May 22, 2013
I just finished Jon Meacham’s excellent book: “Thomas Jefferson, The Art of Power”. In this book he gives us a portrait of our third President and his 60 years in public service. This was a man who at a young age hung out with the royal governor of Virginia and who died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document he initially authored. His public and professional life is fascinating, but it is that political life that got me to thinking of how this country has grown in over 225 years…yet the way government business is conducted has not changed a lot.
I found it fascinating that the early founders of the country deplored having political parties in the United States, yet they sprang up almost from its inception. The Federalists and the Republicans started the entire scenario that has grown to the extreme factions we see in Washington today. (Republican here is not the same thing as today’s party and are sometimes called Democratic-Republicans.) Trying to boil it down to a sentence, the Federalists believed in a strong government and wanted to strengthen the ties back to dear Old England, and the Republicans leaned to state rights and keeping the government as democratic as possible. One of the real fears of Jefferson and those Republicans is that the Federalists really wanted to bring a monarchial type of government back to the USA. I was struck on how fragile our early country was and that just because we had the Constitution we were not a slam-dunk to become the country we grew into.
Looking at the Jefferson presidential years from 1801-1808, I was struck by three things that could have come out of the news 200 years later. One is the “them vs. us mentality” of the political parties. The extremes of both groups were apparent. We all know about the Civil War, but the first talk of a group of states about breaking away from the country was some of the northern states in the early 1800’s, who were predominantly Federalist. They wanted to start their own country. The animosity between the two groups was such that they could have debated in Congress whether the sky was blue or not.
Second, is the vehemence of the media. I make jokes of how Fox News and MSNBC should be paid political arms of the Republican and Democratic parties respectfully. Back then, there were newspapers that made no attempt to hide their allegiance. And, like now, no scandal or rumor was too little or devoid of real facts not to publish. There is no reason to think that someone who strongly supported a particular party would go out of their way to look at the other side of a story or to look for an unbiased version of an event. To them, the papers that supported their side were the Bible.
Third is the fact that the one thing that can bring political factions together is war. When either the British or the French rattled their sabers at the young country, the politicians came together and tended to put differences aside. Unfortunately, it took 9/11 to get a glimpse of this happening in our present day.
The differences? I would have to say leadership. It was stronger on both sides of the historic aisles, but we will look at Jefferson here. He was absolutely hated by many in the other party. But you know what he used to do? He constantly entertained politicians of both parties at dinners and other interactions. While people may have still disagreed with him, they at least had a chance to get to know the man, and he got a better understanding of them. A main nemesis of Jefferson was Alexander Hamilton, the leader of the Federalists for a long time. But in one of his letters, Jefferson talked about how it was the man’s policies he couldn’t stand, not the man himself. Indeed, in retirement, Jefferson kept a bust of Hamilton in a prominent position at Monticello. Hamilton indicated similar feelings toward Jefferson. It seemed like people made an effort to separate the person from the issues. Unlike now in Washington, it seemed as if leaders like Jefferson had a clearer head for what was needed to get the country moving forward. Party was certainly a big consideration, but strengthening the country was more important.
I would like to think our supposed leadership would take a lesson from our history, but I would bet that many in Washington have no clue of what came before them.
Prayer Is Never Out of Fashion
May 21, 2013
The awful news that came out of Oklahoma yesterday with the devastation and deaths from the tornados that descended near Oklahoma City has to make all but the most hard-hearted feel grief for those people. As of this writing, 51 people were already confirmed dead with more expected to follow. Something you hear newscasters say when a disaster like this happens, or folks express in social media, is: “Our prayers go out to all of those affected.”
That is all well and good. I have found myself stopping for a minute and saying a little prayer when I hear those comments. As much as I would love to be aware of God in everything I do, it doesn’t happen. And I can mentally kick myself when I actually have to be reminded to pray when such a tragedy happens.
I guess I could be cynical over this but I am happy that so many people, whether in the public eye or part of everyday life, can freely offer and ask for prayers. It strikes me that so many people that avoid talk of God or think science can solve everything, revert to the basic need to reach out to Him when things get really bad. One of the greatest theological questions constantly posed is that if there is a God, why does he let bad things like these tornados happen where people are killed?
I am not seminary trained or anything, and I certainly don’t speak for God, but I have to think that life is filled with tough events to remind us that there is a God and we better have faith in Him, because faith in whatever man does is going to lead to a dead end. And prayer works. I have seen it in my own life and I know others that have seen it in theirs. That doesn’t mean I got everything I ever asked for. I wasn’t the winner of Saturday night’s Powerball, but I have come to believe that it simply wasn’t meant to be. Many times I have found that by not getting what I want, life for me really worked out best in the long run.
After all, the whole concept of God is a being who knows all, can do all, and it is only arrogance or ignorance that can make a person believe they know more than God. I have believed that there is a script for our life, but we don’t get a chance to read ahead. For God didn’t make a bunch of puppets to jump when he says jump, he made people who he wanted to freely accept Him and love Him as He does us.
So don’t be afraid to pray when we are reminded or asked to. Yes, people have died in Oklahoma, but there are many people left behind who have to cope with the death of loved ones, or the absolute destruction of their homes. There are many who are going to be mentally, physically, and spiritually injured from living through this catastrophe. These are the ones who need our prayers. They are the ones who are going to need the Lord’s help.
I have never been the type who could openly evangelize to people about God. I am getting better at it, but it is not easy. This, however, may be the time to explain to others why you pray and who you are praying to. I have seen in too many people, especially young people, the inability to want to know God or even grasp who He is. Often this happens because of no exposure to any spiritual teaching, or a really bad experience in the past. Share with others your beliefs and why you pray. You never know what and when something is said that will create a spark inside another. God does listen…we just have to remember to keep talking to him.
May 20, 2013
I was reminded this weekend how much personal interaction is missing in today’s world. It is ironic how all of our advances in technology has enabled almost everybody to tweet, get linked in, or Facebook their life to the world. Unfortunately, there seems to be a paradox that with all of this communication ability, it creates cyber walls from people actually getting out and mingling with others in the flesh. The definition of social drinking is not having a glass of wine or a beer while putting new photos up on Facebook. Sometimes it seems that the means we have to reach out to others is becoming a substitute for face-to-face contact.
As we move into summer, I think it is important for everybody to get out there and do things with others. We are entering the season of barbeques, graduations, weddings, and whatever else gets family and friends together. It is time to head to the beach, national parks, or a day in the park. Here is the time to get out and mingle, to see old friends or meet new ones, and to learn how to talk using more than 140 characters at a time. Often it seems as we get more devices that help us have more “leisure time”, the less fun people go out and have.
It’s great to bring family and friends together, share a meal, and laugh a lot. Ok, it might be at someone’s expense, but hopefully everyone is used to it and knows it is not done with meanness. Why this emphasis on personal interaction? First of all, life is way too short to hide behind a computer or smart-phone. To change the cliché, when a person dies is he or she going to regret that they didn’t spend more time on their Facebook or Twitter feed? I have learned to use these tools as much as anybody, but that is what they are: tools. For me it helps to promote these columns and my writing services. Things like Facebook can be good to see what everyone in your life is doing or to reconnect with people from your past. I think its true benefit is reached when you pick up that phone and actually start talking to the person again or meet up with them. I work with people from all over the country and I enjoy when we graduate from the emails and actually start talking to each other. Yes, it isn’t the same as shaking hands and sitting across the table from someone, but it is nice, personal contact.
I have seen firsthand how somebody’s dependence on social media was a handicap on a business getting off the ground. Instead of getting out of the office and meeting people or talking to groups about his enterprise, he almost solely relied on promoting the business through the internet and various social media outlets. Success was being measured by how many new followers were on Twitter. Without getting out and evangelizing the merits of the company, the thing fizzled out faster than a flare thrown in a lake. Business, especially new efforts, is all about relationships. And relationships develop through personal contact. Maybe it is just the phone or talking over Skype, but it has to be more that tweets or e-mail. To borrow a phrase from the Bible, that’s like throwing seed on rocks: it will soon blow away and scatter.
I have a real concern how all of this affects our kids. The electronic universe is a source of 24/7 fun. I would have loved those games as a teen also. On the other hand I wouldn’t give up all of the pick-up games of football, basketball, and baseball we had or jumping on our bikes and just going for a ride. I walk a lot through my neighborhood and local parks and I almost never see a bunch of kids spontaneously playing. If a ball game is going on, it is in some type of organized league. I rarely see kids just out in their yards playing. There were lots of life lessons learned growing up. How to meet and play with the new kid, conflict resolution, being responsible for your baseball glove or bicycle, and lots of simple things like this that really do give a kid the beginning of skills they will need in life.
Ok, there was a moment over the weekend when I went into a room and all the adults were looking at their phones. It was a shining summary of what life is in 2013. We are used to them and use them, but they cannot take us over. Over the coming summer, make the effort to shut the phones off now and then, grab a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), and sit down and laugh with family and friends. It is something that will carry over into all facets of life and serve you well.
May 17, 2013
There was a story in the NY Post on Tuesday that talked about how a handful of upper-crust Manhattan moms have a pricey, secret way to get their kids to the front of the lines at Disney World. The moms pay $130 an hour to hire a disabled, “black-market” guide, who uses her position—sitting in a motorized scooter—to help entitled families gain special access to rides.
A disabled person at Disney and most theme parks get to go to the front of the line with their family. So in this scheme, the mercenary disabled person can take his or her new found “family” past an endless line of people to have almost immediate access to all the Disney attractions.
As one mother bragged, “My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours. You can’t go to Disney without a tour concierge...This is how the 1 percent does Disney.”
According to the park's official policy, guests using a wheelchair or motorized scooter, plus up to five members of their party, can use auxiliary entrances “intended to offer guests in wheelchairs or with trained service animals a more convenient entrance to the attraction” and are “not intended to bypass waiting lines.”
What this does is hurt people with disabilities who legitimately can’t stand in line. As more people do it, the more resentful other park guests will become. I can just imagine how a disabled person will feel when people in line start giving grief because they question if the person is really disabled. It ends up hurting people who really need the services.
I have no problem with people making or having money. But money doesn’t make you better than others. This fallacy of people having this “holier than thou” attitude because they have a few bucks is one of the biggest things wrong in our country today. Arrogance because of money, position, or supposed superiority of some type only leads to resentment. As America becomes more and more a nation of “haves” and “have nots”, there is great potential where the arrogant will be shoved off their pedestals at some point. It is much better to be nice to everyone as a person rises, because he may meet the same folks on the way down.
And what about the kids that are getting to the front of the line via trickery? They are learning that as long as you have money it is ok to use it to break or bend the rules because that is what money is for. I hope the mothers that use this despicable practice have their kids make their life a living hell in another 10 years when they feel like everything in life should be handed to them. Can you say “entitlement”?
Speaking of living hell, I can think of an appropriate punishment for the Moms who aren’t afraid of spreading their money around to beat the system. I think they should be duct taped into the seat of a small boat. And that little boat is part of the “It’s a Small World” attraction at Disney. And those Moms have to go through the ride again…and again…and again…and again…”
May 16, 2013
The current issues confronting President Obama with Banghazi, the IRS, and the Justice Department slapping around the 1st Amendment by taking phone records of reporters is nothing to crow over if you are not a big President Obama fan. And the reasons for this, is that these events just highlight the deficiencies of all the leadership in Washington…of BOTH parties.
