The More Things Stay The Same, The More They Change

September 28, 2015

Pope Francis has left the United States and is back at the Vatican. His speeches to Congress, the United Nations and the Conference on Families, along with his sermons, visits to those in need and distress and his rock star presence to the faithful and faithless, have re-energized the Catholic Church in this country and solidified his position as a moral leader to be reckoned with.

So what can we make of the Pope’s visit to the United States? First and foremost it is important to recognize that Francis is not an ideologue in the sense that we have come to understand that term. He is not a liberal or a conservative; rather he is doctrinaire, meaning that he is committed to upholding the long established doctrines of the Catholic Church.

As he spoke throughout his visit it became clear that Francis is not going to budge from the Church’s position on male only priests, the traditional view of marriage, religious liberty, opposition to birth control, and of course the right to life ( not just abortion but his surprising opposition to capital punishment). Even opening up the sacraments to divorced Catholics is just wishful thinking and speculation. For those hoping that the Pope would champion change in church doctrine, those hopes must be dashed.

But what the Pope has changed is the Catholic Church’s long dormant commitment to the poor, the disenfranchised, the immigrant, the forgotten. Pope Francis exhibits boundless humanity and is using his moral authority to remind all of us that we must work for justice, peace, cooperation, and opportunity for all. Although Francis did not use the words, ” Can we all just get along”, his constant message is that we have an obligation as humans to help those in need, to protect the planet, to work with our enemies, and to ensure that no one is left behind.

It will be interesting to see the impact of the Pope’s messages on those who wield power in every sector of American society. The media gushed over the Pope, political leaders took a break from their penchant for piling on, and Americans who watched and listened began thinking about the homeless, climate change, income inequality, immigration, and equal opportunity. The Pope reminded all who would listen about the Golden Rule, Jesus’ commitment to the underclass, and the human value of seeing the face of God in those who have little or are demonized.

It is certainly fair to state that the Pope’s visit was a huge success, but not from the standpoint of changing the foundations of the Catholic Church. Rather the visit was a success in that it reminded us of our responsibility to give of ourselves, to help others, to do good, and to live a life of love and peace. That’s a powerful message of change by any measure.

Tom Brady, Fandom and Priorities

September 9, 2015

If you are a sports nut you probably came across an ESPN Boston poll in which 20% of the respondents stated that the judicial decision to throw out the four game suspension of Tom Brady was ” The Best Day of My Life” or as Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy mused, as better than their engagement or wedding, the birth of their child or years of friendship with their “bestie.” Whoa! Now that’s a statistic to ponder for a bit.

The whole Deflategate was a childish sideline to punish the Patriots for cheating (which still may be justified) instead of concentrating on concussion compensation, spousal abuse, performing enhancing drugs and general criminal behavior. But when 20%. of the fans equate the decision to ” Free Brady” with the signature events in most people’s lives that says something about how screwed up football aficionados have become in these parts. Boston was recently named the “best” sports town in America and perhaps this poll gives credence to that status- “best” perhaps meaning misplaced priorities.

The Patriots season starts tomorrow and if the team, the coach and the owner aren’t embroiled in another distracting scandal, the Pats should be headed to the Superbowl again. But as they move toward another championship it would be nice, or more to the point, mature, if the fandom recognized the obvious – football is a game played by men who make a lot of money and really don’t care too much about the adoring fans. Patriots football is not war, anti-terrorism, resettling thousands of sad people or police being executed; no, it is a game.

Changing the sporting habits of the ” Get a Lifers” in the stands and in front of the flat screen television is not in the cards – wives have given in to Sunday afternoons with the boys in their man caves sucking down beers and family time whenever a game is on has become Patriots time. It used to be the phrase most remembered by families on Sunday was, ” The family that prays together, stays together.” That wise proclamation has now been replaced by ” The family that worships the Patriots, rarely talk to each other.” If we could only get our priorities straight.


