…From 30,000 Feet

Pete's Blog


NFL Officials – You Make the Call!

I have listened ad nauseum to ESPN pundits and commentators speaking about the travesty that has befallen the NFL with the replacement officials who are now on the field.   Lighten up, guys (and gals). 

Saying that the NFL and the game of football is cheapened by the replacement refs is like saying that you don’t like the food at your favorite restaurant anymore because they changed the silverware.   Sure, the fork and spoon are the means to get the food from the plate to your mouth — and that’s critical, but that isn’t why we eat or why we go to that restaurant.   Similarly, the refereeing isn’t why we watch; it isn’t why we go to the games.

The referees, for better or worse, are the same for both teams in the same game.  For the MNF game between the Packers and Seahawks (9/24/12), I did not hear any of the Packers’ post-game comments about the phantom pass-interference call that kept the go-ahead drive for the Pack alive in the 4th quarter.  Where was the outrage in the Twittersphere about the several (typical) non-calls or questionable judgment calls throughout the game? (More of these favored the Packers, in my opinion, than the Seahawks.)   The refs were the same quality for both teams.   Oh, and by the way, the replay officials that upheld the final TD call for the Seahawks are the regular replay officials, not replacements.  They saw nothing in the slow-motion, multiple-angle views that would be sufficient to change the call.  The NFL subsequently agreed with the replay officials.

Coaches, players, fans, and commentators have been harping on refs since the game’s inception.   There are always missed calls, questionable calls, and phantom calls.   Remember the “tuck rule” anyone?  The refs, however, don’t miss blocks, drop passes, fumble, throw interceptions, miss tackles, over-pursue, blow coverage, etc. – and it is those things that typically decide football games.   If the Packers players want to be outraged, they need to look no further than the first-half performance of the offensive line.   The Packers’ offense was underwhelming, at best, that night.

The one call we can make is to throw a flag on the ESPN crew for “piling on.”  The way that Steve Young was speaking of tragedy and of cultural collapse of the NFL, you’d think he was broadcasting from the sidelines of Pearl Harbor.   Jon Gruden looked like he was about to cry, and Mike Tirico prattled on as if this was the first time he had seen a controversial call in all of sports!  Then, ESPN paraded pundit after pundit to its broadcast set, each having just been in the Packers’ locker room, and let them speak of the outrage of the Packers; but they asked only one sideline reporter to talk for 1 minute to the Seahawks’ Golden Tate.   Meanwhile, (somewhat) respected and HOF journalists jumped into the camera’s light to speak of the travesty of justice that had befallen the proud Packers franchise — it was more over-the-top than an episode of Real Housewives.   Calm yourselves, ESPN. 


So Gay

Gay marriage? Are you for it? Or against it?
Here’s a new thought: can you go both ways?

I believe the answer is yes. And I believe that you, too, can be bi-nuptial, meaning that you can be both against and in favor of gay marriage. The “right” answer depends on whether you are approaching the argument from the secular/legal perspective or the religious/sacramental perspective.

Religious organizations, like the Catholic Church, are not obligated to bestow sacraments upon any of its members. The sacrament of marriage is no different, and if the Church elects to define the sacrament of marriage as being eligible only to one man and one woman, ’til death do they part, then it is within the Church’s right to do so. The Church has strict guideline for all of its sacraments, and marriage is no different.

As a semi-private organization, the Church has maintained its discrimination against women since its inception. An odd stance, no doubt, given the stature of Mary in Catholicism. Women in the modern Church are its lifeblood, yet they are not allowed to be priests, and nuns are considered by the hierarchy as second class citizens. Discrimination against homosexuals is no surprise to anyone within or outside of the Church and congregation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 1994) refers to homosexual acts as being “intrinsically disordered” and an offense against the call to chastity. These acts are “contrary to the natural law,” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.” [Para. 2357] The Church cannot bestow one of its sacraments upon a homosexual couple, therefore, and legitimize the relationship. Such would be a contradiction to the teachings of the Church. The Church and its congregation, therefore, can be against gay marriage within the context of the Church and its sacramental prerogative. No doubt other Christian sects have similar or identical practices.

Of course, the Church also defines other disordered acts that are offenses to chastity, including lust, masturbation, fornication, and pornography [ibid; Para. 2351-2355]. It seems that the worst sin is the one that you do not commit, and those who want to legislate the Church’s position of disapproval of homosexual acts want to turn their blind eyes to the mainstream offenses that perhaps they personally commit. Such is the hypocrisy of the radical religious lobby in politics.

Hold on… what’s this? Explicit direction from the Church regarding public and proper Christian actions with regard to homosexuals. The Catechism teaches unequivocally that the numbers of men and women with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” is significant. And further, “they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” [ibid.; Para 2358]. The language used in the Catechism is important. Words like “is,” “must,” and “should;” not interpretative words like “maybe,” “might,” or “possibly.”

Discrimination against homosexuals is against the teachings of the Catholic Church. Discrimination is the act of singling out and showing favor or denying rights to certain people based on their race, religion, gender, sexual practices, etc., not on individual merit, when others are granted those same rights and privileges. Discrimination is also very anti-American and anti-Constitutional. “We hold these truths to be self evident… that all men are created equal.”

