Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Monday

Easter Bombing in Pakistan
Reputed members of the Islamic State murdered four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity working in an elder care facility in Aden, Yemen on March 4, 2016. The only crime of these nuns, like some many thousands of others brutally persecuted in recent years, was that they were Christians. What is so bad about Christianity? 

Personally, I like practically everything about it, especially the belief in, and hope in the resurrection from the dead.

It is clear from Scripture that, even after the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, his subsequent Ascension forty days later, and the incredible events of Pentecost, St. Peter did not fully understand the implications of the Resurrection. Only after a personal vision convinced him that Jesus died and rose for all, did Peter see the light. He said,
“Now I really understand that God is not a respecter of persons, but in every nation he who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. He sent his word to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (who is Lord of all). You know what took place throughout Judea: for he began in Galilee after the baptism preached by John: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and he went about doing good and healing all who were in the power of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did in the country of the Jews and Jerusalem; and yet they killed him, hanging him on a tree. But God raised him on the third day and caused him to be plainly seen, not by all the people, but by witnesses designated beforehand by God, that is, by us, who ate and drank with him after he had risen from the dead. And he charged us to preach to the people and to testify that he it is who has been appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that through his name all who believe in him may receive forgiveness of sins.” *
I have come to believe with Peter that “God is not a respecter of persons, but in every nation he who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Nevertheless, I like being a Christian, especially a Catholic.  As I said, I like a religion that believes in and holds out hope for resurrection, for a life after death.

I like to think that the four nuns murdered in Yemen by Moslem fanatics earlier this month are living a new life, and that they are not just rotting bodies being picked apart by vultures. It also strikes me that those four nuns, like tens of thousands of other Christians who have also been brutally persecuted in our own time, had already given up their lives in the service of others when they took their initial vows. Like Jesus, they went about doing good and healing.

Even today, the day after Easter, there is the terrible news that Taliban suicide bombers murdered at least 65 people and wounded over 300 in Pakistan just because they were Christians celebrating Easter.


*Acts of the Apostles 10: 25-37.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Saint Joseph and My Grandfather


Every March 19 the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph, the stepfather or surrogate father of Jesus. Actually, the feast day is now largely neglected in America especially since it is so close to March 17, the feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. There will be no parades or parties to honor the carpenter who took the Virgin Mary into his house.

Surprisingly, St. Joseph was largely neglected during the first fifteen hundred years of the Church. He played an important role in Scripture during the early days of Jesus but was completely absent during the adult or public life of Jesus. If you just page through Dante’s Divine Comedy, you will be hard pressed to find any sinners or saints called Joseph or Giuseppe. It is obvious that in the year 1300 Italians did not name their children after the husband of Mary.

For a variety of reasons St. Joseph only entered the spotlight in the fifteenth century after the Black Death had devastated Europe. He was only given a feast day in 1479 by Pope Sixtus IV, a former head of the Franciscan order. After that St. Joseph became more and more popular and he was eventually named patron saint of the entire Church, not just of one country or city.

At the same time, artists of the Renaissance began to depict him in a different manner. Previously, he had been depicted as a sleepy old man off to the side or in the background in depictions of the Holy Family. In the gospel of Matthew angels bring messages to Joseph while he is sleeping. However, during the Renaissance artists like Raphael depicted him as a younger man, virile and muscular enough to protect not only his family, but also the entire Church.

Eventually, Joseph, Giuseppe, or Jose would go to the top of the list of popular names for children. Both of my paternal grandparents were named after St. Joseph. Although we called them Baba and Nana, he was Giuseppe or Joseph DeStefano, and she was christened Josephina Maria Naclerio. I don’t want to neglect my grandmother, a great saint in her own right, but I would like to spend the rest of this post writing about my grandfather.

Joseph DeStefano was born in 1880 in the town of Agerola, a little town up the hills from the city of Amalfi on the famed Amalfi coast of southern Italy. His father died when he was young and he came to this country with his stepfather when he was only a teenager. He had hardly any schooling and must have immediately gone to work with relatives in the fruit and vegetable business. He was the kind of immigrant that no one wants today. He was not an engineer or a physicist but he was one of the wisest men I have ever known.

He must have been a hard worker for he soon had his own stand in a kind of supermarket. My grandmother, who was twelve years younger than him, told me that he would not consider marrying a woman who was not from his own village of Agerola. She was born in 1892 in Agerola and came to this country in 1906 to work in her uncle’s sewing factory. She was the oldest child and left home never to return. I suspect that there were too many mouths to feed back home, but she claimed that she came to find a husband because she didn’t like the young men in Agerola.

