When Moderate is Bad

On the front page of today’s Boston Globe, there’s an article about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, which complains that despite a hard swing to the left in the Democratic Party and his commanding reelection landslide win 1, he remains entrenched in the middle.

A couple of observations. First, When a Republican professes to be a moderate (i.e. liberal on social issues), the Globe calls it “taking a principled stand”, but when a Democrat professes to be a moderate (i.e. basically middle-of-the-road liberal on social and fiscal issues), it’s called “slow to take bold steps.”

Second, as I read the article, I’m left wondering where the news hook is. Why this article now? There is no particular policy initiative in question, no particular criticism from other Democrats. In other words, it’s either someone talking on background to the Globe who encouraged them to write this or the Globe’s editors themselves advocating for a harder turn to the left.

In fact, the reporter frames every issue in terms as if the most obvious correct course is the more liberal, the harder left one. There’s not even an acknowledgement that there are different ways of reaching the same goals, just the “way of courage” and the “way of playing it safe.”

Such is the state of political discourse here. We are becoming ever more radicalized. Our politicians are being dragged to the far left and the far right because only total adherence to the purity of ideology can be tolerated.

I don’t particularly like Marty Walsh, but I don’t live in the city and so I don’t have to worry about voting for or against him. But some of his policies seem to be benefiting the city. Many others I think are misguided or just plain wrong. Either way, I would prefer that those in power don’t pander to the extremes of their party, the way the presidential candidates are, but respond more to those in the vast middle who are evidently less vocal and less heard.

  1. But come on, when was the last time a sitting Boston mayor faced any kind of real electoral challenge? Decades!

Completing Crossword Puzzles on iPad with Apple Pencil

I’ve long been a crossword puzzle fan. When we were first married, Melanie and I would do the puzzle at dinner together as a fun couple activity. But as children came along that became impossible to continue at dinner. And then when I quit getting the physical newspaper in favor of a digital version, I gave it up entirely. But last year, when I started working from home, I decided to start doing the crossword during lunch during the week and on Sundays during brunch. At first, I printed them out from the digital newspaper and used a pencil, but that used too much paper and ink and seemed wasteful. But what if I could do the puzzle with my Apple Pencil on iPad?

Sure, there are plenty of crossword puzzle apps for iPad, from ones of questionable value up to the New York Times daily puzzle, but they all seemed overkill since I already had a newspaper subscription and they all used frustrating keyboard interfaces for completing them instead of the natural writing of the Pencil. So here’s what I did, first in my description of the steps and then with a video to illustrate.

First, I subscribe to the Boston Globe e-Paper1. Yes, the Globe website has a puzzle, but it’s not downloadable; it’s the same “complete it in a window” as the ones I didn’t want. However, the e-Paper is available both as an app in a web browser and as iOS and Android apps.2

Second, you should own the GoodNotes app for iOS (and an Apple Pencil). This is an excellent writing and notetaking app that is useful for a lot more than just this puzzle function, but it’s part of my workflow here.

Second, I open the app each day, go into today’s edition and go to the comics section.

Third, I tap on the crossword itself, which opens it in Article view, which is a full-page view.

Fourth, I hit the Print icon in the top right, but I don’t print it. This part is key: Do a reverse-pinch3 in the print preview window in the middle of the screen. This will open another screen that will have a Share icon in the top right.

Fifth, tap the Share icon and the Share sheet will open. If you do not see an option to “Copy to GoodNotes” on the top line here, keep scrolling to the right until you do. Tap on “Copy to GoodNotes.”

Sixth, GoodNotes should now open. If this is the first time doing this, you can import the puzzle as a new document. On subsequent imports, you can choose to import into the same notebook. If that notebook is open, you can append it right to the end or you can “Change Location” and select the correct notebook to append to.

Seventh, you are now ready to complete your puzzle. Obviously, unless you have a very large iPad, you will need to pinch and zoom to read the clues and write in the little boxes, but that’s what iPads are good at. Frankly, it’s superior to pencil and paper puzzles since when I erase, it never smudges and I can always ensure it’s at least legible as my handwriting allows.

