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It's A Good Life

Well Done is Better Than Quickly Done, or How Arrogance Gets In The Way….

Written By: Ed - Dec• 23•13

Well, I was not going to bother writing this up again as I posted it on Facebook.  Then I was approached by a friend who was purchasing Christmas presents and remembered my initially recommending the company Scottevest and its products… She had not heard about the horrible experience I had with one of their products, the company’s Customer Service Department, and their Founder / CEO Scott Jordan.  Since I cannot, in good conscience, have people deal with this company on my say so as I’d be ashamed of them having an issue with them and going through what I did, I thought I should post the facts and information here as well.  While I can’t be sure to reach all those I told about the company when I recommended them, I can try to be sure any who would buy from my recommendation make their decision with all the facts and not just initial support.

I heard about this company while flying.  You know those inserts in the setback pocket where they have all that gear?  SkyMall, I believe?  Well I was thumbing through it six or seven years ago and came across a fleece jacket that had over 20 pockets.  It didn’t look like a fisherman’s or photographer’s vest with all the pockets on the outside, and had the extra benefit of having a space between the lining and shell to run earbud cords they they wouldn’t tangle. As I currently had a cellphone, iPod, keys, sunglasses, reading glasses, wallet, and cash with me it seemed like a good idea and I bought one to help carry my items while traveling.

Well, it arrived and although the sleeves were a tad short (I don’t have particularly long arms but the sleeves stopped just above my wrists), it was as it was represented.  Sure some of the ‘pockets’ aren’t really pockets (a band to hold a water bottle upright in a big side pocket, as few tiny pockets within other pockets to hold change, etc.) but it was nice to have a light jacket that could keep my items with me and separate.  I used it quite a bit (still do), not just when traveling. I told many, many people about it and the company that made it. I picked up another jacket (a bit bulky but its water resistant), bought a red trenchcoat for my wife as a gift, and picked up some of their tee shirts with pockets (great idea but not a huge fan of the material). Heck, I won a contest to get a free khaki raincoat (never worn as it lacks style despite it probably being pretty functional for the right person).  Suffice it to say I was a big fan of the company and respected the way the founder was building the company through social media.  He seemed to listen to what customers said and took comments into account… while I had not seen how he reacted to issues, he seemed pretty open on both his company’s Facebook page as well as his own.  While he trumpeted the company’s successes though, we didn’t get to see how he handled failures; even those we did see were spun in a positive light (which I gave them kudos for).  Some of you may remember watching him on Shark Tank where I thought he came across pretty poorly.  He wanted to seek a share in his company, but not the clothing line (which some of the wealthy ‘sharks’ appeared to be interested in.  Scott Jordan just wanted to sell a piece of the company that could run headphone wires within clothing.  Mark Cuban was apparently pretty annoyed, taking Mr. Jordan to task when he uncovered that Scottevest basically discourages / intimidates anyone else from running wires that way by tiring people up in court but even that little fiasco seemed like it was just a PR stunt for the company as the CEO seems good at generating controversy to keep the company’s name in the papers.

The last item I received from the company was not purchased by me.  A little under two years ago I was given their leather jacket.  The jacket had come up in conversation due to another contest (they are big on that to get word out) and I said I thought it looked nice but was too expensive for me to buy.  My mother extended herself and bought it for me for Christmas.  Lighter and thinner than I thought it was going to be, I was happy to get it but wore it little due to multiple issues:  the pockets were smaller and didn’t hold items as well (I assume this was to keep the lines of the jacket slimmer), I don’t wear jackets unless it is cold and it is not a warm jacket because it’s pretty thin, and because of those lines and thinner material it is more of a dressier leather.  Since I’m likely to be wearing a suit or sport coat on dressier occasions, this jacket fell between the lines and into one of those categories where it just didn’t fit my lifestyle well. In the 23 months I owned it I probably wore it around 20-24 times.

As I mentioned, last week I wore it again and had ‘an issue’.  Two, to be more accurate: two tears on the back left panel.  I had worn it for a few hours and then out to dinner so it certainly had not been stressed at all, yet there they were. No scratches near the tears, no evidence it had caught on anything, and certainly if I had got it caught I should have felt it, correct?  Evidently not.  Damn.  Not near a seam or in an area easily repaired, I was pretty frustrated with the jacket and how it had not stood up to wear.  However, I had owned it for a little under two years and since I had not worn it much I wasn’t too  upset.  It wasn’t like losing a favorite piece of clothing or anything, right?

Well, I almost just tossed it out.  If I had, you wouldn’t be reading this though…  Instead, I decided that since Mr. Jordan was apparently so responsive to his customers I would let him know so he could address the issue if it was happening to others or at least be aware of the manufacturing defect if I was the only one. Not only had it torn so easily, the leather was fading in odd areas, looking worn and dry along the collar, etc. despite little wear.  Most of the jacket was shiny and new but some areas were looking aged (and not in that ‘good’ way leather ages!).

Odd Wear

Odd Wear

Jacket tears

Jacket tears

My wife thought he would refund the purchase price or offer a new jacket but I did not because of its age.  I did think he would want to know about the issue though, and felt I owed him an explanation as I had supported the company so I sent a brief message and some pictures. As I wrote in the email, “… this jacket and its construction is not what I believe you want your company known for. I would hate to think of a new customer spending that kind of money for a garment and getting so few wears from it before it fell apart. I’m not sure if you have had other issues, if it was the materials or the manufacturer, or if this was ‘just’ a fluke but did think you would want to hear about it.”

Big mistake.

At first I was impressed. He responded right away, even on a Sunday evening, and asked me to send the info to him and to his Customer Service Department in the AM.  I did so and thought that may be the end of it, unless he had any questions.  Instead, I got an offer for reimbursement of $30 toward leather repair from Customer Service.  Then an email from Scott where he said he was sorry the leather had not lived up to expectations, they had not had many other complaints, and I was offered $75 off another leather if I was interested: a deal he said they didn’t offer to others because there were only 400 made but he wanted me to be satisfied.  Well, there was no way I was going to spend another $350 for a leather jacket from a company who’s first leather failed to stand up, but I politely thanked him for the offer(s) but declined (“While I appreciate the discount offer, I think I’ll hold off.  Glad there haven’t been any other reported issues with the (leather jacket). ”).

