Who Are These People In These Stories?

Beth Teitell is a “life in these modern times” reporter for The Boston Globe, who writes stories about the foibles and challenges of the fast-paced technological era we live in and how “ordinary” people cope1, often with a dollop of humor or irony. Some of her recent articles have focused on millennials ordering fast-food takeout instead of cooking their own meals; families texting each other within the same house or even the same room; teen boys who regularly take Ubers, usually prompted by parents too busy to drive them around; the fact that $1 million in Boston buys you a fixer-upper; the phenomenon of the “she shed” as a reaction to man caves; and so on.

The ever-present common elements in almost every story include:

  1. The busy, harried working mom who sounds annoyed by the demands her family places on her.
  2. The guilty parent who knows their kids are way more pampered, sheltered and coddled than they ever were as a kid, but does it anyway, while simultaneously piling a work/play schedule on the children that would kill a 50-year-old with stress in the name of “getting into a good college.”
  3. The desire to be like all the other professional working women whose opinions they value above all others.
  4. Almost exclusively upper-middle class to upper incomes and hometowns in the toniest suburbs or neighborhoods of Boston
  5. The phrase “Don’t judge me, but…” followed by an excuse for a display of conspicuous excess.

The story that prompted this post was her article on parents relying on Uber to shuttle their kids to and fro instead of doing it themselves. What’s ironic is that I just remembered that three years ago today, I wrote a similar post about an article Teitell wrote about the ways that pre-Uber carpooling had taken over the lives of these well-heeled families and I see how both articles unspool in the same ways.

As I read these articles, I’m left scratching my head. Who are these people? Is this supposed to be what passes for middle class family life in the Boston area? Because none of these stories ever look like me and my family or any family I know.

If these do reflect a widespread reality, they make me tremble for what we’re doing to ourselves. The disconnection among family members, the barely concealed annoyance with family, the me-first individualism, the entitlement attitudes, the life-altering stressfulness: Is it any wonder people are feeling fractured and unrooted and dissatisfied more than ever before?

I wonder if this is a coastal or big city or Northeast phenomenon or if it’s fairly universal. But while it makes me worry about our country, at least I feel pretty good about how we’re doing as a family.

  1. And by “ordinary”, they usually mean “families who make seriously north of six figures in well-to-do suburbs and Boston neighborhoods.”

Rolling Back the Mandate

The Trump administration will be keeping a campaign promise very soon when it restores the rights of employers and removes the Affordable Care Act requirement that they buy birth control for their employees or their dependents.

This was one of the most contentious provision of Obamacare when it passed half-a-decade ago and has been the subject of lawsuits ever since from religious employers, primarily Catholic institutions, but also private businesses who have moral objections.

Of course, the news coverage makes it sound like employers will now be issuing chastity belts in place of the Pill. They’re using terms like “roll back” and “losing benefits”, as if there were no other way for women to obtain the Pill.

Incidentally, it’s difficult to track down the true no-insurance cost of a month of birth control. Those opposed to the mandate have often cited $9 per month, but much of the media who demand the coverage cite $15 to $50 per month. However, in every story I consulted, that number came from Planned Parenthood, which has a vested interest in making it seem too expensive for poor women to buy it for themselves.

Of course, the reality is that fertility is not a disease and there are lots of pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter remedies and other health and wellness products that aren’t covered by insurance. The simplest remedy to pregnancy is to avoid sex. If you want to get technical about it, you can avoid sex during the fertile times of the month. All it takes is a thermometer and a chart.

The fact is that this is a symptom of a much larger problem, which is the infantilization of America. Whether it’s birth control or some other basic “necessity”, we keep turning to our employers and the government to provide us with all we need, rather than taking care of ourselves. Frankly, the surest way to make something expensive anyway is to make the government buy it or mandate it.

Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too): A Book Review

There are lots of books that outline all the reasons one should give up atheism or other religions and become Catholic and with good reason: Because the path to the Catholic faith has its origins in many places and wends its way through a myriad of obstacles, challenges, and objections.

