Kind and Generous People

There is an old saying that I have always taken to heart, “Guests and fish smell bad after three days.” To avoid “smells” it has been my practice to invited guests for less than three days, and to be a guest for less than three days. However, for the first time in my life, I threw caution to the wind. I accepted an invitation to stay with friends for a week. Happily, I had a wonderful time and I believe that my friends did as well.

My friends, myself, three grandsons and a daughter, stayed in a two apartment time share in the mountains of Virginia. Stocked with gallons of water and milk, pounds of cooked pasta, 8 loaves of bread, varieties of lunch meat, cereal, salty snack foods and a large ham, we settled into apartments that were nicely furnished, shower and bath tub friendly with comfortable beds.

The young people hustled out in the mornings to do young people stuff such as ride bumper cars, swim, tumble down water falls and eat ice-cream. That left us old folks to ramble through antique shops and wander around farmers’ markets.

We gathered at dinnertime to indulge in take-out chicken or ham and pasta extravaganzas. Then the kids scrambled to their apartment and played video games when they weren’t in the Jacuzzi. The really grown-ups read quietly or watched a movie before tottering off to bed.

The days just flowed. No one said a cross word nor complained about the anything, except maybe having to put one’s dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

In my life experience, people can be tiring, especially when one refrains from saying what one is thinking or going where another has decided to go. But, when one is with kind and generous people one tends to be kind and generous. Thus, the days passed with grace and quiet joy. I am glad that I was invited and that I accepted the invitation

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Another Blow against the First Amendment

Since the beginning of the United States of America, the Supreme Court acts as a watchdog of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The decisions of the Court are sacrosanct. By and large, the Court does a good job of interpreting laws. However, members of the Court are products of the social and cultural norms of their times; therefore, sometimes, the Court makes decisions that it must later be reversed, the Dread Scott and the Korematsu decisions are two. Both involved prejudice against two ethnic minority groups.

This past week, the Court voted to support the President’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries. Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote a scathing minority opinion condemning the hostility and animus motivating the decision. Justice Sotomayor was later joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Ironically, Justice Sotomayor is a Roman Catholic and Justice Ginsberg is Jewish. Only a few generations ago persons of both religions were unwanted minorities in the United States.

It is my opinion and my hope that this current President’s ban on travel from mostly Muslim countries will be reversed. Not because the relatives of Muslims living in the country will be denied birthday or wedding visits from relatives living abroad; but because freedom of religion, will once again be recognized as a First Amendment Right!


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Looking for an Answer

The other day, my son and I were having a meal together – a rare occasion. Between bites, he told me the plot of the latest science fiction movie that he watched. He wanted to know, if, like the characters in the movie, I had an opportunity to be god-like and change people or events, what changes would I make.

I answered that God is love. He created us to love Him and love each other as ourselves. If we all did what we were created to do, the world would be such a great place that no people or events would need changing. This was a simple answer that has been around for a long time. The big question is how do people impact/change history and how does history impact/change people.

Or, to put it another way do people impact/change cultural norms, or do those norms impact/change people? Students, professors, philosophers and theologians have been tossing that one around for centuries.

In making a case for the philosophy of Personalism, a belief in the I/Thou equality, yet uniqueness of individuals, my favorite op-ed writer wrote the following:

Our culture does a pretty good job of ignoring the uniqueness and depth of each person. Pollsters see in terms of broad demographic groups. Big data counts people as if it were counting apples. At the extreme, evolutionary psychology reduces people to biological drives, capitalism reduces people to economic self-interest, modern Marxism to their class position and multiculturalism to their racial one. Consumerism…as shallow creatures concerned…with pleasure and having stuff.

As I see it, Personalism is a more sophisticated way of saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The trick is to get out from under all of the baggage that our culture dumps on us.

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The first time that I heard the ballad, “Besame, Besame Mucho” I was a kid in the 1940’s. At the time, I thought that it the song was sung in Italian because the words meant, “kiss me”. At that time in my life, I knew a few Italian words. It never occurred to me that those words might be the same in some other (Romance) language.

Over the years, several artists, including the Beetles recorded the song. Frankly, I had not heard it for decades until yesterday at an International Arts fair in Philadelphia. “Besame …” was the opening song of a Latin American group called “La Noche”. Unlike the romantic rendition that I heard more than a half a century before, “La Noche” gave the song a Latin pulse.

The song vibrated with rhythm. Several members of the audience, including myself, swayed in their seats. A few got up and danced. I couldn’t help but flash back to the dreamy sound of the 40’s crooners who made young girls swoon with the same melody. I think that the Mexican songwriter would be very happy to know that his words and music still move audiences.


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The Italians

The Italians are proving once more that democracy is a game that they like to play, but that they do not take seriously as a vehicle for the establishment of just laws. After World War II, they had at least one hundred governments before settling on one. At that time, one of those governments, I do not remember which, established the age of retirement at 26 years! That didn’t last long.

