Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Precious Time

Unbelievable! An entire week has passed since my last post. Needless to say, I have been busy. Between 12 upper-division, required for my degree, mandatory (and I might add fascinating) units and my job, there has been little time for much else.

What I have been doing is writing. And writing. And writing. And a lot of reading. My eyes sometimes feel like they will drop out of my head. Sleep comes irregularly and is in short supply. Free time? I try to spend it sleeping.

And… I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is always better to have too much to do than too little. The legendary, inspirational and incomparable Lucille Ball said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” She ought to know. She continues, “The more things you do, the more you can do.”

I agree. Although my “to do” list is in perpetual and, it seems, logarithmic expansion, there is always time for that “bonus” task; the unexpected is becoming so common it’s hardly a surprise anymore.

Breaking news is part of the deal and although that it happens is not surprising, the nature of what it is often is. And sometimes it hits just a little too close to home.

On Monday morning I’m trying to wrap up which stories will be finished for this week’s paper. My co-worker comes back from town saying “I’ve got your front-page story.” And did she.

Justin Stoddard, a high school junior who would have turned 17 next month, was found dead of an apparent overdose Sunday afternoon. He was drinking and took some pills, possibly methadone and/or sleeping pills according to police and other sources. There is more and the story of the getting, the writing and the running of the story is a story in itself, but it’s not particularly relevant right now.

(Here’s a link to Tuesday’s Auburn Journal – we scooped everyone, and today’s Colfax Record.)

What is relevant is that this kid’s 17th birthday would have been next month. My youngest son’s 17th birthday is next month – next week to be precise. By all accounts, Justin was a nice kid. He had his whole life ahead of him. He wasn't trying to kill himself, but he succeeded in doing just that.

Some stories are tougher than others and this one is difficult under any circumstances. It’s even more so for me…

It just hits a little too close to home.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Social Interaction

A short note to those that take the time to comment on my blog: Thank you! I have finally returned to, at least this one time, responding to your comments. That makes one in a row!

To those that just read my dribble but don’t leave comments: Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I appreciate that you took the time out of your day.

Ok, so where is the profundity, the insight and the enlightenment? Ah… Ye of little faith! Surely you know me better than that!

It seems to me there are different reasons people leave comments. I know for me, I have two primary motivations and they apply to greater principles that go well beyond blogging. The first is easy enough – the author of the post has raised in me a response of some sort. It could be to counter the idea put forth, to agree with it and perhaps cite further evidence or experience, or because it has struck a chord with me. The words resonating within me produce entirely new perspectives that I am usually compelled to share with the author.

The second reason is plain, old-fashioned human interaction. Granted, it's through a relatively new medium, but it's social characteristic as old as our species. It could be argued that this second reason encompasses the first, but it doesn’t have to. It’s purely social in nature and for that reason it is a two-way street. It goes like this:

Post – Comment – Response.

The point is that it is more often I’ll comment on another blog for this social interaction than because of anything I really must say. In all humility, anything I have to add, usually, is nothing new or profound. The comments I leave are more often a way of saying “Hey, what’s up” to a friend across the country or even on the other side of the world.

I like it when they are acknowledged with a response, even if it’s just a couple of words.

It therefore pains me to acknowledge that I have not been responding to my friends’ comments. In essence saying, “I’m too busy to say ‘Hi’.”

And that is not the case.

Selfish? Perhaps. Lazy? Likely. Inconsiderate? Absolutely!

So I now recommit myself to trying to acknowledge each and every comment I receive, even if it’s just a couple of words acknowledging that I read what you had to say. I write, in part, to be read and I appreciate it when someone takes the time to say they read my musings. I’m going to assume you would appreciate the same courtesy from me.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Unfettered Patriotism

I managed to get a commentary out for Prosper about each of the speakers at Perspectives 2006 except one. By the time former Senator Bob Dole had finished, the event was over and it was a mad rush to get out of the convention center. Dole was really two speakers rolled up into one. There was the witty, funny, spontaneous and engaging personal Dole and then there was the dry, political and oh so Republican Dole. Although the first personality opened and closed the "Dole Show," he would have done better to fire his speechwriter and just be himself for the middle.