The support and pursuit of legislation that purposefully and solely discriminates against the civil rights of individuals based on their sexual preference, and the defense of these laws by the radical religious lobby, is truly an offense to the American way. The laws, including the State constitutional amendment recently passed by the citizens of North Carolina, are vulgar in that they do not serve any purpose but to discriminate.

Delving a little deeper, the Church also describes “Offenses Against the Dignity of Marriage.” Certainly if we are to defend the holy sacrament of marriage through secular laws and legislation at the State and Federal level, the religious lobbyists must recognize these offenses as well. Offenses against marriage include adultery, divorce, polygamy, incest, free unions, and “trial marriages.” [ibid.; Para. 2380-2391] Yet some of the conservative and radical Christian groups seemed to back Newt Gingrich in the Republican primaries, who by all accounts would be America’s Most Wanted in violation of these stated offenses. With the divorce rate in the US pacing at >50% of the marriage rate (per 2009 census figures), it would seem logical for those who wish to legislate a defense of marriage to look to outlaw or limit divorce and to criminalize adultery. Alas, again, the worst sin is the one committed by others but not you. Hypocrisy is the calling card of the radical religious lobby.

No religious institution should be required to bestow its sacraments upon anyone; that is a matter of choice, and if the Church doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage as “holy matrimony” then it should not have to do so. States do, however, recognize marriages that are legally performed in other countries regardless of the beliefs of the couple — agnostic, atheistic, satanic, etc. States recognize immigrants’ marriages, without discerning cultural differences — arranged marriages, dowry marriages, child brides. States recognize loveless marriages conferred in Las Vegas chapels, with mail-order brides, and even by sea captains on international waters. Yet, North Carolina and others will openly legalize discrimination against gay couples. Hypocrisy is certainly rampant and deeply seated in the decisions.

Radical religious groups have the right to speak out against any subject, and they have a right to not confer sacraments to those who are deemed unworthy. The Church can withhold its sacrament of marriage from homosexual couples. States and the Federal government, however, do not have the right to discriminate or to enact laws with the sole purpose of legalizing such discrimination. Discrimination is the universal sin here. It is anti-Constitution. It is anti-Christian and anti-American.

Sell California

Sell California…
…and a couple other non-tax ways to raise revenues in a new economy

Well, the President unveiled a new budget to much scorn from the Right Wing pessimists and many kudos from the Left Wing loyalists. Then, Paul Ryan submitted a new budget. Raise taxes, cut spending, provide tax breaks, reallocate this, concede that, subscribe to one theory or another, etc., etc. If you don’t want to hear about it, tune your TV to Bravo or Disney.

I’m offering a different tact from the standard partisan party-line proffers.

The questions: How can we increase revenue? decrease debt? make government smaller? bring our message of democracy to a world wide audience? address immigration concerns? and create jobs?

The answers:

(1) Sell California. Now, before all my west coast friends who now call the Golden State their home get their collective panties in a bunch, hear me out.
Why California? Well, we need to sell something worth buying. From it’s sandy beaches and desert resorts to the wine regions and Sequoia forests, the property is very attractive. It has plenty of coastline, for sure, and opportunities for ports. The real estate alone is a fantastic selling point, but add the infrastructure and the established reputation, and it’s the must-have holding for any country anywhere in the world! For discussion, let’s put a price tag of $150Trillion, with a 50-year mortgage agreement. Of course, the buyer would have to be a long-standing and strategic ally with the resources to properly transact the purchase. I’m thinking Saudi Arabia, and the newly dubbed Saudi California.
The agreement would include our rights to keep our military bases for 30 years, with options for lease renewals. In the meantime, the Pentagon could look to build new bases in Oregon, Washington, and other neighboring US States. The cost of building the new state-of -the-art military bases would stimulate the economy in the selected areas and allow for more efficient, up-to-date, state-of-the-art military operations management.
How does this increase revenue / decrease debt? — I think it’s obvious. Revenues go up by $3Trillion per year, which is used to pay down other debts to China, etc. As part of the transaction, Saudi Arabia would forgive all debt to the USA.
Smaller government? – There would be 2 fewer Senators and 54 fewer Representatives, for starters. While California is tax-positive (they pay more into federal tax coffers than they receive in benefits), the anticipated population shift to nearby states should provide positive tax buoyancy to those areas. Couple this with consolidation of a few other states* and we’ll begin to see operational efficiencies across the country. [*See #2, below]
Democracy in action! What better way to bring democracy to the world than to bring the world to democracy? The government of Saudi California would have to learn to deal with population and resources beyond it’s isolated world of sand and oil in the Middle East. Agriculture, exports, imports, and other “western world” realities would land right in its lap to be properly managed. Plus, with first-hand sensitivity to the needs of Saudi Californians for petroleum products, then the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia would open up and the international cost of oil would be reduced. This in itself would be an economic stimulator.
Jobs – of course! For those citizens who would leave Saudi CA, there will be a boom for housing and commercial space, perhaps even revitalizing Las Vegas or stimulating economic growth in the Pacific Northwest. The film and TV industry most likely would relocate… hey! There’s already a city called “Hollywood” in Florida! By moving the industry there, then Florida would enjoy a revitalization and economic bonanza. Construction of homes, retail, office & commercial space, and film/TV/recording studios and sets would also create jobs and create a blooming, booming environment. With development comes new opportunity for economic growth.

