Archive for March, 2013

03/31/2013

Time & Eternity

“Every instant of time is a pinprick of eternity.” Marcus Aurelius AD 121-80.

03/30/2013

Spring Cleaning

Technically, it is still winter here in the Northeast…walking into work on last Thursday and looking at snow flurries in mid March is always a fun and enterprising endeavor.  But, while digging around my apartment looking for my passport earlier this week  I was reminded of the need to do some serious “spring cleaning”.

Mind you, the abode is not messy by any means. But in my case, “spring cleaning” means as it relates to my apartment the need to throw some stuff out, replace some things, and make some news additions to make the place feel “new” and “more my own” again. I’d argue that I am about to undertake a serious “spring cleaning” project that involves more than just redecorating my apartment.

Spring cleaning is a great time to really be “out with the old” and in “with the new” in many areas of our lives. Perhaps it means changing jobs, creating space for a new addition to the family, meeting someone new, dropping unproductive habits and non supportive people in our various circles. Sometimes this “cleaning” is long overdue, or is triggered by a sudden recent event. The great thing about being human is our ability to manifest changes as we see fit, and when we need them the most. Sometimes for some of us constant change is the norm and perhaps what is needed is sticking to a script that is actually working.

A great example of this happened to me during my recent sojourn to Atlantic City earlier this month. So I’m in the casino, with lovely company in tow, and we are on the slot machines having a good time. Now, typically, I don’t win anything, so I never take gambling or raffles seriously. So I working this particular slot machine and suddenly, I start getting into a little bit of a groove. $2 here and there, a $5, $10, $12…yup, something seemed to be working. Yet, after a few minutes of small pots and a small losing streak, I decided to change machines. My date starts yelling (not too crazy anyways): “what are you doing? You’ve got a good machine! Stay and work the flow a little more!” But, of course, the desire to try all the other machines won out and ignored her wise advice. Of course, I had no luck the rest of the night – to the point I tried to find that winning machine again but with no success.

Still, the greatest takeaway I’ve found from the whole “spring cleaning” exercise isn’t to only do cleaning literally every spring. It really is about staying in tune with one’s point in their lives: the goals and dreams that one is working towards, the current obstacles, personal health and supportive relationships. In a culture that sells us constantly the glitz and glamour of success and fame with exposing the work put in for it, sometimes taking a step back to assess what we have and where we are in relation to what we want can help us the silver lining amidst the dark storms that may be lingering overhead.

After all, nothing beats the sweet feeling of newness and youthful possibilities that comes with a good spring clean.

03/29/2013

One Take On Old Age…

“To me old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”Bernard Baruch 1870-1965.

03/28/2013

March Madness: Life’s Upsets and Chalk

In the world of US sports, March is both one of the most dormant, yet exciting times of the year.  NASCAR is settling into the grind of its season after the high of the Daytona 500. The NFL is busy with it’s off season deals and draft preparations. College football coaches are slowly stirring, prepping for spring practice. MLB is in Spring Training mode. The NHL is in the early half of its season. While NBA diehards sit on corners or barber shops or bus rides debating the fate of the Knicks, Lakers, Heat, Spurs, Celtics and Thunder, there is only one sport that hits March like a lightning bolt that gets the entire nation’s attention fully:

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – AKA March Madness.

This thing literally has the current sitting President of the US, Barack Obama, on ESPN unveiling his bracket. Las Vegas, the betting mecca of the sports world, lives for the giant upsets that often happen during the first two rounds of the tournament. There will be many a bar, couch and water cooler will be filled with the sounds of cursing, cheering and cutting up the most treasured and frustrating symbol of the spectacle – their bracket sheet. Be subjected to the term “busted bracket” as a part of the common vernacular for the next 2-3 weeks.

Here’s why I like the NCAA Men’s (and Women’s version too, which is filled with good drama as well) Tournament – it sticks to the script of serving up both chalk and upsets in equal fashion. It is a great testament to life and team and overcoming adversity. So chalk in the sports term are those favored teams who are expected to be contenders in the tournament – the big name schools that have the top facilities and those huge alumni of famous and successful folks that pour tons of money into their school’s athletic department.

The first two rounds of the tournament are where most of the upsets happen. People take sheer delight in a small, non-nationally recognized basketball school beating one of the schools with those huge athletic departments. Buzzer beaters, hot shooters, lock down defense teams – college basketball can get ugly sometimes and it takes a while to understand what really happened and how hard the players fought in a 40-35 final score.

