or symptoms that alcohol is no longer your friend but has become your master. I had a boss who, when we went out to lunch, had to have at least two drinks to get him through the afternoon. In addition, he would become upset if I didn’t drink with him. It made for a few awkward situations.

Why am I writing about all of this…again? It’s been done to death, and no one needs to be reminded about the dangers of alcohol. Well, maybe that’s wrong. Maybe we all need to be reminded of it. God only knows we see enough of the results of it on television…cars wrapped around trees or driving the wrong way and killing others just trying to get home. Yeah, we do need to be reminded of it…and on a fairly regular basis. Alcohol dependency is one of those things that for which we do have treatment centers and programs. Let’s make it personal…I used to drink to the point where I wasn’t very pleasant to be around. I used to drink and drive, but I got away with it. I no longer drink and I’m better off because of it. Every so often one friend or another will tell me that they are going to meetings or that they’ve been sober for so many days, weeks, or months. I understand that. I will always understand that. And I will always help anyone who seeks my help to quit. None of us wish to become one of the 100,000 who die each year from alcohol-related accidents.

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All I’m saying is that it has to happen in someone’s lifetime.

It is imperative that we make it public; that we repeat it over and over and over again until we have them so bloody terrified that not even the thought of such a thing will ever enter their minds.

What am I pontificating about? The public execution of a child in such a horrible manner that it will thoroughly sicken all who are forced to witness it…on every television station and for as long as it takes to get through peoples’ thick skulls that taking the life of another will not be tolerated.

Wait a minute. That sounds as hypocritical as to be laughable…kill someone to show that killing is bad? Statistically, ‘we,’ whoever the hell ‘we’ is, have proven that capital punishment is not a deterrent to the taking of lives by others. Okay, fine; now, if that is the case, how do we stop children like Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier from attempting to kill a best friend? How do we study their brains? How do we study the brains of their parents? What are we attempting to learn if we do study them? Is there an extra chromosome somewhere? Are they lacking in cognitive reasoning? How the hell do we solve this problem of children killing other children and for not ‘apparent’ reason?

Unfortunately, too many of those who perform school, theater, public place, or drive-by killings wind up killing themselves or are killed by the police. We have James Holmes, the orange-haired Colorado killer. How are we studying him? He killed enough to warrant taking his brain apart. If not him, who; if not now, when? At one point, shortly after Littleton as I recall, the FBI began interviewing serial killers about their motives for killing. I beg your pardon, but in many cases, I’m not certain killers even know why they kill. Is it sexual gratification? Is it some other form of satisfaction? Perhaps the only way we will discover the real motive is to study DNA as well as by examining certain areas of the brain.

There appear to be any number of reasons why these killings take place. Yes, we can blame many of them on bullying or a romantic breakup, or perhaps burnt toast at breakfast, or even a buildup that includes all of those things, but many people go through them and do not pick up a gun a start shooting at others so what is our answer. Will we just boo-hoo and wring our hands when it happens again…because we all are well aware that it will happen again.

“Gun control; there’s the answer,” scream those who think the Second Amendment to the Constitution is being misinterpreted by gun owners. “We have Second Amendment rights,” scream the gun owners who have their own interpretation of what that Amendment actually means. “The only way to stop a bad person with a gun is by having a good person with a gun nearby,” cry others and even more shout that if the guns are taken away from those who should be able to have them, then only those who shouldn’t have them will own guns.” It’s a merry-go-round that never stops and never will until someone far more brilliant than I [that shouldn’t prove too difficult] arrives at a solution.

Terror is not the answer; public execution at its very worst is not the answer; repealing the Second Amendment is not the answer…we’ve already had one Civil War and attempting such a repeal might just cause another. No, the answer lies somewhere in between. The answer will be a compromise of some kind, and it will be successful…at least for a few months, years, or even perhaps a decade, and then the entire thing will go to hell and we’ll be back at square one.

Perhaps the best analogy I can draw is that of alcohol control. We learned that we cannot prohibit people from drinking. We tried; hell, we even passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which banned the sale and manufacture of alcohol. It went into effect in 1920.“While it was the 18th Amendment that established Prohibition, it was the Volstead Act (passed on October 28, 1919) that clarified the law. The Volstead Act stated that “beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinous liquors” meant any beverage that was more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. The Act also stated that owning any item designed to manufacture alcohol was illegal and it set specific fines and jail sentences for violating Prohibition,” according to writer, Jennifer Rosenberg. As the popular question asks, “How’d that work out for ya?” and we all know the answer to that one.

