Archive for the ‘Altruisim’ Category

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a God!                                                                                                             William Shakespeare

This will be my 1,000th post on this blog.

Several thoughts come immediately to mind: First and foremost, “What a mouthy bastard!” More polite and I hope more important, “He’s had some interesting things to say.” That sounds a great deal like ego talking and, I suppose it is. However, I admit that I did have a very real purpose in starting this blog. Quite simply, it was to get readers to think. Did it work? Yeah, sometimes it did. I could always count on people like Jerry Burke, Mark Ford, Patti Cahill, Jim Gaudet, Georgia Patterson, Bill Mahoney, and a few other friends to either argue vehemently with me or even back me up on occasion. Once in a while, a few people I didn’t know would made a comment, some good; some bad, but they did comment.

I didn’t want this post to be dull and boring, but it sure looks like it’s started that way. Politics is always a good topic but it just tends to piss some people off while others yell, “Right on, babe; go get ‘em,” and besides, I’ve just about ridden this political horse until it’s ready to drop, ergo, that one heads almost immediately into the trash bin. The do-nothing Congress is also fodder for my keyboard but I tell ya, they aren’t worth the key strokes to criticize them. I swear ISIS accomplishes more in a day than our Congress can accomplish in eight years…useless; just absolutely useless.

I’ve considered doing some follow-up pieces on law enforcement versus the black community. I read where a Washington Post reporter went to Chicago to examine exactly what the problem is in that city; he came away, if I’m not mistaken, with the impression that the biggest ‘gang’ in the windy city is actually the police department itself. It may very well be true in a number of large cities, particularly those that don’t understand where and when to place what officers in what districts. In addition, it’s not always the easiest thing to recruit minority officers, whether they are black, Latino, or Asian. Of course that’s not a problem unique to law enforcement. When I was working at Northeastern University, I remember the head of the history department complaining that he couldn’t land a black Ph.D. because Northeastern couldn’t afford to pay the person what he could get from the “richer” schools, At that time, any minority with a terminal degree was actively recruited and could pretty much name their own terms. Fortunately, today, there are more and more non-whites with doctorates…unfortunately, they still don’t gravitate toward academia as much as I’d personally like to see.

Racial problems, government problems, poverty problems, pharmaceutical problems, a myriad of problems confront both the United States and the world. Is that what I really want this brief essay to discuss? What do we do about the gang violence that is on the increase in cities, towns, and sometimes villages across the US? What can China, the US, and India, among others, do to reduce pollution and their country’s contribution to global warming? How do we stop the increase in national poverty levels around the world…and the US is just as guilty as many of the nations we speak of with a degree of disgust?  How do we ensure that individuals and pharmaceutical companies become more altruistic when it comes to saving lives, particularly the lives of America’s veterans…they put it all on the line for us; unfortunately, the pharmaceuticals see profits and not people as their bottom line.

It seems that a world without problems is the ultimate impossible dream…that and the Cubs winning the World Series, despite all of the nasty things that happen, somehow, this old planet seems to limp along. There is a whale of a lot of good being done, some of it by people with resources sufficient to make their contributions newsworthy, people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg; some of it by people without the proverbial pot but who are willing to give of their time and effort to help others. Perhaps I’m prejudiced but I’ve never seen as dedicated a group of volunteers as I find at the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge each year. They may not ride a bicycle or raise a pile of money for the Dana Farber Cancer Center, but the hours and hours of time given by those volunteers does this old man’s heart good. That just happens to be one organization with which I’m familiar. Multiply that by the tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of volunteers in this country and abroad and it’s very easy to see that for all of the bad we read about and watch on TV, there’s an equal amount of good that never makes it to the headlines.

As I finish this up on Thursday, the day after the San Bernadino massacre, I have to pause and think about the comments I’ve been hearing on television. “How do you feel, knowing that your wife will survive?” is about as asinine a question as could have been asked. Almost as stupid was Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, insinuating that these shootings are mental health issues. That is making an excuse for people who are actually evil. That’s right, evil. If evil is a mental condition, then I’m Howdy Doody on puppet strings. Can’t anyone get it through their heads that evil exists in the world and that this is merely another manifestation of it? Perhaps mental health legislation is in need of revision; I won’t doubt that for a moment. Legislation regarding the payment to our military is also in need of serious adjustment. Legislation regarding who is able to purchase guns is in need of serious adjustment. A great deal of legislation is in need of serious study and adjustment, but please, please, please don’t try to blame all of these shooting on mental health issues. There is evil in this world and we are sticking our collective heads in the sand if we don’t believe that the bulk of these mass killings are merely evil in nature.

I hope to be able to write another thousand essays before I day. A while ago, I said, “This is it; I’m done.” However, that was the coward’s way out. I will continue to write about topics that interest me; sometimes they’ll be happy and (I hope) a little humorous; others will attempt to get readers thinking about what they can do to make a positive difference in this world of ours. ‘Til  next time, be well.

