News

I Will Not Like Myself

We live in a world of “likes“, “shares”, and “retweet.” And before I forget, be sure to like and tweet this article!

This story from the Daily Dot last week got me angry. First of all, are we really encouraging sex on social media with likes? I mean, is that what we have stooped to?

But on a deeper level, in life, we have gone from seeking acceptance and understanding, to just wanting to do things that get us likes and attention. It’s sad really.

Around Christmas, a few kids posted that their dad would get them a dog if the post reached a certain number of likes. It did, so they are getting a dog. That’s great! However, wouldn’t the kids have actually learned something had their dad said, “If you can raise $250 for Heifer International, you can get a dog.”

We should be teaching to go for impact and not entertainment. Value and not emotionless and social media driven hype.

Like this, share it, retweet it … do with it as you will. I’m not asking for any of it. I’m only asking that you think about it.

Hurricane Sandy Destroyed My Home

I lived through Hurricane Irene (even if it was only a Tropical Storm when it made landfall last year near me here in New York City). In fact, about 10 days before that I experienced my first-ever earthquake too!

Last week I lived through my first true hurricane. The lady Sandy made landfall late Sunday and the eye of the storm made landfall on the Jersey shore Monday evening. First, let me say this: I am fine. My home is fine. I never lost power. I didn’t lose anything.

But I will also say this … it didn’t hit me until yesterday what this storm did. I’m 28, likely a third of the way through my life and I’ve seen tornadoes destroy my home state of Iowa. I’ve watched from the safety of my home the damages from earthquakes and hurricanes since I was a child; from Andrew to Katrina, I remember them all and was always saddened by the destruction of these storms. Hell, my sister lost nearly all her possessions in the historic 2008 flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I’ve seen it.

But this experience the past week, seeing friends have to run from their homes. Not have power for a week. A mother in Staten Island lost her two boys, two and four, as the flood waters rushed them and took them from her arms. They were found the next day, yards from each other. Lost. One of many lost to Sandy.

The path of destruction is vast. As I write this, my friend Hannah still has not been allowed back to her apartment in New Jersey. An entire neighborhood in Queens caught fire and due to the winds, they couldn’t stop it. Look at the photo … it doesn’t look like a war zone. It is one.

Fire on Breezy Point during Hurricane Sandy
And on Staten Island we see the true pain. They took a head on hit. The moment the waters rose, they didn’t have hours, they had minutes. Lives have been lost. Destroyed. In my backyard.

I don’t know 1 percent of New Yorkers, but watching them on television beg for help … they are my neighbors. We ride the subway together. Go to Starbucks together. Pay really high taxes together. And just want a chance. And my heart aches for them. I was lucky. I was sparred.

Sandy came and went but she has impacted my life in ways I never thought I’d have to experience. I don’t ever want to see this again in my neighborhood. The pain and sadness and anger was not deserved by the citizens of New Jersey, of Staten Island, of the East and West Villages, of Red Hook and of Breezy Point.

But there was love there. Doctors provided free exams. Restaurants cooked what they had left for those without power; for free. Residents ran extension cords down their steps with power strips so people could charge their phones to let people know they were safe. Families. Cats and dogs. Please keep this region in your thoughts and prayers. Sure, we’ll be fine. We, like all cities, are resilient. But that doesn’t replace the homes, the photos, the memories and the lives taken much too soon.

Sandy has taught me one thing, a lesson I continue to learn more each and every year: love as often as you can.

Thank you.

Articles

Buzzfeed Photos of the Destruction

Andy Murray Comes of Age

On July 8, 2012, the Scot Andy Murray did something that no man had done in 74 years: Play in a Gentleman’s Singles Final at SW19, better know as Wimbledon. After four straight years in the semi-finals, he finally made it through, but waiting for him on the other side was probably the best player in the history of the men’s game: Roger Federer.

I must confess before I write any more: I have long been an Andy Murray fan, even writing a blistering letter to him at BackSeatFan.com.

I have defended him through his three grand slam final defeats where his set count was 0-9. Why my fellow tennis fans always asked me.

And my answer never seemed to be enough, but it has always been simple: The guy can flat out play. When he wants to, his forehand can be one of the best in the game. And hands down, his backhand can be lethal. But for the past four years, he hasn’t played offensive tennis. He’s the fittest player on tour and can play as long as anyone, but something wouldn’t let him be offensive.

Enter great Ivan Lendl and he has finally started to play like the man I’ve known he could be. He man has all the shorts in the game and one of the biggest hearts. That mentality is what endeared me to Rafael Nadal so many years ago. It’s who I am and who I would be if I were that good of a tennis player. It’s why I felt tears as I crossed the finish line of my marathon this past June.