Guns, alcohol, tobacco, drugs are all an integral part of society worldwide. We have learned that prohibition doesn’t work; we have learned that advertising, in the case of tobacco, doesn’t work. We have learned with drugs that enforcement is, at best, a losing battle. So what do we do? Do we give up; throw our hands in the air; buy more guns, and put bars on our windows? No, no, we can’t do that. Should we do as Colorado has done and legalize marijuana? Right now, it seems to be working for them… except they can’t put their profits in federal banks so they have to hired armed guards. That’s sort of taking a step back into the 19th Century, don’t you think?

I have written on many occasions that we have so many problems in this country we don’t even know where to begin to solve them. Open discussion appears to be no longer a solution because open discussion seems to devolve into shouting matches and the blame game. Doing what we’re doing isn’t working because of the number of tragedies that we see annually. People use the term, “slippery slope,” to talk about doing this or stopping that. We all know that our prisons are overcrowded. We all know that, unlike some other countries, we wouldn’t tolerate taking prisoners into a cellar and putting a bullet in the back of their head. We all know that a culture that tolerates the abuse of drugs and yes, even alcohol, is a culture that is headed for trouble. We all know that guns are not going to disappear overnight. What we don’t all know is the importance of having decent, honest, hard working people at every single level of our government…from the town selectmen, to the mayors; from the state senators to the governor and every single one of his or her staffs. We need people in Congress who cannot, under any circumstances, be lobbied into voting the way they are asked to by lobbyists or other influencers. How do we ensure this happens? The only way I know of is to emphasize the importance of voting. If we allow ourselves to become even more apathetic than we already are – just over 58 percent voted in the last Presidential election – that slippery slope may see us speaking some language other than American {we haven’t spoken English for years} within the next Century.

I don’t plan to be around in the next Century so…Good Luck, America!

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

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

Are we on the same page so far?

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

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

 

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

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

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What if I elect to drink and smoke, eat fatty foods that taste good, and probably die at 50? So what if I don’t give a damn and think that you’re a fool for eating healthy, going to the gym each day and don’t think I’m particularly bright? Which one of us is correct in our thinking? The answer is that we both are. It may sound rather insane but at the very least, we must consider that we are following our own paths and not allowing others to influence our thinking…or are we?

It seems to me that there comes a point in time when we are so besieged with messages of how bad smoking is; how bad obesity is; how much we should be following federal dictates about what to eat and what not to drink, etc., that a form of rebellion may set in. If I want my mother to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my school lunch, why should I be forced to eat somewhere isolated like a leper? Let the kid with the peanut allergy eat elsewhere; there are more of me than there are of him or her, right? You’ve forced me to have a smoke outside the building where I  work; you won’t allow me to smoke in bars, restaurants, on beaches or in city-owned parks, and now you’re trying to tell me what I can and cannot do inside my own car? When you take over the car payments, then you can tell me what to do. I’ve gotten along just fine without health insurance for 40 years [actual case] and now you plan to fine me if I don’t buy health insurance from a government that cannot even allow me access  because its site shuts down regularly…like, I’m supposed to believe that’s going to solve my problems; are you nuts?

About 43 million people or 19 percent of adults over the age of 18 smoke tobacco. That’s a significant minority to me. Right now, 27.1 percent of Americans are obese. Depending on how you look at figures, that’s also a whale of a lot of people – pun intended. And would you believe that 15 percent of Americans are considered to be alcoholics. Holy, moly Batman!

Time out; time out…what does all of this actually mean? Well, first of all, it means that we sure know how to keep statistics. Remember, “figures don’t lie…but liars sure can figure.” It also means that we haven’t made cigarettes so prohibitively expensive that people who are addicted will have to turn to something else or quit altogether. In addition, since the tobacco lobby in Washington is allowed to continue to flourish, we all know that cigarettes, while costing an arm and a leg, will continue to be smoked in the closet or out. You can’t pass a prohibition law on smoking in the US. We saw what happened when that was tried with alcohol, so don’t even bother thinking about it.  Of course, what could be done is to pass a law stating that anyone who contracts lung cancer from smoking can be refused medical treatment for the disease. If you want people to stop smoking – and from first-hand experience, I can tell you that it is a horrible addiction – make the consequences so frightening that fewer and fewer will be tempted. Unfortunately, there will still be those who have the “it won’t happen to me attitude,” and will smoke anyway.

