Friday, February 7, 2014

Colored Sand

Colored Sand

My wife Darlene is creative.  I don’t pretend to always understand her creativity, and as a card-carrying member of latter day homo sapiens, male division, am probably not meant to understand it.  She can seemingly make anything from dresses, shirts, costumes, cookies, pies, you name it.  About the only thing I can make is a mess – but I’ve found my strength and have pretty much perfected it.

Darlene made the bridesmaid’s dresses for our number two daughter’s wedding (that’s a long, painful story).  She’s always concocting something, and while I may not get it, eventually will come to appreciate it.  I’m in awe of her.

Prior to our wedding, she came up with the idea of having each of us and our four children represented by differently colored sand.  The concept was to have each of us pour a bit of our pre-selected sand into a larger heart-shaped bottle, while retaining another portion in our own bottles to represent ourselves as whole people.  In this way, each of us became part of each other, and it would be nearly impossible to separate us again.

And that’s the point.

We chose to come together as a family.  That has a special significance that isn’t necessarily true of the family you’re born into.

I was fortunate to have been adopted by my Dad on my sixth birthday.  He and my Mom married almost 57 years ago, when I was a bit more than two years old.  Long ago, Mom started telling me that Dad chose me.  He knew what he was getting and decided to go for it, anyway.  I’m sure it was really because he thought Mom was hot and I was like the toy in the Crackerjack box, but it was one of those things that she made sound believable.  It gives a kid a real sense of being special to think that he didn’t just end up with what he got, but that he was wanted for himself.  So for as long as I can remember, adoption has had a special place in my heart.

That was one reason I was simpatico with Darlene’s son, Joe.  Although he was a young adult when we met, we both seemed to appreciate the other for the closeness of our relationship with his mother.  Once it was obvious that she and I were going to be more than just casual dates, and we saw the type of person each was, it was good.  He knew his Mom was safe and happy, and that was really all he was concerned with.  Once I knew he was a man of character, that was all I was concerned with.  In essence, we adopted each other.

Once Dar introduced Joe and Kylee and me, I knew there was going to be a test.  Kylee’s test was, um, unique – but then, so is she.  At the time, she had a couple of iguanas, a bearded dragon, a snake and a couple of tree frogs.  I’m sure there were other members of the menagerie, but this covers the more important ones.  At Dar’s apartment one night, Kylee was showing off the tree frogs when one leapt from her hand onto my face.  I started laughing, which probably put her at ease knowing it didn’t freak me out.

My original kids, Amanda and Michael, were a bit more of a challenge.  They had endured a rather bitter separation and divorce a few years previous, and were naturally suspicious of any new entanglements.  It took a while, but all of us have reached a point where we’re all comfortable with each other.  That’s not to say there haven’t been a few bumps along the way, but with time and maturity rearing its ugly head all of the kids seem to have grown together and truly become a family.  And I can truthfully say that if it weren’t just a tad weird (and really expensive), I would have adopted both Joe and Kylee.

That bottle becomes more beautiful each day.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

So, it’s been a while. How’ve you been?

It’s been some 15 months since posting. That seems like an eternity. Let me explain.

There are so many conflicting thoughts; just random strains and glimpses of things to discuss. It’s like being in the tornado scene in ‘Wizard of Oz’ where unrelated things sweep by with no discernible pattern.

Oh, I’d tried writing one, maybe a year ago, when questioning whether I had what it took to actually complete a project. Even turned it over to a professional writer (my brother, Eric) to edit. Irony of ironies, I never completed that assignment, either.

And then, the unthinkable happened. On June 14, 2013, my son Joe was found hanging in his home.

I cry just thinking about that. To think that my wife’s firstborn would take his own life was incomprehensible. To this day, and likely as long as we are here on earth, Darlene and I puzzle over this. There was no sign that anyone noticed that Joe was struggling with anything so profoundly troubling that would cause this. He’d been in the process of divorcing, although seemed to be dragging his feet. He’d become involved with three kids, one of which he’d known since her birth, and was relishing being part of their lives. He’d started a small tree-cutting business with his friend, Chris. In some ways, he’d seemed to be turning the corner and regaining his footing. No one, not his family or his friends, was aware that Joe was hurting this badly. Sure, there were day-to-day issues that we all have. To everyone but Joe, none of them seemed to be more than normal annoyances. But Joe always took things to heart, sometimes to his detriment.

Seven months later, his mother, my beautiful wife, and his sisters and brother have more or less resumed their lives. All of us have our duties and challenges, but we now share the additional specter of Joe’s passing. This has, unsurprisingly, changed our views. Our plans. Our hopes. Our very lives.

Darlene started writing, and continues to this day. It has been so raw, so wrenching, that I have not been able to read any of it. As I remember, her first post included something to the effect that if she could, she would join him. Writing has been therapeutic for her, and she’s worked through her very darkest days. But it frightened me so much, I could not bring myself to read it at all. Maybe someday.

But this post is not a rehash of tragic events, nor is it intended to be a downer. In fact, I hope to convey the positive, sometimes miraculous results and the continuing hope we’ve gained from this.

At the very beginning, Darlene and I were overwhelmed with the support and love of Joe’s friends. They carried us through our shared grief from the day we were notified through the funeral and beyond. We are incredibly grateful for their continued presence and have plans involving them. In some ways, they’ve become surrogate step-children (although they might be embarrassed to admit to that).

Joe’s own sisters and brother have all been a source of encouragement, whether they realize it or not. We are so proud of each of them as they’ve managed to balance their own busy lives with the right amount of support for us. Joe chose his family well.

Darlene and I completed a program called GriefShare. This is a Christian-based program, 13 weeks in length, which takes you through a series of videos and discussions on how the loss of a loved one impacts a person, and how to come out the other end intact. Its motto is ‘From Mourning to Joy’, and if you are willing to work at it, GriefShare lives up to its goals. One of the things that I found fascinating, almost from a clinical standpoint, was that so many people suffer for so long. Most of us have had a loss (not just suicide) but have not had a support group format to help us through the pain. For some, it had been years since their loss, and they were finally given something that would help in their healing. As mentioned, it is Christian-based, so it leans heavily on Scripture. That might be off-putting to someone not of faith, but I imagine anyone would gain something from participating in the program, regardless of beliefs. At times, it is a struggle to go through the classes, as there are lots of tears. But I heartily endorse GriefShare.

Darlene found a group called American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). This is an advocacy organization, designed to educate the public and lawmakers about causes for, prevention of, and surviving suicide. Our intent is to be much more involved in this program.

But the most life-changing event resulting from this has been our intentional return to our faith. Dar and I were both committed backsliders. It’s not that we were turning away, we just had other priorities. But having your child die has a way of capturing your attention in a way that nothing else can. Fortunately, our Father has been mercifully patient with us while we regain our footing. It could very easily have gone the other way. We all know people that have had tragedies who end up blaming God for them. We recognized the very day Joe died that there were two things to watch for: that we would sometime be angry with Joe, and that our marriage could suffer. We resolved immediately to be on guard against these. In fact, only for about 10 minutes was I mad at Joe, and it’s only because his mother was suffering so grievously. And our marriage continues to be strong, and hopefully an example to others.

The third thing we might have anticipated was that we would consciously turn our backs on God. In fact, we were given the grace to recognize we needed His strength to come through this process intact. He has continually given us healing. That is not to suggest that we understand why this happened, or are ‘over’ it. But our perspective has changed from the here and now to the eternal. We know that healing is a process, not an event.

And for now, that’s good enough for us.

Joe, we love you, and will always miss you. Thank you for being in our lives. We’ll see you soon.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

American Charity

So what is it about the American ideal?  What separates us from other enlightened people?  What is special about living in this country?

Let’s let that sink in a minute.  While they’re  off-the-cuff questions, how they’re answered may say more about us than we would like to realize.  Consider this:

We have a long-established rights in this country, although these have been eroding for years.  Check your copy of the Constitution, starting with the Bill of Rights.  Depending on your political persuasion, you may favor the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, and the press), or the Second (the right to bear arms).  Oddly, there is no amendment guaranteeing the right to privacy, although the courts over the years have construed one based on language already in the Constitution.  At best, there may be a presumption of a right to privacy.  But that and $4 gets you a Starbucks coffee.

But while you’re considering rights of citizens, think about whether they apply to non-citizens.  Oh, now there’s a can of worms.  Think immigration policy, welfare benefits, voting rights, and so forth.  Wherever you come down on these you’ll certainly find equally logical reasons to oppose your thought.

Now here’s a new consideration.  What about people who, although citizens, aren’t like you?  Do they enjoy the same rights and obligations?  The same Constitutional protections?

Let’s set the scenario.  Your country, because of bad intelligence or bad intent, places economic sanctions on a country.  Clearly, the intent is to work our will as a rich and powerful country without resorting to invasion.  For example, we and most of the world, have placed sanctions on Iran because of their perceived intransigence on their nuclear program.  And as of this writing, it seems to finally be working.  The Iranian currency is in free fall, and it may have the result in a “better” Iran.  But don’t count on it.  It may result in a more destabilized Iran, or one that lashes out with bombs they don’t have.  Instead, count on it as punishment.  Will the leadership be punished?  Maybe – but certainly the population at large will be.

Not so many years ago, before the invasion of Iraq (you know, ‘Nation Building’) and after the absolute, without-a-doubt weapons of mass destruction charade, we had placed economic sanctions on them.  Did they work?  Did Saddam flee in terror?  Um, no.  What was the net result?  Poverty.  Abject, unadulterated poverty, visited upon those who can least afford it.  People couldn’t afford medical care, shelter or food. 

So let’s talk just a minute about charity.  Lots of people the world over support various causes that cross international boundaries.  Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, missionary work done by your church, Red Cross, Save The Children, the list goes on and on.  All are worthy causes, and they allow the donors to contribute to something they believe in, something they personally support.  And we, as Americans, applaud this.

So let’s put all of this together: Take an American citizen with a starving family in Iraq, suffering in large part because of sanctions we placed upon the country.  Not only are his dollars supporting a cause he believes in, they’re supporting members of his own family who were destitute.  Pretty much any of us would do it if we had the means and the situation.  But because of the sanctions, it was illegal to send money to Iraq – even though the government admits none of the money made it to Saddam or his regime.  So what did our government do? 

Dr. Shakir Hamoodi was sentenced to three years in Leavenworth Federal penitentiary and began his sentence August 28.  Once that sentence is complete, he will be on probation three additional years.

The conspirators on Wall Street who stole millions?  No prosecutions of merit yet.

Kinda makes you proud to be an American, right?

Here’s the link to the story, written by a British journalist.  It’s good to see he’s not subject to our journalistic conventions.

Friday, June 8, 2012

American Spring?

Last year we witnessed an astounding collection of uprisings against dictatorships in the Middle East. Starting with Tunisia, then Egypt, then Libya, dictators have been replaced by…what? And for how long? At this point in time, it appears to be a mixed bag. Egypt, currently run by the military, is enjoying the first reasonably open election ever. Whether it will result in the military relinquishing power is yet to be known. Libya, and to a lesser extent Tunisia, appear to be more stable, although they will have an interesting future. Syria? Who knows how that will evolve? Will Al-Assad’s regime collapse under the weight of its own repression? If recent history is a guide – and it probably isn’t – the ruling family will take refuge in another country, leaving Syria to the wolves. One thing that is uncomfortable for many of us Western types is that while the popular uprisings have a faint whiff of democracy in the air, it isn’t exactly your mother’s (or your Uncle Sam’s) brand of democracy.
The reasons for the uprisings are manifold, but primarily centered on repression and corruption. The two generally go hand-in-hand, and for good reason. Exhibit A of greed being one of the seven deadly sins is apparent when dissecting governmental doings.
What’s interesting to note is how the US has supported, at least publicly, the revolutions. Even though we have tolerated or actively worked with the repressive regimes, we’ve positioned ourselves on the right side of history by claiming that we are ‘with the people’. At least until someone takes power that promotes our ‘national self-interest’, at which time we’ll drop the facade of being with the people. Such is the cynical way the world operates.
But this whole process over the past couple of years begs the question: Could it happen here?
American history is rife with malcontents, revolutionaries, and thugs of varying stripes. Ever since before the Revolutionary War, when there were as many against independence as for it. After the war, there was Shay’s Rebellion. Since then, there have been strikes, riots, rebellious groups, cults and movements. Yet for better or worse, we have more or less escaped from having another revolution.
But could that change? As written previously, we’ve seen our civil liberties circumvented or done away with entirely, usually in the name of National Security. As of now, it would be difficult to name one liberty that was suspended and subsequently returned to us. At some time, there may be a tipping point reached where we as a nation rise up and say ‘Enough’.
Will that actually occur? Evidence is sketchy at best, but between the Occupy movement, militia groups, Tea Party adherents and a general sense that government is not working for us all point to the possibility that we will, in fact, reach that tipping point. What will be interesting is the collection of people supporting a take-back of our government. Really, can you imagine a Tea Partier and an Occupier working together for a common goal? If so, it would be a marriage of convenience. Keep in mind the adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. But that’s only until the next battle. It’ll be interesting to see if this ever gels into the public taking back their government or whether we continue to cower, content with the knowledge that Big Brother is truly knows what’s best for you.
Just like sheep.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Slippery Slopes

If you’ve ever seen footage of a volcanic eruption, you’ll know how terrifying and spectacular it is. Fire and brimstone raining down a mountainside seemingly at random, eroding the current topography. After the eruptions have died down, lava continues to flow for some time. As it cools, it slows down while almost imperceptibly continuing on its journey. While not as spectacular, it can build new land masses. At this point, its pushing, prodding progress won’t be complete until sometimes years have passed. The end result is something new, something solid, with a look that most would probably not have anticipated.

Think about this metaphor when you think of legislation. When laws are passed, sometimes there is spectacle until the next news cycle and it recedes from public thought. Sometimes it will be passed quietly in the night, with scarcely anyone realizing it. Rare would be the perfect legislation, at least in the mind of the original author. There are tradeoffs to be made to garner support. Back-room dealings, or horse-trading as its best. And once in awhile you’ll find one that exemplifies the best, or the worst, that Congress has to offer.

Today’s example is the just-signed National Defense Authorization Act. This act, like so much of the sausage-making that is Congress, appears to meld the useful with the dangerous.

Perhaps you know a Constitutional lawyer who can make sense of this. Most of us can only grasp what is written and cannot see the ramifications, but maybe this can give us a starting point.

The good points include such things as funding our military. Few would argue (although some do) that this open-ended funding has little to do with actually protecting our country and its citizens. But as they say, the devil is in the details.

Included in this legislation are such things as Defense Department health-care costs, military modernization, new economic sanctions against Iran, among others. But there are provisions under a scary-sounding title “Counter Terrorism” that are drawing particular wrath from a variety of individuals and groups. Why? Because the legislation does or doesn’t (your choice) provide for Presidential authorization to imprison American citizens without due process. That means, potentially, no charges, no habeas corpus, no trial. And this includes, possibly, the ability for the US Military to be the cops in these situations. And the right to ship said citizens to other countries where the term civil liberty is an oxymoron.

In an Orwellian turn of phrase, this president insists that his administration will not cotton to actually doing the deeds. Small comfort there, seeing as Mr. Obama ‘held his nose’ while signing the legislation into law. “The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” the president said. But now the fact is that it IS the law now. And it can be, and will be, interpreted however the administration deems expeditious at the time. After all, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than for permission.

Now if you take this president at his word, perhaps as long as he is president there’s nothing to fear. But his replacement? Who knows? And those around them? After all, even Nixon likely didn’t know everything his people did on his behalf.

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. This is a good example of it. Groups such as the ACLU are up in arms over this, which you would expect. But so is Ron Paul. That makes sense from the standpoint of being Libertarian, but it does seem strange since much of their respective agendas cannot be in synch.

So here are some thoughts to ponder as we sort out the net result of this new law.
1) Has anyone got a crystal ball? After all, there will be unintended consequences to this act, for better or worse. It’s inevitable.
2) Would it make sense to stop legislating in bulk? While this law may not quite be the defining example of omnibus legislation, too many times bills are piggybacked with others. This way unpopular, or poison-pill bills can get passed because the bill it’s attached to will pass easily. For example, let’s say you want to build a bridge to nowhere. Attach the authorization for that project to something that will pass, such as creating National Walrus Appreciation Day.
3) And the big one: Can you follow the slow lava crawl of erosion of civil liberties? Will the new landmass built by that same lava fundamentally change our rights under the Constitution? Ever since 9/11, we have seen incremental, almost imperceptible degradations in our ability to live our lives free from Government interference. Now, if you mention the words terrorist, bomb, assassination, jihad, bio-warfare, or such over the phone it would not be a surprise to hear a knock on your door. Paranoid? Maybe. But totalitarian states start in such a manner, with the gradual erosion. After all, if you don’t squawk at the first baby step, why would you squawk at the next one? It’s only changed a little.

Bottom line is that this law may not spell the end of our liberties as we know them. But the next one might.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Democracy in Action

When I was a mere tadpole of 13 or so, my homeroom teacher was Mrs. Sarah Seekins. It was 1965, post Joseph McCarthy, pre Eugene McCarthy. Vietnam was waging, the ink on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was barely dry, dominoes were in fear of falling and one Kennedy had died. And Mrs. Seekins was a *GASP* Communist! At least that’s how my parents interpreted my regurgitation of class discussions. Whether she was or not, my mother wrote a note to the school requesting that Mrs. Seekins’ personal politics not become part of the curriculum. All in all it was a tolerant response, considering others might have stormed the school and strung her up.

Whatever else, it may have been the beginning of my on again-off again love/hate relationship with politics, democracy, government, and our history. Of course, it’s not been a linear thing. There have been lapses when I didn’t care about any of it, such as when I turned 18 and was in fear of being drafted.
Now that I’m safely beyond the age when Uncle Sam might have any use for me, I can easily take the curmudgeonly attitude of sitting on the porch yelling at the neighbor’s kids about staying off my lawn. Or learning the nuances of our way of life.

Getting back to Mrs. Seekins, I remember trying to discuss with my Dad the finer points of why we would be so much better off living under the Socialistic system. You know, the collective, where everyone contributed to their best ability and took fairly from the trough, leaving enough for their neighbors. It was so much better than Capitalism, where you were the windshield or the bug, and unless you were on top you were downtrodden by those who actually were on the top.

Dad basically told me two things: Yes, Socialism (or as I referred to it, Utopia) would work well if it just wasn’t for those pesky people. And Capitalism was the worst system in the world, except for everything else.

