Skip College, Go to Trade School

I’ve been beating this drum for years. More young people should consider skipping college, learn a trade, and start life without a crushing burden of debt for a degree you never needed. The Wall Street Journal has now noticed a trend, profiling the new generation of students who don’t opt out of college because they don’t have the grades, but because they want to take a different path.

In 2009, the last year for which data is available, 19% of high-school students were concentrating in vocational subjects, down from 24% in 1990.

Even as more students enroll in college, “40% to 50% of kids never get a college certificate or degree,” said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And among those who do graduate, about one-third end up in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

Why go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt (in some cases, hundreds of thousands), to end up in the half that don’t finish anyway or the large percentage who don’t end up using all the expensive “book learning”. And let’s not forget the crazy classes and ideological indoctrination and crazy bacchanalian libertinism.

Meanwhile, the kids who apprenticed or went to a trade school or got vocational training are out there earning good salaries and getting their lives started without crushing debt.

My older brother Bernie never went to college, but he owns his own business driving a tractor trailer and is quite successful, much more than I will be having gone to 4+ years of college. That path will be one of the options my children will explore.

Of Nor’Easters and Surgery and Temporary Homelessness

When the weather forecasts last week started talking about a potential nor-easter by the end of the week, I wasn’t paying much attention. That’s because my focus was on Melanie’s impending surgery on Wednesday and everything that would be required of me. First, I wanted to support and help her. It was a day surgery that featured the laparascopic1 technique, which is routine, but it was also general anesthesia, which is not. At least for Melanie.

On Wednesday, my mom came over to watch the kids and I took Melanie to the hospital where I waited all day. It took longer than we expected because she had a hard time coming out from the anesthesia, which is part of Melanie’s difficulty with it. We headed home and I had to go back out to find a pharmacy to her prescription for pain medications. Because of the opioid epidemic, they are no longer prescribed electronically, but must be filled with a paper scrip. And for some reason all the pharmacies were busy and so I had to find one that could fill the prescription that night so Melanie would not be in agony all night.

Then on Thursday, I worked from home because she was still woozy from the medicine and still in pain. That was when I started paying attention to the storm forecasts. This is New England. Nor’easters are expected in the winter and this one was going to be mostly rain, they said. Rain instead of snow? What’s to worry? It turns out there was plenty to worry about from the rain and the wind.

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Solar Power is in Reach, But the Old Dinosaur Still Stands in the Way

Men installing solar panels on a roof

We finally have an installation date for our solar panels from Solar City/Tesla. As you may recall, we started this odyssey at the beginning of last summer (2017) and signed the paperwork in July. But our local electrical provider, National Grid, had told us that we couldn’t put them on their grid because their local connection equipment wasn’t up to snuff.1 They said that an upgrade would take 16 to 20 weeks!

So nearly six months after that, the upgrade has been done and now our solar panels are scheduled for installation in mid-March. But that doesn’t mean they will be running by then, because after the installation we have to wait for National Grid to inspect them to make sure they are connected to their grid properly. The current wait time is running 10 to 11 weeks. When all is said and done, we’ll have waited almost a year to get up and running on solar, nearly all of that time due to National Grid’s foot-dragging. And because they’ve dragged their feet, they will have sucked an extra $3,600 out of us.

Of course, the electric utilities don’t like everyone going solar because not only do they lose the money for the electricity they were selling us, they also have to buy back any excess electricity we generate. But it didn’t have to be this way.

In fact, they could have avoided all of this if they had been a forward-looking innovator instead of a backward, too conservative monopoly more interested in the status quo. Imagine if the electric utilities themselves had gotten into solar leasing instead of letting companies like Solar City and Vivint take over. National Grid already owns all the infrastructure and has relationships with all of its customers. They could show up one day and say, “Hey, let us put solar panels on your roof and cut your bill in half. It won’t cost you a dime.” Sure, on the one hand, they get half of what they were getting. On the other hand, half is better than none. Even better, they don’t have to buy back the extra electricity: It’s already theirs. And they can then sell that electricity to other customers, having created more capacity in the grid without having to build expensive plants or buying from a regional cooperative.

But old, comfortable companies, especially those with monopolies, don’t think like this. No cable company could have invented Netflix. No bookstore chain could have invented Amazon. No record label could have invented iTunes.

So now, I’m left waiting to get my solar panels up and running as National Grid runs out the clock on their monopoly, squeezing every possible cent out of the system. And no one will mourn them when they are gone someday.

  1. We’d actually tried connecting with a different solar company before Solar City, but National Grid said their local transformer that serves our neighborhood needed an upgrade to serve more solar panels. So they had so many solar customers already and before more could be added, they need to upgrade. They told us that we would have to pay $3,500 for the equipment upgrade. No thanks! I’m not subsidizing giant corporations so they can then serve more customers because once the equipment is upgraded any neighbors who want to go solar in the future would benefit too. When I went to Solar City they agreed to pay the upgrade. I wrote about this last September.

Social Media Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Men in business suits boxing in a ring

The latest tragedies grabbing the headlines and especially the ensuing bluster on social media have reinforced for me why I have lately decided to stop engaging in discussions about these things there.1 In fact, I have been using a browser extension called FB Purity to block any updates that contain certain keywords from appearing in my timeline.

It’s not that I’m a heartless ogre who doesn’t care about making our country safer or protecting it from dastardly forces. Nor does it mean I don’t care about the Catholic Church and her doctrines and teachings and whether some of her leaders are undermining them.

It’s that I don’t believe that bluster and acrimony on Facebook and Twitter are going to change a damn thing. No, wait, it will change something: It will make me more bitter and angry and sinful.

Much of what passes for discourse on subjects like gun control or Donald Trump or Pope Francis consists of straw man arguments, emotional venting lacking in rational thought, failures to engage charity or to give the benefit of the doubt, silly memes that usually contain falsehoods and/or that mock others without engaging them. Then the comments on these posts devolve into shouting matches and insults that drown out anyone trying to make rational, intelligent responses.

Shakespeare could have been describing these “antisocial” social media debates when he wrote in “MacBeth”: “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And in the end, no one ever has their mind changed about a single thing. I’ve never seen one of these shouting matches result in someone saying, “You know what? You’re right! I’ve been wrong all this time. I’ve changed my mind.”

So what’s the point of it all?

Now, you may ask me why I haven’t just deleted my social media accounts, like so many other people have. For one thing, social media is part of my job. I need to be there to administer and monitor several social media sites associated with my work. For another thing, once I’ve excised the vitriol from my timelines, I can engage with my family and friends in uplifting and fun discussions and share news of our lives and share articles about interesting or uplifting topics. Social media doesn’t have to be a wasteland. It’s what you make it.

I choose not to make it a place of anger and falsehoods and cheap ideological grandstanding.

  1. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit I’m not always successful in staying out of them. But I nearly always regret it.

Book Review: Heading Out: A History of American Camping

Camp site near Acadia National Park

Camping has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From before I can remember, my parents took us RV camping: in a VW microbus and then later in a borrowed Winnebago. Eventually we got a trailer camper. As I got older, I became a Boy Scout and camped with them and into my adulthood, camped with friends and family and now have introduced camping to my own family.

So, when I heard the interview with Terence Young, author of “Heading Out: A History of American Camping,” on the Art of Manliness podcast, I was intrigued to find out more about this activity that seems such a part of my life and of the American landscape. Young begins by noting that recreational camping, as such, is a somewhat uniquely American activity that has it origins in the post-Civil War 19th century due to several streams that coincided then.

First, there was the Romantic movement that in America idealized nature and natural landscapes, creating a spiritual connection to the land that was unlike what existed before. Thoreau and Emerson are prime examples of this in writing, along with Thomas Cole and the Hudson River school in painting. You also had the rapid urbanization of America, as what had once been a predominantly rural and agricultural society began streaming into the mechanized and industrialized cities where there was more wealth and opportunity, but also less privacy, beauty, and nature. There was the closing of the American frontier along with the Centennial of American Independence that recalled the once rugged character of the pioneers and frontiersmen that many people thought was being lost in modern urban hustle and bustle. Finally, there was a critical mass of Civil War veterans who all experience with roughing it in the outdoors who could act as guides and who enjoyed the outdoors themselves.

There was also a religious element to the rise of camping as well. For centuries, Catholics in Europe had headed out in spiritual pilgrimages, especially the Camino Santiago de Compestela, in which they walked hundreds of miles in a journey to bring them closer to God. Protestants, meanwhile, did not engage in such a Catholic activity, laced as it was with popish “saint-worship”. But there was still a felt need to make a spiritual connection by getting away from every day life. This coincided with Romanticism to create a new kind of spiritual pilgrimage, a communing with God with took place in nature, away from cities.

Into this mix walked a Boston Protestant minister by the name of William Henry Harrison Murray, who published a book in 1869, Adventures in the Wilderness, that described camping in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state in such colorful and accessible terms that it was a huge hit. If it were today, it would by a NY Times bestseller and an Oprah book pick. And because it also described the hows and whys—where to go, what to bring, who to hire as a guide—it ignited a massive rush of people into the woods that continued for years.

As National Parks were set aside those also became destinations, as people traveled West by train from the Atlantic states to spend weeks in Yosemite and other places they read about in magazines and newspapers and books.

That was followed some decades later by the next big leap in camping provided by the automobile. Once the car could transport people to all manner of destinations, auto camping became a big push. You could load a full set of gear onto the car or even attach a trailer and set off in relative comfort. No riding a train and then a horse-drawn wagon provided by a guide. Instead, you traveled on your own, by your own itinerary. By the late 1930s, camping had become a huge national pastime, all impelled by the desire to get out of the urban rat race and into the tranquility and authenticity of nature for a spiritual reconnection with the true American spirit, at least that which people thought was true. Read More and Comment

The Trash and Recycling Our Family Generates

Recycling center

I am consistently amazed by how little landfill trash our family of seven generates. Our trash company gives us a 96-gallon barrel for trash and two 96-gallon recycling barrels, which they pick up every two weeks. The basic level of service is usually one of each, but we eventually discovered we needed two recycling bins. We could also get weekly pickup if we wanted, but it hasn’t been necessary from a volume standpoint (although in the summer heat, I sometimes wish it was every week) and there is a substantial savings if we go every other week.

And while the amount of trash and recycling varies, in general the amount of landfill trash (i.e. what can’t be recycled) is about one or two 13-gallon kitchen trash bags per week. Meanwhile, I’m often left trying to jam in more and more recycling into the two recycling bins by the day of pickup.

I usually divide our recycling between the two barrels1, with one barrel holding just cardboard boxes and the other holding all the various household paper and metal and glass, mostly from the kitchen. It often works out to about even amounts in the barrels. The cardboard is mainly Amazon boxes because we do so much shopping there, including Subscribe and Save on things like large boxes of paper towels.

Of course, there’s a third kind of trash I have to deal with, namely all the things that I can’t put in the barrels, like broken bicycles and a broken wheelbarrow and very large cardboard boxes that have to be broken down before they can fit in the recycling bin and even then only in pieces over time so as not to monopolize it. For that stuff, I think I will begin to do an occasional Bagster pickup, as needed. I had one last year when we had our floors redone and I managed to put a bunch of other stuff in there too.

A valid question is how we manage to divert so much from the landfill. Certainly, our trash has changed over the years. For one thing, we no longer (for now anyway) have lots and lots of diapers as we did for almost a decade. We also don’t subscribe to a paper newspaper (I’m iPad subscription only now), which took up a ton of space in recycling.2 We also try to re-use food waste in other ways as well. We save chicken bones and vegetable ends for making stock and put other kinds of vegetables and food in our compost. Melanie even saves orange peels for making marmalade and old bananas (so many overripe bananas) in the freezer for smoothies, breads, and chocolate ice “cream” for Lucy.

We are by no means perfect at this. Nor are we especially militant about it. And there are recent questions about whether household recycling makes as big a dent in the landfill problem as we think. But it makes me happy anyway to do what I can to show that big families are not necessarily the resource hogs that some people say they are, that in fact big families can have a light environmental footprint compared to, say, a twenty-something childless couple living in a hip downtown loft.

  1. This is not a requirement of the trash company; just something I started doing on my own as an experiment.
  2. Although junk mail continues to be a substantial amount of recycling.

Review: Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization

The thesis of Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization is that the whole structure of Western civilization, every major institution, all of its intellectual, entrepreneurial, and cultural accomplishments can be traced to the work of innumerable priests over the past 2,000 years, both famous and faceless.

I have to admit that Fr. William Slattery provides a compelling case that the history of the West, in ways both surprising and unsurprising, owes nearly everything to the Church. But that’s my small quibble. In almost every example given, while the contributions of the ordained clergy of the Church was vital, the contribution of laypeople was just as vital.

Fr. Slattery does acknowledge this early on:

Allow me, however, to clearly underline what this assertion about the key role of priests does not mean. It does not assert the untenable claim to some type of monopoly on achievements: priests obviously hold no property rights on all the heroism, nobility, and genius of a thousand years. Many Catholic laypeople contributed enormously to building the new civilization.

[…]

Allow me, however, to clearly underline what this assertion about the key role of priests does not mean. It does not assert the untenable claim to some type of monopoly on achievements: priests obviously hold no property rights on all the heroism, nobility, and genius of a thousand years. Many Catholic laypeople contributed enormously to building the new civilization.

I don’t disagree with a bit of that, but I don’t think this book necessarily builds the case for it either. On the other hand, whatever the book’s subtitle or thesis, what it does do is provide a look at the remarkable contribution of the Church in the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, and Renaissance to building a better world that we continue to benefit from today.

What Heroism and Genius does best is to strip away the accumulated cruft of centuries of “black legends” concocted by the Protestant reformers as well as Hollywood inventions that collectively created this image of the time between the fall of the Roman Empire and Martin Luther’s 95 theses as an unrelieved slog through the muck and mire of superstition that left 95% of the populace as virtual slaves serving privileged and backward-thinking robed masters. In fact, as presented by Fr. Slattery, the Church—in her priests, bishops and laypeople—advanced the cause of humanity in great leaps.

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Looking Back on 2017

I begin ever year with a look back at the year just ended to review how it was and to count my blessings before the new year starts1. In contrast to some recent years, 2017 was comparatively quiet and with less drama. Nevertheless, there were some notable moments.

MCFL

2017 was the first full year of working for Massachusetts Citizens for Life as director for community engagement. Most notable for me was the rollout of a brand new website that is more than a website and more of a communications platform. It’s built on the Nationbuilder platform and includes built-in event management, ecommerce donations, mailing lists, and relationship manager. I’m still plumbing the depths of what it can do (as well as its limitations), but I’m happy with the change. Apart from that have been several interesting events that we’ve run, including my first time testifying at a legislative hearing on a proposed bill.It was a bit nerve-wracking and exhausting, but I was generally pleased by how it turned out.

SQPN

My “other job” at the Star Quest Production Network ended the year on a sad note. SQPN’s founder and primary voice, Fr. Roderick Vonhogen, has decided that he needs to collaborate with people closer to where he lives in the Netherlands and to go in a whole new direction with his his online media ministry and so Trideo and SQPN have split. I’m saddened that I will no longer be working with Fr. Roderick, who I’ve listened to for over a decade and who I’m glad has become a friend, and we’re still working on what SQPN is and will become without him. I’m sure we’ll find out in 2018.

The Fathers Show

While it began in late 2016, Fr. Chip Hines and I really hit our stride with our podcast, “The Fathers Show,” in 2017. It helps that we record the show in person and not over Skype. While a remotely recorded podcast can work and be excellent, there’s something about being in the same room that provides a different experience. Every other week, Fr. Chip comes to my house, we talk about what’s interesting to us as a Catholic dad and a Catholic priest, drink a beer, and have some fun. If you haven’t listened before, I recommend you give it a listen.2

Home Repair and Improvement

We had the opportunity to make some much-needed home improvements this year. We started out with new manufactured wood floors to replace the old ones that had begun to move around like a bad version of a sliding puzzle game. In the spring we replaced our ancient furnace/boiler with a brand new and much more efficient one, thanks to a generous rebate program through our local energy collaborative. However, it did mean 48 hours with no hot water or heat and a whole day with no water at all. But now we can run hot baths for our kids without having to boil pots of water on the stove.

We also got our chimney and living room ceiling repaired. The chimney was leaking like a sieve, which caused our living room ceiling to leak and get stained. We finally had the resources for repair work, so we got a professional chimney guy to do the chimney and then had professional interior guys in to replace the ceiling. I’m glad we finally did because they found so much mold in the ceiling that when it was all gone, Melanie had a noticeable difference in her asthma and sinus infections. I’m sorry we didn’t do it sooner.

This summer, when my father-in-law came to visit, he started building Melanie long-desired patio in our backyard. She’s wanted one since we moved into this house 9 years ago and so this summer he bought a gazebo/sun shelter and then flew up to build the patio itself. Unfortunately, he put the shelter up first and tried to build the patio under it, which meant some difficult maneuvering. Then he was only able to get about half done before he had to leave and so I spent several days figuring out how to do what needed to be done. The final product isn’t as level as I’d like, but it’s a great addition to our living space.

However, as we end the year, we have a number of expensive repairs looking at us. One of the elements on the electric gave out and that’s going to cost $170 to repair and the over-the-stove microwave oven has started running when you open the door, which isn’t good at all. That should be about $250 to replace. I’m also worried about the dishwasher again and even the refrigerator, which is getting close to being a decade old.

Lake House

For summer vacation, we had a kind of last-minute opportunity to get a week at the lake house in Maine we’d been able to get two years ago, this time in June. The first few days it was very hot and then got a little more seasonal (i.e. chillier) the rest of the week, but it was sunny every day except the last. We pretty much just swam every day, hung out, did puzzles, played games, and read. It was a quiet and relaxing week. We did have Melanie’s sister Theresa visiting from Texas at the time and she stayed with us the first couple of days in Maine before Melanie had to drive her back to catch a bus to catch a plane back home.

Health

As Melanie and I get older, we have more and more of those little health issues that seem to crop up and I get to look forward to turning 50 next year and getting some, um, invasive tests at my next annual physical. Otherwise, everybody was pretty healthy. Okay, Lucy did have to get a couple of stitches for a nasty gash above her eye right before our lake house vacation and Melanie did have to ask for a suture removal kit from the doctor because we weren’t going to be anywhere near a doctor’s office when they needed to be remove and Melanie did accidentally cut the ends too short so it was near impossible to pull the stitches out with tweezers, but eventually we did and it was all good.

At least we didn’t have any hospital stays in 2017. In fact, everything was going pretty well until December when we caught the plague. The week before flying to Texas (more on that in second), the kids starting getting fevers and coughs. The worst of it came and went the beginning of the week, but the effects lingered into our trip to Texas and then continued to linger when we came back. Anthony and I had the most terrible coughing fits and it was hard to do anything about them as we rushed to get ready for Christmas in one week. Finally, both Anthony and I separately got to see doctors and get some medication that seem to help. That’s when we got the stomach bug from hell. For a period of about 12 hours, four of the five kids were all sick, throwing up over and over. Poor Melanie was up all night, cleaning up vomit, washing load after load of towels, sheets, and clothes. But as we head into the new year, we seem to be better.

Also, while it falls under the topic of health, the fact that Isabella got prescription glasses for the first time isn’t really an ailment. Bella’s new glasses were indeed one of the best things to happen for her this year because she was having so much trouble reading signs and seeing other things that were readily legible to everyone else.

The Children

As for the kids themselves, they’re all growing up nicely. Isabella, turning 12 in spring 2018, is almost my height now and acting more and more mature. She’s also a book devourer. We got her a Kindle for her birthday and she’s constantly reading new books and re-reading old books and always has her nose stuck in some book.

Sophia is also maturing and while it’s easy to overlook given Bella’s growth spurt, Sophia is getting tall too. She’s not as much of a book worm as Bella, but she does love her books too. She’s just more measured in how she reads them, very disciplined in a chapter a day at bed time, for instance. Ben and Anthony joined Cub Scouts (which means I did too) and we’re all so very excited about this new experience. I’m especially happy to have them meet other boys and interact with other men in order to develop some socialization skills. I’m also reminded of how well they behave compared to the other boys their age. Lucia is turning 5, but she’s still so wee that it’s easy to forget how old she is … that is until she opens her mouth and says something so very precocious. She’s still very easygoing and mature for her age.

An important milestone this year was Ben’s First Communion. He was so very solemn and excited by it. He’s definitely a “still waters run deep” kind of guy. In fact, after the First Communion, he decided all on his own that he wanted to keep wearing his suit and tie every week. And even now that he’s outgrown his jacket, he still insists on a tie every Sunday. So proud of him.

Field Trips

We took a number of field trips this year, as usual, but because of my work situation I was unable to join them on as many. There were a couple of trips to the Museum of Science; some trips to the Museum of Fine Arts (including one I was able to go on that started with a punctured tire on the van and an unexpected stop to replace it); Battleship Cove (where Lucia almost fell headfirst down a ladder to what would have certainly been a serious injury, but miraculously caught her foot on something); a one-woman play about the only female Colonial soldier, Deborah Sampson; an owl biologist at the local library; a performance of “Merchant of Venice” for Shakespeare in the Park; exploration of life in a salt marsh in Duxbury Beach; a lesson in local geology while exploring colonial-era stone farm fences in Rhode Island; several other nature walks in Plymouth looking at aquatic creatures and fungi and more; and a couple of hands-on art workshops for kids at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art.

And while it wasn’t exactly a field trip, we did have a lot of excitement surrounding the solar eclipse this summer, which was only partial where we live. Nevertheless, we made some eclipse viewers out of some cereal boxes and had a lot of fun watching the crescent shape form in the shadow.

Visiting Texas

In mid-December, we visited Austin, Texas again for the first time in five years., since Melanie’s brother’s wedding. It’s just very expensive to fly all 7 of us (and at that Melanie’s parents generously paid for our flights), even with a discount airline, it makes sense for her family to fly up and visit. However, neither of her brothers have managed to come up and she hadn’t seen them in five years. But the real reason for going down was to celebrate Melanie’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We had a great time visiting and managed to get out almost every day to enjoy the mostly good weather and visit the sites.

We went to the famed Zilker Park one day and rode on the Zilker Zephyr a scaled-down train. We visited the Bullock Museum of Texas History, which was a real unexpected hit, very well done, and included a neat History of Computer Games exhibit that I geeked out over. Another day we went to the University of Texas Blanton art museum, which was small, but had some very nice art from the medieval and renaissance eras. I wasn’t as thrilled with the modern art. And of course, I went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi with my mother-in-law on opening day.

Then there was the food. Our tradition upon arrival in Austin is always to go to Taqueria Guadalajara Arandas, near Melanie’s parents’ house, for some amazing, simple Tex Mex. We got Tex Mex several times, including at Chuys near the park. After the Texas museum, went to a Greek restaurant that was very good (but didn’t have avgolemono soup and acted like they never heard of it?). Before the Blanton art museum, we stopped at Top Notch, Melanie’s favorite drive-in burger place from childhood that indeed had some mighty fine burgers. After their anniversary Mass, Melanie’s parents got the most amazing takeout barbecue from Ruby’s BBQ. One day we went out for great ice cream with mix-ins from Amy’s Ice Cream. And on the second-to-last day, I got my wish and was able to try an In-n-Out Burger Double-Double Animal-Style.

It was indeed a great trip and I hope it’s not five years before we go back again.

New Tech

As usual, a new year saw some new technology showing up. I’ve managed to get myself on a yearly upgrade program with my iPhone and this year I dithered between getting an iPhone 8 Plus or an iPhone X to replace my iPhone 7 Plus. I knew I’d be fine with the 8 Plus and wondered if the higher price of the X was worth it. Finally, I figured out a way to get the X without paying too much more and decided to go for it.3 I have not regretted it. Face ID is a revelation, almost like not having a password at all. I don’t even have to think about it most of the time. And the photos and video are amazing, even better than the already great 7 Plus camera. The speed of the phone is great too, as is the beautiful display. I’m happy with my phone.

The other big piece of technology this year was the purchase of an iMac 27” Retina 5K. This was a purchase by SQPN, the podcast network I work for as executive director, as I’ll be doing more and more audio editing and other heavy lifting work in the new year. This is an amazing machine, so very fast with lots of RAM and a big hard drive. After a couple of years using a MacBook Pro as my primary machine, it was great to have that freedom and elbow room again. Of course, you can never have too much monitor space so I supplemented the built-in 27” screen with a second 27” monitor to sit next to it. It’s not quite twice as much desktop since the second screen is not 4K, but it’s still great to be able to get all my windows viewable at once.

Another tech addition this year was my new Synology DS-216+II4. I had another older Synology network-attached storage (NAS) unit serving as a big place to store all my big or rarely used files, but it wasn’t quite fast enough. The beauty of a NAS is that it is itself a computer and can run programs. One that I use is Plex, which is a media server. I like to rip my DVDs and Blu-Ray discs and store them on the NAS so that we can watch them whenever we want without having to fiddle with discs and boxes and such. It also works as a personal cloud storage for holding stuff that’s too sensitive or too big to keep in the cloud. I also use it as a backup server, backing up my computer, but then also storing a backup offsite on Amazon AWS Glacial storage. And it does several other things for me as well. The nice thing about the new NAS is that it has a much better CPU and more RAM so it’s much faster at nearly everything. For instance, it transcodes movies so fast that it doesn’t stutter when playing them back on my AppleTX any more.

I almost forgot that my Apple Watch Series 1 was also 2017 purchase. For a long time I didn’t jump on the bandwagon because I needed to see that it could be more useful than simply taking my iPhone out of my pocket. When Watch OS 3 came out along with the newer faster Series 1 and 2 watches, I saw that it was finally time. It’s been great having the watch this past year. Not only does it provide cool fitness tracking and prompts but it gives me access to notifications and reminders at a glance, including marking as complete; I can take phone calls if my phone is in the other room; it gives me access to my two-factor authentication system on my wrist; it lets me record a note for myself; it keeps me informed of messages without the intrusiveness of pulling out my phone to look at it; and more. I liked it so much and Melanie was so intrigued by it that I gave her one for her birthday. And it has become my normally tech agnostic wife’s most favored gadget.

Books

I managed to meet my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 35 books this year, although most of the books were not heavy reading of any sort. I think I’ll keep the goal at the same level because reading a book every 10 days seems like my limit. Here is my complete list of books read and here at my favorites:

There were also the usual new installments in favored book series, as well Star Trek and Star Wars books.

Podcasts and YouTube

Podcasts continue to be an important part of my life, but I realize my podcasts habits really haven’t changed and I’m still listening to the same list of podcasts I listened to last year.

There were a couple of additions though. My good friend Patrick Coffin has gone independent and has a wonderful interview-based show, The Patrick Coffin Show, which includes everyone from White House advisers to former FBI agents to Hollywood stars to academics on the front lines of the culture wars. With his blend of humor and insightfulness, Patrick always elicits a great interview from his A-list of guests.

The other addition is also a new show, OSV On-The-Go. This is a short format weekly show hosted by Greg Willits that offers to-the-point commentary and information on a Catholic topic, like How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic or How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice.

Movies and TV

Obviously, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was my most anticipated movie of 2017, but some others made my list of top movies, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, Moana (a surprise addition), Wonder Woman, Logan, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. There were also plenty of others I saw that were from previous years that I’m only now catching up on via Netflix DVD and streaming and all the other new releases that I couldn’t get to the theater to see and haven’t watched on streaming yet.

As for TV, some of my favorite new shows are SEAL Team, S.W.A.T., The Good Place, The Orville, and Star Trek: Discovery.

Alton Brown

For several years, food TV personality Alton Brown5 has had a seres of traveling culinary comedy shows that I kept seeing him talk about and other people rave about. Last spring, I saw that he was coming to Boston in October and Melanie agreed that I should get us a pair of tickets as a birthday present for me. We were able to go for a rare night out, including dinner and then the show. The seats were nosebleed, high above the stage of the Wang Theatre in tiny seats and a very, very hot atmosphere, but no matter: The Eat Your Science Tour was a very fun evening of jokes, audience participation and food-related hijinks. Melanie had a great time. I hope to be able to see him again the next time he has another show come through town.

Our Extended Family

We continued to welcome Melanie’s family to visit us throughout the year. Because we don’t have a lot of room they usually come one at a time, although this Fall, Melanie’s dad and sister came together in order to do some foliage tourism together.

But the visits began in June, which is a good time for Texans to visit because it’s getting super-hot there while our weather is just getting nice. Theresa came up for about 10 days, part of which included the aforementioned few days at the lake house in Maine, as well as Ben’s First Communion in early June on Pentecost Sunday.

The a couple of weeks later, Melanie’s mom flew in on the Fourth of July to stay for a couple of weeks, including being here for Ben’s birthday. And then in August, Melanie’s dad came for a couple of weeks, which included the gazebo and patio work I mentioned earlier. Finally, in October, Theresa and my father-in-law came back to visit and do some day trips up to New Hampshire and Vermont to see the changing of the leaves.

We also had some sad moments in 2017 with extended family. My dad’s wife, Mary Ellen, died after a long battle with a degenerative disease. My 85-year-old dad had been taking care of her for years, with the help of my half-sisters, and while they were very loving and heroic, I could see the toll it took on all of them. That was in the spring. This fall, my dad fell coming out of church one Sunday, breaking his leg badly and was hospitalized. Things were touch and go for a while, but eventually he was able to recover without surgery, including a stint in rehab. The upside is that after he was discharged, he didn’t move back to his house that’s some distance away from his older kids, but moved into my brother Bernie’s house, where he’s close by.

Looking Ahead

I end as I usually do by looking ahead and behind. Like I said, we have some expensive home improvement ahead, but we’re also working on getting solar panels installed, which should bring down our electricity costs. There are big changes at SQPN, which have to get sorted out to see what the future holds there, but I’m hopeful. I’m sure there will be plenty else that is unexpected as well.

But what I’m hopeful for is that 2018 continues to see us healthy and living together in a home full of faith and joy and love.

  1. See 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013
  2. We’re in a bit of an expected hiatus at the moment as Fr. Chip is dealing with some medical issues and isn’t readily mobile but our already recorded episodes are a good place to start.
  3. Once I made the decision, though, shipping and delivery times had slipped right to the dates I would be in Texas. They won’t ship to a non-residential address and if I wasn’t there to receive it, they wouldn’t leave it, of course. I was resolved to wait until I came back, but then I was checking in-store stock and saw my local Apple store had the model I wanted so I went in and snatched it up!
  4. There’s a newer version of this model, the DS218+II, that’s about what I paid for mine.
  5. You may remember him from such Food Network shows as Good Eats, Iron Chef America/Gauntlet, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Food Network Star.

A Correction to NPR Story that Quoted Me

I was interviewed this week for a National Public Radio story on the decline of the influence of the Church in Massachusetts. I talked to the reporter for about 45 minutes and had two quotations in the resulting article.

One of the quotations is slightly in error.

On the one hand, 45 minutes was boiled down to two short soundbites, including something that is quite obvious and wasn’t even the main thrust of what I tried to convey, but that’s the nature of an article like this and is expected. On the other hand, I am the least famous or influential person quoted by name in the article (and the first) so I’m sure that was also a factor.

But the article quotes me as follows:

“The church recently managed to pull off a legislative win, helping defeat a measure that would have allowed physician-assisted suicide. But Bettinelli cautions that even that vote doesn’t necessarily mean an upswing in the church’s influence.

Lawmakers are voting “based on their faith,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are being influenced by [O’Malley].”

