Thursday, December 6, 2007

107. Determine champion with playoff

College football continues to be a mess. It has committed to, in my opinion, the biggest travesty in sports in using the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to determine its national champion. It is simply a ridiculous system, and it is the only major sport that does not determine its champion on the field. Through a hodgepodge of factors, college football uses sportswriter opinion and computers to decide which two teams will play for the national championship. Just how ridiculous is it?

Consider that the number one ranked team in the country (Missouri) was an underdog to win its own conference on a neutral field (against Oklahoma). It should be noted here that if you ever really want to know who the (consensus) best team is, you just have to call Vegas and review the gambling lines. These people have the most to lose, and rarely does prejudice play a factor. (I would imagine that LSU will be a considerable favorite against top-ranked Ohio State.)

The Missouri and Oklahoma game was of considerable interest to us in Ohio because if Missouri (or West Virginia) lost, as both did, Ohio State would move up in the rankings and play again for the National Championship. As excited as I am for the opportunity to play for the National Championship, there is something very unfulfilling about sitting around for a few weeks and hoping that all the teams above them in the rankings lose. It also seems quite unfair that other conferences must play a conference title game, while Big Ten teams fill in the extra game with a team from the Mid-American Conference.

There is no other sport that I know where a team can finish the season undefeated, and not have a chance to win its respective championship. Consider Hawaii, which finished the season as the only undefeated team. Despite their efforts, they were not seriously considered for the National Championship. While it is probably true that they are not the best team in the country; what kind of competitive system tells a team that no matter what you accomplish- you will not have the opportunity to be national champions.

As had been noted the last few years, and especially in years when Ohio State (or any Big Ten team) is playing for the national championship, there is a ridiculous amount of time (about 40 days) between their last game and the championship game. That's over five weeks, which is nearly half a season. This fact is especially detrimental to sports, like football, where timing is so important. In addition, any momentum is sacrificed, as essentially teams rebuild for a one game season.

Surprisingly, many coaches, including Jim Tressel, do not favor a playoff system. There are several reasons for this, including the additional pressure to perform at a national level. In addition, it is a lot more work, as successful teams will have a few more games to prepare for. And, frankly, I think many of the coaches are afraid of losing such high-profile games. These coaches have grown accustom to recruiting premier athletes and simply outclassing five to six opponents per season. As much as Tressel will tell you otherwise, in most years, Ohio State starts the season with six to seven wins. Losing "big games," as John Cooper found out, will cost you your job.

Tressel is a very smart man, and without a Big Ten Championship game, and in the relatively weak Big Ten, his formula for success generally revolves around two to three big games- usually one major out of conference team, one difficult road Big Ten game and, of course, Michigan. He is playing the system, and who can really blame him? It would, however, be nice to hear him speak out in favor of a college football playoff.

In fact, I am disappointed that more coaches would not favor the opportunity to compete against the other top teams, whether it is eight or sixteen teams, to decide the championship on the field. Some do, and I respect their integrity. After all, it is about competition and striving to become the best. Every other sport fairly declares a champion, why should college football be any different?

The most preposterous argument against a college football system is that it would not work. High School football teams as well as other college divisions all play a sixteen team playoff. Rarely would one argue that the best team, or at least most deserving team, did not win the playoff. The state or national champions play a maximum of four additional games, against increasing levels of competition. It is this system which exemplified Jim Tressels's coaching ability in winning Division I-AA national championships at Youngstown State- and which makes his reluctance more surprising. To succeed at the Division I level, all that would be necessary would be for the top teams to scale back on the early season "cupcakes."

Another argument is from the perspective of tradition. I find this argument to be archaic, as times have clearly changed. The bowls could simply rotate different rounds of the playoff, with each game actually being much more meaningful that many of the bowl games that are played now. Could anyone imagine how exciting an Ohio State/Michigan playoff game would be? Each one of the bowl games would have a better matchup, instead of some the unattended, unimportant games that currently waste our time over the holiday season.

Finally, there is the issue of money. Of course, this argument inevitably drives most decisions. However, I cannot imagine a playoff system that did not make an enormous amount of money. For example, the college basketball tournament has grown into one of the premier sporting event. At the moment of its inception, a college football playoff would be the biggest event in sports. There must be somebody, somewhere, with a lot of influence, and a lot to lose, in implementing such a system. I do not know any other reason. It is complete and utter nonsense.

Do not get me wrong, I am very excited that Ohio State is playing in the National Championship. And I have a lot of respect for Coach Jim Tressel. And I love beating Michigan. But, as this year as proven, it is time to move the national championship from the business office to the football field.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

106. Traditions should mean something

When I was a child, I anxiously greeted each holiday season by looking forward to my much loved television specials. Probably even unbeknownst to my Mom, I would wait for the television guide so that I could note the schedule of my favorites, such as "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer." I had seen each of these shows several times, but in the spirit of the holiday tradition, I could not be more excited to see them again.

Families around the holidays usually have several traditions, whether it is where they visit (Grandma's house), when they visit (Christmas Eve or Christmas Day) what they eat (turkey, pie), or what they do (play games, sing songs by the piano or engage in a fun game of co-ed football). Family traditions usually originate subtly through a couple of innocent repetitive occurrences, after which they become something that is looked forward to.

I think time with the family is one of the best ways to spend the holidays, where you have a chance to be yourself with the people that know you the best. You can fool a lot of people at work, or in other social circles, but rarely can you fool your family. In seeing you at your best and your worst, your family knows the "real" you. Their love is most sincere, and perhaps, most importantly, your family will usually forgive you for your mistakes when others will not. They have seen you all of their lives, and ultimately, you are one of them.

Your family will also know when you do not want to be there; when you are simply going through the motions- only because it is holiday tradition. Holiday traditions, regardless of what they are, should be fun- not a chore. They should not remain a tradition just because they are tradition. In other words, just because you have done something the same way every year does not mean that it needs to be done the same way every year.

For example, for several years my family has played one of the gift exchange games. However, a couple of years ago, there grew an uncomfortable feeling when, at the traditional moment, everyone just stopped and waited for the game. Furthermore, the game became repetitive...the same small gifts were being purchased; people were saying the same thing at the same time in the game. To keep the tradition alive, we attempted to "bar" some of the more popular gifts that were being purchased each year- to inspire some creativity. Finally last year and again this year, we have significantly altered the game and completely rewritten the rules.

Traditions are largely a "script" of how the thing is to be played out. Often families, after years of doing the same thing every year, simply follow the script. Just following the script, can not only become boring, it can become void of emotion. Ironically, not following the script can lead to considerable unrest, when one family member dares his or her own rewrite.

So go holiday traditions, an ideology that I consider and reconsider each year (perhaps that is now my tradition). I think traditions are wonderful to the extent that they still provide the excitement and joy of what each activity originally meant when it became a tradition. However, too many traditions can lead to problems when families expand and the now "traditional responsibilities" become overwhelming in the attempt to satisfy all of them. Tradition is also rich in repetitiveness- that is, doing the same thing over and over. And sometimes, the activities become about living the traditions, not about enjoying the moment.

In worst case scenarios, the holidays become a self-imposed guilt trip, in which some families scurry around the state attempting to make each traditional family gathering and do those things they are supposed to do- as not to offend anyone and become the subject of a year of not-so-friendly gossip and criticism. This seems to be a burden, and one that destroys the meaning of the holidays.

Perhaps families might find new traditions exciting and fresh. For example, if the meaning of the holidays is spending time with family, does it really matter that it happens on December 24 or December 25? Is there room for new traditions, and similarly, do some traditions need to be retired? And, how about incorporating some surprises or improvisation into your "holiday plans"? We only have so many years to our lives, and I have no interest in living the same year over and over. There is too much in this world to be enjoyed and experienced, and the only traditions I think worth keeping are the ones you truly look forward to.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

105. Trying times call for serious people

I recently had knee surgery. Like most people, I took great interest in both the physician that recommended it and the surgeon that performed the surgery. I wanted to be sure that they had a medical degree and a fair amount of experience. It turns out that my surgeon spends considerable time working with the Cleveland Indians and other professional teams. My comfort was the result of the realization that he often works on very "valuable" knees, at least compared to mine.

But to continue, I'll soon need physical therapy, in which case I will refer myself to a licensed physical therapist. Beyond my knee though, if I need a dentist, I want a dentist that has graduated from dental school. If a family member needs a nursing facility, I will select one that has degreed, licensed and experienced nurses, social workers and administrators. My interest in personal welfare is not limited to doctors. When I have my taxes filed, I want someone certified in preparing taxes. When my car breaks, I want a certified mechanic. The trend is obvious, when it comes to the things that matter; I want people who are educated, licensed and experienced in their selected professions.

We just experienced another election season, and I am always surprised at some of the people that are elected and those that are not elected. Unfortunately, there is no educational or licensure requirement for becoming a politician. Nor is there a requisite of experience. As most of us know, becoming a politician is about connections, money and political strategy (often, "how low will you go"). It is a con-man's game, convincing people that you, as a politician, will objectively make decisions- independent of the influence of those people whose money put you in power.

We have seen people barely eighteen years old elected- in addition to those uneducated and inexperienced beyond a high school diploma and coaching little league baseball. We have also seen former criminals elected. To be fair, leaders, even great leaders, come in all dimensions, including the young, uneducated and inexperienced, but I wonder on what criteria they are then being elected.

