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Who did this killer hate, and why?

Orlando shooting 1
Orlando shooting 1

This is a sad truth of our time: As a society, we have developed a series of rituals after mass shootings. One is playing out now. It's called name the enemy.

Since the tragic massacre in Orlando this weekend, at Latin night in the LGBT club Pulse, some of our leaders have been stepping up to podiums and taking to Twitter to say why this carnage occurred. Who did Omar Mateen hate, and why? Naming the enemy is a necessary process. It allows us to post extra police details at certain New York clubs and neighborhoods, as the New York City Police Department has done. But we must approach this naming with care and be on the lookout for how our leaders use the ritual, because reality is usually more complex than the initial picture.

Brad Hoylman, the only openly gay member of the State Senate, stressed the importance of naming the enemy. For him, it's homophobia. The Senate passed a resolution Tuesday expressing "sincerest, heartfelt condolences to the Orlando community" and gratitude for first responders. The resolution was a simple single sentence.

Yet Hoylman, a Democrat, wouldn't sign it because neither the LGBT community nor Latinos were mentioned. Hoylman called this "a colossal oversight or intentional omission." He noted, "At its core, pride is an affirmation we have the right to exist and live and love openly. It's times like Sunday morning that this fundamental concept is put to the test."

It was a poignant speech, and naming the enemy this way opened the door for the senator to make it. His sentiments won't hurt any in his district, which encompasses Stonewall and the West Village in Manhattan - the seat held for years by gay advocate Tom Duane. Hoylman also took the opportunity to call for an end to injustices, such as state statutes about hate crimes and discrimination that don't specifically protect transgender people.

This advances his own agenda - but was the Orlando assault only about Latin night at an LGBT club? I think not. Leaders risk oversimplifying when they cherry-pick the background of an assailant like Mateen.

Shortly after the shootings, on Monday night, the presidential candidates named their enemies with care, before very much was known about Mateen. Hillary Clinton acknowledged this - but then launched into her definition. She said the shooter was "apparently consumed by rage against LGBT Americans, and by extension, the openness and diversity that defines our American way of life."

Naming the enemy as a hater of diversity allowed Clinton to call for unity and to embrace moderate Muslims as allies against terrorism.

Calling Mateen a lone wolf, a "radicalized" individual, Clinton avoided the need to take direct retaliation against the Islamic State or any one group.

Sen. Bernie Sanders took Clinton's lone-wolf theme further - he has a way of sharpening the point on the Democratic conversation - when he tweeted Tuesday, "We know that one hateful person committed this terrible crime - not an entire people or an entire nation."

Donald Trump, of course, is the prince of enemy-naming. In fact, that's the basis of much of his appeal, what he calls doing away with political correctness. Even as the dust from the Orlando disaster was settling, Trump dared President Barack Obama to say the words radical Islam. Trump's definition of the impulse behind the shootings leads to a fair number of policies that begin with closing our borders and end . . . where?

That's the crucial question we must bear in mind when deciding on the enemy's name.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

More generations living under one roof -- and liking it

grandfather and grandson having fun on their homestead
grandfather and grandson having fun on their homestead

If you need any further evidence that the American family is in the throes of change, and no longer a Norman Rockwell portrait of the nuclear nest, check out this finding from the respected Pew Research Center: For the first time in 130 years, more people age 18 to 34 are living with their parents than with a partner in their own households. Slightly more than 32 percent of millennials lived in their parents' home in 2014, according to the analysis published last week and based on U.S. census data. There's also been a dramatic drop in the share of young Americans who choose to settle down romantically before age 35, writes Pew's Richard Fry. Marriage is declining in general, and people are marrying later.

The living-at-home numbers haven't been so high since the 1940s Depression-era peak of about 35 percent, Pew said, which suggests that the reasons are economic. Then, they had the Great Depression. Now, we had the Great Recession. Many young people still can't find jobs, middle-class wages have declined for decades, and housing prices remain out of reach on most single salaries.