Obviously, this can work with any puzzle (or any document that you want to write on really) as long as you have a way to print it on iOS. Once you have it in the print dialog, then turning it into a PDF that gets sent to GoodNotes is the key.

Enjoy!

  1. This is the first caveat: You have to be a paying subscriber. Support local journalism. Read the paper.
  2. Second caveat: the iOS app is of spotty quality. Sometimes they forget to format it correctly so one of these steps doesn’t work. In that case, I have to use the website to “print the PDF”.
  3. Reverse-pinch: Place two fingers (thumb and forefinger usually) together on the screen and then move them apart, like you’ve got some taffy on your fingers and you’re stretching it.

Book Review: Goodbye, Paris

I like spy thrillers and stories of terrorist hunters and the like. Sometimes, it’s called military fiction, although it’s not always about soldiers. Think Tom Clancy’s books or Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series. I recently had a chance to read and review a new book “Goodbye Paris,” by Mike Bond, the third book in his Pono Hawkins series about a former Special Forces soldier-turned-surfer. In this story, Pono is called by an old friend to Paris to help him track down a terrorist who had once captured and tortured them. Somehow, Pono is the only man alive who can visually identify the terrorist. When he gets to Paris, everything has gone wrong and now he has to scramble to save individuals and Paris itself while getting both the girl and revenge.

I can tell that Mike Bond is a poet. His word choice and the way he structures the narrative have that rhythm and flow, which makes the book all the more interesting to read, especially given its 1st-person viewpoint. That 1st person narrator is another strong point because it limits how much we can know about what’s really going on and keeps us as off-balance as the main character, Pono. The action was also well done, written so as to be clearly understood what was happening.

My reservation, what keeps me from giving the book top grades, is its bleak worldview. It’s so relentlessly defeatist and negative about Islam and France and, well, everything. Yes, things are bad, but so bad? This is illustrated by how Bond portrays the fire at Notre Dame, which in the story happened before the action begins. (As an aside, I’m not sure if this was quickly inserted after the real fire or it’s an incredible coincidence.) In Bond’s telling, Notre Dame was destroyed by terrorists, burned out, demolished into a stone shell, all of its timeless artistic and spiritual glory gone. So depressing. But in reality, Notre Dame was damaged, badly, but all of her most important treasures survived and remain for us today. The world of Pono Hawkins is a sadder one than ours.

Another ding, from my point of view, is the unnecessary amount of sexual detail. I’m no prude; I’m a married dad of five. I don’t need the sex to be described to me if you tell me they had sex. Otherwise, it’s just indulging adolescent male fantasy.

The characters apart from Pono were fine, albeit they didn’t stray too far from stereotype. The aggressive female cop, the weary bureaucrat, and so on.

Nevertheless, I still give the book four out of five stars because the premise was interesting and the plotting and action were compelling enough to keep me wanting to come back to the book and find out what’s next, how it will be resolved, and who lives and dies.

Raising the Betts: A New Podcast

Melanie and I have just launched a brand new project into the world. Wee have a new podcast we’re doing together called Raising the Betts. It’s part of the StarQuest Media network, of which I am CEO, and despite having created and been part of a dozen different shows and podcasts over the years, it’s the first time I’ve been able to get Melanie in front of a microphone!

In this first episode, we talk about our backgrounds, how we met, we dated, we got married, and we had kids. We also preview some of the topics we’ll be discussing in the future, like homeschooling, cooking, our trips both near and far, the challenges of marriage and parenting, and fun stuff we’re doing around the house. We’ll also talk about books, TV shows, movies, music, and art, as well as current events and news stories that particularly affect us or make us passionate. And of course, we’ll talk about our Catholic faith, whether it’s something that comes up with the kids or part of Melanie and my spiritual lives.

We hope you’ll give it a listen, subscribe, share it with others, and let us know what you think.

You can find links to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, and on the SQPN YouTube channel.

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 time 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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