Thursday, November 29, 2018

Taking The Time To Think

Do we understand our world better now or in times past? When someone at a family gathering suggested that we’re less ignorant today than we were a hundred fifty years ago, I disagreed. He contended that we can know of events on the other side of the world in almost real time, that we can see video of things as they happen twelve thousand miles away. That much I had to concede, but I proposed that we are overloaded with information today and most of us don’t take time to process it.

In mid-nineteenth-century America, people learned what was happening in the world from newspapers, books, and by word of mouth. As now, information was as reliable as the people writing or speaking. What was different back then was that people had time to think about an event, to look at it from many angles before other stories replaced it in the collective mind. They could get opinion and analysis from newspapers and books but were also more likely to discuss things face-to-face with people they knew and trusted.

Moving to Lovell, Maine from suburban Massachusetts forty-one years ago, it took me a while before I could understand what was so different about the people I was getting to know here. It was older locals who interested me most because they grew up without electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, central heat, refrigerators, and so forth. Life was slower, allowing time for deeper reflection. Their children and grandchildren, however, didn’t know a time without electric lights, hot water heaters, radios, televisions, and automobiles. It took them three hours to drive to Boston, but it took their grandparents three days — if they had a car that would make it.

Older locals enjoyed conversation much more and took the time to engage in it. They were well-informed about issues of the day and their take on things usually insightful. Most were Republicans of the old Yankee sort, but not all. I occupied the other end of the political spectrum back then but they were accepting of that and patient with me. Always civil, they listened to my opinions and asked penetrating questions. We lived in Lovell Village at the time, across the street from Fusco’s Store, now called Rosies. I’d walk over for a gallon of milk and it wasn’t unusual for my wife to call over for me because I’d linger too long discussing things at the lunch counter.
The lunch counter hasn't changed
Though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, I now realize those older locals I found so interesting were anachronisms whose formative years were spent in what was essentially a 19th-century milieu. Roads weren’t plowed until the late 1920s; they were rolled to accommodate sleighs. Electricity didn’t come to parts of town until the mid-1930s. They spoke with the characteristic Maine accent made famous by Marshall Dodge and Tim Sample and still quite common in the 1970s, but has nearly disappeared from my part of western Maine now. I remember when Tim Sample came to Molly Ockett Middle School ten years ago and did his thing, but it fell flat. Students were unfamiliar with that old regional Maine dialect because they had learned homogenized American English through radio and television.

Their grandparents and great-grandparents — the old-timers with whom I liked talking — are gone now. Their dialect may last another generation in scattered pockets of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont but will eventually die out. I seldom hear it anymore walking by the lunch counter at Rosie’s on my way to get a gallon of milk out of the cooler. Forty years ago Dana Bean worked there when it was called Fusco’s Store. He would tell me about the “loafers’ quarters” at the other store just down the street (burned down now) and also known by various names as it changed hands over the years. One of those names was “True, Walker, and Heald” according to an old calendar hanging in the outhouse of my former home in Lovell Village. The “loafers’ quarters” was a gathering place for men who discussed everything — a lot of it gossip, Dana said, but news from around the country and the world was also hashed out.

The other store with "loafers' quarters"
People wrote more letters and those, too, are becoming rare. When is the last time you got a hand-written letter in the mail? Writing requires more thought than talking because written words last longer than the momentary vibrations of air molecules of which spoken words are comprised. People wrote sentences with subjects, predicates, direct objects, and punctuation, then formed those into paragraphs in a process we now call snail-mail. Email has largely replaced that and is, in turn, being supplanted by texts employing a cryptic shorthand.
Lovell Village Schoolhouse around 1900
With smartphones, we can learn about almost anything, but that’s not how people tend to use them. As cryptic, fragmented tweets and texts dominate communication, our thoughts become just as splintered and shallow. And so, it seems, does our understanding of the world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Getting Harder To Be Catholic

When secular American culture unraveled after the 1960s, I took comfort that the Catholic Church seemed to anchor traditional morality. Now, however, I’m cheering the secular authorities investigating corruption in the Catholic Church because the Lavender Mafia controlling both the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) continues to bury it. Attorneys general in more than a dozen states have begun investigations into cover-ups of sexual predation and coverup by Catholic bishops similar to the one reported out by the  Pennsylvania AG last summer. In just the past month, two federal investigations began and two lawsuits were filed in federal court as well.

Under this cloud, the USCCB met in Baltimore last week. Its president, Cardinal Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Houston, Texas wanted that body to vote on a measure that would do two things: form a lay Catholic commission to investigate the Cardinal McCarrick scandal, and petition the Vatican to release documents on McCarrick's case. DiNardo knows how angry ordinary Catholics are that the pope and the Vatican hierarchy continue to cover for homosexual predators in their midst and that US bishops have either cooperated in this or remained silent. He knows grassroots Catholics want action now.

