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Sad News

This is posted by Juli, Dick’s companion. Dick passed away from a massive heart attack last Monday. As readers of his blog, I just want to let you know the doctor said it wasn’t from his fall (When old folks fall posting). As followers of his (though he would say only Jesus had followers) you know how talented, intelligent, wise, thoughtful and humorous he was. As an unwilling character in a few of his postings, I can assure you he was the same in person. Below is a link to his obituary in the Boston Globe.

Thank you for giving Dick a reason to write.

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We live in an age of technological wizardry. The computers in our cell phones are more powerful than those used to send Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon. We speak to men and women on the International Space Station in living color just as if they were no farther away than our neighbors across the street. These are magnificent advances, but unfortunately, there are some other problems that we are not solving quite so quickly. We have yet to figure out how to feed the poor worldwide; childhood obesity is a growing problem, as is the opioid crisis. We have foreign policy problems that must be solved to avoid a third World War. There is so much information for our children to absorb and we have yet found the proper way to instill it in them. We, the United States that is, suffer from so much violence on our streets, have more jails than any other nation, and yet, we really don’t appear to know how to handle what other nations are doing a much better job of doing. I’m going to examine a single problem in our society and propose a step to help – not cure – to help the situation.

For the most part, law enforcement officials agree that domestic violence represents the most common crime in their communities today. Perhaps as much as 80% of these cases are violence caused by men against women. If one speaks with probation officers, many will tell you that they feel the courts are treating the offenders fairly but harshly. “They all have to be released on bail, not personal recognizance,” one probation officer told me. If one addresses a similar question to police officers, however, the reaction is quite different. “They just turn ‘em loose to do it again,” is among the politer comments that I have heard.

There is a consensus in the law enforcement community that restraining orders are rarely worth the paper they are written on, and that, almost without exception, they are violated in some way, shape, or form. All too often, that form is in the return of violent behavior on the part of the offender, resulting in physical harm or even death to the complainant. As we are all aware, restraining orders are hardly a defense for a fist, knife, bat, or bullet.

Since we have home arrest bracelets for some offenders, here’s an entrepreneurial idea: Today, many states have a zero-tolerance policy, i.e., when officers respond to a domestic violence situation, an arrest must be made. Once the arrested party has been taken to the cruiser, the victim and a domestic violence counselor determines whether a restraining order will be taken out. It is incumbent on the domestic violence officer/counselor to determine whether the offender represents a genuinely serious threat to the victim. If that is the case, the domestic violence officer/counselor so informs the court, and as part of the restraining order process, both parties are issued electronic, non-removable wrist bracelets.

The electronic wrist bracelet will sound an alarm if the offender comes within a certain distance of the offended for more than one minute. It will be equipped with three small lights: the first, a green light, will glow until the offender comes within the specified distance. At the end of 30 seconds, if the offender is still within the ‘zone,’ the red light will begin to glow. This also will last for 30 seconds, at which time, the alarm will sound. For the victim, the alarm would be in the form of a vibrating or pulsating silent alarm. For the offender, the alarm would be a piercing noise. Simultaneously, the alarm would be displayed in the nearest police station equipped with a LoJack-like computer system.

The bracelet can be activated at the time of the bail if the court so orders. In addition, the offender is told that if the alarm goes off once, his bail will be revoked, and he will be placed under arrest until his trial. The offended party will be told that if she, in this case, is shown to be in violation of the restraining bracelet in any way, that she is also subject to arrest. If this seems to be unfair and too costly, it might be that such bracelets would be issued as part of the restraining order process, i.e., when a restraining order is issued, the complainant receives one of the bracelets. At the time the restraining order is served to the offending party, he/she is also fitted with a bracelet. Since there might be one or more children involved in the restraining order, it is possible that the bracelets would not necessarily be ‘paired,’ but might be in ‘set’ form, with as many as four positives (complainant) bracelets to a single negative (offender) bracelet.

The restraining bracelets would be manufactured with an automatic code. The activation and deactivation of the bracelets would be technology that would be available to the average patrol officer. In addition to an alarm sounding on the wrists/ankles of the individuals concerned, a monitor board, on display at the dispatcher’s station, would display name and home address of the party whose alarm was activated. The problem here, of course, is that if neither party is at the address, it presents an untenable situation in that the police would not/could not respond.