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“The world is divided into ‘givers’ and ‘takers.’ If you’ve never heard the expression, invite me over to your cave sometime, and we can discuss philosophy 101. However, I never heard the rest of the statement until today. It goes, “The takers eat well, but the givers sleep well. What a wonderful expression when combined. I wonder if it’s true. I began to do a bit of research on the subject of givers and takers, only to learn that there is a third category, “matchers.”  The takers take with no thought of how it might affect others, rather like, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine…and if I want it, screw you, I’m going to get it.” The givers just give without thought other than it will help the team, organization, or whatever. The matchers, however, are those who will give but expect to receive something from their giving…a favor later or some kind of quid pro quo that will benefit them.

I never realized the amount of study that has gone into this subject of givers and takers…and even matchers. I also never realized that this entire thing could be turned into book after book after book. It made me realize that no matter how obscure, shadowy, vague, or downright weird, there is always some smartass who is able to take advantage of it and turn it into a profitable book, workshop, or lecture tour.  In addition, if one is really good, it can be turned into an entire semester-long course for guinea pigs who will supply an endless amount of raw data so that more books can be published and more money can wind up in the author’s pockets.

As an undergraduate, I was forced to take a course entitled Advertising Production. It was a required course. This was in the 1950s when textbooks were relatively inexpensive. Therefore, when I learned that this text was going to set me back nearly a hundred bucks, I was really pissed. The man who taught the course was still living in the 1930s. The course was as dull as dishwater; the book a piece of crap, and if you turned in a smoke and mirrors project and did well on the tests, you were pretty much guaranteed an ‘A.’ Several years after I graduated, this same faculty member was taking a year-long sabbatical, and I was asked if I’d be interested in teaching the Ad Production course for a year. Hey, what an opportunity to put a few bucks in my pocket, so I said, “Yes.” I was given something that was supposed to be a syllabus, told the name of the book that had been ordered, an “atta boy,” and left to my own devices. The book was the same one that I had as an undergraduate. It had not changed…one iota. On the first day of class, I asked how many had purchased the book. The answer was zero. They were waiting to see what the instructor was going to do; how would he teach; would the book be required, etc., etc., etc. I told them not to buy the book. I’d be damned if I was going to put royalties in the pocket of some lazy son-of-a-bitch who hadn’t bothered to change his book in nearly 20 years.

You have to understand something clearly. Advertising Production entails many things. There is the creative process, the production process, budgeting, and a whole pile of other ‘stuff’ that goes into what you may read in Time or U.S. News, listen to on your favorite radio station, or watch between segments of NCIS or Grimm. The classroom is great but not for this particular course. Back then, you took students to an ad agency for the creative process as well as cost figures. You took them to a commercial printer if you wanted them to see the complexities of a print advertisement. You took them where things were actually happening, let professionals spend an hour – I had a lot of friends in the business – telling them the facts of life [as you took notes to make up exam questions], and showed them firsthand what they might be facing after graduation. From the owner of a commercial printing company, the students received a spiral-bound printer’s handbook. In class they were told that this was their Bible and to be prepared to be tested on what it contained [I had probably ten different editions of the same book and had found it to be invaluable in producing bulletins, brochures, and catalogs]. They learned early on that their projects would be judged by real world standards and not by how much BS they could shovel.  Of the money I received from teaching that class, nearly half went into transportation, publications, and ‘honoraria’ for speakers. I’m not that giving a person, but I would be damned if those kids were going to suffer through the bullshit through which I suffered. Funny thing is that several stayed in touch for years; one stays in touch to this day. I’m not certain who the giver was and who was the taker. I probably learned as much from them as they learned from me and the people to whom they were introduced.

Frankly, I don’t think we should go through life as takers or givers or matchers, or whatever. According to some of the data I’ve seen, the three categories aren’t necessarily a measure of success. Oh, boy, there’s another word that’s worthy of an entire essay! Some givers achieve greatness as do the other two. Other givers, takers, and matchers are at the bottom of the achievement list. Perhaps this is why I question the idea of trying to make so much psychological gobbledygook out of who is what in this world in which we live. When I started this piece, I had no idea where it would take me; no idea that it would rekindle my very first college lectureship experience; no idea that it would begin to make me think about my own family and who were the givers, and who were the takers.

I’m reminded of a quote by the philosopher,  Kahlil Gibran,“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” Certainly, it would be great to win a big lottery jackpot and give much of it to your favorite charities, but it is when you give of your knowledge, freely and without reservation; when you give of your time to help others without concern for yourself, then you will begin to realize just how good giving can feel.

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Have you ever tried to assess your life? You know…you sit back, take a look at what you’re doing and the degree to which it is in keeping with your life’s wishes and desires? I’m not certain that any of us – change that to not to many of us – ever take the time to reflect on where we are; how we got here; and whether or not it’s actually where we want to be. There may be a day here and there when we might say to ourselves, “Oh crap, how did I get into this mess,” or “Wow, life really doesn’t get any better than this; why can’t I bottle it?” Those are days. In the overall, they are few and far between.

