My Hitch Story

One of the things about Christopher Hitchens is that he got around so much, knew so many people, and made such a vivid impression, that just about everybody is offering a remembrance today. Here’s mine:

In 2007, I was invited to speak at the Amazing Meeting, a conference of skeptics held every year in Las Vegas in honor of James (aka The Amazing) Randi, magician, debunker, and skeptic. I was delighted to be invited because all kinds of cool people show up there every year, including Penn and Teller, Adam Savage, Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait, and of course Hitchens, who seemingly never turned down an invitation to speak, drink, and argue. (As a man who travels a fair bit, I am in awe of how much Hitchens got around.)

His presentation was terrific, and I particularly remember the All-Speakers Panel at the end, when we all got up on stage and took questions from the audience. One panelist — I think it was Scott Dikkers, editor of the Onion, though I may well be wrong — suggested that perhaps it was dumb for the US to be “at war with Islam,” and Hitchens, in just the way a lion notices a limp gazelle stroll in front of it, responded “Well, Islam is certainly at war with us,” and proceeded to eviscerate the poor man. As the little boy says in Jurassic Park, “Look at all the blood…:”

But: the prior night, I had had my own Hitchens time. A few of us were given tickets by Penn Jillette to come to see his show with Teller, and Hitchens piled into conference attendee’s Scott Hurst’s BMW (which, graciously, Scott let me drive) and headed over to the Rio. Hitch didn’t really know who I was but lit up when I mentioned I had gone to college with his old friend Andrew Sullivan. I should also say the sight of my attractive wife seemed to increase his illumination. (Beth’s judgment: “Terrible flirt,” with “terrible” meaning “good.”)

The show was terrific and had been told that Penn and Teller always invited their guests back to a special lounge they had behind the theater, just for that purpose, so we should absolutely hang around post-show for that invitation. However, as Hitch, Beth and I walked into the lobby, we saw that Penn and Teller had come out (as is their gracious habit) to greet the entire audience as it left the theater, and Hitch made a mental calculation how long it would take for them to work the crowd, didn’t like the number he arrived at and said “Come on, let’s go get a drink.”

And so we did, heading to the nearest casino bar. I told him as we walked I had been experimenting with the proper martini recipe, and he told me that he once did an assignment as a Cocktail Taste Tester for one magazine or another, drinking gallons of the stuff, and learned all kinds of interesting points about gin, vermouth, and the relationship thereof. (Not for the first time in this account, I will regret not taking contemporaneous notes.) The bartender turned his attention to me, and I ordered three martinis, as per Hitch’s well-researched perfect recipe, and he cried, “Oh, God no, not for me. I’ll never drink that awful stuff again. I’ll have a Scotch, please, a double.”

So we talked and drank, with my thoughts being drowned out by the inner voice, “OH, BOY, IM HAVING DRINKS WITH CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS.” We talked about the Iraq War, then in its fifth disastrous year, and which he famously and aggressively supported. I was not fooled enough to argue with him, but I did inquire, gently, as to certain aspects of the war which, perhaps, had not gone as well as he and other supporters had hoped or even predicted. “I will admit it could have been handled better,” he said, which is much as a concession as I had ever heard him make on that topic. He did say something which stuck with me: “I’m just glad we’re at war with someone.” That’s not quite as callous as it sounds here, without context… what he meant was that he saw militant Islam as a grave threat to Western Civilization and that he was glad that the West had finally given battle. One could argue that the “someone” in whose front yard the war happened to be fought wouldn’t share his gladness of its commencement, but again, as I said, I chose not to be that “one,” not then.

Eventually, after much chat (see note about regret re notes) and drinking and smoking we walked back to the Penn and Teller Theater and of course everyone was gone… we had missed our chance to see the Secret Lounge. By this time it was near 1 in the morning, and the three of us caught a cab together back to our casino. Beth and I headed to our hotel room… Hitch, 16 years my senior, headed off to a party some of the younger conference goers were throwing, where I’m told he danced and drank till dawn.

We talked that night about having him on Wait Wait but never did it. I’m not sure I regret it… three silly questions do not seem the sort of foolishness he would have suffered gladly, and I’m grateful I got to spend some time with him in his natural element, near a bar, with a drink and a smoke, with diversions and arguments ahead and behind.

Activities at the Kona Coast Resort

Activities at the Kona Coast Resort

Activities at the Kona Coast ResortLocated in the resort town of Keauhou on the Big Island’s leeward coast, Kona Coast Resort presents 267 air-conditioned villas near beautiful Keauhou Bay. Located within walking distance to nearby shops, a movie theater, restaurants, a golf course and ocean activities, the resort also offers many on-site activities that will keep the family entertained for the duration of your vacation.