Cardinal DiNardo
But it was not to be. Pope Francis pulled the rug out from under DiNardo as the conference began when he brazenly ordered that no vote be taken! The pope’s toadies in the USCCB like Cardinal Cupich of Chicago and others cheered this move and suggested the USCCB vote should be taken next spring instead — after still another “conference” with the pope in Rome. They want to kick the can of corruption down the road yet again.

Written under Henry Sire's pen name

Humiliated by this action from The Dictator Pope (the title of Henry Sire’s devastating book on Pope Francis I just finished reading), Cardinal DiNardo moderated a debate over an obsequious motion that would only suggest the pope do these things. Unbelievably, even that vote failed 137-83. That means there are still 137 American bishops who think they can just drift along as they always have and ordinary Catholics in the pews will sit back and let them.

They’re wrong. Millions left the church after the 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight Series exposed widespread corruption. Many who remained have been further sickened by the revelations this past summer that hierarchical corruption was only covered up yet again. Worse, Archbishop Vigano, the former papal ambassador to the United States, has testified that the corruption extends to the Chair of Peter itself and calls on Pope Francis to resign! Vigano also accused US Cardinals Cupich and Wuerl of lying about it all. Another resolution in support of Vigano’s testimony was debated at last week’s USCCB Conference. Although it too failed, at least 43 bishops voted in favor.

Does that mean nearly a quarter of US Bishops believe Pope Francis should resign? Do they also believe many of their fellow bishops and cardinals are lying? It appears that way. What does this say about the spiritual condition of the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world? Locally, Maine’s Bishop Robert Deeley and Manchester, New Hampshire’s Bishop Peter Libaski were among the 83 voting for an investigation, but sadly, neither voted in support of the Vigano testimony.

Foreign Affairs Magazine calls this is the worst crisis in Catholic Church since Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” in 1517 and precipitated the Protestant Reformation. Others claim it’s the worst since 1054 AD when the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches split.

Whether it’s the worst in five centuries or the worst in a millennium, it’s getting harder to be a traditional Roman Catholic these days. I understand those who have been steadily leaving since 2002, but I choose to stay and fight. However, if last week’s USCCB meeting was a battle, traditionalists like me appear to be losing. Polarization in the Catholic Church is widening and there are many suggestions about how to participate in the struggle for its soul.

According to Market Watch, some of us protest with our wallets. We don’t put money in the collection box or have severely cut back on what we used to contribute. When attending mass in nearby New Hampshire, I’d be sickened seeing a photo of former Manchester Bishop John McCormack on the wall of the narthex and I wasn’t about to put anything over $5 in the collection box if he was going to get any of it. I know I was not alone.

My wife and I attend mass at several different parishes depending on where we are on any given Sunday. Given the performance at last week’s bishops’ conference in Baltimore, I’m not inclined to raise my contribution anywhere in New England. Instead of money, some Catholics have begun putting a signed note in the box protesting both the pope and the USCCB. Maybe that will shake things up enough for real reform. Nothing else has worked.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Left & Right November 7, 2018

Libertarian Tony Zore, radio personality at WMWV sits in the left chair, though I could hardly call him a leftie. He may not be as conservative as I am but is still right of center and a thoughtful and insightful commentator as you'll see.

The producer asks our opinions about Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker compared and contrasted with Paul Ryan in the job. Tony is more forgiving of both than I am.

We try to envision what Democrats will do with majority power in the House. Contentious, warlike is the likelihood.

I contend we should leave Afghanistan and Tony agrees and we both explain why.

Tony elaborates on the passage of Questions 1 & 2 on the New Hampshire ballot -- both of them amendments to the NH Constitution. Question 1 makes it easier for NH citizens to sue government if they believe a law violates their rights. Question 2 protects against intrusion by government into private papers and would seem to include electronic social media as well. Libertarians like this amendment.

I lament the hyped, up-to-the-minute election coverage by virtually every media outlet. I can wait for morning to hear results. They won't change.

Polls accurately predicted election results this cycle but were way off in 2016. Tony claims RealClearPolitics averages were accurate both cycles.

We analyze other NH and Maine election results, state and local. I describe Maine results and Tony summarizes NH results.