2. Consolidation of states: Once we’ve been able to book revenue from the sale of California, we should (1) combine all states with ordinal compass points, North and South Dakota combine to become The Dakotas; North & South Carolina become Carolina (it already has an NFL team and an NHL team!); West Virginia erases its southern border and there is one united Virginia; (2) Combine the cluster of mini-states in the northeast; Maine +Massachusetts +Vermont +New Hampshire +Rhode Island +Connecticut = 1 state, called “New England” — heck, they already have an NFL football team, too!; (3) combine the three midwestern “I” states — Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa — into one heartland state called “Ionoisia” (pronounced “I-annoy-ya” — there’s no saying we couldn’t have some fun with the process!) or perhaps more simply, “Heartland;” and (4) the new Gulf Coast state would be the consolidation of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, all of which were united by the public and media in the wake of the Gulf oil spill in 2010 anyway. More consolidation options are welcome, of course! The goal should be to get to 30-35 states.
The USA has had 27 different flags since 1776, so the redesign of the flag shouldn’t be viewed as anything but the natural progression of a dynamic and vibrant country. It’ll be a spike in the economy for flag makers and retailers, too. More economic benefits!
Consolidated state governments and a smaller Congress should produce more efficiency in all of the Capitals.

3. There are new democracies popping up throughout the world, and they are in need of solid consultancy on government. Well, we have 60-70 Senators and a couple hundred Representatives in the New Congress, so we’ll loan them out to the newly created democracies. Equal numbers of Dems and GOP’ers to each country, in teams of 8 or 10, with a steady rotation of Libertarians, Independents, Greenies, and Tea Partiers for good measure, for 2-yr stints as surrogate governments to our fledgling brethren and sister-en in the upstart democracies.
Certain existing democracies could use some coaching, too, (Greece, anyone?) and really, who better than our elected and capable Congresspersons to fulfill those roles? Meanwhile, the countries pay the USA for this service and revenues go up! Our officials can introduce the Constitution to these countries, with adaptive elements to suit the particularities of the sovereignty. I think the VicePOTUS should oversee this effort and earn his/her keep, too.
States can participate at their discretion, voting such that elected governors, for instance, would have to spend a minimum of 1 year of their respective terms oversees getting a fledgling democracy up and operating. The lieutenant governors can stand in for that period, properly grooming a potential successor (or possibly weeding him out!).
These new bastions of democracy will encourage the world’s refugees to find other places to call home. Immigrants will no longer only seek the shores of the USA, but will find the American dream alive and well throughout all continents!

4. Legalize certain narcotics. These arguments, for and against, already exist and do not need to be rewritten here, especially in light of the other outstanding ideas #1 – #3 above! Besides, having the new narcotic distribution networks (formerly drug cartels) deal with the IRS in lieu of the Border Patrol would be great entertainment! The market pressure, along with domestic production, would drive the price down and bankrupt the drug lords in other countries, forcing the operations to set up in the US (of course, NOT in Saudi California, because the import tariffs would be too much on slim margins). More jobs, more revenues, and a way to reinvigorate the agricultural sector — it’s a winning plan, likely to be embraced from New England to Heartland to Hollywood (FL)!

The same old arguments and plans are just not effective anymore. Thinking big and thinking about other revenue streams might give the US a better way out of the recession. Now, can anyone recommend a good real estate attorney on the West Coast?



A “Dilbert” comic in the Chicago Tribune a couple weeks ago really resonated with me. No, not the part about him “trying to hate someone new every day,” but rather the quote from the customer service agent. “I don’t get evaluated on helpfulness, I get evaluated on how many tickets I close. May I close your ticket?”

Yes, it’s a cartoon. The observational humor, however, is rooted in a problem that has plagued our capitalist society: Rewarding specific behavior and hoping for desired results that are not necessarily directly correlated. Too many times, companies reward behavior that should lead to desired results, however they find that preferred results are often eschewed for goals based on the reward. In the “Dilbert” example, the company equated closed service tickets to helpful service and customer satisfaction, but as we quickly learn, the agent just wants to close the ticket to get a higher evaluation grade regardless of the customer’s needs.

In business, a sales associate or business development manager may be rewarded a bonus based on percentage of sales contracts. The ability of the company to perform on those contracts, the quantity of returned product, or the adjusted contract scope becomes irrelevant to the equation. The estimate or the proposed profit margin may be questionably derived, but the bonus is based on sales numbers, so regardless of the company’s earnings, the sales person gets a bonus. The reward, while based on good intentions, is for a behavior different than the results.

In schools, administrators have been challenged to reward teachers based on objective metrics, but this has proven to be a highly debatable issue. If the metric is based on students passing the class, then the teachers are accused of dumbing-down curriculum or even upgrading otherwise poor performance to move students along. If the metric is changed to measure teachers based on their students’ performances on standardized tests, then teachers run the risk of “teaching to the test,” and not giving broader and deeper lessons or not accommodating the varied learning skills of the students. Teachers and administrators also end up at odds over the content of the testing. What makes a good teacher? What makes an effective teacher? The answers are a topic of debate at every level of education.

