8.736 Hours

December 31, 2013 | Posted in General

It’s New Year’s Eve in these United States, already 2014 in other parts of the world. This is the honorary Day of Atonement for the past year and time to revel then resurrect hope for the coming 8,736 hours and hopefully do it all again one year from today.

Much like all the other significant dates in my life, New Year’s Eve has changed over the years. When I was a kid my parents would go out for the night to raise a glass or nine at the local gathering place while I mostly built airplane models and watched the events unfold in New York on the Sears television with my Aunt Eleanor who always conked out long before Guy Lombardo launched into “Auld Lang Syne.” When was my turn to go out and kill off some brain cells as a way to say goodbye to the previous year and ring in a new one I did so with gusto, bravado and Alka-Seltzer. Eventually I worked in the same establishment that I spent so much coin in and patrolled more than a few New Year’s Eve nights throwing guys filled with liquid courage out on to Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. More parties than I can remember, even more that I would like to forget but all in all….the entire New Year’s Eve thing has always fascinated me for one simple reason.

It’s an illusion…kinda.

Celebrating the end of the year has been going on since it was reformed from the Julian Calendar and adopted as the Gregorian Calendar, so named because it was created by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 (a point I often tried to make to the guy sitting next to me at the bar between shots of Wild Turkey on many a December 31st) The motivation for the adjustment was to bring the date for the celebration of Easter to the time of the year in which the First Council of Nicaea had agreed upon in 325. Although a canon of the council specified that all Christians should celebrate Easter on the same day, it took almost five centuries before virtually all Christians achieved that objective by adopting the rules of the Church of Alexandria. Gregory dropped 10 days to bring the calendar back into synchronization with the seasons. Accordingly, when the new calendar was put in use, the error accumulated in the 13 centuries since the Council of Nicaea was corrected by a deletion of ten days. The Julian calendar day Thursday, 4 October 1582 was followed by the first day of the Gregorian calendar, Friday, 15 October 1582 (the cycle of weekdays was not affected).

Hey! Let’s chop off ten days and start all over again!

So as we have free license to do what we want, and if we can get enough people to buy into the idea…voila’ we can basically bend time, change dates and make anything mean what we want it to mean. I am fairly sure that when Pope Gregory XIII dropped ten days off the calendar 431 years ago to get Easter lined up, he had no idea that the “new” last day of the year would make Dick Clark famous, but that is how the ripple effect works. Tonight thousands will gather in Times Square in homage to Adolph Ochs who had the idea to perch an 11,875 pound ball banded with Waterford Crystal and let it slowly drop, squeezing out the last minute from December 31st 1907. But not everyone can be in The Big Apple on The Big Night so we have created other ways to ring out the old year by dropping stuff. In Pennsylvania, Marshmallow “Peeps” get dropped and in Wisconsin they drop various types of cheese. In Atlanta crowds gather to cheer on the descent of a giant foam and fiberglass peach and my favorite has to be the “Possum Drop” in North Carolina where that talented mammal is caught and then slowly lowered by its tail from a pole signaling the New Year. While the possum is set free after it has done its duty, PETA sued to have the event cancelled in protest because it’s a live animal. I suppose you could get a dead possum and no one would know the difference.

Bottom line for me is that we make the whole thing up, and that can work for or against you depending on how you interpret it.

There is something very profound and powerful in watching the numbers on a year fade away and be replaced by new ones. In the case of Y2K millions of humans gnawed their fingernails waiting for Armageddon because no one actually knew if all the man-made toys and technology would recognize the 1999 become the year 2000. We held our breath waiting to see of Australia might evaporate from the face of the earth as they are a day ahead, and when celebrations went on as planned, a collective sigh of “I knew it was going to be ok” was felt across the land.

For some, New Year’s Eve is just another day on the calendar, they will work the third shift and in some empty building flip on a small TV and watch humans act really goofy counting down the final moments of MMXIII, watch the pundits talk about Mandela and Miley, Obamacare and Duck Dynasty. For others it’s truly a new beginning. It’s a time to start anew and use the change of digits as leverage to forget about the difficulties and disappointments of the past year and look forward once again.

How ever you are spending your New Year’s Eve, be it alone or surrounded by thousands, may the coming 8,736 hours be your best yet.

Be well

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The Gap

December 28, 2013 | Posted in General

I really try to not blog on the weekends mostly because I have it in my mind the 48 hours that book ends the rest of the week should be left for reflection, contemplation and other manly pursuits like sports. But unfortunately this rant cannot wait, as 1.3 million Americans are about to be cut off at the knees because they haven’t found a job and are putting our great country at risk-of what I am not sure- but leave it up to a guy that has never stood in an unemployment line to mouth off on something he has no experience in.

