If this is your first time visiting, welcome. If you are returning again, welcome back. While this blog was originally not going to be about me or my life, it seems to be morphing to include more of myself and experiences. I will still strive to add a different perspective to the news and events around the world that impact everyone's life,however, I will focus more attention on issues that relate more tangibly to our personal lives. We all live in a world that is increasingly interconnected yet it seems a lot of people are turning inwards, shying away from human interaction. Lets step away from ourselves and see what we can do to make a difference. There are ads on this page and 65 cents of every dollar earned will be donated towards helping the homeless. If you like what you are reading, please share it with your friends.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Baptize?

I had a discussion a few years back with a good friend of mine over why one should baptize their newborn.  This was before my wife and I even thought about having a child and quite frankly was just a random discussion that we got into at 3 in the morning.  With both of us having been raised in the Catholic faith, our discussion initially started off with religion but eventually moved towards baptism.  If I remember correctly, the question posed to me was, "Why would I want to have my child baptized?"  While I don't remember my answer at the time, I will give the one I have now as my son will be baptized this coming Sunday.  The reason we are having our son baptized is because we both feel that religion should play an important role in our son's life and feel that the best time to start is early on.  Baptism for Catholics and Christians is the rite of being cleansed of the world and being accepted by God into the Church.  There are many other meanings behind baptism and what it signifies, but I simply provided the quick answer.  As parents of a baptized child, we will raise our son in the Catholic faith and teach him about religion, spirituality, and the mysteries of the Church.  So why make the decision for our child that he will be raised a Catholic?  (I believe this was another question posed to me).  Why make the decision for him instead of letting him decide which religion is best for him later on?  Isn't it in a way saying that Catholicism is the only way to spirituality and a good life?  Why not teach him every religion and let him decide for himself?

Well, the decision we make for our son is one that he can not make for himself right now.  Having grown up Catholic, I know more about the Catholic faith than I do about any other religion.  Personally, I feel that it is better for him to have one faith that he can learn about from an early age and utilize to find balance in his life than to have too many.  For the sake of argument, we could technically not baptize him and teach him about every religion, but I feel that would be a disservice to him as he would only receive snippets of each religion and not have one he could learn about in depth.  That is not to say that I will not expose him to other religions as he gets older, but the emphasis will be on the Catholic faith.  I feel that for him to know about other religions is vastly important as well, but to begin his life learning about every religion would overwhelm him and in essence teach him no religion.  So am I then saying that Catholicism is the only correct or true religion?  No, I am saying that Catholicism is the correct religion for myself, my wife believes it also, and as such we will teach our son the faith.   I don't believe that Catholicism is right for everyone.  What I do believe is that religion is important as a means of balancing one's life and becoming in tune with the spiritual side of life.  What is the ultimate goal of almost every religion?  In my mind it is assist people in leading a good, wholesome life, helping others, and finding balance by doing so.  If my son decides later in his life that he wants to leave the Catholic faith for another religion then I will support him.  For now however, and for the foreseeable future, he will be a little Catholic boy. 

Some people may even field the argument about all the BS that has gone on in the Catholic Church in recent years.  Why would I want our son to be brought up in a Church that has in essence shielded priests from child abuse scandals?  Frankly, if people put all their faith in priests, then they are setting themselves up for failure because priests, while perhaps knowing more about the faith and guiding us, are human as well.  They are not divine, not perfect, and as such are prone to error.  Does that excuse their behavior?  No, but to be a Catholic is not to idolize priests, but to gather with fellow Catholics and assist each other in their faith journeys.  That last part, being part of a community who is there to help you is perhaps the biggest driving reason to baptize our son.  Without community, we are forced to stand alone and figure things out for ourselves whereas if we have a community to support us, we are more likely to succeed, not only deepening our faith, but in living a good, wholesome life.  I am not in any way saying that people can't lead a good, wholesome life without religion, I am simply saying that it offers a more constructive way and means of doing so.   I am sure I missed answering a few questions here and there and could probably go on for a while, but lets suffice it to say that regardless of the argument, any discussion that arises out of an argument, our son will be baptized and raised in the Catholic faith.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cost of Education

The rising cost of education has far outpaced the increase in personal income, consumer prices, and health insurance.  And what makes it worse is that there seems to be no end in sight.  These days it is almost guaranteed that a student attending a four year college will walk away with some sort of student loan.  Even state run colleges and universities are reaching a point where they will become too expensive for many students to attend.  Compounding the matter, financial assistance either from the state or federal government has decreased in comparison to the rising tuition costs.  A one year increase in CT alone to attend a public university was found to be 6%.  How many times can colleges increase their tuition by 6% or more and still maintain that it is affordable to the masses?  It is not just the public colleges, it is all colleges, both private and public that are raising their tuition rates exponentially.   In a day and age when most jobs require some sort of degree, it is becoming harder and harder for students to afford that degree and enter into the work force.   The kicker is that there are fewer and fewer jobs for all those attending college, so a good number of those leaving college with student loans will find themselves unemployed with no way of even beginning to pay back their loans.  It seems to me that we are on a downward spiral with no end in sight. 

Taking this bleak scenario one step further, lets look at where we are in the jobs market.  Lets not even look at the fact that our economy is still fumbling along (although it has had a great impact on jobs).  Even before the recession, jobs were disappearing in this country.  Outsourcing was and is an enormous factor in this whole mess.  On top of that, the rise of technology and its ability to take over certain jobs further contributed to the decline in available jobs.  One more piece to this incredibly confusing puzzle is the overall increase in population.  We have more and more people competing for fewer and fewer jobs.  In order for people to get the jobs available, many feel the need to get addition degrees to make them stand out, further burdening their wallets.  There seems to be no end in sight as more and more high school graduates set their sights on college and that coveted four year degree.  At what point will college tuition reach a breaking point where students, regardless of financial assistance will be unable to attend?  In a way, you could claim that colleges have become or are becoming institutions for the wealthy.  With more and more lower income families unable to send their children to college and those students being overburdened with student loans, there is increasing disparity between rich and poor.  College is quickly becoming unavailable to many because of the cost of tuition yet tuition keeps going up.  I don't get it.

With my son almost 2 months old now, school is a big issue.  My wife and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that unless we somehow make a lot more money in the coming years, we will be unable to pay for our son's college tuition.  And despite what people may say, we are not going to put ourselves in the financial toilet just so our son can get a college degree.  If he wants to get one, he can figure out a way of paying for it.  I don't even want to know what college tuition will be like in 18 years.  Looking to the short term, even the private schools that I attended when I was younger will probably be unattainable.   Private grammar school may be the only option we can entertain.  My old high school that I graduated from in 2000 cost about $5000/year when I was there.  Currently, the tuition is over $11,000/year.  How can they justify doubling the price of tuition in a little over 10 years?  But regardless, education in my mind is what you make of it.  Having attended both private and public colleges, I can honestly say that I got more out my state college education.  This wasn't because it was better, but it was because I put more into it.  The only thing we can hope for at this point is to instill in our son a desire to learn about the world and what he is passionate about.  If we can do that for him, then it won't matter what school he attends or if he gets his degree or not.  If he is willing to follow his passions, learning everything he can along the way, then that is all that really matters.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tribute to My Wife

As I mentioned in one of my posts last week, I am going to use my Monday post as on opportunity to pay tribute to someone in my life for whom I am thankful.  This week, as if you couldn't tell by the title, I am going to pay tribute to my beautiful wife and mother of our son.  I feel truly lucky and blessed to have found my wife.  The moment I first laid eyes on her almost 7 years ago, I knew there was something about her that was special and unique.  There was just something about the way she carried herself, the way she looked, and the way she interacted with others that made me approach her and begin a conversation that would eventually turn into the biggest change in my life.  Over the years, she has become the foundation in my life, the person who keeps me on track and the person who drives and supports me.  Wherever I may be in life, whatever decision I may be grappling with, she is there to support me and drive me forward.  She gets me to just do it, get on with life, and not let things drag me down.  She reminds me what life is all about; namely family, and that nothing else really matters.   Without her, I think it is safe to say, I would still be floundering along.  And as our son grows, I know that she will become the best mother she can be, helping him to grow and mature and eventually find out who he is.  She is grounded in her life, in touch with reality, and full of vivacity and love. 

