Thursday, July 25, 2013

Laws should be enforced or purged

When was the last time you heard of someone getting pulled over by the police for illegally texting or talking on their smartphone while driving?

Have you ever heard of a telemarketer being fined for calling a phone number that is listed on the "Do-Not-Call" registry?

What about employment laws? Does anyone know of a single instance where an business was fined by the government for age discrimination?

None of these laws have enough teeth in them. They are violated thousands of times a day, right out in the open, and yet there is no enforcement anywhere to be seen.

All of these laws were created because there is a need for them. The acts are not frivolous or rare. Texting while driving kills innocent people. Laying off an employee or not interviewing a  job candidate based on age destroys lives and impacts the economy.

So the question is, why aren't laws enforced? Do we not have enough resources to police these things? Does big business have the lobbying power to prevent enforcement of these laws? Or were the laws simply created to appease the public, with no real intention of following through on them? Maybe it's all of the above.

I suspect we have too many useless laws in this country, which in turn causes many worthwhile laws to be ignored by various agencies and courts. Until we clear out all the antiquated laws, I doubt we'll see much enforcement of newer, more relevant laws.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pixels are the fountain of youth

Meet the "pixel painter." He was 97 years old at the time this video was made. While the story of this artist is inspiring for all the obvious reasons, I have to admit that I am also moved by his use of technology.

Hal Lasko uses technology the way I think it should be used, to improve his life, not to place further burdens on himself.

Too often, we want the latest-and-greatness gadget or software, thinking it will somehow make us happier or inspire us to do great things. Most of the time, we end up in such a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with new technology that we forget why we acquired it in the first place.

Mr. Lasko uses Microsoft Paint -- software so old and clumsy by today's standards that it's probably unthinkable to the boys over at Pixar or Apple. Microsoft Paint is what a Polaroid film camera is to photography these days.

Because of a sight problem, Mr. Lasko uses a technology, not a paint brush and canvas, to express his creative passion. The quest for newer, better, faster software isn't his concern. He uses what works for him. It allows him to focus on the art, not on the technology. There are no manuals to read. No steep learning curves to distract. Just pixels.

There is a simplicity to his approach. An elegance, if you will. Mr. Lasko doesn't want to learn  Adobe Photoshop, Flash or Illustrator. He doesn't need the fancy filters and other features of high-end graphics applications. His art isn't about the technology, it's about the joy and purity of each dot.

I believe pursuing creative passions in the simplest ways possible, without over abundance or complication, is one of the secrets to a long life. If you can share those creative endeavors and enthusiasm with others, all the better.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A new kind of grandpa

I became a grandfather for the first time about two weeks ago. It's taken about that long for it to actually sink in.

While I have not had any startling revelations about my new status, it is somewhat of a unique feeling that I didn't have when I became a father 29 years ago. Back then, there was just utter panic at the beginning of a new and long journey. While much of life was in front of me, I had no roadmap for being a parent. Now I am more aware of all the mile-markers behind me and am fairly mellow about it. No panic, no fear. Just acceptance of a new role.

My daughter gave birth to an 8-pound, 14-ounce healthy boy who is named Jack. I presume at some point Jack will recognize me and perhaps want me to play catch with him, but until then, I am probably just a another mysterious character who shows up in his field of vision every now and then.

Everyone feels somewhat differently about what it means to be a grandparent. To me, a grandfather was a little Italian man in his late 50s with white hair and interesting stories about the farm his immigrant father once owned in New Jersey. His pants were baggy and had lots of change in the deep pockets. He was at the tail end of a career as a photographer at the New York Post when I was still a young kid. He retired by the time I was a teen-ager and died about 10 years later. Retirement did not suit him well.

Grandpa was also that weird old dude on The Munsters sitcom. He lived amongst three generations of ghouls, but was the craziest in a haunted household full of crazies. There were countless other television shows in the 60s and 70s that stereotyped grandparents in unflattering ways. Some grandparents amused us. Some were just there, like paint on a wall.

Despite some of the age-releted kidding I've received in the last 10 days, the perception of grandparents has changed over the years, mostly for the better. Nowadays, grandparents are active and vital members of society. Many still have a lot of productive working years left. Some run marathons or coach NFL teams. Others look like models or are CEOs. To be a grandparent today does not necessarily mean you're on the waiting list at the old folks home.

No matter how much some segments of society want to put labels on older people, or restrict them from landing good jobs in their 50s, 60s and even 70s, grandparents march on.