Flash forward 40 plus years and I find myself wondering about where that leaves us today, in this society. Further, I consider the elements that are hand in hand with our system, specifically our democratic system---or what is purported to be a democratic system.

For years I’ve been fascinated with Thomas Jefferson, and the dichotomies he was. The common man of the people who learned to use his authority to get his way. The slaveholder who recognized the futility of the plantation system and the horror of owning people. The principle writer of our Declaration of Independence who understood that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were imperfect and would need to be modified. The revolutionary who realized it was not to be the last revolution.

Christopher Phillips has written a new book called “Constitution Cafe: Jefferson's Brew for a True Revolution”. The book outlines his tours of the US, stopping at various places where he met with people from many walks of life and essentially gave them free reign to rewrite the Constitution. Based on his studied belief that Jefferson might have done something similar due to his writings, speeches, etc., indicating that the average citizen has a right and duty to participate in our governance. It isn’t, in Jefferson’s view, necessarily a matter of politics in establishing and reestablishing our rights and duties as citizens – it’s a matter of necessity to prevent despotism.
Sixteen years ago I started a government job where I had to go into bars and listen to drunks. Sounds like fun, huh? In many cases it was an eye opener, only not for the reasons you might think. You could almost say that it was when I learned that we, as a society, are filled with crabby whiners who are too lazy to do anything to change their circumstances. Let me illustrate.

New York has a mechanism where every so many years it can be voted whether to have a Constitutional Convention. The last time it was on the ballot was on November 4, 1997. This provision is really the only chance the average person has to change how this state is run. So by the time it came up on the ballot, I’d had two years of people complaining about how flawed we were as a state, how the politicians couldn’t be held accountable, how corrupt the government was, blah, blah, blah. I reminded them that they had a chance to do something about it, maybe their only chance.

Oh, there were people for it, and people against it. One group that I found fascinating that was opposed was the New York State United Teachers. Why? Well, here’s from their position paper as published on their website:
1. Protections Under Current Law That Could Be in Jeopardy
 Civil rights
 Prevailing wage
 Education funding
 Aid and care of the needy
 "Forever wild" clause
 Restrict workers' rights to organize and to bargain collectively
 Women's reproductive health right
2. Possible Additions to the Constitution
 Referendum and initiative
 Lift the ban on state aid to religious schools
 School vouchers
 Right-to-work
 State budget and taxation spending caps

For some reason they left out the bogeyman hiding under the bed.

Were some of their concerns realistic? Sure, if left unopposed. But that’s kind of the point in a Constitutional convention. Many are heard, consensus is built.
But I digress. You know what ended up happening? The question was asked, and the measure was voted down by 1,579,390 to 929,415. Just under 40% of the eligible voters voted that November, and not everyone that voted actually voted on this proposal. The proposal went down because 15% of all eligible voters voted no. 15%. That is obscene.

I’m not suggesting that anything would truly have changed had the proposal passed and the convention held. But for all the complaining and belly-aching, it was an embarrassment that it was not serious enough a matter to participate.
And that’s where Jefferson comes in. Jefferson firmly believed in participatory government. You know, that ‘for the people, by the people' thing?

He also believed that whatever the merits of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, that they were not set in stone. There were going to be times, he recognized, when they had to be modified to fit the circumstances. That there might even come a time when the government, our Government, had overstepped and might need to be brought back into line. Even to the point where it might become necessary for citizens to rise up against the government.
What? A new American Revolution? That would mean I have to put down my bowl of Cheetos.

And the problem with this would be...what?

Regardless of where you come down on Jefferson, please read this book. Please get involved.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bully For You

So we have a beautiful (!) Veteran's Day in Upstate New York. It's one of those days where brilliant sunshine dances with the first snowfall that's stuck - late for this part of the country. Stay at the window, kids, 'cause you'll see a lot of change in a very short time.
Anyway, this is the day that we set aside to honor the veterans who have given so much to protect our way of life. Let's take this moment to do that, shall we? Thank you.
But frankly, for many of us, it's a day from work, assuming you're one of the roughly 60% who have a job. Yes, I'm taking liberties with statistics. Get over it. But my charming and truly lovely wife is working today while I sit around and watch movies. Life is good.
Digression alert!
There is an underground parking facility where I work, which is staffed by valet/guards, or guard/valets. The young man who is there in the evenings and I have had a couple of discussions, basically because I was teasing him about watching South Park and other shady cartoons when he should be fending off vehicle break-ins - if we had any. So one night I was berating his taste in entertainment (like I watch Masterpiece Theater!) when he said he liked other forms of filmwork. Assuming his taste might run to X-Men and Adam Sandler comedies, it was a surprise to hear he, too, liked movies that make you think. As an example, he mentioned 'Bang Bang You're Dead'.
Now, I'd never heard of this, but based on the title I thought it might be a British movie similar to 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels', or 'Snatch', or an American crime comedy like '8 Heads in a Duffel Bag'. As they say, don't judge a movie by its title.
He lent it to me and I watched it. And parts of me wish I hadn't, but I'm so glad I did.
This is not a movie review, but rather a subject review. The movie revolves around Trevor Adams, a loner in school, who had made a bomb threat the previous year. He's shunned as a result. He's offered the lead in a play called 'Bang Bang You're Dead' (a real play, by the way) who goes on a Columbine-style shooting spree. It's life imitating life, and art masquerading as art, with a movie within a play within a movie. The cross-pollination of play and movie could have tanked the movie, but it doesn't. As an aside, and the only real critique of the movie, is that there are some parts which are forced, some stereotypical and hokey, but as the man said, it will make you think. And that, my friends, is the purpose of this writing.
Bullying is nothing new. Exhibit A: Cain and Abel. Cyber-bullying is real, is ever-present and likely will only evolve into worse. We've gone from picking on someone because of being overweight, differently abled, homely to public ostracism. Gentle teasing to swirlies, schoolyard fights to semi-automatic weapons. We won't even get into gang warfare, even though there are commonalities. And while some may applaud bullies getting their comeuppance, usually it doesn't involve mass shootings at school or acts of terrorism. But those things do exist. They have happened. And they will continue, no matter how many metal detectors are involved, or how many 'school resource officers' are employed.
Everyone know someone who has been bullied. A certain amount of teasing is not a bad thing, as long as the victim develops a thick enough skin. Fortunately, that's how I made it to adulthood. There was one kid in school, Kenny Boyd, who terrorized me, basically because I let him. And as my class just celebrated its 40th anniversary (which admittedly does qualify me for geezerhood), it's something I remember with a shudder today. But I got over it. Even my best friend (and you know who you are, Paul!) used to call me short, fat and ugly. Short and fat I'll cop to. Ugly, well, that's what beards are for. But because my own wonderful mother teased me, I did develop that thick skin. She always said that was her intent, although I have my doubts. But now that I'm a relic, it really is wonderful to be able to take verbal abuse and to make yourself the butt of a joke.
But not everybody who is bullied gets out of it like I did. There are those who, because of a confluence of genetic makeup, personality, location or just plain bad luck, snap. Loners may search out other loners, even unknowingly. Just as Preppies gather with their own, Jocks with Jocks, and so forth, some are drawn together by their own circumstances. And the results can be deadly.
I don't pretend to know anything about the psychology of bullies or the bullied. As far as I know, there are no answers. With the advent of the internet and the free sharing of ideas, Columbine can happen anywhere. And that scares me to death.
The play that this movie was based on was written based on a real incident, and as a response to it. The play, written by William Mastrosimone, can be downloaded freely here. The play that's in the movie has been performed in schools around the country. It should be required viewing in middle school, hopefully early enough to make an impression.
Please, see the movie. See the play. Encourage your local schools to include it in their curriculum.
Make sure you bring your thinking cap, and a tissue.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Here's your label...

So, what are you? How do you describe yourself? How do others describe you? What label do you wear?

In so many ways we are defined by what label is applied to us, either by us or by others. Rarely are we described as being ‘just us’ instead of being a ***

It may have something to do with the human need to categorize or keep in some sense of order. Maybe it has to do with our propensity to differentiate between ‘ours’ and ‘others’. Or our capacity for defining us from our rivals. It could be anything from countries to video games to political affiliations to baseball teams. We separate, and we label. It’s a real life version of ‘The Sneetches’ or ‘The Zax’.

One of the problems with labels is that it does a disservice to the one labeled. Rather than describe, it tends to limit. As a result, generalizations are formed, presenting an incomplete if not erroneous portrait.

So let’s talk about labels for a bit. Specifically, let’s look at politics, especially in light of the Occupy movement. As was mentioned in the last blog, there is a wide variety of people attending these rallies, from all walks of life and affiliations. It would be a mistake to categorize all attending as radicals, rabble-rousers, unemployed or whatever. Quite simply, the generalizations are generally wrong.

But in this country over the last many years we’ve seen a technology shift that has allowed a quicker way to paint someone as a (name your poison). Primarily due to talk radio and various hosts, we’ve shouted epithets about our perceived enemies on the other side of the issue at hand. This is not a new phenomenon, but technology has made it quicker, more strident.

So how to you categorize yourself? Liberal? Conservative? Anarchist? Libertarian? Democrat? Republican? Independent? No matter how you slice it, you’re probably known as one or another. But in all likelihood, one label does not really define you or your beliefs.