Again, I thought it would be over.

Two days later I received a mass mailing to all owners of their leather jackets offering $100 off their new jacket.  Really?  $25. more than what I was offered from their CEO?  I forwarded him the email.

His response was to tell me he had not intended on insulting me and made me an offer: $125 off that leather I had explained I would not be buying.  Really? $25  more than the rest of their customers despite my having a defective $450. leather from them already.  At that point, he had managed to insult me and I told him I’d share the experience.  I took a video of it and posted it on my own Facebook Page so he could see how easily it tore.

He responded with a rambling 10 minute video message telling me he ‘knew’ I had worn it more than I had said I did (?!), ‘must have’ torn it on a chain link fence (!!), and that it was ‘impossible’ to tear as I told him it had.  Instead of thanks for letting him know of the issue, I was now being called a liar… and a liar with no motive.  Evidently, I was just lying about the events and issue for the heck of it. He clearly was confusing fast customer service with good customer service.  Insisting that the only reason it was tearing so easily now was because I was tearing it (in the video) along existing tears, I shot another one. Doubling up the leather by folding it over, I could pull it and it would tear like paper and NOT along a tear or seam.

PLAY EASY TEAR MOVIE CLIP     (I didn’t bother posting the full clips that I posted on FB and sent to Scottevest’s CEO, but the above clip should be enough for you all to get the point. )

That clip should be pretty clear and definitive, no?

No.

Despite some impartial people seeing it (some of their own customers), Scott Jordan steadfastly refused to acknowledge it tears easily.  Did seeing it with his own eyes bring forth an apology, either for actions, statements, or the trouble with the product?  No.  What I got were more excuses and denials, insistence that it cannot do what it was doing, etc.  Over 5 or 6 days I believe there were around 20 emails from him, in addition to the video message.  He thinks that is being responsive and it is evidently his idea of customer service.  He even wanted me to call and provided his number – NOT to discuss it or apologize in person but simply to ‘explain the facts and tell me why that didn’t happen as I said it did.  Truly amazing.   He said could ‘explain the facts’ and tell me how what I know had happened did not actually happen.  The interactions got weirder and stranger until I finally sent him an email, copied his Customer Service Dept., and insisted he not write or contact me.

I’m not going to guess what the issues there are.  He’s open enough on his Facebook page about past personal issues and current lifestyle issues that I could play armchair psychiatrist as others have but I am not going to do so.  This is about the expensive jacket he sold my mother, its inability to stand up to normal wear, clear indications it has failed (whether it is the line, that jacket, or that piece of leather / goatskin), and the horrible customer service given a good and frequent customer that had shown they had fully supported the company.

I still want nothing from Scottevest.  I want nothing from Scott Jordan.

What do I want?  I want everyone who reads this to realize they may very well get a decent jacket with a lot of pockets if they order from Scottevest.  They may also have an issue with the product and I want them to realize that if they do they may very well receive some of the worst customer service I have seen in 52 years.  Truly stunning.  IF you buy from this company, please do not do so based on any recommendation I once gave.  Do so despite this current warning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Style, What of it?

Written By: Ed - Nov• 13•13

 

This post is for my friend, Janet.  She is witty, bright, a gifted blogger (read her blog ‘The Noise In My Head“.  Really.  Go sign up.  Now.  I’ll wait…) and a great friend.  She posted an article today on my Facebook page, ‘9 Lessons From Our Grandparents On Living Stylishly’ and while I appreciate the sentiment (both from the author Brie Dyas and from Janet as to why she sent it) I think the article misses the mark by the proverbial country mile.

Did the era of our grandparents have more style?  Yes.  Even acknowledging that each decade and generation has its own and style is a matter of taste, I think its clear that previous generations had more style than we do currently.  Now before you go and get all worked up assuming I am just another person whining about how our yesterdays are better than our tomorrows, I am not.  Actually, that is why I disagree with most of the article I mentioned earlier (but I’ll get to that later).  I think previous generations had more style because it mattered more then. Manners mattered.  Rules mattered.  Customs mattered. Are there good things that came from not standing on ceremony as much?  Sure.  Some would say that we are far more concerned now with substance than outward appearance and they would be able to make a good case.  I’m not sure they are mutually exclusive, however, and too often I thin those who are lazy or have no style try to take the easy way out by using that as an excuse.

Back to style though, and why I think we do not have as much of it now…

Take clothing, for instance.  The current emphasis for most is on comfort, casualness, etc.  Jeans with sport jackets now constitute dressing up, shorts in the office is becoming more common, and great restaurants will seat you in tee shirts and flip flops.  I’m not saying I haven’t done any of those and think they are necessarily wrong.  You may even want to say that the casualness is, in and of itself, its own style.  But the prevailing ‘sameness’  that has encroached throughout society does minimize ‘style’.  The uniformity of casual mediocrity seems to have been chosen over the eclectic ups and downs of individual taste and freedom of expression.

Go to a mall and look around.  Now fly across the country and go to another mall.  Same stores, same restaurants, same styles in the windows, same clothes on the backs of he 40 year olds and 15 year olds.  Go to a mall in the city or in the suburbs or in the country and you’ll find teens in basketball shorts and sneakers, middle-aged men in cargo shorts and untucked shirts, women in yoga pants (most of which do not do yoga), and jeans everywhere.

Casual StyleCasual

(Again, to stay on point and head off any argument, I am not making a judgement on whether or not that looks good or bad.  I have my opinion on that as I am sure you do but it is not the point that I want to make here.  I am not saying which style is ‘better’, just that we have ‘less’ of it.  This is not a post about how bad things are now – quite the contrary, in fact.

