How Can You Afford Family Vacations?

Melanie posted a link on her Facebook page to Amy Welborn’s post on how she’s traveled with her sons in recent years all over the world. That sparked a question from one of her friends how so many of her friends manage to afford all the travel they do while she never seems to have the money or money or either for travel.

Many of the answers were instructive. Some simply said they were for all intents independently wealthy. Others pointed out that they were the recipient of largesse from family members or they lived in proximity to vacation destinations or that they didn’t go on big interesting vacations. (There could be an interesting, separate discussion, by the way, on how social media can distort our perception of what is normal or what “most” people we’re connected with are able to do.)

That got me to thinking about our own opportunities for travel. Certainly, in the past couple of decades I’ve been to Europe a handful of times, but all of them for work, for World Youth Day events. Melanie went to Europe several times years ago, during college and just after, either for semester abroad or backpacking from hostel to hostel. But other than that, we’ve spent our time here in the US.

Together, we’ve visited her family in Texas many times. When we were dating and first married, we traveled to Texas every year around Christmas, but once we had more than a couple of kids that became prohibitive, even with financial help from her parents. Since 2012, we’ve only been back twice, once for Melanie’s brother’s wedding that year and then last year for her parents’ 50th anniversary.

In 2014, we drove to northern Virginia for a vacation, visiting my mom and sister who were living there at the time, sleeping in my sister’s basement. We’ve also stayed in a lakeside cabin a couple of times, a beautiful house that we couldn’t afford normally, but which was made available both times through the generosity of a friend. We’ve also camped in Maine several times, a few days at a time. And last year we took a long, two-week road trip through 10 states, where we stayed with friends, stayed in a cabin paid for by Melanie’s parents, at an AirBNB partially paid for by her parents, and camping out several nights.1 Read More and Comment

Breaking the Vow of Secrecy in the Conclave

2013 Conclave cardinals walking into St. Peter's

America Magazine in its latest issue has an extended excerpt from a new book by their Vatican correspondent that reveals what happened inside the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis. While this may be interesting for many reasons, it’s also unfortunate since it means one or more people broke a sacred vow.

Everyone who participates in the conclave, whether a cardinal or one of the many Vatican support workers on site, take a vow to maintain the inviolate and secret nature of the process to avoid the sorts of pressures that the selection of the Pontiff has undergone in history. If they are able to deliberate and choose in private, the cardinals are freed from worry that others will now how they voted or that the college was divided or that the new pontiff did not have certain amounts of support or support from particular people in his election. To that end, the Vatican goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure the privacy, from the prosaic like blacking out windows to the sophisticated like using advanced technology to sweep for bugs and block any kind of signals.

So the obvious question is whether this extraordinary breach of trust revealed anything worth mentioning. Read More and Comment

Kicking Old Ladies to the Curb and Catholic Values

elderly woman

According to a news report today, a group of elderly women living in a residence for lower income seniors are being forced out of their homes to make way for younger, more affluent residents by the religious order that has owned the place since the 1940s.

Let’s stipulate that news reports don’t always get the whole story and that this particular one doesn’t have a response from the religious order in it. Here’s the deal: Our Lady’s Guild in Boston has been run by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, whose mother house is in New Britain, Connecticut, since 1947. Its founding charitable aim was to provide safe and affordable housing for single, working, retired, or student women. That last one is key here. And while the order now claims the housing was supposed to be temporary or transitional, they have allowed residents to stay for decades at a time.

In 2012, the order hired a new realty management firm, which began to raise the modest rents. In 2014, long-time residents were informed they would have to move out by the summer of 2018. The property management company also began to advertise higher rents aimed at younger women, prominently international students. The residents have filed a complaint with the city’s fair housing agency that the order is engaged in age discrimination, noting that an ad for renters said it was a residence for women 18 to 50. In 2011, three-quarters of the residents were over 50.

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Incivility isn’t the Problem, Contempt Is

Man yelling into a megaphone

Arthur Brooks writes in the New York Times that the problem in our societal discourse in America today is not incivility as so many have claimed, but contempt. We all know that people are more divided by politics than ever and politics has invaded everything. I’ve written about this problem often on this blog the last couple of years.