There are no requirements for our political leaders, those people who are responsible for much of our lives. They are not required to have a degree in political science, business or law- let alone a high school diploma. There is no licensure program that teaches or provides experience in economic systems, labor laws, philosophy, negotiation, organizational management, ethics, public administration, crime and punishment, science and the environment, healthcare systems, administrative law, public accounting or decision modeling. Rarely is there a demonstrated criterion of leadership or experience.

Personally, I prefer a candidate with a diversity of experience and interest. I am not attracted to anyone that has done the same thing for forty years, without significant consequence. I want people who have experienced what I have experienced, and have an interest in the things I have an interest in. I want people that have endured trying circumstances, such as a job loss or living without medical insurance. I want someone that has donated his or her time to community service; someone who has been on the frontline of non-profit organizations and philanthropy. I want someone who understands both sides of an issue; someone who can reconcile business with the environment, and unions with management. Finally, I want someone old enough to have experience how difficult life can be, regardless of how talented a younger individual might be.

This year, one mayor-elect actually listed coaching CYO Volleyball on his Circum Vitae. How desperate must one be that coaching volleyball is perceived as a demonstrated value in leadership, community activity or volunteer work? This particular candidate promotes "safety," by driving drug dealers out of town and reclaiming our neighborhoods from criminals. This exhibition in brilliance might warrant a few follow-up questions, such are you going to do it? Is it feasible? By what standard will you measure success- the number of arrests or a decrease in crime rates? How is crime related to education and drop-out rates figures? What about the economic situation and unemployment, is that contributing to the high crime rates? Is it a socio-economic, cultural, racial or criminal justice issue? If the city needs more police officers on duty, how will you pay for it? Will you raise taxes on an already-depressed region? Or will you cut other services that citizen taxes currently pay for? How will you decide which services are cut and which are not? What will you do if city council does not cooperate?

Politics is not easy, and it is not for everyone. Many of the issues are endlessly intertwined and it takes a multitude of talent, education and experience to work through them. No longer should political races be popularity contests. Or about who can raise the most money. Politicians influence our lives and society no less than people in other professions, of which we require degrees, licenses and proven experience. It is time to take a comprehensive interest in those which we elect to represent us. And, it is time to expect more from our leaders- for if they are not performing to our expectations, we only have ourselves to blame. We review their résumés and conduct their interviews. And, ultimately, we decide whom to hire.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

103. Consider true cost of your decisions

In business, the idea of opportunity costs is fairly simple. Businesses will attempt to maximize profits by choosing the product it manufactures in relation to every other product it could produce. For example, companies may realize they can produce, with similar costs, either 100 units of product A or 150 units of profit B. Or, of course, it could produce 50 units of product A and 100 units of product B. Regardless, through decision modeling, companies will decide what to produce to maximize profits at the expense of everything else it could produce.

The concept is not often applied to life, though it is just as applicable. Although I have previously commented to this fact, it warrants another look.

I have a friend who cleans stuff- obsessively. He washes his car, garage, driveway, and windows on a weekly basis. Rarely does a weekend pass when he is not out cleaning something. It is obvious that not only does he takes exceptional care of his things, but that he also makes me look so bad in the process. I am sure his wife has a lot of jealous neighbors.

The thing is, however, is that even if I had time to attend to my possessions in such a manner, I would not. It is not that I do not appreciate well-cared for things; rather it is the idea of opportunity cost. No matter how much time I had, I would not spend my free time cleaning at the expense of everything else I could possibly be doing. It is not that I do not value cleaning stuff, and in fact I do it when it becomes a necessity. It is, however, the idea that I could be doing something else that prohibits me from such a weekly undertaking.

I am not suggesting that he is wasting his time, because it is his time to value and proportion as he sees fit. But he could be, for example, serving on a non-profit board, reading a good book, taking his dog for a walk, visiting his family, taking a class or playing softball. The possibilities are seemingly endless, except for, perhaps, financial constraints. Obviously, traveling to Europe every weekend is not affordable for most people, and thus not a true opportunity costs.

I will suggest however, that people do not often consider everything they do as a matter of opportunity costs. We tend to get stuck in ruts, doing what we are accustomed to doing rather than considering the innumerable options that are available. I would wager, for example, if my friend would consider everything else he is giving up washing his car each weekend, he would, occasionally, make a different decision. That is not to say that I could not be wrong, maybe he would choose washing his car over every other option. But I know that most of us tend to like routine; we operate best when we are not constantly considering everything we are doing at the expense of every other thing we could be doing.

Besides the decision-making burden in considering opportunity costs, people tend to stay within their comfort zone. For example, I have known a few people who take essentially the same vacation every year. Often they even take it the same week of every year. Again, I wondered if they consciously considered every other vacation they could take, at every other time of the year, and decided that, again, this is the vacation for them.

One of the problems with the consideration of opportunity costs is that it could be quite time-consuming and cumbersome to consider every other possibility. Imagine if every weekend we awoke to seriously consider everything we could be doing. The guilt alone might be overwhelming; for example, should I visit my mom, play with my dogs, visit people in a nursing home, feed the homeless, or volunteer at a non-profit organization. It could become difficult to rationale between my personal desires and needs, and the goodwill I could share. Yet, this decision is real.

For each of us, this consideration will be different. For the stressed, it might be a relaxing walk in the park, a good book, a romantic movie or an exciting ball game. For the fortunate, it might be time at a homeless shelter, visiting a nursing home or contributing to a philanthropic organization. For the overworked, it might be time with the family or having lunch with an old friend. For the unhealthy, it might be time at the gym, taking a bike ride or playing tennis. There is a multitude of variables that would influence the opportunity cost of any day or time.

In my opinion, the issue deserves balance. We have to consider our familial responsibilities and obligations, personal desires and potential, and the prospect for altruism. Life can be overwhelming, and often we have a never-ending "to do" list that manages our free time. And, certainly, it would be difficult to argue against those interests that serve one's family. However, I think most of us should, at least from time to time, consider the opportunity costs of our routines. The consideration of opportunity costs may bring to life many new ideas and experiences. Routines have their place, but they can be dangerous. They can remove years from your lives, leaving you to consider...what could have been.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

104. American dream not for everyone

32 percent of African-American males, essentially one in three, will spend time in jail during their lives. It is one of those statistics that does not lie; one that makes you realize that there is a societal issue, beyond excuses and stereotypes, which needs to be addressed. Incarceration at such an alarming rate is a reflection of the quality of education, scope of opportunity and sense of value that exists within this culture. The problem is so intense and so costly- both financially and socially- that the blame can be found in every segment of American society. From political representation and socioeconomic influence to the number of positive role models, African-Americans are clearly handicapped in succeeding in American society. It is difficult to live the "American Dream," when, statistically, the odds as an African American, are such that you, your father, or your brother will spend time in jail (for comparison, 5.9% of white males will spend time in jail). As a society, the problem is unacceptable.

Is racism a factor? Consider the following report from the Drug Policy Alliance:

"Although African Americans comprise only 12.2 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug users, they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 percent of those convicted of drug offenses causing critics to call the war on drugs the "New Jim Crow." The higher arrest rates for African Americans and Latinos do not reflect a higher abuse rate in these communities but rather a law enforcement emphasis on inner city areas where drug use and sales are more likely to take place in open-air drug markets where treatment resources are scarce."

Certainly, as this research might indicate, racism is still a factor, but I do not think that it tells the whole story. The story includes a reflection of history, opportunity and the current culture.

I recently visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The museum detailed both the drudgery and immorality of slavery, and the path to freedom. African-American history is difficult to completely comprehend, as the details are nearly unbearable to consider. The center had a slave pen, which was used as a holding cell in the transportation of slaves to auction blocks.

Slavery, for white Americans, was as much an economic institute as it was a racist issue. In addition to the slave labor which made plantation owners wealthy, the slave trade was a very profitable industry. The slave pen was owned by Captain John Anderson, who kept detailed financial records of the slaves that were purchased and sold. In today's money, he made around $800,000 per year selling men, women and children into slavery. The men were chained to the second floor of the building until the market conditions dictated the walk to Mississippi or Louisiana. The journey was made shoeless across the treacherous terrain with their hands and feet in shackles.

Unfortunately the journey out of slavery, and shackles, now leads to prison bars for many African-Americans. Racism is a factor, but so are opportunity and aspiration. One of the museum tour guides, who was engaged with a young African-American group, emphasized the need for responsibility. He outlined the road to success, emphatically suggesting that goals and expectations include educational achievement such as Harvard Law School or an MBA from the Wharton School of Business.

Opportunity needs to include a well-funded high school education and preparation for secondary education. Families need decent wages, fair hiring and promotions, and continuous employment. They also need financial literacy and to delay starting a family until there is a measure of financial security. Finally there needs to be pride and respect within their neighborhoods. African-American role models must communicate realistic goals and proven methods for success. To simply say that "anything is possible" is misleading when everyone wants to be a professional athlete or entertainer. The message should be to follow your dream, but have a backup plan or two. The path may be difficult, and one can accept that challenge by being prepared "for anything."

