Saturday, March 30, 2013

Weighing In On The New Pope

It's no exaggeration to say we need a leader who can lift our  spirits.

I've got to admit that I really like what I've seen of the new pope. The man appears to be genuinely humble. That's important, especially in an era where the Church has an image of imperious hypocrisy. Here's a man who actually bent down and washed the feet of Italian prisoners the other day and who rode the bus to work when he was a high ranking Churchman  in Argentina.  I've been an observant Catholic my whole life and I've never seen anything like it.

Of course, I'm probably not going to agree with Pope Francis on all matters. Chances are, if you're a Catholic, you won't either. Thing is, we don't have to agree with him on all things (those who tell you everything the pope says is infallible either don't know what they're talking about or are lying to you). All we Catholics are supposed to do is recognize the pope as the leader of the Church on earth. That and see him as an example of how to lead a Christian life. So far, he's making it quite easy for us to.

The Church has legitimate problems, of course. Horrible scandals have been followed by horrible cover ups. Let's face it, people got away with some terrible stuff. And although we Catholics believe everyone faces an ultimate judgement, we like it when justice is served here on earth, too. Yet I've seen zero evidence that Pope Francis has had anything to do with anything unsavory over the years.The fact the man has a reputation as a reformer gives me hope, as well.

In the end, I very much doubt the new pope will be widely embraced here in Kim Kardashian's America. We're a secular, nearly anti-Christian nation now. I don't see the man being in line with the philosophy of Bill Maher any time soon. Still, right now all we need is a pope who proves his sincerity. It's okay for a religious leader to be criticized for his take on contemporary issues. When that leader's genuine love of people comes into question, however, a real problem arises.

Here's to a pope who can avoid such criticism.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

When Enough is Enough

Some things require serious reflection.

I'm a lover of history - all kinds of history. Let's just say that when I become fascinated by a particular subject, I become deeply fascinated by it. Not only do I like to know what famous figures accomplished, for instance, I like to know what they had for dinner on particular occasions (you can learn a lot about a person through his or her eating habits).

Lately I've been reading about Chicago's notorious Prohibition Wars of the 1920s. It was a wild time, to put it mildly. During Al Capone's reign as the city's top criminal there were shootings, shootings and more shootings. Gang violence truly was out of control. Don't believe me? Wrap your mind around this: in September of 1928, a procession of ten cars (that's ten cars) slowly drove past the Hawthorne Inn, where Capone was eating, and proceeded to shoot the entire place to pieces. In broad daylight.

Capone's arch rivals, the North Side Gang, wanted him dead, you see. Who cared if over fifty people were inside the restaurant at the time? The competition had to be eliminated. The fact that no one was actually killed as a result of that day's chaos is nothing short of miraculous (people were hurt, however - innocent people).

As insane as things were back then, however, they pale in comparison to the violence wracking Chicago today. Over 500 (think about it - 500) people were gunned down in Chicago last year. Gang violence has literally turned sections of the city into war zones. And, unlike the notorious Hawthorne Inn drive by, innocents are now being killed, some of whom are no more than children.

Yet society seems to accept it. Sure, there's lots of hand wringing, but not much else. People talk about stricter gun laws. Yet Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. People talk about "educating" the criminals. Those who buy this nonsense should think about how Capone himself would have reacted to being "educated." No one seems to understand the fact that bad people will continue doing bad things until society says enough is enough.

After the notorious Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, where Capone's trigger men lined five North Side Gang members up against a garage wall (along with two non-gang members)  and mowed them down, America was finally fed up . Capone was eventually locked away (North Side Gang leader Bugs Moran ultimately found himself behind bars, as well) and, although crime continued in Chicago, a sense of law and order was finally restored.

The question is, when is that sense of law and order going to return to the Chicago of today? When are people finally going to stop shaking their heads at the madness and actually find the will and the way to put an end to it through legal means?

Here's something to think about: the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre occurred in 1929. According to Chicago's ABC NEWS affiliate, WLS, there were 26 murders in Chicago during January of that year. This past January, there were 42.

Oh, and less people live in Chicago now than did in 1929 - a lot less.

We should take note.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

When Smart People Say Completely Idiotic Things

The world's greatest cat always thinks before she speaks.

Recently, CNN host Erin Burnett asked former First Lady Laura Bush if America needs to accept antisemitism in order to have better relations in the middle east. One has to wonder what kind of answer Ms. Burnett was expecting to hear. "Oh of course, Erin. After all, antisemitism has ONLY led to the deaths of six million innocent people in the last century or so.....",

In case you're curious, Ms. Burnett also wondered aloud if we should tolerate anti Americanism, as well. Sure, Erin. Maybe we can let members of Al Qaeda bring loaded guns to the conference table at our next big summit. 