This idea requires substantial brainstorming, substantial technological knowledge (hardly my strong point) and a substantial infusion of dollars (definitely not my strong point) to accomplish. Participants for such a brainstorming session would include police, probation officers, both prosecuting and defense attorneys, and perhaps someone from a youth services agency.

Some of the “next steps” that have already been taken include the following.

Speaking with a sampling of law enforcement officials, including police officers, probation officers, and prosecutors. Results: By and large, the response was positive. One prosecutor told me that they already have such a bracelet. Further conversation with Bill Reagan (see below) indicated that what the prosecutor told me was not the truth. Whether it was out of ignorance or just a desire to “brush off” my call, I have no idea.

Speaking with Bill Reagan founder of Lojack. Results: Bill indicated that the technology is not yet available for something as complex as this..remember, this was 15 years ago. He suggested that I find a small, hungry electronics outfit to look at the problem. He also felt that the cost might be prohibitive.

Doubtless, there are other steps, but if it can be accomplished, this will be another weapon in the war on domestic violence.
Next Steps:
1. Who has the engineering expertise to construct such
mechanical devices? Ergo, is the technology out there?
2. At what cost?
3. Is satellite availability a necessity?
4. How and through who?
5. Are such devices already available?
6. Other questions that need to be answered.

Finally, this idea occurred to me some 15 years ago, Today, at 83, I offer the idea free and without conditions to anyone willing to take it and run with it. My only interest in this is seeing fewer domestic violence victims pay the ultimate price.

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Snippets I

This is the first in a series that I’m going to entitle “snippets.” It will contain brief comments about news of the day and my reactions to that news. I hope that you’ll feel free to comment. I promise not to attack your views the way some people find it necessary.

From The Washington Post: “Last night the news broke that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.” This was according to Wilson, (Frederica Wilson, Democratic Representative from Florida) who late yesterday told The Post that she had overheard the call on a speakerphone while riding in a limousine with Johnson when Trump called, and that this exchange made the widow cry. This is what Trump claims was “fabricated,” which now has reporters speculating that Trump may have a recording or an official transcript.

Trump also said that he had proof of crimes that could put Hillary Clinton in jail. He intimated that he had proof James Comey was lying. He damn well better have proof of this latest comment because the media and the Congress should not let him get away with this kind of insensitive remark. A President of these United States would not make such a remark. Donald Trump would make that type of remark. In addition to his comments, I cannot help but wonder why it took 12 days for Goldilocks to say anything about the four Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger. From what I understand, it was during that period that Trump and Bob Corker were having their own private little feud, at least they were at each other when Trump wasn’t off playing golf.

Opioid Crisis: There is no question that we have an opioid crisis in America. The question is, “What are we actually doing other than saying that it exists?” Big Pharma is a lobbying group in Washington almost equal to the NRA. We know that getting gun regulations passed is about as certain as Hillary getting pregnant, ergo, we’re not doing one damned thing. As most of you are aware, Donald Trump is not my president, but we do agree on one thing: This is, without question, the most incompetent collection of assholes ever to sit under the Capitol Dome. If 435 people cannot find consensus about anything, it has nothing to do with issues and everything to do with personalities. It seems to me that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are more useless than tits on a bull and should be voted out of office as soon as possible. If Congress and the Department of Justice cannot reign in what Big Pharma is doing to destroy this nation, they should all be forced to resign. Addiction, in my mind, is not a disease, it is a choice. I made a bad choice when I decided to smoke. I did it for 51 years. Some would say, “Oh, he’s addicted. He has a disease.” Bullshit! Ten years ago, I quit being addicted. I’m not proud of the fact that it took me more than half a century to do so, but I did it…and I’m not the strongest-willed person in the world. Purdue Pharma, the makers of oxycontin and other pain meds should be fined a million dollars every time anyone dies of a drug overdose in this country. Too harsh? Well, since mollycoddling hasn’t worked, perhaps it is time for harsh. If that doesn’t work, let’s give a hot shot to the CEO when we pass 1,000 deaths in any given year…now that’s harsh!

