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Larry Benjamin's blog

Friday, September 29, 2006

No playing around with pain

Pride. Heroism. Fear. Whatever is behind it, there's no good reason for a star to perform if physically unable to meet even the minimal standards of his profession. The most recent example is Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez, who tried three times to pitch in calf muscle pain and now is out for the year with a torn calf tendon. He considers himself a team leader and didn't want to let his teammates (and presumably fans) down, but his body wouldn't let him succeed. Nobody should accuse him of wimping out, whether he tried or not.

It's not just the rich and famous. We all have days when we know we're not 100 percent physically. If we're only functioning at 80 percent but can still do the job, then we should give 100 percent of that 80 percent. But if the ailment interferes with meeting minimal standards of performance, then we should stay home and nurse our body back to good health. (If it's contagious, why spread it to others anyway?)

Underlying these decisions is an understanding of what's expected of anyone -- whether at work, at home, on a field or on a stage. As long as you have a realistic appreciation of those expectations, then your decisions are beyond reproach.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa ...

In 500 years, do you think people will be talking about anyone or anything done this year? Well, back in 1506, Leonardo da Vinci finished a painting that came to be known as the "Mona Lisa.'' Five centuries later, she's still in the news. This time, it's a report of researchers studying 3-D images who say her enigmatic smile may refer to a pregnancy. Something about a fine veil around her shoulders refers to a garment women of the time wore when they were expecting.

Isn't that amazing? A painting that old still fascinates modern man. She's been the subject of a Nat King Cole song classic and played a key role in the novel/film "The Da Vinci Code,'' among many other cultural references. Talk about longevity!

Maybe it's a tribute to the ambiguity of art. Everything is not all that it seems. And people will ponder it for years to come. Perhaps there's a lesson here for in-your-face communicators: All that bluster won't last five minutes, not to mention five centuries.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Running negative - again

Here we go again. The TV ads for this congressional campaign are on the air and, The New York Times reports, the theme is decidedly negative. Why does it have to be that way?

The political experts say that pointing out flaws is the only way to focus on policy differences between the candidates. That would be acceptable if the attacker would state his or her position on the issue being criticized. But you usually don't even learn the attackers' identity until the tagline of the commercial, if at all.

All these negative ads, especially the ones that distort the opponent's appearance along with his or her record, are a major turnoff for voter turnout. Why participate in such a distasteful activity? It also discourages good people from running, with seemingly everything they've done since grade school subject to public scrutiny and distortion.

Voting is a duty. Public service should be a calling. Negative campaign ads are a call to opt out.

Monday, September 25, 2006

No normal commute

Now I know what's it's like to be stuck in a traffic jam like those reported on the radio during drive-time nearly every day. Route 33 was closed at Brickyard-Fairfield roads in Howell when I arrived there about 8:30 a.m. because, I learned much later, of a car/tractor-trailer accident three hours earlier.

As a result, my normal 23-minute commute became a one-hour and 10-minute exercise in trying to find some road that wasn't blocked. I went south to get to Route 524 and downtown Farmingdale only to run into a traffic blockage on Fairfield and then on Merrick Road. So I turned around, returned to the original Route 33 blockade and went north on Five Points Road to Route 537 in Colts Neck. I turned the wrong way to get onto Route 18, reversed field and finally had smooth sailing on 18. But since I wasn't sure where the Route 33 closure ended, I bypassed the Route 34 exit and went all the way around to Route 66 and then west to the Press. I was exhausted before I even started my work day.

All this time I didn't see any police officers directing traffic. That can't be right. So without human help, for the first time I wished I had one of those GPS gizmos to direct me. But with my luck this morning, it probably would've directed me into the next traffic backup. No thanks.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Overcoming impersonality

A victim of our technological world, with all its instant communication, is face-to-face - or even ear-to-ear - contact. We'd rather send a message to a work colleague or an e-mail at work or at home than actually talk to the person. We seem to be afraid of human contact. Is a frazzled look or furrowed brow so frightening? Is a beaming face so offputting? Sometimes our message - most of the time, we're asking the person to do something - would be delivered and received differently if we could actually see the person first.

A colleague told me of a school program that addresses this fear of contact. In grades K-3, the teacher facilitates a program for the youngsters before the teaching day begins. They shake hands, they say hello and they tell their classmates what's on their minds. In grades 4-6, the students do the greeting and all the talking for 15-18 minutes, with the teacher in the background.