But that's not all that's going on. This cohabitation is partly a barometer of the economy, but also partly about women's rising earning power. Women with good jobs aren't quite so ready to accept a mate's bad behavior, fewer are getting pregnant and a pregnancy doesn't lead so quickly to a walk down the aisle as it once did. A good number of single mothers live in their parents' homes.

Americans have been redefining family for decades - through divorce and remarriage, with same-sex couples, with monogamous couples who never marry - and this mix of multiple generations in the house is only the latest twist. Call me over-optimistic, but generations under one roof can benefit everyone involved.

One writer, Alan Jacobs, recently described his experience in multigenerational home this way: "Through living as an extended family my parents got free child care, my grandparents got free rent, and I grew up surrounded by family members who loved me. How did living this way become an image of a 'life gone wrong'?"

Old and young people can also learn from one another. Younger people can witness the metamorphosis of retirement, and the health changes that come with age - and find models on how to plan for these transitions themselves. More hands in the kitchen can mean families eat healthier, and generations can pass along hobbies, interests and skills. This goes both ways - older people can learn from young household members how to use social media to connect with distant family and friends.

An organization called Generations United, which advocates for policy changes to support grandparents who are raising children, says the growth in multigenerational homes is a sign that there's greater harmony between millennials and their parents. Donna M. Butts, the executive director of the Washington-based group, wrote in response to the Pew finding that studies show "millennials and their parents like each other . . . unlike some previous generations who couldn't wait to get away from their parents."

That's a big generalization. Surely, many millennials would like to be out on their own. As I thought about this column, I asked my 17-year-old if her vision for her future is a super-souped-up room of her own in her parents' house. She scoffed before I could get to the second half of the question about an apartment of her own.

I take pride in her growing independence, to be sure. But if life leads her back home for a stay, as the Pew numbers tell us, we'll be in good company.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

Could this course from the mental health community apply to addiction?

overdose pillsJoyce Burland recalls, during one of her first meetings for families of mentally ill people, seeing a silver-haired couple who looked serene. They had twin sons, both with schizophrenia, and had been grappling with that reality for about 60 years. The couple hadn't abandoned their sons, and they were very much involved in their lives. Burland, whose 30-something sister with five children had recently become delusional - "it was a mess," Burland said - wondered how she could achieve anything approaching serenity. She remembers the sight of that couple as "a guiding moment."

A clinical psychologist, Burland would go on to write a 12-week course for families of people with mental illness, which is used across the United States, and in Mexico and Italy. Her course, called Family-To-Family or F2F, is intended to move people from panic and struggle to living in relative peace with a long-term, debilitating illness.

"Our job is to move the illness to a factor in families' lives, not the only fact, so they can live with joy and spontaneity while undertaking a really long job," said Burland, who is now the national director of the Education, Training and Peer Education Support Center for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The organization advocates for individuals and families affected by mental illness.

The success of Burland's program, which has served about 375,000 people since its start in 1991, made me wonder whether it could help people living with another arduous, life-long problem: addiction. Last year, 442 people died of opiate overdoses on Long Island - a record, up from 403 a year earlier. This is a battle we are losing to heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.

People in the anti-drug community on Long Island say they have support groups, but nothing as extensive as F2F. Burland agreed that her program could be useful for families coping with addiction - not as a replacement for something else, but as one more tool.

The first few weeks of the course help people through the initial shock. The course outlines information about the medical basis for mental illness, therapeutic drugs, and what is a symptom and which behaviors are changeable. Burland updates the curriculum to reflect new research.

The middle third of F2F describes what it's like for a person living with mental illness and, more recently, Alzheimer's.

The final sessions help families cope with mixed emotions - anger, guilt, resentment - and return to caring for themselves instead of living life under siege. They set rules about giving money or shelter, for example, until the ill person agrees to take medication.

Jeannette Wells of Springfield Gardens is a volunteer who leads classes twice a year. She attended two days of training in Albany to become certified with NAMI to teach F2F. She said the classes create a natural community who can rely on each other later.