Halloween Parties at School: Hey, schools are for educating our children, not for partying. You want a Halloween Party, tell mom and dad to invite your class over after school. We bitch and wail about how our kids aren’t staying competitive with children from other countries, but it’s no big deal if we have a party at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etcetera. What’s next, a party every day of the week for some damned fool thing or other? Suck it up, kiddies, you’ll get your fill on October 31st which, by the way, is a Tuesday. Oh, and the little darlings won’t still be on a sugar high on Wednesday?

Racist writings anywhere: I am so pissed at cowardly racists who sneak around writing the “N-word” on residence hall rooms, paint swastikas on synagogues, and otherwise scuttle like the rats they are. Of course, I’m also tired of the Black Lives Matter signs that I see. Every life matters, people. Patience and understanding helps everyone. If it wasn’t so damned long, I’d have that made into a sign for my yard. When the culprits are discovered, not “if,” but “when,” they should be prosecuted and jailed for a minimum of a year, during which time they should be force-fed exactly what the consequences of racism are, including holocaust films as well as how blacks were treated in the past…and in the present. This is the 21st Century and we surely haven’t come very far in our tolerance of others…and that’s just plain wrong!

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No more like that, thank you

All I know is that this is the kind of day when people should not be exposed to me. The alarm went off at its usual three-forty-five. It took a while for me to recognize what it was, but eventually the light dawned on marble-head, and I shut the damned thing off. The compression socks that I put on argued like the devil with me about which was heel and which was toe, which was left and which was right, but we finally came to an agreement…at least, I think we did because my sneakers fit over them rather easily.

You should understand that I sleep in my workout gear. Oh, sure, I change before getting into bed, but it’s the workout gear into which I’m changing. I’m not, I’m not, I mean I really am not quite awake when I am supposedly awake. It’s a good act until I bump into a wall or collapse back on the bed…sneakers on and must begin the entire process of arising once more. There was a time…I’m not sure, I say, I’m not quite sure when that was, but there was a time when I could just pop out of bed, wide awake and get on with the day…when the hell was that anyway?

Anyway…oh, did I begin a new paragraph…I’ll be damned; I guess I did. Well…after performing my morning ablutions…that’s going to the bathroom, brushing my teeth/tooth, and combing my head with a sponge, I sit at the computer, click on the Greater Good Network, feed the hungry, provide mammograms for the poor, and click on sites for autism, veteran’s benefits, Alzheimer’s research, and a few other things. If I’m still viewing the monitor, I then check the blog to see who has left me a nasty comment…. this time, and then move on to read – yes, my eyes are open, and the brain is slowly awakening – the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune. I then proceed to the kitchen, eat my protein bar, drink my black cherry V-8 fusion, take my morning pills, and head off to the gym.

That didn’t happen today. At least I performed well until getting to the computer. There followed a brain cramp that set me looking at a blank computer screen with no thoughts of how to proceed. Eventually, I managed to click on to help all those folks mentioned above, but even there my heart wasn’t in it. Gym, gym, what gym? Why would I go to the gym? I can’t even get me arse out of this chair. (If you’re getting the idea that this morning was not starting well, congratulations.) Newspapers, what newspapers? Why the hell would I want to read newspapers? It took me well over an hour just to haul my pain-wracked bod to the kitchen, eat the friggin’ protein bar, slurp down the fusions, take the pills, and stumble back to bed…thankfully, not meeting anyone along the way. This day was, in my own self-tortured mind, the day from hell of which I’ve heard others speak.

Thankfully, that was several days ago. I don’t wish to have any more of those days…ever…ever again. Those days are not me. It was almost as though my body and mind had been invaded by some other species while I was sitting at the computer. Looking back at it – from afar I might add – that day really sucked. I mean, really, there are days when I’d rather sleep in and not go to the gym, but I go, and once there, enjoy myself and my workouts, but this, this was something totally different. Ah, well, screw it, because I’m back to being me…and having a great deal of fun.

Now, on to more pleasant things. Number one son just returned from a couple of weeks in Taipei, Taiwan. He was on the coaching staff of the US swim team that was competing there. One of the great things about Rick and this international coaching gig is that I will often receive a T-shirt or more from his trips. It’s also wonderful to hear his tales of adventure from the many foreign countries he’s been blessed to visit. The only down side is the number of days per year that he is away from his wife and children, but from all appearances, everyone has his head screwed on straight and that, too, is a blessing.

