Monday, May 29, 2006

The first record I ever bought with my own money…

...Was It's Only Rock 'N Roll by the Rolling Stones, in 1975

1. If You Can't Rock Me
2. Ain't Too Proud To Beg
3. It's Only Rock 'N Roll (But I Like It)
4. Till The Next Goodbye
5. Time Waits For No One
6. Luxury Listen Listen
7. Dance Little Sister
8. If You Really Want To Be My Friend
9. Short And Curlies
10. Fingerprint File

Actually, that was the first record I had ever bought for myself. A couple of years earlier, I had bought the Stones’ Let It Bleed for my brother as a Christmas gift.

1. Let It Bleed
2. Love In Vain
3. Midnight Rambler
4. Gimmie Shelter
5. You Got The Silver
6. You Can't Always Get What You Want
7. Live With Me
8. Monkey Man
9. Country Honk

Starting a record collection of my own at that point was really something very important, because it was getting riskier and riskier for me to listen to my brother’s records went he wasn’t at home. He didn’t want me to, because he was afraid (with some justification) that I would scratch them.

One day I accidentally left out his copy of Idlewild South, by the Allman Brothers, and he threatened to knock me out if it ever happened again.

1. Revival
2. Don't Keep Me Wonderin'
3. Midnight Rider
4. In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
5. Hoochie Coochie Man
6. Please Call Home
7. Leave My Blues At Home

So, it became necessary to buy my own discs… I’m ashamed to say that the second record I bought myself was ‘Kiss Alive”, but hey, don’t laugh… “I want to Rock and Roll All Night’ has held up very well over the years.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Are Big Families Making A Comeback?

In this morning’s Boston Sunday Globe, there was an article called:

Full House (Honey, Let’s Have a Third. And a Fourth. And…) The big family makes a comeback.

The article focuses on a trend in a tony Boston suburb where the size of the average family has been steadily increasing, and offers speculation on whether a big family has become a sort of status symbol for the wealthy, or if the motivations are healthier. Some excerpts…

…look at classroom No. 8 at the Wellesley Nursery School in the Hills. DeMatteo's daughter is the only one who comes from a family of six kids. But Laurel is one of five. So is Mark. Then there are Ryan, Jack, Andrew, and Adam, who each come from a family with four kids. Shane will join their ranks when his new sister arrives in a few months. Right now, he's in the three-kid camp with Lucy, Nicole, and Natalie. In fact, of the class's 20 preschoolers, 12 come from families with three or more kids. And let's not forget Owen. He is one of eight, and his father says a ninth is likely. Definitely don't want to forget Owen…
(Newton-Wellesley Pediatrician Dr. Jim) Goldston has his own theories about why so many families are getting bigger. A decade or two ago, couples watching college costs escalate figured they had no choice but to limit family size. However, as costs continued to rise to absurd levels, he says many decided, "It's so expensive having two kids, how much worse can it be with three?"
On the flip side are the wealthy parents in his practice "who can afford to do whatever they want." Some of these couples find that of all the luxuries their bank balances allow them, they get no greater satisfaction than from their kids, so they decide to have more. There's something rather reassuring about that. Other motivations are less reassuring. "For some people in Wellesley," says Goldston, "having four kids has become the new status symbol, like having a luxury SUV. It says you can afford it; you can have a nanny to help you out."

Traditionally, the third child has been a major barrier to both parents working full time, considering that the combined day-care costs can eat up an entire salary. So three kids are more common in families in which one parent -- usually the mother -- is at home full time or has flexible part-time work. For all the talk in recent years of women "opting out" of careers to stay at home, half of all mothers still return to the workforce before their child's first birthday, says Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University and board member of the Council on Contemporary Families. Not that there aren't lots of stay-at-home moms. It's just that they're mostly clustered at the top and bottom of the income scale. The poorer moms' job opportunities are so bleak that many don't feel they are giving up much to stay home. Many of the more affluent moms started out with the expectation that they could have it all, managing a successful career with one or two kids. But after experiencing the all-too-common work-family bind, they can walk away from the job without bringing financial pain to their families. In fact, Gerson says, "wealthy mothers are left without one of the major cultural rationales for choosing to work: that they need to."

Once these high-achieving women make the decision to stay home, the next one -- to have more kids -- is easier. After all, managing a bigger family can be a lot like managing an enterprise, with schedules and budgets and direct reports (of the offspring and household-help varieties).

Judy Heffernan left a good job in sales for the Four Seasons Hotel when she started having kids. She grew up in a family of six children, and she now has four of her own, ranging in age from 2 to 9. She wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, at 44, she says she would have had more kids had she not started so late. "It's like having a team."

