The political quagmire continues

There are two controversies swirling around our political world.  Both further highlight our national issue of our elected officials – the refusal to be reasonable.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is under siege for a personal transgression.  He is being castigated by many donors to Republican causes and by some Republican politicians for the unthinkable.  He accepted – and praised – federal government support for New Jersey in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  How horrible of him!

Last time I checked, the purpose of a Governor is to promote, protect and provide for his/her state.  A Governor is the top officer of the state they represent.  When unprecedented disaster hits, the Governor is morally obligated to do whatever they can to help their state.  No single state has the resources to deal with a major catastrophe.  That is why they turn to other states and  – yes – the “evil” Federal Government.  If any of us had a personal issue come up, we would gladly accept assistance from anyone – friends or strangers.  Chris Christie did that for the citizens of his state who elected him.

But his big mistake was actually praising the U.S. Government for helping his state try to recover.  I guess showing gratitude is a bad thing if it makes someone else look good.  And he also – horrors – went on a helicopter ride with the President to make sure the President personally saw the devastation.  Associating with “the enemy”.  Do you think the people hounding Mr. Christie give their words any thought before taking action?  I doubt it.

The second issue revolves around politicians rethinking their position in response to our current national conditions.  Don’t we elect them to use their judgement to try to do what is best for the country?  To some people, evidently not.  A number of politicians are  in trouble for considering changing their mind on a “pledge” to not raise taxes.  Breaking that pledge is a sign of weakness?  impurity of thought? socialism? What?  Our country is about to go off a fiscal cliff because of Congressional inaction.  In fact if no action is taken, taxes will be raised because Bush-era tax cuts will run out.  So inaction guarantees higher taxes for most people.

I have not read or heard  anyone who thinks the brinksmanship we are headed for is a good thing (granted, I do not follow every person with an opinion on the matter).  But it seems to me that looking at all potential solutions to our problem makes sense.  And if that means someone needs to revisit a previous pledge, so be it.  Isn’t that careful thought the logical thing to do?



I was reflecting on how different Rose and I are when it comes to telling a story.  Both ways are good.  It is just funny how different we are.  I tend to stick to a very brief narrative with just the facts.  Rose likes to weave a complete story – always with some parenthetical statements and a few detours along the way.  Rose’s style tends to keep a conversation going.  Mine just gets the basis across.  So if you are in a hurry (or aren’t interested) you want to talk with me.  If you are interested or like the full story, stick with Rose.  This happened the other night.  Allow me to recount it.

We were talking to another couple about a family that both couples knew.  Rose told the story.  Here is probably how I would have told it:

Rose was judging a diving meet with Courtney and Stephen participating.  Luke was a young toddler at the time and he was being watched by another adult.  All of a sudden, Paul (one of the family members that we and the other couple knew) came up to Rose.  He took her judging pad and said “you need  to go check on Luke.  He just stuck his hand in a fan”.  That is one of the ways we remember this family. (by the way, Luke was not seriously injured).

Here is (approximately) how Rose told the story:

We have known the XYZ family a long time.  Their kids were life guards at the Christopher Club when our kids were growing up.  We saw them around all the time.  Stephen liked one of the girls who was a life guard because she was funny. (Rose continued the story about Stephen learning the butterfly stroke but I cannot remember the details).   One time I was judging a diving meet at the Christopher Club.  Courtney and Stephen were 7 and 9 years old (or perhaps it was 8 and 10 years old, I can’t remember which).  It was a very hot day (80 – 90 degrees) and very humid.  The Christopher Club was instituting a new computer program to score the swim meet.  Madonna Homan – did you know her?  She ran the Christopher Club for a long time – found an old rusty fan to blow on the computer to keep it cool.  Luke was being watched by another adult while I was judging the diving competition that Stephen and Courtney were in.  Luke was wandering around with this adult.  Well, Luke went over and stuck his hand in the fan.  So, Paul (one of the family members that we and the other couple knew) ran over to me.  From behind me he reached over me and grabbed my scoring pad.   He told me “you need  to go check on Luke.  He just stuck his hand in a fan”.  So that is one of the ways I remember this family.

Rose put in a few more layers to the story than I did ( in fact, I probably did not give it justice).  That is typically the way she is.  And that is okay.  I am sure I drive people nuts with my short narrative.  Nothing wrong with being different!

The experts were wrong – about Twinkies

We all grew up with the assertion that Twinkies would never go bad.  In fact, they were claimed to last even through a nuclear war.  This urban legend (though not true) was one of life’s common themes that we all had.  I think all of us believed it (perhaps because we liked Twinkies so much)! 

But with Hostess Brand’s announcement that they were liquidating, Twinkies has met their demise.