Truth be told, I don't think Ms. Burnett is a bad or prejudiced woman. I don't think she's stupid, either. She simply tried so hard to think in depth that she lost her ability to think critically. Let's face it, we live in a shallow age. Intelligent movies are virtually non-existent and most shows on television don't exactly make for stimulating viewing, either.

Therefore, it's actually refreshing when a public figure digs deep and tries to look at a problem through a variety of different angles. There's simply too much gray in today's world to see everything in black and white. Still, looking at a problem through the wrong angle doesn't make you sharp or nuanced. It simply makes you mistaken.

Being open minded is essential. Being open minded to terrible ideas, however, is idiotic. There really is a line to be drawn in the sand and, if we're not careful, we can somehow convince ourselves to excuse all sorts of terrible behavior. Sure, Ted abuses Tammy and the kids. Where would they be without his income, though?

See how easy it is? 

In the end, we have to be mindful of our need to delve beneath the surface of things. Believe it or not, we really can go too far - even in spite of our best intentions. 

Just ask Erin Burnett. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

One Year Later...

It's true - even this character can be one of the good guys.

I don't want to get into the gory details, but last year at this time, things were not going well for me. My dreams, my aspirations, my career - even my reputation - were on the ropes, being battered senseless by some seriously stone cold people. I wish I were just whining here. Unfortunately, I'm not.

Flash forward to today. Things are much, much better. I'm not exactly living the American dream, but life is promising again. It's a great word, promising. It doesn't mean my life is without struggles. It just means the scales have finally been tipped in my favor.

For the time being.

Truth is, I'm sure more bad things are on the horizon, just like more good things are on the horizon, as well. There's a yo-yo quality to life that none of us can control. We go up. We go down. Before going up again. The fact that there's no real consistency to life doesn't mean there can be no real consistency in life, however.

I'm forty-one now. The more experience I gather, the more I learn how important it is to be one of the good guys. Not a saint, just one of the good guys. The honor really does lie in the struggle, not in the result.

Sounds corny, I know. I myself would have scoffed at such words not so long ago. I now believe those words are true, though. We can be flawed (and, trust me, we're all flawed) but we can at least try to keep our noses clean as we go about our business. So long as we work hard, don't harm others and are honest with ourselves, we can rest assured we've achieved at least some level of success in this world.

Who knows? We may even end up achieving some worldly success, as well.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Silly Green Hats and All

Top of the mornin'!

Some facts about me: I was born in America. I was raised in America, too. Aside from a research trip to France, I've never stepped foot off of US soil. I like it here. I complain a lot, but I like it. It's my firm belief that we Americans are blessed and that this is still the numero uno country in the world - hands down.

Yet I love Saint Patrick's Day. Love it. What's more, I like to spend Saint Patrick's Day walking around in a giant, silly green hat - despite the fact I quit drinking well over a decade ago. My wife finds this all quite embarrassing. Or at least she used to. Ridiculousness has a way of growing on people. 

Which leads me to the point of this piece:

There are those who find the Hallmarkification of Saint Patrick's Day distasteful, or, worse yet, offensive. I find this puzzling. While it's true that no date on the calender should serve as an excuse to slip into a stupor, no one should be offended by people wanting to have a good time for purely innocuous reasons. 

I'm a Catholic who, in this secular (even anti-Christian)  age believes Saint Patrick's conversion of pagan Ireland was an extraordinary and laudable feat.  I'm also well versed in Irish-Americana. My grandmother was once Waterbury, Connecticut's "Irish American Mayor For The Day". She used to tell us stories about her father not being able to get a job because he was Irish. Back in the seventies, my mother gave our two Airedale terriers Irish names. Airedale's are an English breed, after all, and my mother felt the need to somehow protest English oppression of the Emerald Isle. 

So yes, I agree that Saint Patrick is a figure well worth honoring. I  also agree that the history of the Irish people has generally been a dark and sad one. Yet there's nothing wrong with turning Saint Patrick's Day into a fun, lighthearted occasion. No one's diminishing anyone's culture or achievements. People are just having a grand 'ol time. 

Here's another way of looking at it: if it weren't for Saint Patrick's Day, most people wouldn't know who the great saint was. What's more, there wouldn't be a single day of the year where the Irish people were universally celebrated. 

That being said, I'm going to dig out my silly green hat now. After all, the big day's only two entire weeks away.