My wife has a positive impact on almost everyone she interacts with.  As a teacher, she gives everything she has to her job, her students, and to helping them grow.  With that said, she is still able to come home and give everything she has around the house.  Her impact on others is astounding and the only thing I hear from other people about her is praise and amazement at how wonderful a person she is.  While she may get frustrated and angry from time to time, she never lashes out at others or demeans them in any way.  She simply walks away and deals with them later on better terms.  Myself on the other hand, I have been known to lash out and have learned a lot simply from observing my wife.  A consummate teacher, I learn from her all the time despite the fact that she doesn't know she is teaching me as well.  She is driven to be the best person she could possibly be, whether it is in her artwork, her teaching, or her relationships; she is constantly looking to improve things.  When it comes to our son, there is not a moment when she doesn't act with love towards him.  To say she is well rounded is an understatement, for she is perfect in my eyes.  If I do try and find things wrong from time to time, it is simply out of my inability to accept her for who she is. 

Having interacted with many people over my life, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I have dealt with people who have it all and those who have nothing.  Out of all the people I have ever dealt with, there is not one who could possibly outshine my wife.  Obviously I am biased, but I truly feel like my wife is a shining star and I am just along for the ride, helping where I can and learning along the way.  I know that I don't thank her enough for what she does, but I try.  Her students are blessed to have such a wonderful teacher to guide them and help them grow.  She is an inspiration, many times without even knowing it.  She is humble and loving, asking for nothing yet giving everything.  There could be no better role model for her students or our son.  Even over the years that I have known her, I have seen her grow exponentially, become grounded in life, and help to change all those around her.  As I mentioned before, I don't know where I would be if it wasn't for my wife.  I am truly blessed to have her in my life and am thankful every day that I get to wake up next to her and share my life with her. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Contested Statue of Jesus

There was an article in the New York Times this morning that both annoyed and puzzled me.  The issue that the article was addressing was a six foot statue of Jesus along a ski run at the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana.  Technically, it sits on U.S. Forest Service property.  The ski resort itself is also on Forest Service property and leases the land for its own use.  So what is the issue?  According to a group of atheists, the statue represents the combination of church and state, a direct violation of constitutional rights as the statue sits on public land.  It doesn't matter to them that the statue has been there for over 50 years or that it was erected in honor of the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division who fought in Italy during World War II.  There main beef is that it sits on public land and obviously poses as a risk to their consitutional rights.  So why is this being fought over so ardently now?  Mainly because the permit for the spot the statue sits on is up for renewal and they don't want the permit renewed.  As is the norm in this country now, both the atheists who want the statue removed and the supporters of the statue have secured legal council and have vowed to go to court over this issue.  It seems to me that these atheists have picked a relatively easy target for their "alleged" grievances and really aren't taking into account larger grievances that could be more directly tied to a violation of their consitutional rights.  But lets take a look for a minute at what exactly are their consitutional rights.  As it is and has been, the phrase "separation of church and state" appears no where in the Consitution or even in the Bill of Rights.  What the Bill of Rights does say, in the First Amendment is, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  Taking a look at exactly what our Bill of Rights states, how is a statue either a) a law respecting an establishment of religion, or b) a prohibition against the free exercise of religion?  The atheists have perverted the true meaning of the First Amendment to suit their own needs and desires.  If they feel that a statue of Jesus threatens them in some way, their freedom, or their right not to believe in anything; then they have far more serious problems than this one statue represents. 

If the atheists truly want to battle over their perceived consitutional rights, then they should be going after much bigger fish.  Perhaps the biggest they should go after is our monetary system.  Why aren't they going to battle over the phrase "In God We Trust" which has appeared on all U.S. coins since 1864 and on paper currency since 1957?  It seems to me that this would be a much more wide spread grievance that they could battle since every person in the United States uses money.  Personally, I was not aware of this statue in Montana till this morning yet I knew that our currency contained the word "God" for years.  As it is, it is not a law that the phrase appears on our currency, yet it does and they haven't brought the fight to this arena.  I would think that this, a phrase that they as atheists would likely find fault with, would be a much bigger threat to their ideology than a statue on a mountain top.  Perhaps they don't have the guts to go after this phrase or perhaps they are simply content with seeing the demolition of a Statue of Jesus which, compared to the population of the United States, relatively few people will ever see.  Their fight, in my mind, is a pathetic attempt for recognition and if successful, will be a direct blow to our nation and what we stand for.  I am not simply speaking from the point of a Catholic, which I am, but as a citizen of the United States.  I believe in equal rights for everyone as afforded us by the Consitution and the Bill of Rights and abhor anyone who believes in perverting the wording of said documents to champion their own cause.

When you look at either the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, the wording may be a bit archaic by our standards, but its messages are not.  These documents were intended to provide a framework by which our country operates, to limit the power of our government, and to protect the people and their rights.  To me the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads quite simply.  (I know I posted it a few days ago, but for the sake of the argument here, I will post it again.)   "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."   The statue of Jesus, in no way violates our First Amendment rights as gauranteed by our government.  To take this to court and to fight so ardently about it is ridiculous.  If the atheists find such fault in this statue, why not erect a statue of their own?  (Although what that statue would be of is beyond me).  If you really want to take issue with this, the atheists are pushing for a violation of our Constitution rights by forcing the hand of the courts to not allow this statue to remain where it is.  By getting the courts involved, they are in essence saying that they want a law enforced against an established religion and as such, the atheists should be prosecuted for attempting to get our government to enact laws against religion.  But enough is enough, let those who believe in God believe what they will, and those who don't, don't.  A statue is not a law either for or against religion and as such, this issue should be dropped. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

Lets all take some time today and be thankful for what we have.  As I was walking my dogs this morning in the brisk pre-dawn hours, I got to thinking about all the people who had to sleep in this cold last night, no home to go to, no family to welcome them in, and basically just another day they need to get through.  They probably wouldn't enjoy the sunrise as I did with all the other worries on their mind.  And there are plenty of families who may have a home, but not have the money to have a nice warm Thanksgiving dinner.  If we are lucky enough to have family to gather with, a warm house to live in, and dinner on the table, then we should all be thankful.  Lets be thankful for and enjoy what we have, and pray for those who have nothing.  I'll keep it short today, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why Bother With News?

Most people at some point during their day either read a news article or watch the news on TV.  Each person has their own reasons for following the news whether it be to keep up on the latest trends, follow world events as they unfold, or simply find the latest greatest restaurant to dine at.  Personally, I read the news for a few different reasons.  Most importantly, I read the news to track what is happening in the world and draw connections as to how it impacts or doesn't impact my life.  Tangentially related to the first reason, I follow the news to see growing trends in society, how they impact people, and where society is taking us.  I personally believe that in a world where we are growing closer and closer together, the news in Asia could have a direct impact on the way we live in the United States.  Will it directly influence our lives?  Perhaps not, but the trickle down effect of events unfolding on the other side of the world could have a direct impact on anyone.  Following the chaos theory which, simply stated, says that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could create a major storm on the west coast of the United States, I believe that any world event could have untold implications on people not related to the event.  Whether it be through increased military presence in a foreign country which directly impacts the economy of the United States or a medical breakthrough in India that has potential benefits for people around the world, we all have the potential to be affected by world events.  That said, I would much rather track what is happening so that when we are affected, I know why it happened and what could potentially be done about it.  Conversely, I would not want to live in complete ignorance of world events and be astonished when the trickle down effects directly affect me. 

