“But It’s Such a Small Percentage…”

I grew up Catholic, and when I was about 18, the Boston Archdiocese (which was the diocese I grew up in) was being ‘rocked’ by one of the most infamous child sexual abuse scandals in church history.  I will start off by saying, that my interest in this is as an observer, and not that of a victim.

When the scandal was happening, it seemed to affect many of the aspects of my life.  I was graduating from a catholic high school, my mother worked for the church, and because a majority of my family, and the people I interacted with were catholic, it was a consistent topic.

One of the things that I learned during that time was the level of denial associated with it.  There was a big sense of detachment, and even though many people I know disliked/disapproved/or even hated Cardinal Bernard Law, there was a lack of correlation between ‘my church’ and ‘the church.’

It’s natural, and to some extent I get it. If you’re raised exclusively with the idea that the church is right, and the church is good, it becomes very hard to break out of that.  Now, my father is not catholic, and while he was always pretty good about not directly contradicting the things I was being ‘taught’ growing up, there was just enough dissent and questioning that I wasn’t “dead behind the eyes” when it came to following that stuff.

One of the things I used to hear during that time, was “it’s only 7% of priests, the majority are good.”  Now just for clarity sake, 7% was the number I used to hear, and I looked today while writing this to find what percentage, and the best information I could find was also 7% but that was from The Huffington Post, which I don’t really trust as a news source.  So for the sake of this argument, just assume whatever percentage number you’d like, because that’s not the main point that I want to make.  The point that I want to make applies even if it’s 1%.

So here’s the problem I have whenever I hear about the “it’s only (enter small number here) of priests.”  That only applies to rapists and molesters, and assumes that all others are innocent, and good.  However, Cardinal Bernard Law, whom I will probably reference a few times throughout this as he is one of the more visible names, and he’s the one who was in charge of my particular area, wasn’t ever accused (that I’m aware of) of raping or molesting kids, so he doesn’t count toward that %, and I would imagine that if we had a definitive list of all the people who shuffled priests around, and were otherwise complicit, that there would be other names that had never been directly accused and therefore aren’t brought into that ‘statistic’, but they’re certainly not innocent or good.  In fact even after all of the scandal blew up in Boston, Cardinal Law managed to live out his life in Rome, in the church in a high and ‘respected’ position in the church.

So, I get that people want their religion, and ‘their churches’ to be defended against these accusations.  As much as I dislike the guy, I even get why Bill Donahue of The Catholic League, feels the need to write an op-ed about every slight against the church, I always consider this: there is The Church, and there is The Faith (or the Faithful).  My mom, and my sister, and many other people in my family are part of “the faith,” and they’re good people, and I get that I’m one of the few people who makes a distinction so when the Church is attacked, they feel attacked too, but they shouldn’t be.  They shouldn’t be put in the position to have to defend something that they feel makes them and their lives better, against attacks of child molestation, or admit that everything is a corrupt sham.  It’s not either/or.  Believe in Jesus, try to follow his works, even believe in transsubstantiation and all of the other Catholic specific things you believe in, but don’t give this organization a pass. Don’t write off that organizationally they’re not a good organization.  That doesn’t mean that they can’t be, in fact, the good people of “the faith” deserve them to be a good organization, but they’re not right now.

One last thing, on the rare occasions that I go to church (I don’t believe in catholicism either as “the Faith” or as “The Church”, but occasionally there are weddings, or baptisms) their are certain types of priests who talk about “Easter and Christmas Catholics” and how the churches aren’t as full as they once were.  I would imagine it’s a lot of people like me, who are only going on those days to support people they love, and not because they believe in your organization.  If you want to attract more people, don’t use guilt and fear (they used to work wonders but the world is changing) try actually making your church desirable to new people.  Make your ‘brand’ something that people don’t have to either defend, or be ashamed to admit they once were part of.  BE BETTER.  It’s a long process, but there has been very little (to those of us on the outside) effort to really improve.

Good Humor on the Right

A couple of years ago, a family member sent me a video of a ‘millenial’ talking about how she graduated from Harvard earlier in the week, got a job, showed up late the first day due to partying, and was fired, and proceeded to tell the ‘white man’ boss that she was to be respected.  It was portrayed as a first hand account, and clearly supposed to be taken seriously, and when I responded with “um… this seems fake, she’s at least my age” (technically a millenial, but I’m in my thirties so the graduating from Harvard and going out partying the night before a job didn’t ring true in the slightest) “I think this is just to spark outrage,” the response I got was “no shit Sherlock, it’s called satire.  That’s why it’s funny.”

