Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's the End of the World!

According to the Mayan legend, the world will be ending on Friday, December 21st, which is in just 24 hours, depending on your time zone.

In fact, that's one oddity that I don't know the answer to . . . will the world end when the first time zone on earth hits 12/21/12 or will the world end one time zone at a time or will the world wait to end until the single second when in every time zone in the world it is 12/21/12? How I schedule my day depends on the answer. If you know, please let me know.

Getting back to this whole end of the world thing, I have to be honest, I'm not so sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I think it's a bunch of bunk. On the other hand, I'm not paying bills until the 22nd, just in case.

If the world ends, and this is a big if, I suppose I should say a few things to some important people in my life.

I love you.

Yes, you. You know who you are and if you're questioning if it's you, the answer is YES, it's YOU.

So that's out there.

Now back to the end of the world. In preparation for the end of the world on Friday, I'm headed to work on Thursday, then out for drinks with some co-workers to celebrate the holidays and then back home to hang out with a friend, have some dinner, and watch "2012: The End is Now," Brad Meltzer's new Decoded end-of-the-world special. Yes, seriously. You should watch it too. It's on the History Channel at 9:00 ET/8:00 CT.

The other day, my boss emailed me this cartoon to explain this whole end of the world thing. I think it pretty much sums up how I felt about it all.

But then I saw this picture on Facebook today. I honestly don't remember who I got this from, but I think it's hilarious and now I'm worried. I mean, if the Weekly World News says the world is ending, who am I to argue?

If it's really all over on Friday, then in all honesty, I've enjoyed writing Little Merry Sunshine and I've enjoyed knowing that sometimes I entertain you. Sometimes, I know we've disagreed and that's okay. I appreciate that you've always been respectful. More than anything, I appreciate that you keep coming back. If the world doesn't end on Friday, I've got some fun stuff to talk about before Christmas, so come back on Saturday.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Streets of Heaven are too Crowded with Angels

I have struggled with how to respond to the events in Newton, Connecticut yesterday. I have struggled with how to even begin to comprehend such tragedy. 

I've seen probably too much in the news and in social media about it. Did the gunman simply make a bad choice yesterday morning or was he suffering from mental illness? When is the right time to discuss gun control? Are these mass shootings happening because there is no prayer in public schools? Who's really to blame? Could we, as a society, have prevented this or was this the despicable act of one guy who has nothing in common with any of the other mass shooters in the past few decades? I've seen these and many other questions asked since yesterday morning. 

I dont have any answers. I've got opinions, but everyone has at least a few, so I'm not sure I want to just start ranting about my opinions here.

Wait. That's not true. This is my blog and that's why I write it. So here goes. Buckle up.

Yesterday, a woman I've known since high school posted on her Facebook page that she learned in her social psychology class that life is full of choices and the shooter should have made better choices, as though he woke up yesterday and rather than having Cheerios for breakfast, he decided to blast away his family and a bunch of innocent 5 to 10 year olds. I asked if she was suggesting that mental illness played no part in this. She responded by saying that even if the gunman was mentally ill, he had choices. I think that's incredibly pollyanna-ish. Yes, we all have choices, but we also have environmental and biological factors that greatly influence us.

Mental illness is not a choice. It's also time to start talking about what we, as a society, are doing to exacerbate the problems of people who are mentally ill. We are shaming them and their families by saying "you just need to make a better choice each day." That's implying that they're weak, have no desire to be better, and are failures.

We need to acknowledge that mental illness is as much of a disability as having no legs. We need to fully fund real programs for the mentally ill, not just drugs, which we also don't even fully fund.  Somehow, in the State of Illinois, we manage to almost always slash programs for the mentally ill before we cut other programs when we need to make budget decisions. Why is that?

We also need to have honest to goodness gun control conversations. Allegedly, the guns used yesterday were purchased and owned legally by the shooter's late mother. I'm sick of the NRA screaming about how stricter gun control will take away people's rights and how every person needs to be armed in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening. You simply can't convince me that having guns in classrooms would be a good idea and wouldn't cause more tragedy than it would solves. If that works, explain the Fort Hood massacre from 2009, when a single shooter killed 13 people and wounded another 29.

It's not too early to talk about gun control. It's too damn late. It's too late for all the kids who die in Chicago every weekend (did you know that 10 people, including 4 teens were shot in Chicago yesterday and last night?), the innocent people who died in Aurora, CO, Clackamas, OR, Columbine, CO, Tucson, AZ, or in any of the countless other mass shootings, including at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech University. Of course, as a Chicagoan, I'd be remiss if I didn't include the people who died in 1988 at Hubbard Woods Elementary School at the hands of Laurie Dann. I remember that shooting like it was yesterday. Not to be flip, but the time to talk about gun control was long ago.

When are we going to learn? We simply can't take away the social safety net and not expect there to be consequences. Horrible tragic consequences.

