Friday, March 20, 2009

Everyone has a reason to be indignant

There has been a great deal of discussion in the media about the AIG bonus scandal. I cannot and will not defend them. I am as bothered by what they have pulled off as anyone. I do however have a different take on the subject.

Here is my issue. For years AIG has run their business (well or poorly) with no public view. Whatever they did, they did, with no public outcry. They screwed up, we bailed them out and now we (and they) have 303,800,000+ Monday morning quarterbacks each with opinions on how they should run their business, not many of the almost 304 million people in this country are in that business but we now all have some advice on how and what they should do. The worlds best corporate executive would have a tough time with that many bosses.

As we struggle through this hard time and we bail out others we are all going to micro-manage companies through the media. We are going to second guess what all of those slimy corporate types are doing with our tax dollars. There will be even more scrutiny for these guys (and girls). We will find ourselves "up in their business" as their new stockholders. We simply will not tolerate their "business as usual" approach.

The dollar amount of the AIG fiasco as I recall was in the 165 million area. We are mad as hell, every form of media and congressional pundants are harrumphing every minute of the great indignity committed. Here is another cause I wish we had a little more concern over; we just dumped 104 billion dollars into our education system as a booster. This money will be spent by a system that prides itself in having to spend all of its budget money this year or they won’t get it next. That system is old, top heavy and bulky. Unlike the corporate world, motivated by the evil "profit" there is no motivation to streamline and make that system fat free. Because it is education we tend to view it as untouchable. Have you ever noticed that the first ones to go in a budget shortfall are the teachers? Have you ever seen a bunch of school administrators on the street protesting because their positions are being eliminated? Nope, just teachers.

I am suggesting we are very critical, intolerant and indignant with the corporate world and their business as usual methods but when it comes to the system that educates our children "business as usual" is just fine, nothing to look at here, just move along.

We are pissing away government administrated money in a manner that would make the corporate slime balls quiver. How about a little equal indignity for wasters in the public sector?

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Trip to the Movies

The thought of sitting through an entire movie with no break, no pause button and no rewind capabilities is torture. Those who know me well might describe me as fidgety or antsy and I would have to just suck it up and not be offended. They are all correct. When I am dragged, kicking and screaming, I will sit on the couch in my living room in front of my high def television connected to a bad ass surround sound system that will vibrate your liver and commit to the first 15 minutes of most movies. By then I am either bored, freaked out scared (no, I do not like scary movies but that is another rant), asleep or just plain unable to sit still. I would guess my rate of actually finishing a movie, in a single sitting, to be in the low 40% range.

Going to the movies in a theatre is impossible. First you have to drive to the complex, shopping center, whatever and have a “retail” experience. Second, you have to park the car at the sixteen-plex and that is always discouraged by the other non theatre establishments near by. Then one must wait in line (please refer to paragraph one where fidgety and antsy are covered). Of course there is the trip to the restroom prior to taking your seat in the theatre. Restrooms just shouldn’t have popcorn on the floor. Did they bring their bucket o’ pop corn in there? Where did they put it while they stood at the urinal? Not to be graphic but doesn’t it take both hands to properly complete the draining sequence?

With my above described attitude we do not go to the movies very often. The last movie my wife and I attended together in a theatre was “Pulp Fiction”. Those of you who saw the movie may recall a scene where John Travolta’s character, while riding in a car with his gun waving in the face of an unnamed character in the back seat, goes over a bump and accidentally blows the gentleman’s brains all over the inside of the car. The crowd in the theatre burst into laughter. My wife and I looked at each other in horror and right then realized that we both completely missed something. We, apparently, were not of the correct demographic to catch the subtle humor that vaporized brains stuck to the rear window created. We did watch the rest of the movie and after several remedial coaching sessions with our adult children are now aware of the term “dark comedy”. I now understand that vaporized brains are a humorous component in such genre.

After all that whining, I took my lovely wife to the movies this past Sunday evening. We had a date. I drove, parked and with minimal effort found ourselves standing in the lobby of a movie theatre for the first time in eight years. A few things have changed. The floor is not as sticky. The chairs in the theatre are nice and soft, they rock (as in to and fro, not as in thump, thump). The tickets were over ten bucks…each, I later found out there is a senior discount. I am not certain what age you have to admit to but I am positive we qualify. Two hot dogs and two drinks that could keep a family of seven in vital fluids for a month were packaged together in what the perky counter attendant called the “deal number three”. That was eighteen dollars. A six dollar bag of popcorn and we are set to see the movie. We were now into this for $45, we were committed and we are off to see the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight”.

