August 21, 2015

The hack of the Ashley Madison website is expected to lead to a treasure trove of extra- marital affairs by high level and low level cheaters. Now infidelity is nothing new in our world, in fact isn’t that what caused God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? But in this age of instant access to information, there are a lot of guys and gals out there twisting in the wind as the names of the cheaters become public.

Already there is concern in Washington as perhaps hundreds of White House and Congressional notables, some with highly sensitive positions, will be outed in the coming days. I doubt whether the Chinese or the Russians have planted “sleeper cells” (pardon the pun) in our nation’s capital to gather information from pillow talk, but more seriously the hack of Ashley Madison will certainly ruin families and tarnish reputations.

Since we have become a non-judgmental and largely hypocritical nation, these revelations will not raise much of an eyebrow, in large part because we have slowly but surely become the French, as private matters are accepted with a shrug.

But we are not quite the French; we still have that Puritan streak in our blood and often exhibit the “gotcha” values that show no mercy for a failed marriage or raging hormones. If anything we are the supermarket tabloid/reality show nation that just can’t get enough of the cheating crowd.

Now I suspect that most marriages in this country are on the level with the worst offenses of the husband or wife being a little wandering eye or innocent flirt. But in the dog days of summer the Ashley Madison cheating data does provide some relief from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, both people who know quite a bit about cheaters and cheating.

Racial Hope

August 18, 2015

I traveled to Milwaukee last weekend to attend my 50th class reunion or as some might say a gathering of well worn but still standing seniors. Before I left to head back east my dearest friends and our wives headed to our old hangout, Solly’s, a old-fashioned hamburger joint where gobs of butter overwhelm the bun and a chocolate malt shake along with fries are a must. We all knew that the Solly’s experience might do a job on our digestive system and our cholesterol count but no one seemed to care, this was a celebration of the old days past.

At Solly’s something wonderful happened that restored our faith in humanity and in race relations. On one side of the counter were a group of African-Americans celebrating two birthdays. Part of their group was a decorated veteran with his VFW hat proudly displayed. A white couple quickly offered to take photos of the group with smiles all around. At about this time an Asian family entered and sat at the counter.

After a bit, the cake was brought out and the singing of Happy Birthday began. Without prompting the entire restaurant sang to the two women celebrating a big day, not just quietly, but so loud that anyone within ear shot could hear the happiness exuding from Solly’s.

So a group of aging whites, an Asian family and African-Americans joined together in a spontaneous songfest. Later one of the birthday women came over and offered us a piece of cake as well as the Asian family. Everyone was in a joyous mood.

This was admittedly a small event in a small hamburger joint in a Midwestern city, but to me it was a hopeful sign that with all the examples of racial mistrust and racial tension in our country there are indeed islands of racial hope, perhaps more than we think and certainly more than the media reports.

We all left Solly’s happy not just because we had relived old memories, but because we had been witness to one example of how we as Americans can get along and go out of our way to bring ourselves together. We certainly will never see those people again, but that impromptu birthday party will have a lasting memory. The dream does live on.

apps and national security

August 13, 2015

Let me start out by saying that I know protecting business and governmental data from hacking is no simple task and that corporate and public sector officials are doing their best to protect sensitive files.

But then I look at the thousands and thousands of our best computer minds sitting around at Facebook,Twitter,Google,Yahoo, Reddit, Spotify,and the seemingly endless social media sites and apps and I wonder whether their talents for amplifying mindless chatter is being properly used, especially since the Chinese, the Russians, the Albanians, the Romanians and the Ukrainians, just to name a few, are beating us to the punch in the race to steal our secrets.

Now slow to react IT departments in major corporations and banks, irresponsible public figures like Hillary Clinton and government bureaucracies that have hardware and software out of the 90s make it easy for determined and talented hackers to tap into our systems. I can’t help to wonder, however, why in a country that gave birth to Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle can’t develop firewalls that stop this cyber-stealing which threatens our national security and indeed our way of life.