I criticize Maine's experiment with "ranked choice" voting, that it's confusing and causes delays. Tony sings praises of ranked choice because it helps third parties like Libertarians.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Going To The County Jail

After the last remote-control lock on the last steel door opens with a loud, metallic clang, I walk into B-1, the two-tiered, oval-shaped “pod”  at the Cumberland Country Jail in which I’ve been running a weekly Bible study for two-and-a-half years. The eighty-five inmates there are dressed in orange or blue. Some are in their teens. Some look to be in their sixties or seventies, but it’s hard to guess ages of men who live hard lives. Smoking, drinking, fighting, poor nutrition, repeated physical and/or emotional traumas age them prematurely.

All the pods look like this
Some stand in pairs talking. Some are stripped to the waist doing chin-ups on cross bars. Some are seated at steel tables bolted to the concrete floor and playing cards. Some are just standing around looking scary with neck and face tattoos around primal, calculating eyes. One, sometimes two correctional officers (COs in jail parlance) are on duty. He or she sits at a desk in the middle of the oval with electronic controls to all cells and rooms on both tiers. I wait a minute for the CO to recognize me and remotely unlock the door to my classroom on the lower tier.

Inmates are screened upon arrival at the jail before being assigned to various pods depending on whether they’re detoxing, suicidal, aggressive, or determined to be cooperative at some level. Inmates in B-1 have usually been sentenced to less than a year, but some are awaiting trial with potentially long prison sentences if found guilty. After further evaluation on the pod, some are chosen to work, usually in the kitchen where they earn “good time” — which is time off their sentences. Those inmates are called trustees and given blue jumpsuits, but they can “lose the blues” for bad behavior and be transferred to another pod.

Sometimes the CO announces that a Bible study is beginning, sometimes not. Inmates trickle into the classroom — maybe five, maybe fifteen or twenty which is all that can fit in the small room with a table and attached stools bolted to the middle of the floor. They bring in their own brown, plastic chairs and set them up around the edges. I might see two, three, or more familiar faces from previous weeks, or it might be an entirely new group. 

Normally I’ll begin with a prepared lesson, but if it’s a new group I’ll repeat an introductory lesson. I tell them I’m a retired history teacher and not a Bible scholar. Some are familiar with the Bible while others know only that it’s some kind of holy book. I tell them it’s the revealed word of God for Christians divided into two parts. The Old Testament begins with creation and joins the historical record with the life of Abraham around 2000 BC. From there it proceeds to the birth of Jesus Christ 2018 years ago. The New Testament covers the life of Christ and the first generation of his disciples up to 80-100 AD.

Then I describe beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims citing commonalities and differences, and offer a timeline for all three using a whiteboard. I’ll end by defining a Christian as someone who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God who assumed human flesh and lived with us on earth for thirty-three years, was crucified by Romans, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven promising to return someday. I entertain all questions during that lesson.

I’m always prepared with something to begin a class, but it may go anywhere depending on where they inmates want to take it — which I allow as long as it’s centered on something in the Bible or how it’s interpreted (or misinterpreted) here in the 21st century. It goes best when my role is limited to guiding a discussion. I never ask what anyone did but it often emerges. Many have done serious time. Some have been incarcerated for almost their entire adult lives and are awaiting sentencing for still another stretch.

Sometimes Muslims come in. They’re welcome to listen, ask questions, point out similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam, but not to proselytize. They’re free to hold a Koran study at some other time if they wish.

Over two-and-a-half years, I’ve listened as the toughest men reveal a soft side. When they do, others are more likely to as well. Some complete their sentences are released, then re-arrested. A few have shown up for the third time — usually addicts who relapse. Nearly all who come into the classroom are addicts of one kind or other. Some will say they needed another sentence to get clean and reoriented before trying again on the outside.

At 4:30, the CO appears outside the classroom door pointing at his watch. We all stand, shake hands, and stack up chairs before I head back to the lobby through a labyrinth of corridors separated by a succession of steel doors, each of which is remotely unlocked by another CO who is watching me through CCTV cameras.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Left & Right October 24, 2018

We start by defining and discussion nationalism. I liken it to patriotism and opposite to globalism. Gino says it's associated with KKK and Nazi sympathies. I bring up the caravan and accuse Democrats of peddling open borders under the guise of abolishing ICE. I claim Democrats and some Republicans want to maintain the law requiring border guards to allow those seeking refugee status into the country where they disappear and never show up for a hearing. Gino doesn't think the caravan is supported by Democrats. He thinks Trump and Pence started it. I ask Gino how many illegals from elsewhere in the world should be allowed in. He doesn't answer. He speaks of a labor shortage that would favor allowing illegals in. I claim doing so depresses wages for working-class Americans. We analyze House and Senate races around the country, pretty much according to the way RealClearPolitics does. I claim there are no moderate Democrats in the Senate, that they all vote the party line. Gino claims many go against Chuck Schumer​ but cannot name any. I name several Republican senators who have voted against Trump and McConnell.