Now, don't get me wrong, most of what I just said is vague speculation of potential events, but for a direct example lets look at the Euro crisis unfolding in Europe.  While many in the United States might say that the Euro crisis will have no effect on them, I beg to differ.  Most banks these days, especially the large ones, do not solely deal in the national arena.  They have become major world players, loaning money across seas, purchasing and trading assets, and as such, if issues arise across the Atlantic, we will most likely suffer at least some of the consequences.  The Euro crisis and its international implications is just one example of our interconnectedness and how major world events impact more people than ever before.  A potential example of effects trickling outwards from the United States could be seen through the failing of a large corporation that outsources production overseas.  If one of these large corporations with a large overseas workforce  failed and went bankrupt for whatever reason, those workers overseas would most likely lose their jobs as a result.  In losing their jobs, they would then add to the unemployment rate of the country they live in, adding a further burden to that economy and wreaking havoc among their families.  So why follow the news?  So we can be kept abreast of worldwide events and be aware of how it might affect us. 

So why am I writing about following the news?  In part, it is due to a friend who doesn't read any newspaper or watch any TV news because he says it has no beneficial impact on his life.  I will admit that most news does not beneficially impact our lives, however, that is not to say that it negatively impacts our lives either.  It is up to us as readers and watchers of the news as to how we will allow the news to impact our lives.  There are some people for whom the news has a negative impact and persistently casts a dark cloud over their lives.  Yet I would like to think that those people are the minority and that most people read the news for what it is, take it with a grain of salt, and move on.  I personally do not let it affect my life either for the better or for the worse, however I do like to comment on issues that I feel are relevant to our sustained livelihood and freedom.  Furthermore, I like to utilize the news to engage people in conversation, prod them to think about what is happening and respond to it.  Perhaps the most beneficial outcome of the news is that it promotes conversation amongst people.  The more people are able to discuss events both nationally and internationally, the more likely it is that changes can be made or beneficial ideas spread amongst larger swaths of people.  While I can see where my friend is coming from in not reading or watching the news, I don't agree with his decision. 

With all that said, is there are time when we should separate ourselves from the news?  I believe there is.  When the news grabs hold of your life and dictates what it is you should be doing, watching, or following; then perhaps it is time to tune out for a bit and get back to simplicity in life.  There are also times when people may get filled with an overwhelming sense of negativity or depression because of the news.  If that's the case, then it is imperative to tune out for a bit and focus on yourself.  I also feel that there are times when family should take precedence over everything else and as such, the news should be shut off for a bit.  This week is one of those times.  With Thanksgiving tomorrow, there is very little in the world news that can't wait to be read or watched.  Today we should all renew our focus on our family and spending time with them.  Don't get wrapped up in what is occurring outside the walls of your own home, I can almost guarantee that it will be waiting for you on Friday.  Regardless of what happens in the world, we must always maintain a strong bond with our family.  If the world falls apart tomorrow, who will be there to support you and help you?  If whatever happens is grave enough, we might only be able to rely on our families and if we don't work on maintaining a strong bond amongst us, then we will be stuck in the dark, alone.  So today, or tomorrow, turn off the TV, put down the paper, and talk to your family.   The news will be there waiting for you, and you can even turn on your computer and see what you missed over a few days. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Free Wheeling Police

In the United States, we like to think of our First Amendment right as put forth in the Bill of Rights as unwavering and irreversible.  As it stands today, however, it seems our rights our slowly being usurped from us.  Whether in the name of Homeland Security, "safety", or some other "justified" reason, our rights our diminishing.  For those of you who don't know what the First Amendment right states, it is as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
With all the Occupy protests across the country, it seems that both police, local and state governments have forgotten, or wilfully ignored, the rights of citizens.  If people want to set up a peaceful encampment to protest grievances, then they have every right to do so and any effort, under any guise, by officials to disrupt or disband said protest is in direct violation of the law.  If there are rules put forth by a state about encampments on public grounds, or where and when people can convene to protest, it is a violation of our First Amendment right.  (And for those who say that states are exempt from this because of the wording of the Amendment, see the Fourteenth which invariably includes states and local governments).  If and when there are acts of violence within a protest, the police have every right to intervene and should, but there have been too many instances over the past few months where non-violent protests have led to violent acts instigated by the police. 

I will not go into a litany of grievances, or highlight every instance where police and elected official have overstepped their bounds, but I will highlight 2 recent instances which caught my attention and speak to our diminishing rights.  Both instances occurred last week; the first in New York, the second in California.  The instance in New York, while seemingly minute in comparison to other grievances, is astonishing to me.  The instance occurred when a large group of protesters sought to gather outside the house of the New York City mayor under whose orders the Occupy Movement at Zuccoti Park was disbanded last week.  When the protesters arrived at the mayor's street, a public street like any other in New York, they found it blocked by police.  Now, this may not seem like much, but anybody in the United States has every right to walk down a public street.  What allows the police to block the mayor's street when the only event occurring was a potential protest outside his house?  Is the mayor not a citizen of the United States as well?  Since when does he get special rights to block a public street?  It seems to me that the mayor of New York has excluded himself from the ranks of the public.  Whats next on his list of rights to violate?  It is one act like this, only minutely reported on, that will escalate to a full blown redaction of our First Amendment right as we know it. 

The California event, while not directly linked to the Occupy Movement, and not as innocuous as the blocking of a public street, is a grievance which should lead to the arrest of the officers involved.  The event which I am referring to occurred on the campus of University of California Davis.   Becoming a yearly tradition, students gathered to protest the increase in tuition and the inability of more and more students to afford attending a public university.  Unlike other years, campus police arrived in full riot gear, ready for battle, and found students sitting with arms linked in protest.  While I don't know the exact details of what transpired, the end result was a group of students, sitting, getting sprayed with pepper spray.  The students were not attacking the police, they weren't acting in any violent manner, they were sitting on the quad of the campus which was specifically designed as a meeting place.  As it turns out, the students apparently have fewer rights than inmates in a California prison.  Prison guards in California are specifically not allowed to use pepper spray on any inmate who is sitting as this is a sign of non-violence.  Further more, prison guards must ensure that they have medical assistance ready when using pepper spray in case there are any adverse effects.  So what gives "campus police" the right to use the spray on sitting, non-violent protesters?  Nothing.  Any officer involved should be arrested for violating the rights of the students, yet I guarantee this will not happen. 

Two instances, one minor, one not, yet indicative of a growing trend.  Police, increasingly on the alert for "terror", have forgotten that they are citizens of the United States and should be protecting the rights of protesters rather than stripping those rights away.  Especially in regards to the Occupy Movement, since when is any of these officers not a part of the "99%".  Have they forgotten what they are there for or have they simply become brainless robots following orders?  If police want to gain the respect of the the citizens they protect, they are not doing a very good job of it.  It increasingly looks like a militarized police force when you look at the news.  If we continue to allow our elected officials to dictate what the police should or should not do, we will end up suffering even more than we are now.  What we need is a concerted effort to look back at our rights as citizens of this country and stand up for them.  We need to know specifically what our rights are and be willing to stand up for them and not let the police bully us around.  While I recognize the need for police, I do not want to live in a society where the police are feared or distrusted.  Currently, I am losing my respect for the police and inherently my trust of them as well.  If we want to live in a free society, then we need to stand up for our rights and hold the police accountable for their grievances against us. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving Thanks

This week calls to mind a lot of questions as it is the week of Thanksgiving.  Traditionally, Thanksgiving was celebrated to give thanks for a bountiful harvest that allowed people to make it through the winter with enough food to sustain them.  While the reasons for celebrating have changed, we still celebrate this holiday every year, partly as a tradition, partly to give thanks for other good things in our lives.   So now that most of us don't give thanks for a bountiful harvest, what do we give thanks for on this day?  Many people these days give thanks for the family and friends they celebrate the holiday with and some give thanks for their health, their jobs or their success.  The reason is probably a little different for everyone, but I feel that it is important at this point to identify what you are thankful for.  I have talked before about appreciating others in our lives and simply saying thank you to them for they have done.  This week is when we should take the time to sit down for a few minutes and actually think about the beneficial impact that others have had on us, the good things that have happened in our lives, and how we might be able to appreciate those people and things a little bit more.  It is important to think about these things, but if we simply think about it and do nothing to show our appreciation, then whats the point?  By giving voice to our thanks, we are reinforcing the good in our lives and celebrating the fact that we have something to be thankful for.

