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“From the day you’re born, you begin to die.” I have heard this so often from so many bloody pessimists, that I’m rather disturbed by the statement itself. Furthermore, nothing could be less truthful. It would be better if it was said that, “From the day you are born, your destiny is to die.” Not one of us can foretell whether or not we will be a great chemist or teacher, mathematician or bus driver, doctor or physicist, but we all know that from the moment we begin to understand life, our final destiny is death.

Obviously, I think about death. What 82-year old do you know who doesn’t consider it to some degree or other? Oh, don’t know any 82-year olds? Hell, you don’t know what you’re missing. We are, alternatively, joyful, cynical, hypocritical, positive, negative to a degree you wouldn’t understand unless you were 82, and at times, we are absolutely youthful and playful. In other words, we’re just about as screwed up as the rest of the world’s population…but we can be one whale of a lot of fun at a party…as long as it ends by 7 pm.

So no, we do not begin to die when we are born. In fact, we begin to grow. As usual, I’ve bounced around the Internet to learn when we actually do begin the process of dying. It appears that our brain, lungs, and skin are the first to go. According to a column in the London Daily Mail, and confirmed by a few others, “As we get older, the number of nerve cells – or neurons – in the brain decrease. We start with around 100 billion, but in our 20s this number starts to decline. By 40, we could be losing up to 10,000 per day, affecting memory, co-ordination and brain function.” Now, I don’t know about you, but the math would indicate that it won’t be long before I become a blithering idiot. No, of course that’s not true. Our neurons can regenerate, if only in certain portions of the brain. Hey, and guess what helps this ‘neurogenesis?’ There are a couple of things, and one of them is physical exercise. I’m not going to ask my neurologist why this is so, but I would add this: On days that I exercise really hard, I have more energy and can attack with greater success such things as crossword and jigsaw puzzles, and have more interest in taking on new challenges. In addition, I find that my attitude is more positive than on those days when I don’t make it to the gym.

Like the brain, the lungs also mature at about age 20 – 24, yep, even those that haven’t been messed up by smoking. Since I happen to be one of those jerks who didn’t heed the Surgeon General’s warnings when they first appeared in 1975, you can just imagine how bad my lungs are. Hell, I didn’t quit until 1998. I now have emphysema as well as COPD, and I can tell you firsthand, it “ain’t no fun!” If you happen to be a smoker, give quitting a chance. I know it’s a bitch, I’ve been where you are, but believe it or not, you will feel better in about three weeks.

As far as our skin is concerned, let’s face it, most of us treat our skin brutally. We’re sun freaks; we don’t ‘lotion’ up to keep the skin soft and supple, particularly men, so it really is no wonder that our skin, by the time we’re 20, is ready to rebel…can ya blame it?

Let’s talk about the heart. The heart begins to age at around 40. Referring again to the article in The Daily Mail, The heart pumps blood less effectively around the body as we get older. This is because blood vessels become less elastic, while arteries can harden or become blocked because of fatty deposits forming on the coronary arteries – caused by eating too much saturated fat. The blood supply to the heart is then reduced, which can result in painful angina. Men over 45, the time of my first heart attack, and women over 55 are at greater risk of a heart attack. What can you do to prevent becoming a victim of the number one killer in the US? This one’s going to hurt so hang on tight. The first thing you can do is to watch your diet. I didn’t, but I sure as hell do now. The second thing is exercise…yes, I know I’m beginning to sound like Bob Harper or the male equivalent of Jillian Michaels, but it’s truly impossible for me to tell you just how much better you’ll feel. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to begin a regime of daily exercise, but it works. I didn’t begin regular workouts until four years after my first heart attack. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t want to join a gym. It was too much work. You think of the excuse and then recognize it for exactly what it is…you’re lazy. Start off by taking a walk around the block three times a week. Okay, so you have to get up half an hour earlier to do it. Your loved ones as well as your heart will thank you. Oh, by the way, before you do it, check with your Doc. After all, he’s the one who’s been telling you for years that you don’t get enough exercise.

I’m not going to go through each and every organ in the human body, but I was a bit surprised that our breakdowns occur a bit earlier in some cases and a bit later in others. Our hair begins to leave us after age 35. The eyes begin aging at 40. Men, you can expect your gut to become noticeable by 55, and ladies, sorry but the boobs begin to age at 35. All in all, while death may be our final destiny, it’s probably a good idea to take care of what we’ve got while we’ve got it. But whatever you do, enjoy life; far as I know, it’s the only one we’ve being given.