We are Baby Boomer grandparents living and competing in a very different world than Grandpa Munster lived in. We don't need to be slightly batty or a burden to anyone. We have much to offer our colleagues, friends, children and grandchildren. We produced some of the best music, art and began the technical revolution. We aren't going away or becoming any less relevant anytime soon.

If I live long enough for all my hair to turn snowy white, and to tell tales of my days as a newspaperman to Jack, I will cherish those times.

Until then, no more grandpa jokes, please.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rocky reminders from space

Last week, two space rocks came whizzing by our world.

The smaller of the two actually busted through the atmosphere and landed in Russia, causing a lot of windows to break from the sonic boom. Some people were injured, but many more were simply stunned by the sight of the fireball in the sky.

Fortunately, the larger rock, a full-blown asteroid, didn't get any closer than 17,000 miles from Earth. As we all heard, however, that is relatively close in space terms. If the asteroid would have crashed into the planet, there would have been regional devastation and many fatalities. So we definitely dodged a bullet.

We are told by astronomers that these fly-bys were not related. It was purely coincidence that the events happened within 24 hours of each other. Scientifically speaking, I am sure the experts are correct. However, it still seems odd to me that these episodes were totally random and without any meaning.

While we scurry around on the planet, thinking we're the masters of our own destiny, obsessing about silly things that we place life-and-death importance on, there are millions of objects moving around the solar system that could take us out in the time it takes Marco Rubio to sip water from a bottle while on camera.

It seems to me that the gods are often trying to warn us not to get too distracted or imprisoned by our selfish and shallow desires.

Why would they do this?

Well, maybe it's for the same reason a parent guides a child away from the edge of a busy street. Maybe the gods want us to develop our potential, to live long enough to fulfill our promise, and to avoid the dangers of losing focus. The cosmic reminders could be a tug on the back of our shirts telling us to be careful not to mindlessly roam too far from the sidewalk and to pay attention to what lies ahead.

It's my hope that these space rocks will help human beings understand that we have a planet to protect. It's a job that can't be done by one political party or a single country. It's a job that requires an awareness of our surroundings and a global education system that will provide us solutions to our biggest threats.

If we're going to deflect asteroids and cure cancer and feed the hungry, we must evolve intellectually and spiritually. We must gain a greater perspective.

If we continue on the path we're on, where some studies suggest that we are actually becoming dumber as a species, then the next space rock, virus or other calamity to hit Earth might be the one that ends our existence.

It is essential to our survival and growth that we move forward individually and collectively without losing focus or doing further damage to ourselves or other living things. The fiery space rocks are not just a here-today-forgotten-tomorrow story for the evening news or something to watch on YouTube when bored at work.

They are reminders that we are all in this together.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Leaving your footprints in the digital age

I am mildly amazed that some people still don't have much of an online presence. In this day and age, not having a digital footprint seems almost impossible. Yet, I can Google any number of folks who I have known over the years and find virtually nothing about them in cyberspace. No Facebook account. No LinkedIn profile photo. No blog or corporate website information about the person. Not even an old garage band photo. Nothing.

How do people avoid being found online?

Nowadays, if you get a speeding ticket or get married, you could easily show up in a newspaper's digital police blotter or wedding announcements respectively, and thereby be found in an online search. Join the board of your HOA, and you will likely be found online. Or, if you win an award from your alma mater or your civic club, you could be named on an achievements web page or two, and again, be discovered by an old friend, colleague or classmate. It's not difficult. You can be almost completely passive and without any technical skills, an ultra-introvert, and still show up on the Internet. Yet, some people remain ghosts.

In theory, any of these possibilities, and many more, should lead to you being found in a casual Google or Bing search. In essence, unless you've been completely off the grid for the last 20 years and without any friends or associations, there should be some electronic record of your existence, even if it's just a mugshot from your high school yearbook.

Now I know certain people avoid computers like the plague. Not to stereotype, but most of them tend to be over a certain age. Others use computers for work but stay away from social media. Some go to extremes and make sure not to be in the group picture at the end of softball season, fearing it could end up on the the team or league's website. Many folks just want to protect their privacy and won't even shop online. I understand all of that. But still, it's a mystery to me how someone can have no online exposure.

Not having an Web presence probably has its benefits. You don't have to worry so much about identity theft. You can sleep easy knowing no one has hacked your Twitter account or used your photo to play a prank on a friend. You won't get stalked by a Craigslist crazy.