I myself have a lot to be thankful for.  I am first and foremost thankful for my family.  Without my family, I would not be where I am today.  They above all provide love and support.  No matter what day of the week it is or what time of year, I know that they love me.  They have been there for me when I needed them, have supported my decisions in life, and helped me discover the path I now travel down.  I am thankful also for my clients and business associates.  Why?  Because without them I would not be working right now.  As a contractor, I work in a business that is dominated by customer support.  If my clients believe in the work I do, they will assist in building my business through referring me to others.  Throughout my 7 years in business, I have continued to grow and prosper despite the economic situation and for that I am thankful.  I am also thankful for my health.   In this day and age where disease and infections seem to proliferate exponentially, I have been blessed with good health and for that I am incredibly thankful.  I could go on and list all the little things that I am thankful for, but I think that this short list encompasses almost every part of my life for which I am thankful.  So why did I go through the list of people and things I am thankful for?  Because at least for me, writing things down helps me sort them out and remember them more concretely.  By listing them, it puts them at the forefront of my mind and I will keep them with me through the coming weeks and months.  Writing them down helps me to give voice to what I am thankful for.  It is just a start, but at least I have started and hopefully have inspired others to recognize what they are thankful for in their lives and give voice to their own thanks.

Since we are on the topic of giving thanks, I have been mulling over a decision in regards to my blog throughout the past week.  Last Monday I wrote a piece entitled "Tribute to My Brother".  After writing that, I started thinking about some of the other people in my life and their efforts that go unrecognized or unappreciated.  In an attempt to give thanks specifically to people in my life and recognize them for what they do, I have decided to make Mondays my tribute day if you will.  Each Monday, I will write a blog that is essentially a tribute to someone in my life.  I often times don't verbalize things that I am feeling or thoughts that I have, but perhaps writing them down in a public forum will help somehow.  Perhaps through my writing these tribute pieces, others will recognize people in their own lives who go unrecognized or unappreciated.  I think that if people can appreciate those in their own lives who have made a difference or simply lived a good life, then perhaps we can all improve our lives and recognize the important things.  What is the most important aspect of our lives?  Is it money, success, health, a job, or is it our family.  I get caught often times getting wrapped up in my work, letting it stress me out and drive my emotions when all that really matters is that I have a family that loves me.  So today, take five minutes after reading this, think about who or what you are thankful for in your life, and give voice to it.  (Trust me, it won't take too much effort).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fear of Silence

Wherever we go these days, we are bombarded by sounds.  They can range anywhere from the normal background noises we experience during our day to the music or TV we seek to fill the silence with.  There seems to be a growing inability on the part of most people to surround themselves with silence or embrace any lack of noise they might experience.  To be fair, it is extremely hard to eliminate all noise from our surroundings.  Whether we are in a house surrounded by the hum of appliances and the ticking of clocks (for those of you who don't have digital clocks everywhere) or in the outside world where even at four in the morning you can still hear cars traveling in the distance or the sirens of emergency vehicles racing; silence is hard to come by.  But even with these relatively non-existent sounds provided by our environment, we seek to fill the emptiness with more noise.  Most people have lost the ability to exist for even  part of the day in silence.  Well, why should people let silence in when we have the ability to fill it with noise and clatter?  Perhaps more importantly, why does there seem to be a fear of silence and what it might bring about?  Whatever the noise may be, music, TV, news; it all removes our ability to be with ourselves, to think, and to perhaps look inside ourselves and seek to understand more of who we are.  When we exist in silence, we may think of things we have to do, tasks at work to be completed, or chores around the house; but in the end, all thoughts lead back to ourselves, who we are, and how we operate. 

Looking at ourselves without the distraction of added noise can be a scary thing for a lot of people.  It means coming to terms with the possibility that maybe we aren't in a place in life that we would like to be or it might mean realizing that we could improve our relationships with others.  Regardless of where our thoughts might lead us in silence, it means coming to terms with who we are, here and now, and facing that reality.  How can we possibly seek to improve ourselves if we can't honestly look at where we currently are in life?  Silence affords us the ability to honestly look at ourselves without distraction.  Yet it seems more and more people are unwilling or unable to turn off the noise in their lives and simply sit and exist in thought.  I have the ability as a contractor to either fill my day with endless music from my ipod or radio or dare I say it, work in silence.  Silence, while allowing us to look honestly at ourselves, also allows us to be more attentive to the world around us, how it sounds, and how it affects us.  For me, there are days where I have music going non stop, but there are more days where I simply let silence surround me.   Yet even during days of silence, nothing is silent.  Currently I am working outside and despite the lack of artificial noise, I am surrounded by the sounds of nature.  In addition to looking inward with my thoughts, I have become more attuned to the different sounds of nature.  I can tell the difference between the chirping of a chipmunk (yes they do chirp) and the twittering of a bird.  I can tell the difference between dead leaves falling from trees to the soft patter of rain drops beginning to fall.  While these may not seem like world shattering realizations, they have made me realize how complex nature really is and how we fit into the mix.  Silence for me is wonderful.  My thoughts are free to explore the world and myself and quite often, the time passes more quickly. 

Silence is not something that should be feared, but rather an emptiness that should be embraced.  Silence has turned into an unsettling experience for many, but for me, it brings me peace and calm.  Perhaps people find silence unsettling because they are afraid of what they might find when they look at themselves.  Perhaps there is a fear of the unknown that silence ushers in and forces us to confront.  Regardless of the reason, silence is a path that most people don't want to travel down and discover what waits for them.  Imagine if everyone embraced a little more silence in their lives.  I can imagine people being more settled, level headed, and peacefu;, but perhaps that is just me being optimistic.  I know that after reading this, people may give silence a try (as if it were a miracle drug), and many will go running back to their noisy worlds afterwards.  For me, I will embrace silence as often as I can, allowing it to take me down undiscovered paths, allowing my mind to wander, to inspect myself, and perhaps improve myself in the process.  Who knows?  Wherever silence leads me, I will follow it.  I could go on about silence, but to be perfectly honest, I am exhausted and need some more coffee.  So until next time, embrace a little silence, even for 5 minutes and see what happens.  Trust me, the world will probably not end in that time. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Has Mystery Disappeared?

In response to my own question, I don't think that mystery has completely disappeared.  However, that being said, I feel that mystery or anything that can be labeled as a mystery or mysterious has greatly declined.  Mystery is defined as something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained.  One of the last remaining vestiges of mystery as I see it is the birth of a human being.  Out of all the people I have talked to who have children, none have said that witnessing the birth of baby was boring or routine.  Every single person has described it as amazing, miraculous, or indescribable.  I am sure that most of us by this time know the science behind how a child is created, grows, and is born.  Sperm meets egg, attaches, shares DNA, mulitplies exponentially and 9 months later a small human being comes out.  Despite any scientific explanation however, there is still something about how it all happens that remains a mystery to almost every person.  To see a human being emerge from a woman's womb bearing the likeness of his/her parents and being capable of life is an amazing experience, and at least to me, defies explanation.  What else besides the birth of human child can be labeled as a mystery?  There is not much left unfortunately that can be labeled as such and there are some out there who will claim that birth is not a mystery because it can be specifically defined and explained by science.  A few things in my mind that can be quanitifed as mysterious are ghosts, UFO's, how life started (debatable by some), religion, and love.  Love?  How can I place love under the veil of mystery?  Quite easily in my mind. 