Politicians and their constituents often struggle with the same issues. Politicians are rewarded with election and re-election based on the constituents’ perceived effectiveness of the representative. For example, current public outcry is to eliminate earmark spending, with the intention of eliminating unnecessary government spending and cut costs. However, if a politician brings jobs and funds to a state, county, district, etc. then the pol is lauded in his/her community, and often re-elected. The public demands one action, but rewards another. Result: earmarks aren’t going anywhere soon.

Similarly, politicians want to stimulate job growth by rewarding companies with tax breaks. The thought is that companies with more cash on hand will use it to hire people and expand business. The problem is that the tax breaks don’t stimulate demand for the company’s goods/services, and the tax breaks only increase the bottom-line margin of the companies. For executives who receive bonuses based on their companies’ profitability, the tax break means more money in their pockets and a healthier balance sheet for stakeholders, especially in publicly traded companies whose shareholders demand profitability. The presumed effect of creating jobs is lost in a well-intended, but misguided concept.

If job creation is the goal, then the reward should be tied to actual job creation. In lieu of broad tax breaks that hope for a downstream effect, the government would instead allow tax write-offs for companies with actual job-creation programs, such as skills training and placement programs, or perhaps payroll tax incentives for employee retention and expansion. Retention is the key here… if a company hires 1000 workers and also terminates 1000 workers, then it didn’t really create 1000 new jobs. Rewards for “hiring” must be reliant upon an equal measurement of retention.

Individuals, companies, public entities, politicians, and entrepreneurs should all be concerned about performance-based incentives and being sure that the reward is matched with the desired outcome. Oftentimes, where a single metric leaves the performance gap that I have discussed above, the measurement should actually be multi-faceted. While working as Operations Manager for a construction management and general contracting firm, I collaborated with the Regional VP to create a matrix for project bonuses based on rewarding performance and behavior aligned with the company’s goals. Project teams were scored on budget and schedule (of course), and also on client satisfaction, cooperation with other project partners (architects, subcontractors, suppliers), and internal procedural compliance such as timeliness and accuracy of invoicing. The reward “score” resulted in the project bonus allocation to the team based on performance under a complete set of behavior, thus avoiding the single-metric trap.

In negotiations, in project management, and even in personal business encounters, like banking or calling for customer service, it is beneficial to know what the reward motivation is for the other party. When the cable guy came to my house for an installation, I asked him how his performance was measured for such projects. He told me that it was all measured on time, so I made sure to facilitate his progress any way I could, and in turn, I believe he made extra efforts to give me better service (replacing cables, programming devices, etc.).

In business, think in terms of the other person’s reward position, and perhaps the transactions will go smoother. As managers, make sure the right results are rewarded, because behavior and results can diverge as quickly as a politician and a campaign promise.

Organizations are not Catholic, People are

In response to Cardinal George, the Catholic Church apologists, and Kathleen Parker

Reference: kathleenparker@washpost.com… Cost of Conscience?

Kathleen Parker’s “Perspective Piece” (Chicago Tribune, 2/5/12) missed the obvious points when she stated that “Catholic institutions are under siege” by the Affordable Care Act. Clearly, the Catholic Church is requesting special exemption and special treatment for its hospitals, schools, and other operations that should NOT be offered in accordance with the separation of church and state doctrine upon which our country was founded. We are a nation of laws, and the Catholic Church is not above the law. The federal government would be remiss in giving special dispensation to Catholic-based entities from such meaningful legislation as ACA.

The Catholic Church is trying to present itself as a Conscientious Objector to the laws, much the same as draft-dodgers in the Vietnam War era tried in the 1960’s. A big part of the problem with this position is that many employees of the Catholic-based businesses are not Catholic and/or not practicing Catholics. Loyola Marymount University just announced its first non-Catholic president, yet presumably LMU would be entitled to the proposed preferential exemption. The university or hospital or whatever isn’t Catholic — some of its employees are, but the “organization” is not. The federal government shall create no laws favoring any religion (and by default, no laws denigrating any religion). Freedom of religion is bestowed upon citizens, not on institutions. Hanging a cross outside the door and receiving donations from the Church does not mean that any institution can then claim to be above the law. Treating the Catholic Church as a special entity for non-faith issues is anti-Constitutional.

And don’t be so naive to believe that the Catholics sitting in the pews each week are not pro-choice, do not use contraception, or do not support ACA. Those lobbying for special exemptions for the Church already know this, but they are hiding behind a facade of “fundamental beliefs” to avoid having to comply with important laws. More importantly, they are trying to avoid having to pay the alternate fees for non-participation in ACA. Apparently, the morality of the Church stops at its checkbook. The first half of Parker’s article told of how the private entity of Susan G. Komen can opt to dispense funding to any other entity of its choosing and that donors can likewise choose to donate to SGK or Planned Parenthood or both or neither. Certainly, the Catholic Church has the right to opt out of ACA and pay the corresponding fees associated with such a decision. But instead, the Church wants to opt out, be exempt from payments, and hide behind a presumed position that it is above the law. It is not.

The Catholic Church and its apologists should be focused on preaching the divine faith of Catholicism, not trying to enforce the very earthen man-made “rules” of Catholicism. It is unconscionable that the Catholic Church would not willingly want to care for its servants and employees as much as it preaches for the care of those served. I rely on the teachings of the Catholic faith for my spiritual guidance, and I don’t need those who have taken on the mantle of being in charge of the Church to tell me what I should or should not do in the privacy of my bedroom.