Because affluent families can afford to hire nannies or au pairs (and don't have to fret about the prospect of another college tuition), the decision to go for the next child doesn't have to be as intimidating. "Every person I know who has four kids has full-time help," says Susan Morris, a 40-year-old former investment banker and current Wellesley mother of three. "People in this town like to have a lot of kids, but they don't necessarily like to raise them by themselves." Morris's husband would like to have a fourth, and seeing so many bigger families around her, she's felt some pressure to try to keep up. "If all your friends are having four, does that make you more likely to do it? Absolutely." But after having three kids in three years, she feels she is just starting to get her life back under control.

Here is where I have to stop the presses a bit. We live in the same town this article was written about. We have six. Our neighbors and good friends down the street have five. Our other friends down the street have four. Another family around the corner have four...

None of us have nannies. None of us live in huge houses. We all have modified Cape houses. My wife knows some of the people mentioned in the article. Curious that the Globe doesn’t want to talk to any of us, but it’s just as well. All of our back yards put together barely have 100 blades of grass between them. The dirt in our back yards is as hard and packed as the streets of Kabul. Kids can always get dirty when they play outside, but when they play at our place they get really dirty. Our place may have made a poor backdrop for a photo shoot. :-)

Memorial Day: Hallowed Ground

Lincoln's Address at Gettysburg, 1863

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final restingplace for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Major General Logan's proclamation of Memorial Day

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country and during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Carmelite Spirituality for Amateurs

I really like this image of St. John of the Cross. It was painted by Pauline Martin, who was the older sister of “The Little Flower”, St. Therese of Lisieux . Not bad for an amateur painter, is it?

Pauline actually entered the Carmelite convent of Lisieux before Therese did, and she became the prioress. Maybe someone can help me out with the Latin words on it… I think they are a reference to the story in which St John of the Cross had a vision while praying in front of a painting of Christ. In the vision Christ asked “What do you wish from me?” St John answered “To suffer for you.”

I’m a great admirer of the great Discalced Carmelite mystics and Doctors of the Church. I admire the spirituality of St. John of the Cross in particular, even though some of what he wrote is hard to understand.

I thoroughly enjoy reading St Teresa of Avila and St Therese as well, although as a male, I find some of their references to Jesus as lover (especially by Therese) a little unsettling, and hard to relate to.

The popular spiritual writer Fr. Ron Rolheiser knows a lot about Carmelite spirituality, and writes about it in a way that is very accessible and easy for the “amateur” to understand. Here are some really good articles he’s written that are available in PDF format. They are worth taking a look at.

John of the Cross: The Man, The Myth and The Truth

John of the Cross and Human Development: The Dark Night of the Soul - A Contemporary Interpretation

Our Perennial Fascination with Therese of Lisieux

Key Elements in Therese's Spirituality: The Little Way, Noticing the Unnoticed Drops of Blood

On the less serious side, here is an old Connection radio program with Chris Lydon about St Teresa of Avila as saint, businesswoman, and feminist icon.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Greeley on Poland: Does affluence trump traditionalism?

In Fr. Andrew Greeley's column last Friday, he described the state of the Church in Poland, and remarked on that country's newly found affluence. He touches on a certain hunch I've always had...

In certain European countries where the most traditionalist brand of Catholicism had held sway, there has been a strong, anti-clerical popular reaction against the Church and in favor of consumerism once political freedoms were granted and economic prosperity started to take hold after decades of stagnation and privation. It happened in Spain in the 1980s, Ireland in the 1990s, and now Poland in the 2000s.

The Tridentine-style Church was built to withstand Protestantism. It was somewhat suited to withstand Modernism and Communism. Can it withstand affluence? As always, Greeley remains an optimist...

I've heard it said that the late pope was heartbroken that his native land had sunk so quickly into the swamp of American consumerism. But once the restraints of socialism were swept away, people began to seek the good life for themselves and their children. Americans are in fact the most generous people in the world (in terms of hours volunteering and contributions). It takes time to learn restraint after the first burst of freedom. If religious leaders would stop condemning and instead offer a spirituality for abundance, they would be taken more seriously.

Poles are 10 percent of the Catholics in Europe and perhaps half of the regular churchgoers. But like everyone else in the Church after the blundered implementation of the Vatican Council, they are Catholics on their own terms. This independence will be hard for the clergy and the hierarchy to accept, but they'd better get used to it. There is little in the history of this country to lead one to expect that its bishops and priests will suddenly become open, transparent, pragmatic. They will lose their formidable power just as the Irish clerisy did when it hung on to power too long. The Poles, like the Irish, will remain Catholic. And like the Irish, the Catholic leadership in this country will lose most of its credibility.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Baghdad ER – The Cost of War

Here is last Friday’s On Point radio program, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, on the HBO special Baghdad ER, which will be broadcast tonight and on Memorial Day. It’s a documentary about the doctors and medics working on American and Iraqi casualties in Baghdad.