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I feel badly for the people who live in the Southern states when they are besieged by several inches of snow in the winter. We saw an example of this recently when Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia were belted by a highly unusual snowstorm. In Atlanta, cars were abandoned one after another along the side of a main highway. It was really a tragic sight to see. Southern states just aren’t prepared to face the rigors of old man winter in this eon of climate change. I think that perhaps they should consider buying some plows for their highway vehicles before the first winds blow next December.

There is a great true story about a town in North Carolina many years ago. I know it’s true because I read it in the Washington Post the day after it happened. The District – as those of us who worked there came to know it – had received a coating of about three inches. In this town further south, they received about the same. Not having any plowing equipment, they sent the fire department out to wash this white stuff down the drains. It was never clear to me how the drains weren’t able to handle the “cleansing of the streets,” but that night the temperature dropped to below freezing. Following the hockey game on the main street the next day…no, no, no, that’s not true; it could have been the case, but it wasn’t. Let’s suffice it to say that neither pedestrian nor vehicle were on the road the day after the fire department completed its task.

Drivers who live in the Northeast are used to wintery conditions. That doesn’t mean that we know how to drive in snow; it just means that come November, we are prepared to deal with whatever God and the weatherman deliver. The funny thing is that the older I get, the more I realize that New Englanders have lost or are losing their ability to driver in wintery conditions. I saw a woman in a huge SUV driving on the other side of the street today. She had a circle cleared of snow on the driver’s side of the windshield. Every other part of the car, with the exception of the tires had a two-inch layer of snow thanks to last night’s brief snowfall. It was terrifying; this one little patch on the windshield was uncovered. When I saw the license plate I understood; Rhode Island drivers, according to several surveys, are the worst drivers in the country…she ranks right up there in my book.

I like the people who clear their windows after a major storm and leave it to God to take care of everything else on the car. They take their vehicle out on the highway and build up as much speed as possible so that the draft will blow the snow from their vehicle. To hell with the person behind them or those they pass as they try to clear their vehicle. “Look out; here I come; rules don’t matter to me; if the speed limit is 65, I’ll still go 75 to get the snow off faster; Look out!” Can you say, “Assholes and idiots?” for that’s what they are. The big rigs I can understand; it’s too easy for the drivers to slip and get hurt if they try to get up on the trailer and clear it off. It just makes sense to give them a wide berth. However, people who leave snow piled on their roofs are just selfish, uncaring, and stupid drivers. Police shouldn’t have to pull these people over; just get their license plate number and send them a ticket for $500. Let’s not fool around with a ten or even fifty dollar ticket. These people are more of a hazard than the potholes we face every winter, and they should be made to pay for their selfishness and stupidity.

There is another group of winter drivers who deserve a good swift kick in the butt. These are the folks who wait until they get to the shopping mall or the local market to clear the snow from the roof, hood, and trunk of their vehicles. Excuse me, whoever owns that lot doesn’t bring their trucks to your driveway and clean them off so where do you get the right to do it in their parking lot. Have we become so self-centered that we just don’t care about the property of others? “Well, it’s a big lot and they can afford it,” isn’t an answer. The simple truth of the matter is that you were too damned lazy to clear your car at home. In addition, you probably blew the snow from your driveway right out into the street where the city plows could take care of it.

It’s time for a little winter courtesy folks; how about becoming part of it?

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If you’ve ever held a job that you thought would make a good career, only to lose that job to ‘downsizing,’ the economy, outsourcing your part of the organization overseas, or because your position is being abolished and absorbed into others, you just haven’t lived. If you’re lucky, you get two weeks’ severance pay, a pat on the back, and a guarantee that you’ll receive a wonderful letter of recommendation. If you’re not that lucky, you get called in on a Friday afternoon, told to clean out your desk, locker, or work space, and get off the premises.

Admittedly, I was ‘fired’ in 1974. I’d only been doing this particular job for about twelve years before the new administration decided that the position should be abolished. And yes, I was thanked for my service, guaranteed that letter of recommendation, but surprisingly, I was given three months’ severance and an office at an off-site location where I could read want ads and write letters applying for this position or that.