First the Democrats and President Obama. I’ve said it before and here it is again: if this was the end of his 2nd term, the biggest thing historians could say about Obama is that he was good at winning elections and premature Nobel Peace Prizes (God, that is still the biggest joke). Anyway he is the chief executive of the United States. The definition for “executive” in terms of government is “the branch of government that has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state bureaucracy”. I really hope we don’t find out that President Obama had any knowledge of any of these events before they happened. If he did, then he should be shown the door! (Oh my, except then we have President Biden.) If there is some phantom memo that indicates he knew about these events and did nothing to acknowledge them or stop them, it would send the country reeling.
Regardless, he has done a pretty crappy job of be this country’s chief executive. The three government offices in this week’s scandals: State Department, IRS, and Justice Department are ones he is responsible for as CEO. You can get away with fluffing off problems by claiming ignorance or blaming the last person in the position if you are new, but the credibility of that argument dies when you are into your fifth year as the boss. I am not sure if Mitt Romney would have been the answer, but Mitt did have extensive experience as a chief executive. I believe that he or someone like him who understands the art and power of leadership and delegating is what our overly complex company could use right now. President Obama has shown he is all style and no substance. And he is not doing well at “on-the-job-training”.
Now for the Republicans, especially John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the republican leaders of the House and Senate. Get off! Every time I see them on television, I cringe. Here they have been lobbed several softballs to blast out of the park and all they ever seem to do is hit a pop fly to the pitcher. I don’t know what it is. They are obviously skilled politicians to get where they are, but as national leaders, they suck. I watched both on the news this morning speaking out against these events and they could use the expertise of an acting or speech coach. I think the average American can predict what these two lukewarm bodies are going to say before it comes out of their mouth. Maybe not the exact words, but you know it is going to be trite, predictable, and said with arrogant glee: “Hah, hah…you screwed up White House and we are going to let you know it…again…and again…and again…”
I keep waiting for a Republican that is a strong leader who can obviously think for him or herself and not be afraid to connect with Americans…and waiting…and waiting… Why do we keep going back to Ronald Reagan? That’s like us Mets’ fans reminiscing about the last time the team won the World Series. (Damn, that WAS the last time the Mets were champions – 1986). Ok, now I feel like a double loser today. But the point is that there is no viable alternative in leadership for an American to find. And I am perplexed by the Republican party’s inability to start looking at the big picture. If the Republican Party won the Powerball Lottery, they would probably lose the ticket!
Only Washington DC can be so dysfunctional that it can screw up a law of nature. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. If that is the case, why are we still waiting for real leadership to come swooshing in to take the place of the empty suits in our government?
May 15, 2013
President Obama walks into the Oval Office dressed in his golf clothes and heads over to his desk. Sitting down, he picks up the copies of the New York Times and Washington Post. Starting with the Times, he looks over the headlines. Suddenly he sits up straight and shouts out for his Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough. Denis comes running in. “Yes, Sir. What’s up?”
“Denis, what’s this headline about the IRS targeting those Tea Party nut jobs? Shouldn’t they be spending time on squeezing every last dime out of the middle class?”
McDonough starts to turn a little red, “I just heard about that the other day, Mr. President. They are targeting any organization with “Patriot” or “Constitution” in their names. It seems like the guys in the tax office were going out of their way to give those organizations a hard time to get their nonprofit status. But don’t worry, our groups are approved right away.”
“Well, that’s all well and good, but isn’t the public going to get mad at me? You know I’m the President. What was that saying Harry Truman had? ‘The Penny Ends Here.’ ‘A Clean Desk Is the Sign of a Sick Mind.’ What was that thing?”
“Uh, ‘The Buck Stops Here’, Mr. President.”
“Yeah, that’s it. I am going to hear a lot about this. People actually expect me to know what’s going on here. Why wasn’t I informed?”
“Weelllll, it seemed like a bunch of overzealous employees who were just trying to help.”
“I have to check on this, but I’m pretty sure the IRS is supposed to be a nonpolitical agency. They should be holding people’s feet to the fire, no matter what side they support. Oh, well, I guess we should ask someone there what’s going on. Get my Treasury Secretary…what’s his name on it.”
“Jacob Lew, Sir.”
“That’s it.” President Obama picks up the Post and looks at the headline. “Geez, Denis, what the hell is this headline? The Justice Department took records from the Associated Press? Isn’t that going against the 7th amendment or something?”
“The first amendment, Sir. Yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you that one. It was a National Security issue. We were tracking down a leak. We didn’t think you needed to be bothered with details.”
“I appreciate that, Denis. We have to be careful with leaks. It would be impossible to pass all of my legislation if we had leaks. Did the Attorney General head that one up?”
“No, he took himself off of it. He didn’t want it to seem like an administration witch hunt.”
“Glad he was looking out for me. I will need a full report on this. I’m sure those pesky newspeople will ask me about this. Get me the file on it so I can read after my golf game.”
“It will be on your desk, Mr. President. It will be in the file marked “Administration Witch Hunt.”
The President threw the papers on the desk. “I have to quit reading the papers. All they tell me is what is going on around here. You know what they say, ‘Ignorance is Bliss ‘ .”
“Yes, they do, Mr. President. Uh, sir, shouldn’t you keep a little more on top of things? You say you want to get back to governing. Even MSNBC is coming down hard on you for all of these issues. We have that Benghazi thing hanging over us this week too.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I need to go relax on the golf course. Besides, I’m the President of the United States , clothed in remarkable power…or whatever Lincoln said in that movie. I keep on top of things. I never miss a fundraising event. Why should I bother with details? That’s what I have my staff for.
“And it’s a good thing I have Jay Carney as the Press Secretary. I wouldn’t want to face the press today. Is he getting ready for the daily press conference?”
“Yeah, I think I saw Jack Daniels and Valium on his desk when I went by his office. Don’t you want to know what he’s going to say today?”
“Nah, I’ll read about it the papers tomorrow.”
