Mother Finds Missing Son 27 Years Later on Facebook

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A British woman from Liverpool recently found her now adult son on Facebook after being unable to find him since he was abducted by his father.  The woman was married to a Hungarian man, but they got divorced.  The ex-husband had visitation rights and took the boy to the zoo, but never came back.  The ex-husband took the then 3 year old boy back to communist Hungary and was not heard from for 27 years.

The boy’s aunt and mother appealed to parliement and the Prime Minister, but they were unable to help get the boy back.  Fast forward to 2009.  The boy’s aunt googled his name and the first hit was his Facebook page.  They sent him a message and a phone number and waited.  After two weeks, he messaged back and he was able to be reunited with his mother.

This story shows the incredible power of the Internet and social networks in general.  Its not to see a story in the media about some of the benefits of social networks, rather than stories about the dangers.  I wonder how many other missing children are on Facebook without their parents’ knowledge?

Newspapers’ New Business Model

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently ran a 5 part series called The Preacher’s Mob: The Rise and Fall of a Milwaukee Crime Boss, detailing Michael Lock’s criminal escapades over a 10 year period.

The series is fantastic.  It provides an in depth view into Lock’s rise, his criminal exploits (including murder, drug dealing mortgage fraud and prostitution) and the investigation that ultimately led to his conviction and sentencing to life in prison.  As a huge fan of HBO’s series The Wire, I love hearing the real life versions of the show.  For fans of The Wire, Lock’s rise and fall is similar to Season 1 and 2’s Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell.

This series is a perfect example of how newspapers must change if they want to survive.  Currently, the only news source that I pay money for is The Economist.  Otherwise, I get my information from free online newspapers, blogs and videos.  The Journal-Sentinel’s series on Michael Lock is news that I would be willing to pay for.  Long term, local, investigative reporting is the niche where newspapers can not only survive, but thrive.

Newspapers have to realize that people are not going to read them for breaking news.  We have the internet and tv to tell us about stock quotes, sports scores, who won an election and who was shot the night before.  Newspapers that report this information are simply rehashing what people already know from real time internet and tv sources.  The old business model will no longer work.

Newspapers should focus on investigative reports that take more than a day to research.  They should provide analysis of the situations, but with limited or no political bias.  In depth stories about gangs, schools, political corruption, environmental lapses and corporate greed will sell newspapers.  Positive stories about people and causes will increase paying readership.  Newspapers could cover these types of stories with decreased staff and decreased stories that are already duplicated in other sources.

Even if this solution does not work, it would be better than sitting around waiting for the papers to go bankrupt and would be more interesting to see than the current information that is in newspapers.

America Doesn’t Plan for the Future

The other disturbing trend has been building slowly since the 1980s.  It is a “dumb as we wanna be” mood that has overtaken our political elite, a mood that says we can indulge in petty red state-blue state cat fights for as long as we want and can postpone shoring up our health care system and our crumbling infrastructure, postpone addressing immigration reform, postpone fixing Social Security and Medicare, and postpone dealing comprehensively with our energy excesses and insecurity indefenitely.  The prevailing attitude on so many key issues in Washington today is “we’ll get to it when we feel like getting to it and it will never catch up to us, because we’re America.”    

–    Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded

I was rereading the beginning of Hot, Flat and Crowded today when this passage caught my attention.  It summed up my feelings about our government for awhile now, but even more so now since the financial crisis.  Our government is simply not planning for the future and I’m not sure what we can really do about it.

Government has done little, or nothing, to address energy independence, social security, a sprawling, complex tax code, healthcare, infrastructure, over crowded prisons, underachieving school and job creation.  Instead, government has focused on abortion, illegal drugs, same sex marriage, online sports gambling, online poker, steroids in baseball and short term fixes to America’s major problems.

Both parties, and the system as a whole, are to blame.  First, gerrymandering has robbed America of many competitive election fights, leading to more partisan politicians getting into office, at the expense of moderates who would be more willing to compromise.  Second, the political class has to raise money to continue to be elected.  With the rise of lobbyists, our elected officials face an ever increasing temptation to accept contributions in exchange for influence.  The constant election cycle hurts our political process.  Third, it seems fewer smart people are going into politics.  When the founding fathers were writing the constitution, they were some of the smartest people in the world.  The founding fathers would be ashamed to be compared to today’s political class.  Fourth, the constant campaigning and fundraising pushes elected officials to work on “flavor of the month” and divisive projects, rather than working toward large, long term goals.  Lawmakers who work toward big goals may be thrown out of office by their constituents for not being liberal or conservative enough (ie, working across the aisle on a big issue). 