Today my family has more clothes than my family did then, but then we had more outfits.  My son and I probably have 25 tee shirts each, and 7 or 8 pairs of jeans.  I was young I rarely wore jeans.  I had a favorite pair when I was my son’s age but then can’t remember my mother buying me another pair until I got into middle school. It was the 60s and while many of my friends had jeans, I had ‘school clothes’ that I wore each weekday morning to school, ‘play clothes’ that I changed into after school and wore on weekends, and ‘dress clothes’ that I wore on holidays, to church (if we went), in to downtown Boston to shop (a whole 10 minutes away), or if we went out to dinner. There were unwritten rules as to what we wore and when.  My father had his work suits and had better suits for dinner or dressier occasions.  He had sport jackets for the weekend, work clothes if he was going to shovel snow or change the oil in the car, and casual clothes if we were relaxing at home.  My mother had her work outfits, dressier ‘occasion dresses, and casual clothes when she was home, but would put on a dress and heels just to go food shopping.  What style we wore depended on the day, the occasion, the location, and other factors.  Now we get dressed, go to work, and then meet up with friends at a bar in the same clothes. Or families will put on their tank tops and tee shirts, flip flops and shorts and swing by church before they head to the beach… and then out to dinner after.

It may be a different style, or even a better style if you prefer things being easy and don’t mind the casual nature of it all.  But it is definitely less style.

The article I mentioned above, ’9 Lessons From Our Grandparents on Living Stylishly’ gets it all wrong, in my opinion.  She has a good point: that there was more style.  She makes no valid conclusion as to why that was, and has poor examples to back up her title.  It appears to be written by a relatively young woman who wasn’t alive to judge for herself what it was like, and yet she tries to make her case by pulling odd little statements from an overly active rose-colored imagination.

One example of our having less style now?  Because back then we took vacations regularly… “Lots of vacations”.  Really?  I’m not sure who her grandparents were but we are far more mobile now, have more time off than ever, and travel far more.  According to her, “travel should be fun!” and the comfort has since diminished.  Really?  Flying across the country for the cost of a day’s pay in leather seats with satellite radio and TVs in the backs of the seats ahead of you is far more preferable to me, and far more comfortable, than the old rattle trap planes where you had to crane your neck to see the movie playing in the aisle.  We travel much more, individually and as families, than we did in the past.  It has not made us more stylish or given us a sense of style.

Brie Dyas, the author, then tries to make the point that we take too many pictures instead of concentrating on a few posed and professional ones.  We need to be more selective, presumably like our grandparents, instead of all those ‘slightly blurry pictures clogging up our laptops, never to see the light of day’.  Another example of how we had more style then. Sorry, Ms. Dyas but when your grandparents were little they likely didn’t have many pics of them because cameras were far fewer, people rarely had them around, and getting a great shot was tough.  It isn’t that people were more selective, its that most events (from births to holidays to all those vacations) weren’t recorded and if they were the photos were usually bad.  You can get a better pic with your phone on the run than most professionals could back then.  She even tries to say that people dressed up for every occasion, even ‘selfies’.  Really?  How many of our grandparents took ‘selfies’?

I do appreciate some of what she is trying to do though… we have (and I doubt many will deny this) become far less mannered than we were.  Manners do seem to be going the way of the DoDo bird.  But to phrase it as she does?  That “To many people use the excuse of a commute to act like barbarians.”?  Silly.  And her advice?  ”Just relax. Read. (Also, we need more funding for railroads.)”  Not to be more mannered, offer an elderly person your seat, or to be more quiet when in conversation.  Railroad funding and reading.  Really?  How about parents teaching manners to their kids and leading by example?  I’d rather have that than the railroad funding, please.

I’m sorry but the entire article is full of a young woman trying to make what she does not know or understand sound more grandiose than it was, all while trying to sound very mature as she criticizes what we have become.  I could go on about the article and what it contains, but won’t.  Suffice it to say the article – and others I have seen that are like it – has substituted trite, filtered, glossed over generalities for the truth about what it was like in the previous decades.  We forget the bad, think the good was far more the norm, and then only see what we have now as being inferior.  Its tough enough to see that attitude in peers as they get older, but for a young writer to already be working that angle?  One with no real experience to even judge?  It is sad if she believes it, and pitiful if she does not but has written the piece because she feels it will ‘sell’.

I do agree with her basic premise, and am glad my friend Janet knows enough about me and my love of yesteryear’s styles to forward it.  I think we can lament the loss of style without trying to condemn what we have, though.  We should al endeavor to bring some sense of style, culture, and manners back into society while seeing how far we have become, melding the best of the new and the best of the old, instead of just pining away for the yesterdays that we truly don’t even remember.

 

Its your eulogy…

Written By: Ed - Sep• 24•13

From an article by Arianna Huffington:  ” “The tragedy and the pain that brings us here today is extraordinary,” President Obama said Sunday, eulogizing the 12 men and women killed in the Washington Navy Yard shooting. “It is unique. The lives that were taken from us were unique. The memories their loved ones carry are unique, and they will carry them and endure long after the news cameras are gone.” He spoke of what they gave, how they connected, how much they meant to the lives of the people around them, small kindnesses, lifelong passions, and what made them laugh. For most of us, our eulogy will be not just the first formal marking down of what our lives were about but the only one. The eulogy is the foundational document of our legacy, of how people remember us, of how we live on in the minds and hearts of others. So the question is: Why do we spend so much time on what our eulogy is not going to be?”

Most of the time I read articles like this, the point is to back off from a career, work less, and stop putting time into things that “do not matter”.  Sure, there are those accumulating money for money’s sake and sacrificing their family and friends to do so but, in my experience, that is relatively rare.  Most who put in long hours and work hard and sacrifice do so for a reason: they want a full life. They want better schools for their kids.  They want more room, or a house they can entertain friends in. They want to travel, or spend time with family in a relaxing vacation home. They want to retire early and spend time with grandkids, or doing charity work. Something. It is easy to say “No one ever died and wished they could have had more time at work.” but, in reality, while most successful people work hard and sacrifice and put in long hours at times in their life I don’t know many who succeed and then look back and wish they hadn’t sacrificed to do so.  I know many who rationalized not working hard and later wished they had made other choices.