Well, for now, that’s about all that’s new on the home front. When the urge to write strikes, I will, once more, sit down for a critique of the latest goings-on in Washington, or babbling about something else that I find of interest. Until then, take care and be safe.

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I shall attempt to write this without resorting to the language of my youth on the streets of…well, you know what I’m saying. Anyway, a van rear ended a car the other day. When the driver of the car emerged to determine why he was hit, the three occupants of the van, he found, were passed out. They had, apparently, overdosed on drugs…not just drugs, but fentanyl, “…a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.” This is one of those drugs where a little dab won’t do ya, it will probably kill ya. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “High doses of opioids, especially potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely, which can lead to death. The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl. Fentanyl sold on the street can be mixed with heroin or cocaine, which markedly amplifies its potency and potential dangers. But…I’m getting ahead of my story.

Now the driver of the car that had been hit knew a little bit more about the asshole idiot who hit him. The police and the fire department were called in an attempt to revive the three druggies. It took ten doses of Narcan to revive the three people. During the processing of their van, three police officers became exposed to the fentanyl and had to be taken to the hospital. Now, here’s my question: If one of those police officers had stopped breathing – in effect, overdosed by inhaling too much of the drug from the carpet or one of the seats – what would have happened if all of the Narcan was gone? Allow me to enlighten you…the cop would have died…not because he was a drug addict but because he was trying to do his job. That, to me, is as much murder as if one of those addicts had taken a gun and shot that cop, and that just happens to be murder.

Much has been made of the opioid crisis in America. Much has been made about helping the ‘poor people’ who overdose on opioids of any kinds. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us the we are in an epidemic of opioid abuse. Heck, we’ve been in the middle of a drug abuse fight for more than a century. We aren’t winning that fight, so what makes us think that we’re going to win the opioid abuse fight? Is Narcan the answer? It certainly doesn’t seem so when a local fire department is called to revive the same person three times in one week. Someone has to draw a line in the sand and say, “This is when we stop reviving you and allow you to kill yourself. If you are so stupid that you will not seek medical assistance and continue to take drugs like fentanyl, we will no longer be the crutch that you are dependent upon.”

Personal responsibility and accountability seem to be two things that are lacking in today’s generation, and we, as a society, are letting this generation get away with it. A teacher in a private school in Florida gave a student a failing grade…didn’t attend classes, didn’t pass in homework, failed each exam. The parents, who were major donors, protested on behalf of their daughter. The faculty member was told by the dean of faculty to change the grade. He refused and was suspended by the school. He no longer teaches. An athlete on scholarship at a major university no longer wanted to participate in her sport but wished to keep the scholarship money. Her coach refused. Again, parents intervened. Kid keeps scholarship and coach gets chewed out by the university president.

What is wrong with these situations. It seems that today, every kid who tries out for anything must be accepted, even if it’s the parents who want the child to perform, not the child. This whole idea of getting a trophy or a ribbon merely because one participates is nonsense. To quote one coach, “Athletics is one of the last fields in which meritocracy prevails.” Based on the university situation noted above, it’s conceivable that even that may be changing. When parents can bring pressure to bear to save little Johnny or Mary, there is something wrong. When will the child learn to stand on its own two feet, certainly not if someone is willing to fight their fights. When will the child learn the principles of accountability and responsibility, not while they have a champion in their corner. And what happens when the someone or the champion is no longer there, how will the child become an adult? How will the child learn the lessons of failure and success? The answer is that the child will not, and at that point, the child becomes a burden to the society in which we live.

Note to parents: Stay out of your kid’s lives after the age when they enter school. Allow them to rise or fall on their own merits. Kid didn’t make the team? Fine, kid wasn’t good enough. Kid is getting bullied? Fine, but if the school doesn’t respond, that’s when you step in. Kid gets a failing grade? Don’t accept, “My teacher is mean to me, or my teacher doesn’t like me, or my teacher picks on me.” Somewhere under there is a reason, a rationale. My question becomes, “Why is the teacher mean; why doesn’t the teacher like; why does the teacher pick.” Kids can be little shits, assholes, brats from the time they’re six until the time when some boss says, “You’re fired!” Or as one parent put it, “Put on your big girl panties and grow up!”

