Sunday, December 16, 2012

Newtown, CT 2012...

When I first sat down to write this post, it seemed nearly impossible.  There are no words worthy of describing the feelings that were surging through me (and almost certainly every other human being with a heart).

So I decided to take a different approach...

In this life, there are few things we have control over.

It seems to me that the best way to be happy is to focus on the things we do have control over.

For example, we can't control the rain, but we can choose to stay inside.  If we must go out in the rain, we can choose to carry an umbrella.  Or we can choose to embrace the rain.  Pretend you are Gene Kelly, dance and sing in the rain.  Stomp in every puddle along the way!  Even though we don't have control over the rain, we can choose how we react to the rain.

One of the very few things in this world that we do have control over is our thoughts.  We have control over the choices we make everyday.  All choices.  Large and small.

Some choices are simple.  What will you wear today?  What will you eat for your next meal?

Some choices are more challenging.  What do you want to do with your life?  Who do you want to be?

We can choose to make quick decisions without really thinking about the long term consequences, knowing that our choice will make our life easier right now.  Or we can really put some thought into our decision to make a choice that will be better for us in the long run, even though it may be more challenging for us right now.

When tragedy strikes as it did Friday (December 14, 2012), we find out exactly what kind of chooser we are.

These are the preliminary facts:  27 dead at a school in Newtown, CT.  Twenty young children (ages 5-10), six adults, plus the shooter.  And one more adult found dead at a secondary location.

Armed with only this information, we can make our choices.  We can whine and complain about how crazy our world is becoming and post our proclamations on Facebook.  We can use this limited information to stir up emotions to further a personal agenda like mental health care or gun control laws. We can allow ourselves to become paralyzed and cry uncontrollably thinking about how close this hit to home and that it could have happened to us or those we love.  We can speculate on why this happened and stress ourselves out about when and where tragedy will strike next.

Or... we can choose to focus on something else.  How can we help the families devastated by this incident?  What can we do to help the first responders get through this?  How can we make our schools more safe?  What can we tell our children to comfort them and prepare them for the future?

Don't get me wrong.  It's important to grieve.  I admit I shed tears of my own, but we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by our grief.  And I also agree that mental health care and gun control laws are both issues that need to be addressed.  But first we need to take care of those in need.  Let's not manipulate someone else's grief for personal gain.

Of course we all want to know why this happened.  We want to know what could cause someone to 'snap' like that.  But wild guesses are not productive and only create more emotional trauma to add to the physical damage.

Rather than fuel the fire of an already over-stimulated media, I suggest we let the professionals do their job and figure out why this happened.

Police investigators have access to the crime scenes and can make intelligent conclusions from the facts.  Unless you are a novel writer, your time (and mental well-being) would be better served focusing on something else, like helping the families of the victims or comforting and helping the survivors in some way.  That includes comforting those who are effected just watching from a distance.

I think we can take a day or two to offer assistance and support where it is needed now.  And then, after we know all the facts... THEN we can start the work of fixing the root problem.

I am a firm believer in fixing the real ROOT of the problems, and fixing them right the first time.  They say 'a problem well defined is half solved'.  Once we really know the facts, then we can find more creative and long lasting solutions.

Let's use an unrelated issue as an example.  The drug problem.

Here are the facts:  People buy, sell and use drugs.  Often, crime is a side-effect of this transaction.  Some people want to perpetuate a 'War On Drugs'.  Sadly this 'war' is a Band Aid and not a solution.  This 'war' sounds great... but no, it's not effective.  Arresting drug users doesn't fix the problem, they are addicts and not thinking rationally.  Arresting drug dealers is not a solution, the money made is worth the risk of getting caught for them.  And once in prison... they just set up a new market.  Plus another dealer will quickly fill the void.

No.  The solution lies in fixing the Root of the Problem.  Think of how much money is spent in trying to prevent drugs from crossing the borders into our country.  The police and military man-hours (and equipment like planes, helicopters, surveillance, etc).  And the money spent tracking down dealers and enforcing the laws.  Think about the money lost due to crime in drug related incidents.  And the money spent on drug rehab for addicts.

