Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good Night Irene

It's 10:30 on Sunday morning and my stomach is still in knots after our visit from Hurricane Irene last night. I hope the worst is over for us, but I'm still worried about friends and family who may not yet be out of the woods. Thankfully the storm did not hit our area with nearly the ferocity predicted. There's been lots of rain, but winds did not get as high as when the storm was stronger. The water is still a big problem, especially for those in low-lying areas. From what I saw on TV, New Jersey and Long Island had it worse. Heavily treed areas saw a lot of damage, especially loss of power as toppling trees took down power lines. By the grace of God we are safe, and for that we are very thankful.

As I look back over the past couple of days, I think about the build-up to this event, especially Saturday's news coverage. Virtually every major network in our area offered non-stop storm programming. Hundreds of reporters, cameramen, and technical support personnel pounded us with Irene stories, most of them redundant and hardly newsworthy.  By the end of the day, viewers were frazzled by the bombardment of images and words. I knew there was a storm coming, and I certainly want to be kept abreast of any changes, but to be beaten over the head with the same information just wears me out. Tired old footage from past storms and countless interviews with people who have absolutely nothing to say makes no sense to me.

All the weather geeks are quivering with excitement and anticipation...instead of being relegated to an afterthought on the nightly news, this is THEIR hour. They try to outdo each other with techno-babble like who invented the scale they use to categorize hurricanes. Who cares! To the best of your knowledge, tell me when the storm is coming and where, what conditions I can expect, and let me know if anything changes. That's all. I don't need 24/7 coverage of mouth-breathers telling me what it was like in 1992 when Hurricane Waldo hit. I would rather see something like a Seinfeld or Honeymooners marathon so at least I have something to laugh at while waiting for doomsday.

And here's another thing. I can understand if hurricanes excite you, after all, they are extraordinary weather events that some people may want to see up close. I can even understand if you're a surfer and want a crack at the kind of waves you'd have to go to Hawaii to see. It's your life and you are responsible for safeguarding it, even if that means ignoring the warnings to stay indoors and away from the dangers of the storm. Here's the thing though...don't expect good people to risk their lives if you get into trouble. If you want to put your life at risk by doing what you are specifically told not to do, then it's your ass. My son is a firefighter and I don't want his life put at risk to save someone too stupid to live.

We are fortunate in New York City. We have four seasons, each with its own pros and cons. We normally don't get the weather extremes like tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes that plague other parts of the country, although this week provided us with one each of the latter two. Every once in a while we get a bad snowstorm but that's pretty much it. When we do get exposed to events like Irene, our common sense should prevail, as it does for most people. I think the local governments did a great job in advising people how to prepare, and took sensible measures themselves like evacuating flood-prone areas, shutting down mass transit, and suspending bridge tolls to facilitate movement of traffic. Hats off to the Mayor, and especially to our local officials who kept us informed of area developments.

Advice for future events: To the media, less obsessive coverage please; to the daredevils, stay at home you morons; to the people, do what you're asked to do and keep an eye out for your neighbors; and to the first responders who are out in all the danger, thank you a thousand times over for keeping us safe at your own peril.


Children's Cranioacial Association

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Canada, Our Neighbor to the North

We traveled to Montreal and Quebec City this past week on our fourth trip to the second largest country in the world after Russia. Canada has always been a favorite place for us to visit. We've enjoyed Ontario, Toronto and Nova Scotia, and the province of Quebec was no exception. The people are friendly, the restaurants are good, the scenery is spectacular, the flight is short, and the money is very comparable to our currency. Summer is obviously the best time to see Canada, unless you like temperatures of forty below zero and constant snow. It is so cold in parts of Canada that many major cities have constructed underground cities miles long that contain shops, places to eat, bars and professional services. Intricate passageways connect these establishments to transportation hubs and apartment complexes so that citizens can conduct their business without ever coming above ground.

We arrived in Montreal where we stayed at the Hilton Bonaventure, a great hotel in the heart of the downtown area. We had less than five days to do as much as we could, so we wasted no time. In our experience, the best way to learn what there is to see in any new place is to book one of those hop-on, hop-off guided bus tours. We ride the entire circuit of attractions to help decide what we want to see, and then jump off the bus when it stops at our first desired destination. We then hop back on the bus, which usually comes every half-hour, and ride to our next destination. I don't know a better way to quickly learn about a city and preview planned stops than this method. Our first stop in Montreal was the Redpath Natural History Museum on the campus of McGill University.  We also hit the Montreal Museum of Art. I don't mean this in a snobbish way, but coming from New York City, home to some of the world's greatest museums, it's very hard to find many museums that measure up.