After all, if you’re liberal, your beliefs might encompass strong Government intervention, abortion rights, strong social services, gun control, pacifism, loose immigration policies and an abundance of services available for illegal immigrants.

If conservative, you possibly view all the above with distaste. You might be for weak Government, especially at the Federal level, abortion (if legal at all) under strict circumstances only and only if it’s not paid for by public money, reform or abolishment of the welfare system, 2nd Amendment rights and tighter fences.

Other labels have their own variations on the topics mentioned and more.

The problem, as I see it, is that we’ve been Balkanized to the point where few people admit to having a variety of views from different camps. The loudspeakers on talk radio would have you believe that if you’re not all their way, if you haven’t drunk the Koolaid, then you’re some sort of an evil fool. You can’t possibly be a Rush fan if you are for women’s rights to an abortion. You can’t like Keith Olbermann if you own guns.

But how many of us are really like that, straight down the line?

This thought started to crystallize when my brother Eric mentioned that our parents have trouble differentiating which of us is more conservative. Well, Eric, I cede the mantle to you. It’s time I came out of the closet, so to speak. I’ve been living a lie and it’s time to clear my conscience.

You see, I’m only mostly conservative. Maybe only partially conservative.

I don’t want Government involved in my daily life. Federal government exists only to make war and print money and ensure equal treatment under the law. Oh, there are probably more, but that’s really it. Maybe to make roads to go from one state to another. And the Space program, I like that. But I cannot fully support the opinion that everyone is entitled to own guns. I understand the arguments in support of strong 2nd Amendment rights but that has been co-opted by right-wing zealots and the gun lobby. I mean really, why would anyone interpret the right to keep and bear arms as a free-for-all to own an arsenal of automatic weapons? I support kicking generations of families off the public dole. As it’s been said, it’s supposed to be a helping hand, not a lifestyle. I support legal immigration, and lots of it. The idea of having a country where people want to come to better their lives is appealing. But it has to be done legally. If you’re here illegally, you have no right to public assistance, education or a driver’s license. And you cannot vote. I’m for term limits and removing all funding but public money from the election process. What was the Supreme Court thinking when it granted personhood to corporations?

Abortion I’m still struggling with. Fortunately, I never would be in a position where it would be my decision.

So does this make me a screaming Liberal? Nope. A Libertarian? Possibly. A Tea Partier? It sounded good when I first heard the term, but then the luster has been worn off.

I prefer to think of myself as a non-aligned thinker, but others would categorize me as being a wimpy whatever. Oh, well. You can’t please everyone.

But somewhere there is probably a label with my name on it. At least make it something nice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The American Fall?

No, not as in the fall of the Empire, but as in the Arab Spring.

It appears that this might be the Weather Underground meets Dr. Martin Luther King meets flash mobs. It may fizzle, but it could also be a harbinger of great social change. And like it or not, it could be on its way to a city near you.

We’re talkin’ Occupy (insert name here). It started with Occupy Wall Street and has since mushroomed into something that, according to Occupy Wall Street, has grown into protests in 1549 cities worldwide.

I’m not going to get deeply into the causes or minutia of this movement, partly because I don’t pretend to understand it in detail. Nor do I want to characterize the players or their motives in this. That would not be fair to them. Frankly, it’s mostly because these types of events bring together divergent beliefs. To characterize the protesters one way or another inevitably leads to generalizations that are plain wrong. Clearly, there are students, unemployed, underemployed, retired and true believers among them. In fact, it may be a glaring example of ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ thinking. It’s entirely possible you have people that would not associate outside of this that are today walking arm in arm protesting the wealthy. Or whatever it is they’re protesting.

Occupy Wall Street seems to have grown out of the realization that, duh, some people have more money that others. This is not inherently wrong. But you add into the mix a terrible economy, a frustrated population, corporate welfare and politics as usual and you’re looking at a potentially lethal cocktail. Ever since the bailouts and the ‘too big to fails’, the distrust of corporations and the traders that profit with no outward sign of hard labor has become a target of hatred among many. This is an interesting chapter in our history.

Our system is capitalistic, with a twist. In various times it was more of a laissez-faire capitalism, but the pendulum sometimes swings to more of a controlled chaos of profitability. And this country, regardless of our capitalism, has a love-hate relationship with profits. Witness the history of monopolies, trust busting and day traders. You’ve got an array of practitioners from Steve Jobs to Carl Icahn, from Mom and Pops to Walmart, who got into businesses for similar reasons but with different expectations and tactics.

Some went into business with the hope of putting bread on the table. In most cases they were the true entrepreneurs, who wanted a better life than their parents and wished their children would be better off than they were. Some had great ideas, a magical confluence of a need with the solution to the need. They may have hoped for a big payoff, but were not assured of it. Some knew how to leverage other people so they could profit. And then you have the late 1800s and early 1900s, when monopolies became the boogeyman. Roosevelt (the good one) came along and made the politically expedient decision to bust the trusts. You can argue that nothing really changed as a result, but at least Teddy talked the talk.

Throw in the political system that seems to take the cash generated in one hand while beating the corporations with the other hand, and you’ve got a partial reason why we see what we’re seeing today. It’s a wonder anyone votes any more, when you think about it. The common perception is that we have the best Senate, House of Representatives, Presidency, Governorships and state houses that money can buy. And the perception is hard to argue, except maybe the corporations aren’t getting their moneys worth.

Clearly, the system is broken, and we don’t have the owner’s manual or glue to put it back together. Maybe Timothy Leary was right – maybe we should turn on, tune in and drop out. It’s evident that we do not have the capacity to fix the problems. Maybe the American Fall really is the fall of an Empire.

And here’s something interesting. While the majority of the protesters seem to be more Jane Addams and less Ebenezer Scrooge (before the dream sequence), it’s not cut and dried. There are plenty of conservatives who can agree with protesting overt greed. There can be plenty of liberals that embody the greedy wealthy.

But wait. Can it be? Could the protests of the sixties meld with the technology of the 21st century and achieve the impossible? Could the idealism espoused by those forgotten kids of yesterday (who may be, for all we know, the predators today) be harnessed to bring about real change? Can corporate structures be reimagined so that profit may be realized but not seem to be the justification for all wrongs?

Probably not. Sorry to rain on your parade, but as long as humans are involved you won’t ever have the Utopian ideals. What appears to be greed to you may be something entirely different to someone else. You know, he who has the gold makes the rules. The problem is as old as time.

But here’s the crux of the problem as I see it. In this corner, you have those who feel oppressed or entitled or maltreated. In the other corner, you have those who are oppressing or have the money to be entitled. Or who are not so much maltreating others as not caring how their actions affect others. The irresistible force meets the unmovable object.

Currently, the ‘movement’ seems to be largely peaceful. Police seem to largely be keeping an eye on the proceedings but not taking actions that might lead to violence. In some cases, they’ve been able to get around civic leader’s directions to arrest protesters so as to not be the flash point.

But at the core, you have people on both sides demanding that others do their bidding. Protests against the wealthy are nothing new. Remember the French Revolution? But now you’ve grown the culture into a far larger Petri dish. We’re Twittering and Facebooking this into a movement that we’ve not seen before. The protests in Islamic counties against absolute dictators has skipped the oceans and evolved into the 99%ers. The common enemy, the thread that connects them all, is that everyday folks are demanding change. Change from a system that keeps the masses either down or disillusioned. Change from the status quo where the minority of people profit by, according to the majority of people, outlandish amounts. It seems to be class warfare in the 21st century.

But as much as I think Thomas Jefferson would be proud, there’s one small question that I cannot get an answer for. As much as I might support the idea of (r)evolution (and I do), there’s one nagging issue.

Who is to say what is fair for everyone? In other words, who decides how much is enough and what is too much?

What would give me the right to say that one person has too much money, and that they are obliged to share it with everyone else? Hasn’t that theory been tried and found incompatible with humans?

Because you may have busted your rear end for years and done well as a result, why do you have to share with those who aren’t as hard-working or resourceful?

Should you share? Sure – but it’s your choice. Should you have a social conscience? Yes, but no one can demand it from you.

For those who protest, I understand the frustration you have. But you are not entitled to anything that you do not earn. If someone gives you a dollar, or a meal, or a car, that’s because they chose to do it. You do not have the right to take it from them without their permission.

Greed may be the root cause of all of this on the part of those that have. They made it (forgetting for the moment how they made it) and they want to keep it and use it to better themselves and their families. Protesters want it, or more of it. It’s not necessarily incumbent upon the wealthy to do what the protesters choose for them to do with their money. Yes, it would be nice to support all the causes – but it’s their money. It would be nice to be more fair – but it’s not a requirement. They probably do have unlimited access to those in political power. They’ve probably bought and paid for the government we have.

You that are protesting will probably never have the resources they do – but you CAN take back the system. Continue the protests. Continue fighting for justice and fairness. Keep being the conscience we need to keep us on track as a nation. Don’t let us forget that there are those less fortunate. But until you have eliminated the human element be prepared to be disappointed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Your Tax Dollars at Work

This could be the start of a whole new series of blogs: Stupid Government Tricks.
According to today's Albany Times-Union:
"Life won’t be sweet for anyone caught selling counterfeit maple syrup, if New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer get their way.
The two New York Democrats announced today they are cosponsoring a bill that would make mislabeling a food product as “maple syrup,” a federal offense."

I'll give you a minute to let that sink in.