Brandon Vogt—one of the smartest, engaging, and energetic young Catholics out there—has written a new book, “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too),” that offers his own take on why one should consider the Catholic faith, a take that is aimed directly at the “nones”, the large and growing percentage of mostly young Americans today who tell pollsters that they have no religious preference, and does so in a way that should appeal to a younger audience, characterizing becoming Catholic as a way of “joining the Rebellion”, rather than giving into a massive institution.

I’ll admit it’s a weird decision. It goes against the grain. It’s radical. It is, in a word, rebellious.

In this concise, yet compelling book, Brandon outlines the reasons why anyone seeking the truth should become Catholic, using arguments both old and new. Brandon is an engineer by training and a philosopher by avocation so it’s no surprise that the book and its arguments are laid out in a logical progression, from whether God exists, to the necessity of religion vs. pure spirituality, to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions, to the Catholic Church. Read More and Comment

Is the iPhone X worth $1,000?

Here’s the thing about the new iPhone X. Apple needed to create a top-of-the-line, all-the-bells-and-whistles phone because every major phone maker must have one like it. The problem is that unlike most Android phone manufacturers, Apple has to make their phones in immense quantities.

A middle-of-the-road Android manufacturer will sell probably 10,000 to 100,000 units of their top of the line phone. If Apple priced their top phone at the normal tiers starting at $699, the demand would be for the usual 10 million, at least, and perhaps more. Which is great if you can make the phones.

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Solar Power Struggles

My brother had solar panels installed on his house by SolarCity about 3 or 4 years ago now, right near the beginning of the new leased solar panel trend. In the past, you had to buy a solar panel setup outright, often at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars outlay. Even with tax credits and electric savings, you wouldn’t see a return on your investment for years. But the new solar panel leasing allows you to get panels on your roof for a low monthly fee. You don’t own the panels, but maintenance is taken care of by the vendor and, in our case, we’d save about half off our utility bill.

This seemed like a good deal so we contacted my brother’s salesman, but because of a number of distractions we never followed through. Earlier this year, I saw something from Google about going solar where I could enter my information and several different solar companies would contact me about their services. I did and heard from one, Vivint. They gave me their pitch, which outlined what’s involved and how much we would pay.

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An Analysis of Media Bias in Today’s Boston Globe

Journalists often dismiss claims of liberal media bias from conservatives as sour grapes or just plain partisan whining. Most journalists, in fact, think of themselves as impartial and balanced in their coverage of the news. So here’s an object lesson in why people think mainstream media are biased.

In today’s Boston Globe, we have an article looking at some lawsuits filed in New Hampshire against a new voter identification law. Right from the start, in the very lede, we see the journalist’s point of view on display:

The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire and three New Hampshire voters are suing to block a new state law that toughens voter registration requirements, part of a nationwide pushback against restrictions that advocates say are aimed at discouraging students, minorities, and other Democratic-leaning voters from going to the polls. [Emphasis added]

Notice that the description and characterization of the law is entirely from the point of view of those who oppose it from the Democrat side. Of course, proponents of the law wouldn’t say their motives were aimed at discouraging Democrat voters. So why do they support it?

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The Priesthood is Not a Path to Wealth

A longish blog post is making the rounds right now, in which a Catholic lay employee is looking at a new national study on what priests earn and concluding that priests have it easy compared to lay employees of the Church.

As someone who worked for the Church for a decade and who knows many priests (and even lived in a parish rectory for a number of years), I think I have some insight. Here’s my general reaction to A.J. Boyd’s article: While he makes some good points, he paints with too broad a brush, universalizing anecdotal data; being selective with other data to reinforce his point; and missing data that would undermine his point. He’s also unnecessarily hostile to priests1.

Now, I am on record as saying that I think the Church needs to do better by its lay employees. I think that some of the policies I and other have encountered are downright unjust and while others may be in line with secular practice, the Church should live up to her principles and do better. Let’s also stipulate that most lay employees of the Church give what’s often called the “Church discount” in their salary, i.e. they could make much more at comparable private sector jobs.