Not much to say about a former senator and American hero? Perhaps, but the moment's gone. It was three days ago. There was a moment, however, that I still can vividly remember. It stirred feelings in me that similar circumstances always do. It's never a surprise but is surprising nonetheless. It was the opening ceremonies.

The Sacramento Sheriff's Department, dressed in their finest dress uniforms and with all the military pomp that is appropriate, presented the colors just prior to stirring rendition of our national anthem. I always get goosebumps when I hear it and this time it was performed by a choir that just nailed it! It almost brought tears to my eyes... and I was not alone.

The point of recounting this experience is not to convey the patriotism and national pride the moment brought - indeed, words cannot describe - but rather to show how something as simple as a flag and a song can unite an otherwise diverse collection of individuals. In that moment, those precious few minutes, we were Americans, nothing more, nothing less - and that was enough. It didn't matter how each of us felt about the president, our foreign or domestic policy - even terrorism, we were united as Americans.

The Star Spangled Banner came to us in a way that is truly and uniquely American. A battlefield poem set to the tune of a British drinking song - its heritage mirrors our own. It's curious, really... how one song can release that kind of pride and emotion. I remember it as a child, when my parents took my siblings and me to the Stanford University home football games. There was this cannon that was only fired on two occasions: Whenever Stanford scored and when the marching band played our national anthem “...and the rocket's red glare."

There they are again - goosebumps.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Prosper Blog Contest - Results

The following is my entry in the Prosper Magazine student blog contest. My entry was tied for first runner-up, or second place. First place was awarded to a student from UC Davis who wrote about family values. Half of the judging was based on peer voting and my vote went to her post (we were not permitted to vote for ourselves). It was a well written post, but they all were. What gave her the edge, in my opinion, was her topic. She won $1,000 - the rest of us were awarded $50 each. When added to the day at Perspectives 2006 and the exposure from Prosper, it was well worth the time and effort.

The Apathetic Revolution

“I'd love to change the world - but I don't know what to do,
So I'll leave it up to you.”

These lyrics from the 1971 hit by Alvin Lee and Ten Years After turned out to be prophetic indeed. It was the beginning of a time in this country’s history when so much would be redefined. The political and socio-economic fabric of a nation had been unraveled and rewoven, catching many by surprise and leaving others by the wayside. The decompression following the 60s became the time of the hunter, the hunted and the silent.

The uber-morality of the 60s, with the civil rights and equal rights movements… even the peace marches which finally brought an end to the Vietnam War was replaced with a paradigm shift toward the “self-center.” The “good fight” had been won and it was time to regroup, relax and reflect. We fell back into our collective cocoons - and stayed there. Tom Wolfe’s “me decade” of the 70s became the “me generation;” a status quo that has endured for more than 30 years.

Perhaps it was the ultimate success of these popular uprisings that harkened the coming of the “apathetic revolution” - its battle cry, “It’s none of my business!” We stopped noticing things. Life was comfortable, at least for the silent majority. We wanted to trust our leaders in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Nixon got us out of Vietnam, made nice with China and nearly got away with Watergate. Had it not been for two nosey reporters… well, no one else paid much attention.

The problem is not that we didn’t learn; some did - too well. Business at every level began to play “follow the leadership.” They added qualifiers, justifiers and rationalizers to redefine that which is right and wrong. The age-old robber-baron practices of days gone by were dressed in new garb only to become the savings and loan debacle turned Enron scandal. Even the recent shenanigans of the likes of Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham went unchecked until he finally tripped over his own greed.