A couple of things I learned right off the bat about applying for a job in higher education. Never believe that an ad posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education is a real job. Colleges and Universities and probably most organizations are forced to cover their collective asses by posting positions that are open in their companies. In other words, any want ad may not be what it appears. I know of one case in Pennsylvania where a friend of mine was asked to take a highly qualified applicant to lunch. “Throughout the meal, I wanted to scream at this guy, you’re not getting the job. It’s an inside deal. Even though the guy who’s getting the job is far less qualified, you’re a friggin’ token.” He told me this year after I had gotten another job, but I already knew it. I’d been on an interview for a job at a college in Upstate New York; went through the round of interviews, and was told, in confidence by the president, that he did not want a woman in the position – pretty heavy admission when you think about it. His assistant, a woman, was not present at the time. It turned out that they (a) hired a woman, and (b) that she was a friend of the president’s assistant.

The jobs for which I was applying all reported directly to a senior vice president or to the president of the organization. It didn’t take long before the first question I asked was, “Is this interview a formality to satisfy federal employment laws or is this an actual position?” The second question was, “How many internal candidates to you have applying for this position?” If they hemmed and hawed in answering, I thanked them for their time and left. In one case, I asked the president, in front of all of his direct reports, “Is your board of governance aware of what you’re telling me?” His answer was that no, the trustees were not aware. He then questioned why I would ask. Here’s my answer: “Because if they did, I would question how seriously they take their responsibility…and if I were on your board, I’d question having you in your position as president. Thank you gentlemen, I can let myself out.” And I did…without looking back. It was quite clear that they were looking to hire a hatchet man because they didn’t have the courage to do their own house cleaning.

The portrait I’m trying to paint is that of a person searching for a job and winding up as a viable candidate but the job is already taken; your candidacy is merely a formality or of being interviewed for a position that is nothing like the ad described. Week after week, month after month, this goes on, and each week, you make the ‘walk of shame’ to the unemployment office to tell them, “No, I haven’t found anything yet,” and to get your check. You want to work, although I suppose there are some who don’t. You’re embarrassed by your inability to find a job; you know there has to be something out there for you. You may even be told that you’re one out of three, one out of four, one out of two, and in my case, one out of one…I actually went on a cold call, told them what they needed, and they turned around and hired someone else! That is not what you would call a confidence-builder.

Each week, you go to unemployment. Each week, you become more desperate; each week, your depression grows. If you smoke, you smoke more; if you drink, you drink more. The more you smoke or drink, the faster the money goes and the deeper becomes your depression. After a while you either begin applying for jobs you know you won’t get or you stop looking quite so hard. You might even take a part-time job in the local supermarket or in a warehouse. You question yourself as you’ve never done before. It’s one of the worst feelings you’ve ever had. How do you tell your kids they can no longer play soccer or take piano lessons or this or that? How do you say that you no longer have cable in the house because you can’t afford it?

If you’ve worked for any length of time and suddenly find yourself on the sidewalk, it’s horrible. I rather doubt that there is a US Congressman or Senator who knows this feeling. They can’t understand what it’s like. As a consequence, they become piddling little children when it comes time to extending federal unemployment benefits for those who have yet to find jobs. I was fired the week before Christmas 1974. I went back to full-time employment on January 3rd, 1978. Count ‘em up; that’s three fucking years that I did not work at a full-time position or in my field! I was one of the lucky ones. I found a job that gave me tremendous satisfaction for the next 20 years, and it was in my field. The day that I went off unemployment was a day that I felt reborn. I’m willing to bet there are nearly a million people out there who want the chance to feel the same way. Instead, they are dependent on a group of 535 squabbling children in Washington, D.C. to help them continue their search. Sure, there are hundreds, maybe thousands who love suckling on the government teat. Maybe they aren’t getting caught because unemployment offices are short on staff…hey, there’s some job creation for you.

Congress, the unemployed don’t want your help; they need your help. The authorization has begun its path through the Senate. Keep pushing. Don’t let the Tea Party idiots and others stop extension from passing the House. Most Americans are happy to work. Give them that opportunity, please.

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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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“I would love to see your wheelchair!” the note read. “I’m guessing male 25-35 years professional who thinks he’s got the world by the ass. But I could be wrong.”