Brooks says that most people today suffer from “motive attribution asymmetry,” the assumption that you are motivated in your beliefs by love, while your ideological opposite is motivated by hate. Thus, if a person thinks illegal immigration should be controlled or stopped, someone of the opposite ideology thinks he hates immigrants. Or if a person wants to restrict the sale of guns, his ideological opposite thinks he hates gun owners. Brooks says this is worse than intolerance or incivility:

Motive attribution asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people. In the words of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

The causes are clear. A 24/7 news cycle that must be fed, a proliferation of commentators and pundits, the echo chamber of social media, deceptive and manipulative memes, and so on all create an outrage-industrial complex, which makes us feel superior and allows us to assume the worst of those who disagree with us.
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My Podcasting Workflow: Research and Preparation

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. This is the second in a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first post described my hardware setup.

Before I record a podcast, there’s a certain amount of work that needs to be done. I keep track of all our shows and the individual episodes and where they are in the process using the relational database tool AirTable. The database is broken down into a series of views either by show title or specific filters like “In the edit queue” or “in the release queue”.1

AirTable

Each record has the episode title, episode number, the date and time that the recording is scheduled (if any), the release date of the show, current status (i.e. idea, scheduling guests, recording scheduled, edit queue, posting scheduled, posted), series title, assigned editor, host, guests/co-hosts, episode description, editorial notes, link to the episode on the SQPN site, and then specialized fields related to particular shows (e.g. which Doctor is it, the Doctor Who season, Doctor Who or Star Trek original air date; the Mysterious World category; the Star Trek series and season, etc.) There’s also a database of the podcast panelists and guests and their contact information as well as databases for tracking the picks of the week for The Secrets of Technology and Let’s Talk.2

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Admission to the University of Schadenfreude

Yale University

There’s a lot of fascination and glee over this college admissions scandal story. In case you aren’t following the constant stream of reports, ultra-wealthy and famous parents along with a bunch of college coaches and administrators in a federal criminal case that says the essentially bribed and lied to get their children into elite universities. Because it also involves a couple of TV actresses, it’s gotten even more attention. The Boston Globe has had more than a dozen stories in the paper the past two days about it.

It’s not just the newspaper. TV, print, and Web media are all over this and people are sharing the stories and commenting at a furious pace. We can probably guess why. Most people want their children to succeed in life and most see college as the path to success. They also see ultra-competitive, expensive schools as the surest of those paths, but only a tiny percentage of those who apply can get in. Meanwhile, many people have suspected for a long time that while their own smart kids have a tiny chance to get into the likes of Stanford, Yale, or even USC, if you’re rich enough or able to play a sport well enough, you get special treatment.

So now we learn that parents were able to cheat on their kids’ SATs or ACTs and get them fake-recruited on sports teams for the price of a tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the prestige of the right diploma from the right school.

But now they’ve been caught and people are fascinated by this, not just because it confirms previously held beliefs, but because it contradicts a belief that the rich and famous get away with stuff the rest of us cannot. Of course, not everyone has to resort to crime.

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Going iPad Only is Stupid

iPad on top of MacBook Pro

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but this does encapsulate some of the frustration I’ve been feeling lately. I listen to a lot of Mac/iOS/tech podcasts and read a lot of blogs in that space as well and one of the common trends I’ve seen lately is how many people have declared that the age of the PC is over and that the new touchscreen tablet era has begun.

Time and again, I see these pundits exclaim that they have eschewed their Macs, with their clunky keyboards and massive screens in favor of the simplicity of a touch interface and Apple Pencil, which has simplified their workflows and allows them to focus on getting their work done. Sure. Perhaps. But it sounds like a lot of hipster baloney to me.