 

The answer to the question “Why do we spend so much time on what our eulogy is not going to be?”  is that because the work / career / job is what pays the bills that allow us the lifestyle to enable that full eulogy.  It’s that simple.

For those that do not know me personally, I have been very fortunate. My good friends will laugh at my writing about how hard work and long hours are a good thing because I did all that and stopped. I now have time to build the life – for my family as well as myself – that Ms. Huffington wrote about. I could have continued working in the oil industry and spent far less time with my family in order to have more money in the bank right now. Instead, our family made a decision that I would step back and spend more time building a life. I had thought I would do that when I retired at 65.  I was used to working long hours and, even at 40, assumed it would always be that way.  I was up at five in the morning, often in the office at 6 and then worked, routinely, until seven or eight in the evening. I took phonecalls on the way home in the car and at home throughout the evening and frequently during the night, and I was always in the office at some point over the weekend. It was what was necessary to do my job which allowed me some relative financial freedom to spend my free time as I wished and to buy a home in a community I wanted my children to grow up in. Even as a young man, I knew I wanted the things that money could buy more than I wanted to do without, and wanted to be able to do things and go places in my free time and not sit around because I hadn’t worked enough. I had my first job at 14 and worked through high school to buy a car so I could go where I wanted when I wanted.  I took a year off after college to work, welding, to make some decent money before college, get a better car, and have an apartment at school.  While in college I worked summers and vacations. I didn’t graduate and take time off before getting a job, but had a full-time job before I even graduated. I knew the value of money and knew that not having it would stop me from doing more things than the time sacrifice of working a lot ever would.

I cannot say I have ever lived for my job or had one I was passionate about.  I wish I did and would highly recommend doing something you love.  It is what makes those hours you put in far more fulfilling. Usually it is the good people I worked with that kept me at each job, not the work itself. But I always would work, even in a job I found boring, because I never liked being unable to do something because I couldn’t afford it.  Jobs meant money and money meant I would enjoy my free time more.  I ‘get’ work. I say all this because even as I have stepped back in order to have more free time with family, I am not one who necessarily thinks ‘simplifying’ is right for everyone – especially if simplifying means forgoing things you want to do that would enrich your life so that you can work less.  IF you want to have more time to bike, hike, and participate in other recreational activities that cost little and working less will give you more time and not stop you financially now or in the long run?  Great.  You know what you should do. If a person works hard and puts in long hours so that they can retire early and build a life however then that is what they should to do.  If they work hard and put in long hours so that they can travel and fill up their nights and weekends with a full social calendar, then that is right for them.  If you want to take time off and backpack across the country, or step back from your job so you can take all weekends off and camp with the family and doing so will not rob you of other goals you have set for yourself?  Great.  But if you work less, and thereby earn less, and that stops you from doing things socially then what have you gained?  It would be having an adverse affect on the eulogy spoken of earlier.

It is all about balance, and what is right for one person or couple is not right for everyone.  I worked long hours and now do not.  Each decision was right for me and my family at the time.  There are those I know who have done it the opposite way, too.  And some who I would advise to rethink how much they are working (be it too little or too much).  In the end though, it is not for anyone to decide except for the person and families directly affected.

It is not about ‘working more’ or ‘working less’ but about living more and doing what you have to do in order to accomplish that goal.

If the eulogy is the “foundational document of our legacy, of how people remember us, of how we live on in the minds and hearts of others” and we want that to be as full as possible, do not blame it on work if you are not succeeding.  One can build a full life even if you put in long hours at your job. Don’t live your life trying to live up to the arbitrary rules set by others.  YOU know what you want out of life and YOU know what you have to do to build that full life.  That full life can be about travel and exploration.  It can be about family and friends.  It can be about learning, or giving back to the community or world. It can be about anything so long as it is YOUR thing, not a friend’s, some life coach’s, or a newspaper editor’s.

It is not about the amount of time you have away from the office but what you do with it.

It is for you to design, not those who tell you to work more or work less.

Its your eulogy. Go live it.

Never Forget

Written By: Ed - Sep• 11•13

So many thoughts and memories run through my head each 9-11. It isn’t that the day consumed me, or that the cowardly sheep that killed so many that day have made this calendar day forever one associated with fear or terror. Some want to forget that day, and I respect and understand that. I intentionally replay that morning in my head each year as I don’t want to forget it.

I already forgot the names and faces of the zealot cult members brainwashed into mass murder. They aren’t worth remembering. But they were a small group of lunatics and there will always be crazies. I learned nothing new that day. But I did see courage from thousands of men and women in Manhattan. Everyday men and women you might pass on the street, assisting each other when I’m sure their instincts were to get away from there. Police officers, firemen, transit workers, boat captains and crews helping to keep order and move people away. There were far more brave men and women willing to risk their lives for strangers than there were evil sheep. I don’t ever want to forget the heroism I saw that day.

alg-wtc-scene-jpg

I don’t want to forget there is evil out there and we must never be complacent about looking for it and dealing with it. I do not think the killers were unique or ‘special’. There are and will always be men who will trade in their humanity for a chance of fame, especially at the whim of charismatic evil leaders. They are a dime a dozen, not the first and, sadly, not the last. They were successful because we lost sight of that, however. We forgot to pay attention and forgot there is always evil. I don’t want to forget that again.

So I replay the day over in my mind each year.

I remember sitting in my office when a dispatch clerk came in and told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. “Passenger plane or little one?” “They don’t know.” I got up to watch the news out front in Dispatch. Debating on how big the fire looked and what could have happened, I, we, watched live as the second plane hit the second tower and I knew it was a coordinated attack.

