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

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(b.1964)

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Archive for September, 2007

Dead Sea Scrolls

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Yesterday my friend Ann and I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park. The scrolls were found in a cave near Qumran in Israel starting in 1947. They date back 2000 years and several of the scrolls contain passages from the Jewish Scriptures (also called the Tanach or the Old Testament).

Scholars disagree but many think they belonged to a group that was active in the 1st Century of the Common Era (CE) called the Essenes. They were massacred by the Romans in 68 CE and may have hidden these scrolls to prevent them from falling into enemy hands or being destroyed. However it happened, these scrolls are an international treasure and nobody should pass up the opportunity to see them.

The beginning of the exhibit was little more than a travelogue to visit Israel but the second part was incredibly inspiring and moving. You can see a photograph of one of the scroll pieces here. If you have a chance to see these, do it.

Baseball, Competition, and Loss of Perspective

Monday, September 24th, 2007

It’s almost hard to know where to start on this but let me start with the incident that got me writing: Milton Bradley. Yesterday he got in a shouting match with the first base umpire, Mike Winters. Both First Base Coach Bobby Meecham and Manager Bud Black needed to restrain him as he appeared to be charging the umpire, which is absolutely never allowed. Milton claims that he and Mike exchanged escalating words that ended with the umpire calling him an “(expletive) piece of (expletive).” During Bud’s restraint Milton twisted his knee; we now know that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and will be out for the rest of the season. This is a serious injury and would put him out for several months if the season were to continue. Milton, and a few of his fellow Padres, claim that he was provoked by the umpire and was justified in his reaction.

This is just unbelieveable. If Mike Winters did indeed use that language, I don’t condone it; but Milton Bradley has a long history of failing to control his temper and should know that he has far exceeded all the goodwill he is ever going to get. Had he held his temper in check he’d still be playing and the Padres would still have his bat. Now this has become a huge distraction at a time when the Padres are far from a lock for the playoffs. And yet nobody on the Padres seems to be saying that Milton screwed this up. He has played for Montreal, Cleveland, Oakland, Los Angeles and now San Diego. None of his former teams want him back. He has a great bat and could do wonderful things, but he will ultimately be a victim of his inability or unwillingness to control his temper. As a Padres fan I can only hope this was his last game as a Padre.

No baseball rant would be complete without talking about Barry Bonds. As it stands now he has 762 home runs and wants to return to baseball next year to reach 3000 hits (he’s at 2935 now). His team, the San Francisco Giants have announced that they do not intend to sign him next year. I wrote an entry on August 7th comparing his home runs to Hand Aaron and Babe Ruth. The table was essentially unreadable but it tried to show that he couldn’t have the home pattern without the help of steroids. Now that he has the record many of us are rooting for Alex Rodriguez to break Barry’s record. At the risk of doing the same damn thing, I’m going to attempt a table showing Alex’s progress againts Barry:

Barry Bonds Alex Rodriguez
1986: 16 1994: 0
1987: 25 1995: 5
1988: 24 1996: 36
1989: 19 1997: 23
1990: 33 1998: 42
1991: 25 1999: 42
1992: 34 2000: 41
1993: 46 2001: 52
1994: 37 2002: 57
1995: 33 2003: 47
1996: 42 2004: 36
1997: 40 2005: 48
1998: 37 2006: 35
1999: 34 2007: 52
2000: 49  
2001: 73  
2002: 46  
2003: 45  
2004: 45  
2005: 5  
2006: 26  
2007: 28  
Total: 762 Total: 516

According to this, A-Rod needs to average 31 home runs per season for the next 8 seasons to beat Barry. There are way too many variables, but I know that I will rejoice if Barry’s record is eclipsed.

I can’t help but think back to a panel discussion on ethics I heard several years ago. The panelists were role playing about a high school student who was considering cheating on a test because he felt he was disadvantaged and could cheat to make up for his disadvantage. One of the panelists indicated that if he wanted something so bad that he felt justified in cheating, he simply wanted it too much. I conclude this rant by saying that Milton Bradley wants to treated well too much and Barry Bonds wants to be the home run leader too much.

Thoughts on the Sexual Abuse Crisis in San Diego

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

On September 14, 2007 the Catholic Diocese of San Diego and Bishop Robert Brom agreed to pay $198.1 million to more than 150 survivors of sexual abuse from priests. This is (hopefully) the final chapter of a long and painful story. Unfortunately it’s a story that does not reflect well on either Bishop Brom or the Diocese.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone does not know that many dioceses are struggling with this. The biggest struggle they and the courts face is how to compensate the victims. We can’t turn back time and frankly the only way anyone is compensated is financially. That said, it’s probably reasonable to see how other dioceses have compensated their victims. In 2003 the Archdiocese of Boston paid out $85 million to cover 552 lawsuits (that averages slightly over $150,000 per person). The settlements have been increasing: last July the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to settle 508 cases (or just under $1.3 million per person).

Last February the San Diego Diocese was facing the first of the trials and Bishop Brom decided to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the hopes that a fund would be dedicated to settle the cases. It was a good try but it backfired. Everyone I know who knows the bishop says that he does not like being told what to do. I don’t know how this happened but apparently it never occurred to Bishop Brom that he would be answerable to the bankruptcy judge. Things began to spin out of control when the Diocese was accused of hiding assets. Accounts had been set up in many places for many reasons and it never occurred to anyone that they would be subject to judicial scrutiny. The accountant appointed by the bankruptcy judge called this “byzantine;” I would call it disorganized. The upshot was that the judge threatened to pull the diocese out of bankruptcy and begin the trials. It was probably the push the diocese needed to come to a settlement.

The Diocese agreed to a settlement that averages $1.375 million per person. In March the diocese offered a settlement of $95 million (a little over $600,000 per person) and insisted that this was the most they could afford without adversely hampering the church’s mission. Now they have agreed to pay out nearly double that; we’ll see what happens.