The On Point program was powerful and very difficult to listen to (for example, a prayer by a chaplain over a marine that the doctors had labored to save for over 13 hours), but I feel that more Americans need to listen to it, or to see the HBO program. Almost 2,500 American troops have been killed in Iraq. Almost 18,000 have been wounded. The deaths and injuries suffered by Iraqi civilians are much higher and difficult to calculate. It’s important to note that the number of dead would be much, much higher if not for the expert care at the trauma units. Over 90% of the casualties delivered to them survive.

I’m currently in the process of struggling with the Just War Theory, and whether a just war is even possible with today’s weapons and technology. I have close friends who support the war in Iraq. In all honesty and candor, they haven’t known me over the years as a dove. I also have close friends who do not support the war. I think that most of the people who’ve been looking at this blog are emphatically and unequivocally against it. I bought into the WMD and Al Qaeda-connection hype. I supported the action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I have admiration for those serve in uniform. I admire their discipline, their dedication, and their ethos of selflessness and loyalty. I hate to see them ill-used, as when they are driven around Iraq in humvees like ducks in a gallery, waiting for IED’s to take them out. I look at the Honor the Fallen casualty list every day. It is an endless litany… “So and so was killed in Anbar province when an improvised explosive device detonated under his vehicle”. What a waste.

Although I have always admired the principle of non-violence, I have not always held to the position that it was a practical ideal in reality. I've always believed that although war is never a good thing, it sometimes is regrettably necessary to protect the innocent. I've also held that fascism needs to be actively resisted whenever it arises.

I am starting to wonder however, if the time has come to change my views on that. The world cannot continue going the way it is going, both in economic terms and with the consensus on non-proliferation falling apart. We cannot kill our way out of the current problem. I'm a bit conflicted right now.

For those who support the war in Iraq, I think they should at least accept this fact if there is a necessary war on terror: Iraq was a tactical mistake. The neo-con team, and Dick Cheney in particular, were sold on taking a big risk on Iraq by academics like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami. The president seems to think that all you have to do is introduce elections and free-trade zones into a region like this, and that inside every one of these people a red-white-and-blue-born-again-christian will struggle to get out. Generals and politicians always fight the last war. This team did not realize how much the Middle East has been radicalized since 1991.

We went into Viet Nam with a good army and came out with a bad one. Even if you support the war, you have to admit that we are running the same risk here. We are going to use these wonderful men and women up. They are bearing this burden alone. The president does not have this country on a war footing. No sacrifice has been asked of anyone other than to keep on shopping. In the meantime, men who’ve lost feet or taken shrapnel behind their eyes have been returning to combat duty for another tour. It isn’t right.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Twenty-Five Years ago Today...

...I graduated from college.

How could it possibly be that long? It feels like yesterday. It's amazing how time goes by so quickly. What have I done with my life? Have I accomplished anything worthwhile?

Well, if my professional and academic achievements haven't exactly been overwhelming, there are at least the great little ones that I'm doing my best to help raise. I am very proud of them.
And of course, I mustn't forget their lovely mom...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

These guys can’t possibly go to jail for long enough…

I suppose this shows a lack of Christian charity on my part, but I think Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling deserve to go to prison for a long, long time.

Or maybe I’m just grumpy this week on account of the weather... Nah.

It is in the hands of the jury now, and there is no guarantee that they will be found guilty at all. The HealthSouth CEO was able to beat the rap against all expectations, so you never know. You never can tell what a jury will do.

Just speaking personally, this Enron company had a pretty big impact on my life. Their massive lobbying campaign to push for nationwide deregulation of the electricity industry (which has had no positive impact for the average consumer, and caused absolute havoc in California) caused my job to get outsourced, their financial meltdown put a big dent in my savings portfolio, and their lying and connivance with the Andersen auditors means I have to spend endless hours writing documentation to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley. This is all nothing, however, to what they did to ruin the lives of a lot of people, not the least of whom were their own employees. I mean they really, REALLY ruined some people’s lives.

Yes, they should go away for a long time, and not to some cream-puff CEO country-club prison. If they are found guilty, is secure-max (with Zacharias Moussaoui) unfair to ask for?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Has history been unfair to Savonarola?

Execution of Girolamo Savonarola on the Piazza della Signoria, Florence 1498

Speaking of books, here is a new one that looks like it is worth reading:

Fire in the City : Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence by Lauro Martines

Anne and I went to Italy on our honeymoon, and one of the cities where we spent the longest amount of time was Florence. Visiting the old Dominican Friary there to look at the works of Fra Angelico, we were struck by how important a figure Savonarola was in Florence on the eve of the Reformation, both to the Dominican Order, and to the city. His name has always been a catchword for fanaticism and puritanism, best known and exemplified by “The Bonfire of the Vanities”. There has been a small counter-current, however, that has always seen Savonarola as a reformer. Lauro Martines seems to be one who thinks so too.

