Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Triumph Through The Tragedy


I was raised a Catholic.  While I’m not what you would describe as your textbook Catholic, I still believe in God -- not so much in man and even more so lately.  Part of what we’re taught when we’re young is to simply accept that everything that happens in this life, absolutely everything, is part of God’s divine plan.  It’s one of those sacred canons that you’re not supposed to question, pending a yardstick to the wrists.  Guantanamo has nothing on Catholic nuns I kid you not.

When a mother of three is diagnosed with Cancer in her early fifties and later dies, never to see her daughters marry or have children of their own, we’re supposed to accept that it was all part of God’s divine plan.  Or when the elderly grandparent, having lived a long and hopefully meaningful life, takes a final breath, we’re told it was his time and more importantly, that it was all part of God’s divine plan.  Oh the mystery of the existential always made me wonder why should we accept the mother dying from Cancer or the elderly whose life has seemingly run its course?  Then you have children ranging in ages from 6 to 7, gunned down in their school by a deranged madman, we question how?  How could God allow something like this to happen?  I wish I had the answer to that.

We’re an interesting bunch; Catholics that is.  We occasionally find refuge in the idea of God’s devine plan when things don’t go quite as planned.  When it really hits the fan we pull out the-- it’s God’s will and works in mysterious ways card.  You know because the mysterious will of a deity is completely valid when it allows children to be slaughtered before roll call especially a deity that proclaims to love us as his own.  George Carlin, seen by many Christians as the anti-Christ, once said “I was a Catholic until I reached the age of reason”.  Unlike Carlin, I never completely shared in his atheistic views but where he and I agree is how man uses Religion to fill in the blanks -- to essentially keep the herd moving along with the caveat being -- no questions allowed.  Move along, move along.

When I heard that there was another mass shooting at a school, taking 26 lives 20 of which were children, I immediately thought of my own daughter who’s only two.  I was thankful that she wasn’t at the age to understand what had happened thus prompting those questions that test a parent’s mettle.  It may have been a selfish reaction but I have a feeling when all is said and done and the families are allowed to heal from this unthinkable tragedy, the common denominator is going to end up focusing on the role parents have and haven’t been playing in the lives of their children probably in the last 20 + years.  Let me just tell you, being a parent is easily the most difficult job you could ever possibly have.  Sure you have the self-help books some penned by famous authors such as Dr. Benjamin Spock.  But in the end there are no user guides, no pdf files, nothing but your own life experiences and good judgment that you have to impart onto your child.  If you fall short or fail in that regard there is no do-over, no restart. 

There is so much that we don’t know right now as to why Adam Lanza, 20, would go on such a rampage killing his mother , the 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut and culminating by taking his own life.  I didn’t want to draw any conclusions regarding this tragedy.  Like everyone, there is a time to grieve and heal and then a time to reflect and find resolution.  I see this tragedy broken down into three equally important components, none of which should overshadow the other or be treated like a political football to score points with any issue groups. 

We are living in a violent culture precipitated by a lack of parental guidance at home.  We have parents allowing their children to sit in front of TV’s playing for hours on end video games like Call of Duty.  These first-person shooter games are intensely realistic as they mimic wartime battlefield conditions and some in fact have been partially created and tested by current and former members of the military.  That in itself has caused the Pentagon to take notice.  This is from an article on Forbes.com:

Some have criticized the use of video game technology to train and equip military recruits, citing it as a form of desensitization that makes the taking of lives easier. But proponents argue differently, saying that the use of these video game trainings has allowed for the opposite. By training a soldier in an accurate recreation of former missions, military analysts believe that video game developers are helping to prepare soldiers for the battlefield in a way never before possible.

It’s the very same desensitization that’s affecting our children and that’s what we should find very concerning.  I’ve played these games before and I would be lying if I told you that it didn’t raise my heart rate and put me on edge after just a few minutes of play.  Kids today are spending hours playing these games and parents seem to be just fine allowing it and guess what, video games have ratings systems in place in hopes to preventing the young from playing them.   How’s that working out especially when it’s the parents who often are the one’s buying these games for their kids?

Of the recent mass shootings, each perpetrator shared a similar profile.  They were loners who were extremely intelligent, almost completely lacking in social skills and influenced in part by violent video games.  Though each act of violence has its own distinct context, especially regarding Army Major Nidal Hassan, who was in active duty and who’s act should be treated more as a terrorist attack, over the past decade the social science research community has continued to search for more general frameworks of understanding.  Indiana University commissioned a study of 28 students who were randomly assigned to play either a violent, first-person shooter game or a non-violent one every day for a week. None of the participants had much previous gaming experience.  Researchers found that those who played the violent video games showed less activity in areas of the brain that involved emotions, attention and inhibition of impulses.