In honor of all those that died in all of these shootings, let's finally take action and examine what role we, as a society, play in these shootings. Maybe my friend is right. Maybe it is all about choice and, we all have been making piss poor choices and passing the buck for far too long. But we can fix that and we owe it to all those who died yesterday, and previously, to do so immediately.

Finally, I'm reminded of a great scene from season four of The West Wing in the episode "20 Hours in America." A tragic shooting had just occurred on a college campus and President Bartlet speaks words that are completely applicable today. The video is just over 3 1/2 minutes. Watch the whole thing. It's worth it.

In case you can't watch the video, here's what he said:
President Josiah Bartlet
: More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. 44 people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men's team were killed and two others are in critical condition. When, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran *in* to the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

LMS 2016 Presidential Endorsement: Hillary Clinton

Longtime readers will remember that LMS came out early in support of then-Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

Truthfully, it was a tough decision. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton also announced that she was running for President and I'd been a fan of Hillary's since 1992. I watched as she handled the challenges of investigation after investigation over nothing during President Bill Clinton's administrations. I watched her grace as she was publicly humiliated by her husband's affairs, including with a certain intern that involved a little blue dress. I watched as health care reform was defeated in the mid-1990s, simply because she was leading it and the GOP hated that. I watched as, through it all, she remained true to her values and herself. She was a relentless advocate for women and children around the world. When she decided to run for Senate in 2000 from the state of New York, I wished I could work on her campaign or at least vote for her. Time and time again between 2000 and 2008, I wished she'd run for President and vowed I'd vote for her.

And then Illinois Senator Barack Obama announced he was running. I was a huge Barack Obama fan and had personally met him in 2002. I believed him to be sincere and simply felt he was the right person for the job in 2008. I'm still glad I was such a vocal advocate for him. President Obama has had the courage to do things many other people wouldn't have done. I voted for him again in 2012, but sadly cannot vote for him in 2016 because the Constitution won't let him run again.

Having watched now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wow the world these past four years, improve our world reputation, and broker peace, I believe 2016 will be the right time for her to become the first female President of the United States. Leaders around the world respect Hillary and she has spent the last 12 years winning over many of her biggest detractors from the 1990s.

It is time for the United States to have its first female President and Hillary Clinton is the right woman for that job.

Without reservation, Little Merry Sunshine endorses Hillary Clinton for President in 2016.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

LMS Bucket List #10: Create a Scholarship at my Alma Mater

After years in the planning, yesterday I was finally able make a long time goal and Bucket List Item #10 a reality.

I created the Gardner Legacy Scholarship at my alma mater, Lake Forest College.

The Gardner Legacy Scholarship will be awarded in the 2013-14 academic year to a deserving first year student with demonstrated financial need. Priority shall be given to family members of Lake Forest alumni and students who achieved a 3.5 high school GPA on a 4-point scale.

I created this scholarship in honor of my cousin, Alan Gardner '90, who was instrumental in my decision to attend LFC. But for our overlapping year at LFC, I don't think we'd still be as close as we are 26 years after we first met in 1986. It was during that year that we truly went from being family to being friends.

Aside from this incredibly important family relationship, it was important to me to help a student get through college because LFC made it financially possible for me to attend, when I didn't have the money and the opportunities I've had as a result of my outstanding college education and the network I built during those four years is priceless.

Almost on a daily basis, I find something in my life that wouldn't have happened or wouldn't be possible without all that I learned at LFC. I can't tell you that what I learned in Multivariable Calculus is something I use daily (or at all), but I do use the analytical and reasoning skills I learned in it at least once a day. Being a psychology major constantly helps me better understand people and their motivations. Participating in the Urban Studies Program taught me how to navigate Chicago, which enabled me to strike out on my own in Washington DC and know I'd be okay.

Knowing that I'm helping a student have experiences that will shape them and their dreams is one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done.

Monday, December 3, 2012

LMS PSA: Illinois Toll Roads Join Twitter

A couple of weeks ago, it came to my attention that the four Illinois toll roads have joined Twitter to provide drivers with real-time road conditions. Each tollway has its own Twitterfeed and you can (obviously) follow one or follow all four.

Illinois Toll Roads Twitter Feeds:
Tri-State Tollway (94/294/80)
Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) (or as I still think of it, the Northwest Tollway)
Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88)
Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355)
Make sure that once you follow the toll roads, you enable mobile notifications for the road(s) you drive the most.

I've been following all four for about ten days now and have the Tri-State Tollway's (94/294/80) tweets pushed to my phone because I use I-94 at least a couple of times each week. I've found that knowing the traffic conditions has helped me better plan trips and is no more intrusive than any other tweet I receive.

Important Note: Little Merry Sunshine only endorses responsible mobile phone use while driving. Do not text and drive and please use a Bluetooth for phone use while driving, if you must speak on your phone. In Illinois, it's illegal to text and drive and in many towns, including Lake Forest, you can only use your phone if you're using it hands-free. The police will ticket you.