Society and African-American culture are both equally responsible for creating and taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to all Americans. Aspiration and opportunity must converge at a point that furthers the economic and social advancement of African-Americans. If nearly one-third of any demographic is going to prison, then there needs to be an assessment of both that population, and the society in which it dwells. The emancipation proclamation did not free all the slaves (the Thirteenth Amendment did), and it certainly did not create all people equal. The racism that ensued denied equal rights and opportunity to African-Americans until, essentially, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, even today, freedom is a struggle.

It is time to move forward toward a complete and fair assimilation. We need to understand the problem and work ourselves backward toward a solution. Because, ultimately, it is not an African-American problem, it is an American problem.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

102. Payday lending

Payday lending has been termed a monster, an addiction and a black hole. Among a number of personal testaments, "Gail" from Columbus claims that it was indeed, "like a monster," and "it consumed me." Her $300 loan took her two years and $2100 to completely pay off- after she fell victim to what often becomes an endless cycle of borrowing and repaying small short term "payday" loans at outlandish interest rates.

Others have deemed it legalized loan sharking. And when it comes to making a dollar and exploiting the poor, there are few legal loopholes left unexplored. Unfortunately, payday lenders are exempt from the Ohio Small Loan Act, which caps interest rates at 28 percent. However, with annual interest rates that approach 400 percent, the endeavor appears to be more like thievery, and a lack of morality, than anything else.

378,000 Ohio borrowers have paid more than 209 million dollars in fees, and the average borrower has between eight and thirteen loans per year. Consumers fall into a destructive cycle from which it is difficult to emerge. One commentator, in response to the argument that payday lenders help people meet short term financial needs, felt the type of help they offered was equivalent to throwing a concrete brick to someone who is drowning. It is not difficult to understand that someone who cannot afford $500 this week will have difficulty affording $575 next week (the typical interest rate consists of charging $15 for every $100 borrowed). Consumers will often pay off that loan by borrowing money from a different payday lender.

The debt trap consists of both the continuous cycle of borrowing, and often ends up in a situation in which borrowers owe numerous lending stores at one time. Critics fail to recognize that when someone needs money- money to pay their rent, purchase their prescriptions or, perhaps, put food on the table- that they will inevitably do whatever it takes. Such desperation includes stealing, selling drugs and agreeing to unreasonable loans. These decisions often become disastrous leading to further financial difficulties, or worse.

Hardly anyone has not noticed the influx of check cashing and pay day loan establishments upon our towns and cities. They have invaded 86 of Ohio's 88 counties. To put the number of payday lenders in perspective, there are more pay day lending stores in Ohio than all of the McDonalds', Burger Kings and Wendys' combined.

I have friends who I bet would argue that if people are not responsible enough to make better financial decisions, then they get what they deserve. And, of course, I am not naive enough not to realize that some people are making horrible financial decisions for lifestyle or addiction- taking a pay day loan to buy a new television, go a short trip or even to purchase drugs. In these cases, there is less sympathy, although education or treatment might be a more pertinent remedy. Either way, at nearly 400 percent interest, there is an unreasonable amount of detriment inflicted on others.

There is hope, as legislators are considering putting a 36 percent interest cap on small loans. Even better, eleven states have made them illegal to operate altogether. Reformers (In a Policy Matters Report, "Trapped in Debt") have proposed the following recommendations:

  • Immediate protection from abusive tactics and practices
  • Reasonable and Transparent Costs
  • Legal Protection for Consumers
  • Time to provided and set up financial products at bank branches and credit unions, such as:
  • Check Cashing service at a very low interest
  • Assistance in opening checking accounts
  • Free financial literacy classes
  • Offering small loans that can be paid over time

The Ohio Coalition for Responsible Lending has led a campaign to end abusive lending, support reforms that provide reasonable costs, ensure fair and just lending practices for all Ohioans and, perhaps most importantly, encourage lawmakers to reconsider the exception of payday lenders in the Ohio Small Loan Act. People should contact their local and state legislatures to encourage reform. In addition, the Ohio Coalition for Responsible Lending has a hotline where people can call if they need help managing a repayment plan or if they want to share their experience with payday lenders.

There must come a time when our society stands up to those that abuse the poor for personal financial gain. And, in addition to legislation that makes it more difficult for those that take advantage of others, we need to encourage financial literacy. Predatory lending is a significant social ill, whether it is high interest credit cards, payday lending, or dangerous mortgage loans that have led to the housing crisis in Northeast Ohio. It is through both legislation and education that the protection that consumers need and deserve will be realized.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

101. Who is the animal in this case?

By now, most are familiar with the allegation that professional football player Michael Vick engaged in illegal dogfighting. At this time, it appears that he is being encouraged by his lawyers to accept the plea bargain, which will likely contain one year in prison. In addition to one year of freedom, admitting to the charges will cost Vick millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals.

In the dark, grotesque world of dogfighting, in which individuals train and fight dogs, often Pit Bulls, owners seem to enjoy both the bloody battle and wagering on the outcomes. The Human Society describes it this way:

"Dogfighting is a cruel blood-sport in which two dogs, trained to be vicious by torturous methods such as beating, confinement in trunks or closets, or feeding them gunpowder, are pitted against each other in a fight to the death or until one dog cannot continue, for the amusement of spectators and high-priced wagering. Fights can last for hours as the dogs are trained to continue even after brutal wounds are inflicted."

In the Vick case, it is alleged that the dogs that did not meet "show" quality in their test fights were killed, even more tortuously, by hanging, drowning, electrocution, or by beating them to death.

I participated in several of the letter writing campaigns- to the National Football League and Vick's sponsors, such as Nike, which led to his suspension and loss of promotional sponsors. I told them, in addition to the form letters, that I had no intention to support any company or organization that employed people of such moral repulsiveness. I am a lifelong Browns fans, and I would miss rooting for them, but I could not consciously sit there and watch, and support, such a disgrace.

While many people realized the ghastly inhumanity of dog fighting, still others were reluctant, or surprised, that the incident created such an uproar. Disturbing were the comments made by people like Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins, who quickly ran to Vick's defense and said, "I don't know if he was fighting dogs or not, but it's his property, it's his dog. You want to hunt down Mike Vick over fighting some dogs? If that's what he wants to do, do it. I think people should mind their business." In addition, a lot of fans, who seem to care more about winning football games than the lives of "man's best friend," held steadfast that Vick was innocent until proven guilty, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence. Still others, as a matter of procedure, considered making race a factor.

Vick, who is a registered dog breeder, did not seem too concerned when he commented that he looked forward to clearing his name. Of course, at the time of that statement, he was hiring a high-profile defense team. Even as three of his co-defendants were admitting guilt and taking plea bargains, it seems that Vick is holding out for an O.J. Simpson-type legal miracle. While it could happen, all evidence suggests that a plea bargain would be in his best interest.

As much as I want to see Vick and his sordid friends spend years in jail, the greater good is the attention that this issue has gotten around the country. After paying his dues, Vick will still be wealthy enough to live a comfortable life. It is even likely that he will play football again, if not here (hopefully the NFL will give him a lifetime ban), then maybe in Canada or Europe. The combination of people forgetting and fans wanting their team to win, could lead to reconciliation- though never in my heart. But I hope that people will not forget that dogfighting is illegal, and that there are millions of people that are very passionate to the issue. In addition to the dogfighting, other types of animal fighting, such as cockfighting, have made news, and additional legislation has been passed making it illegal as well. Alas, there are even local reports- evident by the inquiries that have been made into cockfighting in Sheffield Township, and the rumors that heavily persist as to viability of dogfighting in Lorain.

There are not enough adjectives to describe how I feel about this case, but the bigger picture is our regard for animals- especially those animals that rely on us for every aspect of their lives. There are many levels of animal cruelty- far beyond the atrocities presented here. In addition to those animals that live in horrible conditions and die young to support our appetites, sadly it is often our own pets that are neglected and mistreated. The lack of compassion endured by animals includes both those that are needlessly butchered or hunted for food or pleasure, and those that silently sit desolately by themselves in tiny cages and cold barns.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

100. Mom is more than his truest friend

Washington Irving wrote, "A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts."

By my count, this is my 100th column, and I cannot think of a better occasion to express my appreciation and love for "my truest friend." Irving says it better than I ever could, although he neglects to note the tendency to take a mother for granted- in those times of "prosperity and sunshine."

I am fortunate that my mother has always been there, unconditionally, supporting me, even when she disagrees with me. Driven, but wandering, I have certainly been a handful. Without pause, she is always there to pick me up, and remind me that life does go on.

Growing up, she was the glue that held our family together. I have previously written about some of the challenges my father experienced; however, through it all, she was there- to help him and support us. My parents had a "traditional" relationship, in that she often catered to my father's needs. Even though we found this bothersome at times, Mom knew best, and considering the mitigating circumstances, it worked for us.

I do not think my mother has ever missed a day of work, nor has she ever, to my knowledge, dismissed a responsibility- regardless of how she felt physically or how much she is inconvenienced. My father had many ideas, and she always stuck it out with him- whether it was running a small farm or opening a small restaurant. My siblings and I took her for granted, often running her around town; somehow she managed running a household, small business and getting us to practice on time. All the accolades rendered upon mothers around the world certainly apply.