Kona Country Club
Located adjacent to the resort, Kona Country Club presents a 36-hole championship golf course featuring a mountain and ocean course. In years past, the club has hosted the LPGA tour with the likes of golfing legends Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and more.

Kona Country Club
Alii Drive
Keauhou, HI 96739
(808) 322-2595
www.konagolf.com/

Snorkel Cruise
Kona’s most popular snorkel cruise leaves twice daily from Keauhou Bay on route to nearby Kealakekua Bay. Providing all necessary snorkel gear, the Fair Wind cruise also offers a barbecue lunch on deck including grilled hamburgers and salads.

78-7130 Kaleiopapa St.
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
(808) 322-2788
www.fair-wind.com/

Activities at the Kona Coast Resort

Watch Manta Rays
The nearby Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa offers the best place in Kona to observe manta rays at night. With lights shining down on the surf, the resort attracts the magnificent creatures within viewing distance of the lanai at the Crystal Blue lounge, where tropical cocktails are served nightly.

Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa
78-128 Ehukai Street
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740
(808) 930-4900
www.sheratonkeauhou.com/

Picnic at Keauhou Bay
With coconut palms flickering in the breeze, Keauhou Bay is the ideal spot for bringing a picnic lunch or dinner. Watch the local outrigger canoe club train in the bay, play beach volleyball in the sand, or simply enjoy a beautiful sunset at one of Kona’s most scenic areas.

Shopping Center
Within walking distance to the resort, Keauhou Shopping Center includes a KTA grocery store, Long’s Drug store, several cafes and restaurants and a movie theater. On selected weekends, the shopping center features top Hawaiian recording artists in concert in the parking lot.

Activities at the Kona Coast ResortSnorkeling
Nearby Kahaluu Beach Park presents stellar snorkeling opportunities in a calm, protected bay. Beginning surfers can also test the waves outside the reef. A surfing heiau, or temple, is located on the lava bluffs overlooking the bay.

Archeological Sites
Ancient Hawaii comes alive in the vicinity of the resort, where such sites as a holua slide and old, stone temples can be seen in the distance, along with the battleground where Hawaii’s ancient religion was overthrown in 1819.

The Saga of Sleepy Frownin’ Jodes

In my two decades (plus change) on this earth, I have learned that time goes quickly if you’re doing something. Whether this is having fun or entering data into Excel spreadsheets, it does not matter. All that matters is that you are too busy to look at the clock every two minutes and think, “That’s it? Only two minutes has passed since I looked at the clock what seemed like nine hours ago?!” and if you’re me, that pisses you off. The work that I do has become easier with every day that I trim the fat and effectively organize (I’m not trying to brag…I’m just pretty sweet at administrating an office), and this work was very easy, to begin with, human element excepted.

Two or three hours into my workday, I usually find myself staring at my computer screen, having looked at the entire Internet, making my fingers into a gun and pointing it at my head. Don’t worry, it’s not loaded, and I don’t believe in suicide. Still: how is it only six o’fucking clock?

I decided that I might as well write a blog. I know I haven’t done it in a while. It’s not that I’ve had nothing to say, or that I’ve been too busy, it’s that every time I have cracked the ol’ knucks and given it a go, I have drawn blanks left and right. In other news, I finished writing a novel. Just kidding, I didn’t do that either.

So, let’s see. What’s new? Well, I moved again. I’ve lived in New York for less than three years and I have lived in four different apartments. This was an exciting one, not only because it’s the first apartment where I don’t have to rely on the G as my only train (don’t worry…the G is still around. I just don’t ever have to take it ever again if I don’t want, thankfully), but also because I moved in with the fella. We’re shacking up. Living in sin. Cohabiting. It’s pretty awesome. We have a lot of laughs, and both Vince and Jesse seem to love what I’ve done with the bathroom.

NOT! I would run with that wonderful theme, but unfortunately, it wouldn’t go with the portrait of Eric Bischoff that is hanging in front of the toilet. This is not a joke.

What else? What else besides that? I started jogging, for one. A week ago. I’m not really one for sticking with things. I’ve had a lot of hobbies in my life, a lot of discarded ambitions. And, I’m one of the least athletic people I know. In my school days, I played almost every sport I could, and never became good at any of them. Mostly because I was just doing it because my pals were doing it, and mostly because I never paid attention when I was supposed to be learning the rules. I was usually looking at all of the other kids, looking around the gym, digging at the dirt with the toe of my shoe, hoping I wouldn’t totally suck when it was time to actually play. Also, though, I’m just not physically graceful. Everyday living leaves me bruised. I run into things. I smack my hands on tables because I’m flopping them around too much. These things really happen.