If you look to define love, half of the definitions you will receive indicate that sex must be love.  Is that it?  Hardly.  You will also find definitions that vaguely describe what love might be to some people, being deeply enamored with another, having strong feelings for another, etc.  But if I asked every person reading this right now to specifically define love to me without looking at a dictionary and fully encompassing every aspect of love, I would get as many different answers as there are people reading this.  Why can't everyone simply agree on what love is?  Everyone who is in a close relationship with another has potentially felt love or been privy to love.  I feel that love remains a mystery because no matter how we might try to explain it, scientifically, intellectually, however; that there are aspects of love that remain a mystery.  There are certain indescribable movements within a person that contribute to what love is and no matter how we may try to define it or explain it away through chemical equations, we will never reach an answer that fully explains what love is.  As such, love will always remain a mystery.  Love is not simply having a sexual encounter with another (although love has been perverted through society to explicitly mean a sexual encounter).  Love is also not simply feeling an attraction to another person.  It goes deeper than that, encompassing attraction and sex, but at the same time moving beyond them.  It seems that too many people, wary of that deeper sense of love, stay only with the surface definition of what love is and never move beyond.  If only people could treat love with the same wonder and amazement as they treated the birth of a human being, perhaps there would be less infidelity, less divorce, less dissatisfaction with others. 

So why is mystery so important?  In a day and age when almost everything has been explained away by science and given explicit definitions as to what things are, society is in need of more mystery.  Mystery necessitates, on our part, a complete acceptance of events without understanding.  Everyone accepts that a child is born after 9 months in the womb despite the fact that we normally fail to explain how it all happens or fail to explain the wonder behind it.  Similarly, everyone has the capacity to love, and most people love someone in their life despite the fact that no matter how hard we try, defining our feelings of love and what it entails often fall short of the mark.  The same can be said about religion, although there are many more intangibles in regards to religion.  Maybe it is because with birth and love, mysterious as they are, we can still label them scientifically and explain them away to a certain extent, whereas with religion, we can't explain the mystery of it or label it with chemical equations, theoretical hypotheses, or some other description of what occurs.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons why religion is on the decline world wide, because we can't explain it and therefore can't understand it.  In general, I feel, society has lost its longing for the mysterious.  Whether religion, UFO's, or ghosts, if people can't explain it, people can't acknowledge its existence and therefore want no part of it.  Its too bad that so many people shy away from the indescribable, the vague, the mysterious.  So I would say that while mystery has not completely disappeared, it has diminished to a point where it almost holds no value.  That being said, perhaps we should all strive to accept the mysterious on faith, not seek to define or describe it, and simply enjoy it for what it is. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who's Got Klout?

So I recently saw a headline about Klout, the online site that measures your influence across various forms of social media.  I had heard about it before but never really paid much attention to as I never really had an interest in seeing how “influential” I was on the Internet.  Well, yesterday I figured, why the hell not at least check it out, see what score they give me, and move on with my life.   My score, as tabulated through various social networks and based upon God knows what factors, was a 10 on a scale from 1-100.  According to the site, I am an “observer”.  Oh my God, what am I going to do?  I don’t have very much influence online and fear that I may slip into a deep rooted depression spiraling ever downward till I crash and burn.  (Please note sarcasm in last two sentences).   Really, what is the purpose of a Klout score other than to compare yourself to others, see how influential you are, and measure your success as on online entity?  There really isn’t much.  I personally find the whole site kind of bogus and sophomoric.   Now I am sure that there are plenty of people out there, young and old, who actually place some sort of weight on their Klout score in relation to their online lives, but what difference does it actually make?  If you have a low Klout score (like me), does it mean you have to wade through the mire attempting to exert some sort of influence over others online?  Does it mean you must get out there and drive the conversations that people are having on Facebook?  Or maybe it means you must tweet your little behind off till people notice you, react to you, and either slam you for your idiocy or lift you up for your thought provoking tweets. 

It seems to me at least that the Klout score serves one purpose and one purpose only, to offer another tool  to measure ourselves against others and create in our own minds a level of success.   What is the whole point of being influential online if you aren’t influential in the real world?  I would much rather have a direct impact on someone that I interact with face to face than drive conversation online or seek to be influential on the web.  This is not to say that being influential online can’t translate to the real world, but I feel that the emphasis placed in online influence is a tad bit ridiculous.  Why measure yourself against others to begin with?   The most influential people online are also those that are relatively well known offline as well.   Examples would be Obama, any TV or movie star, musician, etc.  To constantly seek to exert our influence as compared to others is to set ourselves up for some sort of disaster.  There seems to be a common thread in our society where we must perpetually seek to compare, evaluate, and improve based upon what everyone else around us is doing.  Why not seek to improve ourselves simply to improve ourselves?  Why can’t we strive simply to be the best person that we can be without comparing ourselves to those around us?  It seems as a society that we have lost the ability to live freely.  We place so many constraints on ourselves based mostly upon what is expected of us, that there is not time to be ourselves.  We are told that “success” is getting a college degree, making money, driving nice cars, and wearing nice clothes.  Add to that list now that being successful also entails having a high Klout score and most of us are doomed to failure.  If we can’t achieve success as put forth by society, than we inevitably feel less than worthy, less than average, not relevant.   Perhaps being relevant is the worst because who cares if we are relevant or not.  If those around us can accept us for who we are, then we are relevant, worthy, and successful. 

We can continually gauge our success, influence, and relevance based upon society’s norm or its precedent, but how will it actually matter?  Having a high Klout score does nothing more than give you a number to either attempt to improve upon or not.  Its almost like being in grammar school again.  “Johnny has a Klout score of 85, yours is only 82, your slacking off buddy!”  Really?  What’s next, your “Life Score” based upon how successful you become in real life?  Having a Klout score of 10 and according to society, I should be pretty depressed that I can’t exert more influence over others online.  Well, guess what, I’m not depressed, probably not going to look at my Klout score again, and will simply keep doing what I am doing online, observing and writing my daily posts.  If one of my posts has some sort of impact on a reader, than I only hope that the impact it has translates into the real world, not the online world.  There is nothing sadder to me than to see people spend all their time online, glued to their smart phones, ipads, or other device only to miss the wonders of the real world.   Furthermore, if people want to be influential, try being positive in life, interacting with others, and I guarantee that you will have a greater impact on those you interact with than you could ever have online.  Screw the Klout score.  I say make an attempt to help others in the real world and it will improve your own life in kind.  Maybe for once try to look someone in the eye while talking to them instead of being distracted by your technological device glued permanently to your hand.  Maybe try having a conversation with someone that moves beyond “hello” and “goodbye”.  Well, I’m done with being cynical and sarcastic for today.   To all those who actually follow their Klout score and seek to improve it constantly, good luck, God speed, and I won’t be competing with you!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Growing Awareness

I want to bring it back to my son here as he is now 5 weeks old and on track to be one tall bean sprout (he is already in the 83% for height).  It is amazing to watch his development, day by day, as his built in defenses to outside stimuli slowly break down and he becomes more aware of everything around him.  He still sleeps like a rock for the most part, only occasionally making sounds in his sleep as he dreams of pooping or eating, but during his waking hours, he wants to do nothing but stare at the world.  Even in the car, if he is not tired, he will just stare at the back seat he is facing.  His eyes wander intently wherever we go, room to room in the house, to the doctors, to his grandparents.  He is a giant sponge right now, absorbing everything around him that he can see.  Some days, I can hold him in front of me and he will just stare back, trying to figure out who I am as I talk to him.  Deep down he knows, but its almost as if I can see the little gears grinding away inside his head, trying to make associations between different sounds and the sights that he sees.  He is even developing different cries for his situation; hunger brings on an incessant screaming for food, a diaper change is a little less intense and softer, and if he is in the midst of pooping, he grunts and turns red trying to empty his bowels.   It is truly amazing to watch him develop even over his first month of life.  I know he is going to start developing more quickly as time progresses, but for now I will be amazed at every little sign of progress he exhibits. 