That sounds like a great idea to adopt in any school or workplace. If you feel good about something, share it; if you're down, talk it out and look for the bright side. Eye contact can go a long way. So can a handshake or even a hug. A computer terminal can't match that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Iranian dilemma

If you think it's easy being President Bush, consider his current dilemma: how to treat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, at the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York. Here's a guy who is no friend of the U.S. or the West, and surely not of Israel. His views as a Holocaust denier got him undeserved big publicity. A collection of his speeches marks him as a major world wacko. He surely doesn't deserve to share any stage with our president. Putting him up there would be a coup, making him seem really important.

But on the other hand, Iran is an important player in Middle East politics and, if it develops its nuclear program, a threat to the world. If the U.S. is to assert its role as the leader of the free world, it must work to discourage Iran's nuclear ambitions and encourage it to take positive steps toward peace in its region. How can Bush or his surrogates do that by snubbing a whole nation because its leader is mentally unstable? Leadership sometimes means talking to people you may not like for the sake of achieving broader goals.

What should the president do? What would you do?

Friday, September 15, 2006

The chief retires well

It really pays to retire from the Barnegat Police Department. Chief Joseph Manger's compensation package when he retires Nov. 30 after 31 years with the department will total $287,689. And he's then eligible for a $77,600 annual pension.

It's not his fault that the township taxpayers will be giving him such a rich retirement present. It was all negotiated by Township Committee members over the years. He's entitled to pay for unused vacation and sick time plus holiday hours. He also gets severance pay.

Such largess has got to stop. Township officials have to make sure future contracts with police and all employee unions cap vacation and sick time carryover. And there's no need for severance pay to a retiree. Police officers should be well paid for the dangerous work they do. But municipal officials have to rein in the perks that cost taxpayers a pretty penny down the road and help drive up the cost of government and living in New Jersey.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Padded head count doesn't count

It's yet another example of how political insiders get away with doing things that we common folk clearly see as wrong. A former state assemblywoman, Mary Previte of Camden County, has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the state Office of Government Integrity in efforts to get more money for the juvenile detention center she ran for 31 years.

But how can that be, given this scenario? In the months leading to the day of the official head count that would determine how much state education funding would be allocated to the center, girls were transferred from the overcrowded facility. But when Previte and others at the center realized that the smaller census would mean less money for the facility, 30 girls were brought back to the center in time for the head count. Each child was worth about $9,000 in state aid.

These transfers surely smack of fraud. It adds up to $270,000 that shouldn't have gone to Previte's center. But the investigators somehow found no proof that she and her staff knew they were breaking the law. Anyone with the least bit of common sense could see that. Oh, the investigators did recommend state guidelines to prevent such transfers in the future. But for an insider like Previte, all is forgiven.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The McGreevey book tour

So former Gov. Jim McGreevey, billing himself as the nation's first openly gay governor, thinks people want to read about his lifelong struggle with his sexuality. Given that his name these days is usually linked with the word "disgraced,'' he's in for a big surprise. Most people don't care and aren't curious enough to shell out big bucks ($26.95 list, about $18 online) to see if they've underestimated him.

As popular as Oprah Winfrey's show is and as enticing as the title "The Confession'' may be, McGreevey is not a compelling enough figure to transfer the publicity about his interview with Oprah into book sales. He was never a dynamic speaker and is not much of a celebrity. His story of years of deceit is undoubtedly a sad tale, hardly a page-turner.

But he's playing the book-tour game anyway. Although Oprah's audience at the taping in Chicago Tuesday was warned not to discuss his comments, one participant broke the rules and called his appearance "underwhelming.'' That's no surprise.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Downeast lesson

The folks up in Maine could teach some lessons in being accommodating to New Jerseyans. Everywhere we went this past week, the people were so nice. Whether involved in the big business of tourism or not, they couldn't have been friendlier or more helpful. And it was genuine. At one point, I couldn't help but wonder: Are we still in the U.S.?

Maybe some cynical Mainers talk derisively about out of staters as Jerseyans talk about "Bennies,'' but it wasn't evident. And there were plenty of visitors around, even though the "high season'' ends at Labor Day. At some parking areas in Acadia National Park, the New Jersey license plates seemed to rank second only to New York tags.

So either New Jersey is doing something very wrong or Maine is doing something very right. Maybe those smiles up north make a difference.