For my parent's 30th wedding anniversary, we threw them a surprise party. The event featured my father glowing in the attention, and mom out on the dance floor, cutting a rug to the 50s music we arranged. For the event, we put together a parody video, noting in particular the stereotypes within our family. We had my mom, played by my wife, waiting "hand and foot" on my dad, with the religious tune of "Hallelujah" playing in the background every time she walked on screen. She is an angel; my father knew it, and we know it. She has such a sense of kindness and calming, and their marriage of over thirty years was a testament to her commitment to our family.

After my father passed, my mom entered a new segment of her life- one that my siblings and I found refreshing. She has become rather outgoing; doing much more than she ever could in her traditional marriage. She plays cards with her girlfriends, attends Indians games, and makes the occasional trip to Amish country. More than a mom, and my truest friend, she's pretty fun. And funny.

For example, at a recent family gathering, she made "Better Than Sex" cake. Of first note, is this idea that I do not think my mom ever said the word "sex," until I was 30. On this day, my 15 year old niece had over her slightly younger boyfriend. In discussing her cake, my mom without thinking, turned to my niece's boyfriend and said, "So, is it better than sex?" Before she even realized what she said, we were all nearly on the floor in laughter. The startled boyfriend answered the question brilliantly, noting that he had not yet tried the cake.

Very much conservative-leaning, our disagreements, though rarely expressed, are often political. And when our disagreements are discussed, her frustration with me is actually somewhat endearing. I suppose if it were still in her power, she would like to "send me and my liberal ideologies to my room." And since she hardly ever gets mad or frustrated, I feel guilty in that I almost find it funny when she attempts to express it. It is though she does not even know how to do it. Perhaps I will arrange an "anger empowerment" therapy session for her.

Despite the idea that her world is more black and white, she is amazingly adaptive when she must consider shades of gray. I often think what a great world this would be if everyone could be like her. Since that is not possible, I am selfishly grateful that she is my mom, and this column is dedicated to her.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

99. Smoking just as scary as terrorism

Cigarettes and terrorists share many unfortunate characteristics. Most significantly, and of considerable concern - they kill people. Their absurd relationship has led to the deaths of thousands of Americans, albeit in very distinctly different ways. The method of operation is a well-known theme for the executioners; cigarettes use addiction to slowly, through years of deteriorating health, kill their users, while terrorists typically use religious passion to tragically and abruptly end the lives of the innocent. It is not for me to say which is worse, though I have witnessed the previous on several occasions.

The impact on this country is several-fold, to the extent that entire books could be, and have been, written on the subjects. Cigarettes and terrorists affect the nation's economy, morale, health and politics. However, when juxtaposed, the two are treated very differently by our government.

Cigarettes kill, by some estimates, 440,000 persons per year, a rate which translates as the cause of 1 in every 5 deaths. By contrast, terrorists killed about 3000 Americans in 2001. This disparity is more than considerable, so much so that one would expect relative government attention. It is interesting to analyze the contrasting government action, one which seems introverted in its approach.

Both terrorists and cigarettes have a tremendous financial impact on Americans. Terrorists destroyed the "Twin Towers," brought air travel to a standstill, nearly crashed the stock market (as "patriotic" Americans rushed to pull their investments), and led America into two wars. The cost endured has been estimated at more than one trillion dollars. However, these costs were largely the result of the decisions made by Americans and our government in response to the attack.

Cigarettes have two effects on the American economy. On one hand it is draining the resources afforded to our healthcare system, specifically driving up healthcare rates. When one considers the lost income, effect on the families and other subsequent factors, the indirect costs of cigarette sales is unimaginable. On the other hand, the government collects taxes on the sales of cigarettes, employee earnings and corporate profits - as well as other grants and settlements provided by the cigarette companies.

In terms of lives, the terrorists, as previously mentioned, are directly responsible for the approximately 3000 killed on September 11, 2001. However, in the aftermath, many more have died, including both Iraqi citizens and American soldiers. The atonement of September 11, in terms of, hunting terrorists, invading the countries that harbor them, and killing just about anyone else that gets in the way (collateral damage), has significantly dwarfed the number of Americans killed by the terrorists.

Comparatively, cigarettes are directly responsible for the 440,000 persons they kill per year. Since 2001, that is over 2.6 million people. While cigarette sales do appear to be declining, as well as the social acceptance of smoking, there does not appear to be a clear government stance on the issue other than to insist that the cigarette companies make the harmful effects known.

It is interesting to note then, that even though the terrorists have not killed even 1 percent of those killed by cigarettes; the United States government has spent such considerable resources to make amends. It has, in addition, created additional state departments, strangled civil liberties, ignored international law, and displayed America in an unfavorable light throughout the world.

In contrast, except for the right to actually smoke them, cigarette companies are permitted to just keep producing a product that is blatantly harmful. This permission is extended in extreme contradiction to any other product that has been found to be harmful - which is usually immediately pulled from the market. The government seems nearly silent in addressing a harm on Americans that is easily identifiable and preventable. If the government was really looking for the "evildoers," they could head down tobacco road to find the corporations that are killing Americans by the thousands each and every day. Its only strategy appears to be increasing the price of cigarettes (or the taxes on cigarettes) until they are no longer affordable - even if the economic drain most affects the addicted poor.

The introverted perspective exists for a number of reasons- most of which are easily identifiable. However, it is the often overlooked perspective that is important. Too often situations are accepted based on tradition rather than reason. If the government really cared about Americans, it would make smoking illegal, and provide the necessary care to help the addicted. The endeavor would save many more lives that the terrorist will probably ever kill- not to mention save our health care system millions of dollars and allow Americans to live healthier lives.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

98. Movie sparks healthcare debate

Michael Moore has created another stir with his latest documentary, "Sicko." I was quick to both see the movie and engage in a number of debates concerning the ideas it suggests. And from the conversation, I think most would agree, that regardless of how you feel about national healthcare (and Michael Moore), it is both a movie worth watching and a topic worth discussing.

The movie brings forth a number of issues that currently affect our private healthcare system and compares it to national healthcare systems in Canada, Great Britain and France. It, admittedly, shows the worst of our private system while attempting to dismiss many of the myths propagandized about national healthcare systems.

Moore's movie is not about the 50 million Americans that do not have healthcare, it is targeted at the 200 million Americans that do- but have had to suffer through the system. Health insurance, despite employer contributions, is often burdensome on individuals and families. Repeatedly, the insured face steep co-pays, deductibles, premiums and prescription costs.

However, much worse are the procedures that are denied as unnecessary, experimental or part of a pre-existing condition. For these individuals, they must either finance the medical need, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy, or face the consequences- which might include disability or even death. Insurance companies, as testified before Congress by medical reviewers, are more profitable when care is denied. In other words, it is in their financial interest to, by any means possible, find a reason to reject health claims.

The argument against national healthcare is based on a few premises. The first is obviously the financial standing of those profiting in the current system, such as doctors, pharmaceuticals, insurance companies, and those that receive the large political donations. Investors have a lot to lose with a national healthcare system, and will not go down without a fight.

Another argument is the idea of government involvement, by either libertarians or those that want to extrapolate the idea to socialism. Since we already have tax-financed primary education, and safety (police and fire departments) systems - health seems like a similar social issue that would guarantee Americans education, safety and health. Unfortunately some are terrified of paying more than their fair share. Of course, this already happens in education- based on the value of your house and the number of kids you have accessing public education. As an American, despite my personal needs, I want kids to get an education, the fire put out down the road, criminals caught and put in jail, and, finally, people to get the healthcare they need.

Finally, some arguments focus on the perceived problems of government healthcare, and point to ideas like waiting periods for service. The fact is that despite some shortcomings, the proof is in the outcomes. Canadians, as well as those in many other countries, live longer than Americans and have lower rates of infant mortality. Clearly, the poor and uninsured, as well as the lack of preventive medicine, drive the statistical outcomes in these areas. Considering the wealth enjoyed by Americans, these numbers are nothing less than pathetic.

Moore's movie should not decide the issue, but bring it up for debate. National healthcare has no chance until Americans demand debate from their legislatures. And considering the influence of healthcare lobbyers, it might only be accomplished through the election of public officials dedicated to do what is best for Americans- not what is best for their reelection. The healthcare system, as it is now, is unmistakably in shambles. It is costly, ineffective, and driven by financial interest rather than care.

The irony of our private system is that most of the people that work in healthcare are hard working, underpaid and care deeply for their clients. Unfortunately, this mission is destroyed by the few, those at the top of the food chain, that care more about their investments than providing services to those Americans that are forced to rely on their employer's choice of health insurance. Private industry loses its integrity when its success, and profits, are not built upon the market place and competitive efficiencies, but rather the extraneous lobbying of politicians. Certainly, not even the staunchest capitalist will surmise that private healthcare is working, nor could they deny the effect of health insurance corporations, pharmaceutical companies and physician group on Congress.

Personally and powerfully, the fact of the matter is that nobody in national health care systems is ever denied care because of pre-existing conditions, because they cannot afford the co-payments, or because they do not have insurance. Furthermore, nobody declares bankruptcy or loses their home because of medical bills (medical bills are the number one reason for filing bankruptcy). Ensuring that everyone has healthcare is not any different that ensuring that there are fire fighters to put out a fire, or a policemen or policewomen to arrest criminals. It is the use of American taxes for the betterment of society.