On September 7th Bishop Brom released this letter. It is, hopefully, the end of a long and painful journey.

Six Years Out, and Could It Be Worse?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

I hardly need to say this, but six years ago today we were all riveted to our TV’s not believing what we were seeing. Our president, elected in what can only be called a disputed election, was just back from a month long vacation in his 8th month in office. Many of us worried that he would not be up for the job, healing and leading a country that had entered a whole new world. Even the most cynical among us could not guess how badly this new president would manage. A few thoughts on this:

  • Despite offers of support from Iran after 9/11 (see the CNN report from September 14, 2001) President Bush grouped them with North Korea and Iraq in the axis of evil. Interestingly, Afghanistan (who was hiding Osama Bin Laden) was not included in the axis.
  • It didn’t take long after the attacks to realized that Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind the attacks. In a briefing at the Pentagon on September 17, 2001 President Bush declared we will get bin Laden “dead or alive.” He’s still alive and apparently coloring his hair.
  • The terrorists who planned 9/11 were given refuge in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We consider both of these countries allies even though it’s become clear that they are unable or unwilling to hand them over.
  • President Bush has repeatedly claimed that the terrorists hate us because “we love freedom.” But since 9/11 we have held people in Guantanamo Bay without charging them or allowing them access to counsel. Even though the President insists that we are at war, he refuses to give them the status (and protections) of criminal suspects or POW’s. Instead the administration has invented a term, “enemy combatants,” that allows them no rights or protections. Additionally, Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was arrested on American soil and held without his Constitutional protections for 3 1/2 years. We were told that he was being held because he was trying to set off a “dirty bomb” but that was nowhere in the indictment. He was tried and convicted on a charge of attending a terrorist camp in Afghanistan. Perhaps this carelessness with our Constitutional freedoms will, in the end, “let the terrorists win.”
  • Even though it was clear that neither Sadam Huessin or Iraq had anything to do with the attacks of 9/11 we have been at war with them for 4 1/2 years. Even though President Bush had a clear exit strategy for Vietnam, he has none for this war.
  • Last winter with the newly seated Democratic majority in Congress it became clear that there was diminishing support for continuing the war. President Bush ordered a surge, or increase in the troop levels with the promise that they would show clear and obvious results. Out of this a series of 18 benchmarks were developed to evaluate this success. You can see from my post of July 13th that by then President Bush said 8 of the 18 benchmarks had been achieved. On September 7th the GAO announced that only three have been met, 4 have been partially met, and 11 have not been met. As I write this it’s hard to find anything that gives us reason to believe we can ever achieve our objectives in Iraq.

Simply put, six years ago the world rallied around us in our grief, shock, and determination to ensure this will never happen again. Today it’s hard to imagine a scenario that could have gone worse. We have alienated our allies, embolden our enemies, trashed our freedoms, and made the world more unsafe. President Bush, it’s time to admit that few of your policies are sound and start listening to those who elected you.

And You Don’t Even Have to Work in IT to Love This One.

Monday, September 10th, 2007

For most of us book lovers there comes a point where we begin to worry that the art of reading a book will die in the next few generations. Yesterday Nancy and I were at one of our bookstores Mysterious Galaxy and the manager told us about a You Tube clip that was really funny. I’ve included it here:

Mother Teresa: Ten Years Later and All the More Human

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

It was ten years ago today, September 5, 1997, that we learned of the death of Mother Teresa. We all know the bare bones of her biography: she was born in 1910 in Albania, became a nun in 1931, and started her own order the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India in 1948. She and her community were committed to working with the “poorest of the poor” and her success at this led her to win the Nobel Prize in 1979.

What we are finding now, though, is that her interior life was much more complex than her exterior life. In a book that was published yesterday, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light and excerpted in Time magazine we’ve learned that much of her life was a desert experience where she could not find God.

One of the first things I learned in reading the Time article is the thing that causes me the most concern: Much of this book is taken from correspondence between Mother Teresa and her superiors or confessors. She had asked that these correspondence be destroyed after her death but they weren’t. A large part of me is uncomfortable with the fact that she never intended us to be reading this; correspondence between penitent and confessor is not protected by the seal of confession but still it should not be released for anyone to read. Particularly when the confessor suggests or recommends that the penitent write out their troubles (as was the case in 1955), it seems to me that these writings should be protected. While I read the article and plan to read the book I still feel a little strange reading what she never intended me to see.

That said, I also find myself refreshed by what I’ve read so far. In reading about the lives of the saints (even though she has not yet been proclaimed a saint) I find it easy to believe that they were “more than human.” She certainly did a ministry that I could never do and appeared to do it with a grace and humor I could never muster: there is the story of her giving a bath to someone with horrible sores all over his body. A priest who witnessed this said: “You know, I wouldn’t do this for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa smiled and said: “Neither would I.” I say this as a way of saying that many of us thought she found this easy. I always thought that she had some communication line with God that allowed her to do this ministry with a confidence and self assuredness that the rest of us could only hope for.

Now we find that for most of her life with the Missionaries of Charity she didn’t experience this at all. Instead she experienced a dryness and emptiness that at times called her to wonder if God even existed. It called on her to reach deep inside of herself and pull out the courage, wisdom, and perseverance that it took to wake up every morning and greet the poorest of the poor and look for the face of Jesus.

It called for faith. It called for her to ignore the evidence and other voices and keep on doing what she was doing. This has been a good reminder that what makes a person a saint is not only what they do but also what they overcome. It’s also a good reminder that we are all called to overcome what tries to stop us from doing what we know to be right.

The Vatican has not yet determined that she is a saint, but the more I read about this, the more I’m convinced that God has.