Of course, she lived with her uncle’s family and one day Joseph DeStefano was visiting after dinner. When he saw this beautiful and hard-working young woman from his hometown, it was love at first sight, for him. She was not so sure but he persisted and, according to her, he made sure that other suitors kept their distance.

They soon married and she worked the store with him even after she began to have children. Eventually, they moved out of Manhattan to the borough of Queens where they bought a three family house to live in as well as provide rental income. They opened a new store in Jamaica, where they served the well to do nearby community of Forest Hills.

They quickly had four children, one of whom died in infancy. In true American immigrant fashion, they all were upwardly mobile. Their eldest daughter married an engineer whose parents had emigrated from Italy to open a restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. Eventually, they came to New York and opened a restaurant on the East side of Manhattan coincidentally called, “The Original Joe’s”. Their son, also named Joseph, studied engineering at Manhattan College. The younger daughter married a New York City policeman of Irish German ancestry. Their only son, my father, worked in the store until the outbreak of World War II when he left to work in the defense department of the Bulova Watch company.

My grandparents had to close the store on the departure of my father. They never learned how to drive a car or truck and without my father they could not go to market or make deliveries.  My grandfather retired at the age of 60 and spent most of his retirement caring for a garden that included a cherry tree, a prized fig tree, a grape arbor, and a large vegetable garden. He thought that grass was a waste of good ground.

Like most Italian men, my grandfather never went to church except perhaps for special events like weddings and funerals. Also, like many Italian men he did not like priests. I went to Catholic school and he warned me to do what the priests say, but not what they do. Nevertheless, I believe that he was one of those millions of un-canonized saints in the true selfless tradition of his namesake.

My mother died in 1950 when I was only eleven years old. My father was forced to move me and my two younger brothers next door to live with my grandparents in their modest ground floor apartment. My grandfather was 70 years old at the time and my grandmother 58. Only now that I am in my seventies do I realize how hard that must have been for them. Never, ever did I feel unwelcomed or unloved. Like St. Joseph my grandfather became a foster father to me. We made wine together. We built a coop for the chickens together. I helped him with the constant work in the garden but I never could match his inborn skill and knowledge. He could barely read English and I never learned Italian but now I realize that both Baba and Nana taught me what it meant to give up one’s life for others.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Capitalism and Socialism


Recently one commentator in the Wall Street Journal reported that young voters don’t see much value in Capitalism. I suppose that this bias is one of the reasons for the remarkable turnout of young voters in support of the attempt on the part of Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders to wrest the Democrat nomination for President away from Hillary Clinton.

I would suggest that if young people want to see the value of Capitalism, they only have to look at the end of their arm and behold the ever-present cell or mobile phone in their hand. The iphone and its many imitators that have revolutionized the world are a product of capitalism. Despite last year’s drop in stock value, Apple Corporation remains as one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies.

Years ago Steve Jobs, Apple’s legendary founder, broke the virtual monopoly in the computer business enjoyed by IBM and Microsoft. He was a genius but he could never have built his company without capital. He either had to borrow money to bring his ideas to fruition, or offer shares of stock (partial ownership) in the company to build the business.

Moreover, practically every day these mobile phones and laptops have to be plugged into the electric grid so that their batteries can be recharged. Electricity is one of our basic human needs in the modern world but it is remarkably cheap compared to other things we buy. Although regulated to some extent by government agencies, most electric companies are privately owned, for profit companies whose shares are also bought and sold on Wall Street.

People hate their electric bills but most of us probably spend less on this vital resource than we pay on beer and coffee. Speaking of coffee, the ubiquitous Starbucks, where so many young people like to meet and hang out is also a product of Capitalism. How could this very popular company have grown from a small start-up in the North West to a worldwide phenomenon without capital?

Actually, the alternative to Starbucks for those college students at the University of Michigan who came out to vote for Bernie Sanders recently is university cafeteria coffee. Ugh!
On a recent trip to California we visited the magnificent campus of the University of California at Berkeley, a veritable training ground for young socialists. The campus is ringed by coffee shops and eateries serving an incredibly wide variety of coffees from all over the world. All of these places required capital to get started. Also, the more coffee they sell, the more valuable they become, and the more people they employ.