But there is a growing drawback to not leaving any 'Net footprints. Besides not being found by your long-lost love, you may also be sending the wrong message to a potential employer. Companies nowadays want you to feel comfortable with technology. While they might still be tempted to snoop around into parts of your life that could hurt your chances at landing a good job, you're more likely not to be hired because you've shown a reluctance to keep pace with modern ways of communicating. That, in the eyes of some employers, is a liability and evidence that you are adverse to change. In some cases, employers might even think you have something to hide.

So if you're not in a profession that requires a basic digital interaction then I wouldn't sweat it when typing your name into a search box yields zero results. But if you are looking for work that requires a grasp of the way businesses connect, market and sell in the digital age, I would advise that you make sure your name comes up in Google search more than once, preferably in a positive light. I know a lot of this stuff like Facebook and blogging seems like a waste of time, but to be totally invisible can be a detriment.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Life expectancy and the merits of retiring on your own terms

Woke up to the big news today. A pope is calling it quits for the first time in 600 years. While this is of religious significance in the Catholic community, reading the announcement raises some secular thoughts about aging and vocation.

Lately, I've been wondering about the following questions:

  • How old is too old to work in a responsible, full-time job?
  • Who should decide when a person retires?
  • While we are living longer, does that necessarily mean we should be working longer?

The pope is 85, which is 30 years older than me. I'm pretty tired after a long day in the office, so I can imagine how the pope must feel after a grueling day in Vatican City. However, the pope has a lot of support. Probably has a staff that rivals most presidents. Most likely has a team of chefs and eats healthy -- i.e., not grabbing a burger on a shortened lunch hour while rushing off to another meeting. I am also guessing that most popes are more delegators than micro-managers, particularly in their latter years. Yes, there's some business travel involved, which can be exhausting at any age, but the pope must be crossing oceans in relative style and comfort.

Still, Pope Benedict XVI decided enough is enough today. I applaud him for that. Breaking 600-year-old traditions can't be easy. He came to the conclusion that he wasn't up for the job, and rather than continue on out of pride or to pad his 401k, he did the right thing for himself and for the church. He did what we all want to do, which is to decide for ourselves when our working days are over. For some that might be at age 55, for others it can be 85. But regardless of age, we have to be honest with ourselves in evaluating our skills and energy level, and know when to step aside.

This brings me to my next point.

I do not believe that just because Americans are living longer, that means we should delay retirement benefits to the elderly. I do not support raising the age for receiving Social Security or Medicare.

Just because we might physically still be breathing in our 70s and 80s, does not necessarily mean we are fit to work. The pope quit because of his failing "mind and body." Average Americans should be able to do the same without being denied the benefits they are owed. But more importantly, they should be able to retire before their minds and bodies collapse.

Raising the Social Security age would mean many people with significant ailments and limitations would still be waiting tables and putting up drywall because they can't afford to retire at reasonable age.

Additionally, how many companies do you know that would allow 70- and 80-year-olds to remain on the payroll? Yes, I know there are age-discrimination laws in this country, but for the most part, they aren't enforced. In fact, they are a joke. Just ask anyone over 50 years old who has been looking for a job in the last few years. If you can't find work at 50, how do you think the job search will go at 70? Do policy makers in Washington ever think about this stuff before proclaiming everyone should work into their 70s? Do they think that it is just magically going to happen, and that all seniors will be welcomed with open arms by employers?

I've seen people burned out at 40 and I've also seen people going strong on the job well into their 60s. I had a grandfather who would have never retired if he wasn't forced to by his employer. He was one of those guys who probably wanted to die on the job. I, on the other hand, am more like the pope. I think I will know when the time is right to get out of the rat race. I'm not saying I will make it to 85, but I won't hesitate to let go when I no longer feel capable or relevant in the workplace.

Of course, unlike the pope, I will have to consider whether I can afford to retire, which is a whole other issue.

Our society has allowed early retirement for cops and firefighters and certain government workers for decades, mainly because of the stress associated with those jobs. Yet, most professions have no early escape from the pressure cooker of a high-rise or coal mine. Is a big city bus driver any less stressed than a cop on patrol in a cushy suburb with little crime? Why do we make these distinctions and judgments when each job and how individuals cope with work varies so much? Cops are vulnerable to stress related illnesses but accountants aren't? I don't think you can paint occupations with that broad of a brush. I think everyone deals with stress in a different manner, and therefore, work pressures have more to do with the person than the profession.

