Tag Archives: United States


Words can lift spark new ideas, lift spirits, and provide the support needed to get through tough times. Collected here are words that have helped me over the years.  I hope you will stop by when the need arises and feel free to add your own.

Inspiration by photosteve101, on Flickr

Inspiration by photosteve101, on Flickr

  • “The enemy of great is good” – Jim Collins
  • “Being a man of integrity means doing the right thing when no one else is around or watching you and NEVER being ashamed of your reflection when you look in the mirror” – Anon
  • “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.-Anon
  • “If you’re going through Hell. keep going.” Winston Churchill
  • “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.Henry Ford
  • “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense”-Winston Churchill
  • “No army can stop an idea whose time has come”  – Victor Hugo


If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you But make allowance for their doubting too, If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master, If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breath a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much, If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

I’d love to hear some words that have helped or motivated you.

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Filed under Life - or something like it, The Human Condition

Permission to change your mind

routeIn the spring of 2011 I planned motorcycle ride from New Jersey to San Diego to visit some friends and see the country along the way. Unfortunately it had to be postponed due to a ridiculous work deadline – a decision I later came to regret.

Two years later the stars were finally in alignment and I had the green light to make the trip.

The day before everything was prepped, the bike was ready, bags packed and a comprehensive route planned   And then I woke with the realization that I just wasn’t into making the trip anymore!

There were logical explanations of course.  Being away now would mean missing my son’s 13th birthday, Mother’s day and possibly our wedding anniversary.  There’s also the expense, loss of earnings, risk etc.

None of those had anything to do with it.

Two years ago I couldn’t wait to get started.  I needed it. Work was incredibly stressful and I needed a break.  But after several weeks of working from home I find I’m the most relaxed I have been in years and the need to escape has evaporated.

I was moving forward with the trip because it was expected and I came to the conclusion that wasn’t a good enough reason to go.

The trip had stopped being an adventure and had become a chore, so I gave myself permission to change my mind.

It’s amazing how difficult it can be to give yourself permission to do that, even if every instinct tells you that you’re doing something for the wrong reason.  Instead we feel the need to keep going at all costs and pretend that everything is OK.

Why do we feel that way?  How often do people keep going in the wrong direction out of fear of criticism?  Whether in battle, politics, or relationships how often should something have been stopped that was not, and at what cost?

As for me when the decision was finally taken I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. More importantly I surprised that everyone involved not only accepted my decision but supported it.

Will I ever get around to making that trip?  Possibly.  But only if it starts to feel like an adventure again.


Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition, Travel

The Lightening Strike Rule: Applying common sense to policy making

Donate Blood?  No thanksSome time ago, I wrote a blog post called The Price of Fear about how our litigious society is creating a world where we are no longer allowed to help each other.

This weekend I was reminded of that once again.

Our church held a blood drive for a local police officer and a good-sized crowd of people gave up their time – and their blood – for a worthy cause…except me.

I would have given…really.  I was a frequent blood donor in England.  But I’ve never given blood since moving to the U.S., because some bureaucrat decided that the risk of us Limeys infecting people with Mad Cow Disease is just too great.

Maybe you should try the fish.

Mad Cow?  Seriously?

According to sources, my chances of having variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) (the human equivalent of Mad Cow) are about one in 12 million.  Add to that the fact that I haven’t lived there for 18 years (and an incubation period that long seems pretty unlikely) and it would seem that we have a good case to overlook my time in the backwaters of England.

Instead, the American Red Cross and other blood donation agencies complain about a shortage of supply and a shrinking pool of donors, while turning away people from over 30 countries.  Those countries include such unhealthy places as:  Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Sweden and, of course, Britain.  (Although I will give them credit for excluding Belgium – the risk of a boredom epidemic are all too real…)

I have no idea how many willing donors are turned away, but I’m willing to bet it’s a good number.  If the agencies accepting blood donations want to stick with these crazy rules then I’ll add one of my own – you can exclude people based on dumb rules, or you can complain about the shrinking donor pool, BUT YOU CAN’T DO BOTH!

I think it’s time that as a country we rethink future policy making to include a “Sensibility Scale” – something that may be used as a litmus test before a policy is accepted. How about a “Lightening Strike” criterium?  