The Book Description from Amazon:

A gripping and beautifully written narrative that reads like a novel, Fire in the City presents a compelling account of a key moment in the history of the Renaissance, illuminating the remarkable man who dominated the period, the charismatic Savonarola. Lauro Martines, whose decades of scholarship have made him one of the most admired historians of Renaissance Italy, here provides a remarkably fresh perspective on Girolamo Savonarola, the preacher and agitator who flamed like a comet through late fifteenth-century Florence. The Dominican friar has long been portrayed as a dour, puritanical demagogue who urged his followers to burn their worldly goods in "the bonfire of the vanities." But as Martines shows, this is a caricature of the truth--the version propagated by the wealthy and powerful who feared the political reforms he represented.

In fact, Savonarola emerges as a complex and subtle man: compassionate, wise, a poet and scholar, and even, at critical moments, a force for moderation. The friar, a mesmerizing preacher, set the city afire with his message of Christian charity wedded to republican ideals.

It is this reality--of Savonarola as both religious and civic leader--that Martines captures in all its complexity, showing how he inspired an outpouring of political debate in a city newly freed from the tyranny of the Medici. In the end, the volatile passions he unleashed--and the powerful families he threatened--sent the friar to his own fiery death. But the fusion of morality and politics that he represented would leave a lasting mark on Renaissance Florence.

So many books, and so little time… and money.

In contrast to that, Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says about Savonarola.

In the beginning Savonarola was filled with zeal, piety, and self-sacrifice for the regeneration of religious life. He was led to offend against these virtues by his fanaticism, obstinacy, and disobedience. He was not a heretic in matters of faith. The erection of his statue at the foot of Luther's monument at Worms as a reputed "forerunner of the Reformation" is entirely unwarranted.

Enough already, with this silly book and movie

Man, have I gotten sick and tired of hearing about The Da Vinci Code.

I know the movie is coming out, but for crying out loud, this book was written years ago. In the meantime, there has been a whole cottage industry built around various Da Vinci Code boosters and Da Vinci Code rebutters. Will it ever end? Why is the Church finally deciding that it needs to come out and start talking about it now? Do they figure more people go to the movies than read? They may be right.

Gnosticism seems to be in vogue these days. Margaret Starbird, Elaine Pagels, The Gospel of Judas... I finally forced myself to read the book about a year ago because it had gotten to the point where you couldn’t talk about it with anyone without hearing the question “Well, have you actually read it yet?” Supposedly, you’d be so bowled over by the evidence in this book that you had no credibility speaking about Church history unless you had actually taken the time to read it.

My impression: It was certainly written in a style that was designed to keep you moving. Every chapter was written with a little hook near the end, so that you were supposed to hang on to get to the next chapter in order to get to that “punch”. I was constantly thinking to myself, “Brown has written this book with a clear view to having it converted to a screenplay". It reads more like a movie storyboard script than a novel.

Dan Brown spent a lot of time speaking about Osiris, perfect proportions, and various pagan myths and symbols, and I was never clear on why this all had anything to do with Jesus. Some of it was really strange and illogical. Take Sunday as “Sun-day” for example. It may be “Sun-day” in English. It certainly wasn’t called “Sun-day” in Greek or Latin. As for all the pagan symbols incorporated into Christianity, this should come as no surprise or scandal to anyone. Christianity has always “baptized” what was good and useful in the cultures it encountered. Nowadays it is called “enculturation”, and no one is particularly scandalized by it. Besides, you can go on forever playing that pagan-influence game. If you really want to, you can go all the way back with Judaism and debate whether or not it was all infected up with Zoroasterism, Canaanite beliefs, and Babylonian epics.

Speaking of Judaism, Brown leaves it out almost completely. Reading this book, you’d hardly know that Jesus was a Jew. There’s no mention of St. Paul whatsoever, and for all the talk of the lost sense of the sacred feminine, why doesn't he mention the Cult of the Virgin Mary? What does he call that? The whole Jesus-Mary Magdalene marriage story sounds pretty clearly to me like it originated with one particular French family that wanted to legitimize its claim to royal heritage over that of rival claimants by trying to prove a line of descent back to Jesus. That, of course, leads to the big question for Brown. If Jesus was merely "royal", and not "divine", why should any of us care who Mary Magdalene was carrying in her womb?

Regarding Opus Dei… Brown seems to consider Opus Dei an ultra-right-wing Catholic organization. Is that so? Has Brown ever heard of the SSPX? They make Opus Dei look like Call To Action. They might have made better villains for him.