Imagine working on a farm since you were able to walk. Perhaps by the time you hit 60, you've already put in 50 years of 14-hour work days. You're not officially disabled, but your body hurts from thousands of days of hard labor. Your mind worries about drought and market prices every year. You think you might have earned the right to sell the farm and to kick back in a mobile home park somewhere in Florida for the remaining 10 or 20 years of your life? I think so. But apparently some people in our government would label you a "taker" and imply that you are lazy. These politicians, many making over a million dollars a year and can retire whenever they want because they aren't relying on a Social Security check, will tell you that you have to keep working on that farm. They'll deny you your lousy $1,200 a month in Social Security because they say the government can't afford to pay you that amount for too long. So, the later you retire, the closer you are to death. They steal from the people who could most benefit from that $1,200 a month, yet refuse to mean test people who are super wealthy and don't need to collect Social Security in order to retire.

Frankly, I want to be somewhat functional when I retire. The longer I wait, the more likely I won't be. Oh, doctors might keep me alive, but what good is retirement when you are spending it in a wheel chair or attached to a breathing machine? Life expectancy has risen, but what about quality of life? Has that proportionately gone up? I doubt it. We're a culture kept alive by pills.

If you want to keep working into your golden years, you should be able to do that as long as you are capable. Some folks need the sense of purpose that being employed can provide. Some don't  or can get that same feeling dangling a fishing pole over the waters of a calm river. But you have to be healthy enough to get in the boat, so you better not delay retirement for too long.

No telling what the pope will do in retirement. How bad his health is remains to be seen. He has exceeded the life expectancy of men in most countries. He's able to walk away and not die on the job. We should all have that choice and not be impeded by a government that seems to want us to work until we drop.

Friday, November 2, 2012

NYC Marathon should be postponed

One of the hottest post-Hurricane Sandy arguments has to do with whether the New York City Marathon should go on as planned, just five days after the devastating storm.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others back the decision to hold the race as scheduled. The reasons are:

  1. The race will make New Yorkers feel better.
  2. The event will bring in lots of money for the city and local businesses.
  3. Few public resources and/or money will be used for the event.
There are other arguments in favor of not postponing the event, but those in a nutshell are the main reasons. Here are some reasons why I think it's totally wrong to hold the race:
  1. Too soon. It's conceivable that runners, who will begin in Staten Island, could actually pass by funeral processions or rescue personnel still searching for stranded residents. This isn't 9/11, where the dead bodies and ambulances were long gone by the time the marathon arrived. As horrible a tragedy as 9/11 was, it was nearly two months prior to the marathon. In fact, 9/11 was a geographically limited catastrophe. The carnage from Sandy is spread out all across the tri-state area. Staten Island, where the race begins, looks like some scene from an end-of-the-world movie. Look, in the days after 9/11, the NFL canceled football games that were to be played in stadiums far from Ground Zero. It only makes sense that a marathon, which will be run through or near some of the storm-damaged areas where people died and lost everything they owned, be postponed. 
  2. Perceptions. How do you tell people who are being looted that the city's finest are going to be on duty for the marathon instead of patrolling their neighborhoods. It doesn't matter who is paying for police services, the perception is that the city cares more about protecting racers and fans than residents. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation. This isn't a time for diverting resources to large, non-emergency events.
  3. Transportation. Have you seen what is happening in New York with the existing population trying to get around in the last few days without a subway system? Now the city is inviting tens of thousands of more people in for a race before the public transportation is even close to being fully operational. It makes no sense. It seems almost foolishly macho to insist that NYC will go on with the show. This was a natural disaster. We don't need to be defiant towards Mother Nature the way we were against the terrorists. There is no glory in holding this event in the shadow of such devastation and fresh suffering.
The marathon needs to be postponed. Even moving it back one week would at least allow for the odor of smoldering ashes in Queens and leaking natural gas in New York Harbor to dissipate. Yes, the logistics of that might be difficult, but so are the logistics of restoring large portions of a city.

To go on with the marathon now, without pause, makes me wonder about the priorities of the city that I was born in, at a hospital just a block or two from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which links Staten Island to Brooklyn -- the place where runners will start the race this weekend. No one is trying to take food off of anyone's plate or rain on anyone's parade. Those who are passionately arguing against holding the race are only asking that it be postponed, not canceled. If that means a little less tourism this weekend, so be it.

UPDATE: Less than two hours after this post, the mayor of New York City called off the marathon -- a decision even runners agreed with.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Congress should be charged with treason

At least one report is now claiming that by just approaching the "fiscal cliff" we're stalling the economy and causing more layoffs. That cliff is just two months away, so things could get far worse, according to most experts.