Because of its French origins, Montreal is a city of Catholic churches, housing some of the most beautiful cathedrals and basilicas you will ever see in one place. These include Notre Dame, Mary Queen of the World, St. Patrick's and St. Joseph Oratory. The latter is atop a big hill and is reached by a series of escalators. There are also stairs for the less faint of heart. Penitents seeking forgiveness for their sins are known to ascend these stairs on their knees, saying a brief prayer on each step. A young man was doing this during our visit. These edifices are all magnificent structures inside and out, and could never be built today because of cost and the lack of craftsmen. We also cruised Montreal's harbor and got some great views of the city. Finally, the visit would not be complete without a trip to the Casino de Montreal where we actually came out about even for two nights' work.

We took a three-hour bus ride to Quebec City, an old world city that feels more like Europe than Canada. There is a lower city and an upper city at the top of a hill. Tourists travel from one to the other using a "funicular", a kind of glorified escalator. Quebec City features narrow, stone paved streets lined with shops and restaurants. The upper city contains the Parliament Building, the Quebec City Armory, the Grand Frontenac Hotel pictured at left, and the city's Botanical Gardens. We also cruised the harbor where a tour guide filled us in on the history of the city and how, in a matter of minutes, a key battle turned it from a French city into a British one. We could have used another day to walk around this lovely old city, but it was soon time to get back on the bus to Montreal.

Throughout Quebec, French is the predominant language, but English is spoken freely to accommodate the tourists. I thought I sometimes detected a slight undercurrent of French superiority and thinly disguised contempt when they realized you did not speak their language. For example on the bus ride to Quebec City, the driver mentioned there were only two seats left. As we got on we saw two seats up front marked "Reserved". When my wife looked inquiringly at a French woman seated behind the reserved seats she said in her nasally voice: "You can read, no?" I should have reminded her that if it wasn't for the United States saving their raggedy asses in WWII, she would be speaking German instead of French.

The occasionally rude Frenchman is just a minor inconvenience to be sure compared to everything else Quebec has to offer, and we thoroughly enjoyed our trip.


Children's Cranioacial Association 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

You've been through it I'm sure. You make reservations months in advance for that special dinner with the love of your life. You know it will be an expensive night, but it is a special occasion and you decide to shoot the works. The big day finally arrives and you both take a few extra pains with your preparations. Your wife looks beautiful and literally glows with an inner beauty that has kept you in her spell all these years. Even though you will be uncomfortable, you put on that suit and tie, not wanting to look like a bum alongside your radiant spouse. You drive to the restaurant, and after being cordially greeted by the maitre 'd and seated in a romantic corner booth, you tell yourself that whatever this night is costing you, it's worth the money. The waiter brings you a bottle of good red wine, and as you prepare to toast the partner who has made your life worth living, the bratty kid in the next booth throws a packet of sweet and low at your head.

Listen, don't get me wrong. I don't hate kids. We raised three of them and I couldn't be prouder of how they turned out. The reason they passed through childhood and became responsible adults is that when it was necessary, they heard the word "no." Too many kids today are unfamiliar with the word. They have their parents completely bamboozled with their inexcusable behavior, usually described by the ridiculous phrase, "acting out." They're acting out alright, acting like the undisciplined brats they are. In the circumstances described above, the dialog might go like this: Parent: "Tyler, that was not very nice; please say you're sorry to the man." Tyler: "No." Parent, grinning sheepishly, to you: "I'm so sorry, he's usually not like this."  You, knowing Tyler is probably always like this and wanting to push his face into the mashed potatoes: "That's OK, no harm done."

Unless someone intervenes, Tyler will grow up to become, as they say in the child psychology literature, an asshole. His clueless parents, unable to admit to themselves that this ten year-old has totally defeated them, will go through life pretending nothing is wrong. They will defend Tyler to the death, no matter how horrible his behavior. This little rationalization allows them to keep a shred of parental dignity, while knowingly foisting their demon offspring on an unsuspecting world. They will go toe-to-toe with teachers, sports coaches, other parents, anybody who dares challenge their delusion that Tyler is the perfect child. The really sad thing is that, unless there is a medical reason for the kid's behavior, a little parental responsibility exercised very early on Tyler's road to asshole-ville, could probably have prevented his unfortunate fate. Absent that, Tyler's only hope is for another person to gain the kid's respect and turn the ship around.