The Catholic Church should be a law-abiding entity in any of its forms, whether it be a church, a hospital, a school, a university, or a managed charity. If there is a need to opt out due to some moral superiority complex, then the Church’s organizations shouldn’t mind at all paying the corresponding fees. But it seems that the Church would rather hide behind its “morality” than front the money to prove it.

Ding Dong! New Year Resolution

This year I’m quitting.  

I am addicted to DingDongs.   They are the hockey-puck shaped chocolate cakes with a whipped cream-ish filling — Mmmm, mmmm!   I have been hooked since I first started eating them in high school.   It just kind of started as a weekend thing with a few of my friends, but soon I developed the habit of eating DingDongs every day, and now I’m up to a package a day.    It’s getting expensive.  But that’s not the only reason I need to stop.

I can’t help myself, really.   I know people think it’s odd that I still eat DingDongs even though it’s known how unhealthy such a habit is.    The filling is rife with awful processed chemicals, and constantly eating them has taken its toll on my teeth and gums.   My doctor tells me all the time that my health is adversely affected, but its a choice I make, and really, the taste is soothing and I find that I’m less jittery when the DingDong chemicals hit my bloodstream.    There are several diseases associated with overeating DingDongs (and Ho-Ho’s, and Twinkies, etc.) like obesity, diabetes, and some cardio-diseases.   It’s a lifestyle choice to eat DingDongs, and I have to make the choice now to stop and to overcome the addiction, not just for me, but for the people around me.

It’s a pretty messy habit, as you might have guessed.   I get crumbs everywhere, and they often cling to my clothes.  I have been told by more than one friend and coworker that I carry around the DingDongs crumbs like a Swiffer, even when I’m not eating them.   In an elevator, the chocolate crumbs that flake off of me make others step a little bit away — it’s a subtle, but noticeable, reaction.   I’m used to it, but that processed cake that lingers in my clothes and the crumbs in my car are not a good way to make any kind of impression.    My wife would rather take her car anywhere we go to avoid the crumbs; she certainly doesn’t want the crumbs on her clothes.   

The color and smell of DingDongs is likely permanently embedded in my fingers.   Every time I eat, the faint odor of cake wafts into my nose with the food I’m eating, and therefore the food all tastes a little like DingDong.   Typically, restaurants and bars won’t let me bring DingDongs inside, and I find myself craving one before we get to dessert.   After dinner, I definitely need to step outside, have a DingDong, and then go back inside for coffee or whatever.   It would be rude for me to just start eating a DingDong at a friend’s house, so I find ways to quickly slip outside to their balcony/porch/sidewalk to grab a quick bite or two.   I know that it is disruptive to the social gatherings I attend.  

Another problem I have with my DingDong habit is what to do with the wrappers.   I often find myself just flicking them out the car window along the highway or at stop lights, or even dropping them along the sidewalk.   It’s not “right” I know, but I am a DingDong eater and it isn’t as if the street sweepers won’t get the wrappers.   At the end of the day, that’s no big deal, really.

So, my New Year’s resolution is to quit eating DingDongs.  I’ve tried before, but only half-heartedly.   This time I mean it.


[Does being addicted to DingDongs and any one of the associated actions sound ridiculous?   Substitute “smoking cigarettes” for “eating DingDongs”, and “smoke” for “crumbs”, and “butts” for “wrappers” — it should still seem just as ridiculous.   If you smoke, please quit.   For yourself, for your health, for your family.  Don’t be a DingDong.   🙂 ]

No Newts!

So, Newt Gingrich (former House Speaker and now candidate for the GOP nomination for President of the US — yes, THAT Newt Gingrich) is going to save Americans from “elitist” judges. He claims that the judiciary has abused its powers by determining a legal, civic definition of when life begins and by “intervening” in the definition of marriage with a legal-based interpretation. In Newt’s world, that is not for the courts to decide, it is the role of the President.

Elite: adj., representing the most choice or select; the best.

Newt — not a lawyer so he doesn’t have to follow those messy legal parameters of an argument — is going to save us from the best legal minds in our country. How? Well, if we are to believe his own words in the letter he wrote on 12/12/11 to THE FAMiLY LEADER in Iowa, Newt is going to override the judges, the courts, and even the Supreme Court from the Oval Office. He believes that Americans do not know what is good for themselves, and even the the very best judges in the American court system cannot properly interpret the Constitution. No, only Newt himself knows what is right and just. By his own words, Newt Gingrich, if elected President of the US, will summarily define the country’s social and moral conscience.

On Day 1 of a fictional Presidency, Newt vows to define marriage solely to exclude those whom, in the name of pandering to a particular voting bloc, he doesn’t like. Marriage, says Newt, is to be solely between a man and a woman (and then, I guess, between a man and his mistress after he cheats on and then divorces the first woman, then between a man and his second mistress after also cheating on and divorcing mistress #1, and so on…). “Marriage” for Newt, will be defined at his convenience. It’s not really a sacred vow for him, just more of a loose contract, and Newt wants it to exclude those who are different from his core constituents, that core being the religious right-wing of the GOP. Also on Day 1, he will decree by Executive Order to desist funding of overseas medical programs that may include an option for a woman’s right to choose, though that might be less than 1% of the medical services provided in teh program. Because he believes “life” begins with conception, he wants his beliefs to override the States’ rights for determining legality of certain abortion rights. Pro-choice advocates (choice includes adoption and family counseling, by the way) such as Planned Parenthood would be defunded by Newts supreme decree. Newt must believe that he alone is the elusive God Particle. The fact that many, if not most, of our actual laws are based on age as determined by birth (not conception) is irrelevant to Newt.