August 21, 2015

The hack of the Ashley Madison website is expected to lead to a treasure trove of extra- marital affairs by high level and low level cheaters. Now infidelity is nothing new in our world, in fact isn’t that what caused God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? But in this age of instant access to information, there are a lot of guys and gals out there twisting in the wind as the names of the cheaters become public.

Already there is concern in Washington as perhaps hundreds of White House and Congressional notables, some with highly sensitive positions, will be outed in the coming days. I doubt whether the Chinese or the Russians have planted “sleeper cells” (pardon the pun) in our nation’s capital to gather information from pillow talk, but more seriously the hack of Ashley Madison will certainly ruin families and tarnish reputations.

Since we have become a non-judgmental and largely hypocritical nation, these revelations will not raise much of an eyebrow, in large part because we have slowly but surely become the French, as private matters are accepted with a shrug.

But we are not quite the French; we still have that Puritan streak in our blood and often exhibit the “gotcha” values that show no mercy for a failed marriage or raging hormones. If anything we are the supermarket tabloid/reality show nation that just can’t get enough of the cheating crowd.

Now I suspect that most marriages in this country are on the level with the worst offenses of the husband or wife being a little wandering eye or innocent flirt. But in the dog days of summer the Ashley Madison cheating data does provide some relief from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, both people who know quite a bit about cheaters and cheating.

Racial Hope

August 18, 2015

I traveled to Milwaukee last weekend to attend my 50th class reunion or as some might say a gathering of well worn but still standing seniors. Before I left to head back east my dearest friends and our wives headed to our old hangout, Solly’s, a old-fashioned hamburger joint where gobs of butter overwhelm the bun and a chocolate malt shake along with fries are a must. We all knew that the Solly’s experience might do a job on our digestive system and our cholesterol count but no one seemed to care, this was a celebration of the old days past.

At Solly’s something wonderful happened that restored our faith in humanity and in race relations. On one side of the counter were a group of African-Americans celebrating two birthdays. Part of their group was a decorated veteran with his VFW hat proudly displayed. A white couple quickly offered to take photos of the group with smiles all around. At about this time an Asian family entered and sat at the counter.

After a bit, the cake was brought out and the singing of Happy Birthday began. Without prompting the entire restaurant sang to the two women celebrating a big day, not just quietly, but so loud that anyone within ear shot could hear the happiness exuding from Solly’s.

So a group of aging whites, an Asian family and African-Americans joined together in a spontaneous songfest. Later one of the birthday women came over and offered us a piece of cake as well as the Asian family. Everyone was in a joyous mood.

This was admittedly a small event in a small hamburger joint in a Midwestern city, but to me it was a hopeful sign that with all the examples of racial mistrust and racial tension in our country there are indeed islands of racial hope, perhaps more than we think and certainly more than the media reports.

We all left Solly’s happy not just because we had relived old memories, but because we had been witness to one example of how we as Americans can get along and go out of our way to bring ourselves together. We certainly will never see those people again, but that impromptu birthday party will have a lasting memory. The dream does live on.

apps and national security

August 13, 2015

Let me start out by saying that I know protecting business and governmental data from hacking is no simple task and that corporate and public sector officials are doing their best to protect sensitive files.

But then I look at the thousands and thousands of our best computer minds sitting around at Facebook,Twitter,Google,Yahoo, Reddit, Spotify,and the seemingly endless social media sites and apps and I wonder whether their talents for amplifying mindless chatter is being properly used, especially since the Chinese, the Russians, the Albanians, the Romanians and the Ukrainians, just to name a few, are beating us to the punch in the race to steal our secrets.

Now slow to react IT departments in major corporations and banks, irresponsible public figures like Hillary Clinton and government bureaucracies that have hardware and software out of the 90s make it easy for determined and talented hackers to tap into our systems. I can’t help to wonder, however, why in a country that gave birth to Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle can’t develop firewalls that stop this cyber-stealing which threatens our national security and indeed our way of life.