Sadly, on July 8, I had to watch as Murray won the first set, squandered the second and watched in horror – but not surprise – as Federer took control and claimed his 17th Grand Slam title.

But here is where the story changes. I was gutted. I thought he had it. I thought the curse of Fred Perry had ended. But when Murray took the microphone and cried through his speech, he won over the hearts of every British tennis fan who had held back for so many years. My best friend’s brother even texted me, “I am a Murray fan now.”

So, why the sudden shift? Heart. Plain and simple. A man stood there in his Wimbledon whites with nearly the entire crowd and a heart-broken Kingdom cheering him on, and cried. He wanted to win as much for himself as them. And so another year goes by and the Kingdom must wait and wonder how long they must wait.

But here’s the thing: They have a champion in Murray. And for that, they and I am proud. It’s about the heart. Watch the video of his speech and judge for yourself.

Book Review: No He Can’t

I am a political junkie. There, I have admitted it. I am also conservative, but not a Kevin McCullough conservative. He is a far-right member of the spectrum and spends the entire book telling the reader that everything our current president has done and is doing is wrong and destroying America. For a McCullough fan this book is gold. For someone interested in quality journalism, this book misses the mark by a wide margin.

I believe there are many different types of politicos but it probably boils down to these two: Those who want to Win and those who want to win. You read that right … they are the same phrase, but one with a capital W and one without.

McCullough is of the capital Win category. He thinks his ideas are 100 percent right and based on the book, leaves no room for wiggle-room in the conversation. And don’t get me wrong, I criticize President Obama quite a bit but I am also one to understand that our 44th President was dealt one of the worst political hands in history.

However, this book comes at a very interesting point in his first term: he is stalled. President Obama passed the healthcare reform, but basically nothing else has happened. The title of this book, No He Can’t, is a play off of his 2008 campaign slogan, “Yes We Can!” And McCullough does an excellent job critiquing how little has changed in Washington, much of it because of the divisive nature of both parties.

What did I learn from it? History is and always will be our nation’s greatest teacher and it seems that our country as a whole has lost that focus. McCullough makes a surprising point early in the book when he say, “When it comes to a president’s ability to influence the nation’s economy, Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Ronald W. Reagan had something in common. They both believed that if government spending could be restrained, and the largest marginal tax rates were reduced, then economic recovery and growth would become a bipartisan by-product of the habits of a free market.” That line more than any other stuck out to me as a stinging critique of President Obama.

Why You Should Read It:

  • There actually is really great information here, but you have to take it with a grain of salt.
  • As any person in politics or rhetoric knows, if you want to win/Win, you have to know what the other side is thinking.

What You Can Expect to Walk Away With:

  • You will definitely learn some things that have not been reported in the mainstream media.
  • A frustration at the state of our country.
  • A fire to do something about it.
(*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

To Lead or Not to Lead

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This column tri-weekly column, “From Richard’s Oft Cluttered Desk” appears every third Wednesday.

The news world has been crazy-busy of late. From the end of the NFL Lockout to the US Government debt story, Casey Anthony and the 2011 Heat Wave, news has not been hard to come by.

But then came the collapse and sudden closing the the News of the World, a News Corporation property two weeks ago. It was not like the Rocky Mountain News which died a slow, painful death. No, this was sudden. Quick. Painful. And still not over. As the news broke that they would be stopping their presses, permanently amid the hacking scandal, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch jumped on a plane and made his way to Great Britain.

I personally have always admired Murdoch for building a huge company and standing tall in the face of strong winds. Each and every day, his most public empire, FOX News, faced criticism from the likes of NBC, (notably MSNBC), Huffington Post and other media companies and pundits. But Murdoch stood tall.

But the news that has come out about what News of the World was up to in researching stories is terrible. I studied journalism (although my final degree was public relations), we studied the laws surrounding journalism, so this is story in and of itself is heartbreaking. But I am not here to rip the journalists and the editors who oversaw this mess.

For the first time in my life, I am here to criticize a sitting CEO. When Murdoch arrived in Britain he was grilled by the Parliament on his company’s actions. He was asked during that questioning whether he, the CEO of the company, was responsible for the mess.

His answer was simple and direct: “Nope.” According to the LA Times, Murdoch sounded surprised that anyone would even think he was.

I have a lesson for my future self: If you, Richard, are ever the CEO of a company that has even one employee and something goes wrong, you, YES YOU, are responsible.

It seems odd that a CEO should say that they are responsible for any foul-up, but they are. They set the tone. They hire the top people and yes, aren’t involved in the day-to-day actions, especially in a company the size of News Corporation, but they are responsible. If he isn’t, who is?

I go back to the old saying, “The buck stops here.” In Murdoch’s case, he seems to have wanted the power but not the results that can come with it.

