Month: December 2009

Why Eric Hainstock haunts me

At one time, school shootings were unheard of and unthinkable – a punchline in the movie “Heathers” or the song “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun.”

Unfortunately, school shootings became commonplace to us in the last decade. The word “Columbine” brings memories of watching students fleeing their once-safe sanctuary and running for their lives. No two shootings have been the same, but whether it’s been at a high school or university, they’ve been rash acts committed by emotionally troubled young men who changed and devastated lives forever.

In 2006, Eric Hainstock walked into his Wisconsin high school and shot his principal, John Klang, to death. A year later, he was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

Let me be crystal clear: Eric Hainstock, and other  young men like him, have destroyed people’s lives and need to be punished. I make no excuses or justifications for their behavior.

But I cannot help but think about the circumstances that brought them to the brink. In many cases, they endured intense bullying and teasing at school. The resources or tools to deal with that stress appeared to be absent or unavailable.

And it’s always made me wonder this: If we as adults can make workplaces safe, why can’t we do a better job of making our schools safer (or at least minimize conflict)? I realize that kids have to learn how to deal with conflict and conflict resolution – it’s a part of life – but in some cases, the young men I’m talking about were in a war zone.

Hainstock had intense abuse wherever he went – home, school, on the bus. His situation was extreme, and very different from mine. His parents were negligent and severely abusive – which would have made it even more important for school to be a safe, nurturing environment. It wasn’t.

Hainstock’s conviction, in August 2007, inspired me to write this post for


Paying it forward

I’m hoping that the readers of this blog will help me find a job.

Not for me, though – I’m really hoping to help someone else. In this economy, there are plenty of deserving candidates. But I believe this person is really, REALLY deserving of all the job opportunities he can manage.

His name is Omar Gutierrez. You can read more about him in this Chicago Tribune story.  I don’t mean to put Omar on a pedestal, but his reaction to a bad situation that he witnessed is made completely of win and awesome.

When he saw a pizza delivery man (Steven Walker) get robbed in his neighborhood, he helped the victim. He provided details to the police.

Many people would have stopped right there (if they’d had the decency to be involved at all), but Omar went on to raise over $16,000 to buy the pizza delivery guy a new car (his car had been stolen and totaled in the robbery). SIXTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS, people. That was enough to buy Mr. Walker a new car.

This was such an inspiring story to me on a personal level. We often feel that in such a big city, we’re all little satellites who orbit each other, but never interact. It seems so sad to say, but it’s true: Omar’s actions were unusual and out of the ordinary.

People have been thanking Omar (I’m sure it will be a looooooong time before he has to pay for a pizza) but here’s the thing: Omar was laid off at about the same time I was. He was just at the precipice of entering the field of architecture. Though he’s been working part-time at other gigs, I’m hoping that I can help Omar get a job as an architect or a related field. Or, at least get his foot in the door for an interview (God knows, that’s challenging enough in this economy).

If you’re in the career or human resources field and have some ideas for Omar, or if you work with an architect (or know a great company that could use Omar on its team), please contact Omar. As he said in a message to me, he’d be a great fit for “any potential jobs in graphic design, architecture or property management.”  He’s done so much for other people, and he deserves a chance to make his own dreams come true, too.

You can contact Omar on Twitter at “ogaguse” or at Gmail (using his Twitter handle You can also see Omar’s LinkedIn profile here.

Greatest Hits: Gay marriage

This week, I’m posting some of my “greatest hits” from a blog I wrote for the Web site. They’ve got a new online community and these blog posts were about to be deleted, but they were kind enough to ask me if I’d like to find them a new home.

It’s been great to look back at the years (2003-2007) that I lived in Madison.

But one of the low points of my time there was when the state passed a ban on gay marriage in the fall 2006 election. I was so angry about it that I was featured in a front-page article talking about the aftermath. It was the deciding factor in my move from Wisconsin. Madison is a fantastic place to live, but I didn’t feel like I could be a supportive citizen of a place that wasn’t supportive of me (or give them my tax dollars).

There were legislators who proposed and passed this discriminatory law to “protect” marriage, and between the three of them they’d had something like seven marriages, so it was laughable to me that they were protecting marriage.

But the main architect of the movement was one Julaine Appling, a woman from rural Wisconsin who was head of a lobbying group. That group was fed funds from Focus on the Family and ultimately won the vote, 59 to 41.

Julaine was quite an interesting character – a single woman who lived with another woman (!) but spoke of marriage as the ultimate glory to God. I felt then, as I do now, that something just isn’t adding up with Appling. (Or to borrow the title of a Prince song, “something in the water does not compute.”)

