I Had a Conversation That Made Me Think: What Would I Say To Me at Twelve Years Old?

In the course of my work as a hospice chaplain I have the opportunity to speak with all sorts of people with all sorts of experiences, and of all sorts of ages.

I recently had a chance to speak with a 12 (nearly 13) year old girl whose relative was on hospice. We spoke about the usual things, including the question of what she’ll do when she grows up. She was equal parts hopeful and fearful. I remember well thinking I had to choose a path as a teenager that would inform the rest of my life. But now I know how silly that was.

In my parents’ generation most people worked in the same field (if not with the same employer) for their entire career. In my generation most of us worked in the same or related fields for a good part of our career, even if we had multiple employers. That’s the case with me. I’ve had a few unrelated jobs: I worked at libraries in Woodbridge, Virginia and at Mount Vernon College, and I spent 6 months working for the Salvation Army.

But the bulk of my career has centered on faith. I’ve been a seminarian, Director of Religious Education, Youth Minister, priest, and hospice chaplain. Interestingly enough, I’ve spent the last 18 years as a hospice chaplain, a position that barely existed when I was twelve. As a matter of fact, it was a volunteer position until 1982.

When speaking with this young lady I encouraged her to dream big and recognize that she may well spend a good part of her career in a field that doesn’t even exist now. I graduated from high school in 1978 and none of my classmates found their future in internet startups, only because the internet didn’t exist.

But our conversation got me thinking about what I would say to the 12 year old me if I had the chance. Here’s what I think I would say:

  • Forget about your classmates whose approval you crave. By the time you’re 30 you won’t even remember their names. They are playing the same “please like me” game you’re playing and if they are more successful it won’t translate into anything with meaning beyond high school.
  • You know that teacher who won’t let up on you? The teacher who keeps telling you that you can do something you don’t think you can (or want to) do? That’s a name you’ll remember. This teacher gave you a gift: you’re more than you think you are and you’ll be more than you think you’ll ever be. Say a prayer for him or her.
  • Oh yes, and that girl who doesn’t know you’re crazy about her? Yeah, maybe she’ll be your girlfriend and maybe she won’t. Maybe you’ll be too shy to talk with her or maybe she’ll shoot you down. In any case you’ll find the person for you and you’ll be happy she did the same.

Finally, relax. None of the stuff you worry about will really hurt you. You never saw your greatest gifts and your greatest tragedies coming. And yet you find yourself still here and your greatest tragedies were you best teachers.

And while your greatest tragedies were your best teachers, your greatest gifts were your best celebrations. Maybe it was the day you got married, likely it was the day your children were born, but in any case they were experiences you cannot explain, only experience. And worst of all, you don’t have the vocabulary to fully translate how you’re feeling at that moment.

The Obama/Cruz Citizen Throwdown: Chapter 2

In a recent post I spoke about citizen ship issues with President Obama and Senator Cruz (R-TX).

This doesn’t happen often, but I got a response from someone I don’t know who came across this page. I’m not sure who s/he is, but his/her screen name is “Fuzz T. Was.” I’m not able to enter a dialogue, but Fuzz T. Was makes some interesting points that I hope to accurately summarize.

A person is granted citizenship by two routes: by nature and by naturalization. A naturalized citizen is granted citizenship at some point after his birth and the rules for naturalization are governed by the nation. A natural born citizen is someone for whom citizenship is automatically granted and is beyond dispute.

In the United States a person is a natural born citizen by two routes: “Jus Soli” and “Jus Sanguis.” These are Latin terms and translate to “Law of the Soil” and “Law of the Blood.” A person who is born in the United States (states, territories, and holdings) is granted citizenship by law of the soil. Since President Obama was born in Hawaii, he is a citizen by law of the soil. A person was born outside the United States can still be a citizen if one of his/her parents was born in the United States. This person is not a citizen by law of the soil, but by the law of the blood (ie, your direct blood relative). Senator Cruz is a citizen by law of the blood because even though he was born in Canada, his mother was born in the United States. Both men’s citizenship is beyond dispute.