This makes the choice to take up jogging a curious one. I decided I needed to start exercising because of all of the mopey shit (I think it’s called…depression? Does that sound right?) I’m always up to. So far, it’s been pretty cool. I enlisted the help of Vincent to wake me up in the morning and make me stick to it, which is an extremely tall order. He’s a saint for challenging the beast known as “Sleepy Frownin’ Jones,” who is my morning time alter-ego.

The first day I shuffled very slowly, for a very short amount of time, and had to practically crawl up the stairs to my apartment, only to feel like I was going to barf everywhere. And then I barfed everywhere. Ok, not everywhere, but I did barf. Each day after has gotten better, and though I’m only a week in, I find myself looking forward to it. We’ll see.

Lastly, I would like to call to your attention the blog of my favorite (and not just because he’s my only) little brother’s blog. It’s called Tyler’s Week in Review, and it’s genuinely funny. I’m constantly amazed at how this tiny little baby I used to hold is now taller than me and a burgeoning young writer. So please, check it out and tell him how cool he is.

Breast Surgery and the Side Effects

If your doctor recommends surgery for treatment of breast cancer, you have the option to ask questions before you have the procedure. You will want to know which surgery your doctor recommends, how long will your stay in the hospital be, and is a partial mastectomy a possibility? What about lymph nodes, will they be removed, how many, and why are they being removed?

How will you feel before, during, and after surgery? How long will your hospital stay be? Other questions you may want to ask are, will you need to take care of your incision? What will the scars look like? Will you have a full range of motion in your shoulder and arm if lymph nodes are removed? Are there special exercises to do? What about special care for the underarm and breast area? Someone who has already had the surgery and recovered may answer these questions. Always know the facts before you have surgery. You will want to know the expected recovery time, and any limits you will have on physical activity.

Once you have had surgery, you may feel out of balance with your body. If you have a breast removed, it may take time for you to adjust to the change in your body, especially if your breasts are large. It may cause extra discomfort or pain in your upper back and neck, and your muscles may feel stiff and weak. You will be referred to a physical therapist that will suggest exercises and ways to regain movement and strength in the surgery area. Exercise can help reduce pain and stiffness in the arm and breast.

Removing lymph nodes require you to take special care of your arm and hand for the rest of your life. Removing the nodes also restricts the flow of fluid and it may build up in your arm and hand causing swelling. Protecting your arm will become a major priority. You will need to carry heavy purses or luggage with the unaffected arm and avoid tight clothing or jewelry on the arm that swells. When having shots, medical procedures, or blood pressure readings, always use the unaffected arm. It is also important to protect your hands if using harsh detergents or gardening. Wearing gloves is recommended for these activities. Avoid sunburns, and take special care when cutting nails and cuticles on the swollen arm. Use an electric razor when shaving under the arms to avoid nicks or injury.

If lymphedema, or swelling of the lymph nodes occurs, your doctor may recommend wearing an elastic sleeve to improve circulation. Raising their arm over their head, and using medication, massage, or a machine that helps removed fluid from the affected area.

Many different things can cause the retaining of fluid in the arm. The weather, clothing, injury, and physical activity all will have an impact on fluid retention after lymph nodes are removed. Always contact your doctor if your arm is injured, is abnormally swollen, or if your arm feels red and warm. Special care should be given to your arm if you are bitten by an insect, have a cut, sunburn, or another injury to your arm.

Belly Fat

If you’re struggling with excess belly fat, you’re not alone. The vast majority of people worry about the unsightly appearance of that waistline bulge. However, belly fat is more than just unattractive, it’s very harmful to your health.

In fact, stomach fat is the most dangerous type of fat you can have. There are actually two types of fat in your abdominal area. One is subcutaneous fat, which is the layer of fat just under your skin that covers up those coveted abdominal muscles. The other is visceral, which is abdominal fat surrounding your organs. You’ll often see this type of fat described as a beer belly on men. Although it sticks out and appears flabby, it actually feels hard to the touch. Visceral fat is the most dangerous of the two types of stomach fat. This has to do with the release of more inflammatory molecules into the body.

Whether one is more dangerous than others is irrelevant because both are serious danger signs. Belly fat is linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and much more. If you care about the quality of your life and about living at all, then you must address this issue immediately.