Anyway, they are at it again. New political parties propose to leave the EU and to do away with the Euro. As the fourth largest economy in Europe, Italy is causing havoc. The European market is fluctuating all over the place. Hopefully, soon the Italian parliament will elect a prime minister and form a just and sensible government. There is no guarantee that that will happen. The strength of the Italians is not in their national government, but as a people, in their caring and concern for the local community in which they live, so says NYT columnist, David Brooks.

Personally, I am inclined to agree with him. Over the last year or so, I have read several examples of this caring. Here is one of them.

Thirty-five years ago two brothers, a famous fabric designer and a prominent eye surgeon were successful, but spiritually unfulfilled. Through a local priest, the bothers and their wives found faith. Their faith lead to action through an H.I.V. infected infant which one brother and his wife agreed to foster.

This was the beginning of what became Cometa, a compound where couples live together with their foster children. Today, it is a common sight to see 40 children and five couples eating dinner around a u-shaped table.

Over the years, the townspeople got involved helping the compound grow so that now many more children who need love and support are helped through an after school program, a vocational high school, a parental counseling and mental health centers. Along with job related skills, the children are taught to understand and to create hospitable experiences through which they might enlighten others. Believing that beauty educates, the interiors of the buildings and their exteriors are worthy of reviews by “Home and Garden”.

Conceived in faith, born in compassion and sustained through love, others continue the work of the brothers and their wives in creating a caring place for needy children to thrive. This represents what the Italians do best.




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South Dakota and Me

Several months ago, I planned to join a tour of South Dakota in order to visit a United States of America icon, Mount Rushmore. Visiting that site was never on my “to do” list, but having visited China, Japan, India, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa, all but two European countries and several Mediterranean independent islands, I felt it time to see Mount Rushmore.

Packing for the trip, I experienced a renewed sense of patriotism. After all, in spite of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint’s climb over George Washington’s nose in “North by Northwest”, this monument was created to honor four great presidents – or so I thought. Imagine my disappointment in learning that the monument was designed to encourage tourism in South Dakota!

In spite of my disappointment in the origin of the monument, seeing the four heads of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt emerge from the fog, did give me a feeling of hope for a free democratic society returning to the USA. My five-hour plane ride and swollen ankles were justified.

To my delight, South Dakota had a great deal more to offer this singular minded tourist. The Badlands, a geological wonder, created by diverted rivers and eons of erosion, mesmerized me. Miles and miles of grayish peaks and canyons, occasionally streaked with yellow, gave me the “moonish” experience of quiet desperation.

Through visits to small museums and listening to “for the tourists” Lakota Indian story telling and dancing, I absorbed a little of the Lakota Indian experience. To be honest, none of the above aroused any compassion for nor appreciation of the plight of this, or any other North American Indian tale of woe. However, there is always a “however”.

A visit to the Tatanka Museum, owned by the actor, Kevin Costner, changed that. After the success of “Dances with Wolves”, Costner, to his credit, bought nearly 200 acres of rolling, green Wyoming to establish this museum to honor the tatanka, (buffalo) and the symbiotic relationship the animal had with the Lakota Indians. The museum if operated by and for the Lakota.

As tourists, we were ushered into a small auditorium surrounded by artifacts made from buffalo. In that room, a Lakota Indian, who in any culture, might be defined as a knowledgeable, self- possessed gentleman, addressed us. In a scholarly yet down to earth fashion, this man, with pride in his people yet compassion for their one-time oppressors (us tourists), explained the importance of the buffalo to the Lakota. What a guy!

My visit to South Dakota dispelled at least one myth about the region, and taught me a few facts that have given me a renewed appreciation for place under a vast blue sky far from my home, but not from my consciousness.







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Out of Control


Usually I enjoy the wit, intelligence and the research in Op-Ed pieces written by Gail Collins for the NYT. Today, however, I was disappointed, probably because Ms Collins appeared to be defending all of Planned Parenthood’s services, especially its right to offer abortions supplemented by government funding. Long ago, Planned Parenthood stepped into areas outside of its original purpose – supplemented by government money, of course, HIV testing, cervical cancer screening, not to mention selling fetal parts. Hospitals, and now Urgent Care facilities are readily available to provide many services offered by Planned Parenthood without resorting to selling fetal parts, or performing abortions.

Like the opoid epidemic, abortion in the USA is out of control. Ms Collins knows that. She knows that the choice of a woman to legally have an abortion was originally intended to prevent back-alley abortion mills which often took the life of the woman, or left her infertile. She also knows that there as there is big money in the legal drug business so it is in abortion clinics.

I’m disappointed in Ms Collins today because she is mocking the Trump administrations proposal to continue funding Planned Parenthood if the organization ceases to perform abortions. Sometimes I believe that intelligent, liberal women are afraid to step near the line, let alone over it, believing that in disagreeing with any aspect of the liberal agenda is a betrayal of their sex. Please, I believe in your intelligence and compassion, believe in them yourself.

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