According to the National Weather Service, the chances of being struck by lightning are about 1 in 1,107,000.  I think most reasonable people understand that is pretty darn unlikely, so anything less likely that should really be ignored in future policy making.

There…that’s taken care of about 95% of the dumb rules we face in society.  Now I’ll go ponder the whole Middle East thing and see if I can find a solution before tea time.


Filed under Life - or something like it, Travel

SOPA is Dead! …For now…

This morning I was gratified to read that Lamar Smith, the chief sponsor of SOPA, has finally agreed to pull the bill that would have had a major chilling effect on the most innovative platform known to man.

Had this bill been signed into law  Internet companies would have to check any user-generated content before it could be posted if they are to avoid the risk of being shut down, slowing the sharing of ideas and information to a virtual crawl.

The Internet is safe…for now.

Smith also released a statement on Friday and, as a public service, I have added sub-titles to help the hard of understanding.  Here is his statement:

“We need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign [and domestic, but that doesn’t sound as scary…can we include Al Qaeda somewhere here?] thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.

The problem of online piracy is too big to ignore [because the music and film industries give me and my friends lots of money and opportunities to hang out with movie stars.  I like Angelina Jolie ].

American intellectual property industries [including ones that provide cool Internet ideas that will be lost if my bill goes through] provide 19 million high-paying jobs and account for more than 60% of U.S. exports [most of which is not from the music and film industries and is not affected by online piracy]. The theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while American innovators and job creators are under attack.

“The online theft of American intellectual property is no different than the theft of products from a store. It is illegal and the law [which we already have plenty of] should be enforced both in the store and online.

“The Committee will continue work with copyright owners, Internet companies, financial institutions to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property [we haven’t given up yet and will attach this to some other bill that won’t get voted down]. We welcome input from all organizations and individuals who have an honest difference of opinion about how best to address this widespread problem [and drum up campaign contributions].

The Committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.” [I’ll be back ]

Rumor has it that they are already working on attaching the text of SOPA to a child indecency bill, that no congressman would vote against!

As the saying goes – The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  

Stay focused my friends.

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Filed under Life - or something like it, Technology, The Human Condition

Beware the Empty Seat

A little before Christmas I attended an evening of music put on by the New Jersey Choral Society.   I enjoy these events for several reasons:

  1. I’m a music lover and they really are excellent.
  2. Because I used to sing with them and always see old friends.
  3. Because it scores huge brownie points with my wife, who still sings with them.

Since the concert was a sell out arriving early was strongly suggested.  Instead a combination of returning visiting children and feeding my offspring ensured I not only arrived late, but after the concert had started.  Fully expecting to find myself in a seat with a great view of a supporting column I was instead ushered to a seat in the last row, right next to the middle aisle, affording it both an unobstructed view and plenty of room.

How could this prime seat still be empty in such a packed house?  I could see it surrounded by a golden halo and with angels singing.  Or perhaps that was just NJCS in their glory. I smugly took my seat and settled in for another glorious concert.

In hindsight little alarm bells should have gone off.  I’ve ridden enough New York subways to know that an empty seat on a packed train usually means a urine soiled hobo as a neighbor.

The first number was a beautiful pianissimo piece and I let the warm, soft music wash over me…right up to the point where I heard “MOMMY!”   I looked to my right to see a toddler loudly talking with the obliviousness of surroundings that only exists in the very young and the very old.

As a father of 3 I wasn’t too concerned.  His parents would no doubt quiet him down or remove him from earshot if that proved too difficult (I know I would have).

Sadly that was not the case this time as the boy continued to chatter with little more than the occasional “Shhh” from the parents and more than a few disapproving looks from the paying members of the audience.  Then a new sound was added to the mix, the insistent cry of a hungry baby followed after a brief pause by a loud thumping as the father attempted to burp the child.  Now if only the thumping had been in time with the music…

Near the end of the concert the baby started to cry again and, as the father reached for another bottle, he accidentally hit his phone which immediately shouted “SAY A COMMAND!!” at full volume.  That was the last straw for one audience member who turned around and expressed his disapproval with some choice words, finally causing the father gather his belongings and head out.  Sadly the concert ended a few minutes later.