Holy crap Batman! At the 10 second mark we were mesmerized and completely willing to suspend disbelief. Heath Ledger’s Joker was as good as acting can get. The character was exquisitely creepy in every way, the makeup, the voice, the ticks, the eyes, the cadence, the movement, he was perfect. This was not the cartoon version of the Joker played by Jack Nicholson years ago, this guy was a completely believable, very real psycho. The entire cast had no weak spots (well, maybe the Mayor’s character, too much mascara). Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal. It was impossible to distinguish where reality ended and special effects began. The sound was loud and the film is dark and violent by nature. Seedy characters abound. The plot twisted, characters changed, the fight against good and evil. This is not a children’s movie by a long shot. Batman has got unlimited toys and is faced with a real question of how evil should you be in the fight for what is ultimately good.

When the movie was over it took both of us a few minutes to get our senior citizen bodies to rise to standing, we still had enough of our drinks left to water a good sized lawn. The bag of popcorn hadn’t been touched since the opening credits except to nervously twist the top of it into an unrecognizable form. It was a great time!

We of course made the post-movie restroom stop as we left and there it was, popcorn on the restroom floor. Some things never change.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Children Are People, Just Shorter

Having a Mother and Father who were professional ice skaters prior to being parents made for some interesting childhood experiences. Not just learning to skate at an early age but having the cast members from 10 years worth of ice shows drop in on us from time to time. These people, who my parents referred to as “the kids in the show”, were characters. Some were comedians, some serious competitive amateur figure skaters who turned pro. The women were stunning and all were athletic at least for some portion of their lives. Most were extroverted, some more than others.

I was a novelty to these show business characters. My parents were among the first of their peer group of crazies to actually produce offspring. For some, I was the first experience they had speaking to children. As a child they were among my first experiences speaking to strangers.

It’s funny but even at my age I recall how they spoke to me. There were a few who spoke to me as if the old saw “children should be seen and not heard” was accurate. They would speak to me like a pet who could not actually understand the language. They would wave a cookie around my nose, then look at my parents and say something about me as if I was not there. I wanted to bite the cookie out of their hand, growl and lie down in the corner to eat it with my feet. Fortunately it never came to that. My parents brought us up a little better than that.

The best ones were the people that looked you right in the eye and spoke to you as a full fledged person, not necessarily an adult but still a person. I liked those who dealt with me as someone with skin and bones and feelings, someone who treated me the same as everyone else in the room instead of just a kid. They would tell me stories, jokes and invite my participation in the conversation. These were my favorites. I met some of these “kids” when I was in diapers and still keep in touch with them or their children today.

Those who treated me like a spare part or something less than a person lost my interest quickly.

My childhood experiences cast my adult relationships with kids. Those young experiences coupled with parenthood and grand parenthood has forged my philosophy on dealing with children. It is very simple. Children are short inexperienced people.

Let me explain how complex this one sentence is. Children are short. The fact that they are short is critical. That means that everything around them is larger than it is to you, including you. As a grown-up how would you feel if someone was so big that they bent at the waist, lowered their head to your level and raised their voice? Yikes! A giant just bellowed at me and I was completely unable to hear what they said. The other issue with being short is a distorted perspective. Everything else is taller than you. You cannot see what is on the table and what you can see is viewed from such a shallow angle it becomes unreadable. Every now and again sit on the floor and look at the world from the short perspective. See what children see.

Children are inexperienced. Their brains work perfectly. They feel the same things and have the same senses as an adult; they just have no experiences to compare anything to. Having no pre loaded experiences has a great upside: innocence. Children have no concept of time because it simply is not necessary; they have no experience with the clock. Almost everything they do is new. Do you remember your first trip to Disneyland as a child? Though it is still certainly exciting, nothing really compares to the excitement of the first time. Everything that happens puts a little mark in their grey matter. Do not be the adult that leaves a scar rather than a mark.

Children are people. They have feelings the same as adults, they feel anger, they know when they have been belittled, praised and loved. My favorite example of this is when a parent or other adult scolds a child and then looks at a nearby adult and speaks to them as if some how the child’s ears have magically been turned off, “oh, he is such a little brat and just look at the mess he made”. Kids hear everything you say. They understand it long before they can speak. You would never speak to your friends in that manner, why would you ever speak to an inexperienced, short person in that manner.