A couple of weeks ago I became 79 years old. When some idiot says, “Oh, you’re 79 years young,” I tend to resort to the great Joan Rivers line, “Yeah, and your 250 pounds light” [always exaggerate their weight by a minimum of 50 pounds]. Where did those years come from? What has happened during all that time? Am I happy with where I am? Have I accomplished anything? Did I ever try to do something that would be lasting and good…or bad as the case may be?

Perhaps this is just a big ego speaking…and heaven only knows that my ego is rather large…but I’d love to die knowing that I made a difference somewhere, to someone, about something. Don’t you think it would be great if you could look back on your own life and say, “Yeah, I did make a difference…and at the time I didn’t even think about it that way?” Perhaps we are destined never to know. Perhaps you have a made a difference in more lives than you realize because you did something; something like tossing a ten instead of a five in the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time. Maybe you decided to volunteer an extra day at your child’s school, and that was the day that you helped a child to read, and perhaps that was a gift the child never would have received if not for you. The examples are endless, but how will you ever recall them?

I reached this point in my writing when I decided to check Google and see how many others had done a reflection on their lives. Holy Smokes; 220 million popped up in less than half a second. It was rather weird to note that Billy Graham had done it when he was in his seventies. However, after reading several of the references, I came to the following conclusion…I really don’t know what the hell I’m talking about!

I did learn that each of us has to choose his or her way of assessing the value of his or her life. I learned that what I might consider to be a high point in my life, e.g., having students with whom I had interacted contact me years later just to say, “Hi; how’re ya doing?” might be insignificant to another of my colleagues in the same field. While there are very few left, I’m willing to bet that the women who built bombers for WWII would look on that as one of the most significant contributions they ever made. Here’s another example that may not seem important to some but it’s one of which I’m quite proud: I volunteered as a meals on wheels driver after I retired…did it until the stairs in some of those places where I delivered became a bit too steep. Then I worked in the kitchen helping to prepare those meals.

Imagine what it must be like for someone like Lee Iacocca who rescued a car company and saved thousands of jobs or what it must have been like for President Eisenhower to look back at the infrastructure he started to speed up cross-country ground travel. You and I, in all probability, can’t assess our lives from that lofty a perch, nor should we. You and I are very, very small fish in a monstrous ocean, but if we don’t do what we have done, something else wouldn’t have happened somewhere. It’s been called the Butterfly Effect, the Ripple theory and probably has a whole bunch of names. But this isn’t about the physics of dropping a stone in a pond and watching how far the ripples go. No, it’s about you and me looking at our lives to date and trying to assess whether or not, in the aggregate, we’ve led lives that have been pleasant or perhaps not so pleasant.

I have a neighbor who is married with three boys. My late wife, Joan, and I watched those boys go to elementary and middle school. We watched them as they began Boy Scouts – Joan had been a den mother to a group of Webelos years ago. At 16, the oldest started a landscaping business. When he went to college, his younger brother took over, and so on to the youngest. All three became Eagle Scouts just as their Dad had been. Two are still in college, but the business is thriving, with new trucks and equipment, along with a determination to always deliver the best of service. How do you believe their Mom and Dad are going to regard these accomplishments when the asses their lives and ask themselves if the kids turned out okay. Personally, I think they have one hell of a lot to be proud of. It makes me think about my own kids and the pride I feel for how they have succeeded with their lives.

You have to do your own assessment. Are you proud of your life; better yet, are you happy with your life? If your bucket list hasn’t included helping others, should that be added? If you look back and say, “Wow, I’m really proud of that and that and that and that,” congratulations; I’m very happy for you. I’m even more happy that you’ve taken the time to realize that, all in all, you’ve done a pretty good job with you and for those around you. Give yourself a pat on the back from me…way to go!

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About this time every year for the past several years, I become somewhat emotional as well as pissed off at my body for letting me down. This year I guess I have an excuse because of the torn Achilles, but if it’s not one thing, it seems to be another. I’m speaking of the fact that I am no longer able to volunteer for my favorite charity, The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) which will be held this first weekend in August. The PMC raises money for the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. Since its beginnings in 1980, the PMC has raised over $375 million.

“What is this PMC?” you ask.

Oh please, don’t get me started. The PMC is a bike ride; it’s not a race; it’s a bike ride! For many, it’s a two-day ride from Sturbridge, Massachusetts to Provincetown, MA. Don’t bother to figure the mileage; it’s 192 miles. Don’t worry, these folks stop at the Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne for a sleepover before crossing the Bourne Bridge which is one of the two entrances to Cape Cod. Over the years, shorter routes have been added to accommodate the number of riders who want to be a part of this great organization. I guess here might be a good time to tell you that every penny raised by riders goes directly to the charity. Administrative costs come from a separate foundation – and the fact that there are overworked and underpaid slaves in the office who are beaten severely on a regular basis [just kidding]. There are now over a dozen routes to ride the PMC, and many are single-day rides.