“The note-writer was wrong. Matt Milstead, the owner of the car parked in the spot, has been paralyzed for over twenty years. He had parked his BMW in a handicap spot at a YMCA in Grand Rapids, Mich. to participate in a wheelchair rugby game. When he returned to his car he found the note jammed into his door handle.”

That’s part of a press release I was reading on AOL today. It bothered me because ignorant and cowardly people are the kinds who leave these notes. They are ignorant because, unless they see the handicapped person, they don’t have a clue regarding the problem afflicting the person with the handicapped placard. They are cowardly because they don’t bother to wait around to see who is in the space that is reserved for those with physical limitations.

I have a handicapped placard. I don’t like to use it…and don’t whenever possible. You see, I’ve had three heart attacks; I have five stents in my heart. That’s not really the reason for the handicapped placard; I also have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema from smoking…way back when smoking was cool and damn near everyone did it. I haven’t smoked in years but that doesn’t matter. The damage has been done and now I’m paying the price. Oh, and did I mention that I also have an abdominal aortic stent and wear a brace on my right knee on a fairly regular basis. I’m still not crazy about using my placard, particularly if I can find an open space that’s not too far from my destination.

At the end of these AOL stories, there are always comments. All of the comments supported Mr. Milstead and decried the words of the idiot who left the note. Many went on to share one of my personal pet gripes about the abuse of the handicapped placard…people who have “borrowed” – wink, wink – or outright stolen a placard and bound out of their vehicles like they’re shot from guns and run like hell into the nearest store. It’s one thing if there is a handicapped person in the car, perhaps even waiting for whatever the athletic one went after, but when the driver is alone and behaving like an Olympic track star, one does have to wonder.

I’m no actually looking to pick a fight but I have confronted both men and women who have been illegally parked in handicapped spots. Usually, I’ll just say, “Excuse me, I don’t see a handicapped plate or placard on your car. Are you handicapped?” The bulk of the time, if they are not handicapped, they will admit it and move their car. Others have said, “I’m just going to be a minute.” With them, I ask, “What about the handicapped person who pulls in during that minute?” If I really get sass, I’ll walk to the back of the car and write down their plate. That really pisses them off. “Whachoo doin’? You can’t do dat,” is generally the response. I’ve also been threatened. I just figure, “Screw it; you want to add assault; hey, that’s your problem!”  On one occasion…and on one occasion only, tell a cop to get out of a handicapped space; he did. You see, I take this handicapped parking situation very seriously.

Very few people go out of their way to look for confrontation. I don’t like confrontation. However, there are certain things that drive me nuts. “May I take the next person over here?” the cashier will ask, and there’s a mad stampede to that register. It’s one of the reasons I like the manner in which many banks now have an aisle setup so that the ‘next person’ is always the right person. It’s not hard to do the right thing. When it comes to handicapped parking, it becomes even easier.

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True or False…This is the most ineffective group of Senators and Congressmen in the history of the United States of America.

It appears that 75 percent of the Americans think that this group of men and women certainly rank right up there with the very worst. Not since June 2013 has a Congress been so mistrusted. They are on target for the fewest bills ever sent to a President since the time when records were kept. They passed the Affordable Care Act and have since tried over 40 ways to repeal it while other important pieces of legislation have been sitting in committee. Republican Ted Cruz of Texas made an absolute ass of himself and drew the ire of fellow Republicans for his 21-hour faux filibuster against funding the Affordable Care Act. Cruz then turned around and criticized members of his own party for a “defeatist attitudes.”

During my working years, I admit that I was not as involved in the political process of our community, state, or country. Looking back, I think that I’m probably just as well off not having done so; however, I now see why some of my more politically active friends became as fanatical as they were.  I believe it was Ronald Reagan who said “It’s been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.” Ii is my contention that nothing could be closer to the truth, particularly with the members of the 112th Congress. As Harry Truman put it [on more than one occasion], “My choice early in life was either to become a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference. I, for one, believe the piano playing job to be much more honorable than current politicians.” This current crop of whores, pimps, and con men make the “Do-Nothing-Congress” of Truman’s time look like a hard-working bunch of public servants. If one were to write a television script for a dysfunctional government and use this as a model, producers would laugh the plot out of any office as being too implausible. The problem, as we are seeing first hand, is that not only is it plausible, it’s starring in its own form of TV comedy every night…we call it the evening news.