The rest of the day was like watching a horror movie, or a sci fi film. I half expected Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger to catch the bad guys so we could turn off the TV and go back to the world the way it was. A world where the religious zealots were in other countries or easily spotted, where our government was paying enough attention to catch plots before they were acted out, and where the good guys were luckier than the bad guys. Instead, coverage went on for days, each of us wondering how much things would change.

I, fortunately, didn’t know a soul that died that day. I’m thankful for that and I want to remember that, too, even as I remember the 2977 victims and fifty times that number, the living victims: the people who lost family members and friends. I was, however, closer to it than many. I previously mentioned a Dispatch office… I was running a petroleum storage terminal near Logan Airport, the airport the hijackers flew out of. We were also near the LNG (liquid natural gas) terminal outside of Boston, another potential target. We were, I found out later, a ‘Top Ten’ target ourselves. Yet everyone came in to work, day in and day out, and tried to keep life as ‘normal’ as they could for themselves and others. Business went on and at times the only pronounced difference that drew me back in was the lack of regular flights overhead for the following week. It was a constant reminder of what a dangerous spot we were in and how the world was forever changed. That silence, as much as the visions that played across the television screens on September 11th, is another piece of the puzzle I don’t want to forget.

Sometimes change happens with the fury of a storm. Sometimes change happens with the silence of the tide rolling in. And I never want either to go by unnoticed.

Please take a few minutes to remember the innocent victims of the Sept. 11th attack, and all the heroes that rushed in to help when others were running away from the explosions. Remember where you were, how you felt, and how different the world was on Sept. 10th in comparison to how it was on September 12th.

Never forget those that perished.

Never forget what we lost that day.

But never forget that in our darkest hour we found ourselves supporting one another, protecting one another, and how we chose to not give in to fear and intimidation and terror.  The people of New York and the rest of the country showed that we are not the sheep that the hijackers were, but would stand up, walk tall, rebuild, and move forward unafraid.

Never forget that, either.

 

It’s Pretty Simple

Written By: Ed - Jul• 12•13

If anyone is following the Zimmerman Trial, you’ll hear a lot of spin and nonsense.

How Trayvon was a good kidTrayvon-Martin

or a bad kid,

trayvon-martin-fingera kid who just smoked a little pot or a kid that was involved in drugs or gangs. You’ll hear Zimmerman was a guy trying to fight crime, and you’ll hear about how he already had been arrested three times for fighting (once with a cop).  How he is a judge’s son and good guy, or about how he felt privileged and only being a judge’s son allowed him to get that gun permit after his arrests. Zimmerman will show up looking clean cut

Zim2and his defense team will paint Trayvon as a hooded gang member.

Trev2  The prosecution will show Zimmerman as the wanna-be tough guy

Zim1and paint Trayvon as an average teen.

031612-national-trayvon-martin  Truthfully, almost all of it will be true to some point.

It doesn’t really matter.

Its pretty simple: If a black man followed a white teen around a black neighborhood, even if it was because he said thought the kid was up to no good, we would be suspicious of the black man’s motives. If the white kid got worried he was being followed and jumped the black guy following him, we’d all be saying we understood and it was justified.

If the armed black guy that had been following the white kid around pulled his gun and killed him, he would have been arrested that night and there would be little national debate.

If it were two blacks, or two whites, it would not be up for national debate.

This is national news only because the police looked the other way and did nothing and the feds had to step in to get a thorough investigation. It is not a question of whether Trayvon jumped Zimmerman for following him or whether Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon after being told to go home. Quite frankly, if I were being followed, was unsure of who or why, and had the opportunity to jump the guy and knock him around I probably would do so too. Even if Trayvon did do that, it does not excuse the use of force that took his life as the incident started when Zimmerman decided to get a gun and go looking for trouble.

It is not about protecting one’s property or guarding one’s castle. I’d be supporting a guy who shot someone breaking in, or if he got into a fight after seeing someone breaking in to his neighbor’s house. That is not the case here. It is not about gun rights or controls.  It is whether or not an armed citizen can go around following / harassing people, and if by doing so he caused a death. This is not a typical neighborhood patrol where the threat of being seen committing a crime is a deterrent. It is a man taking it upon himself to act as an armed police force.  I feel safer knowing my streets are patrolled. If I were in a bad area, I might even feel safer if I were armed.  But did Zimmerman make anyone safer by arming himself and going out looking for trouble?

 

No Child Left Behind at a Crossroads

Written By: Ed - Feb• 14•13
Yesterday I was forwarded a depressing piece from a Washington Post article. Having attended public and religiously affiliated schools myself, as well as friends who are teachers and in education, a wife who is Founder and President of a leading educational media company (Six Red Marbles), and two children that have been through public, private, and religiously affiliated schools I feel I understand it and have a good background to speak on the subject. I dealt with public school as a parent prior to No Child Left Behind, had a child who went through it in NCLB’s early incantations, and now have another child in school and have to take NCLB’s issues into account.
Colorful Chalk at Chalkboard
I think its clear that many poor school systems have benefited from No Child Left Behind but the majority of schools have not. We are sacrificing the better and best among us in order to raise the quality of the education those at the bottom receive. We, America, are a charitable society and look out for the poor and those who need an assist to rise up the economic ladder. And we are doing that in many areas, not just education. I’m all for helping those who need a hand but am not sure the best way it can be done is to help them at the expense of those at another level. Maybe (hopefully?) in the end, it will be worthwhile and debates surely can be made either way. With my daughter I saw a tremendous grade school with committed teachers turn out great kids (and she had NCLB from 3rd grade onward in her school career). I also saw how the Middle School in our city would have done damage. They geared everything toward the middle… they brought the bottom up and left the better students (of which my daughter was one) to basically fend for themselves. Was it only NCLB? No. Earlier, some teachers felt an obligation to take those that showed an ability and to encourage it and turn out the best students they could. In the large middle school however, it seemed that many teachers were overworked. They seemed to feel they didn’t have to worry about the ‘better’ students or spend resources on them to bring them along. It is why, frankly, we pulled her and moved her to a private school. Buckingham, Brown & Nichols was academically rigorous and challenging and forced her to push herself instead of pushing her to the background. I am thankful we had the ability to send her there as I am sure there are many gifted children facing the same issue that must make due in the school they are in. Too many kids in too large a school with large class sizes appeared to lead to a “move them in, move them out” mentality as compared to BB&N’s philosophy of “Grade schools prep the student for middle school. Middle school preps for high school. High school preps you for college.”. Teaching with the goal of passing a test instead of teaching the child how to think and love learning.