My commitment to the PMC spanned over 10 years, not as a rider but as a volunteer. It began before my late wife, Joan, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, and it lasted after her death in 2008. It is impossible to describe the feeling, the emotions of preparing to volunteer, just as I’m certain it’s impossible to know how the riders must feel as the train, both separately and in groups, for the ride – training includes a one-day century ride; you’ve got it…100 miles in a single day. Obviously, not everyone puts themselves through that kind of a regimen, but there are some 7,000 plus who do.

On the day of the ride, emotions run high. There’s a great deal of hugging and kissing, well-wishing and yes, a great many tears. Many people ride with pictures attached to their jerseys; for others, it’s a list of those for whom they’re riding. Helmets are adorned with animals of all kinds, usually representative of a toy that was someone’s favorite. There have been times I’ve invited friends to “just come over and watch.” Every single one of them has later admitted that he or she has cried tears of joy for what they saw as genuine dedication and commitment on the part of the riders as well as the volunteers.

The year after Joan died, I was asked to be part of the very brief speaking program that precedes the start of the ride. It was tough, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. As I looked out at that sea of riders, I had trouble holding it together. These people were riding so that there wouldn’t be any more Joan’s or Jimmy’s. There they were…cops and teachers, college students and investment bankers, Red Sox wives and then-Senator John Kerry; there were husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and just about any profession you can name, including many of the doctors, nurses, and administrators from Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund…now that I think of it, I wonder who the hell was minding the store?

Now that I can no longer be an active part of this event, I do a bit as a supporter of a couple of riders. I’m proud to support them and I’m proud of my association with the PMC. If you’d like to learn more, please go to http://www.pmc.org and learn more about this wonderful program. Oh, and if you’ve got an extra buck or so, don’t be afraid to become part of the PMC. I guarantee it’ll feel good to give to such a worthy cause.

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It’s not so much that I’m mad about the shenanigans that are going on in Washington; no, it’s that I’m terribly upset that our country has come to this state of ‘hatred.’ Sure, we’ve been through these episodes before in our history and we have survived. One can go all the way back to the Pilgrims versus the Puritans I suppose, but I prefer the Revolutionary War as a time when neighbor hated neighbor and, in too many cases, murder was the outcome. The not-so-humorous joke is that more Americans were killed in the Civil War than in any other this nation has fought. We have been a divided nation since our founding, but I’m not certain that in my nearly eight decades of life I have ever seen a division greater than today.

We are supposed to be, “one nation under God,” and yet, there is such a separation of wealth that it would be more correct to say, “Many nations under God.” Heck, when you stop and think about it, we can’t even decide on which God it is that we are supposed to be under. We are not one nation; we are fragments of a former nation, and if someone doesn’t grasp the reigns of leadership in the very near future, we are going to become a non-nation, weakening itself to the point that we may as well go back and becoming another colony of Great Britain.

I am sick to death of the pettiness that I find in our nation’s supposed capitol, Washington, D.C.  From President Obama’s pettiness of closing the White House to tourists to Rand Paul’s twelve-hour filibuster to prevent a vote on confirmation of John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), there is nothing but childish action and reaction taking place. It really is quite sad to see grown men and women, supposedly intelligent people behaving in such a manner.

“If we don’t cut spending we will be leaving a massive debt for our children and grandchildren to pay.” Okay and your point is? Hell, we’ve been in hock up to our ears for so long that even our own citizens have stopped caring. We are a nation of “I don’t care as long as I get mine; a nation of NIMBY’s; a nation of hooray for me and to hell with you!” I can’t be hard on Congress and the White House when all I have to do is watch how people act in the supermarket when there is the threat of a winter storm.  When those same folks start bitching about, “…oh, we lost power and by the time it came back on I had to throw out all the food in the freezer.” Hey, ain’t life a bitch when your freezer is so full? Did you even consider what homeless people were doing while you were stocking up, afraid you might not be able to get out for a couple of days? Of course you didn’t; you were getting yours and to hell with the rest of the world!

Somehow, we have gone off the rails. I can’t tell you exactly why or how this has happened, but I know that it has.  I remember when a couple of us would go up to old Mr. Feeney’s house after a snowstorm and shovel his driveway and the path to his front door. If some other kids came along, they’d usually lend a hand. Of course, we went to other people’s houses and charge them for shoveling, but Mr. Feeney lived on our street and he was ‘old.’ I’m quite certain he wasn’t as old as we thought, but then, what did we know? I just don’t see that attitude with children or adults today.

Are there any numbers of isolated cases where people do good things for others?  Of course, there are, but we don’t hear about them because there is so much bad news to talk about. “If it bleeds it leads” is still the motto of our news media. Who wants to hear about a group of people getting together with their ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ coupons just to benefit a food bank or a homeless shelter? It doesn’t sell and it doesn’t attract advertising dollars.

Whether you are citing Leviticus 19:18, “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” or Mark 12:31, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these,” or not citing the Holy Bible at all, it’s a pretty good idea to remember that there are a whole lot of people out there who can use the help if we can give it.

The art of compromise is not difficult. If we are to grow as a nation, our leaders must learn to put aside their pettiness. We, each and every man and woman in this country, must begin to look on themselves as Americans first and behave as Americans should.

