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In today’s blog we will review some recent news items that deserve commentary. As always, I welcome all readers to weigh in with your own viewpoints. Disagreement has always been equally welcome on this blog. Agreeing to disagree (I prefer without malice) is a basic right in our country, so have at it, if you will.

I’ll begin with a quote from our president, spoken six years ago while campaigning for the 2008 election…

"The biggest problems that we're facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that's what I intend to reverse when I'm President of the United States of America."
Senator Barack Hussein Obama, March 31, 2008


Really, Mr. President… Your administration has been a power grab from Day One. You have continued to circumvent the legislative process by issuing Executive Orders and changes to existing laws like the Affordable Care Act, which to date, has been changed thirty-eight times, each one politically motivated and made unilaterally by YOU! Yes, all politicians make promises they won’t keep, but you were supposed to be different. That’s the platform you campaigned on. You were not the traditional politician, but rather a transformational figure destined to unite the country. But the truth is we are a more severely divided nation than we have been since the Civil War.


And it’s not about race. In fact, black Americans have not improved their socio-economic position under your watch, despite skyrocketing spending on social programs that encourage dependency on government and dissuade people from seeking employment. You are a charismatic speaker with lofty ideals, but you have demonstrated in over five years that you have been a terrible problem solver and as a result, an ineffective leader. Your own party’s congressmen/women running for re-election are not seeking your personal appearance endorsements because your popularity with their constituents has declined so fast. That’s enough on this subject.

Now, on to someone who is admittedly on my Top Ten list, so expect some bias here. Last month, a news story emerged concerning former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rutgers University vs. Condoleezza Rice
Rutgers University in New Jersey recently extended an invitation for Ms. Rice to speak at the university's commencement this year. More recently, some faculty are urging the school to drop her for the "questionable politics" she displayed back during the Bush administration!


Okay, so now universities should limit their commencement speakers to those who embrace only liberal politics? It shouldn’t matter that Dr. Rice is a Conservative, or that she worked in the Bush administration, or that she is the exact opposite of today’s college professor profile! She is perceived as a threat to the liberal narrative being directed toward college students. A black, conservative, highly educated woman who doesn’t seek any office (except NFL Commissioner), who also plays classical piano, speaks multiple languages, and doesn’t believe in unfettered abortion… War on Women??? She is living proof that women can be successful without claiming to be a victim. But professors at Rutgers wanted to disinvite her for commencement.


Well, amazingly, the administration did NOT cave in, and Condi Rice WILL speak, and she WILL inspire, and she WILL impress, and she WILL connect with graduates, regardless of the brainwashing that was administered by a narrow-minded faculty. Props to the brass at Rutgers for doing the right thing!


As I write this, another protest emerged at the University of Minnesota where a small group of activists protested Dr. Rice’s participation in a lecture series on civil rights scheduled for April 17th. The University of Minnesota Senate voted 122-21 to allow her to speak. Well, we DO have freedom of speech guaranteed in this country…Or is it only when we agree with someone’s politics? Who better to speak about civil rights than a successful African-American woman, who grew up in Alabama in the turbulent 1950s and 60s? C’mon people, isn’t this still America?


I’ll close with comments from the former Secretary of State regarding the lack of leadership she is concerned about, as it relates to America’s geopolitical role, most recently during the crisis in Ukraine:


“I fully understand the sense of weariness. I fully understand that we must think: ‘Us, again?’ I know that we’ve been through two wars. I know that we’ve been vigilant against terrorism. I know that it’s hard. But leaders can’t afford to get tired. Leaders can’t afford to be weary.

Right now, there’s a vacuum. There’s a vacuum because we’ve decided to lower our voice. We’ve decided to step back. We’ve decided that if we step back and lower our voice, others will lead, other things will fill that vacuum. … When America steps back … trouble will fill that vacuum.”



Clearly she views this administration’s foreign policy as flawed and her criticism is aimed at Barack Obama, whom she believes has weakened our position in the world. He is not a believer in ‘American exceptionalism’, a term that has been used to characterize the United States since the 1920s. In1989 Scottish political scientist Richard Rose noted that most American historians endorse exceptionalism. He suggests that these historians reason as follows:


"America marches to a different drummer. Its uniqueness is explained by any or all of a variety of reasons: history, size, geography, political institutions, and culture. Explanations of the growth of government in Europe are not expected to fit American experience, and vice versa.”


President Obama is enamored with the European social democracy model of government, where income inequality is eliminated, and individual monetary success must be shared by prohibitive income tax rates, with those not so fortunate. In short, the state will take care of you from cradle to grave. There exists a disincentive to improve oneself because your earnings will not be yours to keep. The government decides what you deserve…Sounds more like socialism than the democracy the founding fathers endorsed.


In summary, at least we in America still hold elections so citizens can decide the direction and leadership of our country. As this blog has advocated many times, you should need to present a legitimate form of voter ID to “keep it real”, as the saying goes.


Please comment freely – my commentary alone does not make for a successful or interesting blog. I need readers to either challenge or support what I write about, and many of you have been consistent in that regard.


Lastly, and totally unrelated to any of the above…I am growing weary of the term “selfie”, as it has become a reminder of how self-absorbed and narcissistic our culture has become. Celebrities are adored, venerated, and made false heroes, and now it seems too many of us covet that lifestyle and feel the need to emulate it through these annoying self- portraits. (If this doesn’t spark some controversy I may shut down this blog again)!


Peace be with you!