I have to admit that I have not followed the rise and fall of the Hostess Brands. But I find it hard to believe that a management team allowed such iconic and popular brands to fall this far.  According to articles I read, “Hostess endured years of declining sales as Americans turned to rivals’ snacks and breads, while ingredient costs and labor expenses climbed” .  How is that different from their competitors?  I know that America has been fighting the caloric contents of many “sweets”.  But every supplier of snacks faced those same battles.  How did Hostess not react and reinvent?

I think I learned a lot by going to Hostess’ website.  Rather than thanking its loyal customers for over 80 years of buying their products.  Or, providing some sort of acknowledgement to the thousands of employees, retail establishments and suppliers who carried the product line along.  Hostess decided to play the finger-pointing game.  Hostess’ own website says “We are sorry to announce that Hostess Brands, Inc. has been forced by a Bakers Union strike to shut down all operations and sell all company assets” .  Perhaps that is true.  But what management team blames someone else for their demise?  That tells me a lot about the final management team.  This company was in bankruptcy from 2004 to 2009 (at the time, the longest bankruptcy in U.S. history).  After a couple of years, Hostess went back into bankruptcy again in January 2012.  The latest strike only happened last month.  Hmm.  I guess the management ineptitude for at least an 8 year period was a relatively minor thing.

RIP Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho Ho’s and the coconut-flavored Sno Balls (my personal favorite).  Soon a generation of young people will not be able to enjoy those treats in their lunch or after school.

Football – Part 2 – and a little reflection

My school (Mississinawa Valley High School) is suffering through a long losing streak in football.  We have now gone two straight seasons without winning a game. It is demoralizing to the players and the community.  It hurts when classmates say “you guys stink” or “you are going to get killed tonight”.  Don’t they know the football players know that?  It takes a lot of strength to play a sport where you know you are outnumbered, outsized and out coached every week.  We have 25 guys on our team.  Only about two of them are over 200 pounds.  We are at a physical mismatch every week.

I know that football is a part of the community.  But we really have not been very good very often in our history (for example, we have never beaten our local rival, Ansonia, in 40 tries).  Two serious injuries a year (my experience at the school so far) is too high a percentage of serious injuries.  At what point in time do you say, “we cannot compete.  The injuries and the losses hurt our school pride and self-worth.  It is time to drop football”?  I have no idea.  Football is such an important part of the Midwestern experience.  It is the American sport.  It does bring the community together on Friday nights.  Other than Boys’ Basketball, nothing else comes close to getting the people out together.

But is that enough to keep it going?  I cannot imagine anyone ever agreeing to drop football.  My logical mind says to add up all of the “pro’s” and the “con’s”, compare the two of them and make a decision.  Probably using that logic, I’d say to drop football.  The economics, the injuries and the crush to our community confidence outweigh the positives.  But there is a lot of emotion tied up in the football community.  And I am not part of the community.  Many people talk about the “discipline” and “camaraderie” that football teaches young men.  Perhaps that is true.  Maybe a more important question is what would take the place of football if we dropped it?  Soccer?  Cross country (I’d vote for that)?  Lacrosse?

The questions and answers are  not easy ones.

We all face situations like this where we are tied to something that has been there for a long time.  Perhaps it is a job, a car, a pet, a personal situation.  If we ever take a moment to think about our situation, we question our course.  Cold, hard facts do not support our continuation of the status quo. But we can’t picture our existence without that “thing”.    Inertia is a very strong force when it comes to change.  Usually it takes some outside force that instigates change.  Are you waiting for something to be a catalyst for you?

Ohio’s Nightmare is over

. . . at least one of them.  With the completion of the election, perhaps life will return to some level of normalcy in the Buckeye State.  For those of you not fortunate enough to be living here, the election has been “memorable”.  As one of the few battleground states for the Presidential election as well as having an incumbent Democratic Senator up for re-election, Ohio has received a disproportionate amount of attention.  From my standpoint, that attention has been the unwanted kind.

How bad has it been?  Rose and I have stopped answering our home phone (why we even HAVE a home phone is another subject for another time).  Why did we stop answering it?  Because we were being bombarded with political calls (why aren’t they on the “do-not-call list”?).  For example, this past Saturday morning, between 9:15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m., the phone rang seven times.  I am confident that every one of those calls was a political call.  Every day in the mail we received 3 or 4 pieces of junk mail supporting one candidate or another.  I could not run fast enough to throw them away.

Watching TV was more torture.  It seems like every commercial break on the few channels I watch had at least one political ad (I’ll have to let Rose speak for the presence of ads on the Hallmark Channel).  Radio?  If it had commercials, they were political.

I am certainly not a marketing or advertising expert.  But if you carpet bomb the airwaves with ads that get to be so intrusive and so annoying that people tune them out, can you really be getting your message out?  The few people I heard talking about the ads all said the similar things “I ignore them all because they are omnipresent and overwhelmingly negative” (Some might argue that is due to the type of people I am around). I cannot believe that the ads swayed anyone’s mind.  There were too many of them from both sides to be heard.  It was like trying to listen to a conversation in a room full of screaming people.  Too much noise, so you stop trying to listen.