It is not matters of faith and creed, but rather matters of civic law about which the President, when acting as President, should be concerned. The separation of Church and State might not be a principle by which a private citizen lives, but it is a mandate to the President, Congress, and the Judiciary! The Courts and the Electorate must govern based on civic law, not religious bias. Private citizens can follow their religious beliefs, openly or privately, and lobby for legislation in support of their views. The separation of Church and State by the government is necessary, mostly to protect citizens from over-zealousness of elected officials who may wish to blur that line. Apparently, appeasing the self-righteous conservative “Christian” base is more important during Newt’s campaign than is the actual law and civic responsibility of elected officials. It is another convenient position for the former Speaker and current Candidate.

Astonishingly, in that same letter, Newt also states that he will defend religious liberty, and he writes that he “will vigorously defend the First Amendment’s rights of religious liberty and freedom of speech against anyone who try to stifle the free expression of believers.” Based on his commitment to pursue legislation based on his own religious beliefs, Newt shows his hypocritical nature once again. The twice-divorced, thrice-married, erstwhile defender of Marriage will also defend religious freedom… provided, too, that he will also enact legislation based on his own religious beliefs, regardless of the common citizen’s preference. This type of authoritarian attitude is cause for concern. Our Constitution protects the free speech of all citizens, especially those in the minority who would otherwise be trampled.

Further, Newt wants to implement his defense against the nation’s debt, to maximize job creation, and to turn around the nation’s fiscal situation. Certainly these are worthy goals and echoed by all candidates and the Presidential incumbent, but without a sound plan, they are hollow words. Newt actually has a plan, unfortunately, and as recently as 12/12/11, the Tax Policy Center in Washington DC reported that the proposed Gingrich Plan would “dramatically worsen the budget deficit.” (http://news.yahoo.com/study-gingrich-tax-plan-worsen-deficit-213235890.html) Basically, the Gingrich Plan and its flat tax concept falls flat on its nose under scrutiny.

Elitism: n., practice of or belief in rule by an elite.

“Elitist” is not an actual word according to Dictionary.com, but I agree that it expresses an idea. Therefore, it is to follow that the term “Elitist” describes one who practices, follows, and/or supports elitism, and the belief that one person or group is automatically smarter and better than any other. Elitists are the undefined and often ambiguous evil “them.” Newt will protect us from “them.” Newt will staunchly and heroically defend Americans against “elitist judges” according to his recent TV appearances. Newt doesn’t need courts, lawyers, and judges to determine the laws and the social mores of our country. Newt already knows in his own mind what’s right and how everyone else should live. Those who don’t agree with the Gingrich rhetoric, who opt instead to follow civic law and the basic tenets of the Constitution, are labelled “them” — the “elitists.”

So, please follow the bouncing logic ball and tell me who is the real “elitist,” or even worse, who is an “authoritarian tyrant.” The answer is Newt. The man of convenient conscience who wants to be King of America. Are we really expected to vote for that?

“She turned me into a newt… I got better.”
– Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1974)

Here’s to hoping that the Newt supporters also “get better” in time for the elections. There are better choices.

Mass Confusion

Last week, the Catholic Church unveiled its most significant change to the Mass since Vatican II in the early 60’s, which means it’s the most major change in my lifetime.    Over the years, I have witnessed my friends and some family members leaving the Catholic Church for a variety of reasons, most of which center on the archaic and non-adaptive policies, politics, and ceremony of the Church.   The Church must have noticed, as well, and so it has introduced changes to the Mass.   Unfortunately, the decision-makers in the organization decided that the changes should make Mass a little longer, a little stranger, a lot more confusing, and with 10% more guilt than the “old version.”

Let’s take a look at some of the changes, starting with the new book.  The new 1000+-page books that have replaced the missal have a nice Table of Contents showing where the various sacraments, readings, etc. are to be found… unfortunately, the pages in the book are not actually numbered.  So if you are looking for page 219, good luck.    Also, the weekly readings are now grouped by seasons, and if its the first Sunday of June, then you had best also know if it’s the eighth or tenth or fifteenth week of Ordinary Time, because you will not find the date at the start of any of the readings, of which there can be 3 or 4 options for a given Sunday.   Hopefully, the Lectors will let you know before Mass begins, otherwise, Mass attendees can expect to do a lot of page-flipping as they attempt to keep up, like I did last week.   Despite the fact that many parishioners like to read along with the Mass, the new books also cut out the Eucharistic Prayers  (Eucharistic Prayer II being my favorite, solely for its brevity).   When they actually can read along, I suspect that the page-flipping throughout the service will ultimately become too frustrating and tedious for folks, and they will stop following along in the book, which, in turn, will create distance between the message and the recipient.