Straight Ahead,

johntheblogger

Final Warning to Far-Right Zealots...

We are taught at an early age that human beings are distinct from other forms of life because our brains are more advanced. For example, when a child burns his hand on a hot stovetop, he quickly learns to avoid doing that in the future and consciously makes a behavioral change. The brain says something like “that’s not good for me.”

Politics is a corrupt game and its participants are well-trained in their field of endeavor. However, the Republican Party in this country seems to be a tad “learning disabled” especially when compared with their counterparts in the other party. It’s hard to imagine that men and women with advanced educational degrees and years of real-world experience cannot learn new behavior, especially after not achieving their quest for power by repeated mistakes.

During the 2008 election campaign, John McCain was brutalized, demonized and cast as a traitor by many in his own party as being too moderate to be President. Even with a far-right zealot like Sarah Palin as his running mate, it was not enough for many hard-core Republicans to pull the GOP lever. Many boycotted the election and others opted for the third party Libertarian candidate, citing a loyalty to the founding fathers’ ideals for the perfect president. Sub-groups like the Evangelical Christians, the fiscal conservatives, opponents to immigration reform, and other hard-right supporters could not in good conscience vote for a man like John McCain. Conversely, there were also other groups of Republicans and Independents who simply thought it was time to elect a black president under a mandate for diversity.

And so it was that Barack Obama became a U.S. president for a variety of reasons, none of which included being qualified for this office. Most of his first term consisted of excusing himself from any responsibility or accountability because of the economic and foreign policy mess he inherited from George W. Bush. Although Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for his first two years, little was accomplished by this president except a flawed health care bill ironically named the “Affordable Care Act”.

In the 2012 election cycle, even as the bloom started to fall off the Obama rose and his poll numbers were declining, a majority of Americans again decided to sign on for four more years of rhetoric and incompetence. I spent many months blaming hard-core Democrats for being so blindly loyal to a man who was so lacking in leadership. I sulked and I envied their ability to develop and nurture a cult-like following for an administration so flagrantly deceptive.

But my scorn has now been redirected toward far-right Republicans. YOU are the ones responsible for this mess of a second term and gridlock we are mired in. I'm referring to those who, by NOT voting for Mitt Romney (another despised ‘moderate’ by GOP leaders), you have enabled a man who is hell-bent on “transforming America” to continue that course of action. Because of your blind idealism, you have sent a message that Barack Obama was your preference over Mitt Romney and now you are reaping what you have sown.

Your party has not learned, even as we speak today, sixteen months later, how to strategize by uniting, not dividing your own party. You are once again poised to lose the 2016 election to another undeserving Democrat because your foolish pride is trumping pragmatism. The other party is laughing all the way to the polls. They know there is no clear-cut candidate who can unify your own party and is actually electable in 2016! Your constituency of elderly seniors is dying off and being replaced by twenty-somethings who are wooed by the concept of ‘cradle to grave’ government control. You are running out of time to figure it all out. Learn new behaviour, the stove remains hot!

Memo to GOP leaders: Ted Cruz is not your Messiah and Rush Limbaugh should not be your spokesperson. If you allow the other party to cast you as women haters, homophobes, anti-immigrants, and wealthy one-percenters, you will surely lose again and that will nail the coffin shut for this country. At that point the path becomes irreversible under Hillary Clinton.

So there it is, very plain for all to understand…If you Republicans want to fall on your sword yet a third time, Mrs. Clinton will be happy to provide the saber. As always, I can be wrong. After all, this blog is the product of an old timer with a laptop and an internet account, an opinion of one American who has been looking for leadership in government as if it was the Holy Grail. Maybe I need to finally realize I am the real idealist in this scenario!

Straight Ahead,

johntheblogger

The Division of America...

It’s been over five months since I have written on this blog. Certainly, there has been no shortage of subjects to address and comment on, but yet I have remained silent. I have tried to be a keen observer of America as our culture undergoes massive change. From my perch as a retired person, I am bewildered by and astonished at the power that presidential rhetoric has had on the American citizenry.

Those of you who know me personally know my views on race relations, and my disgust for bigotry, whether it be racial, gender or religious based. As smart as I sometimes think I am, I now realize I am equally naïve in my judgment of people and their need to be enticed and swept away by the promise of change.

In 2008, America decided it was the right time to elect a black president. It didn’t matter that he had little experience in managing anything, much less a country of over three hundred million people…It only mattered that he was an African-American and he was a superb public speaker. There were other African-Americans, men and women, who were more qualified, but Barack Obama campaigned on “transforming America” and evidently enough people wanted this transformation. Some other Americans voted simply on the historical component, feeling compelled to undo this social injustice.

What this election proved was you can accomplish a goal without earning it. And by no surprise, that has become the mantra of this presidency. Every day more Americans are embracing the concept of economic equality for all, regardless of how it is engineered. This president has attempted to lay guilt on prosperous Americans for being successful, and he believes their wealth should be limited, and the excess distributed to the “not so fortunate.” This has resulted in an explosion of enhancements and increases in social welfare programs.

I believe economic safety nets are necessary for deserving people, but under this president it has become too easy to collect money without even trying to get a job. This abuse has not been limited to any specific racial group. The ability to “work the system” crosses all color lines, and more people are discovering how easy it is to have government provide for you, thereby creating a disincentive to ever work again.