But here’s the thing, it wasn’t funny, and I don’t mean “I didn’t like the angle” so it wasn’t funny, it was just objectively poorly executed and not funny.  There is a real political satire/humor deficit between the two sides.  The left has so many funny people that the unfunny are washed out, and so it seems to further intensify the ‘quality’ of the humor, and refines the tastes of those in agreement, but the right really has so little.  Dennis Miller, I’m told is pretty funny, I’ve enjoyed the little that I’ve seen of his stuff, but I’m not aware of where to find more (contemporary) stuff from him.  So when you get someone who you agree with, and they’re making fun of the other guys, you tend to find that funny if you have nothing else.

So where am I going with this?  Steven Crowder.  Now, I’ve talked about how I think Milo Yiannopoulos is entertaining, and occasionally he’s funny, but Steven Crowder is the first person, that I’m aware of, who is definitely on the right (Joe Rogan is in a kind of nebulous non-affiliated place, that’s why I’m not including him) who is pretty consistently funny.

Crowder’s impression of Young Turks’ creator Cenk Uygur is hilarious, and let me just say, I mostly like what I see from Cenk, but Crowder’s impersonation is spot on, and he finds the naturally exaggerated parts and mimics them perfectly.  “OF COURSE!”

What’s really impressive about Crowder, in addition to his ability to be funny, is that he is coherent while being funny, and he’s researched.  The first time I watched a “Change My Mind” segment, I was amazed at how deep he’d dove into the subject matter ahead of time.

The “Change My Mind” segment is also a good example of something that he’s doing, that I’m not aware of anyone else, left or right doing, and that is consistently airing unedited these pieces.  That’s not to say that there is an inherent fairness, ultimately whether it’s him, or Sasha Baron Cohen, or The Daily Show, the ‘house’ has the advantage, by going in prepared, but by not editing them, he shows his own confidence in his points, and he does tend to come out looking pretty good.

Now, I disagree on at least 50% of everything I’ve ever heard him say, but I do think he’s a really interesting voice in our political satire/commentary culture, and importantly he’s funny.  So, here’s the thing, that is both a good thing for conservatives, because humor can definitely make your points stronger.  I want to see the smartest, and funniest people on both sides making their points.  I think we only improve by getting the best people, with the best minds on both sides.  I don’t want dumb, or unfunny right leaning people to represent the right, because both sides can motivate each other to be better, but only if they’re on equal footing.

But, the right actually having a legitimately funny (and intelligent) voice is also a bad thing, for all of the unfunny conservatives who’ve been getting the default laughter of people who just happen to agree with them.  He’s raised the bar, and hopefully we’ll see more come out, because disagreeing with someone doesn’t inherently upset me, but thinking they’re unfunny, when they clearly think they are funny, upsets me more.  We need good comedy, and I hope we continue to get it.

The Problem with Democratic-Socialism

If you’re like me, you probably first heard the term “Democratic-Socialism” in regards to Bernie Sanders in 2015 or 2016.  Since then, he’s been keeping it in the news a fair amount, but over the course of the last couple of months, a second big name in “Democratic-Socialism” has risen: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez, is Democratic nominee for New York’s 14th district (Queens and the Bronx) US Congressional seat.  She recently upset the primary when she won the seat, both as the younger candidate, as well as because she is a self-proclaimed “Democratic-Socialist.”

There was some conversation on The View, in which not only Ocasio-Cortez’s stances, but the term “Democratic-Socialism” were discussed.  Notably Meghan McCain dismissed the policies, which ended up as a trending topic on Twitter, but to me the more interesting piece was Whoopi Goldberg’s response.  “If you’re a socialist, tell me that,” Goldberg said. “Don’t say that you’re a Democrat… we don’t have the same ideas of what should be happening.”

So, I want to talk about what Whoopi said.  You see, I think Whoopi innocently brings to the forefront the real issue with “Democratic-Socialism,” which as far as I can tell, is that few people seem to know what Socialism is.

I’m sure, you’re probably thinking, “I know what Socialism is, it’s a redistribution of wealth,” or perhaps you’re slightly more accurate, “it’s an institutionalized social safety net.”  That’s not what I’m talking about.

Socialism, is a system put in place by a government, but it is not itself a type of government.  Who is the head of a socialist government?  What structure in the form of branches does a socialist government have?  None, because it’s not a type.

Democracy, on the other hand, is a type of government.  “A government run by the people.”  In the United States, we’re actually a Democratic Republic, but I won’t get into that right now.

For argument’s sake, let’s say we’re a pure democracy, 1 citizen+1 vote.  If more than 50% of the people of a pure democracy vote to redistribute wealth in the form of social services, and attempt to create “equality of opportunity,” that would be a democratic decision, and it was also be a socialist decision.  These two things are not mutually exclusive.

One of the issues with talking about communism and socialism in real-world examples, is that we often conflate the structure of government, and this service of government.  People who want to discredit either term will point to places like Cuba and Russia, as obvious failures.  What isn’t taken into account, is that these are dictatorships, and authoritarian governments, which are fundamentally non-democratic.