Prayers and responses, always a part of our weekly Mass ritual and recitation, have also been changed.   According to the Church, the changes are to more closely interpret the Latin Mass.   What?   The Church found that by more closely translating a dead-language version of the Mass it will somehow bring people closer to the Church?   Keep in mind that the Latin version is itself an interpretation of the Bible and the Order of Mass.  Also, many churches still offer at least one Mass in Latin, so those inclined to follow the archaic and “traditional” Mass have that option.   Perhaps those Masses were overflowing to the point where the Church felt it necessary to adopt the Latin versions across all Masses?   Not likely.   And before any traditionalists chime in, consider that the Church also traditionally burned at the stake those who were labeled heretics, so we cannot really yearn for the good ol’ days of the Catholic Church.

Some of the verbiage revisions include changing the traditional response of “…and also with you” to the weirdly mysterious and considerably less personal “…and with your spirit.”    And that isn’t the oddest change, either.   “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…” was replaced with “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…”  I’m sorry, but that’s rather awkward.   Don’t look for your favorite songs and psalms, either.   Those have been omitted and replaced, too, to align the hymns with the traditional Mass concept.   If the Church wants the Mass to more closely associate with the Latin translations, then it should really just say Mass in Latin.   The idea of having Mass in languages other than Latin is to allow the faith to have broader appeal in a familiar vernacular.    With the latest revisions, I believe the Church has taken a giant step backwards.   Perhaps it’s my own fault, my own fault, my own grievous fault.   Perhaps not.

Church-goers who become lost in the text and distanced from the intentions of the Mass will find the teachings of the Church less relevant to them.   On future Sunday mornings (or Saturday evenings), the otherwise regular pew-fillers will find more excuses for themselves and their families to not go to services.   Fewer people will result in fewer coins in the coffers, and more importantly, fewer new-generation attendees.   If a shepherd begins to speak differently to his sheep, they may still recognize his voice, but they may not understand the message, and they will wander off.

Civility Engineering

My sister-in-law is over 7 months pregnant with her first child, and a couple weeks back she went shopping at a local big box baby store.   She lives in the Chicago area, but as a lifelong fan of the Green Bay Packers, she was wearing her green & gold Packers sweatshirt.  On her way to her car, a man in the parking lot saw that she is pregnant and saw her Green Bay gear, and he felt it appropriate to tell her that he “hopes her baby is deformed” because she roots for The Pack.   Really?   I mean, REALLY??  What could possibly be going through this guy’s head that he not only thought this atrocious and hurtful thought, but also felt it necessary  to verbalize it at all?

I understand cheering for and being a fan of a sports team.   I love my NY Giants and root for them against any opponent.   Part of being a fan, though, is knowing that there are fans of other teams, as well.   There should always be a bit of a rivalry between teams and fans, and I enjoy the back-and-forth banter during games.   I don’t think it should generate hate such that anyone would wish ill fate upon any other person (or baby in the womb — I mean, really??) just for wearing the team logo.   I enjoy it more when my team wins, of course, but no team wins ’em all, and being humble in victory and gracious in defeat is the primary lesson in sportsmanship and civility.   They’re just teams, and certainly  shouldn’t generate life-or-death ultimatums.

What could possibly be fun about having everyone cheering for the same team?   How could any sport even function if there was only one team and one fan base?  At the local, national, even international levels of sports, from youth to amateur to pro to Olympic, the competition between athletes and the rivalry among fans is what makes it exciting and worth watching.   When that fanaticism turns to belligerence, however, the excitement and the fun are drained away.   We cringe when we witness coaches, players, parents, and fans overstepping the bounds of decency and decorum and stooping to embarrassing levels of incivility towards one another.    That man in the parking lot reflects a poor trend in our society.

Similarly, we see the same declining trend of civility in our political arena.  The vile and vitriol spewed not only from the talking heads on TV but also by the candidates and party-backers, as well.    It’s disturbing to hear pundits describe one person or one party as an enemy of America just because he or she has a different idea about governing.   Diverse political ideology is rooted in our very existence.  Anti-Federalists clashed verbally with Federalists in our country’s infancy.   The substance of the Constitution was heatedly debated in Philadelphia, and several men vowed that the States they represented would not ratify the Constitution without the Amendments, now known as the Bill of Rights.   Initially there were 12 proposed Articles for incorporation, but only 10 of those were adopted as the Bill of Rights.   Debate and disagreement, but compromise and civility, too.

We need strong, serious debate about the role of government in our society, but this should be a reasoned discussion of ideals and options, goals,and strategies.   Though we each hold biases based on our experiences, our education, and our condition, we are still a nation of laws and of civility.   What should result is lively debate and enlightenment as we learn and understand one another’s perspectives.   Our elections should not be marketing campaigns rooted in attacks on individuals, but rather a positive look at a vision for the Country over the coming years.   This great Country of ours will outlive any individual, and the laws and government should be a reflection of the society, not of any one person, fringe group, or vocal minority.

 So, I have an idea (of course, that’s why I do this!   I think, therefore I blog!).  This past decade has seen the rise of “fantasy sports” with baseball and football being the most popular.   This phenomenon has broadened the appreciation of the sports and teams, and found broader appeal for the athletes, the teams, and the sports in and of themselves.   Most people understand the basic structure of fantasy sports teams, where players are selected, and their performances collectively in any given week provide the team “owner” with a score to compete against other fantasy “owners.”