Politicians have jumped on both sides of this issue with great fervor, carefully measuring and calculating how best to amass votes to continue to hold onto their power. The president has led the charge in dividing this great country, referring to wars on minorities, women, gays, and the poor, that he says have been created by the other party. And he has succeeded in that regard. Never before has there been such a class warfare mentality openly promoted by any presidential administration.

Yes, President Obama is making good on his promise to transform America…From a democracy to a kingdom where the ruler has the power to change laws unilaterally without approval from a legislative body (it’s called an Executive Order). Barack Obama has interpreted his two election victories as a mandate for him to disregard dissent and ignore criticism in the name of social justice and income equality. And we have three more years of this.

Then of course there is 2016 to look forward to. This election will be looked at as another historical milestone to be achieved, this time to elect the first woman. And it will be Hillary Clinton to be sure. That’s a subject for another blog.

To summarize…We have become a nation of enablers where success is being viewed as something to feel guilty about unless you share it with others (some deserving, but many not). There is an attempt to give everyone a trophy in a world where competition is now a dirty word. I am not buying in. Eventually the money runs out and you have what we call a ‘revolution’. I don’t look forward to that day.

I’ll close with a quote from Thomas Jefferson…  

. A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.
-- Thomas Jefferson

Guide yourself accordingly.

Straight Ahead,

johntheblogger

Chapter 17- Confrontation

Her purse is more like a carry-all bag with two large handles. I wonder what she could be reaching for and I plan my reaction if this woman were to pull a gun on me. I would duck under the pub table and tackle her. How hard could it be to overcome an eighty-something woman? But my fears were eased as she withdraws a large manila envelope that is seemingly filled to capacity with papers. On the face of the envelope is a printed label: “Notes on Class of 1961.”

She glares at me through her wire-rimmed glasses as she unclasps the envelope. “Would you care to relive your eighth grade year all over again, Mr. Sponcia?” Her question is laced with sarcasm.

She empties the contents on the table in front of me. I am stunned to see over a hundred pages of handwritten notes, bound with three ring clasps, and chronologically arranged as in some form of personal diary, beginning on the first day of classes, Tuesday, September 6th, 1960. This woman is obsessed with revenge and she has carried this psychological baggage around for fifty plus years. Now her mission is complete. The chase is over – a sinister smile forms on her face.

“Go ahead, read about how you undermined my authority and created a chaotic environment that made me look incompetent and humiliated. Remember the day I sent you home for listening to a transistor radio in class? It’s all there…That was JFK’s election day, a proud moment for Catholics and you chose to ruin it for the rest of the class!”

I recall that incident vividly. The election results were incomplete when we left for school in the morning and I was anxious to learn who won. It was not a malicious act. Maybe I crossed the line a bit, but it got a few laughs from my classmates when I got busted, and that made it worthwhile all by itself. But Sister didn’t smile then and she isn’t smiling now.

I peruse through the ‘diary’, read a few excerpts silently under the constant watch of an outraged stare, and then decide to assert myself. “You took copious notes, Sister…I’ll give you props for that. How do you think I should react? Frankly, I think it’s a tad pathetic that you have harbored all this anger for so many years. Every encounter we have throughout our lives helps us develop as a person and serves as ‘teachable moments’, as they say in your line of work. Why can’t you accept that your ability to manage a classroom at that point in your career was simply not very good? But you learned from that experience and became a better teacher and manager of your classroom. I would have thought at this stage of your life, you would have forgiveness in your heart for a boy who was simply being immature and acting up in class. My God, woman, move on with your life…This anger has torn you up inside and you have allowed it to!”

Her face becomes red as blood rushes to her head. She is aghast that I would be so bold in my remarks. She must have expected me to be embarrassed, but I turned the tables on her.

She stands up to assume a position of power. “You insolent bastard! How dare you speak to a nun that way! You are disrespecting God, just as you did years ago! Have you no contrition? You have no idea what my life had been like. Yes, I’m angry! Students like you made my life a living hell…And you think I should forgive? Ask for God’s forgiveness before you ask for mine!”

I pull my barstool away from the table, stand up, and shove the envelope back to her side. “You’re a bitter old woman, Sister. I apologized to you earlier. We’re done here now. Take your ‘diary of a mad nun’ with you, and try to move forward rather than constantly looking back. You have allowed one year of your life to define your persona for the remainder of your life. You taught for so long, but you have chosen to remember the bad rather than the good. The irony is that you are a teacher, but you haven’t learned to find the good in your life. Instead, you choose to be angry rather than reconcile that we all have flaws, but in the eyes of God we have goodness as well. That’s a basic Christian tenet, Sister, and I’m surprised that you don’t practice it. Have a good rest of your life. I’d like to say it was a pleasure reconnecting, but that would be a lie.  Good night, Sister Imelda.”

She is speechless as I turn to exit the room. I don’t look back as I proceed to the parking lot. On the drive home, my mind spins like a top. What just happened? Am I dreaming this or have I had another life-altering event? First Father Mac, and now this half-crazed nun? My car approaches my driveway, the garage door opens, I ease the car in and turn off the ignition, and breathe a sigh of relief. Yeah…It’s time for a Johnny Walker Black!

Chapter 16 - Nun with a Vendetta

Sister Imelda was a young, energetic second grade teacher in the 1950s. During one’s career, if you demonstrate a certain skill set, you are frequently asked to do more, and often times that translates into a more difficult assignment. And so it was in September, 1960, that Sister Imelda was reassigned to teach eighth grade at St. Vincent Ferrer Grammar School in Brooklyn, New York. She accepted this challenge with great vigor and optimism. However, she badly miscalculated the vast differences between seven and thirteen year-olds.