There is a good short article at FindLaw. If I’m reading this right, you can pass citizenship to your child through law of the blood only if you are a citizen by law of the soil or a naturalized citizen. This prevents someone who isn’t a citizen from tracing back to some ancestor who was born in the U.S. even if it was several generations back. If this is true and if someone like Ted Cruz marries a non US citizen, their children wouldn’t be citizens if they are not born in the U.S.

Fuzz T. Was, thank you for giving me the chance to think more about this.

President Obama and Senator Cruz: Bet You Didn't See This Coming

I’m writing this at 5:30PM (Pacific Time) on October 8, 2013. I just googled “Barack Obama Ted Cruz” and got 112,000,000 hits. This doesn’t surprise me, but yesterday I found a common link that is still making me laughing.

I podcast Fresh Air on National Public Radio. I’m addicted because I find the interviews smart, interesting, and informative. Yesterday I listened to the podcast from October 1st where Chris Matthews was interviewed; he was plugging his book Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked.

Chris worked for Tip O’Neill in the early 1980s and it’s not hard to assume his political leanings. But in his interview he made a point that I’m still thinking about.

A scary percentage of the population thinks that President Obama shouldn’t be President because he was born in Kenya. They are often called birthers and claim that since he wasn’t born in America he can’t be President.

And yet they put their blinders on and support Ted Cruz. Ted was born on December 22, 1970 in Alberta, Canada. His mother was born in the United States and his father was born in Cuba.

Is he eligible to be President? Good question. Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution says this: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Persons be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

In other words, nobody who has been a naturalized citizen (e.g. Henry Kissinger or Arnold Schwarzenegger) can be President, no matter how popular they may be.

But who is a “natural born citizen?” Ted Cruz can argue (and I agree with him) that he is an American citizen by virtue of being born to a mother who was born in the United States. This allows citizenship to children of military parents who serve us overseas, or parents in the diplomatic corps. This prevents Americans who serve us in other countries to have to dash home while in labor only to allow their children the privileges the rest of us take for granted.

So here’s the rub: While nobody with a brain accepts the charges of The Donald or the rest of the birthers, we don’t have to. If Ted Cruz can be President because his mother was born here, President Obama is a legitimate President because his mother was born in Kansas. Even if you don’t believe that President Obama was born in Hawaii.

It's Good To Be the King

I live in La Jolla, California; it’s a neighborhood on the northern edge of San Diego and it’s a nice place to live. It’s also fairly affluent (Mitt Romney has a house about 3 miles away) and I’m amused by the number of people who assume we’re rich because we live here. We regularly get mailings from financial planners and investment firms who want to manage our portfolios “over $1,000,000.” Yeah, right.

On the plus side we also get letters promising gifts if we do simple things. A few years ago we were promised a $150 gift certificate to Smith and Wollensky Restaurant if I test drove a Maserati at a local dealership. It was completely worth it, but $150.00 almost covered lunch.

In April I got a letter that said if I test drove a Lincoln I could get a free pair of Maui Jim sunglasses. These things always sound too good to be true, but I took the form down to the local dealership and got the form signed. I sent it in and today I got my free pair of glasses.

They retail for $269.00. Yeah, no kidding. To be fair they are much better than my bargain basement glasses that I don’t wear much because I have a hard time reading my car dashboard. I’m not sure they’re worth a month’s wages at WalMart but I’m keeping them for now. I only hope I don’t get addicted to them and break them in a few months. We’ll see.

The Trouble With Satire? We've Become Too Dumb to Recognize It

On December 28, 2012 Daniel Akst wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times entitled: Hey Kids, Don’t Forget Your Guns. He began the article by talking about the NRA’s proposal that we make our schools safe by posting an armed law enforcement officer in every school. Daniel suggested that the best way to make schools safe is to give the students guns and train them in how to shoot.

My thanks to Mrs. Farris, my 12th grade English teacher who had us read A Modest Proposal by Jonathon Swift. Swift suggested in 1729 (in response to large numbers of his fellow Irish in poverty) that their 1 year old children be sold to the rich to be eaten. We learned in reading this about satire.