This is also true of opioid abusers. Fine, you had surgery and it hurt. Fine the doctor prescribed opioids and they made you feel better. Fine, you became addicted to them. Withdrawal is tough. Ask me, I’ve been through it with tobacco after 51 years of using it, and I am going through it again at age 82 with a benzodiazepine class of psychoactive drugs after using it for more than 20 years. My willpower is no stronger than the next person. I still have the drug…but I refuse to take it. My empathy for people who overdose on opioids is at an end. Yes, you may be revived one time…and one time only. Your life choices are yours and not the responsibility of those you feel should always help and protect you.

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Why is it that no one ever dies in my home town? I’m pretty religious about checking obituaries in the papers from around my area, and it seems that no one is ever in it from the place where I spent my formative years. It’s really kind of Blair Witchy in a macabre way. On the opposite end of that spectrum are those people whose obituaries appear in more towns and more states than I ever could have imagined living. I mean, I can understand if someone living in Somerville and having a place in Yarmouth would have their names listed in those two towns, but there was one guy I was reading about today. His living site newspaper mentions were in about 30 towns in Massachusetts as well as citing California, Florida, and Oklahoma. Heck, guess it was just cheaper than paying the rent. Either that or he’d driven cross-country and his family wanted to notify all the managers of the Motel 6’s where he’d stayed…like they might remember him…well, maybe if he’d skipped out without paying. That’s not nice. Shouldn’t say bad things about dead people. What was it that Mark Twain said? “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it.” Wow, that doesn’t even qualify as a backhanded compliment.

But, enough of this who death thing. How about little Donny Trump, Jr. It seems to be a habit in the Trump family that the only time you say your transparent is when you get caught with your hand in the Russian…cookie jar. Seems to me he would have been better served if he’d asked James Comey to attend the meeting rather than his brother-in-law and daddy’s campaign manager. Let’s face it, Russia and the United States will never become BFF’s. We are culturally, politically, economically, and any other “ly” word you would care to use. Are there pockets of US/Russia relations where people like other people? Of course, there are, but when you get to the top, when you begin speaking of two countries that are operating at completely different levels and have intense distaste for one another, you’ve found the common thread.

Switching gears once more, I must tell you about the garden. So far, we have harvested 14 summer squash, too many radishes and green onions to count, and while we haven’t picked any to date, the pea branches are covered with fruit ripe for the pickin’. This has been a very unusual year from what I hear from gardeners at the gym. Seems as though the weather has been just warm enough and wet enough for the gardens to be going crazy. Don’t know if I mentioned it, but our plan was to have about six tomato plants. That plan sure went out the window fast. “Oh, I don’t think we’ve ever tried this one before,” led to 16 tomato plants in our backyard. Ten of these are in landscape cloth planters, I did explain that this is a year of experimentation. We are doing container gardening to a greater extent than ever before. You should understand that we were very patriotic when it came to planting potatoes…we have red, white, and blue spuds growing in various containers.

Saw the hand surgeon yesterday. I see him about four times a year for a cortisone shot in the wrist. He operated on it several years ago, and while he couldn’t repair all of the damage that had been done when it was broken, he did remove some bones and explained what the future would hold. He asked me to show him the flexibility and was really impressed with what could be done. “You have really great hands,” he said. My response was, “Gee, usually you’d have to buy me a drink before you could say that.” He just looked at me and then started to laugh. We’ve known each other just too darned long.

Other than all that, there really isn’t much new on the 82-year-old homefront. Game of Thrones starts next week for those of you who have followed the series, and it’s almost August, so can college football be very far away…not to mention another school year, and people coming back from vacation to once more crowd the highways and byways and probably leading to more road rage incidents. Stay cool and calm everyone…and enjoy the rest of the summer.

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You think domestic violence doesn’t happen in your town? Let me tell you something: Every nine seconds, that’s seconds folks, somewhere in America a woman is beaten in a domestic violence episode. In addition, a woman is shot to death in America every 14 hours by a spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend, or someone she was dating. If that doesn’t scare you, I’m not certain what will.

Domestic violence is a term we toss around pretty casually. The “It doesn’t happen here” syndrome is something like sticking your head in the sand. It happens in my town, on my street, but I don’t know where. I knew when it happened in my workplace, although all I could do was tell human resources what I thought and what I saw…they chose to do nothing. I was told to stay out of it…and I did…and I probably shouldn’t have.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.”

“Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. It is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior that is only a fraction of a systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and in severe cases, even death. The devastating physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime.”