The endeavor to adopt a more successful healthcare system, whether it is a social healthcare system, an improved private system or some sort of hybrid, even without the protected interests, is a daunting task. Moore's movie may have started the debate, but any chance of success depends on the insistence of Americans that changes be made.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

97. Are peons really least valuable?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, wrote "If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is; but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be." Corporations are defined in many ways, but I believe one of the most revealing is a simple analysis of how it treats its employees. When I say employees, I am of course not referring to how it treats its chief executive officer, or senior management, rather I am referring to how it treats what is regarded as its least valuable employees. For non-profit organizations, this might even, surprisingly, include its volunteers.

The question is, do corporations view, and treat, their least important employees as uneducated, interchangeable necessities, or do they treat them as well as they treat all other employees- from middle management up? You will often hear from very dedicated employees that they feel like they are just a "peon." (To digress for a moment, the term peon is used colloquially to mean a person with little authority, often-assigned unskilled or drudgerous tasks; in this sense, peon is often used in either a derogatory or a self-effacing context. It is widely thought that a peon is so named because they are so low in standing as to be urinated upon, hence pee-on. This is a false etymology and has no factual backing. Source: Wikipedia).

More than just assumingly, "peons" feel, as exemplified in its self-effacing, that they do not matter. They believe that their work does not matter, that their opinions do not matter, and as already mentioned, that they can easily be replaced. In the age of the fallacious ideology of "employee empowerment," many corporations offer lip service more than a coherent change of action. The worst do not even discourage this feeling among their employees, a fact most evident by the lack of investment.

To be sure, the issue is about money, and corporations invest in those that will make them money. They will invest in new technology or in the hiring of those executives who are perceived as the most talented or have significant financial or political influence. The corporate culture, and more to this discussion, the treatment of the least important employees, is regarded as a business expense. Business expenses also include sick days and company picnics. The recent trend has been toward the use of temporary employees, those obtained for service without the investment of benefits, such as healthcare. Furthermore, these employees work "on call," absent of unemployment insurance, to be added and discarded as needed. On the opposite side of the spectrum, many executives, even after failing, ride away in "golden parachutes."

Unfortunately, a similar analysis can be made with not-for-profit organizations. The "red carpet" is rolled out for those that make large donations, while others are largely ignored- regardless of the effort and passion. While grassroots supporters might be offered a dinner or two at national events, the premise of the event is the mobilization of a fund-raising machine. Passionate pleas and informal appreciation might be expressed only so far as it inspires a rededication to the task at hand.

For those that make large donations, organizations often engage in social pampering. This egotistical petting includes special meetings, networking opportunities, public recognition and, of course, private business meetings. The wealthy have developed an array of behaviors and considerations in which the end result is money being passed back and forth.

My wife and I once attended a leadership conference with several volunteers from the Cleveland area, including a past president who had consistently made large financial donations. This particular year, we had donated significant amounts of time, essentially serving as president and secretary. While at dinner, the organization's well-known founder approached our table, assumingly for a moment of appreciation. However, without even making eye contact with anyone else at the table, he picked out our previous president and escorted him away. When my wife made mention of his rudeness and lack of gratitude, the past president, who should have said, "Wait, let me introduce you to some very dedicated volunteers," quickly defended the action by noting how much money he donates. Later, in discussing the issue, the past president again defended the well-known founder by noting his age. As elderly as he was, he was not so senile as to not know which of us at the table made the most significant donations. I do not know which was more pathetic, being shunned by the organization's founder or the egotistic defense made by the past president in light of his apparent expectation for the "red carpet" treatment.

Those corporations and organizations that incorporate a social hierarchy within their structure ought to be ashamed to know that many employees feel like "peons." Often these peons are the most loyal employees and dedicated volunteers within the organization, that is, they are the few that are not driven entirely by their financial status. They are often responsible, caring individuals, who sometimes work two or three jobs to support their families. Sometimes these individuals even offer a refreshing bit of integrity- apart from the shallowness that accompanies those looking for special treatment and the arrogance that manifests from the executive suites.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

96. Shouldn't a Christian nation act it?

A large percentage of Americans, I would argue, embrace religion, "just in case." In this manner, it becomes an ideology of convenience. Not only does it ensure a place in heaven, if such a place exists, it provides "moral" guidance when one cannot decide how to explore life, or its consequences, on his or her own. Such is religious convenience, and reluctance to truly live a religious life, that I would propose an opposite theory. I believe that most Christian Americans live their life on earth, in the manner that they do, just in case there is no Heaven.

If I were religious and believed that my commitment on earth would decide my fate for all of eternity, I would not take any chances. How would I be able to rationalize that anything else here on earth is more important than living according to the principles of my religion. If my religion required that I attend church every Sunday, then I would attend church every Sunday- no exceptions. If my religion asked for tithing of 10 percent of my salary, then I would have it automatically deducted through payroll. If my religion declared marrying a divorced woman to be a sin, then I would not even consider dating one. Finally, if I believed our laws to be derived from religion, then I would obey them. In fact, I would have a detailed spreadsheet next to my bed. Each night, I would review my adherence. And if at the end of the day I did not kill anyone, then next to the box labeled, "Thou shall not kill," I would put a big check mark noting so.

It is interesting that this is not how most religious people live. According to the August 2005, Newsweek and Beliefnet poll, 85 percent of Americans claim not only to be religious but also Christians, yet each Sunday morning, not anywhere near that percentage is attending their respective place of worship. In fact, the same poll revealed, according to those interviewed, that only 45 percent attend church services weekly. Other researchers find that number much closer to 20 percent.

One can get to Heaven by simply accepting Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior. Even notorious sinners can reserve a place in Heaven without living a religious life. I find this notion in direct conflict with two religious ideas. The first is the concept of a "good" Christian, since there is not an explicit requirement towards acts of "goodness," only the acceptance of Jesus Christ. The second concept is the inequality among the commitments required to get into Heaven. It hardly seems fair that sinners, that only attend church on Christmas, Easter and other selected events, should be appropriated the same eternal fate as those that, among other things, committed each and every Sunday to God.

I believe Christians are either taking advantage of the ease afforded Americans through Christianity in the pursuit of a heavenly fate or they do not believe in God enough to live the life described in The Bible. For eternal bliss, Christians can pay what they want, attend church when they want and sin as often as they want. More importantly, they do not have to give up their lives on earth- that is to suffer and sacrifice for the ultimate reward. Thus, Christians are active participants in the materialism, greed and the lack of discipline that dominates our culture. Religion is there for them when they want it, to discriminate against homosexuals or protest abortion, but it disappears when one wants a divorce or to sleep in on Sunday morning.

The almost universal answer to the question of how often one attends church is, "Not as often as I should." Such a statement acknowledges both, a recognition that one is obligated to go to church according to his or her religion, and a nonchalant attitude that this lack of commitment poses no great threat to the eternal promises of heaven. If God were to, undisputedly, appear on earth here today, I would guess that his verifiable fear would push church attendance toward 100 percent. The difference between those that do attend church on a regular basis, and those that would upon the proof of God represents those people that are not willing to sacrifice their time on earth based on faith alone.

With arguments concerning the Ten Commandments on government property and the phrase "under God" in our pledge of allegiance, much has been made of the ideology that this is a Christian nation. The fact that 85 percent of Americans are Christian does bode well for their argument. However claiming that we are a Christian nation and acting like one are two completely different things. If Christians want a Christian society, then they should start doing the things that they themselves consider Christian-like.

No longer should they be able to pick and choose their beliefs like the options on a new car. Most choose the options that make their ride to Heaven the easiest. They select the sport-utility vehicle with a personal relationship with Jesus, anti-abortion wheels, gay-bashing V-6 engine, custom Biblical interpretation and forgiveness insurance. God himself or herself must have a hard time keeping a straight face with the combinations of religious justification presented before him at the pearly gates.

Final accountability rests with the churches that have been extraordinary in marketing religious ideology without demanding religious commitment. They have a mobilized a right wing movement that is politically powerful, even if its members are not personally devoted. Of course, they are selling the perfect product. It costs whatever you want to pay, it can be used any way one wants to use it while here on earth and, in the end, it can be traded in for an eternity of paradise.

Still, if it were me, I am not heading up with a BMW, loaded with options; I am taking with me church attendance records, my trusty Ten Commandment worksheet and a long list of good deeds. But that is just me.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

95. To care deeply is to hurt deeply

It is far easier not to care, so much so that I am often envious of those people who seem to wander through life unaffected by the world around us. Perhaps, on some accounts, this is not a completely fair observation; however, I do know that if you do not care, you cannot get hurt.

For those that engross themselves in life, there are a number of injustices that must be reconciled. To care, and debate, about the consequences of each human action can make life a nearly unbearable endeavor. I have written of these instances consistently over the last four years. For example, to eat a hamburger can move some to tears over the life and death of the cow. To wear a diamond ring may bring to mind the wars fought over such luxuries. To read of war wrenches the soul of all the young lives wasted. And to witness the homeless and impoverished can be infuriating when we consider the incredible wealth shared by so few. It is easy to be a social critic; there is much to be critical about.