So what to do? Can we achieve uniformity of education? The final outcome of how good a school is seems to always go back to how involved and interested the parents are. It is, from my research, the number one factor. Well paid systems attract teachers that want more money, but not always more dedicated or capable teachers. Smaller class sizes, resources, etc. are equally attractive but commitment and energy in both teachers, students, and parents is the key. In those school systems that have involved parents – be they low income or high income – the children benefit from better schools (both public and private). Frequently (but not always) however, that speaks to communities where there are ‘stay at home parents’ in many homes and actively see what is happening in the school. For us, we made a family choice and sacrifices based on that. Many don’t have that option and obviously, communities with a lot of single parents or dual working parents just can’t put in the effort or aren’t around when school is in session. No Child Left Behind may try to ensure a certain amount of knowledge is imparted to the kids, but it can’t fix the problem of schools where parents are not, or cannot be, heavily involved. Since I don’t see any substitute for that involvement, I’m not sure there will ever be a way to legislate all schools being close to equal. For myself, personally, I’m glad we are in an area with so much parental involvement – be that in the public schools or private ones.

The article speaks a lot about Advanced Placement classes. From what I have seen with BB&N and my daughter, the best things about the AP classes are that they are the toughest ones. She, and we, did not see them as a way to opt out of college classes. Colleges did not, that I could tell, see the students who took them as those that could jump right in and immediately take second level classes. Colleges like to see that you are stretching yourself and, in theory, they would rather see a B in an AP class than an A in another, even Honors, class. Sure, some teachers taught ‘for the test’ in order to ensure that if you took an AP level class you would pass the AP exam. Some, most notably her Chemistry professor, taught the class as a more challenging class but did not teach the class in order to pass the test. Many students did not do well on it despite the school’s reputation for academic rigor. My guess is that those students who did take AP classes did do better in their college classes, however. While my own daughter took many AP classes, she did not use them to ‘opt out’ of courses in college and I think that was the correct thing to do. We hear about some of her pals that did skip the initial course so they could go directly to the second level, but many are struggling because of that decision.

In the final analysis, maybe the country has to decide if we are better off with a vast majority of students doing ‘fine’, or a wide variety of levels with some doing extremely well and others not so. Its a tough choice. I suppose we could try to reward ‘better’ students with better schools and teachers and also try to do the same with students who are more challenged from the start, but painting all kids and schools with No Child Left Behind’s broad brush will not accomplish that.

 

Savoring time deserved, not wasted…

Written By: Ed - Feb• 12•13

Laissez

I love New Orleans.  LOVE NOLA’s Jazzfest.  And while I have never had the burning desire to attend Mardi Gras, the above video does make me wish I lived there long enough to join this group and participate.  Thinking about Mardi Gras, I admittedly dismissed it as ‘an excuse to drink beyond tolerance’.  Pretty much the reason I dislike New Years’ Eve and St. Patty’s Day, too.  I’m all for a few adult beverages, but not for people setting out to get smashed, obnoxious, and embarrass themselves (albeit with the ‘It was a holiday!” excuse).   I will admit, however, that what I like the most about New Orleans is the spirit embodied by many in the parades, none more so than the Laissez Boys.  The throwing off of convention, the desire (and ability) to have fun for fun’s sake… the putting aside of worries about appearance and what people will think.  Very appealing.  Sure some use it to drink too much, but that group likely has many in it that usually drink too much anyway.  The using Mardi Gras as an excuse for frivolity that normally one pushes aside in favor of predictability and steadfastness?  Very appealing.  And while I realize we cannot act like that all the time, tossing off the shackles once in a while would be a great thing for all of us.

Here is how they describe themselves:

“We are the Laissez Boys of New Orleans – the worlds first Social Aid and Leisure Club.   

We are men of industry who practice and teach the art of earned relaxation, the majesty of intemperance and the value of charitable servitude. 

Social Aide comes in the form of instruction to the general public in the art of leisure – the when, where and how of manly indulgence.  Social Aide also consists of entertainment, provided in abundance whenever the Laissez Boys roll.  Social Aide is manifest as well in generosity of spirit and means, giving back to the community with the very tools we use to work our leisurely magic.

Leisure lies in the making of something special, in the time spent with like minds in the dogged pursuit of those things required for leisure.  Leisure, after all, must be earned – this is the subtle but crucial distinction between leisure and laziness.  We can only truly savor time deserved, not time wasted.   Aristotle said, “We work to have leisure, on which happiness depends”.

Upon our debut at Mardi Gras 2013, the Laissez Boys will dress in sharp, gentlemanly attire and parade through the streets of New Orleans in our signature electro-powered recliners.

Watch us, as we take to the streets on the best day of the year, in the best city in the world with the best men we know, sipping the finest cocktails, and wearing the flat-out most deluxe clothing possible, 

Experience Carnival from the best seat in the house.”

Heck, I just applied (seriously) for membership while I wrote this. The more I read about them, the more I wish there were a local chapter.   Then again, the spirit required to join and participate is in short supply at times, and  (sadly) more so within the NorthEast.

Maybe we need a pick a holiday where the goal is to let go of inhibitions, free yourself of expectations and conventions, and aim to do so without getting plastered.  Do you think its possible?  I think the country would be a little better off if we all had a tad more New Orleans living inside us all.