There is a myth that all obese people are only those in low-income groups. While this holds true for women and children, for some reason, it doesn’t hold true for low-income men. If you attempt to interpret what is said in some of the studies that have been released, you come away with nothing. My conclusion is that people are obese for two reasons: (a) they eat what they can afford, and; (b) they don’t care. There are also studies, most of which are controversial, that intelligence also plays a role in obesity, i.e., that those with a lower I.Q. are more likely to become obese in their middle years. What can be done? Well, one of the things that we have learned as we have ‘matured’ as a nation is that education about social issues rarely works. It appears to have failed on a variety of social issues, eg, smoking, and even on legal issues…buckle up; it’s the law…yeah, right! Okay, so what can we do? What I’d like to see is food manufacturers take a greater role in reducing the ingredients in their products that cause obesity. I’d like to see teachers able to express their true feelings and be able to say, “Your kid is fat and so are you; bring him back when you’ve both lost a hundred pounds!” I just don’t see that as a feasible alternative.  School cafeterias have revamped their menus; restaurants are noting healthy choices for their customers who are serious about keeping off the pounds. Unfortunately, if people wish to eat unhealthy foods, they’re going to do so. At one time, the military had an interesting way of ensuring fitness. During basic training, soldiers were required to pass a fitness test. It combined strength, fitness, and stamina. If you failed the first test, you might find yourself in a special group that ran a bit more, did more sit-ups and push-ups, and ate apart from others in the dining area. Fail the second time, and you were worked harder. If you failed the third time, you had to repeat basic training.  Yes, those were harsh measures, but if we’re so concerned about obesity in America, why not require that a physical fitness test also be passed before a high school diploma is received? Some would argue that physical fitness has no place in an educational environment. I happen to be among those who believe that physical fitness and mental alertness go hand in hand. While one is being taught to maintain a healthy body, they can also be taught how to bring those lessons into their home life. Earlier, I spoke of buckling up when you’re in your car. As a family, we never did it, at least not until our youngest was taking driver’s education. It was at her urging or noodging – depending on how one looks at it – that we began to buckle our seatbelts religiously…and that was before it was the law. The children really can become the teachers if we do it properly.

Well, we’ve covered tobacco usage, and obesity; what about this thing called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘problem drinking.’ Long before Joan was even diagnosed with cancer, we had stopped drinking. The stated reason was that we had lost the taste; the real reason was that we both felt we were on the border of becoming alcoholics, and it was getting too damned expensive. Do I drink today? Sure, if I want a drink, I’ll have one, but it’s usually overpowered by something that takes away the alcohol taste.  Since her passing, I have had a single drink the first time I’ve been back to any restaurant we ever frequented. I’ll offer a toast to her and, just as often, not even finish the drink. For some reason, people who drink to excess don’t bother me as much as they might.  I’ve worked with people who were functioning alcoholics. I’ve even told one or two that I knew what they were and that I never wanted them to come to work drunk. They get pissed at first, but that’s okay, they get over it. Thankfully, no one ever accused me of any kind of harassment, so I guess things worked out for the best.

WOW…we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Please don’t get the idea that I have the real solutions to these problems; I don’t. Far wiser heads than mine are looking at these problems daily and if they have yet to reach any solid solutions, who am I to believe that I can? Smoking? Yeah, it’s a problem because it can kill, not only the user, but those around the user. It killed my wife; it’s damaged my lungs; it’s a terrible, terrible addiction and anyone who allows themselves to become addicted is a fool. Obesity is another question; why wasn’t it a problem when I was growing up? Do we have too many food choices today that are bad? Are we disinclined to take physical fitness seriously? Anyone I have ever known who works out on a regular basis says that they hate working out but that they love the feeling they get from exercise.  I have belonged to three gyms since 1994. Each has had its own personality, but each also has had its own commonality and that commonality is the way people speak about how they feel after their workout.

As we begin another year, forget the resolutions, just do something right…for you and for others.