Because Congress is directly responsible for creating this fiscal cliff, I believe its members should be charged with treason.

Sound too extreme?

Well, I am open to other charges. But to say that Congress is not acting in some criminal manner is to be blind to all that has gone on in Washington recently.

If you were well on the way to recovering from cancer, but just as you were about to go into remission, doctors told you to stop taking your medicine and begin a diet heavy on bacon and hot dogs, and start smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, wouldn't you think that doctor should at least be thrown out of the medical profession. How about if he or she was injecting you with known carcinogens and your cancer returned? Shouldn't that doctor be charged with attempted murder or manslaughter?

This is what Congress is doing. They are killing the recovery. This goes way beyond negligence or even blatant incompetence. They are doing it on purpose and for selfish political reasons. They are raising fears in the business sector. They are acting as un-American and un-partriotic as anyone who would sabotage this country in any way, shape or form. And they are telling us that they are doing it to save the country. That's the biggest lie I've ever heard out of Washington. Even bigger than weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

I am not going to bother explaining what the fiscal cliff is or how we got here. I am tired of trying to tell people that they should pay attention to stuff like politics, climate change and other issues that directly impact them, even if they don't know it.

This country is going to get what it deserves by electing the people it does. This level of stubbornness and playing these insane, mean-spirited games of chicken on Capitol Hill occur because voters tend to vote against their own interests and support people who have zero honor and integrity. They do this because they don't open their minds or explore alternative views. They find an ideology they like, and they cling to it like never before, with no desire to compromise. They watch Fox News and never question whether its even close to being journalistically sound. Their guy clearly loses a debate and they can't even admit it. Some politician makes outrageous claims about rape, and they somehow dismiss it because he's on "their side."

It goes on and on.

This new lack of flexibility in voters and politicians is creating an epic mess that we may never be able to clean up. This country does not function best when it is divided the way it is now. It will, in time, destroy us from within if we don't seek common ground for the betterment of all. I fear the unwillingness of people to say, hey, maybe I am wrong about this or that, or perhaps I can bend my views based on new evidence, will do us in.

If we allow politicians to drive us over the fiscal cliff, we have no one to blame but ourselves for re-entering a recession or depression, which is what will happen in 2013. Regardless of who is elected president in November, if Congress continues to steer this country into the ground, they should be criminally indicted, not just voted out of office.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What really drives Romney?

Here's the thing I can't figure out about Mitt Romney. Why is he running for president?

Seems like a pretty basic question, but from my perspective, I don't see the usual motivating factors such as:

  • A final stepping stone in a long political career. He was in the private sector most of his life and often seems uncomfortable with campaigning.

  • Money and fame. He's already in the one percent in terms of wealth.

  • Patriotism driven by involvement in the military earlier in life. He's no McCain or Kerry, let alone Dwight D. Eisenhower.

  • Ego. Well, maybe, but he's sure not in Herman Cain's league. Romney seems uncomfortable around people, in fact.

Not even political ideology drives this guy. This is a Republican who many conservatives mistrust. The only reason he is supported on the right is because he is not Barack Obama.

It is beyond denying that Romney has switched positions on almost every position imaginable in the last decade, and sometimes from week to week. His main goal seems to be to get elected by any means necessary, not to push hard for any one particular political view unless it can help him get through a primary.

OK, so what is it that drives Romney? Well, it might be the very thing he talks very little about: Mormonism.

It wouldn't be the first time someone rich has run for national office to, in part, bring their religion into the mainstream. Some say John F. Kennedy wanted to be president to provide a certain degree of acceptability to Catholicism in America.

It's not that Romney necessarily wants to convert anyone to his faith. But when you really think about why Romney wants to be president, shedding light on Mormonism, even if subtly, has to be considered. Romney has been deeply involved in the Mormon church for his entire life. The religion remains on the fringe, a mystery to many Americans.

We are a country of firsts, and having the first Mormon president would have to be considered a major accomplishment to believers of that religion. Maybe that, at least in part, is what drives Romney.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Loco for logos at USA TODAY

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Logo Makeover for USA Today
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

I try to refrain from publicly mocking any former employer. It often backfires and sounds like sour grapes. So instead, I will just post this Colbert Report video and let you draw your own conclusions about the direction USA TODAY (and other news media) is heading.

I can say this, that regardless of what one thinks about this particular redesign, when companies start worrying more about logos and less about substance and integrity, those companies are usually out of good ideas.