Standard operating procedure is now based on risk assessment. Dirty dealing is nothing of the sort if no one finds out – or if can be lobbied and legislated into law. Morality has become a game of chance; not black or white, but rather shades of risk. It’s ok if the consequences are personally inconsequential. In the quest to obtain wealth and power, anything goes and everyone is fair game. Lawyers continue to argue the letter of the law, never minding its spirit.

Today, news of corruption is virtually a daily occurrence. We’re barely moved when an elected official, civic leader, businessman or even a clergy member gets caught with his or her pants down. Only recently has the punishment begun to fit the white-collar crime. And only then when the sheer magnitude of the offense elicits an outcry. For the vast majority, the risk has proven worth taking.

It’s time to wake up. Our political and business leaders need to know that we, the people, expect them to take the moral high road - and that we are watching. The idealistic visions of utopia of the 60’s have yielded to the all too real apathetic myopia of Lee’s lyrics 35 years later– “So I’ll leave it up to you.”

Who? In his 1961 Inaugural Address, President John F. Kennedy answers: “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.”

I believe he was talking to you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More Than a Paycheck

It has been some time since I’ve really put any time into this space. Oh sure, my last post had all the hallmarks of an irreverent, idealistic rant – and it was that, but it was also a post of opportunity. The issue was delivered at my doorstep, so to speak. All I had to do was pick it up and run with it. Actually, now that I think about it, I really had no choice.

But I digress. I have an angle. Some thoughts for the day, as it were. Indeed, in my current schedule, it has only been on Sundays and Wednesdays that I ever really get any “free” time. And counting Wednesday is a bit of a stretch. In a way, it is a matter of acclimation for me. For a very long time, time was in abundance. In fact, the whole purpose of this blog was to burn up some of it.

Ok, third paragraph and I still haven’t really said much. Where’s the hook? I don’t want to lose you! Let me back up just a wee bit to pull some of this into perspective. Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived…


Almost six years ago, on Oct. 17, 2000, my life nearly came to an end. Depending on whom you talk to, it did - more than once, but they brought me back. I couldn’t say – I really wasn’t there. Virtually everything I know from that date and for the next five weeks is hearsay – I have no direct recollection, just foggy, surrealistic and fleeting memories. The long short of it is that I was involved in a violent head-on collision with a logging truck; one that I shouldn’t have survived.

But I did. And I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it at the time. The recovery was long, long, long. Pain was (and still is to some extent) a daily reality for me. I was at once grateful and resentful that I had survived. That changed as well, but also very slowly – today I am exceedingly grateful. What made the whole deal even more difficult to stomach was that I was to blame… I created my own nightmare.

Ok, I don’t want to re-hash it; you can follow the links into my archives if you want greater detail. After the lengthy hospitalization, even lengthier physical rehabilitation, more hospitalizations and procedures all followed by more rehab, I ended up in pretty good shape – physically. Indeed, the recovery process is not yet complete, perhaps it never will be. But there are other pieces to the recovery puzzle that I was about to fit into place. It finally formed an image that looks like my life today.

I haven’t really worked from the date of the wreck until earlier this year. About five and a half years all tolled. I mean I’ve had a little job here or there, but not anything remotely resembling gainful employment, never mind a career. It’s not like I didn’t know what that was like. I’ve had a number of jobs - good ones – and more than a couple of careers. I am familiar with the ancillary benefits of being in demand. Self-esteem, self-respect and self-sufficiency are the rewards that transcend the paycheck. I’d lost those along the way.

In addition to rehabilitating, I was re-evaluating, reassessing, relocating, re-inventing, recovering, re-educating, reaffirming, resisting, reclining, re-shuffling, re-focusing, reviewing, rearranging and renewing. During the whole process, I had an abundance of free time. I’m thinking maybe that was a good thing – I must’ve needed it. However, I think having that much time devalued it. I was rarely rushed, almost never late. I was given the luxury of time.