For those involved with social issues, there is a difference between caring, sharing compassion and offering support. The distinctions that follow are mine, as dictionaries tend to indistinctly blur their interpretations. There are a number of ways to live our lives, but it is a mistake if we do not realize that every decision we make has an effect on a number of other social, political and environmental conditions. On the other hand, to fret over every decision would bring our lives to a mental paralysis. We must consider a balance, one in which we support some issues, and truly care about others.

To care about an issue is to be willing to make a personal sacrifice in order to change things. If one cares about something, the passion is often consuming- to the depth that it affects one's soul. The level of activism nears obsession, as one makes personal sacrifices and works to persuade others. The sacrifice includes opportunity costs, and it may be financial or political as well as a significant time commitment. Many activists are even willing to go to prison in support of their cause.

Compassion is the recognition that an undesirable condition exists. It is cognitive-driven ideology, not an action-driven movement. There is typically an emotional involvement, usually sympathy; however, this emotional state is not strong enough to inspire more than a moderate amount of action.

The support of an issue or condition is generally an agreement that the condition exists and with those taking action. It lacks cognitive emotion, and any action is usually symbolic. The support at this level does not include the willingness to research the subject; much less make any personal sacrifices.

Vegetarianism, in terms of animal cruelty, is a simple example. Some people will support the issue, reacting only to the worst examples- such as those covered through the media. Those offering compassion to the issue may adopt the vegetarian ideology- perhaps also becoming vegetarians. However, those that really care about the issue, not only become vegetarians or vegans, but they also donate time and money to the cause. They attend lectures, inform others and maybe even get involved in picketing or protesting the worst offenders. For these people, it is often difficult to understand why everyone does not share their beliefs.

These ideologies require us to make personal decisions. Individuals must decide for themselves what level of commitment to submit to. I attended a lecture recently in which the speaker made this point, "People often say they love animals, but by eating them, they are supporting the miserable conditions in which they live and die." It is easy to understand that every chicken we eat encourages farmers to grow more chickens, as quickly as possible - often through methods that have proven the most profitable, regardless of the affect on the chickens. And under the assumption that most people know this condition exists, it is unfortunate that more are not willing to put forth the effort to alter their eating habits - because reality suggests that it takes more than the passion of a few to make a difference.

Most commit to their passions and either gloss over the rest or ignore that certain conditions exist. Life can be an overwhelming, but I am convinced that a little effort could make the endeavor better for everyone.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

94. Ending poverty the right thing to do

Americans benefit from great wealth. In fact, the United States is among the wealthiest countries in the world. Most of us enjoy a plethora of national resources, such as education, infrastructure and the widespread availability of food and fresh water. Beyond the necessities, a majority of the population enjoys a middle class life, complete with homes, cars and other luxuries. And of course, a small percentage of Americans enjoy great wealth, the life of privilege and excesses. There is, however, another, often forgotten about, silent class of Americans- the poor.

Their silence is two-fold. They do not have financial or political power, which directly affects their ability to be a social consideration. They neither have the ability to financially entice politicians; nor do they vote with consistent regularity. Secondly, their interest, rightfully, is self-centered. It is difficult to allocate precious time and resources to social standing and influences when one is concerned with putting food on the table. It is Maslow's hierarchy of needs psychologically and socially exemplified.

Thus the responsibility of their representation belongs to others, those that might be able to offer the financial and social influence to make a difference. The quandary presented, however, is that those people that are financially secure more often than not lack the experience of being poor. A lot of people think they are poor, or perhaps believe that they have experienced difficult times in the past. But few people really understand what it means to live in poverty. This lack of perspective makes it difficult to fairly represent the reality endured by the unfortunate.

To offer a brief microcosm of what it is like to live in poverty, Leadership Lorain County hosted a Community Action Poverty Simulation. I was privileged to participate in the simulation; to experience the hassle and challenges of being poor. James E. Gepperth, of the Catholic Charities Family Center of Lorain, introduced the program, and made an important point- there is no "system" in place for the poor. There are a number of, often unconnected, places of public and non-for-profit assistance - but no single agency that can act a single resource for support.

Participants were divided into families and guided to work through real life situations. Each family worked through their circumstances which included challenges such as unemployment, caring for grandchildren, and foreclosure - all while attempting to work through the "system." The simplest task was often time-consuming; the day itself was mentally and physically exhausting. While mindful that this was just a simulation, the experience nonetheless offered a small perspective into the lives of millions of people. Reflection offered an increased understanding of poverty, and a greater appreciation for personal good fortune. Although I personally suffered a job loss in 2001, I lacked insight into what it really meant to struggle. Now, more than ever, I am thankful every morning I awake with an agenda that includes going to work.

Information supplied at the poverty simulation defined two types of poverty- generational and situational - based on an article written by Kerry McCormick of West Virginia University from "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," by Dr. Payne. The distinction is rather self-evident, though the impact differs. The generationally poor are defined as two or more generations living in poverty; whereas, situational poverty is a result of a change in circumstances. The generationally poor survive as a matter of culture - the result of a "much lower level of educational attainment." Their coping skills are, interestingly, better than those thrust into poverty as a result of a job loss or divorce.

I did not lead with the poverty statistics, because it is the lives behind the numbers that matter. However, the numbers also paint a bleak picture. Lorain County, with the loss of its manufacturing employment (20 percent between the second quarter of 2000 and second quarter of 2005 (Center for Learning, Oberlin College)) has been especially vulnerable - which has translated, along predatory lending, into record numbers of foreclosures. In addition, there seems to be an educational correlation, as Lorain County has consistently had fewer college graduates compared to numbers across the state. Furthermore, according to 2000 U.S. Census figures, 1 in 4 in the city of Lorain and 1 in 5 in Elyria do not finish high school.

Lorain County is particularly difficult on minorities with 34 percent of African-Americans and 28 percent of Hispanics living in poverty. It is not surprising that poverty is highest among female-headed households. In 2003, there were 10,463 Lorain County children living in poverty. For these families, the emphasis is on putting food on the table, not saving money to send their children to Harvard.

Poverty is a community issue, one that needs to be addressed by its leadership. This first step is erasing the stigma attached; most specifically that poverty is a choice. The attitude is often that the poor do not work hard, that they would rather work the "system." The second step is a movement toward creating opportunity, and it needs to be created whether or not it comes with campaign contributions or election votes. Rather it needs to be created because it is the right thing to do.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

93. Diamonds not so friendly

Diamonds are said to be a women's best friend. It is a relationship that many clever marketing slogans have promoted, such as the idea that, "A Diamond is Forever." Their beauty is used to symbolize love and commitment; their size and value insinuates affluence and privilege.

About ten years ago, like many other couples considering engagement, my future wife and I went shopping for a fitting, yet affordable, diamond ring. We made the tour through the mall, looking for the perfect size and price. I made note of her favorites- so that upon an official proposal, she would not be disappointed. Later, I purchased a ring, making payments over several months, and waited for the right moment.

In December of 1996, we took a trip to Toronto, Canada, to see the Phantom of the Opera at the famous Pantages Theatre. On the way, we stopped at Niagara on the Lake and stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel. It turned out to be a beautiful night, fallen by a brisk but romantic snow. It was here that I proposed to my wife. As special as that night was for us, it is a ritual that has taken place a million times before.

In terms of the commitment, the ring was an afterthought. Not because it was not endearing, but because I did it without any specific reason. In other words, I did it out of tradition- because that is what "everybody" does. I did not consider where the diamond came from, where it was cut and polished, or even if it was a fair price. The rule of thumb (an ironic reference if you know the origin of the phrase) is that men are supposed to spend two months salary on the ring.

Since I could not afford much, I pledged secretly to myself that after five years I would buy her a bigger diamond. And that is what I did. For our five-year anniversary, I snuck off with her ring and replaced it with a larger diamond. I thought the larger diamond was not only a gift of her commitment and sacrifice over the previous five years, but also a reflection of our growing relationship.

Now, ten years later, having learned about diamonds and the diamond trade, I have some regrets in the process. Diamonds have a tumultuous history, inclusive of greed, power, war and slave labor. Unfortunately, what now sparkles nicely on my wife's finger is a better reflection of the world we live in.

Americans, with their great wealth, purchase 50 percent of all the diamonds produced in the world. To this end, DeBeers, the world's largest diamond seller, has been accused of controlling the supply of diamonds to drive up prices. But the story goes much deeper than the supply chain that provides Americans the diamonds they so much adore at exaggerated prices. Diamonds have been the source of human rights violations and atrocities in terms of slave labor and the many wars and conflicts fought over control of the diamond mines.

The following excerpt is from an series on diamonds by Petra Cahill:

"The search for diamonds is not exactly easy. Many miners and diamond diggers in sub-Saharan Africa travel great distances to find work and submit to gruelingly long hours for low wages - or sometimes no wages - in substandard conditions.

The informal mining industry is where workers tend to be most exploited. In the Wild West atmosphere of many informal diamond mines, the quest for the "big find" - and the financial gain it promises - is the all-encompassing goal, and all other issues of morality or civic responsibility go out the window."

In addition to the slave-like labor often used to excavate the diamond mines, war often breaks out between the groups and countries- which are funded by these valuable diamond mines. Amnesty International reports,

"Conflict or blood diamonds fuel conflict, civil wars and human rights abuses. They have been responsible for funding recent conflicts in Africa which resulted in the death and displacement of millions of people. During these conflicts, profits from the illegal trade in diamonds, worth billions of dollars, were used by warlords and rebels to buy arms. An estimated 3.7 million people have died in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, and Sierra Leone in conflicts fuelled by diamonds."