When one reflects back on his/her life and thinks: “What do I regret doing?” I suppose many things come flashing back. For me, what immediately comes to mind is my abominable behavior in Sister Imelda’s eight grade classroom. I became a self-anointed class clown and a giant thorn in Sister’s side. She wasn’t very adept at classroom management, especially when confronted with adolescents who were hell-bent on being the centers of attention. I have never been proud of my behavior in that classroom so many years ago, and I often thought how much I would have wanted to apologize (albeit decades too late) to the good sister.

Now, incredible as it seems, I find myself in that exact situation. The long-awaited showdown between the under-appreciated teacher and the disrespectful pupil has come to fruition. I am face-to-face with the nun whose classroom I tried to turn into a three-ring circus. And she has not forgotten any of it!

Her steely blue eyes stare into my very soul. Her penetrating gaze causes me to cringe with embarrassment. After an interminably long silence she speaks.

“Yes, John, it’s been a long time since eighth grade. I can say this now since we are both adults…You made my life very difficult. You weren’t the only one. Another John, the Higgins boy, was also a big pain in my ass!”

Whoa! I’d never heard that reference from the mouth of a nun before, but this was no ordinary nun. She was like a predator stalking her prey after a long, tiring pursuit…Yes, I was now in her crosshairs – and it was anything but comfortable for me.

“Sister Imelda, I just want to say how sorry I am for all the grief I caused you back then. I realized years later, how unfair that was to you and the rest of the class. I was very immature and as I reflect back on it, I am totally ashamed of myself.” There…I said it.

She remains stone-faced. “Actually, Mr. Sponcia,” she responded sarcastically as if addressing a schoolboy, “that horrible year taught me quite a bit about young boys and their reprehensible behavior patterns. And you and Higgins, you were poster boys for disrespectful and obnoxious behavior. Yes, I became a different teacher after experiencing the likes of you. You might say I became a bit jaded and a lot less idealistic in terms of my expectations. I won’t go as far as to give you a ‘thank you’, but I vowed never again to be taken advantage of by a rude, selfish boy like you. I became the nun from hell – I went from a nurturer to a torturer. I became feared by students, and parents began requesting me for their kids, as I quickly earned a reputation as a disciplinarian. I became a different teacher almost overnight. I knew I never wanted to endure a school year like that again! It was only then that I regained control of my classroom.”

I sit almost completely still, absorbing this verbal pummeling, hoping in vain that Father Mac would return and deliver me from this witch-like woman.   Almost as if she is reading my mind she blurts out: “And don’t think your priest friend is coming back to bail you out…He’s long gone John, back to the 1960s. You won’t be seeing him again.” A devious smile forms on her face. This old woman was downright wicked.

“What have you done with him?” I demand to know.

“He was never real, John, he was just my vehicle to get to you. I knew your strong ego couldn’t resist his pleas for help. I drew you in exactly as I knew I would! Your type is not that hard to figure out.” Her voice is full of vitriol and contempt. She has been waiting a long time for this moment.

My mind and heart are racing. Is this some bizarre form of karma that has chased me down? What kind of power am I dealing with here?

“What’s your game, Sister? Where are you going with this? We’re not in your classroom anymore, so what exactly do you want from me?”

She moves her chair closer to the table and carefully begins to open her purse. I consider walking away but the voice inside me says “You can’t leave now.” I remain seated, wondering what is next on her agenda.

A Solution in the Middle East...

I have been silent for some time watching our nation engage in the geopolitical mess that is the Middle East. This region has been a giant thorn in our side dating back to the establishment of Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East. It’s all about the oil, turf protection, and the hatred for Jews that is blatant and rampant in that corner of the world.

I have a solution, but I know it will be ridiculed by many. I will be called naïve and ignorant about international politics. It will be called “impractical” in today’s world of international coalitions and alignments. It will be deemed foolish and unworkable. It will be too radical and offensive to many nations. All of that may be true. Because who am I, but just an old retired guy with opinions and a laptop.

What would also be true, is that no more of our courageous, young men and women will come home in wooden boxes or return without limbs and with severe psychological disorders. American families will not have their hearts fractured and their lives torn apart for decades to come, with nothing good to show for their service. (you need only look at the current mess in Iraq despite the blood and treasure expended). Under this solution, our economy can recover and people can again achieve the American dream, a concept that is so unique that we have been the world’s magnet for immigrants who want freedom and liberty for over two hundred years.

So how do we achieve such an idyllic state in the midst of such chaos. As you can imagine, it won’t be easy but it WILL be worth the effort. There are of course, multiple steps and they are all essential components of what I will call the “Salvation of America Plan”. It begins with my take on the pulse of the American people. I believe most of us are tired of America always doing the heavy lifting and being despised, disrespected, and unappreciated for what we do in the international community. To this I say: “Let’s stop doing it! Let’s stop being a patsy! Let’s stop trying in vain to be noble! Let’s dedicate ourselves to OUR own homeland!”

Here are the steps necessary to save America:

Step one…Withdraw all American troops and citizens from all Muslim countries. Let’s be honest…these people are taught to hate us in the Koran. We are “infidels” who need to die according to their teachings. Why would we want to have a presence in a land where we are so hated? We should then eliminate all American embassies and consulates, and issue a proclamation to all companies doing business in these countries that they do so at their own risk. All Americans would be advised to return home, and passports and visas would no longer be issued to visit or work in these countries.