Here’s my post from November 2007.


Before I was gifted with a blog here at Post, I was infamous for being a poster at the forums. Although I posted on a number of topics and interests that I had, I had a reputation for a while of being a “one-trick pony”, because I wrote an AWFUL lot about the marriage amendment.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about how hurt and angry the passage of that legislation made me – as a man, as a person of faith, as a taxpayer – and it’s been quite some time since I expressed my RAGE and disappointment in the people and the legislators that got behind the amendment. And I certainly haven’t chatted very much about my archnemesis and frenemy Julaine Appling.

Nearly a year’s gone by, but many of the questions that I posed at the time where the debate was open and the amendment was undecided have not really gone away.

Julaine Appling: Simply appalling

Ms. Appling is a part of an organization that had been called the “Family Research Institute” and is now called “Wisconsin Family Council”. Aside from the big push for the passage of the amendment, however, the council seems to be lying low. A few cursory mentions of work related to the council’s pro-life stance and to birth control have been made on the website, but it remains mostly unchanged since last year. Maybe because this organization is a lobbyist group masquerading in a very warm, cuddly, Christian sheep’s clothing.

The question I keep asking – and never seem to find the answer to – is, What is this organization doing to support Wisconsin families? Conservatives often like to suggest that liberals are guilty of social engineering; however, an organization like the WFC seems to exist for precisely that purpose.

As I asked over and over again during the debate, if this is truly an organization to strengthen families, where is the support for Wisconsin families and some of the things that are tearing them apart?

If Julaine and Co. are interested in divorce rates in Wisconsin, why isn’t this group doing more to coordinate support and counseling for people who are about to get married? (Legally, of course.)

Why isn’t this group holding educational seminars about finance and home ownership – concepts that are non-partisan, and have a HUGE impact on the success rate of a marriage and the health of a family unit?

Why isn’t this group being part of the effort to help address the enormous challenges that drugs and chemical dependency wreak in Wisconsin? Marriages and families are ripped apart all the time by meth use and by the state’s reputation as a two-fisted-drinking, one-handed-driving state?

Indeed, I keep thinking over and over that, on paper, a group like the Council could do great good in supporting families and children, and helping them navigate through the rough spots that families experience. But the Family Council doesn’t seem to be interested in families as anything else other than a general concept, one that mobilizes a financially generous fanbase to fund their crusade.

I’m thinking perhaps they could change their name again to the “Wisconsin Bedroom Council”, as they seem to be most interested (if not preoccupied!) with what happens there. As long as you’re married and in the process of procreation, they’re very interested. Once you actually pop out the kid? Not so much. Abusive husband? Credit card debt? Kids out of control? Oh, pity. Sorry, all lines are busy now. Please try again later…..

Let’s pick up the Good Book, folks, and open it! Not the Bible, but rather, Webster’s Dictionary. Open it to the X’s. Not for “x-rated” but rather, to the word “xenophobic”. Testify! I was awfully mistaken when I suggested that hearty Christian folks like Ms. Appling, Scott Fitzgerald, and Mark Gundrum were homophobic. They aren’t! Their phobias are not that limited!

These lovely men and women are xenophobic. Yes, our xenophobic friends fear strangers and people who are quite unlike them. They have great love in their hearts for God’s fellow children and the good people of Wisconsin. And by good people, that means “other white Christian people I went to high school with who are exactly like me….or ANYONE who gives me money.”

Honestly, I’m not sure what to think anymore. This is so NOT about me at this point – I’m still on the fence as to whether staying in Madison is worth compromising my beliefs and accepting the judgement that the majority of people have made. But it’s hard to look at people like Julaine Appling and some of our elected officials and wonder why people aren’t concerned, or anrgy, about their influence in our personal lives. I wonder when these people will be unmasked for what they really are.

I’ve figured them out. But then again, I guess it takes a one-trick pony to know one…….

Footnote: Appling has established a social media presence since this post was originally written. She’s on Facebook and also Twitter (as “sixfooter”).

In August 2009, Wisconsin implemented some limited domestic partner protections via a statewide domestic partner registry. Appling’s group is contesting these protections on the basis of the 2006 amendment, which banned gay marriage “or anything substantially similar.”

Greatest Hits: Life, death and your local record store

Before my blogging days here and for, I was a blogger for, a news Web page that was for the Wisconsin State Journal and Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin.