Washington political actions are an embarrassment to America. The question of whether to attack Syria had Congressmen and Senators waived sheaves of papers over their heads, screaming that their constituents didn’t want America to become involved in another war. That was the first time that I had ever heard this group blaming their constituents. They didn’t even have the courage to say, “No, Mr. President, we, the legislative body, strongly advise you not to go to war.” Many were pleased, I’m quite certain, because it appeared that Obama was backing down from that line in the sand, and anything that made the President look bad was a good thing for his opponents.

This Congress is so dysfunctional that they wouldn’t know how to cross the aisle if they were given a guide dog a white can, and a pair of sunglasses. In elementary schools today, conflict negotiation is taught to resolve problems between disagreeing parties. Really, how sad is it that peer negotiation isn’t a compulsory workshop for Congressmen and Senators every two or four years. Party politics has no place in the political process today. Ours is a fractured nation and we are demonstrating that to our allies and our enemies on a daily basis…and that, my friends, is an exceedingly dangerous position in which to be.

Ezra Klein is a writer for the Washington Post. A little over a year ago, he published a list of 14 reasons why the 112th Congress is the worst ever. With all due respect to Mr. Klein, his list made me want to vomit…not because of any inaccuracies, but quite the contrary. He was so on target and so concise in his reasoning that seen in this light, it made  two things clear all over again: (1) The American people don’t really give a damn about who represents them, and; (2) the people who are supposed to be representing the American people don’t really give a damn about them or THIS COUNTRY! They are a greedy bunch of naïve spoiled children who are playing at being politicians.

Here are a few of Klein’s observations:

  • ·        The Congress is not passing laws – To date, 219 bills have been signed into law. That is the most abysmal record since Bill Clinton had to face Newt Gingrich and the Republican Revolutionaries. Even then, 333 bills made their way to the President’s desk.
  • ·        Unpopularity – This Congress ranks just above Fidel Castro in terms of popularity. They are less popular than British Petroleum at the time of the major oil spell. They rank below Banks in 2011, Nixon during the Watergate Investigation and Paris Hilton in 2005. Now if that ain’t below the scrapings on the bottom of the barrel, I’m not certain what is.
  • ·        “They are incredibly polarized” – There was a time when Congressmen and women would listen to both sides of an argument and might cross the aisle to vote with the opposite party. You do that today and you will be ostracized from your party immediately. Instead of “my country right or wrong,” it has become “my party…never wrong.”
  • ·        Congress has delayed economic recovery – At a time when the nation had begun its recovery, adding jobs month by month, the Republicans began a pissing contest over the debt ceiling. Business, seeing this, slowed down and damn near came to a stop in terms of hiring. This, as much as anything, has served to delay economic growth and recovery.

I invite you to locate Mr. Klein’s list of 14 reasons this Congress is the worst ever. It’s well worth the read. As for me, I just weep for America. We have allowed people with no interest in us to rule us. The next time you decide not to vote, take a second and think just how badly you are getting screwed by the crowd that now “works” {???] on Capitol Hill.

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People seem to talk a great deal about ‘role models.’ The dictionary defines role models as, “A person looked to by others as an example to be imitated.” That really sets some pretty wide parameters. Many people might say, “I want to be like my Dad,” or “My Mom is a person I’d like to emulate.”  It seems to me that when you’re talking about a mother or father, it depends a great deal on the age of the son or daughter when they are ask. Remember Mark Twain’s comment: “When I was 14, my father was so dumb, I could hardly stand to have him around. When I was 21, it was amazing how much the old man had learned in those seven years!”As parents, we have chinks in our armor. If you spot them when you are young, you look on us as Twain did; if you come across those faults later in your life, you will understand to a greater extent why they exist.

I wonder if there are any kids in South Boston or elsewhere who would cite James ‘Whitey’ Bulger as a role model? If we decide that a person possesses those qualities to which we would like to aspire, I’m not certain Whitey would rate particularly high on my dance card. It seems to me that you really can’t have role models until you decide what a role model should mean to you; until you have set some goals of your own. If you compare Bulger to his brother Bill, you might wonder how two people can be so different and follow such different paths to whatever you wish to call success. Bill holds a juris doctor degree from Boston College and was President of the Massachusetts Senate as well as President of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. How does one compare the two as role models.