More about that a few paragraphs down.

In 2006 I was part of a team of media professionals, this was a high profile, high paying gig that I was convinced was a landing pad of sorts for all the years of work I had done previous to signing on the dotted line swearing an oath of non-disclosure till’ death do us part. In the span of 36 months I went from hero to zero as budget exploitation and other assorted financial flotsam made my position non-existent. I was reminded of what happens when I confuse expectation with reality. The expectations were valid as they were based on conversation and conclusions by those higher up the food chain, but the reality is that humans will often say one thing and do another-especially in the corporate climate. So I was cut loose, and sure that within a fairly short period of time someone would come knocking, due to my credentials, experience and contacts.

That was four years ago.

In the past 48 months the ripple effect of losing that job has me in a unique, select group of people that once bought into the illusion that if you work hard, get a degree, work even harder and climb the ladder of success that eventually you will find your place in Nirvana. I joined the 5 million other Americans that lost homes to foreclosure simply because our source of income was cut off and we were unable to find a job or career to replace it to the point of being able to function at the same level we once did. There is not enough space for me to dig back into the emotional toll foreclosure takes, for it guts the very essence of that “America Dream” commercial I grew up with. What’s even more debilitating is that in most states banks can sue the former owner for the deficiency between what was owed on the mortgage and what the house sold for-another factor out of my control-the housing market. Nothing like turning over the keys to the same lender that gave them to you- and then getting a nice letter in the mail asking for 80 thousand bucks…and have a good day. Great…the banks get bailed out but the people that keep the banks in business do not, got it. A lawyer reveals that the only way out of that debt is bankruptcy.

The American Dream….has become a nightmare for millions. It took me nearly a year after I was “released” from my last media job to file for unthinkable…unemployment.

I have been working since I was 15 and was brought up to pay my own way, stay on the job until it was finished and put everything into whatever I was doing, be it making donuts at 4am, pumping gas in the rain, pouring concrete, serving in the military or creating a radio talk show from scratch. So that awkward fumbling on the unemployment website, getting all the right info into the correct boxes online and then pressing “send” went against everything in me about what it means to provide not just for a family but by this time, myself. For reasons that eluded me, I could not get by without help from the government. I had exhausted all my savings, borrowed money from sympathetic friends and sat in a big house waiting for a very small check that was a portion of what I used to earn. I used to cringe every two weeks when I went into the unemployment office, a few people nodded my entrance as I wore the weight of my circumstance like an overcoat, silently acknowledging the same hit to their self-worth without work, contribution and earned income. My more spiritually minded friends reminded me that it was so very important not to confuse “who you are with what you do, because when you are not doing it you feel like nothing.”

No shit.

A couple hundred job applications, a few temporary things that I hoped would work out from a week long on-air tryout on the Martha Stewart Radio Channel (learned how to make a brick into a centerpiece) to a couple of years on and off the air in Chicago to speaking engagements that helped me maintain my spiritual equilibrium and the gnawing feeling that even with all my smarts and abilities I still needed that unemployment check every two weeks. Eventually I used up all that was available to me and became part of another fraternity- joining millions who live in “the gap”- sure where we have been, less sure of where we are going.

In just two days another 1.3 million Americans will be put into “the gap” because funding for those without a job past 26 weeks is in jeopardy. What to do about this quandary? The obvious answer is to keep funding the unemployment program so food stays in kids bellies, a least a portion of the bills get paid and the lights stay on for those who need it most.

However, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) sees those without work -those who at one time had a career, put their money into the economy and now need assistance as a liability and puts America “at risk.” “Does it make sense for our country to borrow money from China to give it to the unemployed in America? That is weakening us as a country,” Paul told NBC News. Right…the American companies that have outsourced jobs to China and other countries putting millions out of work haven’t weakened America, it’s the money needed to feed those people that is the problem.

Got it.

Paul grew up studying the philosophy of Ayn Rand, attended Baylor with honors and eventually went to The Duke School of Medicine earning his MD and then opening his ophthalmology practice has never once had to stand in an unemployment line or tell his daughter that he couldn’t give her $40 bucks for a coat or borrow money to put gas in his car. Paul contended that the checks allow people to go unemployed for longer and become less desirable hires for employers. “When I said it’s a disservice, I meant it – I am worried about the workers. Not that I think they become bad people by becoming unemployed longer, but that the longer they’re unemployed, the less likely they are to ever get a job again.”

