Thoughts on Turning 61

Earlier this week I celebrated by 61st birthday. I confess I keep hearing about people who hit the birthday that makes them feel old and launches a midlife crisis (to say nothing of hair plugs and convertible sports cars) but I’ve never experienced that.

And yet for some reason this birthday has caused me to reflect on what it means to be living in my 7th decade and it’s been an interesting exercise. Let me share a few observations:

  • I’m far beyond a midlife crisis. If my life is only halfway over I’ll live to be 122 and I don’t want that. I enjoy life as much as the next guy but if God wants to call me home when I’m 70 or 80 I’m down with that. I’ll miss everyone and I hope I have enough time to make sure I don’t leave any complications for my loved ones. I’m also aware that the older I get, the more people I will miss.
  • My body is definitely on the decline. When I was 15 I participated in a 25 mile walkathon to raise money for charity and I did it without any preparation. The next year I roller skated for 12 hours (11PM to 11AM) and when I was 23 I rode 100 miles in one day on my bicycle (it’s called a “century”). For many years I contented myself with the belief that if I spent time training I could do any of these things again. I now know those days are gone forever. No matter how long or hard I train I won’t be able to replicate these events. And that’s OK. Those are good memories and I have no desire to do them again. I’m happy with my ability to walk the hills at the San Diego Zoo and enjoy what I experience.
  • Even as a teenager peer pressure wasn’t much of a problem for me (and spared me the horror of wearing a leisure suit) but it’s less so now. I’ve learned that doing something stupid for a short term gain ends up costing much more in the long run. I don’t remember standing up for a principle or another person and regretting it. And I do regret all those times I didn’t.
  • I no longer feel a need to have an opinion on everything. We live in a society of pollsters and customer service surveys that seek our opinion on everything from Presidential approval to flavors of dental floss. I’m certainly not without opinions but a few years ago I realized that it was OK to not have an opinion on everything. At the time I saw a news report on chocolate milk being served in school lunches. Some thought this would lead to an increase in milk consumption and that was good. Others felt children shouldn’t be given chocolate at school. Me? I have no opinion.
  • Related to this, I’m fine with people disagreeing with me. After an animated discussion I told a friend this: “I know how you feel and you know how I feel. You won’t change my mind and I have no desire to change yours so let’s stop talking about it.” I think he’s still baffled by this but I’m fine with that too. I guess I find less power in my opinion than I used to.
  • I don’t have to do something because someone tells me so. I don’t have to see the new movie that changed your life and I don’t have to taste your recipe for liver because “you’ll like my liver.” If it changes your life for the better, good for you. But leave me out of it.
  • On a related note, if I don’t share you anxiety or panic over something you’re going to need to live with that. And while I’m aware that we need to do more to reverse climate change and rising extremism I don’t think the world is going to end. When my parents were children they feared Hitler and Mussolini; my childhood lived under the shadow of the Soviet Union’s nuclear capability. These threats were valid, but in the end good won over evil and I’m convinced we will do so again.

I recognize that some of these things come back to bite me, but that concern ran too much of my life when I was younger. My future has always been finite and every day “the rest of my life” gets one day shorter.

As a friend of mine says: “Don’t piss of an old person. The threat of a life sentence doesn’t mean as much as it used to.

Thoughts on President Biden’s First 100 Days

Ever since the beginning of President Franklin Roosevelt’s first term in 1933 we’ve graded Presidents on their first 100 days. A few days ago President Biden hit that mark.

On one level 100 days is an arbitrary mark. But on another level it’s a little like his “first report card” and we can see how he’s doing. And he’s doing well. His approval rating among Americans is 57% and he gets props for that.

But more to the point it’s been 100 days since we’ve had to endure President Trump. It’s been nice.

Economic growth so far in 2021 is 6.4% and generally most of us feel the economy is going in the right direction.

Additionally most of us believe he is doing a good job in fighting COVID-19. And in fairness, President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed helped accelerate the development of the vaccines. Nevertheless it appears our worst days are behind us.