F2F was revolutionary in its day. Psychiatry for roughly a century had blamed mental illness on dysfunctional or abusive parents, Burland said. Some of that stigma persists, making it hard to admit to a problem. In that, there are parallels with drug and alcohol abuse.

While Family-To-Family has served only a fraction of the millions who might benefit, it has created a core of advocates in every state who can speak knowledgeably to doctors and social workers, and who have won milestone legislation requiring parity in health insurance coverage.

Whether parity is always enforced . . . that's the next challenge.

First published in Newsday.

Obama turns to African-American issues in his home stretch

56093313Just as Attorney General Loretta Lynch rounded her first anniversary as the nation's top law-enforcement officer, she was on a national tour to promote her plan to help integrate people with criminal records back into society. As her weeklong tour stopped at the Talladega Federal Correctional Institution in Alabama a week ago, she joked to a group of inmates in a substance abuse treatment program that one of the benefits of being attorney general is "you get to pick a week - and name it something."

And that she did. Last week was the country's inaugural Lynch-titled "National Reentry Week." The Department of Justice issued policies intended to lower barriers to finding jobs, housing, education and treatment for people who've served time, been on probation, or who have an arrest in their past.

The AG's initiative doesn't address race, which was the right judgment. But to the extent that people of color are disproportionately enmeshed in the criminal justice system, Lynch's action is an important call for broader civil rights. She picked up the Obama administration's baton to make it easier for people with records to overcome stigma and bias.

During this presidential campaign, our nation is wrestling with the impact of the 1994 crime bill, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, which resulted in mass incarceration, particularly of black Americans. The prison population rose 628 percent between 1970 and 2005, and black men account for more than 37 percent of the total population. President Barack Obama is using his final months in office - a time of relative freedom for a sitting president - to cement his legacy and to address issues of particular interest to African Americans.

"Yes, more people of color will be affected, because more are pulled into an unfair justice system," said Monique Dixon, deputy policy director and senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, a leading civil rights law organization.

The DOJ is focusing on rehabilitation and ending recidivism by giving former offenders a greater stake in a better life. The action is one response to a new generation of activists loosely organized under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter.

Bennett Capers, a Brooklyn Law School professor, agreed that Obama is focusing more on issues of concern to AfricanAmericans.

"To fight the perception that he is a black president . . . Obama has had to work extra hard to appear neutral and race-free, i.e., the president for everyone," Capers said in an email. "I think with his last year in office, a lot of that pressure has dissipated."

One DOJ initiative listed in Lynch's "Roadmap to Reentry" is expanding video visitations to its women's prisons next month, and eventually to all of its facilities. The AG directed the Bureau of Prisons to figure out the details of how this will work in practice.

The program could allow some of the 2.7 million U.S. children with a parent behind bars to "visit" via video conference, strengthening family relationships. Lynch also has urged the nation's governors to make it easier for felons to obtain state-issued identification after they get out of prison. Dixon said this would pave the way to opening bank accounts, obtaining housing and jobs, voting and applying for public benefits.

Lynch also has urged the federal government to set a model by waiting until after a job candidate has received a provisional offer of employment to ask about his or her criminal record - also known as "ban the box" for the box applicants must check on job forms regarding their criminal history.

Nearly everyone deserves a second chance, especially after having served their time. As a society, we shouldn't make life so hard for people that their only option is to return to crime.

First published in Newsday.

Gay Talese had no female role models? How about these women journalists....

Journalist. News confrence. When I was in my 20s, a friend challenged me about the books I was reading. He said, they're all by women authors. Do women (like me) only like to read works written by women?

I thought of this when I heard about the conference on narrative journalism at Boston University last weekend and the ruckus caused by keynote speaker Gay Talese, a pioneer in importing storytelling techniques from fiction to enliven magazine and newspaper writing. Asked whether there are female writers he admires, Talese told the room of about 600 men and women, no, there were none.

He has since said he misunderstood the question, and he thought the questioner was asking whether there were women journalists who had inspired him in his youth. Talese is 84, and it's true that female journalists in the 1950s were more rare.