May 14, 2013
If I was President Obama, I would just pull the covers over my head and not get out of bed today. Instead of going to sleep counting sheep, he can count this past week’s worth of scandals: Benghazi, the IRS investigating conservative organizations, and now the story that the Justice Department looked into the phone records of the Associated Press. He says Benghazi is a Republican sideshow and that he had no knowledge of the IRS and Justice Department activities. For somebody who took an oath…twice…to uphold the Constitution of the United States, he is doing a terrible job at it. And he studied as a Constitution lawyer? Does that mean he knows exactly how he is abusing that document?
These are not little events that can be swept under the rug. The attack on the embassy in Benghazi was a tragedy and anytime Americans lose their lives in service to their country, they should be treated with more respect than people in the State Department and CIA changing documents for the purpose of covering their collective asses. I am sure that the other embassies throughout the world feel good knowing that the government has their back.
Then you have the most feared agency in America, the IRS, using their great source of power and data to look closely at conservative organizations whose theme is contrary to the current administration’s. The sinister irony of targets with the words “patriot” and “constitutional” in their title is just sick. Let’s face it, the IRS has the ability to be our country’s storm troopers. Presidents like Nixon have tried to use the IRS as a political weapon and there tends to be a common result – it blows up in the president’s face. Does anyone else feel just a little more violated today?
And speaking of violations, how about ignoring the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights: freedom of the press! The President’s Justice Department did a broad subpoena of looking into the phone records of reporters of the Associated Press, one of the largest news agencies. Under the vague “National Security” label, it seems like the interest here is to see who reporters talked to. Is this because the administration wants to see who is unhappy in the government and is talking to reporters? Is this so they can chastise those who dare to speak out against them? Maybe if you are so insecure about how people within the government talk about what is going on, then it is time to change from paranoia to actually doing something correctly.
Throw into this mess things like a Veterans Administration who can’t help veterans, a healthcare program that is shaky before it starts, and agreeing to a budget sequester deal that you never really thought would occur, we have one of the more inept Presidents since Jimmy Carter. And the confidence of the country is headed in the same direction as it was in the late 70’s.
What I am really tired of is how President Obama constantly deflects any responsibility for any of this. He has never accepted the “buck stops here” premise of being President. He seems to have no clue on what it means and takes to be a leader. And the sad thing here is we have over three more years of this. So we endure three more years of inaction, inactivity, and inappropriate representation of the American people.
I sometimes get frustrated with how the media and the opposition react to whoever is in power in the White House. But it is way past time for accountability. For a Nobel Peace Prize holding, 2nd term President, we deserve so much more than we are getting. Unleash the Hounds!
May 13, 2013
I have been a subscriber to Sports Illustrated since I was a freshman in college. My daughter would say football players wore leather helmets back then, but it wasn’t quite that long ago. But during those years I was exposed to many great writers and stories, some of which were just borderline about sports. This past week’s issue had two such narratives that showcased some of the good things about our country. I can get cynical about the dysfunctional government we have, but it is nice to be reminded of the spirit and ingenuity of our country.
The first story was written by Jeremy Repanich and told about a student at Harvard and the ingenious solution her and three classmates came up with to help an age-old problem in developing countries. Jessica Matthews was visiting her parents’ homeland of Nigeria and saw how people had trouble having enough power in their home (or any for that matter). Those with access to it used smelly kerosene lamps or equally fume-filled diesel generators. What did her and her classmates come up with: the Soccket. This is a soccer ball that can generate and store enough energy to power a light for three hours. By having a bunch of kids kicking it around, a device inside turns and a generator gathers the kinetic energy and stores it on a battery. A lamp is plugged in and can be charged in less than a minute which allows 10 kids to power their lights off of one ball and take them home at night.
Now Unchartered Play is a company that has raised $100,000 on Kickstarter to fund the distribution of balls overseas. So what we have here is something traditonally expected in our country. There is a problem, a solution to that problem is arrived at (maybe in an out-of-the-box type way), and a financial method is implemented to produce the solution. Our history is full of men and women who did this type of thing and I found it incredibly heart-warming and encouraging that people still go about doing this kind of stuff.
Steve Rushin wrote the second story that caught my attention. He wrote about an athlete named Cameron Lyle who was on the University of New Hampshire track team and threw the shot put, weight throw, hammer throw, and discus. This big guy participated in a campus-wide drive where students gave samples of their DNA to the National Marrow Donor Program. Kids were told the odds were against them ever being a match, but it was a good thing to do. So of course Cameron received a call two years later that he was the perfect match for a 28 year old man with acute lymphobastic leukemia. Unless the guy received a bone marrow transplant, he had about six months to live.
When this young man was presented with the challenge to go through surgery, pain, mental anxiety, and recovery time, he didn’t hesitate. He said, “Yes.” Didn’t discuss it with his mom, girlfriend, or coach…he simply volunteered to help a fellow human being…someone he didn’t even know. After the operation was over, this young athlete who lifted scads of weights and threw heavy things for distance, was told not to pick up anything for a while that weighted over 20 pounds. Oh yeah, he also gave up his opportunity to compete during his senior season.
It is not often you hear of something so noble. It does happen in our country, but there seems to be so much garbage and wimpy personalities that take up all of the media’s time. But here is a young person and an athlete, two characteristics that are constantly put down as not having much substance to them, putting himself on the line for someone else. And those students at Harvard with the power-generating soccer ball can’t be all that old either. We have a ton of this age group defending the country in the armed services. I am sure there are other fine examples like this of young people we don’t hear about, but it gives us something: HOPE. Our country can still produce citizens with characteristics of intelligence, ingenuity, good-heartedness, and concern for others. They are our future. They need to be encouraged to continue. Let’s pray the darkness of our current leadership doesn’t eclipse these young futures of our country from shining.
