The Thoughts and Musings of Tom Allain

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it

Stephen Colbert
(b.1964)

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Archive for the ‘Celebrating’ Category

Celebrating Our Ordination

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

On the morning of May 14, 1994 I was ordained a Catholic priest as a member of the Paulist Fathers along with Fr. Paul Reynolds, Fr. Don Andrie, and Fr. Jerry Tully. By the way, if you click on Jerry’s page he talks about his ministry in Tennessee but he’s now assigned to St. Paul the Apostle in Los Angeles.

Alas, a little over three years after my ordination I fell in love and left the Paulist Fathers to get married. But I still celebrate my ordination and still think of myself as a priest. As a hospice chaplain I’ve celebrated the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing when a local priest was not available.

I don’t regret my seminary formation, and Nancy and I continue to support the Paulist Fathers financially. I don’t know how the Paulists view me, but I continue to keep in touch with several of those I met as a Paulist. I hope they celebrate with me.

Vaccines: They Have Your Back (and Your Childrens’ Back Too)

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

National Infant Immunization Week Blog-a-thon with woman holding baby. #ivax2protect

This week we celebrate National Infant Immunization Week, sponsored by the CDC, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I’ve filed this post under both “celebrating” and “ranting” and with good reason. Two hundred and twenty one years ago Edward Jenner (1749-1823) began to explore smallpox, a virus that devastated populations at that time. Thirty percent of those who came down with the disease died of it and many of those who didn’t were scarred for life. Mr. Jenner noticed that those who suffered from a much milder disease, cowpox, appeared to be immune to smallpox. He suggested that if he could give people cowpox (which was virtually never fatal) he could ensure that they would not be in danger of contracting the much more dangerous smallpox.

He was right. And more to the point, he gave birth to the vaccine movement. Today we see vaccines as a treatment, a way to introduce something into our bodies that will protect us from dangerous diseases.

Vaccines stimulate our immune systems to protect us from dangerous diseases. You can find the list of these diseases here.

That’s why I’m celebrating. But I’m also ranting because in 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield published and article in The Lancet that claimed there was a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism.

As you can imagine this created incredible anxiety among parents of infants. Nothing frightens parents more than the idea that they are doing something that will harm their children.

In the immediate aftermath of Wakefield’s article, the percentage of children who received vaccinations plummeted.

But on further observation it became clear that Wakefield lied. Other doctors replicated his experiment and none of them replicated his results. The Lancet withdrew its support as did everyone who partnered with him and in 2010 he lost his license to practice medicine.

I’d like to tell you that Mr. Wakefield’s fraudulent claims had no traction and that parents once again vaccinated their children, but this is simply not true. The combination of Mr. Wakefield’s lies, his influence on American celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, and the general belief in health conspiracies leave us with the reality that thousands of our children are not properly protected from easily avoidable diseases.

Some of these parents mean well and are overwhelmed by bad information from sources who capitalize on their ignorance. Others find misinformation an easy way to punish the other parent in custody disputes.

Regardless, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children place them in needless harm’s way. They claim that vaccines are “poison” that will harm their child when in reality vaccines make their bodies work better. Vaccines have our backs in the sense that they make us stronger.

This week, if you’re the parent of an infant or know someone who is, please encourage them to keep up with their vaccine schedule. When these infants are old enough to talk they will thank you (and so will I). While I didn’t like getting shots as an infant, toddler, or child, I’m grateful to my parents that they protected me.

We live in a time of “alternative facts” and conspiracies, where bloggers and (so called) journalists find an income stream in lying. I don’t begrudge their income stream, but I do wish to call out plan to put children in danger to make a buck.

Don’t believe them. Vaccinate your children.

Happy Birthday To My Prius

Friday, March 17th, 2017

Eleven years ago today I bought a brand new Prius. As I drive for my job it’s important that I get a car with good gas mileage. Today it has a few dings and I had to replace the battery 3 years ago, but with 242,040 miles on it it’s doing well. Happy birthday Prius!

Our Annual Pilgrimage to Yosemite Nation Park

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

Each year since 2000 Nancy and I have driven to Yosemite National Park. Each year nearly 4 million people visit but most people come during the summer; they don’t know what they’re missing.