The History Channel also ran an exposé on the history of the diamond trade inclusive of gruesome pictures and narrative from people who suffered in the battle over diamonds. The rebel organization, Revolution United Front, trademarked amputation as a reminder of their objective to control the diamond mines. One individual, who was interviewed, had both his hands cut off because he had voted for the "wrong" political party. Many others, including a shocking number of children and women, had legs and arms cut off.

In response, Amnesty International and other organizations were successful in lobbying the United Nation General Assembly to adopt legislation that eventually led to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme- a process which is designed to break the link associated with conflict diamonds and human rights violations. This self-regulated certification, in short, tracks the shipments of diamonds and maintains that they are "conflict-free." Governments and industry are only to engage in trade with the diamonds that are ethically obtained- which, in theory, renders the "blood diamonds" worthless.

There are discrepancies as to the effectiveness of this process, but at least the issue has been brought to the table. And, more importantly, people are starting to learn about the diamond trade.

While a diamond ring might symbolize love and commitment, a relationship is built on more than a dynamic arrangement of tetrahedrally-bonded carbon atoms. Had I known that people may have suffered or died in the acquisition of the diamond that my wife now wears on her hand, I would have considered alternatives. Unfortunately, when you are in love, and burdened with the weight of tradition, your focus often narrows to the exclusivity of a world- often based on greed and exploitation- that silently exists.

92. Animal cruelty big business

How much does freedom cost? The answer is that it depends. If you are a chicken, it costs about a dollar per dozen eggs. That is the difference in purchasing a dozen eggs from a factory farmer and purchasing the same dozen eggs from a free-range chicken farmer. Whereas "factory farmed" chickens often live in deplorable conditions, producers of free-range eggs are required to make open spaces available for the chickens to roam.

Unfortunately, chickens, other poultry, and fish are excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act (rabbits are considered poultry under this Act). The Act only applies to cows and pigs, although there is considerable debate how well these laws are actually enforced. Many people witnessed the inhumanity displayed at the Wiles Farm in Canton when several news channels broadcasted the story. As a result, according to the Human Farming Association (GFA), the prosecutor assigned to the case "received literally thousands of letters, faxes, emails, and phone calls from citizens all across the nation who were appalled by the horrific events at Wiles Farm, and who were asking that appropriate criminal charges be filed in this case."

The story, as too often the case, is about corporate profits and the disappearance of family farms. The result of corporate interests is harm to the environment in addition to the animal suffering. The GFA reports,

"The take-over of agriculture in the U.S. by large corporations has allowed a larger number of animals to be produced more quickly and for less money. Agribusiness has reaped great profits while keeping consumer prices low. But the real costs of factory farming - in terms of the loss of family farms, food-borne illness, damage to the environment, and animal suffering - have been tremendous."

Since poultry is not included in the Humane Slaughter Act, the mistreatment of these animals is nothing short of disturbing. Joy Mench, who runs the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California, notes that often eight chickens or more are crammed into cages measuring 20 inches wide by 19 inches deep. This many birds in one cage barely allow the chicken to stand, let alone turn around. In addition, their beaks are often removed; Mench reports,

"...the hens you'd see on most egg farms wouldn't have any beaks. The farmers cut them off, so you'd see a hen face with a stump. Farmers do that because when chickens get crowded together, they develop abnormal behavior, they can peck each other to death."

Unfortunately, good intent often goes unrealized as many "free-range" policies are so loosely defined and enforced that one can never be certain that even these chickens live as required. However, I would rather take a chance on these eggs than the alternative. The bigger picture, however, is the cruelty of factory faming, and the idea that many Americans remain oblivious to this idea.

The following quote by moral philosopher, Peter Singer, in his book "Animal Liberation" is quite powerful, which in addition to the insights of many vegitarian friends, has prompted my conversion to a vegitarian diet. Singer wrote, "Those who, by their purchases, require animals to be killed have no right to be shielded from the slaughterhouse or any other aspect of the production of the meat they buy. If it is distasteful for humans to think about, what can it be like for the animals to experience it?"

This realization applies to every aspect of human consumption that inflicts pain and suffering on animals. To ignore this reality is synonymous with actively supporting it. For years I avoided the idea of vegetarianism and justified my diet any number of ways. Surprising, I have found that it has not been that difficult without meat, as there are a lot of great meat substitutes. But most importantly, I feel a lot better about myself- even if I am a dollar poorer every time I buy a dozen eggs.

Friday, March 30, 2007

91. Live whatever you believe

"Eternal Recurrence," as contemplated by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, is the idea that time repeats itself in a circular pattern. The significance of this idea, or perhaps the consequence of it, is the possibility that the life we are living is part of an endless cycle which is repeated throughout time. Nietzsche proposed the following:

"What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you-all in the same succession and sequence... The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it, a grain of dust."

Depending on the perception of your life, this idea could be quite joyous or, it could be most disturbing. What if we were to live this life over and over indefinitely? What if this life laid the foundation for our eternal recurrence?

This concept could be argued to be no less realistic than the alternatives, specifically the religious afterlife and the atheistic proposal that our existence ends at death. Thus these three ideas, excluding for now others such as reincarnation, suggest that either life ends at death, is repeated indefinitely, or is spent, for eternity, in heaven or hell. This consideration places burdens of varying degrees on our present lives. Whether these ideas are cognitively considered beyond the overwhelming monotheistic belief in an afterlife, or not, each effects how our present lives are to be lived.

If we believe that we have been saved and are entitled to an eternity in heaven, then this life means little, a drop in the bucket, worthy of any and all sacrifice and suffering. The only goal is to get into heaven. If I believed that, I would devote my entire life to living according to my religious principles- attending church regularly, for example.

If we believe this life is our only form of existence, as Atheists do, it encourages living life to the fullest, and according to one's principles. There is reason to neither accept sacrifice and suffering- nor impose it. Furthermore, there is an inherent understanding that if this is my one chance at life; the same is true for all other living persons and animals. For if my life is precious, so are the lives of others, and life is best lived with mutual respect. It also places a measure of urgency on our lives, for each day is one less day we are alive and essentially the days on a calendar are a countdown to our deaths. It emphatically emphasizes the phrase, "Carpe Diem."

If we believe in Eternal Recurrence, the burden, as Nietzsche suggests, bears an incredible weight. For the incentive to live a good life is all of eternity. The redundancy of living this life repeatedly through time, with all accompanying pains and pleasures, places a lot pressure on living this life to its fullest. If this life is spent in prison, then eternity is spent in prison; likewise if this life is spent doing what one loves to do, then eternity is spent doing what one loves. To make the idea more poignant, imagine that tomorrow were to be lived over and over. What would you do with that day?

While the idea of Eternal Recurrence is not to be taken seriously, it is the point that matters. It was Nietzsche's point as well. These ideas measure across a spectrum of views about this life. On one side, individuals are willing to sacrifice this life for an eternity of rewards, on the other; individuals are desperate to make the most of this life. In between are the Atheists who are encouraged to live life to its fullest, but without the burden of reliving mistakes.

What we believe should dictate how we live. For example, I find no greater hypocrisy than those attempting to get to heaven without living a life according to that premise. Furthermore, with everything on the line, I wonder why people do not invest more into making this decision. A recent book by Stephen Prothero's, entitled "Religious Literacy," noted that most Americans, despite being one the most religious countries in the world, are religiously illiterate. The book notes,

"Approximately 75 percent of adults, according to polls cited by Prothero, mistakenly believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves." More than 10 percent think that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. Only half can name even one of the four Gospels, and -- a finding that will surprise many -- evangelical Christians are only slightly more knowledgeable than their non-evangelical counterparts."

The truth is that most people conveniently configure their beliefs around their lives; affording themselves an afterlife in heaven without making the human sacrifice.

To me, it does not matter what one believes, only how one lives his or life. Whereas what it all means is merely speculation; this life is a certainly. I have made the argument that for all we know we are a fifth-grade experiment for some superior species, just as we, for example, experiment and study ant farms. Or maybe the "Big Bang" was nothing more than a chemistry project to one day be exterminated and washed down the sink as a matter of unimportance. Despite the diversity in opinion, none of us know what our death will bring. We can however, decide how to live our lives. And who knows, maybe we will have the chance to live it all over again- and again.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

90. Philosophy- Any original thoughts?

Philosophy is an engaging academic discipline. While I have not studied it formally, I enjoy a wide range of philosophical teachings- from Socrates and Aristotle, to Hume, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kant. Fortunately through audio books, video lectures, the Internet and the classics themselves, the discipline is more available than ever to amateur philosophers.

Wikipedia defines philosophy this way: "Philosophy concerns itself with what is the best way to live (ethics), what sorts of things really exist and what are their true natures (metaphysics), what is to count as genuine knowledge (epistemology), and what are the correct principles of reasoning (logic)." In a sense, philosophy is about thinking- thinking about everything. What could be more enjoyable?