I got into a debate a couple of years ago with someone who cited them, and I asked if communism/socialism (not the same but almost always used interchangeably in these arguments) were to blame for the problems, or the dictators, and I was given the answer that they were inseparable, and that totalitarianism is always a problem.  I was then told how we shouldn’t have any regulation and that the market will always correct itself, which I tried to argue was totalitarianism capitalism, and I got the two blink, “Dora The Explorer” stare.

Is Democratic-Socialism a good thing?  That’s a point worth debating, and discussing, but ultimately to have an honest discussion, and come to an honest conclusion, we need to actually understand what we’re talking about.  Unfortunately, I suspect Whoopi’s statement was pretty indicative of the norm.

I should mention, that I am glad Whoopi said what she did, because it hadn’t been expressed as clearly as she did, what the problem was, and I hope that her statement, which I think was born of sincerity will kick off a better dialogue.

Let Me Tell You About My Best Friend

I want to talk a little bit about my relationship with my wife.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too mushy, I have a point to make.

A lot of people refer to their spouse as their best friend, and for many it seems an exaggeration, but for me, it is not.  If you take out the physical attraction to her (and the returned attraction from her) I’d still have someone who makes me laugh harder than any other person.  When she makes me laugh uncontrollably, she calls it ‘dragon tongue’ because the face I make resembles a fire-breathing dragon.  Well, I rarely hit ‘dragon tongue’ level with anyone else in my life, but Sarah makes me do often.

It’s tough when I’m trying hard to launch Chocolate Diamond Media, and editing books as a second job, and working my regular job, and we’re raising a 2 year old (who is great, but has so much energy) to find time for each other.  There are days where we spend hours together, only to realize we miss each other, because there wasn’t twenty full minutes of just us talking, uninterrupted.

It can be a struggle to find any kind of real connection time, anything that stimulates our brains in more than an “aww, isn’t he cute” kind of way.  So, we went looking for something, some dedicated ‘us time,’ to feel like adults again.  Then, on a road-trip back from Massachusetts to North Carolina, Sarah found the joys of podcasts, and said “we should do a podcast together!”  The podcasts she enjoyed, and the ones I listen too, are vastly different, but she finally got what I’d been talking about for a couple years.

We started brainstorming for a podcast concept that worked for both of us.  We didn’t want one where we felt the need to talk about relationships, or babies, or any of that, we wanted one that engaged us more intellectually and less emotionally, to give us a different direction from the rest of our life together.

After much discussion, and a bit debate about what ‘list’ of movies to watch, we decided upon, and launched “Mike and Sarah’s Best Picture Podcast.”  We’ve done 21 episodes so far, and it’s really difficult for us to find the time to record, and we haven’t been able to maintain the release schedule of one episode per week, but we’re doing our best.  What we have found though, is that it’s really fun, and that it brings us something that was definitely missing the last year or so.  The podcast wasn’t just an excuse for us to watch a different movie every week and talk about it, but in the better situations (the most recent episode about 1948’s Gentleman’s Agreement for example) it served as a spring board for a larger conversation, and exchange of ideas.

Throughout the process, as has always been the case with Sarah, I’ve been surprised.  I’ve been a major movie buff my whole life, and took “Language of Film” kinds of classes, and so I knew I was going in well prepared, but I’ve been stunned at how well versed she’s been in all of it.  I stupidly thought this would be me giving her a film education, but it hasn’t (and I’m glad for that).

The point that I wanted to make in writing this, is that finding something fun and different and new for us has been the thing that keeps our relationship feeling vibrant and not like work.  We’ve always made a concerted effort to do things together, whether it was planning trips, or our wedding (I participated more than most grooms).  We know that a little effort to stay connected will beat the effort it will take to reconnect.

Sorry if this was too mushy, but I hope I got my point across.

Crumpled Papers in the Trash

As a writer, there are times when you have the time to write but not the mentality to, and vice versa.  So many times when I’m too busy but have a million ideas, but today is not one of those days.  Today is a day when I can write, I’m sitting here staring at my screen, and I have nothing to say.

Today is frustrating.

I have written the first sentence of fifteen different ideas, I’ve tried editing some previously started projects, I’ve even written out several comments on social media, only to scrap everything I’ve done.  Today, so far, has been a zero sum day.  Even this piece? I’ll probably realize this is too ‘navel-gazy’ and throw this out too.  We’ll see.

One thing that I’ve realized, while there is something mildly more environmentally friendly about writing electronically, when shit-canning an idea, it can be significantly less satisfying.  I don’t have a piece of paper to crumple into a ball, and then throw into a trash bin, pretending for a second to be a basketball player.