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This is a season of giving. It’s not merely a case of giving to loved ones, to family and friends but also a time when we are asked to consider those less fortunate. This is a good thing. We get to do something to help someone else and, quite frankly, we get to feel good about ourselves because we did so. Before you make a gift to any charitable organization, however, it’s a smart move to determine exactly how much of that donation is actually helping and how much is going for overhead.

There are any numbers of charity watchdog organizations that can help you make your decisions about which charity is really putting its money to work and which is merely helping to stuff the pockets of a few executives. For example, when Todd Bassett was heading the Salvation Army, his salary was $13,000 and ninety-three cents of every dollar was being spent directly to benefit those who needed it. With Israel Gaither at the helm, the salary jumped from somewhere between $79 and $243K and I have no information regarding how that changed the 93% figure, but you can bet your bottom dollar it made a shift. You might want to check out Charity Navigator, The American Institute of Philanthropy, or The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

I will not give to the American Red Cross. I figure that any organization where the CEO is making a salary of over half a million a year and has a number of other perks is not really my cup of tea. In addition, I’m not crazy about the United Way for the very same reason. My gifts are important to me. I want them to mean something, both to me and to the organization that receives my limited resources. My late wife loved the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In lieu of Christmas presents to each other, I would give to Make-A-Wish in her honor and she’d make a gift to a charity of my choice. Don’t get any big ideas here; the gifts might be anywhere from $10. to $250, but if you give enough over the years or if you have a couple of extra bucks in your pocket – oh stop laughing; it’s not a joke – why blow it when you can help someone else. Of course, the ultimate gift is the one you put in the plate on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Churches need help all the time. It’s not a ticket to heaven, but if you know your priest or minister and enjoy what he or she has to say, it’s a damned darn good cause.

When I read about charitable organizations that pay their executives exorbitant salaries and give them so many extra perks, I just wonder about the wisdom of the board of governors or trustees. Have they lost sight of the purpose of the organizations? There aren’t many people with managerial skills who are worth more than half a million dollars a year. In addition, the executive who wants that kind of money should be subject to some very serious scrutiny by those about to hire him or her. If that salary includes allowances for clothing, travel, housing, etc, then certainly it becomes a different story. However, if there are separate allowances for those costs, look out!

I’m in a very good place. I don’t have the worries that too many younger people have. My three kids each have three kids. My children worry about their mortgages, college tuition, and other major expenses. That’s behind me; my worries concern property taxes and medical bills. As a result, perhaps I’m being a bit paranoid about giving to charity. Each year since retirement I’ve tried to donate one month’s worth of retirement income to various charities. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the goal that I’ve set for charitable giving each year. Before anyone gets my bucks, however, there are two simple questions that must be answered:

  1. What percentage of your gifts go to directly benefit the recipient and what percentage is going for organizational overhead?
  2. What is the salary of your organization’s chief executive officer and what is the salary of the chief financial officer?

Two very simple questions, and if the answer to the first one is that less than seventy-five cents of every dollar goes to the recipient, you’ve lost my money. If I don’t like the salaries of the two people mentioned, you’ve lost my money.

You may not be as fussy as I am about where my charitable contributions go. But, perhaps you should be asking yourself, “Am I really helping those who are deserving or am I just lining the pockets of another greedy son-of-a-bitch?”

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Somehow, the rancor that remains following the first Tuesday in November, i.e., the local, state, and national elections, seems to have a carryover that lasts up to the first bite of turkey or whatever on the fourth Thursday of the same month. Not too surprisingly, I still hear people at the gym who are unhappy about the Presidential and Senate election, and I read almost daily of former presidential candidate, Mr. Romney’s complaints about why the election turned out as it did.

It’s just too bad that people cannot look at the fact that the earth didn’t stop spinning on November 7th or the Nutella has now taken charge as the way to get kids to the breakfast table. Whether or not we fall off a fiscal cliff, our taxes go up or down, health care is dealt with in some way that benefits or horrifies us, or that Social Security is tampered with, there really isn’t a whole hell of a lot that you and I as individuals can do about it.

The one thing over which we do have control is how we react to November. On the one hand, the month is host to an event that will always cause controversy, victory celebrations, and gloom and doom parties; on the other hand, it is the month – at least this year – on which we celebrate the 341st anniversary of the first Thanksgiving. If you wish to carry things to an idiotic extreme, I suppose one could suggest that Thanksgiving, too, is a day of both celebration and commemoration as well as a day when defeat of one’s hometown high school football team can lead to doom and gloom…ah, what the hell, there are always the Detroit Lions to watch after the turkey!