Daniel was doing the same thing. Several of us caught the meaning, but I’m amazed at how many didn’t. The responses of shock and outrage caused the Times to publish a postscript on January 5th that you can read here. In the article Sue Horton wrote: “Should we have made it more obvious that Akst was writing tongue-in-cheek if clearly intelligent readers didn’t get the joke?” At the end of the article she wrote: “We do like to run the occasional piece of satire on the Op-Ed pages, and we intend to continue to publish it. But we will also continue to look for ways — through headlines, say, or visual presentation — to better tip the readers to the joke. If we fail occasionally, as we almost certainly will, we apologize.”

We apologize? WE APOLOGIZE? C’mon man. I don’t expect that everyone who reads this article will make the connection to Jonathon Swift, but it scares me to think that we’ve gotten to the point where we can’t recognize satire. Last May I wrote an article about a column that claimed President Lincoln filed the first patent in 1845 for what would become Facebook. It was picked up by several news organizations who assumed it was true.

How does this happen? I have a few theories:

  • We are bombarded by too much information. We hear so much each day about so many things that we simply can’t keep up. No longer do we have the time to step back and ask: “Does this make any sense?” The media used to filter out the crazy stuff, but now they amplify it. Our 24 hour news organizations are so hungry for new content that they no longer filter but put everything out and tell us we decide. We’re not good at it.
  • Organizations that we think should be mature or reasonable are neither. My best evidence of this is the NRA itself. Their answer to gun violence is the need for more guns. Is is so much of a stretch to think that if 1 gun in a school is reasonable, 600 isn’t?
  • Finally, we’ve never been good at identifying satire. Indeed, in 1729 Swift’s essay was met by outrage in some circles by people who thought he was serious. On October 30, 1938 Orson Wells produced a radio show called War of the Worlds. Even with disclaimers before, during, and after the show, people thought that Earth was being invaded. Within days of the attacks of 9/11/2001 we began hearing that this was caused by the US government. Really. You can read about it here.

So where do we go from here? Me, I’m praying for the people who fall for these stories, and still vote.

So Does This Make Me a Man?

Over last weekend I was surfing the internet looking for the recipe for the perfect martini. I found that there are several opinions on this (and don’t get me started on the whole gin vs. vodka thing) but I found a good recipe on the website The Art of Manliness.

I used that recipe, and started exploring the page. They had a page on the 100 books every man should read. While I’ve never worried about my status as a man, I’m a sucker for booklists. I even have booklist of my own. So how did I do?

Well, of the 100 books they list, I’ve read (or at least started) 25 of them. Here are the books they recommend that I’ve read:

  1. The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald. I read this a few years ago.
  2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I read this in 1977 at the end of my junior year in High School.
  3. 1984 by George Orwell. I read this in high school, and was frankly more impressed with his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
  4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I read this in 9th grade. The book is excellent but you should also watch the movie.
  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I read this in High School after reading 1984. It didn’t scare me as much as it was supposed to.
  6. The Odyssey by Homer. I can only claim half credit because the web page lists both the Odyssey and the The Illiad, also by Homer. I read only the Odyssey in my 2nd year of college.
  7. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I ready this in my junior year in High School
  8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. This has become a political football. I can only claim half credit as I stopped 2/3 of the way through the book as I found Ayn annoying. I still believe I am my brother’s keeper.
  9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I didn’t like this book, but most of those who read it liked it. I’m happy for them.
  10. The Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri. I read this in college.
  11. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was my gateway to the rest of his stuff, and also to C.S. Lewis.
  12. The Boy Scout Handbook by the Boy Scouts of America. For a very brief time I was a Cub Scout in the late 1960s. They lured me in on the pretense of camping but I soon found out it was all about medals (that I couldn’t have cared less about). On the other hand, this is where I learned to tie a tie.
  13. Animal Farm by George Orwell. I read this in high school before 1984.
  14. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. I can only claim half credit as I haven’t read all of them, but I’ve enjoyed what I have read.
  15. Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville. I’ve seen both versions of the movie, and started the book. Someday I’ll finish it. Give me half credit.
  16. Hamlet by William Shakespeare. I took a course in 12th grade on Shakespeare’s tragedies. I’m actually happy about a book I was assigned to read in high school
  17. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn. Nancy is a big Dodger’s fan so it was inevitable we’d read this. It was a few years ago.
  18. The Stranger by Albert Camus. I read this as a senior in high school in 5th year French. Do I get extra credit for reading it in the original French?
  19. On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I “read” this as an audiobook a few years ago. I agree with Truman Capote: “That’s not writing, it’s typing.”
  20. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. If this doesn’t dissuade you from climbing Mt. Everest, you shouldn’t have children
  21. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read this in English class in high school; the course was called “War Literature.” It may have started my fascination with World War I.
  22. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I also read this in the “War Literature” course; I was already fascinated by the Civil War. Thanks Mr. Brady.
  23. The Bible. This is really a collection of books, but in the course of several years of seminary, I’m sure I’ve read all of it.
  24. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I read this a few years after the mini-series came out. Still not a fan of westerns.
  25. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I read this in 9th grade English in a course called “Family Literature.” Thanks Mrs. Peterson. It’s a rare event where the book and the movie are equally brilliant. I still refer to a house in my neighborhood as the “Boo Radley House.”