What it really comes down to is simple; these short, inexperienced people, in only a few years will be adults too. Allow their innocence to teach you. They will grow, they will gain experience and they will be the people that will ultimately keep our feeding tubes clear. Be nice to them. Treat them with the same respect that you expect.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Scary Things and Common Sense

There are not many things in life I truly fear. My family will attest to that. My lack of fear has scared the hell out of most of them at least once. There are some close family members I have actually made cry, unintentionally of course. If you happen to be one of them let me take a moment to sincerely apologise.

I am however not completely fearless. My personal fear has to do with me driving a car, another human being walking and the consequences that could result from either one of us making an error.

In the last few of months I have had 2 near misses, better described as near hits. Both were at night and both had a common thread or I guess you could say “threads” as in; what I assume to be rational adults, wearing black clothing while walking at night. Not just a black shirt or a pair of black pants but head to toe wearing black.

The first of the two was the most damaging to my personal psyche. A gentleman with a black coat, black hat, black beard and black pants was pushing a black baby carriage with black wheels and black everything else. I was driving at conservative, dark neighborhood speed, slowed down to make the left turn into my cul-de-sac and in the head lights got just a tiny glint of something reflecting shiny on the stroller. BANG, on the brakes, no damage, no hit, all was OK. Well, except the guy flipped me off and called me every name in the book. Following the “miss” I pulled the car over just 100 yards from home and sat with my head on the steering wheel until my heart stopped pounding in my chest.

Next was just 3 nights ago. Again, in my own neighborhood, just two blocks from home and I caught the smallest sliver of a moving white sock coming out of black pants and then diving into a black shoe. The reaction was instant; braking, and no harm. This fellow was so absorbed in whatever was happening in his headphones he barely even flinched.

I will freely admit that I love an evening stroll every now and again. Walking the streets in our little corner of the fife is comfortable and pleasant but I always act as though I am invisible to what little traffic exists. I feel responsible to those cars and drivers to make sure they know I am there when I cross the street. My habit is to wear light colored clothing. I will grab the light grey sweatshirt rather than the dark blue one. This comes from an old song “remember, if you are out on you bike at night, wear white”. I don’t know where the line came from originally, possibly a British radio show in the 40s. The Beatles used the line at the end of one of their songs.

Do not misunderstand; I place no blame on either of these individuals. I am the guy with the steering wheel and the gas pedal and the brakes. I am the responsible party if there were to be a mishap.

All that said, I will go back to the sage advice “if you are out on your bike at night, wear white”. It makes sense, common sense.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Civic Responsibility

Being a child of the 60's and somewhat of a political activist in my misspent youth my tolerance for apathy has hit an all time low. In recent conversations with my 30 something children and my younger friends I feel as though they have had a disconnect with the election process and the responsibility of every one of us to actively participate. Specifically they have failed to vote.

My father, who had more of an influence in my life than I ever imagined, was the child of Jewish immigrants. They came here in 1913. They had never voted in their lives. If you have ever seen the play or movie “Fiddler on the Roof” it is the life my grandparents had lived. When the Czar’s policing unit came to their village and recommended that they pack up everything they had and move to a different country they took the hint and left. Prior to coming to the United States they had never voted in any election. After coming to this country they never missed one as long as they both lived.

I don’t particularly care (in this entry anyway) how you vote. Just vote. There are those before you who have given their own lives, the lives of their ancestors, the lives of their children for the right to do so. If nothing else you owe it to them. The excuse of “I don’t have time” just means “I didn’t make time”. I voted in the California primary election 2 weeks ago Tuesday, from the time I left my house until I was back home was no more than 10 minutes.

After you have committed to vote, every time, the rest will take its course. By that I mean you will have that moment in the voting booth where you will ask yourself the question; “Do I know enough to make this decision?” The next time you go to vote you will be a little more prepared and each subsequent time you will take the responsibility just a little bit more seriously.

I have a friend at work who is Catholic. I first noticed it when, on Ash Wednesday, he came to work with the “mark” on his forehead. He left it there all day. He went to mass early that morning and took care of his personal commitment. When you go to vote you are given a little sticker with your voter receipt that says “I voted”. Wear it, be proud of the personal commitment, encourage others to wear their sticker, it is the same commitment.

Teach your children to have the same commitment. When they turn 18 (I had to wait until I was 21) and are able to vote, offer dinner out to all who show up on election night with a voter receipt. Set an example by voting every time yourself.

This year we will elect a new president. We will replace members of the House and the Senate. Local officials will be elected and propositions will be decided. Take part, each of you. Ask others to take part. Do not allow your city, county, state or country to be run by less than 40% of us.