We’ve put together some articles below that will get you started. And we’ll be expanding this section so bookmark this page. Also, if you haven’t done so already, sign up in the form in the upper right corner of this page to download our fantastic e-book – “45 Fantastic Ways to Lose Calories” – FREE of charge (a $27 value). Get a jump start on attacking that belly fat! By the way, you can download with peace of mind. We hate spam and won’t give your email address to anyone for any reason!

Get Rid of Belly Fat
Learn three top tips to get rid of belly fat. Your life will thank you.

Belly Fat Diet
Get rid of belly fat through a belly fat diet? Learn the surprising facts about targeting stomach fat and a couple of “health foods” that are making your midsection fat, very fast.

How To Get A Flat Belly
More hot tips on getting rid of belly fat. In fact, we even suggest you relax to lose weight. Say what?

Love Handles
Discover how to do away with this unsightly fat and why you just might want to jump on that immediately.

High School Decisions…

Lauren, guest teen blogger

It’s the beginning of eighth grade and everyone seems to be talking about high school. The teachers are all talking about how different high school will be and that no one will be there to “hold our hands”. The high school fair is coming up where schools in the area come to talk to us. But, most of all it’s the students talking about which high school they plan to attend. Our town doesn’t have our own high school, so we send to another school in a neighboring town. I think because of that, many students feel they want to attend private schools or at least not the public school our district feeds to. Around here there are some other good options. We have many different county schools that are free and a great education, but there you lack the normal high school experience and you need to be willing to specialize. There’s a county school that’s great for technology, one for if you want to be a doctor, one for marine and ocean sciences, and several more. Then, there are extremely competitive, private, non-religious schools, which cost a fortune. Finally, there are Catholic schools that aren’t really such great schools and are pretty expensive. Those are the main schools other than the public school that students attend.

So the question is “why does it seem to be such a hard decision?” For many girls, I think they may be intimidated by the big public high school which is also fed into by another school where the kids seem to be a bit tougher. Since my brother is already attending, I’m not that worried about that. So, for me, it’s either the standard public high school or this county school for technology. I want the “normal high school experience”, but the technology school offers a great education (for free!) and I’m really interested in what they have to offer. So what do you guys think about the high school decision?

Rach, the “teen”

First let me tell you this: the teachers who tell you that high school is different (read: way hard), those teachers are lying to you. Freshman year is all about teachers helping you. Being a freshman is kind of like being in a big prep class for the rest of high school. Unless you’re planning on taking all AP classes, you’ll be fine. High school isn’t as hard as they say.

When it comes to specialized high schools, I think they are a terrible idea. Like, fantastically bad. That is when I was 13, and going into high school, I had no idea what I wanted to be. At least, I would certainly not have expected to be interested in so many things. I think specializing that early is bad for the majority of kids.

Think of it like this, when I was nine, I wanted to be an astronaut. At 15, I desperately wanted to be an artist. Now, at 18, I have no idea what I want from my life. When you were nine, what did you want to be? If you choose the specialized school, you get a very specific education that may fit in with what you want now, but it might or might not fit in with what you want later. Like me and being an astronaut, I would have been seriously regretting that decision now, had I chosen then to go into science. Or into a specialized art school at 15. Rounded is good.

So, right now you’ve got to choose between a classic high school experience and one that is more fitted to what you might want in a career. If you were my real sister, I would encourage you to go to public school.

Brad, the “dad”

Way, way, way back in the Triassic when I went to high school, there wasn’t any choice at all. There was the public high school nearest to you – no intradistrict transfers back then, let me tell you – and there was the Catholic high school that was for actual Catholics. But now? For both my daughters, we had to struggle with far too many choices, and that’s not unusual. So welcome to the party, Lauren. Sorry.

I have to agree with Rach here: a lot of the scare-talk about how different and huge and terrifying high school will be is exactly that: scare-talk. Only those afflicted with genius or obsession should even think about single-subject schools (and that’s a much, much smaller group than you think. P.S. You’re not one of them). On the other hand, the idea of a “real high school experience” is equally fantastical. Our li’l ones went (are going) to a project-based high school that’s far from home and has only about 400 kids, and we agonized about the same thing: will they get a “real” high school experience in such a small, non-neighborhoody place? And it’s true, there isn’t a cheerleading squad or a CIF football team there, but The Girls didn’t suffer (they wouldn’t have been cheerleaders or quarterbacks anyway); today they are socially well-adjusted, and so far there’s been no difficulty in getting into college. So what is a “real high school experience,” anyway? My observation? It’s the one you have, not the one you see on TV or other people tell you about (that, after all, is their “real high school experience”).