But I’m most pleased that I no longer hold my breath when I open the newspaper. I don’t have to wonder what the President is going to lie about in a tweet. I don’t have to read how (once again) the President is fawning the approval of President Putin while alienating our allies. I don’t have to endure another story about how he is diverting funds from the mmilitary.

Simply put it’s nice to have a President who tells the truth, who cares for all of us (not just himself) and guides our future in a good direction.

Thanks President Biden.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 38: What Makes Someone an American?

Many years ago my cousin married a man in the Air Force and for much of his career they moved from base to base. Their son was born while the family lived in Tripoli, Libya (Northern Africa). When he was about 10 the family lived in Southern Virginia and his classmates asked him where he was from. But when he told them he was born in Africa they refused to believe him. “You can’t be from Africa. You’re not Black.” Full disclosure: they didn’t use the word “Black” but you get the point.

In 2006 Virginia Republican Senator George Allen ran for reelection. As is the custom, Mr. Allen’s opponent hired a young man to follow his campaign and report back. The man, S.R. Sidarth, was born and raised in Virginia but was dark skinned as his parents immigrated from India. When Mr. Allen learned of Mr. Sidarth at a rally he said this to the crowd: “This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent… Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.”

Both groups assumed that your skin color was determined by where you were born and that you have to be white to be a “real” American when biology tells us that skin color is determined by our DNA. And our Constitution tells us that a person is an American (citizen) by either being born here or by becoming naturalized.

I’m writing this now because of recent violent incidents against the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) communities over the false belief that COVID 19 is their fault. They are often told to “go back to where you belong.” Because of the shape of their eyes they are perceived to not belong.

But immigrants from China have been coming since the 1850s and their story is nearly identical to the European immigrants around the same time. They worked hard at jobs that others wouldn’t take, they raised their families, and wanted nothing more than a better life.

The next Asian person you meet may well be a 4th or 5th generation American. And even if he’s not, COVID 19 didn’t come because he was Asian, but because the virus found a host. The virus spread because of Americans who refused to take precautions (mask, distance, etc.). It may be easier and more fashionable to blame Asians, but the only way out of this pandemic is to stop the spread of the virus, not find someone to blame.

By the way, I “look like” an American but two of my four grandparents were born in Canada.

The Money Chronicles, Volume 20: Why Is Helping The Economy (And Americans) A Liberal Agenda?

Today we learned that President Biden’s COVID-19 plan passed both houses of Congress and he will sign the bill into law in the next day or so.

By any measure it’s been a hard year. In late 2019 we learned about a virus that began in China and soon made its way around the globe. This time last year the its spread and lethality alarmed us enough to shut down large parts of the economy. Restaurants and gyms shut down, schools largely switched to distance learning, and many retail stores began to offer only services only by delivery.

As expected many people, largely those at the bottom of the economy, lost their jobs. Those who could work from home did this, but they were primarily those in the middle to top of the economy.

In fairness, the previous (Republican) President signed legislation to provide direct assistance and increased unemployment benefits but they were temporary. Now that our President is a Democrat, the Republican party has suddenly decided to care about the amount of money the government is spending.

They argue that the bill provides assistance that goes beyond help for COVID-19. They claim that this bill provides a “wish list of the liberal agenda”.

Speaking as a Democrat, I plead guilty. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just caused the death of 500,000 Americans, it has also devastated our economy.

If this bill provides us with the ability to inoculate us against the virus, I’m on board. And if it also allows business to stay in business, if it allows the unemployed to continue to provide food and housing to themselves and their families, I’m also on board with that.

If you disagree with me and if you claim to be Christian, please give me your argument in light of Matthew, chapter 5.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 154: Hopefully This Will Be My Last Trump Chronicles Post

I write this a little over six weeks after Donald Trump left the White House. He left without acknowledging his defeat to President Joseph Biden or attending President Biden’s inauguration. Trump is determined to spend the rest of his life claiming he won the election and was cheated out of a 2nd term.

This past weekend he spoke at a conference for conservative Republicans (CPAC) and hinted that he would attempt to regain the White House in 2024.

I began the Trump Chronicles shortly after he won in 2016. His election horrified most of us and I determined to write a blog that called him to account. In those four years I wrote 153 blog posts that called out his his lies, his prejudices, and his determination to profit on the backs of all of us.