Here we are, in reportedly the worst economic malaise since the Great Depression. We're winding down two wars. We've got people occupying Wall St demanding that they know better how to divide up the country's wealth. Terrorists plotting assassinations in our own capital. Red Sox melting down and drinking in the dugout. The Euro crisis. Arab countries demanding social and political change. Dictator's deaths. And a rogue maple syrup seller in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island? Does that even belong to the US?

Yeah, so here's the gist of the story. It seems a Rhode Islander was selling fake maple syrup. Sort of like fake Rolexes or Gucci bags, but on a much smaller scale. It turns out there was no real maple in his juice - it's cane sugar. Maybe he took the jug into the forest and showed it to a grove of maple trees. Anyway, he's being prosecuted under current laws regarding mislabeling by the Food & Drug Administration. It is a misdemeanor.
Schumer and Gillibrand want to make this a Federal felony. Ranking right up there with Madoff, DeLorean, the Five Families and Lee Harvey Oswald. Yessir, they need to save us from crappy syrup. By the way, to prove it's not just New Yorkers who are taking this seriously, it's got the support of Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Susan Collins from Maine.

Here's more from the article: "Maple farmers across New York state produce some of the highest quality syrup in the world,” said Schumer. “We need to crackdown on individuals trying to pass off fake syrup as the real thing, so that our farmers can compete fair and square. The only thing that should be flowing over mom’s pancakes is good, pure, New York maple syrup."
Uh, Senator, New York syrup is delicious. We buy it. Other northeastern states produce equally fine syrup. No one disputes that. But really, can you stop the hyperbole? 'Mom's pancakes' seem to be Kellogg's frozen ones any more - and Aunt Jemima or Hungry Jack is fine on those.

And this final line from the story: "The MAPLE Act would increase the maximum sentences prosecutors could seek against syrup counterfeiters, as well. If the bill becomes law, bottling fake syrup could carry a five-year prison sentence."
Oh, yeah - the fascination to come up with a catchy, easy-to-remember tagline so we know what the law is about. Madison Avenue meets Constitution Avenue. The actual name of the bill is the Maple Agriculture Protection and Law Enforcement act.

A five year sentence for fake syrup. Wow. If you attempt murder of a Federal officer, you might get 5 to 8 years. Many states have laws where selling drugs will land you in prison for one to three years for the first offense. So fake syrup's worse than drugs.
Maybe syrup bootlegging is a hate crime.

So while Rome burns, it's good to know you're protected from the serious harm. Take comfort in that.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

To Kill or Not to Kill

It’s been said that with the advent of the Internet that you will eventually find something you’ve posted that will come back to haunt you. Maybe you’ll make a comment about an old girlfriend that your wife might stumble across. Even worse, you might post or tweet something that a potential employer might not find palatable.

This could very well be one that blows up in my face.

It would be best if this one never had to be remembered, let alone written or spoken about. But since the therapeutic value of time has been less than rewarding, perhaps writing about it will prove to be helpful. Maybe this time it will be OK to let things go, to not let the bitterness of the past years continue to fester within. Even, maybe, to forgive. Every person who has tried to write is told to put something of themselves into the story. As painful as that is, here goes.

In 1999, my ex-wife moved out with her then boyfriend. In 2000, he was arrested for “Rape 3rd: Victim less than 17 years old, Perpetrator more than 21 years old”. Of course, this does not tell the story. It was not a one-time occurrence. It was continual.

He was a 37 year old raping the 15 year old daughter of his girlfriend. My daughter.

He was convicted, served six months in county jail and is as of this writing still on probation for this offense. His sentence will end in May, 2013. Her sentence will continue for life. Our sentence will never end.

My daughter has not had the best of hands dealt to her. She is the unfortunate recipient of her grandmother’s and uncle’s manic depression – what in common terms is now referred to as bi-polar. With no other outside interference, this disease/syndrome is foul enough. Some learn to live with it. Some have or had to have psychological treatment, as my mother did. Others need medication to ‘round out’ the symptoms so they can lead normal, productive lives. But for most, to one degree or another, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Add into this the trauma of sexual abuse by someone who professes to love your mother. One whom you looked toward as something close to a father-figure, one with whom you should be safe. Secure. Innocent. Instead, you are the victim of evil visited by a narcissistic predator, one with his own girls to raise. Now he has raised the ante to six victims.

The tragedies are manifest. Not the least of which are those aided and abetted by our judicial system. There is an interesting concept in our way of life: you must repay your debt to society. Your actual victim? Nothing.

Oh, his was among the most stringent punishments handed down in New York. He is branded as a Level 2 Sex Offender. It will follow him around. As the assistant DA told us, having a six month incarceration and ten year probation was heavyweight, because the alternative was an indeterminate sentence of from two to four years in State prison. But then his sentence would be complete. His debt to society would have been fulfilled. He was also required to reimburse our out-of-pocket expense for my daughter’s psychological treatment. After a few sessions, she determined that treatment was not helpful.

And then she attempted suicide. Not once, but twice. She was involuntarily committed to a treatment facility. Not once, but twice. She was released upon her insistence on her 18th birthday, because we could no longer require she be treated.

She is now 26 years old. The fact that my daughter has survived this has been a blessing from God. It has not turned out perfectly, but sometimes you need to accept what is as good enough. I’m grateful that I can still talk to her.

You can learn a lot about yourself in how you react to tribulation. I am disturbed to admit that I’ve failed the part of forgiveness miserably. And in some small measure, that’s why this is being written.

When I was a teenager, when we were proving ourselves to each other, there was a joke/debate about what we’d do if we walked in and found our girlfriends in bed with someone else. Of course, with teen bravado, we all claimed we’d maim or kill one or both. As a matter of fact, when that did happen in my first marriage, I merely turned around and left, after retrieving my suit from the closet.

That was an instance that I’m proud of. I didn’t maim or kill. Heck, I didn’t even raise my voice. It would have been pointless.

But I’ve spent a fair portion of time over the last eleven years plotting evil. No matter that his debt has been paid, more or less. It isn’t enough. His sentence should not end until hers has ended. My righteous indignation as a father, my perverted sense of justice, my absolute desire of retribution has not been satisfied. I’ve contemplated various types of torture, from the sublime (interrupting his marriage to ask if the bride knew about his pedophilia) to the ridiculous (injecting bleach intravenously while skinning him alive with a battery-acid soaked filet knife). I’ve learned much from watching Schwarzenegger and Willis films in methods of stopping just short of death while inflicting maximum pain. While thinking about writing this over the last few days, I was going to include his Sex Predator and his Facebook web pages. While grim, there is a part of me that would gladly serve time for having extracted not just a pound of flesh, but enough to level the scale in my warped attempt to make him pay for the damage he has done to my daughter.

Over the years, some have commented on my restraint in not taking revenge. Some have laughed nervously when I mentioned some diabolical way to make him suffer. Actually, it’s my ultimate belief in God that has hamstrung me to the point where he is still walking and able to take food. He did undergo a jailhouse conversion to Buddhism, and I hope Karma is a bitch. But short of that, it’ll be waiting on God’s judgment for me.

It’s too bad there hasn’t been a happy ending to this, yet. Time will tell if I continue to plot pain or not. At least for now, writing this really has been therapeutic to the point that at this moment I am not seething. Sometimes you need to accept what is as good enough.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Urban Renewal?

If you’ve never been to Syracuse, you’re not missing much. Oh, don’t misunderstand – it’s very pretty, unless you have a dislike of snow for 5 months a year. You’ve got hills, valleys, apple orchards, lots of open farmland, beaucoup trees with a beautiful fall, and enough year-round recreational activities to keep most of us happy.

No, we’re talking the city proper. You know, the urban landscape.
Syracuse, along with several other Upstate New York cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Watertown, Binghamton, Utica, Schenectady, Albany) is a ghost from cities past. They’re like many legacy cities from the industrial northeast, the Rust Belt. And like Marley’s ghost foretold, pay attention if you don’t want it happening to you.
After years of false starts and broken dreams, it’s déjà vu all over again. We’re starting another renaissance attempt. Maybe this time it will happen. But at what cost, and who’s picking up the tab?

Over the past couple of years I visited my old hometown of Riverside, California a handful of times. Prior to the most recent financial meltdown, Riverside had bonded almost a billion dollars for their renewal projects. Things such as road realignment, park renewal, railroad underpasses and general beautification were to be done to bring the city back to life. Of course even then you knew it wouldn’t be enough. Heck, to dig a roadway under a railroad must cost close to $500 million, right? Even if it’s ‘only’ half that amount, you can’t do too many of those before you’re resorting to picking up pennies from the street to pay the bills.
And Riverside was nowhere near the shape that Syracuse is in.

Back in the day, Syracuse was blessed. It had the good fortune to be built on the Erie Canal, which at one time was like the autobahn. There were all sorts of manufacturing companies: General Motors, Carrier, Syracuse China, Smith-Corona, Franklin automobiles and my personal favorite, Marsellus Casket. Unfortunately, as went manufacturing, so went the local economy. None of the above is still here. About the only thing we manufacture here is excuses.

For all intents and purposes, at this time we’re banking on Syracuse University to be the driving engine behind our renewal. And for the most part, that seems to be finally working. It’s somewhat troubling to be putting your hopes into one source, but others seem to be finally catching on. But we’re still limited in some ways by our location. Syracuse happens to be in the middle of New York. And unless you count The City, no one wants to be here any more. The economy inhaled gas years ago and Albany seems intent on extracting every dime left behind by the Federal government. Catch-22.