My advice: ask everybody you know, with kids in and recently out of high school, for recommendations. If you’re lucky, there will be some options within your public school district. But check out charter schools, open-enrollment church-based schools, any private schools you can honestly afford. You’ll find that almost all of them offer you a chance to “shadow” a current student for a full day – not just to go on a tour and get a sales pitch, but to actually attend classes, hang out at lunch, talk to the current students. (And if they don’t offer that kind of access…cross them off the list.) Then choose the one (or ones – options, always options!) that ‘feels’ the most comfortable.

And most important of all: don’t worry about it, no matter what those icky grown-ups and teachers say. The experience you’ll have in high school will have as much to do with you, and how you approach it, as it does with the school itself…and if you go in next Fall determined to enjoy yourself, learn what you can, and move on to college in a few years, you’ll be fine. In fact, you’ll be great.

Learning to Balance Work and Fun

Rach, the “teen”

I moved into college about two weeks ago. So far things are going well: I have lots of new friends in my hall, my classes all seem superbly interesting and I’ve been applying for some pretty cool campus jobs.

My dilemma this week is: how can I learn to manage to work and play without losing my mind. That is, how can a teen living entirely independently for the first time learn to deal with studying and partying without getting overwhelmed by either?

My HA (hall advisor) says it’s best to plan out entire days, have scheduled time for “fun” – but that’s not how fun works. Spontaneity is half the fun of, well, fun. I’m really worried that I won’t leave enough time for just hanging around, or that I’ll burn out and not get any of my work done. What did you do, and how can I get my parents to help me out with this?

Mary, the “mom”

Wow, Rach! Great question and one that I wish I knew the answer to. I tend to be the kind of (uptight) person who has trouble having fun when there’s work hanging over my head. Don’t get me wrong, I like to kick back and relax and I like to have fun, but I like to get the work done first. Somehow I just can’t relax and enjoy when I know there something I should be doing. Or, in the case of a long term project, I need to know that I’m on track with it. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly when this kicked in. I think it was when I went to college and was terrified of letting my work slip.

So, I guess my answer would be: do the work, and then go have fun or at least plan a set time to do the work before you go have fun. It doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous. It just means that when some fun opportunity interrupts your work, you need to decide whether you will have time to do the work later. Sometimes, the answer will be no and if that’s the case you should probably turn down the fun opportunity.

Learning this balancing act is at the heart of my concerns about letting my son manage his own workload versus me keeping on top of him about it. He’s got to learn to make these decisions on his own before he gets to college. On the other hand, the objective right now is to get him there.

Forging an Identity

Mary “the mom”

The older of my two daughters just turned thirteen last week and I had been feeling pretty good about how we’d been getting along lately. I knew it was probably the “calm before the storm,” but I’d hoped that wasn’t true. Then I watched High School Confidential.

High School Confidential (on WE tv) tracks 12 girls through the high school years. This week’s episode dealt with Sara and Caitlin, both of whom expressed some pretty conservative views upon entering high school. Sara’s parents are immigrants and her Persian culture is important to her. Caitlin describes herself as a devout Catholic for whom religion is one of the most important things in her life. Both of these girls appear to have a good relationship with their parents at this point. Then each of them meets a boy with whom they develop a serious relationship. By the time they graduate from high school, Sara is getting married to her boyfriend, much to her parents’ dismay, and Caitlin has fallen away from the church. As the girls progress through high school, their relationships with their parents deteriorate somewhat over the years.

This really concerned me – if this is the pattern then I am definitely in the “calm before the storm with my daughter!” But, what struck me was that, as the freshman, these girls were parroting their parents’ pretty conservative values and, as they matured, they started to form their own values which weren’t always in sync with their parents. That obviously caused friction.

I could relate to this because it was my experience growing up. But, I’d like to think that I am pretty open-minded and that I’ve established a solid pattern of open and honest discussion with my children about the various big issues of life. It seems to have worked so far with my son – he is 16 and we haven’t hit any real storms, yet. I’d like to think that whatever choices my daughter makes, whatever identity she forges, we can still have a good relationship. Although, if she told me she wanted to get married at 18, I wouldn’t be so open-minded!

I discussed this episode with my daughter, including the idea that perhaps Sara got married so young because she wanted to remain a virgin until marriage. If my daughter was in a committed relationship, I’d rather she had protected sex than get married at 18, and, she knows it. I hope that by being realistic and open-minded, we can survive this high school journey with our relationship in tact, the new identity and all!

On a lighter note, can we like please like teach our kids to like stop saying “like” every like another word? Sara drove me crazy with the “likes”!