Not a very good thriller in my opinion, and not scholarship at all. If there was a relationship that Jesus had that was underplayed in the New Testament at all, it wasn’t the relationship between Jesus and SAINT Mary Magdalene. It was the relationship between Jesus and St. James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, the “brother of the Lord”.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Jeanne Jugan Juniors

(Photo courtesy of Christine Williams for the Boston Pilot)

I'm very, very proud of my daughters and the daughters of my close friends. They are called the Jeanne Jugan Juniors and they volunteer once a month to work with the elderly and to keep them company at the residence run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Somerville, MA.

They are covered and quoted in this article in the Boston Pilot.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Cardinal O'Malley seeks to improve Jewish-Christian relations

This article was in today's Boston Globe:


Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley and leaders of the Jewish community are attempting to reinvigorate efforts to build Catholic-Jewish relations, following a period of moral and financial troubles in the church...

''The Catholic Church comes out of the Jewish religion; the church is the daughter of the synagogue," he said. ''The Mass, which is the center of our spiritual life, is basically a synagogue service and a Seder meal brought together. . . . Christianity and Catholicism can be understood only in light of our Hebrew roots."

O'Malley said that he draws inspiration for his effort from Pope John Paul II, who by personal acts -- praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall, visiting Rome's central synagogue and the death camp at Auschwitz, recognizing the state of Israel -- improved Catholic-Jewish relations dramatically.

The late pope ''saw the 20th century as the century of the Shoah," O'Malley said. ''He encouraged Catholics to come to grips with the meaning of the Holocaust."

Amen, Cardinal. Well said.

The Church in China. Remembering the first Maryknoll missioners.

Last week, NPR ran this story on the decision by the “ Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association Church” to ordain two bishops without at least the tacit approval of the Holy See. The bishops were excommunicated automatically under Church law. Pope Benedict was reported to have been very upset by the consecrations, especially since he had been speaking hopefully about visiting China in the near future, and about the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic relations at some point. As an aside, anyone who thinks that a lifting of the excommunications is in the cards any day now for the SSPX bishops who were excommunicated in 1988 for their illegal consecrations might be sobered by this news. It seems that Pope Benedict is just as serious about his sole responsibility for episcopal ordinations as his predecessor.

The relationship between the Vatican and Communist China has been complicated. In some ways, certain compromises and practical steps have been made to avoid open schism. One group that has come under criticism from traditionalist circles is the Maryknoll Fathers. Since 1991, they have been running a program to train Chinese seminarians, some of whom are in the persecuted Church operating underground, but also many who are in the “Patriotic” Church officially sanctioned by the Chinese government. The Maryknolls have a special connection to China.

The Maryknoll Fathers (Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America) were started specifically as a vehicle for Americans to do missionary work, with the goal of evangelizing China being foremost in their plans.

Shown in the photo, seated left to right, are Fr. James E. Walsh, Fr. Thomas F. Price, and Fr. Francis X. Ford. Standing in the rear is Fr. Bernard F. Meyer. These four missioners left for China in 1918.

Fr. Thomas F. Price was one of the founders of the order. Being somewhat older than the others, he had difficulty learning Chinese, and was not in the most robust of health. He died of complications associated with a ruptured appendix in Hong Kong in 1919.

Fr. James E. Walsh and Fr. Francis X. Ford both became notable figures for their work in China and became bishops. When the Communist takeover of China occurred in 1949, the most brutal persecutions did not take place immediately. In 1951, during Holy week, an order came down evicting all foreign missionaries from China. The bishops in place suffered a more grim fate.

Bishop Walsh was put under house arrest for seven years, and for refusing to leave China, he was imprisoned from 1958 through 1970, when he was finally released during a thaw in US-Chinese relations that occurred shortly before Nixon’s visit to China.

A quote from Bishop Walsh:

"The task of a missioner is to go to the place where he is not wanted to sell a pearl whose value, although of great price, is not recognized, to people who are determined not to accept it, even as a gift”.

Bishop Ford was treated horribly, paraded through the streets and beaten viciously. He is thought to have died in 1952.

Quotes regarding Bishop Ford:

”The hardest cross to bear in life is the thought that we are wasting our time, that we are useless, that the world is rushing along and we, apparently, have not yet found our feet.... God needs us where we are.... We are only too prone to look for sensible consolations in our mission work.... The remedy for this self-centered condition is contemplation and service of God. Contemplation takes us out of ourselves and focuses our attention on God; service of God instinctively issues from our contemplation (Francis X. Ford in "God Needs Us” - Stone in the King's Highway).