Thankfully, domestic violence has never been in any part of my family. Do I know people who have been victims of domestic violence? Absolutely. Other than the one case that I saw at my place of employment? Yes. My late wife and I sheltered a women who was a victim until she was finally able to escape from years of psychological abuse from a domineering husband. Until she came to us, we were completely unaware that there was any kind of problem. I believe that’s the way it is with a number of these cases. Often, the victim is nearly paralyzed with fear, sometimes feeling that she or he – yes, men can also be victims of domestic violence – has or is doing something wrong that triggers an episode.

Recently, in Massachusetts, a 51-year old man shot his 44-year old ex-girlfriend. After a two-day manhunt, the man was found dead in the trunk of a car, a self-inflicted wound to the head did him in. The victim left behind three children. Just another news story that filled the screen for a couple of days and was replaced by some other tragedy. However, it’s not just a news story for the three kids or their grandmother. It’s a shock that may never go away completely. It’s a loss that will gnaw at them, probably for the rest of their lives. Again, I quote from the NACDV, “Additionally, domestic violence does not always end when the victim escapes the abuser, tries to terminate the relationship, and/or seeks help. Often, it intensifies because the abuser feels a loss of control over the victim. Abusers frequently continue to stalk, harass, threaten, and try to control the victim after the victim escapes. In fact, the victim is often in the most danger directly following the escape of the relationship or when they seek help: 1/5 of homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within two days of obtaining the order; 1/3 are murdered within the first month.”

What can you do about it? The first thing is to be aware that such a problem exists. In today’s world, violence appears to be an acceptable way to solve problems, whether it’s on an airplane, or at a political town hall meeting, or just about anywhere else. That attitude can often translate right into the home…but it shouldn’t. What are the signs to look for in a relationship? There are many, and some are so subtle as to easily escape detection. Does the abuser try to tell the victim what to wear or control who they can see, what they are allowed to do, or where they are allowed to go. Here are some of the signs put forth by NACDV:
• Telling the victim that they can never do anything right
• Showing jealousy of the victim’s family and friends and
time spent away
• Accusing the victim of cheating
• Keeping or discouraging the victim from seeing friends or
family members
• Embarrassing or shaming the victim with put-downs
• Controlling every penny spent in the household
• Taking the victim’s money or refusing to give them money
for expenses
• Looking at or acting in ways that scare the person they are
• Dictating how the victim dresses, wears their hair, etc.
• Stalking the victim or monitoring their victim’s every move
(in person or also via the internet and/or other devices
such as GPS tracking or the victim’s phone)
• Preventing the victim from making their own decisions
• Telling the victim that they are a bad parent or
threatening to hurt, kill, or take away their children
• Threatening to hurt or kill the victim’s friends, loved
ones, or pets
• Intimidating the victim with guns, knives, or other weapons
• Pressuring the victim to have sex when they don’t want to
or to do things sexually they are not comfortable with
• Forcing sex with others
• Refusing to use protection when having sex or sabotaging
birth control
• Pressuring or forcing the victim to use drugs or alcohol
• Preventing the victim from working or attending school,
harassing the victim at either, keeping their victim up all
night so they perform badly at their job or in school
• Destroying the victim’s property

I’m not asking that you either get involved or become some kind of avenging angel. I’m asking that you understand that this problem is more pervasive in this country, as well as others, and it should be a concern to all of us. If you know of someone you suspect is a victim, and if you’re speaking with her or him casually without the suspected abuser around, you might ask, “How can I help you?” It’s an open-ended question. If they ask, “With what?” you can always respond with a non-committal, “Oh, I don’t know. I thought you might want to talk about something.” Eventually, if the victim understands that you are sincerely concerned, they will get around to telling you. Sure, it’s vague, but you can’t really come out and ask, “Is that son-of-a-bitch being mean to you?” I guarantee that will earn an unqualified, ‘NO!” and the conversation will end right there. The subject is delicate, and so must be the approach to opening up about it.

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Forget about the Joneses

“What’s in your wallet?”

“Our credit card pays you twice…once when you buy and once when you pay.”

“Buy our insurance so your loved ones won’t have to assume your credit card debt when you die.”