But believe it or not, there is spring after the deepest winter. The good news is that SU kept us going, attracting other development, new buildings, companies coming back into the city.

We’ve got an on again-off again mega mall being built. The story behind that could fill several pages, but let’s put it this way – I refer to it as the Big Empty. After several dormant months, there is a construction guy on site and the expansion may be complete before the world ends, but just barely.

We’ve got a 50 year old freeway (they don’t call them that here, it’s my contribution to the local lexicon) called Interstate 81. For 49 years it has been crumbling. I’m no engineer, so I don’t understand the chemical reactions in play, but salt causes steel to rust and concrete to break apart. And the elevated sections of I-81 are, surprisingly, concrete and steel. And you probably know we get snow. So what do they use on the roads to melt the snow? Yep – salt. We didn’t get the nickname ‘Salt City’ for no reason. We’ve got billions of tons of the stuff. Gotta do something with it! Anyway, they’ve been trying to figure out for the 20+ years I’ve been here what to do with I-81 when it reaches the end of its useful life. Some would argue that’s already been, but they’re just carping. They’re just bitter that the same section has to be rebuilt every year or two, taking up to a year to do it. Some of the potential solutions have been interesting: burying it, like Boston did. Making it street level. Making it into a boulevard. Blowing up the city entirely and relocating it to Arizona. OK, I made that last one up, but it’s got potential.

We’ve got Armory Square, which is a poor man’s attempt at turning part of the city into Bohemia or at least Greenwich Village. It’s what makes a university city something special – funky shops, non-chain restaurants, etc. It’s small but may finally be growing. It’s anchored on one end by the Museum of Science and Technology, which has an IMAX theater and many cool displays.

There are currently a few different projects going on in downtown proper. Don’t laugh, but one of the more significant ones is moving the bus terminal.
Yeah, the bus terminal. And terminal is an appropriate word for it. Currently, the main transfer location is on the main north-south drag through town (not counting I-81). It’s crowded, with dozens of buses daily, and seems to have taken on an underlife of its own. Syracuse suffers from many of the issues found in other urban settings, although probably not as bad. The fact of the matter is that when you have many people in a crowded area, sometimes people become frightened and sometimes predators lurk. It’s certainly not Baltimore, nor even Rochester, but the area has become, well, blighted. So one of the solutions is thought to be to move the transfer point a few blocks away while concurrently rebuilding some of the century-old buildings in the vicinity. There is a three block stretch being transformed, including a beautiful old theater. That theater is being expanded and remodeled to what could be a showcase. The stage expansion will be able to handle bigger Broadway-style shows.

A few years ago, the stadium where the AAA minor league Syracuse Chiefs played was no longer viable. The debate then was to build a new stadium downtown. Sadly, that didn’t happen, because it would have probably sparked the rebuilding of downtown much sooner. It was instead located next to the old ballpark on the north end of the city. But that story begs the question: who pays for all this rebuilding?

Because the ballpark was owned by the county, it was paid for by a combination of county and state funds. As I recall, virtually no private money went into it. And that’s where the problems begin.

Public funding of building projects is a hot-button topic for many. Eminent Domain factors into the equation as well. But let’s look at funding.

Part of the issue is that building a stadium of any size is outrageously expensive. And to build something like a Yankee Stadium or anything at that level costs billions. Team owners, those who ultimately benefit from them, are loath to have to pay, especially when they can hold the city or the state hostage. And don’t think they won’t play that card. Witness the New York Jets and the New York Giants professional football teams – do you think by their names that they’d play in New York? Nope. Partly because the cities where they used to be located didn’t pony up enough money to keep them. And that’s the argument. Let’s say you’re living in, oh, Billings, Montana. Let’s say a major league team wants to move there but only if you’re willing to bond (i.e. pay for) a stadium. Now, being from Montana you have enough sense to say no. What would you get for your tax dollars? Traffic, for one. That doesn’t sound like a fair deal.

But some cities thrive on the prestige of having a team. And that’s OK, as long as they’re happy with paying out for someone (or several someones) benefit.
But juxtapose that with revitalizing a city. Does public financing make sense? Sure it does. Believe it or not, blight costs. More crime, more police presence, no revenue from businesses generating sales tax. Think Gotham City before Batman.
Now you dump billions, mortgaging the future, guaranteeing every citizen a higher tax burden for eternity. Does that make sense? At the very least you have the intangible called civic pride. At most you have new places, new businesses and a broader tax base which generates more to the city for more improvements, more services or (gasp) tax reductions.

Is everybody happy with it? Nope. You’ve got NIMBYs everywhere (Not In My Back Yard). These folks want to preserve the status quo regardless of how bad it is. They don’t like change, they don’t want to take a chance on improving anything because you’re taking them out of what they’ve grown complacent with. They’d wear the same socks everyday because they’ve just got them broken in.

Fortunately, in Syracuse anyway, the NIMBYs are out of luck for the time being. Good for them. Maybe it will keep businesses and people around for awhile.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Open Letter

An open letter to New York State citizens:

There currently are a pair of contracts proposed for the State workforce. The two unions, CSEA and PEF, have or will be presenting the contract proposals to their memberships for ratification. To give you the down-and-dirty, here are the highlights of the proposals:
Term of the contract is 5 years.
0% raise for the first three years, 2% for each of the fourth and fifth year.
$775 lump sum payment in April 2013 and $225 lump sum payment in April 2014.
5 days off with no pay the first year, never to be recovered.
4 days off with no pay the second year, with repayment at the end of the 5 year contract. The state has 18 months to amortize the repayment.
Guaranteed no layoffs in the first two years unless “material or unanticipated changes in the State's fiscal circumstances, financial plan or or revenue will result in potential layoffs” or “as authorized by legislation or Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission determinations are excluded from these limitations.”
Cost shift in health insurance. Currently, using the Empire Family plan (the most common plan) the state pays 90% of the cost, employees pay 10% of the cost. State proposes the new ratio becomes 84%/16%. This represents a 24% increase.
Increases in co-pays for doctor visits, lab tests and medicines.

What's wrong with these proposals? Plenty. And the sad thing is that the public at large has been sold a bill of goods about public employees.

Everyone has heard or told stories or jokes about state, Federal or city employees. How many employees does it take to fill a pothole? To change a light bulb? To process a worker's compensation claim? We've all heard them, and for the most part, we state employees don't disagree. After all, we're taxpayers too. We see and use City, State and Federal services, just like you. We see the waste, and sometimes fraud, more than you do. We get it.

But here's the problem, regardless of where you come down on the contract issues. There are many issues involved, and frankly some of the participants will dispute what is said here.

A couple of phrases come to mind. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “politics make strange bedfellows”. Each apply here, in differing amounts.

The first is that the discussion amongst CSEA and PEF members that draws people of differing political persuasions together to fight what they perceive to be the right course of action.

The second is that Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, is acting like a conservative: Cut government, cut waste, live within your means. From where I sit, that makes sense. And it's nothing new among Democrats. Witness Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Jerry Brown in California. All three are doing things that would make Tea Partiers proud. This flies in the face of what liberalism is supposed to be about.

Frankly, there is much discussion and disagreement between union members. There are those who are determined to vote yes because they're convinced that turning down the State's contract offer will condemn 9,800 employees to the unemployment line. Conversely, there are those who will vote no just because of greed (I got mine, too bad about yours.)

I will vote no because it's a lousy deal. The biggest thing, for me, is that voting yes in order to save jobs will result in not saving jobs. The governor seems determined to lay off people, regardless of how the unions vote. Read the exceptions to the 'no layoff' clause.

Yes, we should feel the pain that everyone else does. And you know what? We do. We pay for fuel. We pay our taxes. We pay for food. Our costs have gone up the same as every one else's.

Here's the scary part: the governor and the folks supporting him have taken the same approach that Scott Walker has – namely, they are demonizing the state workforce. And we're an easy target. And in some cases, yes, we deserve it. It's our fault the state is in financial crisis. We have it so much better than non-public servants do. Our benefits are better, and that's not fair. Staties can screw up and still have a job. Well, I'll give you that one. The unions have been pretty good at protecting incompetent/lazy/goof-off employees.

But that's the thing. In order to be accepted, every lie must have elements of truth. Yes, there clearly have been state employees who should have been fired. Whether for incompetency, laziness or just generally being a screw-up, they should have been gone. And in the private sector, maybe they would have. After all, nobody wants to support that kind of behavior with their tax money.

And we get the fact that people have a right to expect that their tax dollars are supporting the services they need and the people who provide them. That's reasonable.

What's not reasonable is the seed the Governor and his staff is planting amongst the citizens – that ALL public employees are lazy, that ALL public employees are taking advantage of the system, and that ALL public employees are responsible for the fact that the politicians have spent more money than they've taken in. They are creating in your mind the illusion that we are the enemy, that we should be punished because we are greedy and have more than you. That is frightening. Just as any dictator, they can implant the idea that there is a common enemy – even if it's not true.