Perhaps one of the most amazing things about my son is that he loves to try and fight off sleep.  His eyes will start drooping when he is tired only to spring wide open and look around, droop again and pop open, over and over till he gets a little fussy, his body telling him to sleep but his brain fighting it off.  It seems that even at this early age that he doesn't want to miss a second of daylight and everything that is happening around him.  There are days when he sleeps and sleeps and sleeps, but those are becoming fewer as he persistently stays awake.  Sleeping during the night is improving for the most part.  He gets at least 1 four hour stretch every night and even snuck in a 6 hour stretch once.  Hopefully soon, or at least before my wife goes back to work, he takes the plunge and decides to sleep through the whole night.  I have a feeling however that he might not do that till after 9 weeks.  The doctor said that babies usually have a growth spurt at 3,6, and 9 weeks and as we are coming up on 6 weeks soon, he is frantically eating as much as possible, storing it up to grow some more.  But in the end, he is on his own schedule and will decide when and if he wants to sleep through the night (although his dad really hopes he sleeps through the night soon). 

During his fussy times, I discovered a remedy that seems to get rid of his fussiness; flying him around like an airplane near the ceiling.  As soon as I lift him over my head, he usually stops crying and starts looking around, probably amazed at the different point of view being offered to him.  There was one day when he even got to fly around the house for 20 minutes before tiring of the experience (or rather before my arms got tired of the experience).  His fussiness, the little that he has from time to time, is probably just his inability to communicate what he is feeling, his tiredness, his discomfort, his "something".  As he develops, my wife and I are going to start teaching him baby sign language.  Baby sign language is a simple way to help our son communicate with us before he can speak.  It is actually extremely easy and infants supposedly can start learning, associating, and communicating by the time they are seven months old.  So we figured, why not start a little early so he can at least see the movements even if he can't make the associations or do anything else with them at this point.  There is so much for even us to learn as parents.  It is a joy to learn along with our son, to try and figure out what is going on with him and to help him through this early stage of life as best we can.  Life truly is amazing and I wouldn't trade in this experience for anything.  I may have had doubts before about raising a child, but those are all gone filled now only with excitement and joy. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tribute to My Brother

This past Saturday was a momentous day for my brother, a slew of firsts being undertaken by a 22 year old college graduate.  It was moving day for him, with the assistance of his family, into his first apartment.  Not only is this the first time that he will be living entirely on his own sustaining himself entirely with his own money, but he will also be starting his first job today working with troubled youth.  Its been only 6 months since he graduated college and he managed to find himself a job, something that many college graduates these days seem to have trouble doing.  It struck me as I was driving the UHaul packed with his meager belongings that this was the quintessential culmination of his education up to this point.  My brother managed to complete his criminal justice degree in 4 years (after switching majors half way through) and unlike many youth these days who continue to live at home as long as possible, he is out on his own.  I can tell you this much, if I had to move out on my own at 22, I would have failed miserably and ended up back at my parents house.  To see him undertake such a leap from dependence to independence not only highlights the differences between us, but also serves as a testament to his tenacity and perseverance.  He may question his capabilities of living on his own, separated from friends and family, but I know deep down that if anyone can make it work, he can.  To say that I am proud of my brother would be to greatly understate my feelings. 

During the drive out to his new apartment, I was elated for my brother.  Not only was Saturday perhaps the best fall day we have had in terms of foliage and weather, but it signified a new beginning for my brother, and new stage of his life.  I thought back many times to my brother when he was younger and all the times that I wasn't there for him.  Part of it had to do with the fact that we are 7 years apart and when it came down to participating in each other's lives, my brother had no option but to be dragged along to my games, plays, and concerts, while I chose many times to be absent, to do my own thing and be with my friends.  At the time, I didn't value our relationship as I do now.  Since my brother has gotten older and I have re-aligned my views, I felt that I have begun to take more interest in what he is doing and to simply be there for him when he needs help.  So when he asked for help moving to his new apartment, there was no way I was going to say no.  After all, he is the only brother I have and while I might have once pushed him away, I now seek to draw us closer.  Will I still give him a hard time and play the role of the typical ornery older brother?  Absolutely, but I try and minimize those instances because I feel that it does nothing to bring us closer together, mostly it only serves to drive a wedge between us.  But back to my brother instead of me.

I know that he can make this new job work for him and I know that he will also do the best that he can at this job.  For him to have found a job in this economy is amazing, but if anyone could do it, he could.  He never sat around loathing his minimal prospects at finding a job, he just found one, simple as that.  When one job fell through, he moved on and searched for another.  (If anyone out there is still looking for a job, talk to my brother about perseverance.)   My only hope now is that my brother stays true to himself.  I know he will because he has never strayed before from his true self, but being out by yourself is a whole new experience.  Before I left his apartment on Saturday, I made he knew that if he needed anything at all to simply let me know.  I may not be able to help out much, but if I can simply offer words of encouragement and support, than that is what I will do.  I want to see my brother succeed as much as he does himself.  He is nervous and a little overwhelmed right now, but things will fall into place as long as he takes life one day at a time.  So to my brother, my one and only, congratulations and here's to you!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Breast Augmentation?

So you are probably wondering; why the hell is Alex talking about breast augmentation?  Well, it is because I have been hearing this commercial on the radio for cosmetic surgery with a testimonial by one person about her recent breast augmentation.  I might not have as much to say if it weren't for the fact that the testimonial is by the wife of a widely popular morning radio show host that I listen to on WPLR.  This host is known for being entranced by beautiful women, becoming speechless in the presence of beautiful women and on a regular basis putting out a "tight shirt alert" for TV news show hosts wearing tight shirts that.  The commercial itself is played almost every half hour and has gotten to the point where I am sick and tired of listening to it.  So why do I have so much to say about this topic?  As I have mentioned in a previous post a while back, I think it is absurd that women feel the pressure to be beautiful and to make themselves desirable through any means possible.  There is a certain image that is portrayed through the media that women must have large breasts and a tiny waist if they are to attract any sort of desirable man.  I think that this commercial exposes the societal ideal that cosmetic surgery is the only way to true beauty for some women.  Knowing what I know about this radio host (which is only what I hear on the air), it seems that he has, through his actions on the radio, created an image that his wife doesn't feel she lives up to. 

Through the almost constant ogling of beautiful women, it seems that he has made his wife feel uncomfortable in her own body.  Part of the radio commercial actually has her state that "I finally feel comfortable in my clothes without wearing a padded bra."  Why did she feel uncomfortable to begin with?  What was the main issue with her own perception of the way she looked?  I seriously doubt that she has felt uncomfortable with herself since she was a small child.  So what changed?  I feel that her husband's actions diminished her own self image to the point where she felt she needed to do something drastic in order to gain the proper attention of her husband.  In hearing her husband on the radio, constantly being amazed by women's tight shirts, their bodies and how beautiful they are, she probably felt that she had lost something and as such was unable to command the amount of attention from her husband that she truly needed.   The feeling probably goes deeper to a subconscious level.  I would think that there would be certain feelings, building over time, that led her to believe that if she didn't change the way she looked, her husband might leave her for one of these other beautiful women that they talk about on the radio.  (This is not to say that he would do something like that, only that she felt that he might).  In a way, I feel sorry for this guys wife that she felt that she had to get this surgery done in order just to feel comfortable in her own clothes. 