We pay Sen. Rand Paul $174,000.00 to come up with that conclusion? I am always amazed that the political types that demand a smaller government, all work for the government. I am profoundly touched he is “worried about the workers.” I am profoundly offended he thinks cutting off their life support is the answer. So how about this…

As of Jan 15 all the members of Congress-435 congressmen and women and 100 senators-535 in all take a cut in pay (that is funded by taxpayers and perhaps some money from who knows where…) According to reports nearly half of congress (47%) are millionaires- so they get $1 a year- the rest of their money goes into a pool that pays into the unemployment program. Congress has an approval rating of 9%- so they are not doing their job, and the consequence is that if you are a Senator you get a flat $100 grand a year- that extra 74K goes to help someone that lost their job. There is an extra $7, 4000.00 in savings-on top of the $4,645,800.00 from the 47% that don’t get paid their congressional salary-for a total of nearly $8,000,000.00 bucks that Rand Paul doesn’t have to worry comes from China.

Is it perfect? No…but it works for me…pun intended.

I feel for Sen. Paul whose net worth is a paltry $500,000.00 and I applaud his heart for not thinking those without work are “bad people.” He is an ophthalmologist who needs an eye exam because the way he sees this issue is way out of focus. I am more than willing to show the Senator from Kentucky what “the gap” looks like and just as a reminder, when Sen. Paul “loses” his congressional “job” you and I will make sure he gets paid the rest of his life.

Be well.

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No Flinch Zone

December 14, 2013 | Posted in General

I was working away on the computer when the news broke of the school shooting in Colorado. CNN was showing footage of students being led out of school with hands help up, walking in a straight line like it was a fire drill except the kids were being checked for weapons. The information came in quickly that yet another teenage boy decided at some point the best way to resolve whatever situation he believed he was in was to kill a teacher. In the end he wounded two students and turned the shotgun on himself ending his young life. I took note of the story and went back to what I was working on, having seen all this play out before.

It took me just a few minutes to realize I didn’t even flinch when I saw the footage. I had become used to seeing the images so many times that it had no effect on me.

Damn.

Today marks the one year anniversary of Sandy Hook, a quiet hamlet until another troubled young man first killed his mother and then went on to massacre twenty first graders ages 6 & 7 and six teachers before finally putting a gun to his head. It was the worst school shooting since the Virginia Tech massacre which became the worst since Columbine. We now have a scorecard for school shootings.

I was aghast at the carnage in Columbine, overwhelmed by the shootings in Virginia and deeply sadden by Sandy Hook, but yesterday I didn’t flinch. I have become conditioned after years of watching the increase of school shootings to expect them to continue. Since Sandy Hook there have been twenty five school shootings, and with each one a layer of disconnect is forged as SWAT teams on campus become the new norm.

The first question that always surfaces is of motive. Why would a young man plan such an attack, deciding that the best way to resolve whatever pain they are in is to inflict it on others? Why is it young men? What goes on in schools that make them the killing ground? What goes on in their homes to prompt these thoughts? Inevitably the puzzle pieces show up, a divorce or unchecked mental problems, video games or bullying. “He was a quiet boy”… “He seemed to be a loner” … “He kept to himself.” As the picture gets clearer about the latest shooter a portrait emerges of a kid that attended Bible study and was generally liked but the motive as in most all of these incidents were lost when they put the gun to their head.

I will leave the gun rights and conspiracies to others, this morning I am thinking of the parents of the shooter and the kids in the school all wounded either physically or mentally. “School shooting” has long been part of our culture as history has shown.

The earliest known shooting to happen on school property was the Pontiac’s School Rebellion on July 26, 1764, where four Lenape Indians boys entered the schoolhouse near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania, shot and killed schoolmaster Enoch Brown, and killed nine or ten children (reports vary). Only three children survived.

On Jun 12, 1887 Will Guess went to the school and fatally shot Miss Irene Fann, his little sister’s teacher, for whipping her the day before.

On April 24th, 1890, while the pupils of the Meridian Street School were at play, Ben Corbery drew a revolver and shot Cora Brubach, aged 10, seriously wounding her in the face. The reason for the assault was that the girl had informed the teacher of Ben’s misconduct.

December 28, 1898 Sioux City, Iowa. Teacher May Thomas was lured out of the schoolhouse by a student named Harry Garvey who was devoted to her, but she had refused his further attentions. He then pulled a revolver out and shot her dead, then killed himself.

May 20, 1988 in Winnetka, IL Laurie Dann, shot and killed one elementary school student and wounded five others, then took a family hostage and shot a man before killing herself.