Still, his response, while perhaps candid, lacked grace. The greenest of public speaking consultants could have told him to pivot and answer the question as if it were phrased, is there anyone you admire today?

Talese might have mentioned journalist and screenwriter Nora Ephron, author of "When Harry Met Sally." In a documentary about her life, "Everything Is Copy," by her son Jacob Bernstein, Talese lavished praise on Ephron, specifically for the phase of her career as a magazine journalist.

Perhaps Talese isn't as nimble onstage as when he has time to reflect. But I can still manage a pivot. Here is my own list of great women journalists who have influenced me.

Ellen Goodman and Erma Bombeck. Clearly, two very different writers, they are joined in my memory as writers my mother and I loved when I was growing up and read The Boston Globe at home. Goodman wrote columns about social change and progressive politics, once boldly comparing deniers of man-made global warming to deniers of the Holocaust. Bombeck was folksy, chronicling suburban family life with comic irreverence. Their heirs today are apparent in female columnists and mommy and daddy bloggers.

Betty Friedan. Her book "The Feminine Mystique" was published when I was 3. I grew up secure in its message that women should not allow society to tell them who they should be.

Gloria Steinem. Not for the usual reasons. Her 1992 book about believing in oneself, "Revolution From Within," inspired me to value myself outside of a relationship when I was a single newspaper reporter in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s.

Linda Hossie, Maggie O'Kane, Mary McGrory and Mary Williams Walsh. These reporters wrote about systematic and organized rape as a weapon of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War. This was a time, in the early- to mid-1990s, when atrocities against women usually went unmentioned in war coverage.

Adrienne Rich. Although she had been writing since the 1950s, I discovered her books when I was a young mother in the late 1990s. Rich presented bracing truths about motherhood that I was reading nowhere else.

And, finally . . . the many amazing women journalists I've worked with through a half-dozen newspaper jobs. The ones whose adrenaline pumped when they pursued a story. The ones who patiently and persistently dug through data and documents, cajoled and protected sources, and who made that extra phone call to be sure they were fair to all sides. The ones whose writing was as vivid as a painting.

Yes, my male colleagues have been equally as skilled and dedicated. I'd be pulling a Talese if I didn't say so. Yet, even though one man on a stage may not always remember these women journalists -- or if history gives them the slight -- they have surely shaped their times.

First published in Newsday.

Clinic "safety" concerns refuel abortion debate

abortion rightsWhen New Yorkers think about threats to reproductive rights, our imaginations drift to such benighted states as Louisiana, Texas and North Carolina, which have imposed onerous restrictions on abortion providers so that abortion care is all but unavailable. But the battle is coming home.

New York, it bears reminding, once led the nation on women's issues, hosting the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, and in 1970 passing one of the first laws legalizing abortion -- three years before the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

In a report issued earlier this month, a Manhattan organization with ties to the Vatican said the state health department is failing to inspect many abortion clinics. Some haven't been inspected for a decade. "We strongly believe that everyone should agree that when abortion is legal it should be safe," Greg Pfundstein wrote in an email. He's the president of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, which obtained the health department records through a Freedom of Information lawsuit.

The foundation is affiliated with the Chiaroscuro Institute, whose president, Helen Alvaré, chairs the Catholic Women's Forum and is an adviser to the Pontifical Council of the Laity in Vatican City.

In 2012, the foundation donated more than $3 million to anti-abortion organizations around the country. But it is especially interested in New York, where it has launched a Fighting 41 campaign, referring to its calculation that "in New York City, 41 percent of all pregnancies except those which ended in miscarriage ended in abortion." The foundation has since revised the number down to 37 percent, which it says is nearly twice the national average.

Two days after the health department inspection numbers were made public, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino called on state Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah to resign. Two days after that, Shah quit.

On the job since 2011, Shah had been rumored to be unhappy at the health department because his room to make policy was cramped. Shah said he would be leaving to become senior vice president at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in sunny Southern California, probably at least tripling his $136,000 government salary. It's doubtful he pulled that off in two days. And if he did, I'll be downloading his podcast on motivation.