What if we set up “fantasy political party” leagues?   I become the fantasy “chairman” of my own party — Pete’s Pols.    For instance, I can draft any 4 Senators, any 4 Representatives, 2 Governors, plus 2 “at-large” politicians (maybe an ambassador, a mayor, a cabinet member, or even the Prez or Veep)… Whatever, the league would have a Constitution for selection and scoring… Maybe I get 10 points when one of my pols gets reelected and 2 points if one of them is a sponsor of a bill (+4 points if it becomes a law!).    If one of my at-large pols gets elected as a Senator, I have to drop a Senator and pick up a new at-large pol.  Ooops, -10 points if a pol player isn’t re-elected, and -15 if he/she resigns in scandal!  OK, hopefully you get the idea.   I think that if people started looking across party lines at the actual people who get elected and their general effectiveness as leaders, the conversation may drift away from a “we” versus “they” mentality and into a constructive way to discuss different points of view.

It’s just an idea as I view public behavior in tough economic times.   We are a society that pulls together when facing extreme social challenges — think Katrina, 9/11, etc.   — and we care for each other and our fellow citizens, as well as people around the world.   Why are we turning on each other when times get tough at home?  Where is our civility hiding?   If the obnoxious guy in the baby store parking lot had Greg Jennings and Mason Crosby on his fantasy team, he probably wouldn’t even contemplate the putrid comment that he spewed that day.   If you believe at all in karma, he’ll get his comeuppance one way or another.  He will get no more press from me, though.

Besides, I’ve already got my political “draft election board” started… I’ve got Mitt ahead of Michelle. Do you think Chris Christie will be a first-rounder?   Rahm Emmanuel?   Hmmm, I may need to check out the up and coming State representatives to see if any of them are Congress material… I’m staying away from [c’mon, I’m not telling!] … Fantasy Elections are at my house the first Saturday in March.    Join me?

Healthy Discussion

On the topic of health care reform (which is really health insurance reform), one of the polarizing issues is mandatory insurance subscription by all US
citizens, and for employers to offer the same. The counter-claim is that my freedom as an American includes the freedom to not get insurance. Oops, I meant to say “not get health insurance;” everyone who owns a car is required to have auto insurance, yet that doesn’t seem to bother anyone at all; even companies, large and small, sign up for the auto insurance, no questions asked. I guess it’s natural to want to protect the health and welfare of the cars in which we drive, not our families and our neighbors. But I digress…

So, anyway, I have decided to not get health insurance, as a means of expressing my freedom as an American. However, I am genetically and environmentally predisposed to various illnesses, but I have the right to not get ongoing wellness care to monitor and treat these illnesses.  Now I might wake up each morning, proud of my liberty (naturally!) until the one morning I don’t wake up because my vital organs decide they can only continue to function if I’m in a coma.  My wife drags me from the bed to the car, and drives my comatose self to the hospital.  “No insurance!” She proudly proclaims to the admitting nurse. “After all we are patriotic Americans!”  The hospital treats me anyway, because that’s what doctors, nurses, and our health professionals do — they help, they treat, and they cure whenever they can.

When I get home, now awake and feeling better, I get the bill from the hospital. $100,000 is a lot when you don’t have more than $10k in the ol’ bank account. You see, I also got my red-white-and-blue self out of that Social Security ponzi scheme, and exercised my freedom to spend, not save.   I can do it better on my own, and I invested in a new Range Rover.  I remembered that my great-uncle has a red J-D hat that I really like, so I got a red Range Rover. Very cool.  But again, I digress.  Must be adult onset ADD, but I’ll never know ’cause I don’t go to the doctor unless I’m dragged there unconscious by my wife.

So I pay the hospital $8k (my Range Rover needed new wheels, so I used the other $2k for that), and the hospital has to write down a $92k loss.  QUESTION: Who pays those doctors, nurses, and orderlies who took care of me? Who cares? They can work for free, for all I know or care. Or get it from Medicaid.

Back to reality.   For me, that’s where the whole argument against ObamaCare breaks down.  The freedom to not get insurance puts the risk and cost of health care on the government and the taxpayers across the board.  By not having insurance, wellness care becomes non-existent, making the health emergencies that much more acute, and the cost of care that much greater.  At that point, the government has to bail out the uninsured.

The ObamaCare health insurance initiative stipulates that the citizens & corporations share in the risk of health care costs in order to reduce the risk to the government via Medicaid and other social programs. Over time, with individuals taking responsibility and sharing in their health care costs, the burden on the government will be reduced.

Health insurance companies don’t make money by paying out claims, so they disqualify coverage for a host of reasons, “pre-existing conditions” being one of my favorites.   The insurance reform act — sorry, again I mean health insurance, not the mandatory auto insurance laws — will
stop the insurance companies from unreasonably denying coverage.

In the example above, if I had my health insurance as will be required by law, then the doctors would be paid, the hospitals would be paid, and I wouldn’t be sticking the government with the bill, either. And from 30,000 feet, it seems that having individuals share in the risks of their own health and wellness equates to less government involvement and a healthier, stronger America.

So if you like government bail-outs, bigger government, and a weaker populace, then you should be against Obamacare, otherwise we should be strongly in favor of the law.   I will get health insurance after all, because I don’t want to add to the government’s Medicaid burden, and I certainly don’t want to have my wife drag my comatose carcass to the hospital — what if she drops me and I get hurt?  I mean, would Medicaid cover that?


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