If you want to see the other 75 you’ll have to go on the web page. I don’t want to publish it here as I’m not eager to have people email me with your shock that I haven’t read your favorite book.

Ballot Propositions: Sometimes Democracy is Hard to Love

I’ve lived in several states in the last few decades and each one brings its own learning curve. When I moved to California in 1988 there were several ballot propositions dedicated to auto insurance reform (as an aside, most of them were drawn up by auto insurance companies to confuse the voters; it didn’t work). I have to admit I was a little taken aback that my ballot contained what looked like ordinary legislation that the state government should have taken care of. I wrongly assumed these propositions were legislation that the legislature didn’t want to act on, and they punted it to us.

I was wrong. I got this information from the state web page. In a special election in 1911 voters approved a way to create legislation (or amend the state constitution) by popular vote, bypassing the governor and state legislature. I’ve boiled down the process:

  1. Write up the legislation you want and submit it to the Attorney General
  2. Determine if it will affect the state budget
  3. Write up the petition and get signatures. You need to obtain signatures equal to 5% of the number who voted for governor in the last election. All signatures must be registered voters.
  4. After the signatures are checked and verified, your initiative is on the ballot. If it gets 50% of the vote (55% in some cases), it becomes law.

We’ve learned over the last 101 years just how easy it is to pass legislation. You need a smart person to write the initiative, and lots of money. Any Californian will tell you that we know it’s election season because everytime we leave a grocery store there is someone there with multiple petitions and a sign that says something like: “Help people get what they need.” The person is being paid, often $1.00 per signature, and usually has no idea what the initiatives actually mean. Once it’s on the ballot you need to spend millions (or least more than your opponent) convincing voters that your initiative is the only thing keeping us from doom and that your opponent wants to destroy all you hold dear.

This process has been taken over by deep pocket special interests. I’ve completely made this up as an illustration, but imagine this:

It’s 1900 and you make buggy whips for carriages. You’ve made a good fortune for yourself and you are touch with others who are equally successful. You hear that there is a guy in your state who is working on an invention called a “horseless carriage.” It sounds crazy, but he’s working on an internal combustion engine that will propel the carriage by burning gasoline instead of being pulled by horses. You recognize that if you remove horses from the equation you also remove buggy whips and your way of life is going to end. You want to ban these horseless carriages but you know you can’t write a ballot initiative that bans them because it’s bad for your business; that won’t pass. In a moment of inspiration you decide that since gasoline is flammable, it must be unsafe. You write an initiative that proposes to ban large containers of gasoline (5 gallons or more) on wheeled vehicles because they are “explosions waiting to happen.” Together with other buggy whip manufacturers you start a campaign called “Citizens for Public Safety” that warns of the dangers of exploding gasoline containers. Ordinary voters, who may not know who you are, vote for your initiative out of fear of firestorms in the street.

Sound crazy? Maybe, but I’m glad I’m not driving a horse powered carriage.