But now we can go back to a little peace.  All I can do is repeat the tweet I saw “The only place with more political ads that Ohio is Hell”.

And the final irony is that after all the dust has settled we are left with the same situation – same President, Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House.  I expect gridlock to continue.

Being a Teacher – Frustration #2 and Insight

This past week brought the emotional rollercoaster that is teaching into sharp focus for me.  Some days go by without any noticeable impact.  Some days go by with me wondering if I should continue doing this.  And some days remind me why I am teaching.

This week’s frustration revolved around student reaction to guest speakers.  I had a couple of VERY interesting guys come in and talk about careers in military and civilian intelligence.  One guy was in the Army and later the CIA.  The other was in the Marines and then the FBI.   They now teach at a place where students can gain security clearance and intelligence certificates.  They had a lot of knowledge, were very engaging and quite gracious to be willing to drive 90 minutes to my school.  They also were telling my students about careers that the students probably knew nothing about.

As you can expect in any setting, some students were attentive and some were not.  But how hard is it to maintain some semblance of good sitting posture?  How hard is it to wait to be dismissed rather than jumping up when the bell rings even though someone else is talking?  How hard is it to say “thank you” to guests?  As Rose pointed out to me, saying thank you is taught in Kindergarten when you have visitors.  Did we lose that skill or is it just not cool?  I was really disappointed and frustrated.  So we had a talk about my expectations in the future whenever we have a guest.  I guess that is why they call those instances “teachable moments”.

Another day I “called a student out on the carpet”.  I won’t get into the details.  But I was not happy about some words – and heard about it from other students later in the day (in a positive way.  Word travels fast in a small school). Later that same day that student came back to apologize.  That takes a lot of courage and a lot of swallowing of an ego.  I was proud of him for being an adult and admitting his mistake.  And after hearing the explanation for the behavior, I understand better where he is coming from.

We never know what other people are facing.  It is SO easy to make assumptions.  But sometimes we need to be reminded of why we need to be caring and understanding.  It doesn’t necessarily get you any “points” but it does remind me “why I am here”.  So I guess I need to recognize it was a good week.

New York City Marathon hits the Wall

A common term in running is to “hit the wall”.  It means that you simply run out of energy.  Anybody who has run any kind of distance has done it.  It is really disappointing and hard to deal with.  Well, this time, a whole race has run into the wall.

This weekend’s New York City Marathon has been cancelled at the last minute because of the firestorm of criticism for attempting to run the race in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy.  Note that the reason is not the actual devastation from Sandy.  The rationale is the public outcry and subsequent perceived PR debacle that is the cause for cancelling it.

I understand the locals’ perspective.  Many are without electricity, food and water.  Many have their homes destroyed.  There is virtually no gasoline to put into vehicles.  Mass transit is still not working in some parts of New Jersey, Manhattan and Brooklyn especially.  Volunteers and first responders are inundated with issues that need to be addressed.  Putting any resources into any activity that is not associated with the clean up and removal effort is a misuse of resources.

What bothers me is the whining.  New Yorkers are supposed to be the toughest people in the USA.  Nothing stops The City.  So why not worry about your self and focus on getting your own life in order?  Why complain to the media, in blogs and on Twitter about the “unfairness” and “insensitivity” of holding the marathon?

It is indisputable that resources would be diverted to manage the marathon.  But if that was what those resources were going to do, why not let them?  Does that mean the volunteers who agreed to work the marathon are now going to work on the clean up?  Not necessarily.  And what about the 40,000 people who probably had already started to travel to NYC for the race?  What about all of the businesses – hotels, restaurants, souvenir stores, attractions, etc. that count on the hundreds of millions of dollars the race pumps into the local economy?  What about the millions of dollars raised for charity (there are literally thousands of runners who are running on behalf of a charity raising money by completing the race)?  What about the people who intended to run the race to remember a loved one or trying to accomplish something for themselves?  What about the millions of dollars of gear (shirts, hats, pants, posters, etc.) that are created exclusively for the 2102 NYC Marathon?  They are now no good.  What about the publicity the city would generate by having the event?  Being in the spotlight for a short while is a good thing.

You don’t hear those people complaining.  Granted, they are not suffering in the same way as the locals.  But there are thousands of individual stories that you don’t hear which might counterbalance the local whining.  Because runners are not complainers!  We run for the joy (and the pain, sacrifice, etc.).

But we know what is really improtant.  They ARE going to conduct the New York Giants versus Pittsburgh Steelers game on Sunday in NYC.  Somehow they will transport the 80,000 fans and the thousands of workers.  The two teams will get there.  The hundreds of volunteers and the media will make it.  The security personnel and the paramedics will be “diverted” there.  Somehow football gets a pass on the same day.  Hmmmm.