“In Communist China, Bishop Francis Xavier Ford, a Catholic missionary who had spent over 30 years serving the Chinese, was tortured and brainwashed for 11 months. Fellow prisoners later reported that the mistreatment was so severe that Ford was on the verge of forgetting his own identity and was only able to hang on to it by repeating to himself: “My name is Francis Xavier Ford.” In spite of everything, he did not crack. It appears that he died around February 1952. We are not sure because word of his death only leaked out about six months later. He must have persevered to the end, though, because the Communist Chinese would otherwise have made a public spectacle out of his recantation”. (Heroes Of Faith Hero: Does Religion Hinder Heroes? by Robert Royal)

In 2001, a story appeared in Commonweal, written by Sister Mary Carita Pendergast of the Sisters of Charity, called At Bayonet Point. It tells of the expulsions during Holy week of 1951.
When we disembarked, we were immediately surrounded by women soldiers who subjected us to a thorough and embarrassing search, and then led us to a double line of our own high school girls armed with sticks. We were ordered to run through this gauntlet and at the end to kneel and to apologize to the Chinese people for our offenses against them. Eight of us made it without hurt, for the girls would not raise their sticks. The last of our party was Sister Loretta Halligan, who refused to enter the double line. At that point, a soldier whispered to me, "Tell Sister Halligan to run the gauntlet, or she will be severely punished." I hastened to where she stood and whispered, "Run the gauntlet and at the end apologize for your errors with the Chinese." Her Irish blue eyes blazed with indignation and she exclaimed, "I crossed two oceans to serve these people. I never harmed anyone." I argued, "Come on, Loretta. Neither did the rest of us ever harm the people. But we have all run safely through the gauntlet, and apologized, for we certainly did make some mistakes." Sister Loretta was our superior, and in her misery and anxiety hadn't seen what was happening to the rest of us. She thought she was being singled out as our leader. Finally, she too went safely through the gauntlet.

The next morning, we were ordered to report to the Alien Registration Bureau, but our progress was halted for more than an hour by a demonstration against foreigners, during which Maryknoll Bishop Francis X. Ford, who later died in prison, and his secretary, Sister Joan, were paraded in a truck to the jeers of the bystanders. This we witnessed before entering the bureau, where further rough treatment awaited us.

I was proud to see Sister Loretta get her Irish up, in spite of it all. It's always important to remember those who give everything and are ready to lay down their lives for the Faith.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Immigration Controversy: Part II. How I found out that I was a member of the overclass.

Somehow, without my even realizing it, I discovered that I “fell” into the overclass.

We’ve had 6 children in 13 years of marriage, and as you can well imagine, my wife’s life is a very busy one. A few years back, she asked if she could, on an irregular basis, have a Brazilian woman with her own cleaning business come in every once in a while with her maids to help keep the place clean (I am not commenting on the woman’s status). She’d heard from a friend that this woman and her crew did a great job.

I hated the idea. It goes so against the grain of the way that I was brought up, that even the mere thought of it was jarring. I’m a guy who still thinks that people who play golf should probably have a yacht and a polo pony too. Us, with a maid? I retain my own grandparent’s immigrant mentality to a fault. Having vestiges left over of that mentality, I am uncomfortable having someone doing that kind of servile work for me. I don’t like that kind of pampering. I don’t even like it when a waiter or a retail sales clerk is hovering over me unless I ask them to. I get squeamish about the idea of a stranger coming in, working over our toilets, stripping down our beds, and going through the things on top of my dresser (my biggest pet peeve… I can never find where they put anything). Our mess is our mess. Like many husbands, though, I am hen-pecked enough to know that arguing this point was not going to be in my best interest. So… the maids came in while we could afford it. Wonderful young ladies.

Therefore, it was with some chagrin, when I read Michael Lind’s 'Up from Conservatism', that I discovered that I was a member of the “overclass”. Shown below, from pages 36-38 of that book, Lind describes what the overclass is, and how the crisis in illegal immigration in this country came to be. I think the analysis is pretty solid.
Here, then, is a simple test of overclass status. Americans who do not have advanced degrees and cannot afford maids or nannies are middle class; Americans who have advanced degrees and can afford maids or nannies are overclass. It's as simple as that.

The "nanny question" shows the extent to which American public policy reflects the interests of the American overclass, in direct opposition to the desires of the American majority. Since the 1960s, according to every poll, a substantial majority of Americans has favored the restriction or ending of legal immigration. It is often said that middleclass opposition to immigration is a recent phenomenon that reflects frustration with stagnating wages. This is simply not true...

Even so, the consensus position of the conservative establishment remains one favoring high, or even increased, immigration. The editors of the Wall Street journal have gone so far as to call for a five-word constitutional amendment- "There shall be open borders" -that would permit hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of impoverished people from the Third World to resettle at will in the United States. Neoliberals like Bill Clinton support a policy of high immigration. So do many left-liberals. The political, intellectual, and journalistic elites of the United States are almost unanimously in favor of maintaining the present immigration regime in which there is a constant influx of low-wage labor from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia into the United States, at a rate of approximately a million legal immigrants a year.