If Apple and Starbucks are good examples of Capitalism for college students today, these students might want to consider that non-profit colleges and universities like Berkeley are good examples of Socialism. It is these universities that produce the dorms and cafeterias that seem to be almost universally despised. So far three of my grandchildren have attended college and all of them took the earliest opportunity to get out of the dorms and live off-campus. All of them despised the campus cafeteria food and meal plans.

Of course, these schools and universities have become notorious centers of political correctness and thought control. They praise their commitment to diversity, but the faculty members are overwhelmingly liberal or even radical. The suppression of political views contrary to the party line is one of the main features of socialism.

Years ago when I taught at a small college here in Connecticut, a colleague was doing his dissertation on the kinds of periodicals read in communist China. He found that the magazines read by ordinary people contained largely factual and accurate information about America. However, the reading material of the Communist Party leaders and bureaucrats contained the most outrageous distortions and propaganda. It is no wonder that the Chinese version of socialism slaughtered over 20 Million people.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Republican Messengers 2016

So far, the run up to the November 2016 Presidential election indicates that the messenger is more important than the message. It seems to me that no one can possibly pay attention to the words and promises spewing from the mouths of the various candidates, especially their interminable post-primary speeches. It is not what they say but how they appear to the American people that will make or break them.

Here is the way they appear to me, and, I suspect, to a lot of others. I will admit that I initially supported Jeb Bush and felt that a Bush/Kasich ticket would be very electable in November. To win in November the Republicans must carry the key pivotal states of Florida and Ohio.

Donald Trump comes across as someone who is willing and anxious to kick butt both at home and abroad. He appears to be a nasty, mean type of boss who will take no excuses and tolerate no fools. This does not necessarily make him unqualified to be President. In fact, I think that those qualities are required in a President. After all, Trump is running for Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the United States. Those who call him unqualified mean that he has never held elective office before, but no one can deny that he has the experience and knowledge required of a CEO.

On the other hand, Dr. Ben Carson, who finally dropped out of the race after Super Tuesday, came across as too nice a guy to be President. His message was appealing but no one cared since he was too quiet and self-effacing. He was just what you would want in a family doctor but you would never choose him to represent you in a bitter divorce case. Although he had a brilliant career as a brain surgeon, he should have had his own head examined, especially as his numbers started to drop.

Senator Ted Cruz reminds me of a sleazy televangelist trying to drum up donations from little old ladies. Why would an inexperienced first-term senator think to even run for the Presidency before establishing himself as a Senate leader? Again, his ideas and principles might be good but a majority of the people in the country will never vote for someone who seems so self-centered and uncompromising. His tedious and long-winded post primary speeches make one question his sanity. Finally, his unwillingness or inability to cut a deal with other candidates has left the way open for Trump.

Senator Marco Rubio is a young Senator who could be a great Senator but he seems too young and immature for the Presidency. He is 44 but looks younger. People will say that Jack Kennedy was only 44 when he became President, but Rubio is no Jack Kennedy. It is true that President Obama was as young and inexperienced in government or leadership when he ran for President, but that just proves my point. In most of the primaries the Rubio/Cruz vote totals have equaled or surpassed Trump’s, but so far neither one has had the political practicality to combine forces.

Governor John Kasich of Ohio looks and acts Presidential. The large field of Republican candidates had kept his numbers down but if he wins the Ohio and Michigan primaries, his star will rise. As mentioned above a Republican candidate must win the key pivotal states of Ohio and Florida.

Speaking about Florida, Jeb Bush came across as one of the least charismatic candidates in recent history. His failure proves my point about messenger and message. He had the best ideas and plans but no one could get past his name and dull manner. Taking off his glasses, removing his jacket and tie, and rolling up his sleeves made him appear wimpier and wimpier. Enlisting the aid of his brother and elderly mother in the South Carolina was the last straw.

The Bush campaign was another good example of how money does not always talk in politics. The millions he wasted could have been better employed in bribing Cruz and Rubio to drop out of the race.

Finally, I am amazed at how commentators think there is a Trump bandwagon when it is obvious that two thirds of Republican primary voters cast their ballot against him. It is obvious that Trump has a strong core of support but he has never had to run one- on one in any contest.

Some pundits think that the bitter Republican primary campaign has been a bad thing for the party but I think that it will turn out to be positive. At the outset, the Republicans put up a field of at least a dozen viable candidates, each of who had good credentials. The youth and energy of the Republican candidates stands in marked contrast to the aged Democrat contenders. Even when Democrats sought an alternative to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, they could only come up with old Joe Biden.