However, the study of philosophy today is largely regulated to discussing and analyzing previous philosophers. And, of course, as time goes on, the ideas of ancient philosophers become antiquated either by the commonalty of the information or the advancement of science. Thus, without an influx of modern philosophical ideas, some, including myself, are wondering if philosophy, as a social influence, is becoming obsolete. Free Inquiry Magazine posed the same question a couple of years ago, and the following highlight some of the comments:

"There are roughly 9,000 Philosophy Ph.D.s in the country. More than 5,000 of them teach in four-year colleges...but few Americans would be able to recognize the name, much less the work, of a single one." -Peter Edidin, New York Times

" may be that cognitive science is poised to settle core debates over human nature that were formerly the philosophers' exclusive preserve." -Tom Flynn

"...every success of the scientific and technological endeavors weakens the hold of religion and its secular arm, namely philosophical idealism" -Mario Bunge

My concern is that modern philosophers spend too much time in their ivory towers, socializing in private clubs or narrowing their interest in studying constricted philosophical ideas or philosophers. They often seem to share a propensity for attempting to impress others with their archaic references rather than promoting an original idea. Furthermore, if philosophy encompasses some of life's most difficult questions and moral dilemmas, I wonder why there is not a greater social contribution from modern day philosophers.

Mario Bunge similarly asked, "Why do not moral philosophers devote more attention to the problems affecting billions of people- such as those of poverty and unemployment- than those that only affect a few such as abortion or euthanasia?" I think the question is a fair one. Perhaps the answer is that philosophers prefer to dwell into those questions that cannot be answered objectively. Philosophies concerning poverty can be tested, the moral basis for abortion, is relative, and cannot. Or, perhaps, issues such as abortion may offer greater attention than the plight of the poor.

In offering the question to members of a local philosophical club, I was disappointed in the lack of passion expressed. Some said philosopher professors worked too hard to contribute modern works; while others attempted to take credit for ideas such as "string theory" as a philosophical premise. It would be apt to dismiss both accounts. I find the idea that philosophy professors are busier than other publishing professors a ridiculous one. And while there is a matter of philosophy, which science cannot test, in string theory, it is an idea born from scientists- based on chemistry and physics, not Plato.

Certainly science has encroached on philosophy, as Bertrand Russell proposed, "Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don't know." Our scientific knowledge, from moral and social issues, to in depth disciplines such as neuroscience, has eroded that which may be pondered in relation to the human experience. Russell's proposal, thus, may be reworded to "the more we know, the less philosophy we need." Philosophy flourished in ancient Greece through the mid-nineteenth century, a period of time void of significant scientific influence.

I will not conclude that philosophy is obsolete, however I will concede that is has lost much of its influence on modern society. I think there is much to learn from the great philosophers of yesteryear. However, I would love to see some modern applications of those philosophical ideas. Our human experience has a number of social issues, including poverty and social injustice, which might benefit from fresh philosophical ideas.

Socrates used to walk the streets of ancient Greece asking "What is truth?" and "What is justice?" Modern philosophers just may need to return to their roots, step out of their ivory towers, and ask ordinary citizens, "Why is there poverty?" and "Why is there injustice?" I think they would find the undertaking rewarding, and if they do, we will keep the hemlock on the shelf.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

89. Deserving to win is best

Coaching high school sports was a wonderful opportunity and endeavor. I coached four years of high school baseball- two years at Elyria Catholic, one year at Keystone and one year at Lake Ridge Academy. It was always a difficult arrangement, attempting to "work around work." Coaching high school baseball is a passionate that I certainly miss.

Coaches usually coach because they love the game, the kids, teaching- or all of the above. In my case, it was all of the above. I spent my youth playing and studying baseball, and I wanted to share my knowledge. I also loved being out on the ball field in the spring, interacting with the kids and stirring up my memories and competitive spirit.

Like any other occupation, there are good coaches and, unfortunately, there are bad coaches. Usually bad coaches lack knowledge, teaching ability or a pure interest in the game. However, most coaches are in it because they love it (it certainly is not because of the salary), and I always cringe when I hear of a parent-led takeover of sport program. While some are certainly warranted, I can vouch to the fact that coaching is very difficult. There are a lot of decisions to be made, some of which are very complicated.

These decisions include measuring or weighing factors, such as talent compared to effort, potential versus ability, and, of course, the best interest of the team. Parents are not often privy to what happens in practice- in terms of effort, sportsmanship or attitude. And unfortunately, each coach has his or her own standards for making these decisions. It is rare that a parent has all the information available to note whether or not a coach is being fair. And let us be honest, the opinion of the parent usually hinges on whether or not their child is playing.

One issue that always comes up is the idea that all kids should play. I agree with that notion up until high school- depending on the sport. Sports are competitive, and those players that give a team the best chance to win should play. Sports represent the "real world" much better than other endeavors. And in the real world, people compete for jobs, and they compete with other companies- for it can be tough out there. Much can be learned, both in handling success and failure. If kids quit on their team now or is bailed out by a parent, simply because their personal goals are not being met, one has to wonder what will happen in the future when they are passed over for a job or a promotion. It is a lesson much better taught in sports and when one is young.

When I coached, I attempted to emphasize the idea of maintaining a good work ethic. I did not care how talented a player was, I cared about his commitment. I wanted my players to learn that if you want to succeed, you have to work at it- and those that work the hardest have the best chance at success. For example, if your opponent is taking 30 minutes of batting practice, then you might consider taking 40 minutes of batting practice- less talented players perhaps even longer. In fact, individual sports are better at making this point. You either win or you lose, and it is largely a result of your effort and training.

Rick Patino's book, "Success is a Choice," details the idea that one needs to "deserve success." In life, we cannot always be certain that we will be successful, but we can assure ourselves that we deserve success. This is a great statement. There are a lot of factors that determine how successful we are which cannot control- however, we can always control whether or not we deserve success. Some of us will live according to what we deserve, some will live unrewarded- and still others will get lucky, living far beyond what they deserve. Alas, that is life.

I had some rewarding moments with the kids I worked with. And I was lucky that I never had a problem with a parent. There is nothing like the feeling a coach has when a team has worked hard to accomplish something together. While I was at Lake Ridge, we struggled considerably. Lake Ridge is more of an academic prep school than an athletic power. In fact, we barely had enough players to field a team. We started poorly, something that was witnessed by other teams, coaches and even the umpires. However, at the end of the year, we won the first tournament game in Lake Ridge baseball history- an exciting 10-9 win over a team that had beaten us miserably earlier in the season.

Walking off the field that day, the umpire, who had seen some of our previous performances, looked at me and said, "Coach, I don't know how you did it, but you did it." Of course, I did not do anything; our team did it- by working hard and deserving success. It was a satisfying accomplishment, and I loved it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

88. Silence hides true feelings

Former NBA star Tim Hardaway did not say anything that millions of people still feel in this country. Hardaway went on a Miami sports radio show and said, "You know I hate gay people, so I let it be known, I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

This outburst was in response to the announcement of former NBA player John Amaechi, that he was gay. Amaechi is the first former NBA player to reveal his homosexuality.

Since this announcement, Hardaway has apologized- twice- for his comments, yet he was surprised at the amount of attention his comments received. "It was like, you know, I had killed somebody. ... I never knew that this was going to escalate that high," Hardaway said. Not only did his comment garner him unwanted attention, it damaged his reputation. The NBA dropped him as a spokesman at the All-Star game and, according to, he has lost at least one endorsement deal.

His remarks, both about gays and the reaction to his anti-gay comments, demonstrate the disconnect he has with society. I do not believe for one second that his apology was sincere, especially since he felt the need to do it twice. I am sure his agent went into immediate damage-control following his ill-advised outburst. Obviously if he did not feel this way toward gays he would not have made such strong statements in the first place.

Unfortunately, despite the disconnect, Hardaway does speak for a large segment of our population. I am sure he expected an outpouring of support from others that embark on this sort of discrimination. I think he thought people would be happy that someone was outspoken about it. In an ESPN correspondence, one reporter noted that many NBA players feel the same way, but that they would not offer public support. I am sure what Hardaway is getting the type of personal feedback that says, "I am with you, man, I agree, I just can't help you out."

Maybe his comments were extreme, in that he "hates" gays, rather than voting against allowing them to get married, but nonetheless, it would be naïve of us to think that many people do not feel the same way.

States across this country voted to prohibit the marriage of gays, often amending their state constitution. Where are these people when he stands up and says what they think? Why are the Christian groups that campaign against homosexuality not offering him their support? Is their stance really that they do not hate homosexuals, just that it is sin and that they do not deserve the same rights as other Americans? Where exactly are people drawing the line?

Regardless, Hardaway should have been smart enough to know that his comments would draw the wrath of many gay and lesbian organizations, as well as other liberal-thinking Americans. Fortunately, there are a number of groups that spring into action following incidents like this to force the issue- in this case an apology. The ACLU will do it regarding civil liberty issues, PETA will do it when animals are mistreated and a number of environmental groups will do it when ecosystems have been harmed. Often regarded as a nuisance, these groups are sometimes successful in deterring otherwise heinous acts.

Thanks to these groups, and an evolving liberal attitude, I predict the day will come when people are no longer discriminated against because of their color, gender, religion or sexual preference. Its tale is still being told, as narrow-minded beliefs and archaic scripture still captivate the souls of many people. At least for now, it appears the discrimination is best left to the privacy of pews and voting booths- strategically escaping public scrutiny.