May 10, 2013
Sometimes I marvel how the United States is the most successful capitalistic country on earth. We have so many people in charge of businesses and organizations who couldn’t run a lemonade stand. Through my working years I have had one fantastic supervisor, several mediocre bosses, and two who were absolutely terrible. It boggles my mind that when a person is at the top of the food chain in a company, they do not try to learn how to do their job better. Whether someone is the top dog or one of the management team, having a position of authority does not automatically endow a person with wisdom.
And the economic evidence of where this leads is evident. Psychologist and workplace intervention expert, Michelle McQuaid, conducted a study of one-thousand people. The study showed bad bosses can cost the economy $360 billion annually in lost productivity. McQuaid says three out of every four people report the most stressful part of their day is dealing with their boss.
There are many factors that contribute to a bad boss. We’ll focus on two today – the first of which is when an individual is promoted to a leadership position for the first time. What often happens in a company is that somebody does great in their job whether it be corporate sales, doing marketing, conducting research, selling on the department store floor, etc. That person is then thrust into the position of supervising others doing the job he or she used to do. If a person has never had any leadership opportunities in any capacity, they are going to flounder. What ends up happening is that they are going to try and be a boss like one of their supervisors…who may be equally inept at the job because they also do not have a clue. It is like someone who becomes a parent for the first time and repeats all of the mistakes that his parents did. It is the only example they ever had.
Another problem occurs when a person makes himself the boss. This often happens when a person has their own business. They think that since it is their business and idea, they have the perfect right to be king and do whatever they want. I was recently in this situation where the head guy would not listen to any advice and stubbornly did what he thought was right. This arrogance led to disaster where the owner lost a lot of money and the enterprise never got off the grown. What is that saying, “Pride goeth before the fall”?
There is such a difference between being a leader and a boss. This is the distinction that people have to make an effort at learning. Being in charge means possessing a combination of skills in organization, communication, psychology, goal orientation, and particular knowledge of whatever the business is. Leaders motivate and guide people to being successful. Bosses tend to crack the whip and do not understand the concept of “grace under pressure”. And these differences do not just show up in work. They can manifest themselves in churches, volunteer organizations, sports leagues or teams, etc. A few people have an innate talent for leadership. The good news is that everyone else can learn the necessary skills. This is where companies and people make a mistake. By not investing a little in some training for a person, a business has nobody to blame but themselves if a new boss fails. The same is true for a person who owns their own business. Read or take the initiative to learn how to be a great supervisor. It matters so much to the success of the business, the happiness of employees, and the bottom line.
One other thing to those that go through such training: Leave your ego at the door. I have taught such courses and you can tell the people who believe they have all the answers. They put down such training because they have no use for all the “touchy-feely” stuff. It is the saying: “What happens when you train an idiot? You have a trained idiot”. Like it or not being a leader is 90% people skills. Without those abilities the person is going to fail which in turn can hurt the company or organization and bring it to its knees. Anyone in the position of being in charge has to ask the question: “Do I want to be a leader or a boss?” And remember, BOSS spelled backwards is a double SOB!
May 9, 2013
TIME magazine’s cover story this week is on the millennial generation. This is the 20 – early 30’s age group that is going to be responsible for business and governing this country for many years to come. TIME’s cover has “ME, ME, ME” written across the front since this is how this generation is perceived. They are referred to as lazy, entitled narcissists who expect everything handed to them. On the plus side they are also more tolerant of the differences in people and adaptable to different situations.
Is there any wonder that these young people are like that as I look around the world and our nation? Let’s take a brief look at three of the major influences in anyone’s life: parents, schools, and the country. And what I talk about is an overall perception; it certainly does not apply to every situation.
If you look at many families you know why kids grow up to be adults where they expect everything handed to them. Parents seem to feel they have to do whatever they can for kids. As parents, we have this wired into us, but sometimes we also need to be realistic and have to say “no” at times. There is no reason kids need to be able to do everything they want whether it be sports, scouts, school activities or a combination of everything. I have seen many families where all of these “fun” activities lead to undue stress. Isn’t there something wrong with that paradox? And what about doing chores around the house? Maybe it is the thriftiness in me, but how many households go out and hire a lawn service to cut the grass when they have able-bodied teenagers at home? I am not talking about having three acres of lawn either; I mean where you have to push the lawn mower for 45 minutes. When do they learn how to wash clothes, clean a bathroom, cook dinner, or use a hammer and screwdriver? My parents’ goal was for me to leave the nest fully housebroken.
While I understand kids having to live at home longer because life is so expensive, especially when you have school loans that only winning the lottery will alleviate, parents shouldn’t make it easy for them. Charge them rent, have them be responsible for everything, and give them reason to get out! I think it is now ok to nag them to find work where they can be self-sufficient, whether they want to or not. Maybe a child has to deal with roommates to get by. Kids can be selfish…it’s ok for the parents to be too after spending 20+ years raising them.
Schools are as much to blame. All kids learn differently. Some are sponges, some have learning disabilities and some need a good kick in the butt to get motivated. I applaud the education system for not having a “one size, fits all approach” and trying to reach the kids who have a tough time learning. I am not sure what we do with the kids who need the kick in the posterior though. I shared before the story of my daughter who is a high school chemistry teacher when a parent asked her why her child was not passing chemistry. My daughter’s response was: “why doesn’t he show up for class?” In the old days, teacher had authority. If a parent had to visit a teacher, the kid would be making plane reservations to any country without an extradition treaty. Now the parents go in demanding that their kid not be picked on and are ready to bring a lawyer into the situation. Teachers are between a rock and a hard place. And schools aren’t giving kids an education on the basic facts of life. I am not talking about sex – kids know that by the time they are 12. I mean how to look for a job, write well, deal with banks and credit, what to expect from college or a trade school, etc. It is like that grass seed they advertise that will grow in 21 days. On the 21st day – poof – there better be grass there. Schools seem to have that same perception of kids: they turn 18 – poof – they are an adult and know how to navigate life.