Do we have it better than you? Clearly, I cannot answer that. Statistically, our wages are less than the private sector but that's compensated for by the benefits we enjoy. Whether that's true or not, I cannot say. My particular job does not transfer cleanly to the private sector. I spent most of my working life in the private sector, and did take a pay cut to come to public service. But the wages and benefits were predictable, so it was a reasonable tradeoff. No regrets on my part. If you're unemployed, clearly the matrix changes. No wonder you might condemn public employees. Just remember that it will not help your position to have someone in the hole with you. It just makes it more crowded.

The purpose of this letter is to show that there are negotiations going on that can and will affect you as members of the community. Maybe you agree with the State's position, maybe not. But there doesn't seem to be anyone telling you what's really going on. Maybe this has helped explain what's going on. I'm not looking for your sympathy. I'm not asking for you to write your assembly person or state senator demanding fair treatment for your public employees. But you have a right to know what's happening with your tax dollars.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Imaginary Conversation

Let's imagine that we are a fly on the wall when the negotiations for the new union contracts for New York State employees were discussed. For dramatic reasons let's assume that there are three people present plus the fly. You are the fly. The humans are Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, Danny Donahue, President of CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association) and Ken Brynien, President of PEF (Public Employees Federation). Please remember that this is an imaginary conversation that in no way reflects reality. For humorous purposes only. Void where prohibited.

Andrew Cuomo: "Well, boys, you know I was elected in a landslide with the mandate to change how things work in this great state. And I have to tell you that the public is storming the castle, trying to drive the monster of public employees out. You know darn well that I'm in a position of power. The public hates your constituents. We can't afford anything in terms of raises. Heck, we can't afford them now. So let's see what cuts can be made, OK?"
Danny Donahue: "Huh?"
Ken Brynien: "Sorry, Governor, did you say something? I was too busy cramming another doughnut."
AC: "Ken, you left a little cream filling on your third chin. Now, here's what I propose.
First, you will not get raises while I'm in office. Second, I will lay off 10% of the workforce. After all, I have friends I need to take care of. Third, the state will no longer contribute to the health plan. If your folks want health insurance, too bad. Go see what Obama has for you. He's going to make it so no one will have health care unless you contribute to his campaigns. Fourth, forget pensions. They're old fashioned, and only the rich will need them."
DD: "Mr. President, um, I mean Governor, pardon the interruption, but you know we supported you for the governorship. You can't treat us like that. We deserve respect!"
KB: "Yes, and how do you suppose we can jack up the union dues to support you and your friends if they don't have money?"
AC: "Hey, guys, lets get real. First, you all stayed neutral in my election. I didn't need or want your support. And I don't need you now. You guys are poison to me and my chances for higher elected office."
DD: "But Mr. Preside...ahh, I mean Governor, you know labor unions always support the Democrats. Oh, we'll say we support an occasional Republican if the Democrat is a pedophile, but that doesn't happen all that often. Who else are we going to support?"
KB: "And Mario...may I call you Mario?"
AC: "Ken, Mario is my father. Now I know you've been here too long."
KB: "Sorry, Andy. May I call you Andy? Would you prefer something else?"
AC: "Your Excellency would be fine."
KB: "Well, Your Excellency, you know we'd never be able to sell anything quite that draconian to the membership. And enough folks are going to retire in the next couple of years that you'll have plenty of places to put your friends in Consultant's titles. How about you give us a bone here or there?"
DD: "Yes, Excellency, how about making it, say, a five year contract? After all, most of the current folks will retire or be dead by the end of that contract. And don't forget the Triborough - if they agree to this then you can lock them in to another five or six years, because then you won't have to negotiate!"
AC: "But you know, I've staked much of my reputation on making hard decisions when no one else would, no matter who it hurt. And you know that Scott Walker and even that little creep Jerry Brown have been making Libertarians look like spendthrifts. Hey, I could just lay all of your folks off!"
KB and DD together: "Mein Fuehrer, certainly you wouldn't!"
AC: "Yeah? You think?"
DD: "Really, Governor, we have to come up with something better than this. How about 5 years, no raises for three, some pittance the last two years, we'll even give you a week when you won't have to pay them."
KB: "Yeah, and if that's not enough, you can even take four more days away from them where they won't be paid. But let's give those four days back to them over, say, 18 months. Heck, some will die before they get that!"
DD: "And you know, let's crank up the health care. We can save the state some serious cake by making the employees pay a higher percentage of the total."
KB: "Did you say cake?"
AC: "Yes, Ken, he did, but he meant money. Not food. Put your tongue back in your mouth."
KB: "My tongue IS in my mouth."
AC: "Oh, sorry. It looked like...oh, never mind."
KB: "And you can tell them that if they don't vote this in, well, by golly, you're going to lay off a whole bunch of people!"
AC: "Why would I do that?"
DD: "Because they're cattle. They'll give in easily, because you can threaten them. And given what's happened in other states, why, they'll never say no. They'll be too afraid to keep their jobs."
AC: "Why would you want them afraid? What's in it for you?"
DD: "Simple. They're sheep. They cave. We tell them it's to save jobs. You can lay them off later, just by making sure it's because it was 'unforeseen circumstances' that made you do it. And this way, we come off looking like heroes, and then we can jack up their union dies. See? It's a win-win. Anyway, I'm sure we can sell this to them. After all, they respect me, because I'm loud and blustery!"
KB: "Hey, I'm louder and, more blustery?"
AC: "Why are you guys caving in so easily?"
DD: "Simple, really. We like our jobs. We want to keep them. But we need more money. I'm thinking about going for liposuction."
KB: "And I need more doughnuts!"

Remember, this was an imaginary conversation. Or was it?

Thursday, July 28, 2011


OK, I'm not really sure what's going on here. Have I lost all the bearings of my political life, or is the ground shifting under our feet? Whatever happened to the bad guys (your opposition) and the good guys (the ones who agreed with you)? And when did they start shifting positions?
It really started a long time ago, but to keep things relatively current, just look at the past 6 months. Jerry Brown, good old Governor Moonbeam, has made statements and taken action in California that would make a tax-cutting, downsizing and live-within-our-means right winger proud. What? He can't do that!
Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin (new state motto should be 'Hey, we're a state, too!) says he's a Democrat. He went after public employees like a good old Republican should. What? He can't do that!
Now it's Andrew Cuomo's turn. Says he's a Democrat. You know, the 'Worker's Friend'. The recipient of basically all union political payoffs - er, contributions. His actions seem to be in the mold of the bad-guy Republicans by looking to marginalize the unions who helped get him elected. What? He can't do that!
But that's not the worst of it. Here's what makes me question everything when trying to tell the players, even with a scorecard.
In my little peanut of a brain, it's much easier to think of things in black and white. I hate gray. Of course, the real world is gray and reality is feeling like Alice through the rabbit hole. It's time to grow up and face the fact that very little is as it first appears. Don't even trust the mirror any more.
In my later, adult (?) years, I've tended to side much more with moderate Republicans than anything else. I have friends who are deeply conservative, if not Libertarian. Others are to the left of the President, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. The biggest issue, the one that's driven me away from the more conservative views, is that neither side appears to be willing to discuss issues without resorting to name-calling, threat-making or heritage-questioning. It's disturbing. It's destructive. It does nothing to enlighten the public (which may be the entire idea). It turns voters off, which all but ensures it will continue. Voters are so disenfranchised that the incumbents basically have to make a pass at an underage girl (Congressman David Wu?) or with another man (Congressman Larry Craig?) before they're deemed to be unfit for office.
So here's the dilemma. Being basically an anti-union, get-government-out-of-my-way type, I should be applauding Governor Cuomo's efforts to defang the public-service unions in New York. Unions are corrupt. Unions are outdated. Unions stifle job creation. Unions do nothing to help the workers they represent. Unions line their own pockets. Unions vote lockstep Democratic. Unions protect the lousy workers. Of course, there's also the lower-my-taxes mantra. I don't want government in my bedroom, in my backyard, telling me what I can eat, mandating that our tax dollars should go to help fund baseball stadiums or that I can't park a car in my front yard. And don't get me started on the social safety net and why we're supporting generations of lazy people. (Note: Yes, I know there are people that need public assistance. But it's supposed to be a helping hand, not a lifestyle.)
So why is this a problem? Well, for starters, I am one of those who feed at the public trough. To be fair, I get paid well for what I do, and I'm grateful for it. I do not know and don't care what my job would be worth in the private sector, because my job does not easily translate to the private sector. If I had to guess, it would probably be somewhat higher but not much. I work hard, and I do a very good job at it. Yes, there are down-times. This is not an emergency hospital. That being said, for the majority of my adult life I did work in the private sector. I was a worker bee and a boss bee. Frankly, if my employer were to privatize I would not be afraid, because 'been there, done that'. That is very much a minority view among my coworkers, though.
So by my nature I should applaud the Governor and boo-hiss the state workers and their unions. This is the dichotomy.
The biggest problem is that there's this cloud, a miasma that seems to portend that the Governor will win. And the result may well be catastrophic for state employees across the country. The general consensus among the public is that state or local government workers should be burned at the stake. The public is tired of noise, they're tired of paying ever-increasing taxes without getting fair value for them, and government workers are an easy target. This is reminiscent of every dictatorship in history who starts by defining a common enemy. Make no mistake, folks, this is the end result of the game - the people in power will always find fault with someone else to justify why they should remain in power.
So who wins, and who loses? No one, and everyone. The arguments will go on until this particular issue dies down. The battle over raising the debt ceiling will eventually go away. And other fights will start. What seems to be consistent, no matter what the battle is over, is that the discourse has turned ugly. And sadly, I don't see it getting any better unless we revolt. As a nation, as citizens demanding better. Demanding that our representatives treat us in a fair manner, without the nastiness that has plagued us since we were a country. We deserve better, but people are afraid to stand up and demand it en masse.
And that's a shame.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Union Contracts with the State of New York

This is a post today on the PEF Facebook page. PEF (this is the official website) is the Public Employees Federation, which is the second largest employee union of New York public employees. The larger union is CSEA, Civil Service Employees Association.
Both unions are in the midst of negotiating a contract with New York. As has taken place in Wisconsin, California and other states, there is a new reality. To use the vernacular, the paradigm has shifted. No longer are unions feared. There are new fiscal constraints, caused partly by the economy, partly by fanning the flames of public discontent with state workers, partly by the politicians working (SURPRISE!) for their own interests. And partly by the public sector workers themselves. It is a stew of blame, and frankly, it tastes terrible. Welcome to the world of 2011.
Admittedly, this posting is self-serving. But read it, comment, and watch for a local version of this coming to a state near you.