I didn’t say lawmakers are voting based on their faith, but voters who voted down the 2012 referendum on assisted suicide. There is currently a bill on Beacon Hill being debated that would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide and I and many others testified against it during a hearing on September 26. But all of those people came on their own or through grassroots pro-life groups. I believe there was a single lay official from the Mass. Catholic Conference, but no bishops or Catholic clergy.

As for what the legislators will do, that’s anyone’s guess. Undoubtedly some will vote their faith, but my guess is more will vote based on what they think the majority of their constituents want (or more cynically, what will advance their future career in the Legislature.)

As for the rest of the article, the mindset behind it falls into the old trap of thinking that the Church’s power is in her ability to influence politicians. While lobbying on behalf or against legislation that promotes or hinders a more moral society is important, the primary reason for the existence of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. While we like to imagine that the Church pre-Scandal was like Alcuin standing at the right hand of Charlemagne, building Christendom in Europe, the reality is that the worldly authority of the Church in the US had already long been in decline.

In another sense, you might even say that the influence of the archbishop of Boston beyond the borders of Massachusetts is even higher with Cardinal Sean than it was with Law. No American bishop is closer to the Pope and most observers believe that Cardinal Sean may have come in second or third in the conclave of 2013. And when it comes to issues of immigration and pro-life matters, Cardinal Sean’s voice is heard above many others. The article does acknowledge this last point.

I will note that as far as I can tell, I was the only conservative source consulted for this article.

A Million Little Big Brothers

Perhaps you’ve seen this scenario play out online: Someone says something outrageous on social media or does something that’s just wrong. Not criminal necessarily, but wrong from your point of view. The person usually isn’t famous, just someone whose social outburst has gone viral. They could be from anywhere on the political spectrum, right to left, but whatever they said ticked off everyone on the other side. So someone else does some digging into their background, finds out where they work, and announces, “I wonder how their employer feels about having an employee who says this?”, beginning a pressure campaign to get them fired from their job for the sin of saying something stupid in public.

The practice of finding out personal, real life details about people you have encountered online and then using that information against them in real life is called “doxxing”.1 It’s a form of social punishment, a message that if you anger the online mob, the online mob can reach out to hurt you. It has been used against liberals and conservatives, Christians and anti-Christians, people of all races and sexes and persuasions and ideologies. It has become a way to widen the split in our society that has grown, the division that makes everything about politics and impossible to have polite, civil conversations where we disagree.

The Benefit of the Doubt

Everybody says stupid things occasionally. Our duty, if we want to have a civil society, is to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially if (a) we don’t know them personally and (b) this is one statement/incident out of context. Perhaps even if the person has made a habit of saying or doing dumb things.

Most people I know have at least in their lives said something stupid? Would you want everyone at every time now and the future to be able to potentially use that against you?

I have seen Twitter accounts whose reason for existence is to find people who show up in photographs of the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the summer and then try to get them fired for their jobs. No nuance, no understanding. If you were there and you are white, you must be a white supremacist Nazi and you must be stripped of any ability to feed or provide for yourself or your family. And if your employer thinks you have a right to be wrong and to say stupid things on your own time, then his business will be punished.

I’ve seen it used to attack a black woman on Twitter who said white women’s sons should be killed because they are likely to be criminals. (Yes, I know, it doesn’t make any sense.) Someone figured out she’s a nurse and suggested she should be fired.

Was she actually calling for people to murder others or was she being outrageous for attention’s sake? I don’t know for sure, but I have seen the most upstanding people say some pretty crazy things in private conversations, not because they really believed it, but to elicit reaction from the people they are with. They’re not exactly joking, but exaggerating rhetorically to make a point or eschewing nuance to be more direct in a conversation with someone who knows them so well that the other person can fill in the context. The difference now is that Twitter and Facebook can trick us into thinking we’re having private conversations with a small group of friends … until suddenly we’re not and our post has gone viral and now the whole internet is attacking us.

A Self-Police State

We used to worry about a George Orwell “1984”-style totalitarian oppressive regime, a police state that monitored its people for any and all transgressions of the party line, no matter how small. It turns out that wasn’t what we should have been afraid of after all. Now we need to worry about an oppressive regime of a million supreme leaders.

Can you imagine a country where everyone has to police their every public and private utterance, no matter how dumb or off the cuff, lest the mob of those ideologically opposed to them find out and ruin their lives? Who needs Big Brother government when you have a million little Big Brothers?

Shake your head at the boorish and outrageous. Criticize them strongly. But don’t seek to destroy the lives of perfect strangers. That’s hardly either Christian or conducive to the building of a good society. And it’s a weapon that targets the good and the bad, the right and the left, those of every stripe indiscriminately.

  1. There are other definitions and perhaps a broader usage of the term, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s stick with this for now.
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