Simply put, I’m tired of writing about him. I don’t know his future but I pray that he will pay for his crimes against the American people. If his behavior places him in prison I will not rejoice but will instead feel relieved. I doubt I’ll write about him again.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 153: What If This Happened in 2017?

I’m writing this in the midst of the Senate trial to decide the future of President Trump after his second impeachment.

Those of us who support his removal claim that he broke his Presidential oath of office where he promised this: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” On January 6, 2021 we believe he betrayed his oath when he called on his supporters to storm the Capitol and prevent the Senate from accepting the American peoples’ decision to elect Joe Biden.

Trump’s defenders claim that he is not guilty, that he didn’t incite his followers, and he didn’t call for the overthrow of the 2020 election.

Now imagine if this had happened four years earlier. In November of 2016 President Obama was prepared to leave office after two terms. He (as well as many of us) believed that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump and were horrified to learn that while Hillary won the popular vote, Trump won the electoral vote and would be our next President.

So what if President Obama, in his last few weeks in office, claimed the election was stolen and called on his supporters to storm the Capitol on January 7, 2017 to prevent the Senate from certifying the 2016 election. It doesn’t matter if his intent was to remain in office or mandate that Hillary be installed as President.

Can we imagine that Republicans in Congress would have allowed this to happen without consequences? Assuming that President Obama’s attempt to overthrow the 2016 election failed (as did Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election), does anyone seriously believe that President Obama would have been given a pass because he was no longer in office?

Of course not. The Republican Party does not believe in fairness or justice. They believe that whatever they do is permissible because they are always right and fairness doesn’t matter.

They’re wrong. Rev. Martin Luther King once said that “The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Toward Justice.” History will not be kind to Trump, but history will also not be kind to his supporters.

History will recognize that Trump’s supporters in the Senate cared little for justice or fairness and cared only for their desire for job security. They will be remembered as cowards.

I pray their cowardice will, ironically, cost them their jobs.

The Four Chaplains: May We Never Forget Their Courage

I don’t remember when I first heard this story, but something incredibly brave happened on 3 February 1943. During World War II the SS Dorchester, a civilian ship pressed into service to transport American troops to Greenland, was torpedoed by a German submarine. As the ship began to sink it became clear that there were not enough life jackets for all the troops on board.

Among those on board were four chaplains: Rev. George Fox (1900-1943), Rabbi Alexander Goode (1911-1943), Rev. Clark Poling (1910-1943), and Fr. John Washington (1908-1943).

When they recognized that there were not enough life jackets they gave up their own and stayed on the sinking ship. Those who were saved because of their life jackets remember seeing these four chaplains linking arms and praying as the bow of the ship sank.

I spent twenty two years as a hospice chaplain and the title “chaplain” means a great deal to me. When I see a chaplain acting with courage I feel pride and when I see a chaplain acting cowardly I feel anger. When I think of these men I feel great love and admiration.

They did us proud and we need to know that.

Not Yosemite, But Still A Wonderful Few Days

It’s been a tradition that Nancy and I travel to Yosemite National Park in late January. Over twenty years ago we learned about Chef’s Holidays where gourmet chefs from around the country gather to provide cooking demonstrations and meals. We spend several days hiking, eating, and drinking a disproportionate share of the the world’s resources. We pray our gratitude balances enough karma for us.

But it’s no surprise that COVID-19 has once again made our plans moot. Chef’s Holidays were cancelled as were the accommodations in Yosemite Valley. By early fall we recognized that Yosemite 2021 wasn’t going to happen. In our search for an alternative we stumbled on the fact that Nancy’s cousin Annie and her family own a cabin in Lake Arrowhead. When we approached them they couldn’t have been more gracious and generous and we were able to spend a few days enjoying their hospitality.

If you’ve never been to Lake Arrowhead, which is North and East of Los Angeles, you need to check this off your bucket list. It’s beautiful, and in January it’s a nice winter break from Southern California. At 5000 feet elevation it does get snow from time to time.