 

By Any Other Name …. (warning, gruesome and graphic pictures included!)

Written By: Ed - Jan• 24•13

Pitt bulls.  American Staffordshire Terrier.  Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  Whatever.

Pitt Bull

I live just outside Boston, MA and the mayor there (Mayor Thomas Menino) has called, once again, for a ban / crackdown on the breed.  I heard today that he signed a bill to require Pit Bulls to be muzzled when in public, and it has created a bit of a furor with those who do not agree with breed specific laws.

Why?

I agree that it has connotations of racism, treating some differently than others… BUT THEY ARE PETS AND DOGS AND ANIMALS BRED TO BE DIFFERENT.  They are not people who should all be treated equally with the same rights.  THEY ARE, BY THEIR VERY NATURE, DIFFERENT physically and in temperament.  Are we really so PC that we have to deny that now?

It isn’t a question of Pitt Bulls being the only breed that barks or bites. Nor are Pitts the breed that bites the most. But Pitts, as a breed, do bite more than others, are less predictable than other breeds, and inflict FAR worse damage. Poodles my bark and bite more, but they usually bite and release and the bites are not typically dangerous.

Dog Bite

Pitts bite, lock their jaws, shake, tear, and tug. They zone out, disregard personal pain, and don’t give up until broken from their ‘trance’… they inflict horrific and many times life threatening wounds.

Pit Bull Bite

I don’t even blame the breed as that is what they were bred to do.  It is in their nature.  I had a friend that spent almost ten years working with a local Pitt rescue and finally gave up as the dogs were too far damaged or were uncontrollable and unpredictable even when initially well cared for so could not be safely placed in a home. I have close friends that love the breed and are great owners, knows the breed’s quirks and tendencies, and deal with it. They have a great dog but even they have had to pull back from dog play groups, saw unpredictably aggressive behavior near a school and can’t bring the dog to pick up their kids, etc.

All breeds are descendants of initially wild dogs and have bred for certain traits. Dogs to work in the field, protect a home, ferret out vermin, retrieve birds in hunting, etc. Physical traits have been bred out or in to help, but also behavioral tendencies such as the tenacity of breeds used to hunt or the stubbornness of bulldogs. While the individual dog may have more or less of a tendency compared to others in the breed, those breeds will always have certain traits comparatively to other breeds. If you take generations of time to breed a dog that us good with family, learns quickly, and is obedient, you end up with Retrievers. If you breed one that is large, unfettered by weather, is mellow, and lives to be challenged with work then you get a Burmese Mountain dog. If you breed one to be aggressive, athletic, quick tempered, lock jawed, protective, and pain tolerant then you get a Pit.

Pitt, Agressive

Do some Retrievers snap or bite? Yup. Do some Pits make good pets with the right owners? Yup. But you are always going against what generations have bred in and bred out.

No one questions it if someone says that bulldogs are typically lazy and stubborn. Or that poodles are smart but often high strung. We acknowledge breed tendencies and generalities. So why are we denying that some breeds bred to fight and inflict damage need to be treated differently as they are prone to be aggressive and can inflict terrible damage?

She Said, He Said and the QB’s Girlfriend

Written By: Ed - Jan• 09•13

I saw a ‘story’ this morning about how ESPN apologized for Brent Musburger’s comments during the National College Championship game the other night.  Having watched the game, I couldn’t remember anything controversial and wondered what I missed. As it turns out, nothing.

In a blowout game where little was new or fresh or unpredictable on the field, he made the (horror of horrors!) mistake of saying a QB’s beauty pageant winner girlfriend was… beautiful.  He joked that boys should start throwing a ball around because ‘quarterbacks get the pretty girls”.  ”Amazing,” I thought, “It must be a slow news week that anyone is trying to make a story out of this.”  Especially because, as it turns out, she was not insulted at all.   She took it as the compliment it was meant to be. He was not rude.  He did not call her ‘hot’, or ‘sexy’.  Nothing sexual at all.  He simply made, in this day and age, the ‘mistake’ of calling a beautiful young woman who won beauty contests a beautiful woman.

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Someone who’s opinions I respect greatly disagrees.  I hadn’t even thought of writing a blog post on this issue until I read her comments on her blog and was, frankly, amazed.  I still can’t believe anyone I know thinks this is an issue.  Anyway, read her post here. She is bright, funny, well written, and we agree quite a bit.  Not this time though ;-)

This was my response to her post:  ”…I don’t even get this story. They didn’t make fun of her. They weren’t rude. They briefly (albeit excitedly) spoke of how attractive she was. That is wrong now? She is Miss Alabama and can’t be called attractive without a formal apology statement from the network and the commentator getting in trouble? It says a lot about our culture that a very attractive woman is called out as being attractive? One who has been in, and won, beauty pageants? I think it says a lot about our culture that this is a story or that anyone is upset a man called an attractive woman attractive. You even called her gorgeous. He didn’t call her hot or sexy or anything rude. I think it’s a shame that even an obvious compliment is now reason for someone to take offense. Heck, even she was flattered and thinks its nonsense. You made a comparison about a woman reporter talking about Tom Brady’s looks. They do all the time! And they talk about how he dated and married a model. No one made a federal case out of that though. In this case, the commentator / reporter wasn’t discussing her career and got sidetracked by her looks. She was not the story. He was discussing the quarterback and how he got such an attractive (beauty queen) girlfriend. You say its a shame he couldn’t see past that… why? All he did was see her. He wasn’t interviewing her or talking about her life. Why is it bad to say a pretty woman is pretty? Since when is that insulting?