But some researchers believe that establishing more precise psychological/criminal profiles in the hope of preventing such events through interventions may ultimately prove elusive.  We may not be able to exactly predict human behavior but what we can do, especially as parents, is to take note of our children and how they behave and the games they play.  It’s inexcusable to allow teenagers to spend hours playing a game that mimics the ravages of war, only to have them become desensitized to it.  We’re no longer in the age of Pac-Man, not when you have games so realistic that they’re used to train soldiers.   This is the first step in addressing this epidemic.

The next step segues almost seamlessly as it concerns our mental health system or in fact our woeful excuse of a system.  I work with the public and this may be viewed as simplistic of me to say but I’m very confident in the fact that I’ve dealt with the gamut of some --shall we say--psychologically challenged individuals.  I say that tongue-in-cheek but in all honesty it’s something that’s always on my mind at work.  To put it bluntly, I’ve dealt with people that absolutely should be institutionalized.  I’ve had someone tell me that their Cable company was remotely viewing them in their homes from a camera placed inside their set-top box.  She was completely and utterly serious and while we often reminisce at work about that incident jokingly, it makes me wonder why someone who clearly needed more than just a pill to get back on the right track again was out and about among the rest of us.  I’ve had people threaten my safety, my life – the list can go on.  All of them by people who are somehow operating under the radar of mental fitness. 

In my home state of New Jersey, the Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital closed on June 30, and the subject of a hearing that was held in Trenton where mental health advocates, legislators and opponents of the shutdown seemed to agree on one point: New Jersey needs to commit more money to support Hagedorn's patients as they move out of the hospital and into the homes of relatives, residential facilities in the community, and other psychiatric hospitals.   As it is being reported, Adam Lanza may have had mental issues and was not properly diagnosed and treated.  The question it raises is: are we doing enough to address the very real issue of mental health in this country or are we simply shaking our heads and making juvenile jokes when someone acts way out of what is generally the norm? 

And to tie it into my first component -- why didn’t Adam Lanza’s mother do something about it?  Reports are saying that she would tell babysitter’s that Adam was to never be left alone.  That in and of itself should have warranted psychological help not to mention it brings into question the veritable arsenal Adam Lanza’s mother seemed to be amassing in her home--her home with a potentially mentally ill son.

This leads me to the third and last component that needs to be addressed and that involves guns.  I’m a gun owner and have been for many years and it’s something that my father taught me to understand and respect from a very young age. I remember feeling both fearful and in awe of it simultaneously.  I was about ten years old when he was comfortable enough to tell me about it. Some of my friends wonder why would I have a gun in the home especially with a two year old.  First, I keep my handgun in a locked safe that only my wife and I have access to.  According to reports Lanza’s mother was a gun collector -- owning handguns and rifles – all accessible to her son.  Now if I knew my child had ANY psychological problems, the last thing I would do is keep my handgun where she could access it.  Let alone a cache of weapons.   It’s basic common sense. 

One of the weapons Lanza used was the AR-15.  It’s essentially a civilian version of the military M-16.  It usually fires a .223 caliber round whereas its military counterpart fires the more powerful 5.56 full metal jacket round.  The clip used in the AR-15 can hold from 5 to 100 rounds.  As a gun owner and someone who believes in the 2nd amendment, I find it ridiculous that ANY gun owner would find it necessary to have a weapon that holds as much as one hundred rounds.  Forgive me how this comes across but my .357 Magnum holds 5 rounds -- I only need 1.  I say that because the issue of gun control is something that over the coming days will be front and center because of this tragedy. 

The fight over gun control is a battle between two diametrically opposing viewpoints – one on the political left and the other on the political right.  Unfortunately, as with most issues, the extreme elements on both sides tend to have the loudest, and often times, most irrational voices.  You see there are those who feel that there is no weapon, or ammunition type, or high capacity magazine that should ever be banned because of an irrational fear that someone like President Obama will somehow summon the Army in black helicopters to come door-to-door, confiscating their arms while burning the Constitution.  

Trust me gun owners, if the President really wanted to do that, you and your AR-15, one in each arm, wouldn’t be able to stop it.  What we do need is more in depth background checks and licensing.  Yes, licensing.  If I have to take a test to drive my SUV then I think taking a test to show that I’m responsible enough to use a handgun is only fair.  The idea of everyone being armed isn’t feasible since most people aren’t mandated to be trained in the first place.  Relying on armed untrained citizens to properly use firearms responsibly would be a huge risk.  The last thing we all want is for guns to be in anyone and everyone’s hands –regardless of age or mental capacity. 