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‘Civil’ libertarians: “One who is actively concerned with the protection of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the individual by law:”

What are these fundamental rights guaranteed to the individual by law? Are they what most of us have been taught…that every person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? By that definition, anyone who is put in jail has had one of his or her fundamental rights, as guaranteed by law, taken away. Wait a minute; if they are guaranteed by law, then they can’t be taken away, which means that everyone in jail is illegally there, true? Of course not…what a dumb argument! How about the pursuit of happiness? If it makes me happy to rob banks because, as Willie Sutton said, “That’s where the money is,” am I not allowed to seek my happiness? After all, who’s getting hurt if I don’t kill anyone? Hey, the money is insured and I’m happy because I’m doing what I love. Just how asinine is that logic? Now that we’ve knocked those two “fundamental rights” all the way to hell and back, let’s take a look at the third one: We are guaranteed by law the fundamental right to life. Wow, unless you happen to be O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, or George Zimmerman, I guess you can’t argue with that?

Where do your rights end and another’s begin? I take a very simplistic view of this question. Your rights end when you knowingly do something that endangers the rights of others. Since the only right that we seem to have left is our right to life, there’s the key. If you knowingly do something that endangers the lives of others, you sacrifice every other right you think you have. “Oh, c’mon,” you say, “on that basis the legal system would be performing ritual killing so fast, the population growth couldn’t keep up.”  Yeah, wouldn’t that be great….just kidding!

“Where is this all leading?” you ask. It leads to the question of how we act, within our right to life, in the actions we take that can conceivably take away the right to life of another. The classic example of this is the drunk driver who, having been convicted of the crime of drunk driving, is parted from his or her license but who continues to drink and who continues to get behind the wheel of a vehicle until he or she ultimately takes away the right of another to live. Let me give you a few examples: Jerry Zeller of Rapid City, South Dakota, racked up 34 DUI arrests before he fell asleep in his bed in 2008 with a lit cigarette in his hand…bye, bye, Mr. DUI.  Thank you, Jerry, for doing something the police could not do…stop you from driving. The great thing is that he did it before he managed to kill someone else. “A Virginia man was given seven years in prison for his 25th DUI arrest in May of 2012. Tracy Michael Decker was arrested after arguing with an employee at a toll station. If that wasn’t bad enough, Decker’s BAC was 0.28 percent; he had open alcohol containers in his vehicle, and had two 4 year old children without seatbelts in the back seat.”

The examples are endless; however, the laws concerning punishment are as varied as snowflakes. In Florida, four dui convictions will get your license taken away forever. How does that stop one from driving while intoxicated? That’s right; it doesn’t. Nothing will stop a drunk driver from getting behind the wheel other than a punishment so severe that he or she will never even consider driving again. Other than the threat of death or a ‘scarlet letter’ being branded into the drunk’s forehead, there is little that can be done until they kill someone…and they do. Ignition locking devices don’t seem to work; there are too many ways to circumvent them. The laws seem terribly lenient on the drunk driving offender. The best state in which to drink, drive, and kill is Oklahoma. You can get as little as zero time in jail or only up to one year.  In Alaska and North Dakota, you get one year to life. Other punishments are all over the map…ouch! This really is no joking matter, but the lack of cohesive law enforcement in the states is a bit frightening. Perhaps judges have to have been personally affected before they will dole out the maximum sentence to these ‘free range killers.’

I have known people who have been killed by drunk drivers. I cannot possibly understand the pain they feel, although, I’ve seen their personalities change. I have known a driver who killed someone while he was driving drunk. It cost him his family, his career, and, eventually, because it haunted him so much, it cost him his own life. Back in the day when I was drinking, I did drive drunk. I was one of the lucky ones; I neither killed someone else nor did I kill my wife. Having done it once and gotten away with it, the next day I made a solemn vow never to do it again…it had scared the bejusus out me.

Technology has made so many things possible in our collective lives. Here’s a new challenge: Devise a technological program that will prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel and killing others. Whether the driver has to remember a 16-digit code which a drunk probably wouldn’t remember in order to start the car – it works with computer passwords—or sensory skin feelers on the steering wheel to prevent the car from starting, something must be done to prevent the continued carnage.

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Would you believe that thirty-two percent of the seniors in your town’s high school have considered suicide? Would you believe that fifteen percent actually tried? These are shocking figures and yet that’s what we learned when we took a poll at one local high school in Massachusetts. This was not a suicide questionnaire but covered a much broader area of student concerns. To be brutally frank, it scared the crap out of the high school principal, health officials, and the school resource officer to name but a few.