In addition to Yosemite being magical in the snow, we also attend a wonderful event. It used to be called “Chef’s Hoidays” but because of a trademark dispute the event is now called A Taste of Yosemite. Each year they bring in gourmet chefs from around the country. Anita Lo topped the bill for our session. Nancy attends cooking demonstrations while I hike and read (and we both hike).

A few years ago I bemoaned the fact that the weather was getting warmer and I feared it was getting worse. It was better last year, and fantastic this year. A few days before our arrival they received a nice coating of snow and it snowed while we were there. When we left yesterday morning we needed to leave by a different route because of the snow, but it was well worth it.

In addition to Anita, we also met another chef, Scott Youkilis, who with his brother Kevin have opened a restaurant, Loma Brewing Company in Los Gatos, California.

And finally, we had several wonderful conversations with Gayle Pirie and John Clark, the owners of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco. I’m not dropping these names to puff up my importance, but to encourage anyone who lives in or near New York, San Francisco, and Los Gatos, you should eat there.

The only blemish on this trip was something I foreshadowed last year. For the past 20 years or so, much of Yosemite Valley was contracted to Delaware North but starting last spring it changed to Aramark. We noticed a few differences, including the dinner package itself. The crowd was much smaller than we remembered, and we were told that Aramark did very little marketing and we found the web page much harder to navigate. Hopefully by next year they will have learned how to do this.

In any case, we’ll be back in 2018.

Happy Birthday to my Prius. It’s 10 Years 0ld and has 218,860 Miles

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Ten years ago today I drove off with my brand new Toyota Prius. At the time I wasn’t sure how long I would keep it, but I generally keep cars for as long as they last. Ten years and 218,860 miles it’s still getting me where I need to go.

Three years ago I had to replace the large battery and that was a few thousand dollars. But other than that, a few minor repairs, and routine maintenance, it’s been great. The first battery lasted seven years and when I replaced it I assumed I’d keep it for the life of the second battery. There’s no way to know how long this battery will last, but assuming I have four years left, that may do it.

I’ve averaged 21,886 miles per year (and assuming all trends continue) the odometer will read 306,404 on March 17, 2020. At that point it will be a 14 year old car and I don’t imagine I’ll pony up for another battery.

But who knows?

Yosemite 2016: At Last It’s the Yosemite We Love (and Pray Doesn’t Change)

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

As long time readers of this blog know all too well, Nancy and I make a pilgrimage to Yosemite National Park each year.

The last few years we’ve been concerned because it’s been too warm and too dry. California has been suffering a drought for a few years and we’ve noticed it in warm temperatures and diminished falls. This year we were more hopeful because this winter is turning into an El Nino year. Yosemite had several snowfalls before our visit and we were optimistic, and we were justified in being so.

We hit rain for most of the drive from Fresno to our destination and when we got to the valley floor the snow was not the fluffy, new snow that we like, but hard crusty snow and ice. That said, it was nice to see snow.

Over the next 2 days we hiked like crazy and (truth be told) I had two epic falls, both times on my right elbow. Ice is not forgiving. That said, it was magical to be surrounded by snow and the air was cold enough to make it feel like winter (OK, I get that many of you are digging out from 2 or 3 feet of snow and I don’t envy that, but living in San Diego robs you of a few experiences).

We also enjoyed being there for the Chef’s Holidays even if our chefs this year are from New York and we’re unlikely to have the pleasure of visiting them. But if you have a chance to visit Annisa or Dirt Candy, don’t pass it up.

For as long as we’ve been going to Yosemite, many of the employees we have interacted with have been employed by Delaware North. We’ve had some issues with them, but the employees have been second to none. This year we learned that the National Park Service ended their relationship with Delaware North and chose instead Aramark. The Park Service may have made this choice for economic reasons, and we understand this. But we fear that their choice may make customer service a lesser priority and that next year (and the years after that) will provide us with inferior service and lesser paid employees.

We are committed to Chef’s Holidays 2017 and we pray we won’t be disappointed.

Happy 97th Birthday, Al Graff

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

Fr. Joe and Al Graff November 2001

Today my father in law, Al Graff, celebrates his 97th birthday. Here he is seen with Fr. Joe Carroll.

Al’s life celebrates the best of the 20th Century, the best of our immigration policy, and the best of what it means to be Catholic. Do you think I exaggerate? Let me give you some of the high points of Al’s life (so far).