Long before Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Arapahoe schools have been a kill zone with hundreds of deaths, far too many to list here. Outside of the violent video game theory that could only been applied since Columbine, apparently it’s the unresolved conflict within that eventually has someone pick up a weapon; turn it on someone else and eventually themselves.

I don’t know anyone personally at Columbine or Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook or Arapahoe, but the ripple effect from these repeated bloodbaths splayed out on television with every intricate detail pounded on the never ending news cycle has created victims of another sort. Chunks of our humanity fall away as we become conditioned over and over again to the carnage. Last year was the first time in my life I looked suspiciously at a guy in a long coat standing in the darkness of a movie theater in the aisle. I had an attack plan should he make a move, the slightest move that I deemed a threat- this in response to the shooting at the theater in Aurora, Colorado. I watched the movie with one eye on the screen and the other on him. I would have taken his life to preserve mine, a thought I never had before with a box of “Snow Caps” in my hand.

As it’s been said, those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it and repeat it we will.

It’s not a matter of if but when, a matter of where and how many.

That thought does make me flinch.

Be well.

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Worm Hole

December 13, 2013 | Posted in General

When I heard the news that North Korea had executed Jang Song-Thaek- the uncle and mentor of “dick-tater” Kim Jong Un my first thought was…the more things change the more they stay the same. “Dick-Taters” always resort to asserting their illusion of power by offing those close to them to maintain the fear base. Cross a line (real or imagined) no matter who you are and you will get hung up by your Buster Browns…or sandals or whatever.

Or in the case of Uncle Jang you get yanked out of your seat, made to face trumped up charges then face a machine gun that cuts you in half. Then the headlines read “Jang is traitor, worse kind of human scum and is lower than a dog.” This comes less than a week when the benevolent Kim Jong-Un allowed 85 year old Korean War veteran Merrill Newman to return back to the US after reading an “apology” for his “war crimes” 60 years ago. Newman had visited North Korea as a tourist but the official line was that he was “deported” back to the United States.

North Korea is part of the “Axis of Evil” as determined by the “Texas Tiger” President GW Bush along with Iran and Iraq back in 2002. Since then Iraq became a battlefield that will linger for decades, another country that has the blood of American soldiers buried in its soil and Iran has broken off nuclear talks (again) because of US sanctions. Perhaps the hub of the axis is then…North Korea where executions are becoming a pay-per view event. It’s hard to imagine that in the 21st century there still exists a place where goose-stepping in the public square goes on and giant images of a 28 year old spoiled brat dominates the landscape. Sabre rattling is one thing, cutting off heads in public is another and left unchecked North Korea will continue to be a rotten apple in the basket. What is the solution? What could possibly turn Kim Jung-Un into a human being? Is it even possible?

I think we have an ace in the hole when it comes to overthrowing the North Korean “dick-tater.” To be more direct I think it’s going to take a worm in the hole to accomplish mission impossible.

Yes, it’s time to unleash… “The Worm”…Dennis Rodman.

Rodman made headlines this year when the traveled to North Korea and “really hit it off” with the pint sized man-child with the Moe Howard haircut. Rodman said “Before I landed in Pyongyang, I didn’t know Kim Jong-un from Lil’ Kim. I didn’t know what country he ruled or what went on in the country he ruled … Fact is; he hasn’t bombed anywhere he’s threatened to yet … All I know is Kim told me he doesn’t want to go to war with America. His whole deal is to talk basketball with Obama. Unfortunately, Obama doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. I ask, Mr. President, what’s the harm in a simple phone call?”

Yeah c’mon Mr. President pick up the phone and let your fingers do the walking. He just wants to talk hoops. Maybe you can invite him over to one of your pick-up games at the White House or something.

It’s time to nominate “The Worm” for the Nobel Peace Prize-matter of fact Rodman went on to say “I’ll tell you this: If I don’t finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something’s seriously wrong.”

I agree- something is seriously wrong when a highly tattooed, multicolored haired, former basketball player, addicted to gambling, alcohol, drugs and Madonna has become the unofficial ambassador to North Korea. That being said it’s time to utilize his off court skill set, let him go back to North Korea with a few cases of his “Bad Boy Vodka” and perhaps autographed pictures of Carmen Electra and see if he can get Kim Jung-Un to lighten up on a bit. Maybe they can shoot a few baskets (instead of shooting people) and have a chat about…hmmm….not sure what.

It’s obvious at some level these two connect (could be their warped childhoods) and it might just be best way to slowly change the Communist ways is to baffle Kim Jung-Un with the thing he craves the most, attention. Put Rodman and Kim into a reality show kinda like the “Odd Couple” or let them switch places for a day. The Worm can run the country and Kim Jung can put on a wedding dress for effect.