Astorino, the Westchester County executive who opposes abortion, saw an opening against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been backing a 10-point plan called the Women's Equality Act that includes an expansion of abortion rights.

It's difficult to tell whether the 25 clinics licensed by the health department have risked women's health. But since January 2000, the department found numerous violations, including failure to ensure that the medical staff had proper credentials, reuse of one-time disposable suction tubes and failure to ensure that a nurse was present during and after abortions.

The department's rules call for an unannounced inspection at least every four years - less than the two-year circuit required for tanning salons, Chiaroscuro likes to point out. Department spokesman Bill Schwarz said the department didn't meet the four-year goal because of a heavy load: responsibility for 3,500 hospital systems, nursing homes, dialysis centers and more. However, he said, complaints or allegations of physician misconduct receive immediate response.

Wherever one stands on abortion, as of now, it's legal. These clinics must run cleanly and safely, especially if New York and other progressive states are serving as a safe zone for reproductive rights nationwide.

First published in Newsday.

Survey: Millennials most conflicted about work-life choices

Mom with laptopA survey released this week by the Working Mother Research Institute, which has been advocating for better job conditions for parents for 35 years, asked three generations how they felt about their mothers working outside the home. More millennials than other groups said they were proud of Mom's career. Born between 1981 and 2000, 45 percent of the 2,163 respondents expressed pride, compared with 37 percent of Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) and 34 percent of baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964). Hooray for working moms, right?

Not so fast. At the same time, more millennials - 31 percent - wished that their moms could have stayed home with them, compared with 22 percent of Gen Xers and 17 percent of baby boomers.

If millennials are divided about their mothers' choices, they're also conflicted about their own lives. More than the other two generations, moms who are millennials describe themselves as career-oriented, while also being the group most likely to believe - at 60 percent - that one parent should be home to care for children.

Astutely enough, Republicans and Democrats have sensed that they could grab opposite hands of this conflicted female electorate and began pulling in either direction.

A panel of prominent female conservatives, speaking Monday at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said what women need more of are husbands. Over the past 40 years - coincidentally the time frame of the current wave of feminism - women have lost their peace of mind, the panelists said.

"Feminism has done so much damage to happiness," said columnist Mona Charen as quoted in The Washington Post. Citing data from the General Social Survey, a poll of Americans conducted every two years, the panelists said that a quarter of women are taking anti-depressants, and most women with a high school degree or less will have a first child before marriage. Married women are also richer.

For their part, Democrats are tugging in the direction of easing the working part of women's lives. They're speaking up about income inequality between the genders, as well as flexible jobs and the minimum wage. Two-thirds of the minimum-wage workforce is female.

It's unfortunate that such a painful personal question - whether a woman's life is for achievement or caregiving or both - is being probed by partisans as a way to gain an advantage with women voters. But where there are votes, there's fire. President Barack Obama had a 36-point lead among unmarried women in the last election, which put him 11 percentage points ahead of Mitt Romney among women in general.

Will the GOP's call to marry inspire women? Maybe Republicans can start an online matchmaking service. On the third date, you cast your ballot.

A few years ago, writer David Paul Deavel remarked that ethics students had begun answering a fundamental question differently. Asked what they would like to be able to say about themselves at age 80, many in the past gave sensitive responses about virtue and character. But by 2005, many more began answering that they'd want to have no regrets.

This is the emotion that underlies families' conflict about whether mom - or any parent - will work outside the home or stay home and raise children. Which path will reap the least regret? I dearly wish this weren't the zeitgeist. Because it is so distressing, it causes us to retreat from each other, and has had us defensively guarding "mommy wars" territory.

In truth, there's value in different approaches to life. But don't tell that to the political parties. They're busy trying to win.

First published in Newsday.

Colleges see greater duty to help grads get jobs

First published in Newsday.Graduates wanted

Stop me if you've heard this one. What did the college graduate say to his friends? "I have a degree in liberal arts. Would you like fries with that?"