Rach, the “teen”

“Mom”, what you are going through is very much the calm before the storm. My parents and I went through it, except, it only seemed like calm to them. It was still storming for me; I just started leaving things out.

These girls’ relationships with their parents did seem to diminish as time went on. And I think that’s pretty normal. As teens gain independence, they stop letting their parents run their lives. What’s so sad about Sara and Caitlin (and me, and most of the teens I know) is that we stop letting our parents in. Over the past few years I’ve become more distant, because hey, my parents don’t really need to know about how I had that super hard physics test today, or how a girl I know might be pregnant.

Teens change really quickly as we grow into adults. And it’s hard to talk about our lives with the people who still see us as “daddy’s little girl.”

I agree with you. I would rather have my kids in a committed relationship having sex than be getting married and making such a huge life decision so early. At least, I don’t think I’d be ready to get married this young.

I have something in common with Sara. My parents got married really young (and would disown me if I wanted to get married before 20). I’m also in a steady relationship. In fact, my boyfriend and I watched this episode together. We talked about their relationship portrayed on the show, how they seemed like they were both in it out of loneliness, not love.

All in all, this episode left me wondering what was left out. I couldn’t portray my senior year in an hour-long show, let alone the most important four years of my life so far.

Brad “the dad”

Sara and Caitlin didn’t really defy their parents or openly, actively reject their upbringing; they just drifted away, step at a time. No big blow-out with Mom or Dad; they simply stopped including them in their day-to-day lives. That’s exactly how it’s happening for me; the question is what gets lost in the spaces that are created by this new, disturbing independence (You know: that independence we’ve been training them for and urging them to embrace since they were babies.)

Rachel’s right: one hour, two kids, four years – that’s not nearly enough time to get a feel for why Sara and Caitlin did what they did. But that same sense of distance, of not knowing the whole story – that’s a big part of being the parent of a teenager. The dominant cliché that rules our lives is, “Well, we’ve spent all these years preparing her/him for the Real World; it’s time to let go and trust them to do the right thing,” while at the same time the other part of us is screaming, “What are you, insane? She’s not ready! He doesn’t know how to handle this! They’re making life-altering decisions and THEY NEED YOU!”

So you look for points of contact. You look for shared moments. And you try not to be as rigid or as clueless as these parents sometimes appeared to be – unfairly, I suspect, given the tiny window we were looking through. But ultimately, yes, you have to accept the cliché as truth and – urgh – trust them.

Teaching Computer Store Sales Staff Their Job

If you are reading this article there are a few simple assumptions I can make. First, you are online therefore you have an internet connection and a computer. Second, you like were involved at some point in the purchase of the computer or have purchased some extra gadget for the computer sometime in the past. Third, because you have purchased something to do with a computer you likely have set foot in a computer store of some kind, at some point.

With that unnecessary background, on with my rant.

I hate computer stores. Ok, maybe hate is a strong word, but I dislike dealing with the sales staff at most computer stores (or electronics stores with computer departments) such as CompUSA, Circuit City, Best Buy, etc. The problem is I can never get a knowledgeable answer from the staff when I need it. Fact is I know more than they do.

I know that may sound pompous and arrogant, but frankly, your dog may know more about the products being sold there than the staff does.

Being in a technical field, I try to keep myself fairly well read on current technology. I dare say I read more about technology than I do about current events. I actually consider that a fault when I write that, but facts are facts. When I am considering purchasing something, I take research to the extreme. I read online, I ask around and I talk to people about my conclusions and ask them to weigh in. I am fairly sure that I annoy the heck out of people in this process, but in the end, I rarely end up with buyers remorse after my purchase after such long deliberations.

With that in mind, when I end up in a store I usually have a decent idea of what I want. My time in the store often amounts in racing to the point where I know the product is, grabbing it and making my way through checkout. Sure, I may check out what else is on an unadvertised special, but when that staff member comes wandering my way I usually quickly make my evasive moves and get out of there.

The staff does scare me, really; I just hate being engaged in idle chit chat by someone that is really just trying to talk you into a warranty upgrade on whatever you end up buying.

On the occasions I have had to drop in for a purchase where I am not prepared with details and a specific model in mind, I am typically disappointed with the results. Recently we purchased a color laser printer for work at CompUSA. I had done enough quick research to see their pricing was competitive enough compared to online options that we headed in to see what might fit our needs. While browsing through the options with a business sales rep (supposedly more knowledgeable and specialized for businesses) in tow, we requested to see samples from the three printers we were considering. For the one with the “demo” kit attached he had no problem. The second printer he struggled with, and the third he just had no idea. Not that I am a printer expert, but most have a menu system or key combination you can push to get your demo. Relieving him of his dilemma, I figured out getting the samples with a few simple attempts.