Finally we get to business and government. You really cannot hear the millennial generation shout out, “Me, Me, Me” because they are drowned out by politicians and business leaders. As a group, have you seen any other segment of life that is as selfish? Whether it be for profit or votes, we have a culture of people doing anything and willing to run over anyone to get what they want. For most of them doing what is in the best interest of the voters or the employees is usually a second or third thought.
This is how our kids are brought up today. Being selfish and feeling entitled is all around them. Most of us cannot do anything to change society, but we can have a positive influence on the small sphere of young people we come in contact with. Each journey starts with a single step and the world needs to change one person at a time.
May 8, 2013
In a far-reaching interview on Yahoo’s Daily Ticker, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, author of Is College Worth It? said, “We have about 21 million people in higher education, and about half the people who start four year colleges don’t finish,” Bennett tells The Daily Ticker. “Those who do finish, who graduated in 2011 - half were either unemployed or radically underemployed and in debt.”
Not exactly the stuff we were told while growing up on why we should go to college. Furthermore, the average student loan balance for a 25-year-old is $20,326, according to the Federal Reserve of New York. Student debt is the second largest source of U.S. household debt, after only mortgages. And, Mr. Bennett also pointed out that out of the 3500 colleges and universities in the country, only 150 institutions provided a student a positive return on investment. This is where the cost of tuition is well-worth what a person can look forward to in his or her career. That’s 4.3% of our colleges if you are keeping score!
The U.S. is home to some of the greatest colleges and universities in the world. But with the student debt load at more than $1 trillion and youth unemployment elevated, what is happening in higher education is a crime. It seems like the mission of most colleges is not unlike big corporations: bring in as much money into the institution as possible but don’t necessarily have it trickle down to the employees…or in this case, the students and the employees.
An example of this is how more and more colleges rely on adjunct professors and teachers to instruct a course. These are part-time folks who have no benefits, no tenure track at the college, and no professional security whatsoever. They often do this because they love the subject that they are knowledgeable in and enjoy teaching. If they are doing this to supplement their income, most can make more working part-time at Home Depot. And while many of these people are extremely good, the fact is that a student, his parents, or his future mountain of school loans is paying top dollar to the college for this type of system. Think about it: if tuition is $30,000 a year and a student has 10 courses in that year and all are taught by adjuncts who are maybe making $2000 a class, that is $20,000 in expense to the college. We will go low here and say that the average size class is 20 students. Well, that school is raking in 20x10x30,000 = $6,000,000. Yes, this is a ballpark figure and there will be overlap of students in some of the classes, but you get the picture. If we were dealing with organized crime here, it would be called extortion. In America, it is called Academia!
When archeologists examine our civilization 1000 years from now they are going to come to the opinion we imploded from the weight of greed. Colleges are leading the way. Because if they have a slight drop in enrollment (usually because tuition is too expensive), the first thing they do is raise tuition which has the domino effect of students going there needing even more loans to pay the school. Like so much of our government, the concept of becoming efficient and cutting back on costs is not the first thought that comes to their mind.
What can be done about it? A little more sense on the part of parents and what a high school teaches kids about colleges will go a long way. As a parent we generally want our kids to go to college and want them to go to the place they like the best. But if a parent allows them to go all the way across the country to some school to get an art degree at $70,000/year plus all the other expenses, is the parent doing their job? Where is the teaching of being realistic, budget-minded, and fiscally conservative coming from? When the kid graduates (hopefully) in four years in a crater of debt the size of the Grand Canyon and then finds out it is difficult to live on your own and payback your four years of fun with a file clerk job, then what? Because this is what happens to the great majority of kids out there! And high schools have to do more than breathe a sigh of relief that they manage to get another kid graduated and out the door. Kids who have college aspirations should have a mandatory class on all the ramifications of going to college, how to make a wise decision on where to go, and what to expect when they get there. Since the high schools are sending too many on to higher education who cannot adequately read, write, or do math, they can at least do this.
Sometimes we need a collective face slap to get our heads back into the game. Whatever influence you have on a kid as a parent, relative, friend, or teacher, take the time to paint them a real picture of what they are in for. It is never too early to do some critical thinking. Then maybe when these kids grow up, we will actually have a generation who can fix what ails us.
May 7, 2013
While in Mexico last week, President Obama said on Thursday he was comfortable with his administration's decision to allow over-the-counter purchases of a morning-after pill for anyone 15 and older. Obama, speaking at a news conference while in Mexico, said the FDA's decision was based on "solid scientific evidence." What's still unclear is whether the administration will prevail on its appeal of a court order that would lift all age limits on purchasers of the pill.
That decision to appeal set off a storm of criticism from reproductive rights groups, who denounced it as politically motivated and a step backward for women's health. "We are profoundly disappointed. This appeal takes away the promise of all women having timely access to emergency contraception," Susannah Baruch, Interim President & CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, said in a statement late Wednesday.
In appealing the ruling Wednesday, the administration recommitted itself to a position Obama took during his re-election campaign that younger teens shouldn't have unabated access to emergency contraceptives, despite the insistence by physicians groups and much of his Democratic base that the pill should be readily available.
I have several concerns with this entire issue.
I do understand the need for this type of product being made available. And it should be made available for any girl under 18 – but with parental permission. Noticed I used the word “girl” here, not woman. It seems like girls physically grow up quicker than ever before. (And some scientific studies attribute this to all the artificial hormones put into the milk and food that young people ingest.) And while President Obama is using other “solid scientific evidence” to make his decision, is he also looking at the maturity level of the girls who have to deal with this situation? Physically, young people are miles ahead of where they were years ago. The same is true of their sexual activity and knowledge on the subject. But emotionally and intellectually, they are just kids. And it seems like emotional growth is regressing at the same time physical growth is progressing.