Here is today’s lesson: If you are in charge, you get the praise for the good things and you have to accept blame for the bad things too. And that is a lesson for life as well.

Having a Normal Heart

I have now checked another item off my Life To Do List: I have seen a Broadway show! A few weeks back I was fortunate to be able to get tickets to a show I had been interested in for a few months, The Normal Heart. I first became interested in the show itself when I found out one of my favorite actors, Luke Macfarlane was cast in the show.

But as I read about it, I became very interested in seeing it. All told, I am glad I made it my first ever Broadway show. No offense to other shows, I did not want to take the easy road and see Wicked or Rent or Phantom of the Opera as my first show (even though I have loved Phantom for nearly 15 years). I wanted something that meant something to me.

The Normal Heart fit that bill. And even if I don’t agree with writer Larry Kramer’s argument completely for present day AIDS Research, I do believe that the point the play attempts to make is profound, historic and personal.

The story is set in New York City in the early 1980s at the early stages of the AIDS epidemic. At the start of the play there had only been 41 documented deaths.

The show itself was amazing for three reasons.

It had raw emotion. The anger felt by the lead, Ned Weeks, played by Joe Mantello and the doctor leading the charge played by first-time Broadway actress Ellen Barkin could be felt from our seats in the balcony. They yelled. They screamed. They swore. They threw food and milk in anger and frustration. The fact that the events in the play were based on real-life events made the emotion that much more real and impactful.

It shows that times have … and haven’t changed. Back in 1981, no one wanted to talk about AIDS. Not even the leaders of the gay community. The mayor of New York City was not going to touch it. And the Center for Disease Control didn’t want to make a panic even when the death toll continued to climb and climb. Members of the gay community were shown to not want to talk about the disease because they were worried how it might make them look. I reference that because they were worried about a negative label. Times have not changed all that much in some parts of the country.

It is real. I could see it in people’s eyes as we walked, quietly out of the theatre. It, the story, the plight and the emotions meant something to the patrons. My guess is other Broadway shows are great and for the writers they are personal, but those in attendance at this play felt the 1980s. We felt the fear. We felt the anger. For two hours, we were transported there.

Sadly the show has had its run as a few of the actors have television jobs to return to. But in its short run, it has impacted a lot of viewers and brought the issue of AIDS and AIDS research back into mind. And that is definitely a lesson worth learning.

Review – Decision Points

When I began this book two months ago, I did so with the following two facts:

  • I wanted to be unbiased, and
  • I understood that former President George W. Bush was going to paint things in the best light he could.

With those two facts in mind, I eagerly dove in.

In the preface, Bush (not a sign of disrespect, but I don’t want to type out ‘President’ every time) explains why he wrote the book the way he did and honestly, I’m glad he did. This won’t ruin the book for anyone, but he says he didn’t want it to be a book about his life, just his biggest decisions in the White House so people, and history could see what he saw and understand why he came to the decisions he did.

I know that was one of the criticisms of former President Clinton’s memoir, aptly titled, My Life, which I do desire to read.

The book only has a dozen or so chapters and touches on the obvious topics of 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Surge and Katrina. But it also touches on some of the personnel issues, most notably Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his selection of Dick Cheney as his Vice-President. One of the more interesting topics from my standpoint was one of the first chapters in the book about stem-cell research. Full disclosure: I’m not a doctor; not that any of you would make that assumption.

I made it very public back in 2001 that I wholly and vehemently disagreed with the President’s decision to strictly limit federal funding of stem-cell research. I mentioned I am not a doctor because I am taking the former president’s words on it, but his decision has scientifically proven to have been the right one. While during his term, scientists found a way to re-create the science without destroying any chance of life. In fact, one of the President’s biggest critics on this issue wrote: “The verdict is clear: Rarely has a president—so vilified for a moral stance—been so thoroughly vindicated.”

I rather not bore you with more information about the book, but I do suggest you pick it up and read it. It is an interesting look from Bush’s perspective on his eight years in office.

Why You Should Read It:

  • I think any interested in politics, government and history AND who wants to have a seat at the debate table should read books on major decisions, including the presidential memoirs
  • You will get an unvarnished view of the decisions from the man who made them
  • If you hate or disagree with the man going in, you probably won’t change your mind, but you might understand a little bit more

What You Can Expect to Walk Away With:

  • Hopefully a deeper appreciation for the tough choices any president has to make
  • Certainly an understanding into how the president came to his decisions
  • and finally, I sincerely hope if you read this book, you will walk away with a little more respect in seeing through his own words that everything he did, he did because he believed it was the right thing

Let me conclude by saying this was an interesting read and I don’t agree with everything President Bush did or said in the book. I believe him to be a good and decent man – but good and decent men (and women!) can and should disagree.