A recent study by Dr. Crystal Hoyt at the University of Richmond determined that “high-level” female leaders may often have a detrimental effect on the leadership aspirations of the participants and may, in fact, be poor role models for females. High-level leaders might be considered as Oprah Winfrey, Connie Chung, Katie Couric, Marissa Mayer, Ellen Gordon, and others whom the participants actually found somewhat intimidating and inhibiting on self- perceptions which in turn “…adversely affected their leadership aspirations. The Hoyt study proved, using empirical data that it’s not always the top dog who one should be attempting to emulate or who should be used as a role model.

In 1978, Babson College in Wellesley, MA inaugurated its curriculum in entrepreneurial studies. Since its “startup,” the Babson program has been ranked #1 consistently by various reporting agencies such as US News & World Report and others. As part of the launch, Babson created The Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs, a day-long program that brought to campus highly successful entrepreneurs to speak to students and others, first in a general session where each entrepreneur told his or her success story and later in small-group question & answer sessions. The first five people to be inducted into the Academy were Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Industries, Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda Motor Company Ltd., Ray Kroc, founder of MacDonald’s, Royal Little, founder of Textron, and Kenneth Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation…not a bad lineup by anyone’s calculations. My question at that inaugural celebration and one that puzzled me until my retirement in 1998 was simply this: How can college students compare themselves and what they wish to achieve with the likes of the entrepreneurs they are exposed to at these programs? Do they believe that they can and will be the next Fred Smith of Federal Express, or Diane von Furstenburg of DVF? Are these the role models that students should be looking at?

I have come to the conclusion and Dr. Hoyt’s study pretty well confirms my own hypothesis that using these ‘top guns’ is a good way to set the students up for failure rather than success. While there’s no question that Berry Gordy began his career as a prizefighter –he even called himself ‘canvasback’ or that Kroc was a milkshake mixer salesman; ideas like theirs don’t come along every day.

So who should become the role models for eager young collegians anxious to make their mark on society? Here comes the answer you’re not looking for, but it’s the best with which I can come up: “It depends.” Oh stop groaning. If you aspire to be the next Steve Jobs, Dean Kamen, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Christine Legarde, or Indra Nooyi, and hold them up as your role models, you damn well better have the intelligence, the work ethic, and the willingness to short-change yourself in other areas of life in order to reach your goals. Those people did not get where they are by starting at the age of 25. Their sacrifices are varied and begun at a much younger age. These folks were driven to achieve. Only a very small percentage of any population has that drive and determination. Therefore, while you might aspire to emulate them, be honest and ask yourself if you really have what it takes?

It’s time to get personal.  I admired my parents. Dad’s family lost their rather successful business in the Crash of ’29. This was followed by the Great Depression, but he and Mom worked their way through it, raising two kids during that time. I admired his guts and determination, but I’m not certain I wanted to be like him. My first real boss was the manager of the A & P where I went to work at 16. His name was Simon Sheehan and to this day, he remains my first role model. Sy taught me how to work. “If I can’t teach you how to work in the next two weeks, you’re gone,” he told me one Saturday evening after the store had closed. He added that I was an embarrassment to my family – whom he knew quite well – and a shame to myself. He reamed me for a good half hour, but after that I learned how to work. Sy was my first role model. The second is a college president for whom I worked. His name was Asa Smallidge Knowles. Dr. Knowles, like Sy, was a task master and a perfectionist. His gift to me was his ability to string words together to make a complete sentence. He once threw a manuscript back in my face and told me it was crap…he did later apologize and told me I could do better.  Are you now thinking, “Boy, this guy is a masochist; he has role models who dump on him.” The truth is that I was a ‘life-coaster.’ I needed a good kick in the butt until I was about 30. These people certainly provided the kick, but it did wake me from my lethargy. My third role model was also a college president. However, in his previous career, he had risen to the position of Vice Chairman of Xerox. Bill Glavin taught me a great deal about managing people and about how to work smarter, not harder. Where Sy had been a tyrant; Dr. Knowles a dictator; Bill ran a democracy with the skill of Merlin. I value him as a friend as well as a wonderful role model.

Now it’s up to you. Do you have what it takes to rank in the top 100 leaders according to Forbes Magazine? Do you want, truly want to be recognized in that way? Or, perhaps, you just want to make whatever contributions you can to the community you serve? Who do you truly, in your heart of hearts, want to emulate. Remember, in addition to making a living, you also want to make a life.

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