The Money Chronicles, Volume 6: An Economics Rap Anthem? Believe It!

For a year or so I’ve been listening to a podcast called Planet Money from National Public Radio. I look forward to listening a few times per week and it’s taught me a great deal about what is happening in the economy.

It’s also become a bit of a political football as President Obama is a follower of the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) while Governor Romney is a follower to the economist Friedrich A. Hayek (1899-1992).

Keynes believed that in times of dire economic depression the government needs to pour money into the economy to stimulate it and raise itself out of its troubles. Hayek believed that governments can’t do this effectively and it is better in the long run to allow the economy to fix itself. This rap does an excellent job of explaining their positions.

I Live For This!

I’m likely not alone in this, but from time to time I get emails claiming something that just doesn’t sound right. We all get the ones who promise riches if we’ll only help a Nigerian Prince get his money, but I also get ones that other people seem to believe.

I’ve gotten emails from family and friends claiming that President Obama is a secret Muslim, that he really was born in Kenya, that the 2010 census demanded that we list the number of guns we own, etc. What has always amazed me is that a quick search on Google or Snopes would show these banal claims to be false. My attempts to hit the “reply all” button with these suggestions has been a waste of time.

Today I read a CNN story that a blogger named Nate St.Pierre wrote a post claiming Abraham Lincoln filed a patent claim in 1845 for what we now know as Facebook.

Here is an excerpt from the blog post:

Lincoln was requesting a patent for “The Gazette,” a system to “keep People aware of Others in the Town.” He laid out a plan where every town would have its own Gazette, named after the town itself. He listed the Springfield Gazette as his Visual Appendix, an example of the system he was talking about. Lincoln was proposing that each town build a centrally located collection of documents where “every Man may have his own page, where he might discuss his Family, his Work, and his Various Endeavors.”

He went on to propose that “each Man may decide if he shall make his page Available to the entire Town, or only to those with whom he has established Family or Friendship.” Evidently there was to be someone overseeing this collection of documents, and he would somehow know which pages anyone could look at, and which ones only certain people could see (it wasn’t quite clear in the application). Lincoln stated that these documents could be updated “at any time deemed Fit or Necessary,” so that anyone in town could know what was going on in their friends’ lives “without being Present in Body.”

That was it. Pretty much just a simple one-page overview of how his system would work. After we read it, we both sat there quiet for a long time. It was so obvious what this was, guys.

A patent request for Facebook, filed by Abraham Lincoln in 1845.

The funny thing is that the whole thing was a complete fabrication, existing only in the mind of Mr. St. Pierre. My gripe with these hoaxes is the not the stupidity of the people who make them up, but in the stupidity in those who pass them along or publish them. It was published on the web page of Forbes magazine and ZNET.

This never ceases to amaze me. In the 1980s I heard about a hoax that (then) Vice President Dan Quayle was eager to go to Latin America so he could practice his Latin. I got a laugh but then asked if it was true (it wasn’t). Since then the question “Is it true?” is the question nobody else seems to ask.

Maybe this story will help give credibility to this question.

Is This What St. Patrick Had in Mind?

Nancy and I were blessed to be in Chicago this past weekend. It was a fun weekend as the celebration of St. Patrick happened while we were there.

My grandfather, Thomas J. Cazeault (1902-1995) was born of Irish parents and that gives me claim to 25% Irish heritage, even though he was orphaned and raised by a French family.

I’ve always knows that Chicago was a city that knows how to party, but this was beyond all expectations. I’m sure this will be known as the best St. Pat’s celebration in a long time because it was on a Saturday (allowing for all day partying that can go deep into the night). It was also amazingly warm, in the mid 80s F. We started seeing the streets filling with drunk people in green about early afternoon; a few hours after that the sidewalks were so crowded it was hard to manage. Our hotel was only 2 blocks from the Chicago River (that is dyed green for the day) and by evening the hotel needed security to make sure only registered guests came into the hotel. There is an Irish bar next door and I’m assuming their restrooms were overwhelmed. They actually had portable toilets (called, interestingly enough, “LepriCANS”).