Candidly, we don’t know what causes high school kids to kill themselves. Yes, there have been a number of highly visible cases where actual- as well as cyber-bullying has been considered to be the major factor, but that seems to be just a part of the story. Those of us who have never experienced teen suicide ‘up close and personal’ don’t have a bloody clue what goes through the mind of a teenager that permits them to believe that life is no longer worth living. As the third leading cause of death among adolescents, suicide is not something that we should hide as we did the subject of bullying for so many years.

Please don’t get me wrong; when our kids were growing up, I was so busy trying to make a living that I’m now convinced that I didn’t put the time in to truly help make a family life. Yeah, I coached Little League when our son wanted to play baseball…the girls weren’t interested. Yeah, the kids began competitive swimming when the youngest was only six, and we took them to practice and meets and learned how to officiate, but being more deeply involved in their lives was not something that we considered. We didn’t pry; we might ask how school was going, but we could see that on their report cards. Now that they are all adults, married, and have kids of their own, we’ve learned a few things that I for one am happy we never learned when they were young. Looking back, I’d have to say that we were pretty damned lucky compared to some other parents. Rarely did a week pass when Joan didn’t have one or more of the children’s friends in the kitchen without our own being present. She would inform me at some point if there was a problem she considered serious, and we’d attempt to decide whether or not the children’s parents should be notified. Most of the time it was concluded that the parents were probably better off being kept in the dark. One of Joan’s questions, however, was always, “They just want a friendly ear. How come they don’t have that at home?” It’s an interesting question.

There is no question that the pressures of today are far more severe than the pressures on me or even my children. Today’s teenagers are bombarded by emotional, social, and family issues that we didn’t have to face. Social media, television, having the newest, the brightest, the best of whatever can strain a child’s emotional well-being beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Recently, a high school classmate of mine – that’s Class of 1952 – recalled coming over to our house to watch television; he also remembered my mother’s brownies. I don’t remember any of this, but here it is, over 60 years later, and her still remembers. Pressures? Hell, we didn’t have a clue about social or emotional pressures. Family issues: What family issues? Every family we knew had a mom, a dad, and kids. There may well have been issues behind the closed doors, but we certainly never heard about them. Were there single parents? I never knew of any. Today, I hear nothing but stories of single parents, gay parents, dope-dealing parents, and yes, even a parent who has murdered. And we wonder why these kids commit suicide?

There are few if any teenagers who kill themselves who do not send out warning signals of some kind, directly to their parents; to their friends; to their teachers; or even to complete strangers. One of the problems is that everyone is too busy to take notice of them. When a child’s grades begin to fall inexplicably; when he or she loses interest in a social activity or sport that three weeks ago was their world; when things go missing from their room and the excuse is, “Oh, I was tired of that old thing and gave it to so-and-so,” there’s a problem brewing that needs to be discussed. Perhaps the child begins to abuse alcohol or drugs – not always the easiest thing to detect, but if you suspect it and work at it, you’ll find the signs; if they begin to act up or become bored with “just everything;” If they withdraw from family activities; change their eating or sleep habits, perhaps neglect personal hygiene, these are signs that there is a serious problem. You can find other signals and signs merely by going online and checking out various teen suicide sites…if you have the time…if you care about your kid…if you don’t want tragedy entering your life when you least expect it. No, I’m not really trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone. However, we brought them into this world. Along with the help of God, we created something more precious than anything we have ever owned. Don’t we deserve to see them reach adulthood…whether they want to or not?

There’s an old adage that goes, “A son is a son ‘til he takes him a wife; a daughter’s a daughter the rest of her life.” My personal philosophy is that their mother and I saw, interfered, and tried to influence their lives through high school. When they went to college, they entered an environment where they were to become semi-adult. Upon graduation, their life was their own. For us, it worked. Will it work for everyone? It most assuredly will not and once again we come back to the pressures of today being completely different from the pressures or the environment in which we raised our children. I don’t envy my kids or my grandkids. I cannot conceive of the pitfalls they will face.

Encourage openness and candor with your kids. You don’t have to get ‘into their face,’ but you do have to be aware of what is going on in their lives. I’ve searched through pages and pages of quotations with which to end this essay.  Since I can’t relate to Justin Timberlake, Snookie, or any of the other characters who seem to populate the teenagers quotes, I guess I’ll just have to settle for the late Erma Bombeck who said, “Never lend your car keys to anyone to whom you gave birth.”

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