I know…Step one will create massive unemployment among oil companies. My answer to that is making a real commitment to energy independence. I mean drilling on our own continent in coalition with Canada. We have unlimited untapped oil reserves in “The Bakken”, a region in Montana and the western Dakotas. We have more oil inside our borders, than all the other proven reserves on earth.

Here are the official estimates:

8 times as much oil as Saudi Arabia
18 times as much oil as Iraq
21 times as much oil as Kuwait
22 times as much oil as Iran
500 times as much oil as Yemen

And it's all right here in the Western United States !!! This is an immediate job creator in our own backyard. Concurrent with this action we need to begin drilling in ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. We can do this and still maintain an ecological balance, but we currently lack the necessary political will to accomplish it. We need bold solutions to solve decades-old problems that have handcuffed our country and sabotaged our prosperity. It’s all about “crisis leadership”, something lacking in our government for many, many years.

Step two involves an immediate stoppage of monetary aid to all Arab countries. Let them fend for themselves. The truth is they need us more than we need them. This will free up billions of dollars each year, which can go directly to the National Treasury to pay down our debt. Another cash infusion will occur when we stop fighting wars to liberate people who don’t really want us there. Some of this diverted cash needs to shore up our national defense infrastructure, and the balance goes to the treasury to allow us to stop printing money which has caused the American dollar to devalue all over the world. This must stop.

Step three involves our balance of trade (I should say IMBALANCE). Incentives for consumers to buy American products should be initiated, and heavy tariffs on imports will discourage purchase of foreign-made goods and services. If we are the world’s most powerful country let’s start acting like it!

Step four involves a staunch commitment to change forever our foreign policy. In President George Washington’s farewell address to the American people he warned against the peril of ‘foreign entanglements’. This is a direct quote:

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

We need to reevaluate our alliances and improve our judgment in discerning our allies from our foes. We have too many alliances with countries who cannot be trusted (Does Pakistan ring a bell here, folks?) Coalitions with like-minded democracies are fine, but being in bed with the devil is always a bad idea! If you render safe harbor to terrorists, you are the enemy!

Step five requires more bold moves. Americans will pay a higher price for gas at the pump until we become truly oil-independent…Unless we secure some price concessions from the oil companies. This will require some clever accounting practices in which the Fed trades tax advantages to oil companies for freezing prices at the pump. I’d rather make a deal with American oil companies that with OPEC, Venezuela, China, and Russia. Choose your poison. This would be an interim step until the pipelines are flowing into American refineries. Additionally, we should continue our automotive research and development in our quest for higher mpg, hybrid vehicles, alternative fuels (especially propane gas) and electric cars that maintain charges over greater distances. We have the capacity and ingenuity to accomplish these things, but do we have the will to try?

Many of you who have read this far may call this brand of foreign policy one of ‘isolationism’ and you would be correct. But I ask you…are you happy with our position in the world today? Has what we have been doing for decades worked to our advantage? We are $17 trillion in debt, and we have a never-ending economic recession. We are currently considering intervening in a civil war in Syria, which would continue to stretch our military capacity and cost billions to finance. Our country is more divided than it has been since the Civil War, by racial, economic, or political lines. It’s time to repair the damage, unite as Americans, and protect ourselves for the generations to follow.

What I have proposed could also be seen as idealistic and impractical. Maybe, but I’m sure there were many doubters when our founders severed ties with England and fought for our independence. It was a bold experiment back then…Much bolder than what we have to do now. I will close with the one flaw I will admit this plan has that I cannot address. I will concede the point that we don’t currently have, nor do I believe we will have, a leader who has the stones to implement a policy such as this.

And that, unfortunately, is the essence of the problem.

Please weigh in on this one, especially new readers to the blog.  I always welcome dissent as well as agreement.  Your participation only makes this blog better.
As always… guide yourself accordingly.

Straight Ahead,

johntheblogger

I rarely post a news story directly on this blog, but in this instance I don’t want to be misquoted. That’s how bizarre and incredible this story is. The PC police are at it again, this time in the state of Washington, in the form of state legislators attempting to transform the American lexicon into becoming what they term more “gender neutral.” Here is the article…

Washington state gets rid of sexist language

Achieving gender-neutral language is no small task, says a Washington state lawmaker from Seattle.

In Washington state, the word "freshman" is out. And "first-year student" is in. In total, 40,000 words have been changed as part of an effort to rid state statutes of gender-biased language.

The bill, signed into law earlier in the year by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, went into effect this week.

And it was no small task. "This was a much larger effort than I had envisioned. Mankind means man and woman," Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle told Reuters.

"Fisherman" is now a "fisher." "Penmanship" is called "handwriting." And "manhole cover" is, well, still "manhole cover." Some words don’t have an easy replacement.

Others do: "His" is now “his and hers.” "Clergyman" is now "clergy." "Journeyman plumber" is now “journey-level plumber,” according to the Daily Mail.

According to Reuters, Washington is the fourth state to officially remove gender-biased language from the law. Others are Florida, North Carolina and Illinois. Nine other states are considering similar gender-neutral laws.


This is how lawmakers are spending taxpayer dollars. Is this really what the feminist movement thinks is significant change? Is this what Helen Reddy meant when she sang: “I am woman, hear me roar”? I thought it was about equal job compensation and more job opportunities for women at the top, and no sexual harassment. This obsession with gender-based terminology undermines the real mission and causes people to question the validity of the entire feminist movement. Frankly speaking, I think it’s juvenile and I would like women readers of this blog to weigh in on this topic. Tell me what all of these word changes really accomplish and how it’s in the best interest of women.