We didn’t have snow but the hiking was spectacular and a fully functional kitchen allowed us to enjoy S’Mores.

We hope to return to Yosemite in 2012 but will always hold Lake Arrowhead (and our hosts) dear in our hearts.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 152: Your Report Card Comes Due

Four years ago I placed a marker for President Trump. I recorded several indications of how our nation was doing and suggested that we could compare how we did in the last four years.

Interestingly, President Trump did well in several of them. Looking at the stock market we’ve seen increases in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (19,732 to 30,930), the NASDAQ (5540 to 13,197), and Standard and Poors (2263 to 3748). Despite the volatility of employment over the last year, the unemployment average rose from 4.7% to 6.7%. And the number of Americans employed rose from 123,570,000 to 158,130,000.

On the other hand his approval rating has dropped from 38% to 34% (it never hit 50%). The federal deficit rose from $590 billion to $3.3 trillion while the federal debt rose from $20 trillion to $27 trillion. The percentage of Americans was 11% and I was not able to find the current percentage.

The failure of the Trump Administration was, in the end, not economic. Here are my thoughts on why his administration failed:

  • He wasn’t able to keep several of his promises: His 2016 campaign centered on building a wall on the Mexican border (and have Mexico pay for it). While there has been some building, the wall he promised never happened and Mexico didn’t pay a penny (or peso). He promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something cheaper and better. He was unable to repeal it and never developed a better plan. He promised coal miners that he would “bring back coal” and that never happened. He promised to “win” a trade war with China that did nothing more than impoverish farmers who suffered from China’s retaliation to Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods.
  • Many Americans grew weary of his lies: He lied about things that were obvious. He claimed that more people attended his inauguration than did President Obama’s in 2012. He claimed that he would have won the popular vote in 2016 were it not for illegal votes. Whenever asked about white supremacists or organizations who supported him he claimed to know nothing about them (e.g. David Dukes or the Proud Boys). Lying is always dicey but having to explain to your children that it’s not OK to lie when the President does makes for difficult conversations
  • Democratic voters were too complacent in 2016 and vowed not to make that mistake again: Many of us never expected that our nation would elect Donald Trump. We scorned him during the Republican primary and expressed surprise that he won the nomination and we never expected he would beat Hilary Clinton. Enough Democrats didn’t bother to vote, falsely thinking their votes weren’t needed. Chastened by that experience they made certain it wouldn’t happen again
  • COVID-19: This probably made the most difference. President Trump made a point of ignoring the wisdom of his predecessors and that included a playbook for a possible viral infection. The Obama administration successfully battled Ebola in 2014 and learned a great deal about global pandemics. Their hope to pass their wisdom to treat the next pandemic fell on deaf ears and when COVID-19 showed up on our shores the Trump administration had no plan. He attempted to blame the Chinese (hoping this would solve it), insisted that it won’t last long, and argued that wearing face masks were not necessary. Meanwhile thousands of Americans fell ill, died, or grieved loved ones who died. President Trump’s decision to ignore COVID convinced many Americans that he was no longer trustworthy to lead our nation.

Since his defeat in November he has shown himself to be far from a gracious loser. Two weeks ago we saw him ignite an assault on the US Capitol.

We can only hope that Americans from future generations learn the lessons of history and never again elect someone who has such disregard for our nation.

COVID and the 1918 Flu: Lest we forget

Several years ago I discovered Findagrave. It came out of my interest in genealogy. Volunteers like myself tramp through cemeteries and set up memorials from the headstones to honor those who have gone before us. Sometimes we know them, oftentimes we don’t. But we don’t want their memories to disappear.

Today I came across a few headstones for the Chiappe and Carniglia families at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery here in San Diego. I’m not entirely certain how, but these two families are related to each other. What caught my were four memorials:

They ranged in age from 5 to 57 and all four died in the span of 10 days. Given their age and the proximity of their dates of death I think we can safely assume they all died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Over a century later we find ourselves in the face of another pandemic. But we also find ourselves surrounded by people who believe it’s all a hoax and we don’t need to socially distance or wear a mask.

Don’t listen to them. Instead listen to the voices of those who died within 10 days of each other in 1918.