That is a lot of money.  What if we spent that much money to educate kids about the dangers of drugs.  What would happen then?  First, kids would be able to make better choices and second (more importantly) the buyer's market would dry up.  If there are no drug buyers, there is no need for drug dealers.  This is simple economics.  Supply and demand!  If there is no demand the sellers will go to where there is a demand.

Just look at what happened to Blockbuster Video.  Netflix found a way to make movie rentals cheaper and easier.  So people started making different choices.  Those choices put a Fortune 500 company out of business.  Supply and demand.  Simple economics.

So how do we educate children to make better choices?  This may seem over-simplistic, but I think the best answer to that is Good Parenting!

Is it just me or does anyone else think that it's weird that we need to take a test to drive a car or need a license to go hunting... but anybody can be a parent?  No questions asked.

There was a time when families sat around the dinner table and talked about their day.  Discussed things that were going on in the world.

There was a time when parents taught their children right from wrong.  How to be a good sport.  How to work hard and be motivated to win, but also to be graceful at losing if you get out-played.  And the most important lesson that parents should teach their children is how to think for themselves so they can make wise choices and be self-sufficient.

At what point did we stop teaching our children to be responsible?  When did we stop keeping score at baseball and soccer games?  Why do we need to hide the fact that you don't always get to win?  That things don't always work out as you hoped?

I understand that parents want the very best for their children, but why would any parent want to enable their child and give them everything without earning it?  That child will grow up to think that is how life works!  Newsflash:  That is NOT how life works.

I've been told that kids get an allowance now.  When I was a kid, we had to do chores.  There were chores that we were expected to do just because that was our job.  It was our contribution to the Family Household Machine.  If we wanted an allowance we needed to do extra chores above and beyond to earn that money.

And if a kid wanted to get more money-- no problem.  Get a paper route.  Earn as much money as you want.  Rustle up some more customers.  The more newspapers you deliver, the more money you make!

The bottom line on parenting is this... you are ultimately responsible for parenting your own child.  If you expect teachers or babysitters or (even worse) TV to raise your child, then chances are good that the police, court system and prison system will eventually be in charge of them.

School teachers teach our kids English and Math and Science.  It's not their job to teach Manners and Morals and Decision Making.

And when we teach our children to think for themselves, they will not grow up with a sense of entitlement and they will likely know better than to watch TV news.  Maybe we should take on that project, too!  Why do we allow our 'news stations' to sensationalize our news?  What happened to the days of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow?  Remember the days when news anchors would tell us the facts without commentary and let us draw our own conclusion?  If there was a commentary it was a separate segment and specifically tagged as Commentary or Opinion.  Not like the Talking Heads of today.

There is a great book by Neil Postman called, "How To Watch TV News".  You can probably find it in the library.  How is it that we have let our 'news' become entertainment?

I also suggest another book by Neil Postman called, "Amusing Ourselves To Death" where he talks about how we are letting our Media control our lives and what we can do to wrestle back that control.

The truth of the matter is that, while we may never know what was the trigger that caused this young man to 'snap' and do something so heartbreaking and horrific, the fact remains that he did make a conscious, premeditated choice.

This brings us back to Good Parenting and educating our children to be self-sufficient so that when things get so out of control, they don't feel that taking their own life is the only option.

Top that off with our sensationalized 'media-on-steroids' (TV, movies, violent video games and yes 'news') and they get the idea to go out in a 'blaze of media glory'.

They start to think of ways to out-do the flight attendant who inflated the water slide to quit the airline or how to be more sensational than Columbine.

If we focus more on the victims and their families, the first responders and the survivors and less on trying to glorify the killer or criminal, then it won't be as tempting for someone to use these tragic events as attention grabbing media opportunities to be famous for 15 minutes (even if it is only post-mortem).