His parents, Paul Graff (1882-1967) and Theresa Sailer Graff (1892-1977) were born in Austria-Hungary, now Austria. They both made their way to the United States in the early 1900s because their parents wanted a better life for them and their descendants. They were successful.

They met in Mandan, North Dakota and married on September 8, 1917. I have a copy of their marriage certificate. According to the laws of North Dakota at the time they had to swear that neither of them had more than 1/8th Negro blood; additionally a doctor found that neither was an “idiot, epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded person, common drunkard, insane person, or person who has been afflicted with hereditary insanity, or afflicted with pulmonary tuberculosis in its advanced stages, or afflicted with any contagious venereal disease.”

Al was born on January 23, 1919. He, his parents and extended family moved to Los Angeles in the early 1920s where he grew up. His cousin (Bob) grew up next door and they lived more as siblings than cousins. As parishioners of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, their pastor (Fr. Ford), recognized Al’s and Bob’s potential. He promised their parents that if they cleaned the church on Saturdays they would have their tuitions paid for at Loyola High School.

They did and it launched Al into Berkeley where he graduated in 1942. During World War II he worked for General Electric in Schenectady, New York. He worked on the jet engine.

After his time there he returned to Los Angeles where he courted and married Marion Goetz in 1947. They had five children: Greg (1948), Mary Kay (1950), David (1952), Leandra (1954), and Nancy (1960), who I married.

They moved from Los Angeles to Rancho Santa Fe, north of San Diego in 1958.

As Al’s career began to unwind he increased his work with his parish, St. James and St. Leo Catholic Church in Solana Beach. This culminated in his ordination as a permanent deacon in 1983. To this day he feels his vocation as a deacon informs this part of his life.

In 1991 he and his best friend, Dr. Dick Wheelock founded a medical clinic at St. Leo’s to treat those who had no other choice for medical care. Dick died in 2014 but the clinic continues.

As we talk with Al, he looks back on his first 97 years with gratitude. His humble early life fills him, not with pride, but with an awareness of his good fortune. His greatest hope is not only that his children do well, but that they continue his ministry of generosity. He hopes that we all live our lives convinced that our gifts ensure that the generations after us prosper better than us.

Because his parents did the same thing. And they did.

The Election 2016 Chronicles Volume 2: An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Dear Donald:

I’m writing to share some good news with you: Today, July 9, 2015 my nephew and godson Nathan Rycroft earned a Ph.D from Boston University.

I’m writing to tell you about this event not because of Dr. Rycroft, but because of his great grandfather Calixte Allain.

You see, your words on immigration have prompted me to think about the role of immigration in my family. On June 16, 2015 you said this:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Nathan’s great grandfather left his home in Canada and came to Gardner, Massachusetts somewhere around 1915. He married in 1918, had children born in 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1928, and 1931. Of his seven children, he had five boys. Of those boys, four of them served in uniform during World War II or Korea, or both. He worked hard all his life and he did it with essentially a 3rd grade education.

His youngest son (Donald), Nathan’s grandfather, was able to earn a high school diploma. He did it through a combination of Calixte’s and Emma’s dedication and Donald’s determination.

Donald married in 1958, moved to Woodbridge, Virginia and had children born in 1960 (me) and 1962 (my sister Lisa). Both of us earned Master’s degrees, me from Catholic University and Lisa from American University. We did it through a combination of Donald’s and Claire’s dedication and our determination.

Lisa married in 1984 and had children born in 1987 (Nathan) and 1991 (Christopher). Nathan graduated college in 2009 and Chris in 2015. Nathan went on to get his Ph.D today.

I’m writing to you to tell you that Nathan’s great grandfather didn’t come to this country with “problems.” He came here with a determination to make a better life for him, his future wife, and future children (and grandchildren and great grandchildren). He didn’t bring crime, drugs and he didn’t come to rape anyone. He brought a future of good people who are now working hard, paying taxes, and are the kind of Americans you want to attract.

I understand that you are attracting potential voters and funding with your invective against people who don’t look like you (or me) but I want you to know that your bigotry runs against our history as Americans. The Statue of Liberty welcomes the people you want to exclude.

Please stop your bigotry.

The Justice Chronicle, Volume 22: King v. Burwell: What Does It Mean?

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Thursday morning at breakfast the Today Show broke into its programming to announce a decision in the case of King v. Burwell. By a 6-3 decision the justices found for the defendant.