You can’t possibly think that her looks and his soon-to-be-pro-quarterback-position and current ‘job’ as quarterback of the number one team in the nation aren’t factors. Do you think if she were plain he would have asked her out? Do you think she goes out with the computer nerds? I’m not saying they both aren’t wonderful people, but those factors clearly were in play and attractions. None of which has anything to do with a sports commentator pointing out how beautiful she was. He didn’t say that was why the QB was dating her. He simply gushed over her and did so respectfully. …

Actresses are called out for being attractive all the time.  Kate Middleton is, frequently.  On the flip side, Tom Brady (the Patriots’ QB) is gushed over by women.  All accepted (as they should be).  What is different here?  This was not a case of her accomplishments being ignored to speak of how pretty she is.  She was sitting in the stands and a comment was made that  she was attractive, the implied joke being that he was lucky to have her and wouldn’t if he were not such a great quarterback.

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While I’m sure that her looks and his talent are into why they are staying together, is it wrong if that is what initially made each other take notice?  Really?  Are we, as a society, going to try to pretend that looks don’t matter at all any more?  Musburger did not say she was ‘only a pretty face’ or anything like that.  He complimented her.  Lighten up, people.

—–

Note: In writing this and filling in the links, I noticed that her parent’s think Musburger should be cut some slack and didn’t think it was insulting, either.

Be humane, as well as a human

Written By: Ed - Jan• 08•13

Few, more than I, realize the evil that men can act out.  I’ve studied world history and know of man’s inhumanity toward one another throughout the past.  Whether for land expansion, the need (or desire) for resource acquisition, the love of power, or base desire of greed there are usually clear cut motives.  Especially when seen with 20/20 hindsight. I grew up in a poor city and saw bullies and desperate people firsthand.  I stood in the oil terminal that I ran (directly across from Boston’s Logan Airport)  and watched the television as planes were used to murder over three thousand men, women, and children.  And as evil as they were, I knew they were religious zealots with a cause.  I’m a fan of true crime books and know there are psychopaths and predators in this world that have done unspeakable things to others with no pangs of guilt at all.  I understand there are those in the world who have little conscious and can rationalize any action. Yet I am constantly surprised when I see it up close and personal… people who look normal and probably have relatively normal lives yet are just two legged versions of the animals we put in cages.

Some people don’t deserve the title ‘human’.

Today, while driving my wife in to work, I was stopped at a red light in Sullivan Square on the edge of Charlestown. Whenever there, a man limps by hoping for change from the drivers stopped in traffic.  Clean, well mannered, he walks with a cane and a limp and carries a ‘Please help if you can… Homeless Vet’ sign.  I do not know him and have no reason to doubt the sign other than my own cynicism.  I rarely give money and don’t believe I ever have to this man, despite seeing him walk by each time I come through the area on the way to my wife’s office.  Despite his being there on the coldest days and in the rain or snow, I have become a little immune to all the men and women I pass when traveling that are looking for ‘handouts’ and help.  Sure enough, he was there this morning.  Just after he walked past my car, we heard a woman’s voice screaming epithets, cursing and swearing in a vicious rage. I looked over just as th light changed and cars started to move and there was the man, limping away from a silver car that had both windows open.  A woman, rough looking and probably younger than she appeared, was berating the guy.  ”You f—ing disgust me!  Asking for money from people!  F—ing disgusting low life!  Get a job you piece of s–t!… ”  On it went while the cars all moved forward and they drove off, her male companion shouting things out his window as well that I could not hear.  My wife and I were disgusted by what we just saw… as bad as it would have been if they were laughing, thinking it was funny to pick on a defenseless man, these two losers were screaming viciously.  They looked like they could / would kill the guy…  And why?  Because he had a sign asking for change?  They had clearly lost it and were doing their best to make this guy, obviously in need of help, feel as low as possible.

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I wondered, did it make them feel better about their own miserable lives?  Did they think they could berate him into a realization he should / could make a change, get a job, become a taxpayer?  Did they feel tough by screaming at a handicapped homeless person, vet or not?   How little did they have in their own lives to make them such soulless people?  What other miseries are they spreading to those who unfortunately have to live near them?  And then I thought of the homeless man. Maybe he isn’t even homeless.  Maybe he lives in a shelter, or even has an apartment but no job and is forced to beg to pay bills. Maybe he will spend what he gets to buy food, or maybe he’ll spend it to feed a substance abuse habit.  Who knows and I don’t walk in his shoes, nor did I walk in them as he became who is is.  A friend once asked why I gave a homeless man a few bucks once, “You know he’s just going to buy booze with it later, right?”  ”So was I,” I replied, “and he needs it more.”  No matter. I can’t ‘fix’ him or straighten out what is wrong. But what would the rest of his day be like having met those two?  What would be going through his mind each time he walked up the line of cars? Each time a window rolled down and he had no clue whether it would be a compassionate hand offering some change or a hate filled piece of trash trying to make themselves feel better by kicking a guy already down on his luck?

I dropped my wife off and drove back.  I parked and walked over to him as he looked at me with suspicion and offered him the five bucks I had in my pocket.  I apologized for the whole human race and told him, frankly, I didn’t know what his situation was or how he got where he was but that NO ONE deserved to be spoken to that way and I was sorry anyone had done that to him.  He looked a tad confused as I don’t think he understood why I would come back 10 minutes after it had happened  but was clearly appreciative.  The five spot and my apology for them won’t change anything.  He’ll still wonder what will happen each time a window rolls down and still will wake up tomorrow with no job and a need to get money to buy food.  Selfishly, it probably actually did more for me than him, and I know that. I doubt I’ll start giving him money each time I pass but I’ll never look at him, or other homeless men and women, the same again.

I’m not writing this because I think you all should give.  There are serious arguments that it enables and may make things worse.  I’ll have to continue deciding on a case by case basis what I’ll do each time I see someone asking for change. But pass on by or stop and make a donation, there is never a reason to make anyone not harming you feel worse. It is never okay to take your own day out on another person just because you can.  He may have issues that will prevent him from having a ‘normal’ life, be they real, imagined, physical, or emotional.  But I wish him well and as bad as I feel for him, I feel worse for the family and neighbors of the two animals that drove through Sullivan Square this morning.