Hey, hey, hey, wait just a cotoon-pickin’ minute here. Are we encouraging people to credit card their way into horrible debt? According to Nerd Wallet, “Debt is American as apple pie, with overall U.S. household debt growing 11% in the past decade. Today, the average household with credit card debt has balances totaling $16,061, and the average household with any kind of debt owes $132,529, including mortgages.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I guess I inherited my mother’s sense of debt. She-didn’t-like-it, and, truth to tell, Dad wasn’t crazy about the idea himself. Have I never financed a major purchase such as a car or a house? Of course I have. Why, do you think I look like Croesus? I didn’t like doing any of it, but one does need a certain form of transportation when buses or trains aren’t particularly near one, and a roof over one’s head is always a pretty good thing to have, especially when one (or two) is raising three kids. Fortunately, my late wife was of the same mind set. Actually, she was a bit tighter with money than I was. At least I never shave Lincoln’s beard from five dollar bills and sold the whiskers at flea markets, but then, that’s a story for another time. As a consequence, I don’t quite understand why Americans allow themselves to assume as much credit card debt as they appear to do. Mortgages, sure, I can see that. I don’t know too many people who can fork over a quarter mil or more to buy a house, and in today’s market, a half mil will barely put a roof over your head in many states. Student loan debt, on average, is nearly $50,000. I often question the wisdom of that because I’m not all that certain that every high school graduate should go to college…as opposed to making real money by learning a trade.

My biggest complaint about credit card debt is the interest that has to be paid. I remember the ‘book’ we kept when we took out a mortgage. We were paying more in interest than we were in principal, and it really pissed me off. “It’s the cost of doing business,” people would tell me, but that didn’t make me feel any better about it. Today, my house is paid off, as is my car. The children all graduate from college, and working in higher education, along with their athletic scholarships, meant that we didn’t pay tuition. While we joked about it at the time, think about tuition costs, even as far back as 1992, and you’ll realize just how much of a salary spike that actually was.

It seems to me that attitudes are different today. People appear unconcerned about going into debt, even though the annual percentage rates on some cards can be as high as 22-23 percent. That can add up to a great deal of money. Student credit cards appear to have the highest interest rates, another reason why high school students should receive some instruction in money and banking. This generation, however, if some of my grandchildren are any example, appear to feel that mommy and daddy will take care of everything because that’s what parents do…sorry, gang, but life doesn’t work that way, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you and your parents will be.

The biggest problem that I see with credit cards doesn’t come from just using them. It lies in the penalty rates that companies charge if you are late with payments. This is also known as the ‘default’ rate, and it is, all too often a great deal higher than the rate originally offered on your credit card. Should you just happen to be 30 days late with your payments, companies can raise your annual percentage rate to as high as 29.4 percent. Value Penguin notes that, “Depending on your credit card company, a number of other factors may cause you to incur the penalty rates as well, including but not limited to: exceeding your credit limit, or defaulting on another account with the same issuer.

Returning once more to Nerd Wallet as a source, “Household income has grown by 28% in the past 13 years, but the cost of living has gone up 30% in that time period. Some of the largest expenses for consumers — like medical care, food and housing — have significantly outpaced income growth. Many people assume that credit card debt is the result of reckless spending and think that to get out of debt, people need to stop buying designer clothes and eating at five-star restaurants. But many people use credit cards to cover necessities when their income just doesn’t cut it.” Speaking anecdotally, I can say that the cost of prescription medications has increased disproportionately to any increase in retirement income that I might have seen. In fact, my retirement plan reduced my income in 2016 by $200 per month. Combine that with an increase in grocery prices, energy costs, increasing property taxes, and home insurance rates, and you can understand why yours truly has become a ‘Scroogely curmudgeon.’ Thankfully, the house is paid for and the wheels, while old, are still getting us from place to place.

Certainly, I’m no authorized financial planner or an expert in money matters. Using your credit card to keep your head above water is no sin as long as you understand that this gap between income and expenses is not going to go away. Keeping up with the Joneses is no longer the thing to do because as a friend of mine always says, “Remember, the Joneses are in debt!” Amen to that.

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“What if?”

I have discovered the problem with computer solitaire. You never know what might have been. What if I had moved the red king to the open space rather than the black one? Was the card that I really needed under the red king? I’ll never know.