I’ve been disturbed at the news coverage on this. Virtually all the reporting makes it sound like a boxing match: Who won and who lost. I’m willing to bet that an embarrassingly small percentage of the population could name the case (King v. Burwell) or the issue that the court decided today.

The implications were clear: had the court found for the plaintiff the Affordable Care Act would likely not have been able to survive. So what were the particulars of the case?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called “Obamacare” was signed into law in 2010 and mandated that nearly everyone purchase health insurance. Many of us work for companies that provide us with adequate health insurance, but many companies don’t If you’re a part time or per diem employee you may not get health care from your company. If you work for a small business they may not afford to pay for health insurance. If you’re under 65 and not employed (for any reason) you have nobody to provide you health insurance.

You’ve always been able to buy a health insurance policy on your own, but for many people that was not an option. Premiums were prohibitively high, and you can be denied for a host of pre-existing conditions. I have sleep apnea and before the ACA I would have been excluded from any private health coverage.

The ACA mandated that health insurance companies not exclude anyone for pre-existing conditions. Health insurance companies (rightly) argued that this doesn’t work for them because under this system nobody would buy health insurance until they needed it (much as you can’t buy fire insurance when your house is already on fire). The mandate was necessary as this provided health insurance companies a larger base of customers. That’s the basis of insurance: most people who buy insurance don’t need it and this pays for the minority who does.

But there was still another problem: a large percentage of our population still couldn’t afford to purchase health insurance. We can’t tell people they have to buy health insurance if they simply can’t afford to. Because of this the ACA provided subsidies for people whose earnings fall below a certain level.

The ACA wanted the states to participate in this and made this deal: if your state wishes, it can set up a health insurance exchange. For those eligible for subsidies, the federal government will pick up all of the cost for the first few years and most of the cost from then on. If a state refused to set up an exchange, the federal government would set one up. I believed that most states would see the value in setting up exchanges. I was wrong. Only 16 states set up exchanges and the rest depended on the federal government.

That’s all fine, but here’s where we get into the current lawsuit. Most of us get our health insurance through our employers and our employer pays part of the premium. For people who get their insurance through these exchanges, paying the full premium would be overly burdensome, and the ACA provides subsidies to help people buy insurance. Buried deep in the legislation is the phrase that subsidies are only available to people who purchase their health insurance on an exchange “established by the State.”

The plaintiffs argued that these subsidies are only valid for health insurance exchanges established by one of the 16 states, and that if you live in one of the states that doesn’t run its own exchange, you are not eligible for subsidies.

Frankly that would have sent the entire ACA into a death spiral. People in those 34 states would lose insurance because they couldn’t afford to purchase it. The loss of premiums would have made it much more difficult for insurance companies in those states to continue to provide coverage and many of them would stop providing insurance in those states at all.

In the majority ruling the Court found for the defendants, arguing that if this phrase meant to apply only to those 16 states, the seeds of its own destruction would have been written into the law. In other words this can’t have been the intent of the authors because they never would have written legislation whose implementation was impossible.

Simply put this was the last, desperate act of a group of people who don’t like President Obama, don’t like anything he supports, and hoped against hope that they could convince the Supreme Court to strike it down. Fortunately it didn’t work.

The Election 2016 Chronicles Volume 1: Countdown to Election 2016

Monday, May 25th, 2015

As many of you know, every four years I begin to track those who are running for President. And even though the election is over 17 months away, the campaign is beginning in full swing.

As I write this the race for the nomination for the Democrats is a small field. But the race for the Republican nomination is a much more open field. In the past I’ve gone to pains to include those who seek the nomination in other parties or those who run as independents.

Running against the current of common sense I’ve done it again. If you scroll down the left side of this page you’ll see those I’ve listed. I have a few criteria. I won’t list anyone who hasn’t declared. Several candidates in both parties are “exploring” whether or not to run; I’ll include them when they declare.

There are several smaller parties who run candidates and I begin with their web pages. Again you need to declare to be included.

By far the independents are the hardest group to track. I’ve developed this criteria for this list: you have to be eligible to be president (ie, 35 years old and a U.S. citizen by birth) and you have to have a web page. I know this probably discriminates against candidates who are not computer literate, but since I depend on computer searches, it’s the best I can do. If you write to me and tell me you’re running, I’ll include you.

Let the races begin.