Don’t get me wrong.  There are those on the left who advocate a complete ban on firearms and they’re simply living in a utopia that only exists in their minds.  But to juxtapose this with another hot-button issue, there are those on the right who think abortions, at any stage of the pregnancy, should be banned.  They too show little in the way of compromising.  It’s this inability to find common ground –something so lacking these days – that is why both ends of the political spectrum have little to no trust in each other.  But to make the unfortunate assumption that simply banning guns will solve this issue is just the easy out and all it does is give the opportunistic politician a chance to prop up their brand all the while offering up a false sense of security at the expense of guaranteed rights.   

If there was one element to this story that stands apart from the issues it has to be the media.  I understand the role of the media is to inform but when informing takes a backseat to wall-to-wall sensationalism, a line has to be drawn especially when members of the media feel the need to express their own opinions on the matter.  CNN anchor Don Lemon stated that despite gun violence actually going down since 1990, in his words said “it doesn’t matter” essentially saying restrictions need to be put in place.  I agree to an extent but if the media continues to focus on only one aspect of this tragedy then their doing a disservice to us all. 

To put this into perspective, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2009 there were 1,314 children under the age of 14 that died in motor vehicle crashes, and the numbers rose even higher in 2012.  That’s like having 65 Sandy Hook tragedies yet the media doesn’t report that or come out for a ban on certain type of vehicles.  Do we really need cars that can travel in excess of 100 miles per hour?  Where’s the call for a ban on sports cars or sub compacts?

I don’t know what the next few days, weeks and months will come because of this.  I do know that there are no easy remedies out there and anyone who tries to convince you that all we need is that “one” fix, is flat out lying and probably pandering to a particular group.  There’s a saying that through tragedy comes triumph.  I look at my daughter and I wish my faith was stronger --I really do.  That’s the funny thing about faith, you either have it or you don’t.  I want to believe that God wouldn’t want children to be slaughtered and I understand that we all have free will.  

Free will –according to Christianity—the direct result of Eve eating the apple from the “tree of knowledge”.  But I’m still at a loss as to how this all fits into His “Devine Plan”?  By Eve’s actions we are now subject to life without God’s involvement?  Is that our punishment?  And why would God wish to punish us for seeking knowledge?  We pray for things like this not to happen but if they’re predetermined, what’s the point?  I wish it were easy for me to offer myself up to faith, as it was when I was younger.  If there is anything we should all pray for, it’s the ability to find hope in a time when hope is slowly fleeting.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Generally Out-Managed...er

Have you ever wondered what does the term "fair market value" really mean? It's often bantered about in the sports world when an athlete vying for a new contract, tries to sell his talents to the highest bidder. I hear it all the time. To me, it means getting paid for the service you're providing balanced against what others in your specific field are being paid for doing the same. Sounds fairly simple right? You get paid according to what your peers are being paid and how well they perform. That's how it works for everyone- everyone with the exception of one Robert Allan Dickey. 

You see, Mr. Dickey, he's just weird. First off, what's with the name? Dickey. Really? He play's professional Baseball for a living but that's a loose term since he happens to play for the New York Mets. Don't get me started on that - talk about having regrets. He's a pitcher but I'll be damned, he's a weird one at that too. He's a knuckleball pitcher. The knuckleball happens to be a last resort pitch used by those trying desperately to hold onto their career.

It's kind of like when Lindsey Lohan play's Elizabeth Taylor in a Lifetime made-for-TV movie. He's also missing a ligament or a nerve or something in his elbow; weird and damaged goods I tell you. Oh and here's the cherry on the top of this sundae, he's 38 years old! He's weird, old, damaged goods - and he wants to get paid "fair market value". I got his nerve- right here.

I admit he did ok last year. He led the Mets in practically every pitching category including usage of the word "enigmatic" 247 times. He was the first Mets pitcher ever to quote Faulkner in a post game interview that left the dreamy Kevin Burkhardt mesmerized in the moment. Oh yeah, and he won the Cy Young award. It's not that I'm minimizing what he means to the Mets but he's replaceable especially that he thinks he should get both "fair market value" and long term security. Sure I know he's just looking for a 3 year extension but he's 38 years old for crying out loud. And you know I don't like long term relationships plus we all know I've had to put a ring on one player this winter so far - two is pushing it! Damn that Beyonce.