For most of the people in that part of the church the concert had been significantly marred.  But there’s a lesson for all of us here – Beware the Empty Seat!

The “empty seat” could be on the subway, in a concert, a can’t lose business opportunity, an open job or a date who seems to have it all.  Somewhere along the way someone else has  decided that  it was too much trouble and passed by.  So before jumping into something that seems too good to be true it’s worth taking a moment to look around to see what dangers are lurking.  Maybe these are things you can live with, in which case go for it.  Just don’t do it blindly.

As the saying goes – if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.

Happy New Year!


Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Let’s face it – we are not as smart as we would like to think.  How many times have we tried to fix one thing and end up breaking something else instead? This is a scenario commonly known as The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Ironically, this seems to be especially true when we introduce new safety measures.

Here are just a couple of examples which have produced a bullet in the toe of society:

1.  Protecting Children from Sex Offenders.

Here in the U.S. each state is required to keep a registry of sex offenders.  People convicted of “sex crimes” are put on this list, and often remain on that list for life.

Being on that list includes:

  • Having your name, address and photo published onilne
  • Severe restrictions on where you can live (e.g. distances from schools or “where children may congregate”)
  • The need to tell employers you are on the list (good luck getting a job with that on your résumé).

But that’s good right?  We need to keep these rapists and child molesters away from our children.

I’d say yes if it were not for the fact that a recent study in Georgia concluding that the majority of the people on the list are not actually dangerous.  The types of activity that can land you on that list (for life remember) includes things such as consensual sex between a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, visiting a prostitute, streaking, and even (in 13 states) urinating in public!

Imagine that!  You decide to do the responsible thing and walk (not drive) to a bar, get caught ‘short’ on the way home and pee against a tree.  The next thing you know, you’ve been arrested, lost your job (along with any chance of getting one again), are forced to move, and have your name and face plastered all over the web as a sex offender.  You could lose your family too, unless they are particularly strong-willed and supportive.

Because of the wide variety of offenses that will land you on that list, America now has well over 600,000 people registered.

I’m all for making things safer for people – especially children – but we are throwing the baby out with the bath water when our net drags in frisky teenagers and people with weak bladders.

2.  Efforts to Protect People from Terrorism

Since 911 Americas have watched as their personal freedoms be systematically eroded in the name of safety. 

But mixed in with these big-ticket items such as illegal wiretaps and torture are ridiculous limitations on toiletries allowed on planes and, more recently, the introduction of full body scanners.  I bet interest in joining the TSA went up when those babies were introduced – probably by the small percentage of people who actually should be on the list in item 1.

Look – this is very simple.  Terrorists don’t want to beat you – they want to destroy your way of life.  And if your lives have been significantly altered by an act of terrorism (and any traveler will tell you it has) then they have won. 

If people really want to be protected, then maybe the free market can take care of it.  Imagine this scenario:  People who are willing to swap speed and privacy for a modicum of safety (and don’t kid yourself how effective the TSA are) can travel on “Safe Airlines Inc.”, while the rest of us, accept the risk and go about our daily business of traveling unmolested.

Or, to quote my wise friend Ben Franklin, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

3.  Efforts to Limit Insider Trading.

In an effort to stop insider trading wrecking the markets, regulators imposed rules requiring all firms to keep records of all electronic communications for 7 years (or more).

Because of the immense cost involved in capturing, monitoring and  storing all of this data, most companies simply opt to block employees’ access to internet tools such as chat, forums, and social media. 

Effective use of these tools can greatly enhance efficiency and job performance, but they are now denied to most American financial institutions.  Meanwhile, companies in other countries are free to reap enormous benefits from those same restricted sources.

Do these rules stop illegal activities?  Of course not!  Anyone dumb enough to use a company  email system to discuss their illegal activites when they have a personal smartphone in their pocket deserves to be caught.  Nothing is being gained by this – unless you happen to own shares in Iron Mountain.

Who gets punished?

Like so many ill conceived laws and regulations, the people affected are the ones who actually follow the rules. Criminals are hardly likely to read FINRA 10-06 and conclude that they shouldn’t continue with their fraud because it would be wrong.

We need to stop this madness.