These kids often play their hearts out, driven by factors such as playing in the NBA, true camaraderie, and a unique sense of the moment. For many of these students it is a culmination of one type of journey before they go their separate ways onto the challenges of adulthood. It allows them to play with such an extra passion of understanding a moment for what it really is. That’s why for all but one team, the loss in the tournament is so devastating, and each win keeping the dream alive is so thrilling.

Yes, for those who jut place a bet down during this chaotic time of year on a bracket with as educated a guess as it is pulling a rabbit out of a hat, more yelling and cursing is to come with each team crossed off from our brackets. But if we take a moment to look at the stars of the show – the student athletes on the court, we would be surprised to know that their efforts can be great sources of inspiration, along with financial gain from a winning wager.

There are those in college sports who argue that the student athlete should be paid while in school. Maybe for those few pursuing the dream of playing professional sports, it makes sense. Some argue that free scholarships and tuition assistance should be payment enough for their on the field performance. But however the issue of compensating the student athlete gets resolved, there is nothing like March Madness that literally embodies one of the great motivating phrases in all stages of life:

“Survive and advance.”

03/27/2013

When Fools Serve A Purpose…

“Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.” –  Mark Twain 1835-1910.

03/26/2013

Holy Pierogies – Mass Production!

So I am at home on a lazy Saturday last weekend flipping through the tube to take my mind off a busted NCAA Men’s bracket. Avid readers of the blog and close friends will tell you I like to pick up a cool fact here or there from watching educational programs. From National Geography to Discovery Fit and Health to History Channel to Destination America to TLC, if it’s interesting enough, I will watch and learn something from it.

Some of the facts they talk about are stuff we often get taken for granted. For example a biscuit is called a biscuit because it actually baked twice. Or how about the difference between marmalade (made from citrus fruits ONLY) and jams (made from any fruit or vegetable). Or the fact that the Graham cracker was made initially by Dr. Graham a conservative religious NJ physician who was in search of way to change people’s sexual desires via a diet – he even believed at the time you were to only have sex every few years or so, because too much sex was unhealthy!

Talk about learning something new everyday for me personally.

Some of my favorite shows include History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” to Destination America’s “Food Factory”. These type shows often peel back the layers of what happens in our modern consumer world to show us how do we end up with that pasta, marmalade, beer, ice cream or canned food we buy in the supermarket, the computers, cars, glass and plastic in our lives. It is an amazing reminder of how much mass production happens in order to feed the appetite of the average consumer in ALL aspects of their lives.

I suppose this is why there is such a premium charged to the consumer when the finished product gets to us. There are so many hands involved in getting goods to where we can purchase them that it is mind-boggling to take it all in. People aren’t in the business of supplying things from free, with all those logistics somebody has to pay for all that hard work.

So yes, there is a good chance that nearly any favorite thing in your life, from cell phone to clothing to food to vehicle is completely mass-produced.

It is one of the more amazing aspects of contemporary (American) culture – the ability to take an idea for something from another culture and put mass production behind it to reach a wide array of people. Plus, since there is always the need for options, there is always two of something – Coke and Pepsi, Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, and the list goes on an on.

But, not all aspects of mass production are appealing. Some might argue that illnesses and long-term health problems from consuming too much mass-produced products is the unsightly mass-produced consequence we pay for convenience. That’s why there has been a push for greener and environmentally friendly approaches to those mass-produced goods we’ve become reliant on. From cellphones to air conditioners to cars to food, people are clamoring for more of the old ways where things were higher quality and less production. A small consequence of that is the mass production of those “more econ friendly and human body friendly” products. After all, we cannot completely give up mass production…unless we go live on a rock someplace.

I guess this is why it is up to the consumer to stay on top of what he consumes and to be aware of how things get made. Economics will play into the choices we make…not everyone in developed countries can afford “organics”, and not everyone in developing countries can afford to buy “their own” if the imported stuff that isn’t as healthy is sold at a cheaper price point. Still, the smarter we are in the choices we make, the easier it is to appreciate the wonder of mass production, but remember that it is merely a tool of convenience – not the solely means of living conveniently.

03/25/2013

The Truth About Parenting

“The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears.”  – Francis Bacon 1561-1626.