Another news story emerged last month about two seventeen year-old girls who were severely injured while parasailing. This blog has been critical of daredevils and risk-takers simply because when something goes awry and others are imperiled by their actions…that’s when it crosses a line. This story is another example of carelessness and irresponsibility, on the part of the company who offers these rides to people who are not qualified or trained to parasail, and on the parents of these minors who allowed it to happen. It’s unfortunate they are injured but instances like this happen every day and will continue as long as people are seeking thrills and there are those who provide these opportunities. To all you thrill seekers: climb your mountains, jump from planes, bungee-jump off cliffs, hike through jungles, do all your self-discovery. But don’t expect government, taxpayers, or law enforcement to constantly bail you out of these self-created catastrophes. Be responsible and enable our rescue workers to have the time and resources to save those who are true victims of danger and peril through no fault of their own!


Enough of my pulpit for today… What’s on your mind that needs venting?


Straight Ahead,


johntheblogger

Chapter 15 - A Curious Old Woman

Father McDonald glances at his watch. His expression is one of surprise. “Oh God, John, I got so involved talking with you that I lost track of time. I should have taken my medication an hour ago. I guess I’m a little off schedule. I need to go back to my room to get it. Think about all I’ve said, and we’ll continue this when I get back. Okay, John?”

“Yeah, Father, take your time,” I respond with a bit of enthusiasm in my voice. I breathe a sigh of relief as he leaves the table feeling like I got a reprieve for the moment.

A few seconds later, an elderly woman appears at our table standing over Father Mac’s barstool. She is probably in her early to mid-eighties. Her face belies her age as there are very few wrinkles, but a quick glance at her hands better reveals her real age.

“Your friend has some real internal strife, doesn’t he?” she asks rhetorically.

“Excuse me.” I reply in disbelief that this woman would be so bold as to intrude.

“I apologize. I don’t mean to eavesdrop but the priest was anything but soft spoken, and I was seated at the next table with my niece. I couldn’t help but hear his every word. My brother was a priest for twenty years and then made the decision to leave. So your friend’s dilemma is one I’m familiar with.”

She smiled softly and my initial outrage subsided. “May I sit down for a moment? My name is Mary. I might be able to help you help your friend.”

“Please, have a seat, I’m John Sponcia.” I’m a bit tentative but the woman seems sincere and polite, so I invite her to take a seat. My eyes are drawn to her face, framed by a pair of old style, wire-rimmed glasses, her hairdo carefully coiffed in a short stylish cut. She is dressed conservatively and is more articulate than I would have expected of someone her age, so I decide to listen rather than speak.

“By the look on your face, John, I’d say you’re wondering what an old woman like me could offer you in the way of advice. I actually have a lot of experience dealing with Catholic clergy. As I said, my own brother was a priest and I have known hundreds of priests over my lifetime. To be perfectly candid, many of them are an arrogant lot. They have been elevated to a pedestal for most of their lives. Most have been catered to, and generally speaking, live a life of entitlement.”

I stop her at this point. “With all due respect, Mary, Father McDonald is not that kind of priest, and I don’t think you should be assuming he is. He’s done a lot of good things for people in his time as a priest. His problems are real to him…You and I can’t know the kind of mental anguish he’s going through. Frankly, you’re not showing much empathy. It almost sounds like you have an axe to grind regarding priests.” I begin to wonder if perhaps she herself, or maybe a son or daughter was abused by a priest. I start to question my decision to allow her to join me. She seemed like a sweet enough old lady, but maybe not.

She immediately backs off. “I apologize, John – I didn’t mean to imply your friend is that kind of priest. But listening to him talk about himself…Well, he's definitely a type-A personality who is accustomed to getting whatever he wants in life. Now God has thrown him a curveball and he’s freaking out.”

Wow! This woman is pretty perceptive after all. She has made a fairly accurate assessment of the situation from the next table over. However, my gut tells me there’s a hidden agenda somewhere. This woman appears out of nowhere and gets in my face about Father Mac? What’s her interest in all of this? Does she know Father Mac? Could she be a dissatisfied parishioner seeking some vindictive sort of payback?

I glance behind me at the table where she was sitting. It’s empty. “Where’s your niece, Mary?” I ask her, looking through her lenses, straight into her bright blue eyes.

“Margaret had to leave for home. We drove separately, if you must know,” she responds curtly.

“John, are you a Catholic? I’m guessing yes, or your friend wouldn’t be pouring out his soul to you.”

“I was born and raised a Catholic, but I haven’t practiced Catholicism for decades. I believe one can have a relationship with God without being a member of an organized church…If you MUST know, Mary! Now…Why don’t you tell me how you can help me help Father Mac?”

“Did you enjoy your time in Catholic schools, John? Did you get a good education? Ever have any regrets about anything? Did YOU look up to priests as if they were God’s personal representatives?”

I feel like I am being interrogated on a witness stand, peppered with questions. The woman is relentless.

“What about nuns, John? Did you show them the same kind of respect you accorded priests, or were they not high enough on God’s food chain to deserve it?”

“Listen, Mary, I think it’s time for you to leave. I don’t know where all this anger and resentment is coming from, but this inquisition of yours is really not appropriate. Father Mac will be back soon and we’ll be needing some privacy.”

She stares at me intently and I am beginning to feel like this woman may be someone I may have met long ago. Her voice is somewhat familiar, but I try to dismiss any such thought. But the feeling is overcoming me and stops me in my tracks as I return her stare.

She speaks again. “You’re beginning to figure it out, aren’t you John? You think you may know me from some time, long ago, but you’re not quite sure just WHO I am…are you?”

I am now getting closer to an answer as my brain is working overtime trying to process these clues she is serving me. “I am not really sure who you are, but we do know each other, don’t we?”

“Yes John, it seems like it was a lifetime ago, but my name wasn’t Mary back then.” Her eyes widen and a crooked smile forms on her mouth. “I was your eighth grade teacher, John…I’m Sister Imelda!”

Insanity Infecting Our Culture...Again!

Just a few nuggets of information and a few items of specific irritation for me to highlight today…Sometimes, venting can be therapeutic in an effort to externalize whatever eats you up inside. There is no shortage of irritants in today’s America.

Back a few months ago, I read where a Lehigh University graduate student was suing the school for $1.3 million for getting a C+ in a course. She cited “breach of contract” and “sexual discrimination.”

Megan Thode, the daughter of Lehigh finance professor Stephen Thode, was attending the Bethlehem school tuition-free in 2009 when she received the poor mark in her fieldwork class. But instead of working to address her failings, she "lawyered up" and demanded a better grade, the school’s attorney said.“

Yes, exactly what we need, to start setting these kinds of precedents in line with our “Age of Entitlement”! The litigious society in which we live has fostered a viewpoint that it’s always someone else’s fault or responsibility. Personal accountability is a vanishing concept.

Another bizarre story involved a restaurant in Washington that is giving a discount of $4.00 for ‘well-behaved’ kids. We are now paying people to better parent their children. Most of us who are parents may have personally experienced an episode of embarrassing child behavior in a public place. When it becomes intolerable, you need to leave the premises, out of respect for other patrons. These incidents happen and sometimes cannot be resolved. Now…I have no problem with the waitress bringing little Billy an extra cookie for behaving well, but let’s not create unreasonable expectations from restaurant owners (who are trying desperately to make a profit) by cutting their margins even further. As Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young sang, “Teach Your Children”!

Shifting topics, I am increasingly annoyed at the constant attempts to rewrite our lexicon by creating what some consider “fun words” or expressions to replace conventional speech. The worst is when you make a mistake, instead of saying “that’s my fault” or “that’s my mistake”, it’s now “that’s my bad”! Make sure you work that phrase into your job interview conversation. That will go well with your new facial piercing or body mutilation, and will help land you that job you need so badly.

Also, when did the number sign (#) become something called a ‘hashtag’? And what the hell is the origin of this term, ‘hashtag’? For centuries, this icon has signified ‘number’, and also been used as a symbol for ‘pounds’. Who are these people who are trying to hijack the English language and ‘geekify’ the dictionary. I refuse to recognize it and you should also.

Next we have a ‘political correctness’ assault on the home building/real estate industry, as if they don’t already have enough challenges. It has now, out of nowhere, been deemed sexist AND racist to use the term ‘master bedroom’ for the largest bedroom in the house. You see, it connotes a theme of “male dominance” and/or “slavery”. I am not making this stuff up! The PC police are demanding builders and realtors use “owner’s bedroom” or “owner’s suite”, lest certain groups be offended. Well…Shouldn’t we also scrap ‘master carpenter’? And what about all those Master’s degrees being earned in graduate school? What should we rename these sheepskins? Wait a minute…is “sheepskin” offensive to sheep? I’m getting all tangled up in my underwear here! Clearly, there is no limit to this madness as we endeavor not to offend the sensibilities of God only knows whom!

Lastly, let’s revert back to personal responsibility. President Obama has interpreted his re-election as a mandate from the majority of Americans that his poor record (not his words) is somehow none of his administration’s fault. His inability to turn around the economy, to reverse the unemployment trend, to reign in out-of-control government spending, to abate the rising number of Americans eligible for government assistance…none of this has been his responsibility. Either it was inherited from the Bush administration, or Congress has been uncooperative, or the Tea party is spreading lies, or the Fox News Channel is hell-bent on twisting the truth. Anything but admitting your policies may be flawed and counterproductive.

The President of the United States is the most visible leader in the world, and he has set an example for any American wishing to avoid personal responsibility. Make a mistake, and blame someone or something else. Someone will clean up your mess for you. The courts are full of judges validating a society that assigns little or no consequence for bad behavior. Lindsay Lohan continues to defy authority with impunity even as I write this, and she has been cast as a sympathetic figure by the American media! We are a celebrity driven culture and we have a celebrity president to reflect what we have become. Incompetence has been trumped by popularity, and there is no attempt to judge the president based on job performance. America has been divided even further, and class warfare has become this administration’s rallying cry.

That’s a wrap for today. All opinions and comments are welcome on this blog. My only request is you identify yourself and not be anonymous. Respectable disagreement is encouraged. At this point I want to mention…A very good, long-time friend of mine named Jim Gismondi died last month. It was a shock to me as I never even knew he was ill. Jim was a loyal reader of this blog and while we almost always disagreed politically, he was consistent in his respect for my opinion. We often bantered about the Steelers/Browns rivalry as each of us were loyal fans of our teams. I will miss his wit and wisdom, and this blog will miss his commentary. Rest in peace, Jim.