And guess what folks? That’s where parents need to fulfill a role. First of all, according to all the other laws, a parent is responsible for their child until he or she is 18 years old. I don’t think it should be left up to the courts to decide when it is convenient to circumvent that concept. If a parent can be sued for something their kid did up to that age, then they need be a total part of their life – even in the case of sexual activity. There is a great need for family court in this country to help very difficult situations, but the court needs to stay out of the family in day-to-day life.
Ok, it sucks for a girl if she went too far with a guy and now is scared to death. Yes, being able to buy a pill at the drug store like a pack of M&M’s makes part of the problem go away. And she avoids having to tell her parents. But then she also misses out on being told about responsibility, the dangers of disease, other options available, etc. It is also a wake-up call to the parent that maybe they better start paying more attention to their daughter. If a parent has their act together even a little, it is a good time to show the girl just how much she is loved and how the parent or parents are there for her.
There are an awful lot of good kids out there who are going to screw-up. We all do in one way or another. And the family unit is not as strong as it should be. But continually undermining the responsibilities between parent and child should not be in the hands of our courts. Knowing or interpreting the law is not the same as having wisdom. There is a lot of trauma and tension when the subject of sex comes up in a household. But it is an opportunity to get everyone to focus on the ideal of love, while battling over the mechanics of sex. And it is a necessary growing experience – for both the child and the parent.
May 6, 2013
I saw some of the excerpts from the NRA national convention on the news this morning. It showcased how fear or perceived fear is still the lowest common denominator in getting a political point across in our country. Yes, I am picking on the NRA here, but they manage to have a cast of characters that make anything they do look like a Saturday Night Live skit. The truth is that what they do is the same thing every cause remotely connected to politics does whether they be Republican or Democrat. It seems like rather than give a coherent thought on why a group is against something, it is much easier to bash the other side and attempt to scare the hell out of anyone thinking of supporting it. (The Liberals pushing Granny over the cliff in reaction to Republicans wanting to exercise some budget discipline leaps to mind.)
Now the NRA was speaking to their people and is going to cater to the audience. Nothing wrong with that - however, if they possessed any brains, they would realize their messages are going to be televised and people who do not look fondly at them are going to react. When a great majority of Americans support background checks for buying a gun and it gets shot down in the Senate, and this mismatch of logic is put on the shoulders of the NRA, then why would a group want to alienate even more people? If the NRA has a public relations firm, their mission obviously isn’t to win over more people to their thinking.
And I say this as someone who is fine with the second amendment and have been part of the NRA. But like the extremists in the NRA who believe in having their own personal bunker stocked with supplies and guns, the NRA seems to be taking a bunker mentality. Encourage the troops and circle the wagons. It is a formula that could hurt them more in the long run. For once an organization becomes more insular and incestuous, its power fades and could eventually spiral into oblivion. If you do not have outreach and tweak your message to bring in new blood, you will eventually wither and die. (Hmmm, am I talking about the NRA or Republican Party.)
And for the morons who write me whenever I dare talk about gun control, I am not talking about gun control. I don’t believe that having background checks leads to the abolition of guns. Look, the biggest problem with guns is all of the illegal ones that are out there. But if a background check keeps a gun out of the hands of even one person who shouldn’t have one due to a violent past or mental illness, then it is a good thing. If the NRA tried just a little to lean this way, the perception of them would skyrocket. But once again it is more important to stick to their guns (pun intended), than using a little common sense in their approach.
In his speech, NRA chief executive and vice president Wayne LaPierre linked the gun-control debate to the aftermath of the Boston bombings, arguing that as police searched for an armed suspect in a place where guns are heavily regulated, residents were sheltered in place with no means to defend themselves: “How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago?" LaPierre asked the crowd. It was the first time the NRA connected the Boston bombing with the gun control debate.
La Pierre advocates the old national defense policy of MAD: mutually assured destruction. The idea of this concept was that if the USA and Russia had enough nuclear missiles to obliterate each other, then a war would never start. And it worked. But there is enough history to show that not everyone has enough brains to keep an itchy trigger finger from shooting. And most gun owners I know feel the same way. The NRA can be a force of reason if it wanted to. It has the money and the clout. But they choose to constantly shoot themselves in the foot (another pun intended). But maybe that is why Wayne LaPierre is against the background checks: he couldn’t pass the mental health requirement.
May 3, 2013
I write for a living. I usually do corporate work and help folks who are writing novels or books. I get many inquiries from students in college to do their reports and papers for them. I decline these requests since I really believe that if they don’t do their own work, they aren’t getting anything out of college. I will on occasion, edit a paper for someone.
What I have noticed is a declining ability in so many young people to be able to communicate. It is evident in not only papers that I receive, but also in their e-mails to me. I am not sure if it is laziness, lack of ability, or only possessing the ability to text on the phone that brings this about, but it is disturbingly prevalent.
We rightly make a big deal out of American students lagging behind other countries in science and math. We dump all kinds of money into programs, more bureaucracy to work on the problem, and targeting students to do well in standardized tests, and what happens? We still lag behind!
It is frightening when the classes with the most college students in it are the remedial English and math classes. These are full of high school graduates who are supposed to know all of this stuff. So what did our schools prepare them for? To be able to pass a bunch of standardized tests to justify the existence of the high school and then send them out into the world woefully unarmed to move forward?
Not everyone has the aptitude and desire for college. But they should at least leave high school with sufficient skills to thrive in a job or some other type of training. Maybe I am biased because of the work I do, but you should be able to write a simple sentence that can be lumped together with others to form a single paragraph and thought. I read some stuff from college students and have to just say “Huh?” Unfortunately, there is no dictionary to translate gibberish.
What I find hilarious is when reports are filled with phrases or abbreviations that are suitable for texting, but not a psychology report. I understand why young people need help in editing papers. I just hope they actually know what they are writing about even if they cannot articulate it.