This is but a small example of course for many situations where I have instructed the sales staff on the finer points of products vs them informing me of things I don’t know. No, don’t get this picture of me acting like a Cliff Claven and spouting off all my knowledge and generally making a fool of myself. But, when a staff tries to read off the box on the sly the features and act like they already knew it, I just can’t help but know they really are not capable of helping me. I can read the box on my own, thank you very much.

The other day, before purchasing my new Canon 40D upgrade to my 20D, I happened to be at Circuit City for a purchased and made my way through the camera department. I was ogling the 5D they had on display when I managed to get accosted by the guy assigned to that department. He had a 30D around his neck and a big goofy smile on his face. After the pleasantries, he dove right in trying to expound on his vast knowledge of photography and revel me with his enthusiasm.

Now I love talking to fellow photogs and learning from their experiences and skills, but this guy just didn’t have it. What he lacked in actual knowledge he tried to cover with eagerness, and it only managed to come across at pushy and annoying. Without trying to one-up him with my experiences I simply let him know I was planning on purchasing a different camera, was simply browsing and moved on.

In the end, I typically purchase most of my gadgetry online both for the typical cost savings and to not deal with undertrained, poorly paid sales staff. At least online I can read specifications and reviews without interruption and without pressure to pick up that worthless three-year warranty.

Taking Responsibility For Your Own Actions

Taking Responsibility For Your Own Actions

If I could sum up the problems in modern society, it would be this: people, in general, do not take responsibility for their own actions. This is one of my all-time biggest pet peeves. We have created the problem over the course of generations, and with each subsequent generation, we are making it worse. If people would simply own up to their own mistakes and take responsibility for their own betterment and that of their kids, we would be living in an entirely different world. Let’s explore this for a minute and see if you agree with my conclusion.

I have wanted to write about this for some time, but what has brought the subject fresh in my mind again these days is my 7 turning 8-year-old son. Lately, he has entered a strong faze of needing to find someone to blame for everything he views as wrong in his little world. He has a strong view of the way things should be in his mind, and whenever something doesn’t fit that view he has a bit of a meltdown. I realize it is a phase for him that he has to work through, but I’m telling you that if he doesn’t work through it soon I may strangle him. Not literally of course, but he is definitely trying the little bit of patience I am capable of.

Taking Responsibility For Your Own Actions

His level of placing blame knows no bounds. He stubbed his toe the other day and started screaming about how his sister was to blame because she left out a toy that he was avoiding and therefore kicked the couch. My wife packed his school backpack and that ruined his morning; the next she didn’t pack it for him and that equally ruined his day. Getting picked from a weekend after school program my wife went into the classroom to get him – a big no-no that embarrassed him – left him screaming how his life was now ruined. Of course, there is the ever-popular not being able to find an article of clothing because his room had been cleaned when he was way (egads!) and that just can’t happen. The list of examples could go on and on these days, but you get the picture. Completely unreasonable, and completely something you deal with when raising kids.

Problem is, some people never grow out of this stage of needing to place blame on someone else for their own created situations. I think our overloaded civil court system is a direct result of this problem. Sure, there are legitimate claims that need to be handled in a legal arena to force others to be responsible for their actions, but they’re so many frivolous lawsuits of people trying to find others to be found responsible for something that it is hard often to know the difference.

Take for example the now infamous hot coffee lawsuits where someone spilled their beverage obtained through the (McDonald’s) drive-through, was burned and now was using said establishment for untold millions of dollars because the coffee was too hot. Uh, let’s see, aren’t you purchasing this beverage with the expectation that it would be hot? Wouldn’t any reasonable person expect if they spilled such a drink on them that it would, in fact, burn you? Why would your lack of coordination become the liability of the restaurant who sold you the product? Why does this lawsuit even get allowed in the system?

Finding a person or entity to blame and make financially responsible for damage done is perhaps the most abused aspect of our court system. There is money to be made, often through settlements simply to avoid the time, expense and potential negative publicity associated with a full lawsuit. People know this, and unfortunately, a lot of people knowingly use the system to their advantage for this very reason. There are many, though, that simply go through such a routine simply because they don’t want to admit that their own actions or perhaps stupidity had led to their, unfortunately, circumstances, so they go to any lengths to get the blame placed somewhere else.

Off of the legal side, how about our educational system. I spent a little time working in the public school system, and my mother worked in a school district for a number of years. I can’t tell you how many times I heard parents raging on about how the school system had failed their child and it was their fault their child was an uneducated idiot. Now I won’t remove all blame from teachers as it is their job to try and reach children, but the children have a direct and much larger responsibility in the education process. Parents need to stay on top of the child’s progress (or lack thereof) and be an active participant to ensuring their child gets the education and life skills they need, both in and out of school. Admittedly some kids have the personalities to make this a difficult proposition but don’t look to place blame on the school. I firmly believe that in every school situation a child can get the education they need to be provided they have the motivation and support necessary in the home. All schools are not created equal, but it can be done.

As a teacher, I was fortunate to have some experience going into the situation, so I structured my class in such a way that good records were kept and kids had every opportunity possible to succeed, so failure was only of their own doing. I had a few parents of my failing students lay into me something fierce come mid-term parent-teacher conference about how I was failing their child. The tune changed when I laid out all my careful records of what their child was not doing and could have easily done to have a passing grade. In all situations, the anger of the parent had obviously been created by some crafty storytelling of the child before our meeting, and by the end of the visit had shifted from me back to the child. All but one of them ended up passing by the end of the term.

Don’t even get me started in politics, which is the arena where placing blame for wrongs (often artificially) and taking claim for accomplishments that may not be your own is considered part and parcel to the trade. Ugh, it disgusts me to even think about it.

How about the ever golden excuses when you get pulled over for a traffic infraction? There are entire lines of jokes surrounding the excuses people come up with to explain away or justify their speeding, running a red light, etc. It all roots back to the “my dog ate my homework” period, where are both trying to get away with on one hand and trying to shift blame on the other. “I’m late for a doctor’s appointment” is no excuse for breaking the law, and I think most cops are not only tired of hearing the lame excuses, but likely it makes them feel even more justified in writing you that ticket when you are trying to weasel out of it. My father was the king of conversations with people he had just met, something that always amazed me, especially the few times I had seen him strike up a friendly conversation with a cop that had just pulled him over. On every instance that I was present in person, he was let off of a ticket because he was friendly, respectful and honest. He didn’t try to justify his speeding, he owned up to it. Usually, it was just not paying attention, and he would admit to it.

“Sorry officer, I didn’t even realize I was going over the speed limit until I saw your flashing lights. That really was not very smart of me.”

This may or may not get you off of a ticket, but his sincere and honest approach taught me a much greater lesson than had he tried to lie or manipulate his way out of it. Of course, his added obvious flatter didn’t hurt his cause either: “I sure appreciate you doing your job and bringing this to the attention of people like me.” That part of the lesson wasn’t lost on me either.

Taking Responsibility For Your Own Actions

One of my favorite songs pertaining to this subject is a song by Oingo Boingo called Only A Lad. I looked the lyrics up so you don’t have to find them. The short version is the song recounts the story of a boy that didn’t terrible things all his life, from a child on up to being an adult with increasing severity. All along the way, there was always some excuse. He’s only a lad, he really couldn’t help it, society made him who he is. In the end, we hear:

Hey there johnny you really dont fool me
You get away with murder
And you think its funny
You dont give a d*** if we live or if we die
Hey there johnny boy
I hope you fry!

Not the most pleasant of songs of course, but the message overall I agree with. You can’t always place your blame on others. Sure, society influences what we become, but society starts in the home. Later in life, it is up to use to continue with our habits and beliefs or make the choice to change. I won’t get into nature vs nurture argument here, but I do believe in a bit of both mold us into who we are. But we are a higher intelligence, so we have the capacity to change.

I heard a quote in the context of a religious speech, but it definitely applies to life in general:

“A second truth about our accountability is to know that we are not the helpless victims of our circumstances. The world tries to tell us that the opposite is true: imperfections in our parents or our faulty genetic inheritance are presented to us as absolving us of personal responsibility. But difficult as circumstances may be, they do not relieve us of accountability for our actions or our inactions.” — Henry B. Eyring

Unfortunately, I don’t see this trend changing any time soon. With the prevailing belief that schools, community or government need to do more for us vs initiating change ourselves, we will continue down the path. But, if you want to see a change within your circle of influence, start with yourself and your family. Start to recognize when something is your own doing and deal with it. Ingrain in your children a sense of personal responsibility. Having a work ethic is another that goes along with this, but I’ll leave that for another day.

There are oh so many other attributes that need to be acquired, but I believe a sense of personal responsibility for one’s own actions is at the root of it. Sure, we all want world peace, but I’d be happy to start off with more people taking ownership of their own actions. Perhaps a lot of other things would work themselves out.