  • We need to stop being so black and white.  Life just isn’t like that.
  • We need to provide principals and guidelines that everyone instinctively understands, not rules and regulations that need armies of lawyers to interpret them.
  • We need to start putting the human back into the equation so that when people do stupid stuff (and we all do), common sense (and not black and white rules) can prevail.
  • And we need some sort of “do-over” clause built into laws which says a law can be overturned or amended by simple majority voting of the people when we finally figure out that, once again, we’ve screwed things up.

Because the saddest thing about unintended consequences…is that they are still consequences.


Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition, Travel

What’s wrong with education?

In an earlier post – The American Caste System – I stated that there are many things wrong with the current education system and that there were too many things to put into a single post.

This follow-up post highlights how our education system stifles creativity with standardized testing, and how the rules in place are completely out of line with reality.

Test taking is a great example.  In school, you are told not to copy, not to speak with anyone else, and not to use any books, computers or the internet.  But when was the last time that you were given a work task under those conditions in the real world? 

I am willing to bet the answer would be never – not only that, but you would be told to find people who had done this before, and use all the resources available to find the answer.  And you would be rewarded for collaborating in this fashion.

I would prefer that during tests students have access to all the resources available, but the tests were then made much harder – focusing on the students’ ability to digest information and make sense of it, come up with new ideas, and find solutions.  Instead, we are feeding our kids lies and misinformation (usually in the form that there is only one right answer) and, in the process, crushing their creativity and their ability to think outside the box.

While researching this post, I came across the video below and realized that Sir Ken Robinson had, once again, done a better job of summarizing the situation than I could ever do.

I was particularly struck by his statement that, based on some tests, 98% of kindergarten kids rate in the genius level and that this declines over time.  This is backed up by the observances of Peter Skillman with his “Marshmallow Challenge” which gives similar insights, and if that isn’t a sign that our education system is failing our kids then I don’t know what is.

So, in the spirit of using all the resources available, I will just leave you in the capable hands of Sir Ken Robinson.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Filed under Career, Children, Education, Life - or something like it, Technology, The Human Condition

Why Women’s Rights has Damaged Education

In the last century the status of women in the workplace has risen dramatically, and never more so than in the last 40 years. While this has been great for women, and even society overall, it has been a disaster for the education of our children.

Historically, women had very few job choices, limited to roles such as home-maker, positions in the garment and food industries or teacher.

But starting with the Suffragette movement in the late 18th century, women have gone from strength to strength.  Along the way they have had some help:  two world wars, the “Pill”, knowledge based economies and even bottle feeding, have all contributed to a level of freedom never before experienced by women – and education has paid the price.

Graph going downIn 1960 about 40% of female teachers scored in the top quintile of IQ tests, with less than 8% of them in the bottom.  Twenty years later less than half that number made the top spot, and the number of teachers in the bottom quintile has more than doubled.

This fact was highlighted by The Chancellor of New York City’s public schools in 2000 when he said, “The quality of teachers has been declining for decades, and nobody wants to talk about it.”  In addition, between 1967 and 1980 school test scores fell by 1.25 grade level equivalents – a fact that John Bishop (the well-known education researcher) called “historically unprecedented.”

Of course, we can’t blame women for wanting a better standard of living, and sending them back to the kitchen is really not an option…at least not without a lot of folks sleeping on the couch.  So what do we do?

The first thing we need to do is recognize that education, particularly in those early formative years, is critical to future success.  If we are not willing to invest in education, then America is doomed to fall further and further behind, in part because the brightest women are simply following the money.

That is not to say that there are no good teachers – there are many, and teachers who have choices but stay for the love of the children should be put up on a pedestal and thanked profusely. Sadly they are not, and teaching pay scales are generally lower than many other professions, in part because most educators only work 9 months of the year.

Since we can’t force people into teaching we must raise the status of teaching to make it more appealing.  Increased pay is an obvious method to improve status, but that is only part of the story.  On a per-hour basis teachers are actually well paid, so perhaps we need to increase the number of hours worked in a year to enable teaching to become a “full-time” profession.

It has been well documented that those long hot summers are an “education eraser”.  On average our children lose about 2 months of learning during the summer, and this effect is more pronounced in the poorer families who cannot afford to send their kids away to camps to stimulate their minds.  Adding in 6 more weeks of education would boost salaries, increase learning, and allow people who could not consider a teaching profession because of the lower “per year” salary to look at it anew.  This is also a fairer way to boost pay than the typical ‘seniority’ increases that are often awarded and have proven to be of little benefit to the children.