Even though the job market is improving, many recent graduates are struggling to find work - and, equally pertinent, work in their field of study. This has led to more scrutiny of "outcomes" at colleges and universities, which are anxious to demonstrate in measurable ways that their graduates can succeed. What have they learned? Did they get jobs? How much do they earn?

These aren't questions just for individual families, but for a country that is backing gazillions each year in federal student loans. Is our investment paying off, or are more political science majors serving up soy lattes?

College-placement officers are all-too-aware of the scrutiny, and the smart ones are taking action. Job-focused programs on campus - such as cooperative education and internships - are growing and are even placing more American students overseas to work, in response to employer desires for globally competent workers.

At The College of Saint Rose in Albany, for example, internships are a requirement for graduation for that quintessential of liberal arts graduates, the English major. Saint Rose began this requirement in 2007. One undergraduate managed social media for a local credit union.

A Saint Rose official has said the school feels a deep responsibility to make sure students don't leave after graduation feeling as if they've been set adrift.

Internships have long been customary for business majors, but now "students in all majors are seeing the value in obtaining practical work experience in their field prior to graduation," said Scott N. Maynard, director of the career center and cooperative education at Mississippi State University. He spoke on behalf of the national Cooperative Education & Internship Association.

Students are looking to offset college expenses and set themselves apart in the job market, Maynard said. "Experience is one of the key factors employers look to."

Cooperative education, like internships, is expanding. Co-ops integrate work into the student's academic program, with work assignments ranging from a summer to 2.5 years. Unlike many internships, co-ops are paid and often lead to job offers after graduation. Co-ops were formerly the province of engineers, but business and industry co-op programs are flourishing.

Maynard said the real-world training can make for more engaged students who "contribute more to classroom discussion and usually make better grades."

All of this practicality is encouraging, but it would be a mistake to neglect more abstract qualities like critical thinking and the ability to deal with ambiguity. Andy Lockwood, who runs Lockwood College Consulting in Glen Head, says employers want graduates who make eye contact, articulate ideas and can put down a cellphone.

"A lot of that is nonacademic," Lockwood said. "It's unfair to put the entire burden for skill development on colleges. Kids need to be proactive, speak in class, talk to professors, learn communication skills."

I agree. As much as society might benefit from colleges taking an unformed high school graduate and moving her along a conveyor belt into the world of work - with the help of internships and co-ops - that's not realistic. Ultimately, students have to determine to make opportunities for themselves. Or grab a spatula and start flipping.

Playtime for adults eases modern life's burdens

First published in Newsday.Softball team with coach in huddle

Follow your bliss. Just do it. Do what you love, and the money will follow. Lean in.

These are life-guidance mottos that have taken a turn on the stage of the American consciousness. But there's one I'd like to add that is particularly necessary right now: Don't forget to play.

There's evidence that this activity that many of us associate with childhood can energize lives that are mired in Leaning In, doing more with less, multitasking and Having It All, according to a meticulously researched new book by Washington Post columnist Brigid Schulte, "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time."

And Wharton School business professor Stew Friedman, writing for the "Harvard Business Review" earlier this month, claims that people can be more productive by spending less time on and less attention to work. He coaches high-powered clients to add a non-work activity in an area of life they've been neglecting, and witness demonstrably better results in all parts of life - at work, at home, in your community and in your private life. He calls it a four-way win.

It's a paradox that even in the busiest of lives adding an activity can ease one's load by generating emotional satisfaction. Taking time to play is a leap of faith when we Americans compete over who's busiest as a sign of status. It's like the man in the Cadillac commercial who brags that he only takes two weeks off in August, n'est-ce pas?

Playing might seem an odd idea for an adult. But this isn't pulling out the Monopoly board for a family game. It's about creating a quality of life that many of us thought was long gone because of work and family commitments. Instead, it's doing a little more of what makes your "heart sing," to borrow a phrase from Schulte.

Barbara Brannen, a successful Denver executive with two kids profiled in "Overwhelmed," found herself so stressed-out from working all the time that her health suffered dramatically: She lost the use of her left arm. After that wake-up call and some surgery, Brannen began adding back simple pleasures like reading the comics and, when she walked past the piano in her home, stopping to play for a few minutes. She bought a kayak and splashed around in a nearby lake.

