Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Building your future, one step at a time

I recently read two articles that really inspired me, and the odd thing was that one of them was about a group that ordinarily I’d have a hard time feeling any sympathy for.

In The Daily Beast, a young Hasidic man (link: described how he decided that despite his community’s strictures, he needed to learn English and get an education. It might seem odd that someone born and raised in the U.S. would not speak English, but in his closed society in Rockland County, N.Y., such efforts were not allowed and could even make him unmatchable in marriage.

In a deal that went down late at night, he bought a small transistor radio and learned English, then got himself admitted to public school. Despite being totally unfamiliar with American culture, he managed to learn his way around and pursue his dreams of getting an education and a good job. There’s an amazing twist to the story, and I won’t give it away. Read it for yourself, and be inspired.

The other story, in the New Yorker magazine (link:, is about men trying to build a better future for themselves after serving time in prison for crimes, many of them bad crimes, in California’s state prison system. Carl Sagan once said that it’s amazing how brilliance can sprout in even the most unlikely places. The men in the story discover books, start reading and become determined to better themselves. Sure, there are a lot of idealists out there who want to help them, but these men are so determined to get ahead and live life the right way that they forge ahead through the many disadvantages placed in their path. There’s still a ways to go for many of them, but they’re getting there.

When I worked in the post office, I remember that one time a woman came up to me and said that she wanted to go to college, as I was. This was in the early 1990s. I had long since given up hope for advancement in the post office, and was focusing on my next career. Her main worry, she said, was that having a college degree might hurt her chances of advancement in the post office.

This was not an idle worry. The Postal Service was and is notorious for limiting the advancement options of people with college degrees. Look, a place that would promote an elementary school dropout is not one that’s going to respect a diploma. Many postal managers were high school dropouts with GEDs who were very proud of their lack of education, which they saw as a sign of wasted time. Even other workers were negative toward my goals.

But I had set my sights higher and was determined to make something of myself. In the meantime, I tried to make change real in the post office, but my low position meant that my ideas never were taken seriously.

Oddly, I was aligned with the views of the postmaster general at the time, but local postal management told me his views had no relevance to the Postal Service. These were the same folks who thought the internet was a passing fad.

I quit the post office in 1994 and began making my way in a new field. I still watch as the post office tries to change and adapt, and cannot because of its leadership. Preventing the smart people from advancing was a good way to protect postal management, but the system is paying the price.

Individuals, though, have to forget this whole notion of blind loyalty to collective groups and forge their own path. It’s not easy, as the young Hasidic man finds out, and the cost can be your ability to ever connect with a woman, but it has to be done.

No one ever regrets going to college, no matter their age. If you’re thinking of doing it, do it! You’ll be glad you did.


December 14, 2016 Posted by | Life lessons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s time for celebrities to do hard time

Unless you’ve seen the movie “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” you probably have no idea who Shelley Malil is.

Even if you do remember his role as Steve Carell’s coworker in the electronics store in the above 2005 film, you might have a hard time placing him. Malil was the East Asian coworker who taunts Carell’s character, Andy Stitzer, the morning after the poker game where Stitzer reveals his sexual innocence.

In another scene, Stitzer and another coworker played by Paul Rudd are talking on a catwalk (after Andy ran from the store as the taunting about his virginity got to be too much) when Malil’s character comes out to smoke a cigarette, refers to the two as “Will and Grace” and tells them to get back to work, and says he has a right to smoke at that location.

In 2008, Malil was accused in the stabbing of his then-girlfriend. He stabbed her 23 times. Two years later, he went to trial, was found guilty and learned his sentence: Life, with the possibility of parole. He could serve 10 years before being eligible for parole. See the People magazine story here.

Maybe it’s not so amazing a thing that Malil was punished so harshly. He’s not a very well-known actor, and he’s not really a celebrity. Still, he’s going to do hard time for a crime.

The thing is that people like Lindsey Lohan seem to skate every time they’re in a courtroom. Granted, while getting drunk, drugged and driving isn’t a good thing, especially if someone gets hurt or killed, it’s still not stabbing someone 23 times. But Lohan has managed to screw up every opportunity a gullible judge has given her. She’s fubarred community service, showed up late for work at the morgue and continued to violate orders to keep away from drugs and alcohol.

She may bleat, as drug addicts often do, that relapses are part of the recovery process, but the reality is that judges need to stop coddling her and give her hard time, then have the bailiff apply the cuffs and take her to prison, and this time not for a few hours but for a few months or years.

What needs to happen is that the kid gloves treatment and special handling need to end, and celebrities like Lindsey Lohan need to face the reality of what they’ve done like the rest of us.

As an interesting aside, her father, Michael Lohan, has gotten himself quite a reputation in Florida for repeated arrests. Again, thanks to the fact that he’s famous for being famous, he keeps getting sprung. In truth, he needs to do some serious hard time, too, and be taken out of circulation for a few years.

Will judges stop handing out bogus “community service” sentences to nonprofits or government agencies to celebrities? What they may not understand is that associating oneself with a nonprofit is an integral part of the art of crisis public relations and image manipulation. Sure, celebrities want to be sentenced to community service at a homeless shelter or whatever, because then they can brag about their supposed “volunteer work with the homeless” in their recovery interviews on Jay Leno.

Put celebrities away, and keep them locked up, and you’ll see if prison is a deterrent. The current system obviously isn’t working.

November 12, 2011 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment