Buckle Up for a Bumpy Four Years

I declared last year that I would be a NeverTrumper, that I would vote third party before I voted for Donald Trump.

Then last July I realized that if Trump were to somehow win the Electoral College and Clinton won the popular vote, it would tear the country apart like never before. (I wish I hadn’t been right on that one.) So I asked NeverTrumpers to reconsider so as to ensure he won both popular and Electoral votes.

Later, I began to embrace the idea of Trump as a pro-life and conservative ally, albeit a personally odious one, even as it became more and more certain he would lose. And then suddenly, he had won.

Meanwhile, in the first week of his administration we have made more pro-life and conservative gains than we did in the entirety of the last Bush administration. Not only did Trump defund International Planned Parenthood again, he reiterated his promise to appoint a Supreme Court justice who is a strict constructionist (i.e. will not find the umbras and penumbras used to justify Roe v. Wade in the first place); the House took the first step to repeal the bloated mess of Obamacare and to defund the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Trump appointed cabinet secretaries with the mandate to start downsizing bloated bureaucracies like the Departments of Education, Commerce, Agriculture, and Energy, among others. In addition, by sending Vice President Mike Pence to speak at the March for Life and publicly chastising media for its annual failure to give the March its due, he ensured it would get unprecedented media exposure this year. For these actions, pro-life conservatives rightly cheered.

On the other hand, Trump has followed through on some of his less savory campaign promises. He got into a diplomatic Twitter war with Mexico over the border wall. He ordered a freeze on all government research grants in several departments and issued a gag order on public communications in all executive departments.1 And worst of all, he ordered a halt to all refugee arrivals for 120 days and permanent halt to refugees from a handful of majority Muslim countries and created a giant mess of chaos and recrimination and anecdotal stories of innocents caught in jeopardy and a media firestorm that has even those of us who voted for him shaking our heads.2 This was the part of Trump-as-president that made me a NeverTrumper in the first place.

My social media feeds have been filled with heads exploding all over the place, and not just the usual liberal friends sprinkled in the mix, but a broad spectrum of people. And while I think that many were and are overreacting (No, Trump is not an incipient Hitler), there is justification for anger from all sides for this last misstep.

So this is what I’ve been preparing myself for: The next four years are going to be very bumpy, whipsawing between joy at some advance of the conservative agenda and chagrin or outrage over some bombastic excess and then back again. I can console myself that this is certainly better than what we would have got under Hillary Clinton, but I fear for what the future brings. Will people get so fed up over the excesses that Congress shifts to the Democrats in 2018? Will they get so fed up with Trump that we get some populist ultra-liberal (like Elizabeth Warren) in 2020?

My hope is that Trump settles down and gets in a groove. He’s never held elective office before and so there’s a steep learning curve. But as a prominent real estate developer in New York and New Jersey, he’s certainly had to be a political wheeler and dealer. Let’s hope that part of his personality helps him overcome this other nonsense.

  1. Never mind that these are standard procedure and temporary. The hold is designed to allow the new administration to formulate and promulgate new policies for communications that reflect the new president’s priorities. It’s entirely justified, but the way it was done led to a media storm.
  2. As I write this, a federal court has ordered a temporary hold on the executive order while its constitutionality is challenged.

Why Is There So Much Hatred of the Wealthy?

On my commute to work on Boston’s Southeast Expressway, there is a carpenter’s union building right next to the highway with a billboard. In addition to the usual pro-union messages, they occasionally have other sorts of political messages. One in particular caught my eye that claimed that a handful of billionaires held more wealth than 50% of the world’s population.

My immediate reaction was that this was another instance where we should talk about raising up those who live in poverty instead of railing against the few who have wealth.

Jeff Jacoby tackles the same subject in today’s Boston Globe when he calls out Oxfam’s executive director got up at the ultra-exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to proclaim that the eight richest men in the world hold as much wealth as half the world’s population and that 1 in 10 people live on less than $2 per day.

Of course, as Jacoby points out, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, it’s a tragedy that so many suffer on so little, but the glass is also half full: Three decades ago, the number was twice as large. Yes, we cut extreme poverty in the world by 50%.

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MacBook Pro Would Not Login (File Vault Corruption)

I embarked on a scary and unexpected journey today with my MacBook Pro when it would not login when I started it. I’m writing about it here in case anyone else has a similar problem.

It began when Safari froze while I was in Facebook.1 In fact, it wasn’t just Safari. The spinning beach ball was on the screen, but nothing was moving. I couldn’t switch to other apps. One notable fact: The trackpad was still working, insofar as it was registering clicks.2

So, of course, I restarted the computer by holding down the power button until it went black and I heard the System Startup sound. Here’s where the real trouble began.

When the login screen came up, I couldn’t do anything. If I typed, nothing showed up. Well, that’s not exactly true. It was like everything was extremely slow. Eventually, one character might appear in the password box. The cursor didn’t move, although it would eventually jerk a little like it was catching. After a while, a message came up asking if I was having trouble with my password.

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Sorry, Here’s A Billboard

In late November, I sent a support request to Ring.com with a question about a couple of their products I own.1 Their site claims that they are committed to respond to every request within 24 hours. Instead, I waited four days with no response and then sent another request. Again, nothing, and I didn’t make another attempt.

Two weeks after that, I finally got a response. They apologized for failing to respond, were willing to help now, and offered to send me, as a sign of gratitude for my (assumed) patience and understanding, a complimentary “Ring Solar Sign”, which is a solar-powered version of those little alarm company signs you see on lawns as a deterrent to would-be burglars. Emphasis on “little”.

Now, I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I don’t think the proper response to a customer service failure is to offer to send me something to stick on my lawn to advertise your service. I wasn’t looking for any handouts at all, just help with my problem, but am I wrong that this feels a little tone-deaf?

Anyway, not wanting to be a roadblock to getting my problem solved, I said, thanks, and then laid out my problem, saying I figured out one part, but still had trouble with the other. Their response said that the complimentary sign was on its way and we addressed my troubles.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to today when I received a package in the mail, containing the box you see above. I was curious that they would need such a large box for a little sign. So I opened it up and found this monstrosity.

That thing is almost a foot wide! And it will be lit up at night! I thought it was going to be a little sign and they send me a billboard. I suppose if I was living in some McMansion with a long driveway, you might need something that big to see it from the street, but I live in a little ranch with a postage—stamp driveway. That thing could keep my across-the-street neighbor awake at night.

So, thanks but no thanks, Ring. I think I’ll go stealth on my security and stick to the doorbells and video cameras.

  1. You can see my review here.

Ford’s Creepy Post-Sale Come-On

Talk about skeevy marketing attempts. We bought a used van from a Ford dealer back last May and it came with a limited 36 month/36,000 mile warranty that started from the day it was new in 2015, not when I bought it. The sales manager had tried to get me to bite on an extended warranty, but I know enough not fall for paying thousands of dollars in case I need a several hundred dollar repair.

This week, I got a letter from Ford, marked “Warranty Expiration Notice”. That’s odd, I thought, the warranty shouldn’t expire for another 1-1/2 years. Ah, but when I read it I saw it said: “Our records indicate that you drive more miles than the average driver” and then estimated my mileage at 26,000 miles. Now, keep in mind I have not returned my van to the dealership for any service since we bought it.

So how do they know how many miles we drive? They don’t! This is pure marketing deception. In fact, we don’t drive nearly as many miles as they think and there’s no way for them to know how many miles we drive.

Is it any wonder people hate the car buying process and dealing with car companies?

Looking Back on 2016

It’s my custom to start the new year with a personal review of the year just ended1. While many people claim 2016 to be the worst year ever, it was far from that for us, although we did have quite a bit more upheaval than in past years, including a job change, new cars, and quite a few unexpected expenses.

Here’s what happened.

Old Job, New Job

In March, I was informed that I would be laid off from my job as Communications Director at the Catholic collaborative in Walpole, Mass. After the collaborative was pared down from three parishes to two, expenses were too high compared to income. I’m also sure that some people questioned why parishes need a communications director. Part of the problem is that communications director is a title you find in corporations and government. A more accurate and palatable title would have been evangelization director, which would have encompassed all the same duties and responsibilities.

I didn’t stay unemployed for long. In fact, within a few days I was in contact with my current employer at Massachusetts Citizens for Life, where I started immediately as Director of Community Engagement, where I’m working on reaching out to new demographics, primarily through online means. It’s been interesting and educational so far, and you might imagine that in Massachusetts, it’s quite a challenge.
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Favorite iOS Apps of 2016

In recent years, I’ve occasionally ended the year with some blog posts on my favorite iOS and Mac apps from the previous 12 months, although I haven’t written one recently1. These aren’t necessarily apps that have come out in the past year but the notable ones I’ve been using the most. But first, a few thoughts on how I use iOS devices.

I now own an iPhone 7 Plus, upgrading from an iPhone 6s Plus this year. I’d held off on getting the bigger phone in 2015, worrying that it would be just too large for me, because I have short, thick fingers. (I will never play violin or reach a whole octave on a piano.) I shouldn’t have worried. The new phone is amazing with an immense screen that I use two-handed and it gives me benefit of a bigger battery and the better photos in the camera that the smaller phone doesn’t have.

This year I upgraded to an iPad Pro 9.7” from my old iPad 4. I had dropped the iPad 4 months before in 2015 and cracked a corner of the screen and so had put it in a thick leather case to prevent further damage. Unfortunately, it is now prone to turning off randomly while using it and it was showing its age, running modern apps much slower than the iPhone. We also have a handful of iPad 2s and an iPad mini around the house, acquired here and there from family and friends upgrading to newer iPads, but those are mainly used by Melanie and the kids.

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College and Travel In A Time of Smartphones

Melanie and I both went to college in the early 1990s and we were just reminiscing about what campus culture was like back then and how it must be different today in the age of social media and smartphones.

When we were in college, most dorms had pay phones and sometimes dorm rooms had phones too, but the roommates had to pay for them. At our colleges, no one had email. I lived off campus for my four years at Franciscan University of Steubenville, so I had a phone in my apartments. Long distance calling was still a thing and expensive back then so I didn’t talk to my family on a whim.

In order to organize people, you had to call everyone or see them between classes and pass the word.

In Steubenville, I didn’t have cable. For my first two years I had an ancient black-and-white TV that got two channels. My last two years I had a color TV and we had basic cable, but still didn’t get all the normal channels So I totally missed the first few years of “The X-Files”, but was able to binge watch “Road Rules” on MTV instead of studying for finals one semester.

Melanie spent a semester at the University of Dallas’ Rome campus. They had one pay phone for the students to use to get and receive calls, but international calling costs… Yikes! When they were traveling about Europe, they had to rely on guidebooks, posters and pamphlets in foreign languages, and gestures and pidgin English with helpful strangers to figure out train schedules and the like. They were flying without a safety net.

Today, students can message with anyone back home or anywhere in the world from a device in their pocket. They can call home on a whim. They can look up any information they need anywhere.

Life changes. In my grandparents time, traveling to Europe took weeks on a ship, not hours on a plane. Going to college meant almost total disconnection from family for four years.

I do wonder sometimes though how a “smaller” world in which communication is so easy and ubiquitous changes the perception of travel. If it’s easier does it’s value change? Are there new lessons to learn in place of the old ones? Or does it still teach a kind of self-reliance even if help might be a phone call away?

How has social media and smartphones changed college campus life? With everybody tweeting and instagramming and facebooking everything, how does it change how people interact and socialize and connect? Our kids are years away from college, so it will be different again undoubtedly from now, but I do wonder how their experience will differ from ours.

Cancelling Mass on Christmas?

At first, I was going to comment on this article, “Why Churches Shouldn’t Cancel Services on Christmas Day,” by pointing his out as an essential difference between Protestants, on one side, and Catholics and Orthodox, on the other.

It seems many Protestant churches, especially of the Evangelical and mega-church variety, won’t have any services on Christmas Day, even though it’s a Sunday. That’s because they don’t usually do Christmas services so people can spend it as a “family day.” Instead, many of them are planning candlelight services on Christmas Eve, but many don’t even do that.

But it’s Sunday! The Lord’s Day, the feast of the Resurrection in which we commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. Remember the first commandment? Keep holy the Sabbath. As a Catholic, I can’t even conceive of not going to Mass on a Sunday. Or can I?

The fact is that we Catholics have started to fall prey to this as well, except in a slightly different way. How many Christmas Eve Masses will there be at your parish this year? Our parish has four. Most parishes around here have similar numbers. I know one parish where the parish tried to reduce from five to four and got an earful from parishioners. Everybody wants to go Christmas Eve so they don’t have to get up and leave the house in the morning, so they can stay in their pajamas amidst the gifts until it’s time to make Christmas dinner.

That’s sounds nice, but it kind of misses the point, doesn’t it? If we’re braving the scrum on Christmas, packing in like sardines, barely able to hear or participate in the Mass, checking off our obligation in order to say it’s been fulfilled so we can have Christmas Day for ourselves, are we really putting Christ in Christmas? Oh, of course, I applaud those who actually make the effort to go to Mass at all. That sets you apart from most, to be sure. But is that really what we should be offering?
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Why Did Leia Seek Out Obiwan Kenobi Now?

As I was falling asleep last night, after having watched a Star Wars Rebels, I had a sudden thought: Why now? The new movie Rogue One will end where Star Wars: A New Hope begins, with the delivery of the Death Star plans.

But my question is this: Why was Princess Leia delivering the plans to Obiwan Kenobi. From the trailer for Rogue One, it’s very clear that it is the Rebellion, lead by Mon Mothma, who sends Jyn Erso and her team to retrieve the Death Star plans. So why aren’t the plans delivered back to Mon Mothma? At the beginning of A New Hope, Leia’s ship—which was presumably at the battle where the plans were stolen—is racing back to Alderaan. As the opening crawl writes:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

So, intercepted by the Imperial Star Destroyer, Leia instead makes for Tatooine. Why? In her hologram, she tells Obiwan that she was sent by Bail Organa to get him to help in the Rebellion.

General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I am unable to present my father’s request to you in person, but my ship has fallen under attack and I’m afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

And thus my question:

Why now?

Update: Having watched Rogue One after writing this, my question has been answered to some degree, but not completely.

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