Of course, when I write about Good Parenting and teaching our children to be self-sufficient, that is only the start.  We can't blame our parents forever.  At some point we need to take Personal Responsibility.  Personal Responsibility for our own lives.  We can't blame our parents.  We can't blame society.  We can't even blame our money-hungry sensationalized media.

We all make our own choices.

The bottom line is this:  On Friday December 14th, 2012, one person made a decision to gear up and go to a public school filled with 5-10 year old children and their educators and open fire.  Many facts are still unknown but it doesn't matter if the guns were legal or illegal.  It doesn't matter if he had mental health issues.  He alone made a decision and was responsible for his own actions.

I may have mentioned (in a previous post) that I think it would be a great idea to have a 'news station' that only shares feel-good uplifting stories.

Since that doesn't exist yet, I decided to start a new Blog.  I will keep this one up, of course, so I have a place to rant and share my random thoughts and to continue sharing events in my own life.

The new Blog (Be The Change) will be dedicated to only good news and personal development.  So if you have committed any Random Acts Of Kindness and want to share your experience, let me know.  If you know of someone who did a Good Deed, just because... let me know that as well.  We can post these stories to remind people that, yes, there are regular people doing good things in the world.  Maybe others will be inspired by your Good Deed or Story and they will in turn do a Good Deed of their own.   That would be amazing!

Feel free to check out the new "Be The Change" Blog.  There is only one post so far.  Here is the link:

I will leave you today with another link that you may have seen floating around on Facebook:
 "26 Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year"

Go hug someone right now.  Do a Good Deed for no reason.

Gandhi once said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Make good choices.

Peace and Love,
----- Nick

Thursday, November 8, 2012

And the winner is...

Now that the election is over... it's time to answer the big question: Who is the big winner of this election?

And the answer is: The TV and Cable stations.

Yes, not only did the media make every effort to dramatize every issue and instigate trouble (likely in an effort to raise their own ratings), but also to drive advertising revenue higher than it has EVER been in the history of televised election seasons (which, sadly and unnecessarily seem to be getting longer and longer).

According to the Wall Street Journal (8/7/12), "Campaigns, political parties and outside groups are expected to spend some $6.5 billion on television and cable ads for federal and state elections this year, up from $4.8 billion in 2008, according to Borrell Associates, Inc., which tracks local TV and online advertising."

That is not a typo. It says BILLION. With a B.

Check out the website for the National Review. They have a chart that shows the breakdown of spending in just the battleground states. They list spending in each state by the 'official campaigns' of each presidential candidate as well as the spending of the DNC and RNC.

You will also find listed in the breakdown, the spending of the Super Pacs like: Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, Priorities USA Action, Restore Our Future, American Future Fund, Planned Parenthood Action, Concerned Women For America and Americans For Job Security.

The amount of money is obscene.

In the recent 'Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission' case, the Supreme Court ruled (5 to 4) to reverse a decision by the Montana Supreme Court to remove restrictions on corporate donations. If you are not familiar with how this works, essentially we, as citizens are allowed to donate money to the candidate of our choice, but there is a limit on the dollar amount.

This ruling allows corporations to donate money, anonymously I should add, in unlimited amounts to Political Action Committees who then (theoretically without the consent of the candidate) spend that money on advertising. The problem is that without any oversight it is easy for these Super Pacs to (let's call it) 'stretch the truth' a bit too far. Many of these Super Pacs are classified as 'social welfare' organizations and are exempt from the rules and restrictions of the 'official' committees to elect candidates.

Because there is no oversight and there is so much anonymity, it is easy for the Pacs to get away with their shenanigans. Once the Fact Checkers do their checking... it's too late. The damage is done. And who do you blame? Just some anonymously named Super Pac with anonymous donors! Nobody to pay the consequences of the bad behavior.

To read more about this, see the article in the NY Times (10/27/12 Topics/Campaign Finance article on Super Pacs). Not including the Super Pac money, here is an idea of money raised by the official campaign committees just between January 1, 2012-October 17,2012: Obama Campaign- $1.6 Billion dollars, Romney Campaign- $954 Million dollars.