Straight Ahead,

johntheblogger

Chapter 14 - Father Mac 'Unscripted'

The waitress leaves and Father Mac leans forward as one does when listening to a private conversation, eagerly anticipating the details and anxious to be privy to them. I observe his face close-up, his eyes wide with hopefulness. His face has become pinkish, I suspect the result, of increased alcohol consumption. He has visibly aged in the six months that have passed since our last encounter. I am more keenly aware that he has been in a struggle that is taking its toll on him.

“Father, if I’m going to be of help to you, I need you to be more specific about what’s troubling you. Can you talk about this a little more?” I thought it best to get him to open up to enable me to get to the heart of the matter.

He does not hesitate. “John, I know you were raised in a good Catholic family. I was too, but it was a lot different for me. You see, in my day, Catholic parents believed that the ultimate blessing that God could bestow upon them would be to select their son for the priesthood. This was truly a privilege, perceived to be far greater than to have your son marry and raise a family. You see, anyone could do that, but only a select few are chosen to be priests! So this was strongly encouraged in many Catholic families who had sons.”

I listen intently, not wanting to interrupt or break the flow of his impromptu response. He continues.

“When I was an altar boy, I viewed parish priests as God-like surrogates, men who had a direct line to God Himself with power and influence beyond mortal men. They had a closeness to God the rest of us could only imagine and be envious of. I observed these priests closely, trying to emulate their actions, hoping their innate holiness would rub off on me. In private moments I even pretended to say Mass, memorizing all the Latin parts for both altar boy and priest. I was consumed by their every action and my parents noticed this…I was quite different from my brothers, perhaps even special. They nurtured my interest in the priesthood and arranged for a parish priest to be a sort of a guidance counselor for me. Someone on the inside whose words would resonate loudly and reinforce any inkling I might have had to become a priest.”

“I was a popular kid within my circle of friends and when I became a teenager all my friends were interested in girls. I also felt this need to be seen with girls and to go out on dates. I did this for a while and while it felt normal, and even good to be in their company, I was feeling an even stronger pull from God that I had a greater calling. I began to withdraw socially and study my religion even more closely than before. My parents, in particular my mother, was over the moon about this. She loved to talk to her friends about my interest in the priesthood, always beaming with pride at the possibility that her son would someday be ordained a priest.”

“This encouragement from my parents created an urge to please and a confidence boost in my self-esteem. I started to believe that I was one of the very few chosen by God, and I had that ‘special calling’ to this most holy vocation.”

He stopped for a moment, took a long sip of what I think was a Manhattan, and sighed to further gather his thoughts. He stared at the ceiling and then shut his eyes for a few seconds.

“Tell me more, Father. I need to hear more of this to fully understand what’s troubling you. Please continue.”

“After high school I entered the seminary. It was at this point, a foregone conclusion. I was expected to study for the priesthood. To do otherwise never seemed to be an option for me. It would have been a major disappointment to my mother had I not made this choice. Don’t get me wrong, John, I truly wanted to be a priest and while I felt pressure, I also felt I was being drawn to God to be one of his acolytes. I even compared myself to an apostle of Jesus and felt so privileged to serve Him. Throughout my time in the seminary, I never had doubts or second thoughts about my calling. It was an environment that fostered and confirmed my belief system, and I felt even closer to God than ever before.”

“I loved being a parish priest and St. Vincent Ferrer in Brooklyn seemed to be the perfect fit for me. I volunteered at every opportunity to make a difference in the congregation, to put my stamp on everything I could. When you’re a young priest, idealism takes over and you believe you can change hearts and minds and help people to be more Christ-like. I gravitated toward working with young people as much as possible. I spearheaded the Little League baseball program, I organized the Friday night dances and events such as roller skating bus trips. I was in charge of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program. Do you remember that, John?”

He answered his own question without so much as pausing.

“It was a religious education program designed to instruct Catholic children who attended public or secular schools. You didn’t need that since you went to St. Vincent’s, but many families whose kids never learned the catechism, wanted their children to learn what Catholic school kids were taught, and this program served that need.”

“As you well know, I was also in charge of selecting and training all the altar boys, a job I really loved. It brought back memories of being an altar boy myself, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of you guys would choose to enter the priesthood as I did.”

I had to interrupt. “Yeah, Father…By the way, why did I get assigned so many 6:30 masses? You don’t have to answer that.”

It was as if he didn’t even hear my wry comment as he continued on.

“Anyway, suffice it to say, I immersed myself in my work and I never questioned my faith or my purpose in life. But now John, I am feeling doubt, questioning my role in a world that is rapidly changing.”

I think for a moment…He has no idea what changes have taken place since the 1960s, a decade that rocked the foundations of traditional America at that time. But I am aware that he will live long enough to see a transformation he could never have anticipated.

He suddenly stops cold. It was as if he couldn’t bear to utter what he was thinking. The priest tries to compose himself as he begins to well up. He quickly recovers and looks me dead in the eyes. “John, I have recently had thoughts of leaving the priesthood. I’ve never told a single soul about this. I’m telling you because you’re the only one who has the perspective to know what the future holds. What should I do? Can you shed any light on this? Do I dare defy my God and my Church? Can I ever be forgiven for even considering this?”

I raise my glass to my mouth and take a long, slow sip of Scotch as he stares at me, imploring me to acknowledge his questions. As if I have the wisdom to guide him through his struggle and provide the direction he seeks? I rest my glass on the coaster, swirling the ice cubes to buy a few more seconds. I begin to formulate a response in my mind, before I actually say the words I need to say. God help me, and guide me through this task you have assigned to me.

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