I’ll be featuring some of my “greatest hits” from that blog over the next few days. This post from fall 2007, about music retailing, may be slightly out of date – purchasing music digitally continues to experience amazing growth – but some of the same issues and concepts remain. The editors of Post, a printed summary of some of the more dynamic posts from the site, chose to include this post in one of its issues.

The recent fine exchange of ideas and thoughts regarding the fate and future of bookstores in Madison got me thinking about a similar topic – the local record store.

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, my dream was to own my own record store. Well, it fluctuated between that and being an on-air DJ. I ended up going to college to be in radio – a goal I didn’t reach, although I’m not sure I regret that, since all but a few DJ’s make about as much now as a head cashier at Target.

I digress.


Career building

Last Saturday was a year, to the day, since I was laid off. I’ve already tested my readers’ patience talking about my journey into joblessness and back, so I’ll try not to tempt fate any farther.

But the last two years have given me a very interesting, unique – and valuable – education about steering one’s career, finding a job, and what having a job means today. On the way up, I learned a great deal about how to steer and maneuver my career. I learned a lot about office politics (partly because I wrote about it, and partly because I lived it).

And when I was laid off, I learned the real, barebones, practical ways to find a job. I learned that finding a job is a full-time job, and networking is everything.

We’re still hearing of companies implementing layoffs. I know of a few people who have had The Grinch steal their Christmas – and their job description. That 10% unemployment rate that’s quoted in the media? Is almost double that, because it’s only really counting people who are claiming unemployment benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people, like me, ran out of benefits and simply no longer count.

I am really grateful for my education, though. Before I started on this journey, I was like many folks in the workforce. “Managing” my career was a bit of a mystery to me. Dealing with performance reviews or a trip to HR was about as fun as going to the dentist. I just kept my head down, did my job and prayed for the best.

I didn’t know much about negotiating. I made stupid, stupid mistakes. Because I didn’t push back on a start date on the job that I would eventually be laid off from, I had to walk away from a pension that was two weeks away from vesting. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

As a Gen X’er, I’m halfway between my father’s generation (punch-the-clock Joe) and the Gen Y’ers who are working in ROWE environments and taking afternoons to windsurf. I think of the guys in their 60s and 70s a lot these days; these guys worked their whole lives thinking that the company would be there for them. I have a relative who just lost his retiree benefits because the steel company he used to work for simply no longer exists. Similar situations are happening in dozens of GM towns across the country.

It’s hard to change old habits. But we need to learn to be ready for change and willing to embrace it in our careers.

There are billions of words of career advice floating around out there. Some of it is great, some of it is contradictory, and most of it is subjective. But I’m grateful to have learned those crucial basics:

Be flexible.

Be agile. Adapt to change (or die).

Ask questions. Push back.

Refuse abuse.

Define boundaries.

No more head down and praying for the best from this worker. I’ll work hard, but I have clear expectations of where I want to go, too.

A different kind of Christmas list

I have a few shiny, cool things to share, Oprah-style, in a post of my “favorite things to buy for Christmas” this year.

But before I do that, I wanted to share another kind of Christmas list. All of us get very stressed out at this time of year, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in what’s happening in your world.

But it’s important to remember that other people need our help – whether it’s money, time or just to hear from us and stay connected. And I don’t know about you, but I love to give gifts. The old saying that it’s better to give than to receive is very true – it’s a great feeling to share and it’s even better to surprise someone!

  • Staying in touch is what the program Let’s Say Thanks offers. It’s a program coordinated by Xerox, and it allows the user to send a greeting card to active duty troops that are stationed overseas. Regardless of your opinion of our military actions or your political convictions, we can all agree that these people do great work and make great sacrifices, and a simple thank you that takes only a few minutes to create is a great way to do it.
  • Here in Chicago, we’re seeing the ripple effect of our economic crisis hit the suburbs. The Chicago Tribune reported on how homelessness is impacting the suburbs in a way it rarely has before. There’s an organization, Journey from PADS to HOPE, that’s providing assistance for suburban Cook County. Check out their site, including ways to donate, here.
  • In the city, there’s an organization, 2 Li’l Fishes, that provides meals for the Uptown neighborhood. Uptown is a neighborhood that’s been struggling for years, with intense joblessness and a lack of affordable housing. These folks do great work and I’m happy to support them. For more information, click here.
  • And sometimes, it’s the smallest among us who need help. There are millions of homeless cats and dogs and hundreds of great organizations that help them find new homes. Here in Chicago, I support the Anti-Cruelty Society. There’s also the Humane Society of the United States.

Where do you share your gifts of time, talent or money? Any suggestions or additions to the list?