Life is like that. It’s full of “what ifs.” What if I’d married Mary Jo rather than Sally? What if I hadn’t driven my car that night and skidded on the road, and what if it hadn’t left me paralyzed for life and having to live in this wheelchair?

On more of a world stage, what if people had seen Adolph Hitler for what he was, a power hungry madman? What if Robert Oppenheimer and his people had said, “No,” we don’t believe the world is ready for this type of weapon? How many more millions of Americans and Japanese would have died, and how many generations would have been lost?

This is life in the fast lane. Our “what ifs” are all too often what we see in hindsight because we don’t use our foresight to examine what lies ahead of us when we make the choice to do one thing over another.

Recently, I read of a motor vehicle accident in Middleborough that killed two kids. One of them had just received his license nine days ago. He was speeding on a rain slicked road, missed a curve and smashed into a tree, killing himself and his passenger. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Let’s think about it for just a minute…a license for only nine days and yet he had a friend of the same age in the car and there was no adult supervision. Well, they were on their way to school. But…what if the mother, father, or grandparent had said, “Why don’t I drive you guys to school today? The roads are kind of slick and you know, you haven’t had your license all that long.” There would have been a hell of an argument. The dead student would have been really you-know-what. The difference is that he might be alive.

Notice please, that I use the word, “might.” We have no clue as to what could, would, or should have happened. All we know is that two people are dead, and a lot of people are very sad because of it.

This is not to say that the “what ifs’ in our lives always lead to tragedy. A girl I thought I was madly in love with is the girl I didn’t marry. What if I had? Her life has been one divorce after another. Would I have been number one? A young man in the service kept pointing his rifle at me and trying to pull the trigger, all the while saying, “It’s jammed; it’s jammed.” That gun was pointed at my chest; what if it had unjammed before I grabbed it out of his hands? Let’s see…No children; no grandchildren; a thirty-year old widow; parents who would have been just a wee bit irritated with the United States Army. There would have been a number of negative consequences.

Let’s look at the “what ifs” from the other side, however. What if Jonas Salk had said, “These experiments are just not working. I guess poliomyelitis can’t be cured.” Or what if Edison had given up on some of his experiments? Or Benjamin Franklin; or the Wright Brothers; or Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates.? I think you get the picture. There are so many cases of “what ifs” that we can say have had positive results. Do they outweigh the negatives when we think about the two young men in Middleborough? No, of course not; at least not to the people who knew and loved these young men. In the larger scheme of life, we have no idea what contributions they might have made.

This, my friends is the miracle of “what ifs.” And, when you really stop to think about it, what if is a miracle. Yes, what if can and often does have negative connotations. What if the settlers hadn’t brought tobacco from England to Virginia, along with their diseases that wiped out so many Native Americans, but on the other hand, what if the plague hadn’t wiped out so many in Europe, would there been more wars of expansion so that people would have places to live?

They are only two little words…”what if.” Should we stop to ponder every single time we used those words, we would go mad. It’s why there is another word in our vocabulary. That word is consequences. Each what if results in a consequence, sometimes good; sometimes bad; sometimes nothing at all…that we know of.

Perhaps this is the frustration of playing solitaire on a computer. I’ll never know what was under that red king. Had I been playing with real cards at the kitchen table, which probably wouldn’t have happened because I’d have been doing something else, but let’s say that I was….playing cards at the kitchen table, that is…I could have sneaked a peek under that red king and probably cursed myself for not having played it. There it is; another one of my freedoms has been taken away by the computer; I can no longer peek to see, “what if.”

In the case of solitaire, this article is somewhat humorous. In the case of the young men in Middleborough, it is tragic. In point of fact, you can find comedy and tragedy throughout. From Jonas Salk’s cure for polio to Robert Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb, there is good and there is horror. Throughout, there is also, “what if.”

Let me close with one more “what if.” At least for the next several weeks, what if we all try to be just a bit nicer to everyone else, and what if we consider being kinder to those we don’t really know. These are tough times and it’s difficult for us not to be completely wrapped up in our own problems, but what if we consider that there are others with problems too, and by being a bit kinder, what if we were able to ease their burden, if only for a moment.

This is a rewrite of an article that I prepared some years ago. I just happened to run across it while cleaning out some files. I like it, and at this time of year, I believe it to be particularly appropriate. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading it and will take the message to heart. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a joyous Kwanza to all.

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