Unfortunately the ratio of people without kids in school is increasing as people live longer – and many of those will not vote for an increase in school budgets.  Personally I feel this is short-sighted, since a good school district raises the value of their homes – but what do I know?

During the last election America came very close to seeing its first female President, so I think we can agree that women are going to take more and more of the prestigious roles in society – and rightly so.  So let’s make teaching a prestigious role again, so that the best and brightest – be they men or women – are there to motivate our children and drive them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

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Filed under Children, Education

The American Caste System


I’ve been thinking about the education system recently – and mostly about what is wrong with it. After jotting down some notes it became obvious that there is too much material to cover in a single blog post, so I will spread this one out.

First, let me start out by saying I am a huge fan of education.  I believe education should be a lifelong pursuit that does not stop with the acquisition of a diploma or the landing of that first job.

Properly structured, education expands minds and pushes people out of their comfort zones, forcing them to learn about the world as a whole, and not just a tiny subset.  In addition to the usual suspects of math and reading, classes that involve the arts (music, literature, drama etc.) and those that develop critical thinking through face to face dialog and debate should be mandatory in any general education.

But education also needs to be met by each person on his/her own terms. University and college isn’t for everyone, and there will always be people for whom college just doesn’t fit right – like shoes pinching at the toes.  Some people just learn more effectively in different environments, and we should not stifle their dreams by forcing them to do things the same old ways.

Unfortunately society (or at least Western society) doesn’t seem to agree with me.

The world of education is changing rapidly.  Where once these “institutes of higher learning” had a monopoly on information we now find ourselves in a world where virtually unlimited knowledge is never further away than your phone.

Given this quantum shift in knowledge availability, it would be reasonable to expect that the existing education system would be rapidly changing to mine these new resources.  But instead of leading the charge we find that the existing educational establishments are not even keeping pace – how can this be?

There are many answers, ranging from ignorance to profit margins.  But here I want talk about something more subtle, and far more sinister – education (or the lack of it) is a tool for keeping people in their place.  These techniques have been used around the world for centuries, and against all kinds of people:  Slaves, Women, Blacks, etc.

The status quo today mandates that most good jobs require a diploma and, as long as that situation exists, the colleges are able to make substantial sums of money supplying those bits of paper.  To get that coveted prize you must play by their rules, which include steep tuition feeds and expensive (and heavy!) textbooks.

The Caste System at WorkBut let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that, as a whole, we like it that way.  These expensive diplomas help keep the ‘riff-raff’ out, and effectively create a caste system – ensuring that the higher-paying jobs are reserved for those who can afford those hefty school fees in the first place. This creates a catch-22, and thus ensures that there are plenty of people to handle the low paying, menial jobs that most of us would not want to do.

I don’t think most people actually think of it that way, but deep down we would all prefer to compete against fewer people.  The good news is that the current education system provides a handy way to separate “The Haves” from the “Have Nots” without tweaking our social conscience.  Obviously they have lower paying jobs because they are not educated!  Q.E.D.

Unfortunately for The Haves, the Internet is spoiling this game.  Now people can educate themselves to almost any level for free.  And freed from the restrictions of the standard educational system, these outlaw students can tailor their education to where they have talent and passion – a deadly combination that can eventually lead them to create revolutionary products and services that leave the rest of us in the dust.

As one of the people who started in a lower caste (I left school at sixteen) there is a part of me that cheers this revolution and the feeling of justice it brings.  Surely any intelligent, hardworking person should be able to compete on equal terms…That’s part of the American Dream, right?

But having now spent the money to get my degree, there is part of me that says “…as long as it doesn’t affect me and my family.”  It’s tough being a rebel when it puts my livelihood at risk.

Are we educating people because they need those skills, or to separate them from the rest of the herd?  Should we give accreditation to anyone who can prove their intelligence, without requiring a college or university being involved, or should we protect what we have?  Do we even need college education at all beyond areas such as medicine and law?

Go ahead and vote – it’s anonymous, so be completely honest!


Filed under Career, Children, Education, Technology, The Human Condition