There’s something else that goes on during the month of November. This seems to be the start of a revelation. It’s the time when people stop thinking about themselves for a while and begin to think of those less fortunate. Oh certainly this is done at other times of the year, but I’m not certain it’s quite as apparent as it is this month and on into December. I read a quote from Mark Twain this morning and I wanted to work it into this little piece. Now look, I’m into the fourth paragraph and I’m still not certain it will work; let’s see what you think. Twain said, “Kindness is the language, the blind can see and the deaf can hear.” That seems to sum up November and December for me. It’s a time when people understand more than at other times of the year that this is the time to be kind. One does not have to be blind or deaf to see the kindness of the food pantries or the organizations that set up to serve bags of Thanksgiving foodstuffs for those less fortunate. Perhaps what I have failed to recognize is that the food pantries, in particular, are showing this type of kindness year round; it’s just that they receive greater recognition around this time of year.

Recently, I said that, “An act of kindness makes two people happy.” I find it unfortunate that that attitude isn’t more common in our society. This morning a hawk attacked a small group of birds that were feeding on our patio. The hawk went away hungry, but one of the doves in the group escaped by trying to smash through the French windows in the family room. The dove was stunned, but before the hawk could return, Juli went out, picked it up and placed it under a tree where it wouldn’t be found. I commented on her kindness. She said, “You just do what you can do when you can do it.” While that certainly speaks to her character, it also speaks to the character of those who raised her. It’s not really what our parents tell us to do; it’s what we see them doing when we are children that sticks with us as we grow up.

Now, during not only the next two months but for the remainder of our lives, wouldn’t it be nice to take a step back and review how we can spend a little more of the kindness that is in all of us on those who can benefit from it. I remember Malcolm Forbes say, “The way I judge the character of a man is to watch the manner in which he treats those who can do nothing for him.” Do you know someone who can use a little kindness, but in return can do nothing for you? Go ahead, give it a shot; you’ll feel fantastic!

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The great Irish dramatist and Nobel laureate, George Bernard Shaw, once stated, “An asylum for the sane would be empty in America.”

Although he died in 1950, one must admit that Shaw was rather prophetic in his statement for who can possibly deny that America in the 21st Century is approximately ninety-nine percent insane and one percent non compos mentis, ie, mentally incompetent. The urbanites are like fire ants, nipping at anyone or anything else that isn’t exactly as they are. They run around at great speed, in every direction and without any guidance…oops, sorry, fire ants generally move as a colony toward a directive, and they actually have the queen as their leader. Urbanites, on the other hand, appear to be more like rats, sneaking around, without leadership, and willing to fight over nothing.

The suburbanites, also known as “conspicuii consumptus,” are concerned only with the other suburbanites in his or her immediate class. This latter group is referred to collectively as “the Joneses” and it is imperative that one keep up with them at all costs, including foreclosure and disgrace. Because there are today so many who are in the foreclosure and disgrace group that they have become a class all to themselves, admired by many for their fearlessness and shunned by those less fortunate who are still capable of making monthly payments on the mortgage and send their children to expensive private institutions of learning. This, by the way, is the same group that opposes any salary increases for public school teachers, citing with great pseudo-intellect that teachers only work nine months per year…yeah, right!

This brings us to our third class of delirium zealots known as the militia. The America militias are newcomers to the insanity team. They respect no form of government other than their own. It would appear the if a particular part of the United States Constitution or any of its 27 Amendments do not appeal to them, they simply ignore it or fight against it. The two most notable Amendments objected to by the militias are numbers II and XIII. In the case of the Second Amendment, the only part that these “people” – I’m being kind – appear capable of reading is the part about the right to bear arms. In case one or more of them might ever ask someone to read the entire Amendment to them, it goes like this: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” You may interpret that any way you wish, but it seems to me that those words, “well regulated,” apply to the State regulation and not just the way any individual chooses to interpret it.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” is the one that these militias seem to oppose violently. Perhaps that’s another reason why I include this group in those who could never occupy Shaw’s asylum for the sane.

To anyone who follows politics in America to any degree, one would quickly recognize that politicians, as a group, are completely out of touch with reality. For all intents and purposes, they fall within the one percent group who are non compos mentis or mentally incompetent. At least, the manner in which they operate would cause one to assume that to be so. Saul Bellow, also a Nobel Laureate who, unfortunately died six years ago, noted, in speaking of politicians, “…they’re a bunch of yo-yos. The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of clichés the first prize.” If lies were manure, Washington, D.C. would be a gardener’s delight. It would appear that more bullshit comes out of Washington than from any ten thousand farms in America. As H.L. Mencken once uttered, “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”

Personally, I consider the “ruralists” or farmers as the closest thing America has to the sane. I take issue with American humorist, S.J. Perelman when he spoke of, “A farm is an irregular patch of nettles bounded by short-term notes, containing a fool and his wife who didn’t know enough to stay in the city.” Au contraire, mon frère, leaving the city is probably the only way in which one might maintain one’s sanity. Granted, many of these “ruralists” live from hand to mouth and day to day, but their enjoyment comes in the form of creation of food for themselves and for others. These are the naïve who know only that they have a roof over their head, food on the table, and cable television that they might laugh at all of the other groups.

There you have it; the justification for Shaw’s statement. Whether you call us insane, demented, deranged, or unbalanced, America is not only the land of the free and the home of the brave, it is also a safe haven for the weird, the wacky, and yes, even the wonderful!