Word on the street is that Anibal Sanchez just inked a 5 year, $80 million dollar deal to return to the Detroit Tigers. That's a lot of coin for a guy who's career record is under five hundred. Then you have that kid with the mental issues in Anaheim, Grienke. He just signed a 6 year deal with the Dodgers worth almost $160 million. I guess I have to agree that Dickey is worth somewhere in between those guys, right? Damn market. Here I was hoping it would bottom out and come to me (that's code word for I was hoping Dickey would finally exibit oxygen deprivation from his Kilimanjaro ascent and sign for pennies on the dollar).

Well needless to say, he's feeling fine, a little peeved but otherwise ok. I would be peeved too if my boss asked me to dress like an Elf at the company Christmas party. Maybe asking him to park the cars took it too far. Oh well, you live and learn. I have to get going now, I'm currently texting Alex Anthopoulos but don't worry, I'm multitasking here. My box of chocolates order from Swiss Colony just got approved - on company credit no less. Now that's winning!

All my best and happy holidays,

Sandy

Thursday, December 6, 2012

This IS the Mega Deal You Were Looking For


There’s something about being in your mid-thirties to early forties where you can say without a shadow of a doubt, what a major impact Star Wars has had on your life.  I remember being so sick and home from school with a cold in 1980 and all I wanted was for my dad to sneak me into the local theater to see The Empire Strikes Back.  Of course that didn’t happen.  Those crazy parents, always being so parental; bless their souls.  Little did they know the scars it left me with as I had no choice but to watch the greatest of all Star Wars films on VHS – FOUR YEARS LATER and after having seen The Return of the Jedi.  Oh the humanity.

Of course I eventually forgave my parents for their…insidious lack of vision – as I’m sure Palpatine would be remissed to point out.  Yes my parents raised a good (hopefully) person who’s turned into a well adjusted, successful adult and a married parent to his own two year old daughter - who’s soon to be initiated into the world George Lucas envisioned some 35 years ago.  So when I heard a few weeks ago that George Lucas announced his retirement from filmmaking and decided to sell Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Corporation, I became full of more mixed and odd emotions than the result of a Luke and Leia kiss.  I felt as if a part of my childhood had been surgically removed via lightsaber and sold to a bunch of pesky Jawas (for $4 billion no less). Yet at the same time I felt that if there was one company that could not only preserve but also cultivate the Star Wars Universe for years to come, it would be Disney. 

The Walt Disney Company already has quite the portfolio having acquired Pixar (which ironically was a subsidiary of Lucasfilm created in the 70’s and later sold in 1986 to Steve Jobs) early in 2006 and most recently in 2009, added Marvel Studios. And with the success of this past summer’s The Avengers, it’s a safe bet that Lucas’ decision to sell to Disney will solidify that company for years to come.  But the questions on the minds of fanboys and girls alike are, “Did the maker sell out?” Meaning will the Star Wars franchise become even more watered down now that Disney is in control?  Granted, that’s somewhat overly critical but I thought about this for a while and with respect to George Lucas, after seeing the prequels, can it really get more watered down for the masses?

"Say Rebel...one...more...damn time."
I get it, George Lucas isn’t Quentin Tarantino and it’s not as if everyone is pining for a Star Wars version of Pulp Fiction (other than me perhaps).  Part of what makes Star Wars so universal is that it speaks to everyone at any age but at its core, lay the very foundations of classic storytelling.  Themes such as redemption, revenge, friendship, loyalty, the very battle of good versus evil, all of which make Star Wars timeless.  As jaded as some Star Wars fans have become thanks to the mixed bag that are the prequels, I’m actually not worried that Disney will suddenly slip mouse ears onto Vader’s shiny dome – well maybe if it’s to sell merchandise – but hasn’t all of that cheese been done already and under Lucas’ force grip? 

"Gratuitous product placement you have"
I’ve always believed that the qualities that make George Lucas as great as he is are some of the very same qualities that have constricted much of his work and disappointed some of his fans.  Like any filmmaker, Lucas has always desired (and more times than not has attained) total control over his films as he was essentially one of the original independent filmmakers in Hollywood.  Sometimes the trade off that comes with total control ends up resulting in tunnel vision.  As much as I’m a fan of his work, I don’t think there’s one fan of filmmaking that thinks George Lucas is a master of the English language.  Dialogue has just never been his strong suit as even Harrison Ford was always fond of saying, “You can write this shit, but ya can’t say It.” – in regards to Lucas’ scripts. 

Another drawback of Lucas’ is his almost fervent desire of filming everything digitally.  Any Star Wars fan worth his salt knows the visual differences between the original versus the prequel films.  Because the technology didn’t exist back in the late 70’s and 80’s, Lucas literally had to create the technology himself thus ushering in ILM.  There isn’t a filmmaker in Hollywood today who doesn’t owe a bit of gratitude for the work Industrial Light and Magic have afforded them but sometimes a good thing can be overused and abused. 