Its gotten so bad that I wouldn’t trust 95% of politicians, Republican or Democrat, to run a gas station for two years, much less our entire government.  The “dumb as we wanna be attitude” is a symptom of the disease I outlined above.  American politicians think in 2-6 year time frames.  The major problems facing America today cannot be dealt with that quickly.  They require multi-decade approaches that combine government, private business and ordinary citizens.

An example of the dumb as we wanna be attitude is the government’s response to the financial crisis.  The financial crisis was caused by excess leverage by banks, homeowners and consumers.  People were living beyond their means.  The government’s response (both Bush and Obama)?  Start the printing presses and borrow more money.  We are simply exchanging one form of leverage for another.  As I wrote a month ago, I am worried about the US dollar and America’s standard of living.  I believe that our short term approach to avoid any further pain will only worsen the pain in the future.  It does not make logical sense for our government to do what it is doing, expect to make sure that it gets elected again.  We are being as dumb as we wanna be.

An item becomes less valuable as it becomes available in greater quantities, no matter what the item is.  This statement holds true for dollars, just as it does for doughnuts.  It is not logical to think that the US can simply print its way out of massive debts, yet that is the path that the US in on.  I believe we are on that path because its the easy road and the politicians want to make sure they continue to be elected. 

Contrast America’s approach over the last two decades to that of China.  The Chinese government, unlike their American counterpart, thinks in terms of decades, not single years.  For example, in the 1990s, Deng Xiopeng set a goal to make China the leading producer of rare earth metals, the valuable metals used in most high tech products including solar panels, microchips, high capacity batteries and many more.  In 2009, China succeeded.  It now controls 95% of the world’s supply of these valuable metals and have imposed strict export quotas so that industry is forced to move to China.  This is not to say that we should follow the Chinese model, as the ends do not always justify the means, but I believe we can learn a lot of China.  They have lived within their means, saved money and invested it wisely.  China is being rewarded for it now, while the US is being punished.

I’m not really sure what we can do to get our politicians to focus on the big, multi-decade projects that are important to our country’s future.  The only thing I can think of is to educate the voters and demand action on big projects, rather than quick fixes.  Reward congressmen for spending 2 years on fixing social security, not sending pork barrel projects home to the districts.  We are America, but the world is catching up.  I fear they will have caught up because we are falling at the same time they are rising, not because they are rising faster than we are.  I wish there was an easy button, but sadly, there isn’t.  What do you think?

Don’t Mess With Lightning

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I was scheduled to ref a soccer game last night in Madison and, as always, I checked the weather before the game. It looked like there was going to be some rain in the first half, and then the potential for thunderstorms in the second. Refs are always trained that if they see any lightning, no matter how far away it is, to stop the game immediately. We are supposed to send everyone to their cars and wait for 20 minutes without any more lightning before restarting the game.

I started the game at 530 and heard a few rumbles of thunder in the far distance, but did not see any lightning. We played the entire first half, and I still had not seen any lightning. During halftime, there was a quick burst of heavy rain and the skies got darker. Still no lightning.

Twelve minutes into the second half, out of nowhere, BAM!!! There was a flash of light, with a huge clap of thunder seemingly simultaneously. A parent on the sideline fell to the ground and his umbrella that had been planted into the ground flew away from him. Three players fell to the ground, shocked either by the lightning or just the loud bang. My assistant referee, who was about 10 yards from the guy who was hit, felt the electricity and I felt buzzed for over an hour.

Everyone sprinted to their cars. The players slowly got up and seemed to be ok. The guy who’s umbrella was hit was laying on the ground for a few seconds, and was helped up and seemed ok. We cancelled the game and made sure that everyone was off the field as quickly as possible. We were incredibly lucky and I am happy that nobody was seriously hurt.

I have never been in a situation like that where the first bolt of lightning is right on top of us. Normally there is some warning, but this time there was not. I have stopped many games in my almost 12 years of reffing after seeing lightning in the distance, only to be called a wimp or worse.

As I was leaving the soccer park, I saw another game still being played. I couldn’t believe it. I drove over, laid on the horn and told them that a guy had been hit near us and that “this was stupid and that they needed to get these people out of there.” They stopped and got everyone to their cars.

If you are ever in a situation like this, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and get out of the situation. Many people have a macho attitude about lightning and ridicule people who go inside after seeing the first bolt. You can be hit by lightning up to 30 miles away from a storm: If you can see lightning, you can be hit. Its better to be safe than sorry. Get inside and stay safe.

I’ll leave you with a video that should be required viewing for all refs, coaches and parents of youth athletes. It was a professional soccer match in Africa where two players died as a result of a lightning strike. Its in German, but you can see the flash and the aftermath.