Sanctions haven’t worked, military threats haven’t worked, I say turn “The Worm” into the official ambassador to North Korean and see what happens.

Can’t get any worse than it is….right?

Be well.

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Black & White

December 11, 2013 | Posted in General

Andy Samuel Griffith was always a storyteller. Growing up in rural North Carolina as an only child he was shy and kept to himself but every time he told a story he gained new friends. At one point he wanted to be a preacher but instead chose a degree in music from UNC and began to put his stories into the printed word.

Griffith’s early career was as a monologist, delivering long stories such as “What it Was, Was Football,” which is told from the point of view of a rural backwoodsman trying to figure out what was going on in a football game. The monologue was released as a single in 1953 on the Colonial Records label, and was a hit for Griffith, reaching number nine on the charts in 1954. He would move on to the Broadway stage and numerous movie roles including “No Time For Sergeants” and his highly acclaimed performance as Larry Rhodes in “A Face in The Crowd.” Famed producer Sheldon Leonard took notice his abilities and decided to create a television product for the up and coming actor and used the smash hit “Make Room For Daddy” with Danny Thomas to introduce audiences to Griffith in an episode that had Thomas being stopped for speeding in small rural town that had Griffith as the justice of the peace and editor of the local newspaper…and sheriff.

“The Andy Griffith Show” was born on October 3, 1960.

The fictional town of Mayberry, NC was brought to life with a cast of characters that quickly became imprinted in the hearts of millions of viewers. Don Knotts as the bumbling deputy “Barney Fife”, lovable and sweet Frances Bavier as “Aunt Bee” future mega director Ron Howard as “Opie” and a slew of unforgettable characters like Floyd Lawson, Gomer and Goober Pyle, Otis the town drunk, Thelma Lou and Helen Crump. One of the most memorable characters, Ernest T. Bass (played brilliantly by Howard Morris) who’s performance was so strong he was limited to only six episodes as not to overshadow the rest of the cast.

The themes of the show were of faith, family, community and of course laughter. The show was set in the 1960’s but had a feel of an earlier time, a sort of land locked place that revered family values and simple pleasures. During the upheaval of the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights and MLK, Mayberry was a safe place where the doors were never locked, the sheriff rarely carried a gun and the community rallied around its people.

As I sat last night laughing at the antics of Barney and Floyd who were held hostage by three escaped women convicts I couldn’t help but wonder if Sheldon Leonard who created the show could have possibly known that 53 years later the “black and white” way of seeing the world back then would stand the test of time and be so needed today, as it was during some very turbulent years during its original run of 249 episodes. For some reason, when the show went into color production for the last two years it just wasn’t the same.

We live in turbulent times too, the incessant pounding of 24/7 news channels bringing every bit of fodder imaginable, the endless stream of mindless reality shows, programming that speaks to the lowest of human behavior and the constant focus on what is not working in the world is enough to push even the most optimistic among us to the brink of mental exhaustion without ever leaving our living rooms.

For me, all it takes is the familiar whistle of “The Fishin’ Hole” and the image of Andy and Opie making their way through the back lot of Desilu Studios with fishing poles slung over their shoulders and I begin to feel my shoulders relax. Immediately I am transported to this Norman Rockwell-like place that was the brainchild of Leonard and held together by the sturdy presence of Andy Griffith who admitted he never really had to act but rather just brought forth the rural values he grew up with and he let the cast of characters run with the show as he played straight man.

I really don’t like much of anything on television, trading 22 minutes or 48 minutes of my life to watch humans’ behaving badly has no value for me. However, these time tested themes of days gone by, beckoning us to treat each other better, watch out for those close to us and laugh away the difficulties of life keeps the bubble in the middle of the life level for me, which can be so very hard to do.

Most of the main cast is all gone now, Andy passed away in 2012 and Don Knotts a few years earlier. Floyd, Aunt Bee, Emmitt and Otis have gone to the great reward; Ron Howard of course is a force in Hollywood as a director. But no one ever really dies because of reruns, and there they are every night, frozen in time as they were back then, dispensing wit and wisdom that got the country through some rough waters. The laughs were canned, the sets built on a back lot and the characters created by writers but none of that matters all these years later. The influence and energy of Mayberry lives on and for so many millions longing for peace, Floyd has a chair open at the shop , Aunt Bee is still busy in the kitchen and Andy still grins from ear to ear beckoning us to follow him to the fishin’ hole.

Be well.

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