I suspect that working for the government in IT pays much less than Facebook and Google and all those stock options and perks simply are too impressive to pass up. I remember, though, that in the 1950s with the Russians beating us into space this nation put resources into science and technology and offered generous tuition and scholarship money to attract young people to work in places like NASA and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

We need a similar national effort to get the best minds in computers to move away from spending their talents on apps that help you order pizza or sell the junk in your garage. This country is now at war, cyber war, with our adversaries and make no bones about it we are losing. What we need is an app that protects my credit card and stops the Chinese and Russians from mining sensitive national security secrets. The next generation of patriots in this country should be the anti-hackers.

Amy and Chuck on Gun Control

August 3, 2015

When two beautiful women were killed in Lafayette, Louisiana watching the comedy Trainwreck with Amy Schumer, the A-list comedienne decided to join forces with her senator cousin, Chuck Schumer of New York to push for reasonable gun control. With the latest polls showing 74% of Americans want some form of gun control, this hot button issue will likely enter the electoral fray in 2016.

The Schumers are not talking about taking guns away from Americans or gutting the second amendment, but what they are talking about is making background checks really mean something and have the states keep a much closer watch on who is applying for weapons. States would even be penalized for lax background checks. Also Congress will be asked to put more money into mental health, which currently is on the chopping block. The massacres that this country has endured over the last ten years from Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook to Aurora and now Lafayette had two key ingredients- easy access to weapons and mental illness.

Supporters of our gun culture in this country will likely say that an armed populace in schools and theaters and other public places would have served as a deterrent to the crazed acts of killers. But the first step in protecting innocent citizens is to keep guns out of the hands of crazed killers not arm people to protect themselves from crazed killers.

After each one of these tragic massacres someone has come forward to voice outrage over our lax gun laws. The latest is Amy Schumer. Her pleas may fall on a deaf ears in Congress. Yet what many Americans want is common sense gun control; they don’t want mentally disturbed people, common criminals and those with domestic violence issues getting guns and they want the states to step up and enforce gun laws.

Of course if someone wants to get a gun it is not difficult in this country – they can steal one, they can go to a gun show and buy one out of someone’s trunk, or they can take one from a family member. Guns are everywhere in this country. But what Amy Schumer and her influential cousin are saying is that gun control need not be confiscation or excessive limitation, just simple rules that keep guns out of the hands of those who have mass murder in their damaged brains.

Cecil and Brady

July 30, 2015

Cecil, the African lion gets lured out of his protective reserve and is killed by a Minnesota dentist; outrage fills the airwaves. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is suspended for four games for his involvement in the deflating of footballs and fans go ballistic. But the deaths of innocents around the world from hunger, gun violence, disease, war or disasters are reported as matter of fact or not reported at all. These are the times we live in; it seems we have become hardened by the real sadness around us and instead shift our attention to events and personalities that are either minor in scope or of no real consequence.

Certainly animals have value and the best player in professional football may be the target of injustice, but when will society value human life and the pursuit of truth as much as a lion or an athlete? It is understandable, I guess, that people just don’t want to have the evil in the world shoved in their faces and instead want to concentrate on the mundane or the exciting. But we seem to have reached a stage in our American society where people choose to be ignorant of evil and live their lives in a carefree bubble, only to break out of that bubble to show outrage over the death of a lion or the troubles of a football legend.

We saw a glimpse of popular outrage over issues that are vital to our country when African-Americans boiled over with anger and took to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter. Even here the anger was short-lived and misdirected to their neighbors’ property. As a member of the Vietnam War/Civil Rights generation where protest over important matters that struck at the heart of our nation were commonplace, it is sad to see our culture degenerate into concerns over minutiae. Where are the movements for change in our time? When will people get off the couch and get involved?

Perhaps we have become Rome where in its declining years the populace rejoiced in the circus and placed high value on matters of little importance. Thankfully there are those around us who do care and do take action and do try to make life better for those facing danger and injustice. Unfortunately, their numbers are few and their actions often uncoordinated. It would be nice to see a return to the days when people paid attention to what mattered and joined movements to bring about change. I wish Cecil had lived and I remain a fan of Tom Brady, but let’s put the world and our society in perspective and place value on the real issues of the day.


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