I’ll take his points one by one, but I want to first begin by refuting his premise:

Fr. Scrooge’s attitude got me thinking about the apparent disparity between compensation for equally qualified people with a vocation to ecclesial ministry.

Look at two people of reasonably comparable demographic – single, no children, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology/divinity, committed to a life of ministry in the Church – and consider them in a similar parish, similar ministry, with similar qualifications, experience, and responsibility. One is a priest, the other a lay ecclesial minister.

You can’t compare the spiritual vocation of a priest and the apostolate of a layman, even one who has entered a lay ministry position (e.g. youth minister). A priest has been called by God, formed by the Church, and ordained by his bishop in a vocation he will retain in most cases until his death. He has made a lifelong commitment that isn’t easily broken (albeit some do), while a layman can switch jobs whenever a better opportunity comes along.

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Catholic Wedding Hospitality Doesn’t Mean an Open Bar

It’s one thing to look at the state of the wedding-industrial complex in America today and bemoan it’s focus on the material and ephemeral to the detriment of the lasting and transcendent.1 Too often weddings become excuses for lavish spending so the bride and her mother can pretend at royalty or some such. However, it’s another thing to cloak a complaint about weddings today in a thin veneer of Catholic piety as an excuse to rant about your bourgeois sensibilities being violated.

Crisis offers up this article by Anne Maloney under the headline “Some Wedding Planning Violations of Catholic Hospitality.” The author assures us that the problem of people shacking up before marriage is understood and so that’s not one of her complaints. Instead her complaint is that people don’t throw weddings like she thinks they should and that’s wrong, so she searches out justifications for her preferences in the Catechism and the Bible.

We’re not talking about key aspects of the sacrament here. For one thing, she believes it is so gauche that couples today don’t register for china or silver anymore because they wouldn’t use it.

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Join Your Local Historical Society

A few months ago, I saw a notice on Facebook about an open house day at our small New England town’s historical society, focusing on the history of the town’s fire department over the last hundred years or so. It would also include a chance for the kids to see our town’s fire equipment and meet firefighters, which I always encourage1, and so we stopped by.

It was a nice little event that only took about 20 minutes out of our Saturday. We met the firefighters and the Boy Scouts who organized it as well as the folks who run the town’s historical society. After chatting with them a bit, I ended up joining the society for a whopping $10 in annual dues.

Lots of small towns have historical societies, especially in the older parts of the country, and I encourage others to join like we did. We get a monthly newsletter that highlights events in the couple-hundred-year history of my adopted (and the kids’ actual) hometown and the knowledge that we are helping to preserve the past. It makes a difference to know that our town has a past as we look to the future.

I love knowing that the road called Johns Avenue is called that because there was a convenience store on the spot 100 years ago owned by a man named John.

Supporting the small institutions of your hometown is a nice lesson for the kids in civic duties and responsibility and community spirit. It’s also a reminder to me that being an American citizen isn’t just about what happens in Washington, DC, or even Boston, but is first and foremost what happens in the little town where I live among the people I call neighbors.

  1. We encourage the kids to get to know and recognize our local emergency services personnel so that they aren’t strangers to them. We also encourage them to pray for them in our bedtime prayers.

iPhone Was More Than Cool Tech

In 2005, I owned a Blackberry Pearl. I thought it was pretty cool. I could type out emails and even access the internet… sort of. In reality, it wasn’t all that great. You could tap out an email after a fashion on the tiny keyboard and the the “internet” was a janky AT&T-specific set of web services in a weird interface.

In 2004, I recall spending an October evening with Melanie as she was dress shopping for a friend’s wedding, even as the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in what would become the greatest comeback in baseball history on the road to an historic World Series win. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a deserted department store trying to follow the game’s box score on my tiny phone and its text interface.

Back to 2005, Melanie and I got married and spent our honeymoon driving through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, much of which was as a desert as far as cell signals went. We spent a lot of the time in the car talking and I recall one conversation in which I told Melanie that very soon we would have ubiquitous internet, where we would have constant access to every web site and be in constant contact with anyone virtually anywhere. It seemed like science fiction then, but two years later it started to become reality.

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