"I decided that play was a gift, a gift that women, in particular, get the message very early on that they should give up," Brannen says. She realized that, as Schulte writes, "she'd fallen into doing all the things that her kids wanted or that her husband liked or that others expected of her - playdates, socializing, going to movies, or just waiting for vacation or holidays to come. She did enjoy the time, 'but I wanted to feel my heart sing'."

Perhaps there's a concept of the feminine ideal, the Angel in the House, Schulte suggests, that traps women into believing they have to give up delight.

Traditionally, men have been conditioned to become ideal workers - always available to the boss or client. But this is changing, too. Schulte profiles a man who makes time every day to listen to live music.

I learned about play a couple of years ago as my daughters were starting a new softball season. I'd watched enviously as my neighbors coached the teams, convinced I didn't have the time to assist. But on this sunny Saturday, I walked over to the coach and volunteered. The few hours I spent helping out gave me energy for everything else - including work.

Don't be afraid to step away from your busy life, trust an impulse and give your body and brain a rest. Even Isaac Newton was lounging under a tree when he formulated gravity - n'est-ce pas?

For college, parents increasingly eye the bottom line

First published in Newsday.Education Costs - Mortar Board Graduation Cap Full of Coins

I thought I was thoroughly familiar with junk mail until we began the college-application process. Now each day I come home to four or five brochures addressed to my high school daughter, advertising a new major program or a remodeled student center or a nurturing campus life. And we're just getting started.

Those are all wonderful attributes, but parents I know are considering schools for their children for "value" - that is, not too much expense and an excellent shot at employment after graduation. I wonder sometimes how small private colleges mailing us the brochures are going to survive.

The answer is that many won't. Jonathan Henry, a vice president for enrollment at Husson University in Bangor, Maine, predicted in The Wall Street Journal recently that 30 percent of private colleges won't exist in a decade. According to the newspaper's analysis, between 2010 and 2012, freshman enrollment at more than a quarter of U.S. private four-year colleges declined by 10 percent or more.

Harvard University business professor Clayton Christensen is even more alarmist: He predicts that half of all universities will be bankrupt in 15 years.

Newsday reported on this trend last month with an in-depth look at how Long Island's private colleges like St. Joseph's College in Patchogue and Hofstra University in Hempstead are adapting. They are seeking new sources of revenue apart from traditional student tuition, offering courses that mirror the job market and hunting for new students outside the region. These institutions employ 10,900 people on Long Island and enroll more than 50,000 students each year.

They're a big contributor to our local economy, but I find parents more often discussing in-state tuition at public universities or completing the first two years at a lower-cost community college. Some high school graduates are taking a year off to work.

And with the explosion in online course offerings, I tell my daughter she could just attend college on a laptop in our basement.

Of course, all of this value-minded behavior from parents is partly a result of the listless economy - and if that were to change, the doomsayers might be out of business. Also, colleges and universities haven't done themselves any favors by allowing costs to skyrocket. Between 1970 and 2010, U.S. median family income grew 22 percent, according to the American Institutes for Research. During that same period, the cost of a degree at a public four-year school rose nearly 200 percent, and at private four-year schools, prices climbed almost 150 percent.

In fact, student loan debt topped $1 trillion in 2012, surpassing credit card indebtedness for the first time last year. If students were flashing their new degrees and walking into good jobs, that might not be so worrisome, but that's not the case.

Then again, college graduates are doing better than those without a degree. A recent Pew Research Center report concluded that the earnings gap between young American adults with and without bachelor's degrees is now the widest in 50 years. One welcome response to college parents' thrift are efforts to rank institutions by their return on investment. President Barack Obama has been talking about rating schools on measures of access, affordability and student outcomes. And three admissions consultants at CollegeTransitions.org have begun a blog series about "consumer-savvy" college searches.

The more analysis that cuts through the avalanche of information, the better. Brochures depicting idyllic quads in bloom are lovely, but college shoppers are minding the numbers.