In our world today, kids spend more time with their electronic toys than they do interacting with humans, including their parents. Their addiction to these devices is isolating them from reality and affecting their ability to think and be creative. It's not that these devices are inherently bad, but when the average kid spends 6.5 hours a day with some type of electronic media, it takes time away from activity like group play where they learn social skills and how to deal with others. I firmly believe that during their formative years, kids' time with electronic gadgets should be limited and monitored. It's easy to get on Facebook and say hurtful things that damage others, or to meet and communicate with the wrong people. It's also tempting to leave them alone when they're being quiet and not bothering you, but maybe that's the most dangerous time of all.

Being a parent is never easy. Most of what we know comes from watching our own parents and trying to improve on their approach. My own father was never much good at saying no, but my mother had it down pat. She wasn't a tyrant, but she knew when to draw a line in the sand, and God help me if I crossed it. Because of her, while I may not have been a perfect kid, I was no Tyler either. So courtesy of my Mom, for any parent who may need them, here is a free supply of Nos. Don't be afraid to use them. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.


Children's Cranioacial Association

Monday, August 8, 2011

America's in Trouble

What is happening to our country? America was the role model for the world, the country every other country wanted to be. The American Revolution sounded the clarion call for liberty and the end of tyranny. Abraham Lincoln fought a war to end slavery and give every man the rights guaranteed in our Constitution. We beat Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito, making the world safe for Democracy. We put a man on the moon and put the last nail into the coffin of Communism. We were at the top of our game. Now we're drowning in debt; many of our people would rather live off the sweat of others than go to work themselves; our leaders spend more energy fighting with each other than for the country; and there is a sense of hopelessness everywhere you look in our land.

Our economy is in a shambles. If we reduced government spending by one-hundred million dollars a day, it would take us 389 years to pay off the trillions we owe. I just can't get my head around that kind of statistic. 47% of Americans pay zero in Federal Income taxes. That means roughly half the country is working to support the other half. Stop the giveaways and the entitlements immediately. Reward those who get jobs and improve their education, but stop handing our free money to those who refuse to do anything to earn it. Poverty is the greatest incentive in the world for work and self-improvement. When the government takes that incentive away through welfare, people are no longer motivated to get to a better place and the rest of us are forced to pick up the tab.

The faces of our enemies have changed. They hide behind innocent women and children to fight their war of terror, driven by a ruthless lunatic fringe whose religion demands they slaughter those whose beliefs may be different from theirs. We lose the flower of our youth in wars of attrition, with never a clear victory. The "allies" we try to cultivate in these backward Third World regions take our billions in aid while secretly harboring those whose aim is to exterminate us. It's time to take off the kid gloves and stop worrying about our methods of interrogating prisoners of war. Either we seek out and ruthlessly eradicate these elements by any means necessary, or we fold up our tents and bring our soldiers home to their families.

We set term limits for all political jobs. The argument against that is: well what if we get a really good incumbent who we don't want to get rid of after a set term? Here's my answer: out of 100 politicians, how many would you really want to keep when their term limit was up? Not many. More often than not, people like Ted Kennedy, Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid (yes, Republicans too) stay in power too long. They use their influence for mainly one thing: to stay in power. They forget why the people sent them to office. They look for ways to use our tax dollars to fund more entitlements for their constituents, who in turn vote them back into office, and the cycle continues.

Finally, we take a hard look at who gets to vote. Unless you can cast at least a minimally informed ballot, why should you have a say in who gets to run the country. I know someone who, at a job interview recently, was asked just one question by the senior manager at the table: "Can you name the last five U.S. Presidents?" I'm not suggesting we quiz every voter in depth, but surely you should know a little about the issues and what your candidate stands for. If you barely have the brains to find the voting lever for the party you have been told to vote for to keep the freebies coming, then we don't need your vote. If you are so disinterested in the country's future, then let the rest of us decide who to put in office. 

If any Liberal should read this by mistake, please spare me your comments. You've done enough to screw up this country.