"I have never been a big fan of labor unions, and the current proposal is just another reason why. In this statement I want to differentiate between the union membership and the union hierarchy. Historically, unions were needed to protect workers, and that mission has not ended. However, they, along with policy makers continue to hit new lows in the name of progress. It has been shown time and time again that union leaders are just as guilty of poor judgement, poor policy and incessant babble as anyone in management. PEF, as an organization, is displaying the mirror image of the Governor's public image - all sound bites and attacks, rather than both sides setting serious about the shape the state is in and what our participation should be in resolving the issues.
Let's be perfectly honest here. PEF, along with big brother CSEA, have ridden the coattails of the membership for years. They gain our support by declaring another entity to be the enemy, beating the drums about 'solidarity' and 'standing up for the common' membership. Nonsense. Not to be cynical, but the reality is that Danny Donahue, Ken Brynien, and others of their ilk are first and foremost concerned with their own livelihoods. There isn't anything inherently wrong with that. After all, at the end of the day, most of us would have to admit to ourselves that we're guilty of that ourselves. And in that light, as unpopular as it is to say this publicly, I'm much more interested in how any proposed contract effects my family than anyone else. Anyone who really believes that their needs are subservient to those of the group, well, you're either misguided, delusional or you're a much better person than I am. Sorry to be crass, but there it is.
So from the dribs and drabs we've heard, trying to cut through the posturing and deceptions, what does the proposed contract look like? Some are probably much more informed than I am. but here's my two cents.
No raise for three years.
2% in years 4 and 5.
5 days furlough, affecting retirement benefits, possibly affecting accruals
4 days furlough, to be repaid (which is a shell game at best).
Percentage shift in health care costs. As an aside, does no one understand that while the State's dollar contribution has increased, ours has increased the same? The fundamental difference in the new proposal is the RATE change.
Increased copays.
Absolutely no guarantee of future layoffs. In fact, you can rest assured that there absolutely will be layoffs, because the language appears to give coverage unilaterally to the Governor, simply by SAGE suggesting it's necessary. Don't think for a moment that deal's not already in the works.
And the 800 pound gorilla - Assuming passage of the contract, the State is in the driver's seat when that contract expires when the Triborough compact is invoked.
As an aside, you can wager that your union dues will rise.
So what would a fair contract look like? To start, a governor who is committed to fundamentally change how our state got into this mess in the first place would really force some issues. These would necessarily include consolidation of services, elimination of unneeded bureaucracy, freezing if not cutting back on some popular programs such as Public Assistance, eliminating some Authorities, and generally running the state as a business. It does not make a whole lot of sense to go to your employees and say, 'you know, we've been spending money like drunken sailors and want to continue doing so, so we need you to stop taking home so much pay'. Of course, a sane person might say that they don't need to work for someone who disregards reality. Of course, that also means that the employee would have someplace else to go. Not too many of us have that luxury.
How about this? No raise for 3 years. That's the length of the contract, not this silly 5 year proposal. Raise copays modestly - say from $20 a visit to $25. Create the tier 6. We do need to seriously consider the ability of the state to afford future retirement benefits - we can't go on as those of us in tiers 1-4 have enjoyed. It's not reality.
Accept the fact that at the time being we probably will not be able to hire new employees. However, that also means we cannot continue hiring outside contractors. Evaluate and sunset current outside contracts. It just makes good sense.
Allow attrition to clear some of the ranks. The savings created by normal retirements and resignations cannot be a small sum.
Most importantly - both sides need to act like adults. No name calling, no public posturing. Just lay out what you would accept and negotiate in good faith from there. It doesn't need to become as filled with hyperbole as it's become.
Now let's get on with it."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Father's Day

So if you're a parent, and you take parenting seriously, here's a question for you. Would you like to win an imaginary award, say, "Parent of the Year"?
If such an award existed outside of Parent's Magazine, I'd defy any parent to say no. Of course they'd like to do everything correctly, to anticipate and correct problems, to be able to hand their children the perfect upbringing. Unfortunately, that doesn't exist.
As my mother was fond of saying, "there isn't an owner's manual" for raising kids. And Bill Cosby, pretty much everyone's idea of a perfect dad, said something like 'You'd think that since every parent was once a child, they'd know how to treat a child'.
So this whole parenting thing thought process was brought on by reading the note written by my almost niece, Wendy. She just turned another year older - so old now it breaks my heart to realize she was just born when we met. She's wise beyond her years, with two pretty good kids to show for it. She's a heck of a writer, who isn't afraid to realize that we're all practicing this life.
And her aunt is no slouch, either. Rene Syler has brought a level of common sense into the parenting game. If you haven't had a chance to look in on it, go here and take a look at GEM - Good Enough Mother. In simple terms the message is you're not perfect and you won't do a perfect job. Do the best you can and things will work out as they work out. Good philosophy.
Of course, that's a mother's perspective. How about a dad's?
There may not be enough electrons available to write all that goes in your head when contemplating being a dad. I'm not going to air family laundry, but there are probably enough commonalities that you may recognize something of yourself.
I suspect every kid, when they're growing up, harbors the fantasy of being able to outparent their parents. They vow to make better decisions, because their parent just blundered in a big way. If we could only get our parent to see that they would be better.
(Industrial strength editorial comment) If that attitude hasn't changed by the time you become a parent, you haven't learned enough to BE a parent. And that opens another topic for another day.
Like most parents, mine were full of statements about being parents. Things like "If you hate me, I'm doing my job." "If I didn't love you I wouldn't punish you." "I am NOT your friend, I'm your Mother!" That last one got me, because as a kid I just knew that we were peers, and therefore should be friends. Uh, no. They bought Dr. Spock's book, but I never knew them to have read it. They didn't exactly beat me with it, but that was more likely to happen than to implement whatever snake-oil he was peddling. Thank God.
So if you've gotten this far, you might be thinking 'I'm a good parent. I never beat my kids. My kids were angels.' Well maybe they are/were, but if so, you just won life's Lottery. Most kids grow up to be like us - flawed, with a mixture of overblown confidence and doubt.
And here's the funny thing. Most of us who gave a rat's behind thought we were pretty good parents. And we probably were. So why has every generation since Adam and Eve think that their kids are going to the hounds? If I'm a good parent, it must! Not to be rude, but this is sort of like a fart in the elevator. Doing the math, you know it's got to be the other guy.
And we see examples of bad parenting almost every day. All you have to do is go to the store. You see parents caving to their kids' temper tantrum. Buying them whatever toy is at kids-eye level because they want it. Screaming at their kid. Threatening bodily harm and then not following through with it. Swearing at them, or calling them names.
Or watch TV. As funny as I thought 'Married, With Children' or 'The Simpsons' was, if anyone took them as examples of good parenting, you should have been neutered. Before.
But we're surrounded by examples daily of out-of-control young people who within a few short years will be choosing our nursing homes. Running the country. Fathering or mothering our grandkids, or great-grandkids. Can I just slit my wrists now?
Sure, you can draw some direct lineage between lousy parenting and monstrous people. Charles Manson immediately comes to mind. Ted Bundy does also. But the world is filled with examples of good parents who raised ultimately bad people, and great kids raised by less than stellar parents. Sometimes it's just the wiring.
I have two natural children and two step kids. I had nothing to do with the raising of Joe and Kylee, which means that I can't take credit for how well they've turned out. But my own seed, well, that's another matter. They're currently 26 and 19. I have hopes that it will turn out well for them. My older daughter, Amanda, will say that she turned out pretty well, in spite of some heinous things that happened to her. My younger son, Mike, has had some self-inflicted wounds that he seems to have learned from. So I'm cautiously optimistic for them both. They're both highly intelligent and can do whatever they want to do with their lives. To paraphrase Wendy, I've taught them to use their manners, to know right from wrong and to take responsibility for their actions. Whatever happens with them in the end, as pleasurable or painful as it may be, was due to or in spite of how much they absorbed. I've often stated that a mother's role is to nurture and a dad's role is to prepare the kids for life. I've had to rethink that, because otherwise I may have been a better woman - giving them the love and attention was more meaningful to me. Amanda seems to be getting that. Hopefully one day Mike will, too. If nothing else, I did what I could. And to take the lesson from Good Enough Mother, maybe I was a Good Enough Dad. And at the end of my life, if that's as good as it gets, it will be enough.