Why is a high immigration policy opposed by most middle-class Americans but favored by almost all members of the overclass of all persuasions-left, right, and center? I discovered the answer after publishing a book in which I argued for reducing immigration levels in order to raise wages among unskilled workers in the United States. Friends and acquaintances of mine of various political viewpoints, all of them highly educated and affluent members of the overclass by my definition, found elements of my argument convincing. From both liberals and conservatives, however, I heard a similar complaint: "I don't agree with your idea about restricting immigration, though. We need our nanny!" In every case, it turned out that the objecting individual and his or her spouse paid a maid or nanny from Latin America or the Caribbean to look after their children while both parents worked at professional jobs. Take away the elaborate moral arguments of the overclass left for immigration, and the equally elaborate economic rationales of the overclass right, and what remains is the naked economic interest in maintaining a supply of poorly paid, nonunionized foreign women whose labor permits overclass parents of all political persuasions to enjoy a lifestyle like that of the aristocrats of the past with their nannies and governesses.

The continued access by affluent overclass families to poor Latin American and Caribbean domestic workers by means of a generous immigration policy is not the only issue that divides the overclass (left, right, and center) from the middle class (left, right, and center). Free trade is another. The right to unionize is another (supposedly "liberal" newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are more liberal when the subject is a racial minority or an endangered species than in the case of unionized, blue-collar workers). The economic interests shared by the left, right, and center members of the overclass explain the fact that controversy about social issues, since the 1960s, has been accompanied by a curious consensus on economic issues among elites across the political spectrum.

The Immigration Controversy: Part I. What did people expect?

I know it isn’t the right attitude, but I have to admit that I’m somewhat bemused over this whole immigration flap.

A couple of caveats:

1) I recognize that some kind of globalization is necessary. It is a scandal and a sin that most of the people in the world live on less than a couple of dollars a day. We all need to help to lift them out of that poverty, but it shouldn’t be done the way it is being done now, with the weakest and most vulnerable being forced into a race to the bottom so that a relative few can live in 4,000 square foot houses.

2) I am in favor of legal immigration. It has always been the nation’s life-blood. We should welcome the stranger. For those who are already here illegally, I think that we need to do something to normalize their status. For those who have not arrived yet, but are sure to do so, I honestly don’t know what can be done. I bear no animosity towards anyone for their race, color, ethnicity, or national origin, although I am not above joking or wisecracking about them, just as I would regarding people of my own ethnicity. We all need to be able to laugh at ourselves.

For years I have been railing on and on to anyone who would listen about outsourcing and offshoring. I live less than 20 miles from where I work, and I work with foreigners all day, onshore and offshore. Very nice fellows for the most part. Skilled and hard-working. I see and interact more with foreigners every day than I do with my own friends and neighbors.

Not one of them is the slightest bit interested in being an American.

The company I work for is sending work overseas as fast as it possibly can, and the scope of work that is being done offshore is climbing higher and higher up the skill chain. The company eyes my position like a hungry hawk, waiting for the day that I have finally dug my own grave deep enough so that they can throw me into it and replace me with someone offhsore…. While there’s a war on. I’ve seen guys in their 40’s and 50’s pushed out this way, and I’ve seen them fall into a sort of abyss. It is a constant challenge to stay educated, keep moving and find ways to “add value”. Most of this lament falls on deaf ears. If you go on about this, you’re considered a baby. A protectionist. A socialist. An “economic girlie-man”. I hear:

“That’s just the free market. It works better for everyone in the long term”.

“Stop your whining… You work for a Fortune 500 company, live in a nice suburb, and own two SUV’s. What’s going to happen to you? Nothing.”.

And so on… I’ve largely come to terms with it over the last few years. I know that I probably couldn’t survive a learned economic debate over it. I suppose it just doesn’t resonate with people until it comes to the day that it threatens their own jobs. I admit that I never really cared when it affected auto and textile workers.

What I am describing happens at the corporate level with the closest cooperation with the government. It enjoys this administration’s heartiest encouragement. The Democrats are hardly any different. As far as I’m concerned, illegal immigration is the same syndrome, also coming from that level, but coming up as a groundswell from the bottom as well.

There is only one reason why most illegal immigrants are here. It is because people want to hire them. If you want to “blame” anyone, don’t blame the illegal immigrant. He's just trying to make a living. If there is anyone to blame at all, the blame lies on the rest of us.

This country has an insatiable, voracious appetite for cheap, disposable labor (it has in the past, and would in the future, try to get way with free labor if it could). Conversely, it has no tolerance for inflation. From the boardrooms of the biggest corporations, to the smallest of businesses, to the kitchens of the suburban wife, it is the same need.