Suffice it to say that I value my time much more now. At first, when the days started to get more hectic and deadlines became less flexible and the days were stringing together, I was ecstatic. It was an adrenalin rush. It still is much of the time; don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Even when I was taking 16 units at Sac State a couple of semesters ago, I had time. Now with a part time job that takes full time effort and 12 upper division units… well you get the picture.

So here I am, almost 44 and enjoying the best part of my life. The personal growth I have experienced in the last six years is unprecedented. When I think about it, I always smile. Less than six years ago, my life was damn near over – at times I wished it were. It was the worst of times. I guess that’s what it took to get me to what is, in many respects the best of times.

It’s important, too, to remember that I don’t even have all those “things” that I thought I would need to be happy. No “relationship;” no big, expensive toys; no fame; and no fortune. Everything I need I already have. Little did I know, I always did.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Captive Audience

I’ve got a problem with this. I am sitting in my American Foreign Policy class and the professor gave 15 minutes of class time to another professor to promote a bill sitting on the governor’s desk. No, let me rephrase that – he was campaigning for it. I hesitate to name the bill because I sure don’t want to appear insensitive – it’s one of those bills. The point is not what the proposed law says, but the forum it was given for its promotion.

It was a captive audience. There was nothing free about his speech – I paid for it. Either through my ever-increasing fees (there is no “tuition” in the California State University or the University of California systems – but everyone knows that!), or through my tax dollars, I paid for it. Those 15 minutes were mine, dammit!

Furthermore, it was not as though I was given an option to listen or not. There was no warning of the nature or the content of the “guest” speaker’s spiel. Attendance in that class, like so many others these days is required – my grade would suffer it I was not there. Even if I had known and opted out, the professor took role before the introduction of this camouflaged sales pitch. I was spending my money to be some place I had to be (or else) to listen to the Fuller Brush Man.

I have purposely left out which bill and its content because it makes no difference. In all likelihood, Governor Schwarzenegger will sign it. It has bi-partisan support. It has more symbolic effect than anything else. If I weren’t a journalist, I might have considered signing the post card passed out to us – under different circumstances; like if I had a choice whether to be there or not. It totally turned me off and reminded me of how I dislike so the idea that the ends justify the means.

It happens on the left and on the right. They preach of personal freedoms like free speech, but if someone says something personally, or worse, ideologically offending, they seem to believe it’s within their right – and the greater good – to silence that speech. Anti-war protestors shouting down those supporting it, in effect silencing opposition, because they believe they have the only right to moral superiority. And then all bets are off – the end justifies the means. I’m talking about the likes of Earth First and the even more scandalous Earth Liberation Front (ELF). On the other side are the KKK, Arian Brotherhood and the neo-Nazis.

It can catch even the most level headed in its deception. My foreign policy professor is a sharp cookie. Although the semester is very young, I have a good feeling about this guy – he doesn’t appear to have an ideological axe to grind. Perhaps it was due to professional courtesy that he allowed this professor from his department a soapbox to preach from. In his defense, he segued nicely from the sales pitch into lecture material – but it sure didn’t need, or benefit from, the public service announcement.

Ok, I’ve left you in the dark long enough. Maybe I’ve sold you and you’re wondering what specific bill could I possibly be referring to. I’ll tell, but remember, if you’ve accepted my premise thus far, it should not matter what the bill is. If we make exceptions for a “good” bill – where do we draw the line? It’s AB 2941. No need to look it up, I’ll save you the time. It prohibits two of the state’s employee’s retirement funds form being invested in companies that do business in Sudan.

Hate me now? Go ahead, I’m cool with that. Be a part of the myopic, lemming-like hypocrites. Make exceptions to further your greater moral cause. Indeed, perhaps the only thing immoral about this cause is the means of selling it – not the cause itself. I’m not denouncing the bill. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be signed. I’m saying that I don’t want to be sold anything when I’m in class.