There’s a lack of substance and physical reality to some of the work ILM did on the prequels.  Was it really necessary to digitally create a single clone trooper in a single scene?  Was it necessary to replace actual landscapes with digital mock ups?  Sometimes just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should and Hollywood seems to be gravitating more towards blending technology with traditional techniques rather then totally relying on computers to enhance their films.

It has to be difficult for Lucas to turn what has essentially been his life’s greatest work over to someone else even if it is someone he’s known his entire career.  But letting go of the reigns may be exactly what is needed to bring in new, fresh ideas. Luckily for both Lucas and fan’s alike he’s turning it over to someone who has had a hand in creating some of the most memorable films ever to grace the silver screen, films such as, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, to name a few. 

Kathleen Kennedy has been given quite the daunting task of maintaining one of the greatest film franchises ever made.  Kennedy, a highly respected Hollywood vet, has worked along side the likes of Spielberg, Eastwood, Fincher and Scorsese over the years.  She’s one half of the powerhouse producing team of Kennedy and Frank Marshall, her husband, and alongside Steven Spielberg, formed a triumvirate at Amblin Entertainment. 

Letting go for a filmmaker is probably the most difficult thing to do.  There’s a quote that films are never really finished, only abandoned.  I for one feel great hope about the future of Star Wars and what it’s going to mean not only to my child very soon but perhaps even to her children someday.  Plans have already been in place for new films to hit theaters starting in 2015, starting with Star Wars: Episode VII.  Star Wars is rightfully going to become a rite of passage passed down from one generation to the next.  That my friend is what Star Wars is truly about.  Not the special effects or the merchandise or the theme parks. 

In the words of Master Yoda (sort of):  Hopeful, you should be.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Have Knee Will Jerk


We can file this under the title:  Well that didn’t take long. 

Over the weekend we learned of a tragedy out of Kansas City when Kansas City Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and committed suicide - in front of team officials.  Apparently according to reports, Belcher thanked general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel then shot himself in the team’s practice facility parking lot. 

Police reports over the weekend had a woman reporting that her daughter had been shot multiple times at a home just outside of Arrowhead Stadium.  It turned out to be the mother of Kassandra Perkins, Belcher’s girlfriend. 

There were serious questions as to would the Chief’s ask the NFL to cancel their Sunday game versus the Carolina Panthers but the team chose to play on despite the horror that took place.  It was during that game, which was aired on NBC’s Sunday Night Football that Bob Costas gave an on air opinion of the situation and took the proverbial knee jerk reaction that in my opinion, is beneath him as one of the finer sports broadcasters of our generation.  Here is what Costas said:


BOB COSTAS:

Well, you knew it was coming. In the aftermath of the nearly unfathomable events in Kansas City, that most mindless of sports clich├ęs was heard yet again: Something like this really puts it all in perspective. Well, if so, that sort of perspective has a very short shelf-life since we will inevitably hear about the perspective we have supposedly again regained the next time ugly reality intrudes upon our games. Please, those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective. You want some actual perspective on this? Well, a bit of it comes from the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock with whom I do not always agree, but who today said it so well that we may as well just quote or paraphrase from the end of his article.
 

"Our current gun culture, “Whitlock wrote, "ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead."
 

"Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows?"
 

"But here," wrote Jason Whitlock," is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."

First off I’m not against anyone giving their opinion, even a sports broadcaster during a football game.  But for Costas to come out and sort-of kind-of separate himself from Jason Whitlock - by saying he normally doesn’t agree with him but on this he does, is just a cop out if you ask me.  Anytime you try to explain actions of insanity with rationality not only are you missing the point that crazy has no boundaries but you prove the point that good intentions mean jack shit. 

If a mother drowns her children in a bathtub do we place a ban on Mr. Bubble? If a husband cheats on his wife & she decides to snip off his Twinkie with a scissor do we ban scissors or Twinkies if that?  Don't get me started on Twinkies.  What about the mother who drove her minivan full of her kids into oncoming traffic on a  Long Island highway after she did a few lines of coke...what should we ban there Bob?  Minivans?  Soccer mom’s with suspiciously deviated septums?

Human beings are capable of the most vile behavior.  Yes, if guns didn’t exist, perhaps Jovan Belcher and Kassadra Perkins would be alive today.  You could say the very same about minivans or bath tubs and exacto knives. 

I’m disappointed in you Bob, I always thought of you as someone far more intelligent and far less susceptible to knee-jerk reactions to even the most horrible of situations.  I can understand being emotionally distraught, I’ve been there. I guess the culture at NBC has even taken its hold onto you.