Of all the folks who call talk-radio screaming about illegal immigration, I wonder how many of them:

- Eat meat and chicken processed by Tyson, where the slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants are staffed by illegal Mexican immigrants.

- Eat fruit picked by illegal Guatemalan immigrants.

- Hire "Mike’s Landscaping service", with the crews made of illegals from El Salvador.

- Hire "Pat’s Painting", with painters here illegally from Panama.

- Hire "Bob’s Construction", with plasterers here illegally from Ireland.

- Hire undocumented nannies from Sweden or the Dominican Republic.

- Hire undocumented cleaning ladies from Brazil.

Globalization cheerleaders like Tom Friedman are always telling us now that the world is flat, and that we need to be ready to compete globally in this new economy. It makes you wonder in the long run what the benefits of citizenship will be. If the corporations aren't watching our backs, and the government isn't watching our backs, is anyone? National borders are taking on less significance and are gradually disappearing. Well, if the laws are being changed so that capital and corporations can easily flow across national borders, why are we surprised when workers take it upon their initiative to do the same thing?

Yes, we have lost control over our own borders, which is a very dangerous thing in a time of war, but under the prevailing philosophy in which we run our economy, it was entirely predictable and inevitable. What did people expect?

Next, how I became a member of the "overclass".

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The man who revitalizes parishes

Every once in a while we attend Mass at St Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine in Boston, which is run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. It isn’t our home parish, but we have a family connection to the order through my wife’s cousin. They present the liturgy reverently and beautifully. Last week, on the dotCommoneal blog, there was a reference to Rev. Peter Grover OMV in an entry called “The Vineyard of Parish Life". Fr. Grover usually celebrates the Sunday evening Mass at St. Clement’s. The blog makes reference to an article called "Unleashing the Laity" in Godspy. (never mind the comments of the naysayers at the bottom).

I’ve seen Fr. Grover many times myself, and have been impressed enough to include links to his homilies and reflections on this blog. Whatever this guy has, they ought to bottle it. St Clement’s is right across the street from the Berklee College of Music, which attracts students who tend to be on the avant-garde side. It is quite a sight to walk into a Sunday evening Mass at St. Clement’s and to see the Church completely full of young people, colorful haircuts and all. They attend from Berklee, Northeastern, Emerson, BU, and other schools in the area in big numbers. After Mass, Fr.Grover always has a huge line of people standing in line to speak with him.

When you merely listen to Fr. Grover’s homilies, it is hard to get the full effect. You really need to see them. Slightly stooped with mussed bed-head hair, his homilies build to a sort of crescendo, he gets more and more emotional, and just when you think he is about to lose it, he brings it back down again. The thing is, it isn’t a gimmick. It isn’t theatrics. He’s as self-effacing as they come and he is the real deal, and the students know it. They can feel his passion and authenticity. Some quotes about why he has been successful and what he believes is required:

You've got to give people environments where they can talk about their faith," Fr. Peter says. "Normally, the priest does all the talking. He gets all the fun because he gets to talk about the faith, which is the greatest thing. But a lay person, he never gets to talk about the faith. You go to work, you can't talk about the faith—there you talk about the football game, politics. Maybe you go home and your wife and kids aren't interested. Where can you talk about the faith? It's the best thing in your life and you can't talk about it to anybody."

We talked about why so many pastors seem afraid of entrusting teaching responsibilities—particularly adult catechesis and ongoing spiritual formation—to lay leadership. Fr. Peter didn't want to generalize, but he attributed the problem to a lingering clericalism—"Don't talk about the faith," he said, spoofing these attitudes, "just shut up and listen, and I'll tell you what the faith is."

Then he introduced a truly radical and hopeful notion: he thinks that the religious vocation crisis in the Western European Church today is being used by the Holy Spirit to correct the clericalism of the past. The clergy and the laity must now join in a true evangelistic partnership in which the clergy and religious focus on feeding the people and the people bring the world to Christ. "God's running the Church, hang in there," he told me, gently chiding my pessimism. "God's doing a good job, He's directing the Church to where it's going."

Jim Brown, the greatest lacrosse player of all time

A lot of people are aware that Jim Brown was a stellar fullback for the Cleveland Browns who racked up 12,312 career rushing yards between the years 1957 and 1965. He was an anomaly in his time, standing head-and-shoulders far above his peers in terms of power and speed. Defensive players from that era have pointed out time and again that when you tackled Jim Brown, he hurt you a lot more than you hurt him.

What a lot of people may not know is that in his time at Syracuse University, in addition to being a football standout, he was also an All-American lacrosse star… In fact, he is widely regarded as the greatest lacrosse player of all time.

My friend and co-worker Harvey suggests to me that it was a shame that the guys on the Duke lacrosse team never encountered Jim Brown on their schedule. You know, it’s a hard point to to argue with, so this one’s for you Harvey.