***Don't Forget***
The Prosper Magazine Student Blog contest is still in full swing. Comments and responses are coming fast and the winner will be determined in part by the comments generated. My post as well as my teammates' are ready and waiting for your input.
***Thank You***

Monday, September 04, 2006

Prosper Blog Contest

**** UPDATE****
The site is up and public and I need your help. I know I have many readers who come by here, read my posts and then move along. I know it's true of me... I simply don't have the time to write like I used to. However, this competition is judged, in part, on the number and quality of comments generated. As I mentioned earlier, I don't want gratuitous comments to pad a lead, but if you are so moved to say anything, please do. Additionally, if you feel moved by any of the other team members' posts, again, please let them know. I believe that the best post will win - and there are some pretty good ones. Happy reading!

Click Here to go to the Student Blog Main Page

My piece for the blog competition is up. I'd like to thank those who gave me feedback - I could not incorporate all the wonderful advice I received (and some of it was to do little or nothing - as you can see I didn't follow that either!), but I think it may be somewhat tighter and clearer now. I guess we'll all see together. Click this link to go there and see for yourself. By this time tomorrow, the competition will have begun. If nothing else, I'm up first. Now, I must get to work - more later!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Blogging in Real-Time

An open invitation to my regular readers and the blogosphere at large:

I have been selected to participate in an event that is as intriguing as it is exciting.

On September 15, the Sacramento Metro Chamber will be hosting its premier event – Perspectives 2006.

According to the Chamber’s Web site:

Perspectives is Northern California's largest and longest running public affairs forum, and your chance to hear the views of world renowned public figures while attending the Metro Chamber's premier business networking event. Host your best clients, prospects or top performing employees at this daylong, first-class presentation.
This year, the speakers include David Barry, syndicated columnist from the Miami Herald, former Senator and Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole and Actor/Comedian Cheech Marin among other national media and political figures. All of the speakers' bios can be found here.

The theme for this year: All about US – The issues shaping America’s future.

One of the event’s sponsors, Prosper Publications has assembled myself and about nine other college students to blog our comments and opinions regarding each speaker in real time. Prosper publishes:

Prosper, At Work, In Life, a business-lifestyle magazine celebrating the achievement and success of the growing Sacramento Metro Market and its bright future as a great place to live, work and play.”

We will be blogging live… or if not (we’re not sure if the organizers will let us, Prosper has not and doesn’t plan to tell them what we’re up to!), immediately after each speaker has finished.

Just being able to attend this rather pricey event ($245 for non-members, $195 for members) was incentive enough to apply. However, to have the opportunity to “work,” as it were, as a contributor to Prosper is simply to good to be true. Not only is it true, it gets even better.

There is further incentive. There is a competition of sorts with a substantial cash prize. The real prize, however, is not the money, but in the production and publication of the piece upon which we will be judged. The "prize" is the exposure. On Tuesday, Sept. 5, we will be posting our first entry on the magazines Web site – 10 days before Perspectives 2006 begins. We are charged with writing a piece that is our own perspective of an issue facing the nation. In essence, we get the jump on the featured speakers; we will speak to the same theme they will, but in a blog for Prosper.

From Tuesday up to the day before Perspectives, our thoughts and ideas will be available to read and comment on at The judging will be based half on peer evaluation (we can’t vote for ourselves) and half on the Prosper editorial staff evaluation, of which, some percentage will be based on reader feedback - comments. Prize money? $1000.00

Cool huh? And that is where you – my friends in the blogosphere – come in. I am not asking for gratuitous comments or even that you read only my post. I ask all to take the time to read all ten posts and comment if so moved. I am not asking, nor would I, anything more than to be measured side-by-side with my peers. Although there are no rules, the posts will probably be relatively short (400-600 words) and, based on my one meeting with the team, well written.

What issue will I expound upon? Dunno yet. I've got some ideas and I'm open to suggestions. Feel free to comment here.

One last request: Please spread the word on the competitive blog postings as well as the Sept. 15 live blogging. It’s going to be a blast!