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Oh, good, I have my own civil rights group. I never realized that. I think I’ll ask them to picket my doctor’s office. Ya see, at six-one, two-fifty, he calls me really obese. Now when I look at myself in a full-length mirror (ego does that to ya, ya know), I don’t think I compare with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He should be really happy he doesn’t have my doc all over his ass! Hell, just imagine if my doctor had been President William Howard Taft’s medico; it wouldn’t have been a pretty sight. At six feet, 350 pounds, I’m willing to bet no one ever called him “Bones.” How do you think the obesity civil rights group could have justified him in the Oval Office? That sure would have been one big oval.

It seems as though there’s a civil rights group for everything today, except for those whose civil rights don’t seem to matter a whole hell of a lot to anyone. The United States Congress doesn’t care about yours or my civil rights; hell, they trample them every day with their so-called party loyalty. They put us, our savings, our climate, and everything else that we think is ours in danger every time we turn around.

State government doesn’t seem to give a damn. They put a tax on this and a tax on that and, quite frankly, I don’t feel I have the right to protest. Whatever happened to “No taxation without representation?” Anyone who believes that he or she is being fairly represented by the people we elect to state or federal government has been a victim of the smoke machine…and you know damn right well where that smoke gets blown.

Minority groups have civil rights and organizations to protect those civil rights. I admit that White America screwed up in a big way in the early days, but for Christ’s sake, don’t take it out on me; I didn’t lynch your granddaddy and I didn’t prevent you from seeking an education. White people, Black people, Hispanic and Asian people, people of all colors and ethnicities, races and religions had damn well better learn to get along or some fool is going to get pissed and push a button. Of course, it won’t matter then because you can’t live on a dead planet.

“Well, if we don’t do it by getting organized, we won’t accomplish our goals.” What the hell are your goals? You want recognition and money for Crohn’s Disease…you already have a lobby; you want more money for autism research; you already have a lobby; even rare diseases have a day set aside for their recognition (last day of February each year).

It appears that everybody has their hand in somebody else’s pocket. Everyone wants a spokesgroup that will take their fight…where? Who the hell is going to listen? “I’ve got my own problems,” they say. So what it really comes down to is, “Fend for yourself, buddy, ‘cause in the final analysis, all you have is you.”

Fat people are tired of being abused because they’re fat? Tough shit; you’re fat; get over it. You feel abused because you’re a smoker and your building, office park, mall, campus, or whatever is smoke free? Hey, quit, go to another place, but get the hell out of my face about how you’re persecuted and your civil rights are being violated. You’re talking to someone who smoked for 51 years you asshole and if you want to go ahead and kill yourself, be my guest, but don’t you dare do it around me. I’ll think there’s a fire somewhere and throw water in your face. You just happen to be violating my civil rights to breathe clean air.

There was a time when America was called a “melting pot.” Do you know what that means? Think about it for a moment…a melting pot meaning that whoever you are, whatever you are, you are assimilated into this one big pot and you became one with everyone else who was in that pot. You might not like some of the tastes of the stew that was being concocted in that melting pot, but that didn’t mean you were going to smash the pot; you’d just add you to make it taste better.

Today, America is defined not as a “melting pot,” but as a salad. You’re either the green lettuce, the red tomato, the yellow pepper or maybe a jalapeno. You’re the black olives who don’t like the green ones because they have pimiento; you’re the celery who doesn’t like the radish. And there is no way in hell that we can come together to meld; to become one with each other. We are all too busy to care about anyone else. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said our Sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln, borrowing a quote from Jesus. Today, as we move into the second decade of the 21st Century, America once more finds itself trying to stand as a house divided. We are not Yankees or Confederates. We are not Easterners or Westerners. We are not Black or White, Asian or Hispanic. We are not Arab or Jew, Yemini or Russian. We are Americans. Until we all come to that conclusion, we will remain a “salad” versus a “melting pot.”

Let’s cut out all of this nonsense that we belong to this group or that group, and you are excluded because you don’t possess the qualities. I believe it was Dr. Benjamin Franklin who said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together or surely, we will all hang separately.” Now, once more, we stand on a threshold where Franklin’s words hold true. It is time to stop being part of a fragment and begin to be a part of the whole…the whole United States of America.

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“I love Mommy and Daddy this much,” as the arms spread to their fullest possible length.

Let’s see; that lasts until…umm…oh, I don’t know; maybe seven or eight? Whadda ya think? Nowadays, does it even last that long? I grew up in the fifties. We loved our parents a lot longer then, I think. Granted, we were different; we were fresh from a war and “Yes sir; yes maam; yes, Mom; yes Dad. The word, “no” to authority figures was an unknown, perhaps not in every household in America, but I’m willing to bet it was the case in the majority of our households. Some would say that what I’m talking about was love but was either respect or fear. I can tell you with all sincerity and humility…you’re full of shit!