It seems we have a real crisis in education. There are all kinds of excuses like poor teachers, ineffective administrations, or every student has ADD. While there may sometimes be truth in reasons like this, I don’t believe it covers all of the ills. There are a lot of good teachers out there who are very frustrated in what they have to work with in terms of administrations and unmotivated students. There is nothing wrong with keeping a student’s feet to the fire to get him or her to achieve in school, but it takes teachers, administration, and especially parents to make it happen. Besides, it’s good training for the crap you are in for as an adult.
If we are going to throw our money at the problem, then let’s do it constructively. There is obviously a great many problems in our country’s educational system. We really need to remember that we want these kids to be able to function out in the world, and be able to do simple things like communicate and make a budget for themselves. Until they start giving prizes out in literature for works done in 140 characters or less, we have a long way to go.
May 2, 2013
George Orwell’s futuristic book, 1984, which was first published in 1949 is now, ironically, a history book. And one of the book’s iconic concepts, Big Brother, is every bit a reality now. Big Brother is a fictional character in the novel. He is the enigmatic dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state taken to its utmost logical consequence – where the ruling Party wields total power for its own sake over the inhabitants. In the society that Orwell describes, everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase "Big Brother is watching you", which is the core "truth" of the propaganda system in this state.
We know such technology is widespread today. It was instrumental in pinning down the two idiots who killed and caused havoc at the Boston Marathon. The concept is getting wide play on the news as the debate is going on whether technology like this should be more widespread to provide more safety or if we are getting too close where privacy and any rights we have as individuals are getting thrown out the window.
I have been having a difficult time getting my brain around the concept. But two works of fiction this week helped me see just how violated we can all become with all of this technology. The first is one of my favorite shows, Bones. In the season finale we see the crime fighting heroes of this show battling their worse nemesis, a technological genius named Pelant. A big part of the plot is how the evil genius can hack into cameras all over to continually find and spy on the people he chooses. When you see his bank of TV monitors, it brings home the reality of how this can be done…and it is scary. The story may be fictional, but people can actually do this.
The other thing that brought this home to me is Tom Clancy’s most recent bestseller, Threat Vector. In this novel, the Chinese have managed to hack into the United States’ most secure systems and can monitor everything, know what all the security agencies are doing, and even take over the controls of weapon-laden drones flying over the Mideast. Scary scenario – yes. Possible – probably. It made me realize that in the old days fencing used to be done by men with swords. Now it is being conducted by techies with computer code.
Yes, these are both fictional works but built on very plausible concepts. The truth is that this is the world we now live in. One thing we need to be careful with in America is that the clamor for national security does not cut into freedom. Like so many other things in the country we are on a razor’s edge in balancing between the two. As we know there are many who get caught up in the hysteria of an event and make knee-jerk decisions that have no regard for the fundamental principles that shaped our country. I am talking about our government officials who are supposed to be clear-headed and think before they act.
What it comes down to is that the government may be watching us…but we have to remember that we can never stop watching them. Until the Constitution is put in the shredder (and I am not a pessimist – I don’t see that happening) the voters are still the best system of checks and balances in our form of democracy. We are the only ones who can keep those we put in power accountable. I often wonder how many of our leaders would turn into a half-crazed James Bond villain if they didn’t have us holding them back!
May 1, 2013
“Paper Tiger” is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhǐlǎohǔ, meaning something that seems as threatening as a tiger, but does not withstand challenge.
After yesterday’s press conference, I reckon it is time to officially put President Obama in this category. Here we are only three months into his second term with over three and a half years left and already there is a sense of gloom around his Presidency. Obama did laugh off a reporter's question about whether the defeat of a bipartisan bill to enhance background checks of would-be gun buyers and other legislative struggles meant he lacked the political “juice” to advance his second-term agenda.
“If you put it that way,” the president said with a chuckle, “maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly.”
The problem with this question officially being asked to the man himself, is that it could very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In this day of 24/7 news coverage, the amount of time from something merely being an idea or a rumor to becoming fact is about 17 minutes. And a fact of life from business, sports, war, and politics is that one of the hardest things in life to change is momentum. Success breeds success, but disaster also breeds disaster. A very skilled and wise person may be able to turn something around, but we have over four years of this and there are absolutely no indications that anything is going to turn around.
Besides being something less than upbeat at his press conference, an example of President Obama’s inability to get things done is reflected in his wanting to get the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba closed. One of the most high-profile promises from his history-making 2008 campaign was to shut this place down. It is back in the news because 100 prisoners are on a hunger strike there. Now, 5 years have passed since he vowed to close the joint down within his first 100 days of being President. President Obama is making Americans yell out the saying, “I rather see a sermon than hear one”!
As Americans we need to have confidence in our leadership. Yesterday, Obama also voiced his frustration with Congress and blamed them for a lot of our ills. And Congress does suck. But like it or not, pal, part of your job is to figure out how to get things done. Somebody needs to step forward from either party to begin acting as the Great Conciliator and get people to focus on moving the country forward. And, President Obama, you are automatically in the best position to do this. As Abe Lincoln said in Steven Spielberg’s movie about him, "I am President of America clothed in vast power!" Melodramatic or not, it is the truth.
I think we would all love a President where we would be willing to follow him to hell and back. I don’t think too many people would follow Obama to Disneyland. He has a gift for oratory, but that seems to be where his gifts stop. I don’t have a lot to say for the people in this country who “hate” him. Hate is not good nor is it constructive. I think most people hate him because he won, and their party didn’t. This sore loser mentality is hurting our country big time. President Obama seems like a genuinely nice guy. I would enjoy sitting down and talking with him. But if we played a game of “Clue”, I think I would win because he still doesn’t seem to have one in how to be an effective President.
This really hurts me to say this: I guess we can hope for better in 2016. The sadness is: what the hell do we do till then?