Children's Cranioacial Association

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hamina, Hamina, Hamina

I heard once that, second only to death, the thing people fear most in life is speaking in front of a group. "Glossophobia" or speech anxiety comes from the Greek word glossophobia  meaning tongue, and phobos, fear or dread. If you've ever waited in the wings to make a presentation, cotton-mouthed and sweaty-palmed, you know the feeling. I shudder when recalling the first time I had to speak in front of a business group. I was in the sales training program for the Standard Register Company. Before trainees were admitted to the sales force and assigned a territory, they had to make a presentation to the rest of the sales team and several managers including the regional Vice President. Although you might think this would be a relatively friendly audience, this was not the case at all. This rite of passage was hell for the trainees because the audience got a fiendish pleasure out of hazing the presenters. Heckling, rude noises and rapid-fire technical questions about the company's products were par for the course.

I was nervous for two reasons. First, there was the aforementioned fear of public speaking. We wore suits and ties in those days and I was sweating like an Enron accountant. Second, I really didn't understand the company's products all that well. Standard Register made electronic cash registers and data handling equipment like "bursters" that removed the margins with holes that fed the continuous sheets of paper through the printer. This was in the days before sheet printers eliminated these clunky machines. Although I didn't even have the sales job yet, I had a sinking feeling that sales was not the career for me. Because I sensed there was no future in this job, I didn't exactly kill myself preparing for this gig. I could see some of the older guys, Lou, Bob, Bill, Stan, Larry and my manager Alex, signalling by gestures that they were laying for me. What could I possibly say to hold their interest and keep them from humiliating me in front of the big V.P. who would decide my fate?

There were no desktop computers or snazzy visual aids in the 1960s; no PowerPoint software that in 30 minutes could whip out a professional presentation with stunning graphics. All we had were big flip charts on which we wrote out our story using magic markers, the smelly kind that could get you high if you sniffed them long enough. I had maybe a dozen sheets filled with bullet points about what I wanted to say about our company and its products. I was careful not to put too much text on each chart because I was told that reading it can become tedious for the audience. I was going to paste colored pictures of our product line on the charts to supplement my talking points, but at the last minute made a change in the charts. As the other presenters finished their remarks, it was now my turn. I could see Lou nudge Bill; two of the biggest b-busters in the office were getting ready to ambush me; the blood was in the water.

I could barely speak as I croaked out my first few lines. My mouth was dry and my voice quavered. (Later in life as I became a more experienced speaker, I learned that these symptoms never go away, you just learn to deal with them better.) My introductory remarks were met with bored stares. At least four speakers had preceeded me, and I was standing squarely between these guys and their lunch. Alex, my manager, gave me the "speed-it-up" signal. As I flipped the next chart page there was an uproar in the group. In place of the colored pictures of company products, I had substituted pictures of scantily clad women from the pages of an old Playboy that was floating around the office. The audience was all men, and I immediately had their undivided attention. I didn't miss a beat. I told my story with a straight face, exactly as I had rehearsed it. I don't think the guys heard a word I said, but they hooted and applauded as I turned each page. As any secretary in the room could tell you, the regional V.P. was the biggest letch in the room. He smiled and nodded through my entire pitch.

The ploy worked. As I heard the audience's laughter and applause, I relaxed. My voice became strong and assured, and I pulled it off without a stumble. When I finished, it was handshakes all around. Over the years I have learned that humor in a presentation can be a great tension reliever, but it can also lead to disaster. I once saw a V.P. at Con Edison, who was making a presentation to the company's Board of Directors, tell the most inappropriate joke anyone ever told to a business group. The deathly silence that followed was a sure indication that not only would he not get a promotion to senior V.P. (which this presentation was kind of an audition for) but shorthly thereafter, he was let go by the company. Oh by the way, I did get the sales job, but as I suspected, it was not for me. I hated making cold sales calls trying to sell people stuff they really didn't need. I soon left Standard Register for a job on Wall Street, and single-handedly caused the market crash of the mid-Sixties that temporarily ended all those fat bonuses I was promised, but that's another story.

I always felt like I cheated in getting through my first real public speaking experience. Giving a good presentation is really an art form, and later in my career I had occasion to give many that I thought were pretty good. I can't help but wonder though what my fate would have been if I tried to survive Lou and Bill that day without help from Playboy.


Children's Cranioacial Association