It would probably be best to define ‘love’ at this point. The youthful love for parents is largely based on dependence, it seems to me; that and the fact that the child has no basis for comparison. Therefore, if you, the child, are fed properly – whatever that means – and if you are clothed properly – op. cit – and you have toys to play with, Life is pretty darned good. In addition, you believe that’s how it is with every other kid you know from kindergarten through the third grade.

All of the above is predicated on the idea that your parents have not ‘allowed’ you to interact with other children outside of what they would deem as your social grouping. Should you, perchance, happen across another child in your age group who comes to school one morning with a black eye and cut on his or her cheek; and should this child tell the teacher that he or she fell downstairs but tell a different story in the playground, you begin to believe your parents are even more special; they don’t hit you. The same thing could apply if a child wears the same thing to school every day; if its clothing and shoes are worn; or any one of many other signs that you begin to look at and believe how lucky you are to have such wonderful parents, and a great deal of this is what I would guess some children call ‘love.’ They get “hugs in the morning and butterfly kisses at night,” and the world’s a pretty rosy place.

Then one day you recognize that your folks’ armor actually does have a few chinks. You might overhear them talking about money problems or not wanting to buy you the newest ‘whatcha-ma-call-it’ because it would make you become too materialistic or for some other reason. Maybe they won’t let you go to a slumber party at a friend’s house because the friend’s mother is single and has “that kind of a reputation.” Who can say what happens when you learn that your parents are the direct descendents of June and Ward Cleaver or Rob and Laura Petrie or even Lucy and Desi. The fact of the matter is that they do learn. Remember my favorite Mark Twain quotation: “When I was fourteen, my father was so stupid I could hardly stand to have him around. When I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished how much he’d learned in seven years” This is exactly how it seems to be, even in this day of “enlightened understanding.” Oh, Lord, spare me from such words!

Your love, the way in which you love your parents’ changes. It isn’t as all-encompassing-my-parents-can-do-no-wrong kind of love. It’s more of a love that is built out of tolerance. You begin to recognize that they not only have faults, but they have faults that you will never have. You’re much too intelligent to fall into the traps that they seem to fall into with startling regularity. For many middle-class Americans – yes, there used to be a middle class in America – many of these traps revolve around economics. You go through the whole Twain thing where you think they’re stupid and don’t “understand” you. If someone were to suggest to you that you were going through a thing called puberty and that changes in your body were taking place so rapidly you couldn’t possibly understand them, you’d just get pissed off and call them assholes. When you’re in your teens that seems to become a favorite expression for anyone who doesn’t agree with what you say or do. There are usually a few other adjectives thrown in because it’s cool to swear; everyone does it. Yeah, and if this ‘everyone’ decided to take a header off the Golden Gate Bridge, you going to think that’s cool also?

From 20 to 30, you begin to realize that your parents have probably done the best job they could of getting you to this age. Even as young as you are, you’ve probably already experienced death. It may have been, as it was in my case, an 18-year old buddy of mine who was riding back to Boston from Camp Lejeune, NC and was killed along with four others. That’s close. It’s much closer than losing grandparents who se death you can justify by saying that they were older. When you’re young, unless it’s someone your own age, death doesn’t mean all that much. Even some young men and women as old as thirty plus still seem to believe they are immortal, invincible, and indestructible. To be fair, this may be less true today when so many young people are being diagnosed with some mutation of cancer and other death-dealing diseases.

If you get married and have children of your own, your love toward your parents changes once more. If anything, it becomes stronger: “How in the hell did they raise ‘x’ number of us and keep their sanity. Perhaps this is a love born out of admiration. You begin to recognize all that they sacrificed so that you might have…whatever the ‘have’ was at the time.

If you’re lucky, as you move into your forties and fifties, both of your parents are still around. Your grandparents may or may not be gone. If any of them are still around, you are a very lucky man or woman…no more use of the word, ‘young,’ for you. Should you not be so fortunate to have grandparents or even parents still alive, you begin to wish, with all that you possess, that Mom or Dad was here. There was so much you wanted to ask them, but you never got around to it until it was too late. This is when I have great sympathy for you. This is when I admit how much of a fool I was…too busy to visit my widowed mother because I was raising a family. Our last visit, several years before her death, did not end pleasantly, and we never spoke again. I’m the fool. Now, as I near my Mother’s decade of life, I recognize my stupidity…sorry, Mom; I just didn’t know.

Perhaps one of your widowed parents has found someone else to be part of their life. I can tell you right now that it took me some time to accept the fact that my mother was dating again after Dad’s death. Dating is the wrong word. The fellow had been a friend of the family and when Mom told me that Dad had asked him to take care of her that sorta took the sting out.

Your love for your parents will change many, many times. Throughout their years, however, there is only one thing that you should ever want for them and that’s happiness. Particularly as your parents become senior citizens. Remember, they’ve had many, many life experiences; they deserve to be happy. Ask yourself, “Do I want them to be happy on their terms or on mine?” You will immediately answer that you want them to be happy on their own term. But then, if you’re honest with yourself, you’d like to be certain that they are happy. It’s a nice gesture, but I would suggest you let them dictate the terms of their happiness and then just be happy for them.

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