To me, cosmetic surgery is a waste of money.  The only purpose that cosmetic surgery serves is to provide instant gratification to those who want to remain looking young, "enhance" their appearance with larger breasts, or are simply too lazy to lose weight on their own.  Cosmetic surgery to me is a byproduct of our society's fascination with thin, big breasted, beautiful women.  There is a lack of patience when we seek to achieve a certain body image.  If we want to lose weight, we want it gone yesterday.  If we want to continue looking younger (which we can't do forever without surgery), we don't want to eat healthy foods that will promote healthy skin and the like.  And in terms of breasts, bigger is obviously better according to society.  Unfortunately, changing this trend is nearly impossible.  There are too many people who buy into this notion of the perfect body to change much of anything.  Can we change an individual's perspective here and there?  Probably, but for many people, trying to change them is an uphill battle.  It would mean getting them to realize that they have the perfect body for them when they feel that they don't.  The only way to truly change this image issue, is to change the way we teach our children about the world.  Everyone is unique and as such has a different body.  There is no perfect body.  If we can come to terms with who we are and how we look, there would be no need to change things.  But alas, I feel like I am in a corner talking to a wall.  Why would I, a man, speak out against women making themselves more beautiful?  Because it is absurd and pointless.  The only thing I can do at this point is teach my son to respect everyone, women and men, who they are as people, and how they look.  If I can do that, than at least I will have made a little change and hopefully that change will carry forward and perpetuate itself. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Money Makers

There has been a concentrated focus on individuals in the top income brackets making too much money, not paying enough in taxes, or not giving back enough to society.   Out of all the top income earners, the focus has remained almost exclusively on CEO's, Wall Street executives, and others who employ thousands of people.  While the focus on them has been justified, there are many more who fall into the top income brackets that have simply been bypassed.  Perhaps it is because they did not directly contribute to our current economic crisis.  Maybe it is because they don't employ people, but rather are "employees" themselves who just happen to make ridiculous sums of money for what they do.  I am not talking about anyone in the business world here, but rather sports figures, entertainment icons, the ad industry, etcetera.  Granted, these individuals, especially sports figures and entertainment icons, give a lot more back to society than your average CEO does, but when you look at the amount of money they make for what they do, it seems relatively absurd.  The discrepancy between what they make to entertain us and what a police officer makes to protect the public is utterly ridiculous.  I would rather pay police officers more for them to maintain order in our society (provided they operate within the confines of the law) than pay extravagant sums of money to a football player who runs up and down a field for a few hours.  Lets look at the facts here, the top pay in baseball was $32 million for one year and the top pay for a football player was $27 million for one year. 

How can we honestly justify paying a salary of $32 or $27 million dollars a year for someone to play a sport?  To me it seems absurd.  The most they provide is entertainment.  Other than that, they provide no quantitative benefit to our society.  At least with CEO's (I am not defending them here), they run a business that has a direct impact on our society in one way or another.  Yes, sometimes they do horrible jobs and shouldn't be raking in the bonuses that they are, but to me, they provide more than any sports figure ever will.  Even if we look at the entertainment industry, i.e. music and movies (although I guess sports could be grouped into that classification), the amount of money they make far exceeds the work that they do.  That being said, however, the public has a great deal of say in how much a movie star or recording artist makes.  After all, we pay for the records and the movies that these individuals take part in and as such, contribute to their income.  As I said before, you hear of a lot more good being done by movie stars, recording artists, and sports figures than by your local CEO.  I do not have as much beef with the movie stars and recording artists than I do with sports figures.  All individuals in these groups have specific talents which have allowed them to reach the level that they have, yet to me it seems that we as the public contribute more to the salaries of movie stars and recording artists than we do to sports figures. 

So what tangible point am I getting at with all of this?  Simply put, that if people are going to attack a certain class of people, the top income earners in this country, they can't be selective about who they attack.  If they want to attack simply the CEO's and the czars of industry and capitalism, then they can't simply rally against the top 1, 5, or 10 percent of income earners.  Out of all the people complaining about our current economic situation, whether it be Wall St. Protesters, the "99%", or some other disenfranchised group, there are only a few who actually match their actions with their words.  There are many people out there, who through their daily purchases and transactions, inherently support the same people they are protesting against.  If a difference is to be made, the attack must be in the wallet of those in power.  How do we do that?  Boycott their products plain and simple.  When Bank of America introduced its new fees, there was such a public uproar that BoA decided to adjust the terms of the fees and how they would be implemented.  The public triumphed, temporarily at least, and forced the hand of massive bank.  Whats to say we can't do the same with these other industries.  I say take them down one at a time with specifically targeted boycotts aimed at exacting the kind of toll that will cause change to happen.  We can distinctly see that relationship in the recording industry.  If a person is a great singer, thousands will buy the album and put millions of dollars in that artists pocket, if not, that person will make a lot less.  It is the power of the consumer that can change the way things are, whether it be sports, entertainment, banks, corporations, etc.  If the people boycott, things will change, but it seems we have forgotten how to do that. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Too Many People

I am going to jump back again to the storm from last weekend that left many without power.  Despite the fact that many towns looked like ghost towns and trees were down everywhere, I noticed another side effect of the storm, an increase in the amount of people out and about during the day.  On a daily basis, we deal with rush hour traffic, those periods of the day where people are rushing to and from work, usually between 630 and 900 in the morning and 430 and 630 at night.  What was different about this influx of traffic was that it seemed constant throughout the day.  If you went out at 11 in the morning, it would take you twice as long to get somewhere as it normally would because of all the extra people on the road.  Simply put, it made me realize how many usually stay at home for most of the day and don't venture out into the world.  It seemed like it was rush hour all day long.  Even worse, it seemed like Christmas shopping traffic around the holidays.  There is obviously nothing one can do about it, but to see how many people live in an area based on the influx in traffic is amazing.  There are many people who curse rush hour traffic. There are many who despise sitting for hours waiting to get home because some idiot wasn't paying attention and crashed his car into another car or some object.  Maybe we should take a look at how many people are not on the roads and be happy that rush hour isn't worse. 

Imagine if all the people who ventured out during the storm to stay warm, buy gas, or run errands were out and about every single day.  It would be absolute pandemonium out there.  I honestly don't think that people would be able to handle the influx in traffic let alone the roads themselves handle the increased volume that is traveling over them.  What would happen if there needed to be a mass evacuation of our area due to some natural disaster or other calamity?  Would our infrastructure be able to handle all the increased volume or would traffic get so backed up as to cause other issues.  Many roads and highways in our state were designed to handle the kind of traffic that one might experience in the 1960's, not our current day and age.  The population has continued to grow, yet nothing as been done to address that main arteries that afford us the ability to travel where we need to.  Additionally, when there is construction done on any roads, it seems there is no foresight as to what might be needed in 10-20 years.  Roads are expanded only to handle the current volume, nothing more.  These large expansion projects take years and normally by the time they are done, they are already outdated and get inundated with traffic right from the start.  Granted, expanding it to meet the needs of the future adds a good sum of money to the overall project, but wouldn't it be worth it to spend more now to save in the future?  Maybe its just that common sense eludes many of the individuals making these decisions. 

So maybe its not that we have too many people.  It seems instead that our infrastructure can't handle the amount of people who currently live in our state.  I am sure its not every area of the state, but there are many that just can't handle their own populations.  It seems to be a good thing that there are many people who stay at home during the day, not because they shouldn't go out, but because the roads and regular drivers can't handle them.  What also struck me last week with the influx of traffic was the amount of people who looked as if they hadn't driven in years.  That perhaps is worse than the traffic.  I can handle normal rush hour traffic.  You get the occasional idiot who feels the need to zip in and out of cars and drive erratically, but last week topped the charts.  There was one day when in the space of 2 hours, I was almost hit three times.  Its not like I drive a small car that is hard to notice, I drive a big white cargo van that reflects the sun and should be able to be seen readily.  One of those instances required me slamming on the brakes while doing 65 on the highway because someone felt the need to get in front of me from an on ramp.  But in end, I had no accidents and this week, traffic is back to normal.  I think next time there is a disaster that leaves us without power for days on end I will simply retreat into my basement and wait it out.  Perhaps I should be the one to stay off the roads and let the maniacs have at it.  Or perhaps they could widen the roads some, add that extra lane, and save thousands of people daily headaches.  Life goes on, and the people who were out last week are back inside hibernating. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Guns for Home Defense

I was at a meeting a few weeks ago where I heard a gentleman who is a pistol permit instructor and gun dealer talk about the necessity of having a weapon in the house for home defense.  He started by saying that the average deadly encounter lasts 3 seconds while the average police response time is 13 minutes.  This would obviously justify to many people the need to get a pistol or home defense shotgun to protect their belongings and family.  But with that in mind, how often can a person expect to be engaged in a deadly encounter with a firearm or other weapon for that matter?  Simply saying that the average deadly encounter lasts 3 seconds doesn't take into account that chance that someone will have that encounter at all.  When looking at the entire U.S., there were 12,632 homicides by firearms in 2007.  Given that the population of the United States is roughly 300 million, that gives every individual a .000042% chance of being killed by a firearm.  If you want to look at homicides in general, there were 18,361 homicides in 2007, giving every citizen of the United States a .000061% chance of being killed. (Stats from CDC) To me, those odds don't make me want to run out and buy a gun for home defense.  On top of that, those homicides are not evenly spread out over the entire nation so those living in cities might have a higher risk than those living in rural and outlying areas. 