I’m no neophyte with technology, but whenever I try to do my work on an iPad instead of my Macs, I feel like I’m trying to swim through a pool of pudding with one arm tied behind my back. It’s not that I can’t do my work there (although there are some things that are still not possible on an iPad), but that trying to do it there takes longer and is harder. So why do it? To prove a point? Read More and Comment

The Podcasting Moment

Coffee cup and smartphone playing a podcast

Podcasting is big right now as seen by the big media companies moving into the podcasting space now. The Boston Globe writes about the podcasting explosion locally and nationally, including Spotify’s acquisition of Gimlet Media and Anchor and how heavily invested in it that public radio entities are getting.

Podcasting is still not easy (yet) and there’s a significant learning curve if you want to do it right. It’s also difficult to stand out from the pack of all the other podcasts out there. In some ways, it’s like the days when blogging was transitioning from a hobby that a few people were turning into careers into professional advertiser-supported media platforms.

The article talks about the distributed nature of podcasting and how it would be a shame if one company became the gatekeeper and arbiter of podcasting, by which they seem to mean Apple, which had the first major podcast directory (and named podcasts after the iPod) but has not yet tried to control or monetize it. And while I’d guess that most people still find podcasts through Apple, there is a lot of competition in directories by Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, podcast apps, and newcomers top the space like Spotify and Pandora.

But podcasts still have the problem that they’re hard for average people to find and consume. They have to download apps and subscribe to feeds, if they can find them, or listen to shows in open web browsers. It’s not like saying, “Watch that new show on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.”

But it’s getting easier. If you have an Amazon Echo or a Google Home, you can say, “Alex/OK Google, play [Podcast Name] podcast,” and as you include the word “podcast” at the end, it should play it with no further fuss.

Of course, I have a vested interest in this whole conversation as the head of a small Catholic non-profit podcast network. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to some big player wanting to donate/invest money in our operation to help us keep going and reach more people.

Separating Art and Artist

Destruction of icons in Zurich 1524.

Over the past couple of years, society has been undergoing a new reckoning that has been dubbed the #MeToo movement. It’s part of a larger grappling with the problem of people who used to get away with abusing and using others for their own purposes and without personal cost.

This reckoning has taken down many famous personages and left us with some big questions, including what to do with the art and other work left behind by people who did bad things.

An illustrative example: The late Michael Jackson had long been dogged by accusations that his behavior with children was creepy and a new documentary has brought forth some men with credible allegations that he had abused him.

In response, the expurgation of the work of Michael Jackson has begun. Radio stations around the world have begun announcing they will no longer play his music–which is a substantial statement given how popular and influential his body of pop music has been.

The producers of the long-running “The Simpsons” have even removed from circulation a 1991 episode in which Jackson guest-starred. Given the longevity of the show and its penchant for celebrity guest stars, you have to wonder how many more episodes will be pulled.

This pattern is being repeated. Comedians, actors, authors, artists, musicians, directors, producers, journalists, chefs, and restaurateurs are all among those who have been accused and forced from public life and whose body of work has now been declared off-limits by those who decide such things for us.

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Reporting Systems are Fine; What We Need is Strong Leadership

Cardinal Seán O'Malley

Cardinal Seán O’Malley is instituting a new system for reporting misconduct by bishops of the Archdiocese of Boston. Of course, it’s mainly symbolic, but it sends a challenge to his brother bishops in the US and beyond to take similar action.

The new phone number and web site is similar to one that was set up in 2011 to report financial misconduct in the archdiocese from a company that specializes in setting up whistleblower systems for corporations and organizations.

At the moment, the only people it covers are the cardinal himself and his auxiliaries and his authority to institute it comes from his sovereign authority as bishop.

And therein lies a problem. The system exists at the will of the man who sits in the chair. Any successor of his could turn it off at a whim. The same is true for every other diocese.

The cure for these situations, like that of Ted McCarrick, the former cardinal and laicized cleric, is not that we need a reporting system. The solution can only come from having leaders willing to take action against those who undermine the Church, steep themselves in sin, and drive the nails through Christ into the cross by their abuse of the innocent or protecting those who do.

Cardinal Seán’s action is a good first step, but there are no easy solutions. What we need is for the Holy Spirit to bring us new strong and Christ-like bishops and for that we can only pray.

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