I suspect that working for the government in IT pays much less than Facebook and Google and all those stock options and perks simply are too impressive to pass up. I remember, though, that in the 1950s with the Russians beating us into space this nation put resources into science and technology and offered generous tuition and scholarship money to attract young people to work in places like NASA and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

We need a similar national effort to get the best minds in computers to move away from spending their talents on apps that help you order pizza or sell the junk in your garage. This country is now at war, cyber war, with our adversaries and make no bones about it we are losing. What we need is an app that protects my credit card and stops the Chinese and Russians from mining sensitive national security secrets. The next generation of patriots in this country should be the anti-hackers.

Amy and Chuck on Gun Control

August 3, 2015

When two beautiful women were killed in Lafayette, Louisiana watching the comedy Trainwreck with Amy Schumer, the A-list comedienne decided to join forces with her senator cousin, Chuck Schumer of New York to push for reasonable gun control. With the latest polls showing 74% of Americans want some form of gun control, this hot button issue will likely enter the electoral fray in 2016.

The Schumers are not talking about taking guns away from Americans or gutting the second amendment, but what they are talking about is making background checks really mean something and have the states keep a much closer watch on who is applying for weapons. States would even be penalized for lax background checks. Also Congress will be asked to put more money into mental health, which currently is on the chopping block. The massacres that this country has endured over the last ten years from Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook to Aurora and now Lafayette had two key ingredients- easy access to weapons and mental illness.

Supporters of our gun culture in this country will likely say that an armed populace in schools and theaters and other public places would have served as a deterrent to the crazed acts of killers. But the first step in protecting innocent citizens is to keep guns out of the hands of crazed killers not arm people to protect themselves from crazed killers.

After each one of these tragic massacres someone has come forward to voice outrage over our lax gun laws. The latest is Amy Schumer. Her pleas may fall on a deaf ears in Congress. Yet what many Americans want is common sense gun control; they don’t want mentally disturbed people, common criminals and those with domestic violence issues getting guns and they want the states to step up and enforce gun laws.

Of course if someone wants to get a gun it is not difficult in this country – they can steal one, they can go to a gun show and buy one out of someone’s trunk, or they can take one from a family member. Guns are everywhere in this country. But what Amy Schumer and her influential cousin are saying is that gun control need not be confiscation or excessive limitation, just simple rules that keep guns out of the hands of those who have mass murder in their damaged brains.

Cecil and Brady

July 30, 2015

Cecil, the African lion gets lured out of his protective reserve and is killed by a Minnesota dentist; outrage fills the airwaves. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is suspended for four games for his involvement in the deflating of footballs and fans go ballistic. But the deaths of innocents around the world from hunger, gun violence, disease, war or disasters are reported as matter of fact or not reported at all. These are the times we live in; it seems we have become hardened by the real sadness around us and instead shift our attention to events and personalities that are either minor in scope or of no real consequence.

Certainly animals have value and the best player in professional football may be the target of injustice, but when will society value human life and the pursuit of truth as much as a lion or an athlete? It is understandable, I guess, that people just don’t want to have the evil in the world shoved in their faces and instead want to concentrate on the mundane or the exciting. But we seem to have reached a stage in our American society where people choose to be ignorant of evil and live their lives in a carefree bubble, only to break out of that bubble to show outrage over the death of a lion or the troubles of a football legend.

We saw a glimpse of popular outrage over issues that are vital to our country when African-Americans boiled over with anger and took to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter. Even here the anger was short-lived and misdirected to their neighbors’ property. As a member of the Vietnam War/Civil Rights generation where protest over important matters that struck at the heart of our nation were commonplace, it is sad to see our culture degenerate into concerns over minutiae. Where are the movements for change in our time? When will people get off the couch and get involved?

Perhaps we have become Rome where in its declining years the populace rejoiced in the circus and placed high value on matters of little importance. Thankfully there are those around us who do care and do take action and do try to make life better for those facing danger and injustice. Unfortunately, their numbers are few and their actions often uncoordinated. It would be nice to see a return to the days when people paid attention to what mattered and joined movements to bring about change. I wish Cecil had lived and I remain a fan of Tom Brady, but let’s put the world and our society in perspective and place value on the real issues of the day.