That's a lot of money.

And that's just the presidential election. All around the country there were hundreds of other candidates raising money for their own campaigns.

For example, here in Massachusetts, a very heated and controversial campaign between Senator Scott Brown and his rival Professor Elizabeth Warren netted some serious money. According to the Boston Globe, Warren raised over $36.3 Million since she entered the race last September. And Brown has raised over $27.45 Million since January 2010.

Again, this is just in Massachusetts. Imagine similar races in every state for Senate, Congress, Governor and even some Municipal candidates. I almost can't even begin to tally all of that money.

So if you are like me... you may be asking yourself, "What's the point?"

Why would someone spend Billions or even Millions of dollars to acquire a job that is likely a demotion in pay than what they are currently making? Here is the salary breakdown: 

  U.S. President: $400,000 Plus an elaborate expense account
  U.S. Congress/Senate: $174,000-$193,400 
  (except the Speaker of the House who makes $223,500)

Does this make sense to anyone?

Did you know that 261 current members of Congress are millionaires? Why would a millionaire pay money to get a job that pays under $200,000 per year? Am I missing something here?

When was the last time you saw an ad for a cigarette company? Not lately. Do you know why? We don't allow it. Those ads were filled with poisonous lies. I would like to propose that we do the same with political ads. There should be automatic fact checks before the ads run on TV. They should only be allowed to say what the candidate would do or believes. They should not be allowed to bash or even mention their opponent. When they screen the ads to see how the public reacts... any ad that scares little children or makes them cry should not be allowed to air.

There was a great spot on the radio about the political ads of days past. They all had these catchy little jingles. It would be a lot less stressful to listen to those ads than the ones that most of you had to endure this political season. I say most of you because I was fortunate enough to miss a lot of them by not watching TV. I get most of my news from the radio and online sources.

And while I'm ranting about integrity in advertising, can we also agree that most of our modern day 'newscasters' would make Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow roll over in their graves?

There should be separate designations for different types of broadcast. The 'talking heads' like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity should be listed as some type of 'editorial or opinion' commentators. And guys like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart should be labeled as 'comedian' commentators or something. These are not newscasters. Sadly, many of the network newscasters fall dangerously close to these designations.

News is supposed to be factual and unbiased. I think real news reporters should be thought provoking and report facts so that, we the people, can make our own opinions.

So now that I have just ranted on... I would like to come to the real point.

All of this MONEY. A LOT OF MONEY!

It seems that everyone is talking about how terrible the economy is. But in my daily travels between appointments, I drive by at least two but sometimes three shopping malls. And for the past few weeks the parking lots are all full. I'm not talking about a little full. I'm saying even on the weekdays the cars are all the way out to the end of the lot, with people driving around trying to find parking spots. How can the economy be so terrible if all of these people are obviously spending money. I mean these cars in the parking lot can't all be 'mall walkers'! (These are the folks who go to the mall, usually before it is open to get their exercise walking around the whole loop of the mall. These are serious people-- do not get in their way!)

But really, here is the bottom line.


We spent that much in 'adverting' to elect a bunch of people to 'get the job done'. But in reality those same people are causing the GRIDLOCK that is our current Congress.

Does anybody see the irony here? 

What could we really accomplish with that $6.5 Billion??

We could give teachers a raise!

We could invest in sports and arts programs at public schools that keep getting cut due to lack of funding.

We could buy bullet proof vests for our soldiers who are going to war without them.

We could put money aside for emergency relief instead of using tax dollars that should be used for other things.

We could hire more First Responders (police, fire, EMT, etc.).

We could help re-educate the jobless and help feed and shelter the homeless.

We could be improving the infrastructure and the environment.

We could be investing in science and technology to eliminate cancer and other life threatening diseases.

Any ideas?

What else could we do to improve our country and enhance the lives of our citizens if we had $6.5 Billion dollars?

 Ready... GO!

 Peace and Love,

 ------- Nick