03/24/2013

Even Sex, Drugs and Alcohol Have Limits

The most chilling story I have seen in the news this week is the sexual assault case of the 16 y.o. teen in Stuebenville Ohio, along with the fallout from the coverage and the trial itself.  What is most chilling about it is NOT the level of acceptance of the sex, drugs, and alcohol in youth culture, but the willingness of some to pass on empathy to the side of the accused young men while the victim is assaulted again both on social media and in the courts of public opinion at will.

For those who have missed the coverage, here are the summary articles to catch up:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/steubenville-high-school-football-players-found-guilty-rape-16-year-old-judge-article-1.1291087

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2-arrested-threatening-steubenville-vic-internet-article-1.1292539

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/steubenville-coach-shield-prosecution-article-1.1292299

This thing is spiraling wildly, with the latest set of tidbits being that the coach and other students tried to shield the young men from punishment via cover-up and two female students were arrested for making death threats against the victim via social media. Even CNN is getting blasted for the approach taken by the anchors covering the story. While the circus is clearly in full swing, what is most troubling is the core issue here:

NO still means NO, no matter how drunk or high the person is.

We all know that sex, drugs and alcohol (and violence as well) are a large part of youth culture today. But what is troubling the most to me about this incident is that many folks have gotten caught up in the AGE of the young people involved and are missing out on the ACTIONS that occurred and the CONSEQUENCES that needed follow through.

No question, it was an unbelievably egregious act to assault the young woman then objectify and demean her further by posting pictures and a YouTube video.  Now that this is out in the open, here’s some of the trauma she has to overcome going forward:

1.       The trauma from the incident itself (loss of trust in interpersonal relationships, trust in authority, the physical violation, the flashbacks, etc)

2.       The public opinion backlash from peers in the school by bringing this out into light (as seen by the death threats from 2 other students via social media)

3.       The publicity from the event itself and the fact that the images and video of the incident are online (there are people who will always believe “she brought it on herself in some way”)

So the key questions are:

Guys – fathers, brothers, son, etc – would you want your daughter, sister, cousin, etc have to deal with that type of unwanted baggage and trauma for the rest of her life?

If not,  then why do we as men still expose the women in our society to this abuse of power and violation?

 To me, it doesn’t matter in terms of priority in the grand scheme of things how or why the young lady ended up at the event in the first place. It starts to matter how she ended up with the young men and really matters what they did to her at that point. Some folks talk about how the young men’s lives have been ruined, how much…so what has the victim gained in this situation?

Sexual assault doesn’t care about age or socioeconomics or ethnicity on the part of perp and victim.

If you’re a victim of sexual assault or interpersonal dating violence and see your community being as supportive and empathetic of the perps as we’ve seen in this case and others, why would you come forward? When it’s not the age of the perp, it’s about the Stockholm syndrome, or the status of the perp, or the belief the victim drew this onto herself with how she dressed or acted, or some other line of defense to explain away what happened. Women still face the possible threat of assault on a daily basis – old, young, children, rich, poor, married, war victim, émigré, divorcee, single, commercial sex worker, virgin church choir girl. It’s one of those unnecessary traumatic possibilities that really have no place in the culture of humanity that we really have allowed to linger too long and not fully address on all levels.

As someone who is fortunate to work with young people, I often stress healthy relationships with them. Part of healthy relationships is to have the skills to handle a situation where NO means NO. Whenever drugs and alcohol are involved, we all know things can get haywire. It is even harder to handle based on the things youth are dealing with – trying to fit in, finding their own identity, etc. It is not easy to do and that’s where as a larger community, sad to say it have REALLY DROPPED THE BALL by not having the young people’s back with good examples of healthy relationships.

When we ask our young people to solely do this on their own is asking for a repetition of this new “unhealthy norm”. Many adults themselves don’t have healthy relationships that honor and respect a woman’s right to give consent. The media in certain cultures portray women and women’s bodies as a right of access, especially for people in positions of perceived power or popularity – in this case, the student athletes.

There are many groups out there working to change this eyesore element in our culture today. It’s about picking up that lost responsibility of respect for others in the community that will help prevent more egregious acts like this in the future. If we are able home at a time in each family model healthy relationships between men and women, we can show our kids that stuff like this is not ok under any circumstances. Perhaps if we do this there will be no place in the media for reinforcing stereotypes and we can focus on looking after victims of assaults by healing and building them up and not tearing them down yet again.