The City That Said No

July 28, 2015

Boston will not host the 2024 Summer Olympics, which to a majority of the residents of the city is a good thing. The prospect of huge traffic jams, monumental security concerns and most importantly the real possibility that the taxpayers will be left holding the tax bag if the Games end up in the red.

Right from the start the captains of industry and finance who led the charge for the Olympics displayed a complete misunderstanding of how a democracy works and how to deal with grassroots organizers intent on stopping their grand visions. CEOs like John Fish and Steve Pagliuca are enormously successful corporate leaders but they come from a culture which is not driven by public opinion polls, open meetings and vocal opposition. And so they marched full speed ahead with their plan, which would have transformed the city of Boston, but with shaky numbers and plans that just seemed too good to be true.

Many Bostonians are now relieved that their crowded city will be free of all the commotion and the tax bill that comes with the Olympic Games. But for all the flaws in the 2024 plan what it did was present a dream of how the city would look like in nine years and the energy to move forward with huge improvements in transportation, housing, roads and bridges, and neighborhoods. No matter what the pols and the naysayers say about spending on vital needs rather than a three week international circus, it is likely that Boston will stumble along and make only minor dents in those areas of public life that cry out for major transformation.

Take away the vision and energy of Olympic 2024 (and a drop dead timeline) and Boston is left with its age old reputation as a city that has a history of saying “NO”. Sure there is a building boom afoot in the Hub City, but twenty story science and technology monuments and high end condos are not the same as a new subway system, new highways, new low-income housing, and new schools, and most importantly a can do attitude.

And so another city, perhaps Los Angeles, or the European entries – Paris, Rome, Hamburg or Budapest – will get the opportunity to go into debt and have huge stadiums sit idly for decades. But say what you will about the flawed dream of John Fish and Steve Pagliuca, at least they had a vision of a new Boston and the energy to make it happen. Now all Boston is left with is NO.


July 25, 2015

The upcoming Fox television debate with the leading Republican hopefuls will be one hell of a summer entertainment experience. The reason – Donald Trump. Trump continues to remain front and center, while the Republican establishment has no real strategy for responding to The Donald and his “I’ll say anything to rally the conservative base” game plan. Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio will try to present themselves as reasonable, clear-thinking and presidential, but to many conservatives this is a campaign that is being driven by voters who are sick and tired of moderate platitudes, general promises and old-style Washington politics. Even the Democratic base has gotten into the act as Hillary struggles while that Vermont socialist, Bernie Sanders, controls the issue arena of the left.

For Trump this debate is vitally important to his future as a viable presidential candidate. He has the money and the visibility to remain in the mix well beyond the time when the field is whittled down to a few stalwarts. But he will have to show that he has policy prescriptions and a vision that make him more than a caustic thorn in the side of the Republican mainstream. If he presents himself during the debate as a candidate that can indeed balance off the cuff shout outs with commonsense solutions to real issues and a pathway to “Make America Great” then watch out- Trump becomes more than an embarrassing distraction.

It is no secret that Trump is driving the other candidates crazy as they don’t know how to respond to his take no prisoners campaign. If they out shout him with off the wall statements, they risk the support from the mainstream Republicans; if they look too cautious and conciliatory on issues like immigration, Iran and defense they risk the revenge of the grassroots voters in the party who turn out in droves for the primaries. Right now Trump has the advantage and only he can lose that advantage if he presents himself as the candidate of a new version of the Know Nothing Party of the 1840s.

Usually summertime evenings are for sitting on the deck with a cold one or watching baseball, but the Fox Republican debate is just about guaranteed to have some real low drama and memorable charges and counter charges. As the campaign for the President of the United States moves forward it will be interesting to find out if the voters are so sick and tired of Washington politicians that they look to a real outsider who will say anything, even if he doesn’t have real answers to real problems.


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