Don't get me wrong, I am not challenging Americans' right to carry firearms if they wish to do so.  I am merely questioning why someone would want to have a gun in their home if the risk of being killed is so minimal.  If you look at the leading causes of death in the United States, homicides don't even make the top ten list.  You have a better chance of dying as a result of Alzheimer's or Septicemia than you do as a result of a homicide.  (Stats from CDC2)  But my questioning of owning firearms goes beyond the risk of having to use one.  Upon inspecting my own thoughts and feelings, I have found that while I might be able to use one if the situation arose, I don't think I would be able to handle the aftermath of taking someone else's life.  No matter how I justified it to myself; "I saved my family", "It was the right thing to do", "I had no choice", I don't know if I would be able to live with myself.  One thing that I have never heard a gun advocate talk about is the mental effects after you take someone's life.  I am sure that there are people out there who can block out the experience and move on with their lives, but will they be able to keep those emotions forever sequestered in their subconscious?  I don't know.  I wouldn't want to take the risk myself.  I wouldn't want to live with the "what ifs".  There seems to be a great deal of fear in our society that people are out to get you.  We must constantly live on the defensive in order to survive and live to an old age.  I feel that if we let this fear creep into our lives, dictate how we live to a certain extent (i.e. buying a gun for home defense), then we are not really living because we always have that fear lurking in the background ready to spring into action. 

Am I against all guns?  Not at all.  Guns are a necessity for hunting and for that purpose, I would buy one.  I have a number of friends who have multiple pistols "just in case" and they have every right to carry them.  I simply don't see the need.  Out of all of my friends, not one has had to use a gun as a self defense mechanism.  Simply put, they haven't had the need because no one has threatened their life or their belongings.  Personally, I would rather spend my money on fighting one of the top 10 leading causes of death than spending money on a weapon that I "might" have to use sometime in the future.  On top of that, the less information that the government has about me, the better, and I guarantee that they get a whole lot of information when you get a pistol.  Perhaps the most important reason to me as to why I would never get a pistol is because I have a child in the house now and I wouldn't want to take any chances.  So whats the difference between a pistol and a rifle?  A rifle I would keep locked away for use only during hunting season.  A pistol, if its locked away, what good will it do you during that 3 second deadly encounter.  Similarly, if you have a trigger lock on the pistol, how long does it take to get that off and ensure your gun is ready should someone break into the house?  Too many variables for me.  I will take my .000042 percent chance and ride it out the rest of my life.  A rifle for hunting, that is a different story as I have land in Vermont that is populated by deer just waiting for me.  In the end, getting a pistol is a personal decision and one that I would not take away from anyone.  I myself don't see the need. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Feeling Like a Refugee

So I am finally back to writing posts after a week off.  The power at our house did not come back until Thursday afternoon sometime, but having essentially our whole family, including 2 dogs at my parents house, we made the decision to spend Thursday night at their house and return to our humble abode on Friday.  To be perfectly honest, I really didn't get that upset or frustrated that the power went out (OK, maybe a little because it went out just as I was about to start assembling kitchen cabinets).  We had a rare October Nor' Easter that dumped heavy wet snow over our whole region.  It was practically a given that the trees, most still laden with their leaves, would not be able to sustain the weight of all the snow that fell.  But being a resident of New England, you come to expect the unexpected.  The weather can turn on a dime and you just deal with it.  So when the power went out, we had to figure out what to do.   Having an infant changes everything.  Where once we probably would have just toughed it out, remained in our cold house, and gotten through the ordeal, we had to make different arrangements so our little one didn't catch a cold or become uncomfortable.  Luckily my parents never lost power and we were able to cart our necessary belongings over to their house.  That first night I stayed at our house "just in case" the power came back on.  But it didn't and the next few days were spent away. 

Looking back at the experience, the first thing that came to mind was that it was similar to being in a refugee camp.  (Granted, we still had access to our house and it was only for a few days, but that's what it felt like.)  We had only our necessary belongings all crammed into one room at my parents house.  With in infant, I am sure that you can imagine the clutter we had.  I can't imagine losing our house entirely, or having an incident happen where we were forced to leave, but even five days in a little room when you know your own cold house is only 20 minutes away is, for lack of a better word, different.  Don't get me wrong, I am forever grateful that my parents had the room to take us and our dogs in for almost a week, but with 7 people in a house plus 2 dogs, finding a little space for yourself is not the easiest thing to do.  I can't imagine what it would be like if we had no where to go, no family to ask for help, no place warm we could retreat to.  We were lucky compared to a lot of people.   The other saving grace through this whole ordeal was that I was able to borrow a generator to keep our freezer and refrigerator going so we didn't lose all our food.  All in all, last week felt like a blur.  I technically could have brought my laptop down to my parents house and continued writing here, but there wasn't nearly as much time as I have at home.  Every morning I had to leave earlier in order to fill the generator up before going to work, and on top of that, work was farther away than I was used to.  Then, in the evenings, I had to fill the generator up again and finally made it home by 730.  That's 13 hours out and about and by the time dinner was finished at my parents house, I just wanted to crash. 

One of the biggest concerns that I had was looting.  As I drove to our house day after day and saw no signs of life in our neighborhood, I wondered if this would be an opening for some people to break into people's houses and make off with their valuables.  It was seriously like driving through a ghost town when I went to our house.  There were a few cars driving, but most houses had no cars in their driveways and everything was obviously dark.  There wouldn't be much I could do if someone did decide to break in as no one was around.  Luckily, I didn't hear of any incidents of looting.  Chalk one up for the good of humanity there.  However, looking at it now, it makes me wonder how these criminals can break into houses with people in them, or when they know a family is at a funeral, and not when there are large swaths of houses uninhabited due to a storm.  Maybe they just got too cold themselves and didn't want to break into cold houses.  We could speculate for hours without ever understanding their mindset. 

Unfortunately, there are still people without power in our state.  Its ironic that we in Connecticut pay some of the highest utility rates in the country, yet have to wait the longest to get power back.  From the looks of it, the main provider of electricity in our state, CL&P, was grossly unprepared for an incident of this magnitude.  It probably wouldn't have been as bad if we didn't deal with Hurricane Irene just 2 months ago and experienced wide spread power outages then as well.   Such is life.  You deal with it and move on.  Whats the point in getting frustrated if it does no good.  I am just glad to be back in our house, with our king size bed instead of a pull out couch to sleep on and a little more space to freely move around in.  It was a short refugee stay at my parents, albeit a good one unlike so many others in the world.  To come upon an ordeal like this makes you appreciate family so much more, what they are willing to do for you, how they help you out, and how valuable they are.  I only hope that more families out there went to the same extent that mine did to help out in a time of need.  As I said before, this incident was mostly an inconvenience and nothing more.  No one died that I know, the power came back on, and life returned to normal.  Life goes on. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Unfortunately, I have been without power since Sunday morning due to the wonderful winter storm that blew through this past weekend. I will have a new post as soon as the power comes back and I can stay at my house again. Currently living with the parents. I will be back soon hopefully.