I get to delete out my work.  If it’s just a couple of words, I just press the Backspace button repeatedly until the cursor is the only black mark blinking across a sea of white.  If it’s a couple of sentences, I may just hold that same button, and watch as it starts off deleting letters, and quickly snowballs until it’s consuming entire words simultaneously.  Or if I have managed to get some block of text, I may use the mouse and highlight it all, only to delete it in one quick click. If I return to a project later, and decide it’s nonsense, I can just delete the file, which is slightly more satisfying, because at least I’m asked “Are you sure you want to Delete this?”

I am sure.  It’s not good.  Delete.

After a long day of toiling over electronic writing, there is no trash bin filled with my failures, no proof that I found many ways not to make a lightbulb.  There are only my personal memories, which often are fleeting.  Don’t feel particularly useful, and particularly non-motivating.

Then there is a spark. Not an idea necessarily, but with a little bit of oxygen it could turn into one.  What about writing about the inability to write, no one’s ever done that.  And in an attempt to kick-start some better idea, I start writing that down, hoping it will open up the flood gates, hoping that by the time I’ve exhausted the idea, that maybe I’ll have a legitimately good one, or at least the motivation to revisit my ‘in-progress’ works.

But it fails.

The Thing About Indoctrination…

I’ve been thinking a lot about indoctrination lately.  There is often a push to keep certain religious teachings out of school, because people don’t want their kids learning about the Quran (it’s most often the Quran that’s being complained about) while those same people complain that the reason we have problems is that we “took God out of the schools.” It’s shit that I see online a ton.  It doesn’t make much sense to me, it feels disingenuous, like “Hey, we don’t want the kids being indoctrinated with your fake God, but by our real God instead.”

The other big ‘indoctrination’ thing that people keep talking about is the ‘fact’ that kids don’t say the pledge of allegiance any more in school.  Now, I have seen this a ton online, but have tried to research it, and come up with no evidence that it’s actually true.  I mean, I went to Catholic school for the last 8 years of grade school, so things are a bit different, but I haven’t heard anything about “you know I asked my kid about the pledge, and they don’t say it.”  My own kid is too young to be saying it either way.  But this got me to thinking about the pledge of allegiance, and how it’s kind of an intense piece of patriotic indoctrination.  We are (or should be if you believe the people saying it’s not done anymore) having our kids “pledge allegiance to the flag,” I will be honest and say I get the flag as a symbol, but have never gotten the level of obsession people give the symbol; “and to the United States of America,” in theory, assuming the country does the right thing, this isn’t problematic, if you believe that the country does the right thing, and that if it doesn’t you believe that children (or adults who’ve been told it since they were children) will be able to disconnect that ‘pledge of their allegiance’; “and to the Republic, for which it stands,” alright, now that I can agree with; “One nation under God,” you can tell that’s been added after because it just doesn’t fit the rest of it; “Indivisible,” I’m assuming we’re talking about the country and not God on this one, and so I have no objection to it; “with Liberty and Justice for all,” now only a real asshole could disagree with that part.

So on the whole I think the pledge is fine on it’s face, but it is weird to be pushing it into kids heads when they’re so impressionable.  Why not just say “it’s an imperfect system, but hopefully if we keep working together, we can keep improving it,” which inspires conversation and dialogue as to how that can happen, and explain the process of democracy.  A rote pledge isn’t helpful, it’s too religious.  It requires no thought, and when I think of rote things you’re “supposed” to say or think, I tend to think there is someone who doesn’t want you to really think about it.

Like I said, I went to Catholic school, and was raised Catholic, and there was something that I learned fairly early on, and that was that questions, even earnest ones, tend to be the enemy of organized religion.  Then as I grew up, I started realizing it wasn’t just religion, it was any organization, with power, didn’t want me or anyone else to think or to question.

I have not considered myself a Catholic in a long time, but on occasion when getting into a conversation with non-Catholic Christians, I’ve caught myself saying “us Catholics” or “as a Catholic,” because it’s ingrained in me in a way that despite not believing it has (at least in part) become part of my identity.  That’s fucked up.

There’s a degree to which it’s impossible to not leave some imprint on kids, I know that.  I have a 2 year-old who loves superheroes and Star Wars, and so I cannot think that he just came to that conclusion on his own, but as he grows, I have to try to let him explore outside of it because I want him to be a fully realized human with his own thoughts, and feelings, and not just a little echo-clone for myself.

Let’s teach kids how to think, and not what to think, and I’m sorry, but teaching kids rote is teaching them WHAT to think, whether it’s the Pledge of Allegiance, or the fact that when I go into a Catholic Mass I can do all the prayers on autopilot (except for the new ones to trick all the Christmas/Easter Catholics, you know like Christ would do) it’s harmful.

The way to do that is to say “I like living in the US because…” and try to be fact based, and fair, or “I believe Jesus is the Savior because…” and try to do the same.  If the ideas hold up, they shouldn’t need to be force fed, and I think we’ll get a better version of patriotism, or religion if people come to them by natural conclusion, based on merit.