Sunday at Church

October 31, 2007

Old Catholic ServiceSo at church last Sunday, a little girl – handicapped with Down’s Syndrome, strode up to the altar during offertory and “helped” arrange the communion dishes while the priest and altar servers watched. I thought the priest was very kind to wait for her mother to come up and entice her off before continuing the Mass.

Someone complained.

I am confused about the complainant’s Christian principles. I am confused about why an act of innocence should be admonished, especially in light of the attitude of the person on whom this church was built.

So to the complainant, I have only this to say: I think you’ve got the whole Christian thing wrong. I think you need to lighten up a little and realize some of the joy that that little girl shared with us on Sunday.

In the Last Minute of Life

October 25, 2007

Holding someone’s handThis past week my wife, the chaplain, walked into a patient’s room at ECMC to discover him alone, dying.  She held his hand and told him he would not die alone.  In those next moments she watched his cardiac monitor display the signs of a failing heart, and then he was dead.

He did not die alone.  We will never know if he knew she was there, but I know she was there.

My wife does so many things that I can’t possibly imagine doing myself.

1,120 Pieces

October 13, 2007

WoodpileEveryone needs to do the occasional once a season thing just to unwind, to remove the tension, to decompress.

Early this morning my wife and I stacked the four cords of wood that were delivered earlier this week; the fireplace is now keeping the house toasty, and the furnace has not – will not – go on for days to come.

For the price of the wood ($75 a face cord), the effort to stack it and the need to regularly tend the fire, we will save upwards of $700 in winter fuel bills, possibly more. I got two hours of fresh air and exercise and had a nice time with my wife to boot.

A great deal all around.

To My Wife on Our Anniversary

September 22, 2007

Interlocked HeartsI would be remiss if I did not tell the world that today is our 23rd wedding anniversary.  Even though half of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, most of those occur within the first eight years of marriage.  After that, marriage relationships become pretty stable.  I’m not sure if that’s because of familiarity, comfort, kids or just plain laziness, but I don’t really care.  I love you and I know that it would be a much more difficult life without you.

So I’m sticking around for as long as you’ll have me.

Honey, thank you for putting up with me all these years.

All My Love,


Sparks on Kindling

September 20, 2007

Black students congregating under the white students’ tree.  Nooses hung on said tree.  It is recommended that white students get expelled but instead get an in-school suspension.  Black students stage a protest (allegedly peaceful), police break it up.  Numerous fights between whites and blacks occur.  District Attorney J. Reed Walters issues his now-famous statement “I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.  White student pulls a gun on a black student, who wrestles the gun away from him; black student charged with theft.  White student attacks black students for going to a white party, and gets probation.  Black students attack white student and get charged with attempted murder.

In the meantime, someone sets the school on fire.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton both show up.  Thousands march on the town.  On the 6:30 news a bunch of black people talk about how racism is still prevalent today and a bunch of white people talk about how Jena, Louisiana is not a racist town.

My, we’re a touchy bunch, aren’t we?

The Guardian sees this as an everyday story in America, apart from the nooses.  I see it as sparks on kindling.

Millionaire Stupidity, Part 2

August 24, 2007

I forgot to mention Marcus Vick.  Marcus, of course, was previously more infamous than his brother Michael, but never really got to the stupid millionaire stage because he lost control while still in college.  Just prior to the 2006 NFL draft many critical articles were written about Marcus.  Several of those articles pleaded that Marcus not be compared to his already-famous brother Michael.  This one got me to think about the façades that we all erect, and whether it was simply Michael’s misfortune to get caught.

Near the end of the aforementioned article the sports writer wrote:  “During his abbreviated college career, Marcus Vick was compared frequently and favorably to Michael. The comparisons should stop. By all accounts, Michael Vick is an exemplary citizen who has done his best to point his brother along the straight and narrow.”

That writer is probably rethinking those words.

Millionaire Stupidity

August 24, 2007

DogfightingI’ve been trying to get my head around Michael Vick, a person formerly worth millions of dollars, who threw it all away because he decided to own a stake in a blood sport.

What I don’t get is his willingness to host the Bad Newz Kennels on his property. Had he participated as a rabid spectator in a blood sport, he could have easily pleaded mea culpa to the public and gotten away with a hand slap and fawning consideration from his fans. Instead, he took part in electrocutions and drownings, and turned off everyone associated with him. In the process, he tossed his 130 million dollar contract out the window. I guess money doesn’t make you any less stupid.

The NFL may rise to the occasion by sentencing Vick to a lifetime ban; but my cynical side thinks that some NFL owner (Jerry Jones comes to mind) may put profit before ethics and try to bring him back after he’s done his jail time.

Hopefully, Vick will fade quietly into obscurity, much like Zacarius Moussauoi.  And when what money he’s got left runs out, he will.

Empty Nesters

August 22, 2007

My youngest son went off to college yesterday.  He joins his brother, a junior, at the same college, in the same curriculum.  He will benefit from the friends he’s already made on campus through past visits to his brother.  Like his brother, he was ready for the college experience by his sophomore year in high school, and I know that both of them will enjoy their individual experiences as well as each others’ company.

My wife and I are alone together for the first time in 20 years.

While I’m somewhat ambivalent about the change at this point, I recognize that this is a big change.  My wife and I will have to get to know each other again, and plan our lives around each other rather than around our children.  I’m looking forward to the challenge, as much as I am to my kids’ next visit.

Tonight we’re breaking out the champagne to celebrate our milestone and our kids’ success.

Another Talented Citizen

August 19, 2007

Dr. Tom Stewart, Gaymar IndustriesThis is Dr. Tom Stewart, president of Gaymar Industries, member of the University at Buffalo adjunct faculty, on the Buffalo Niagara Partnership Board of Director, author, and a really smart guy.






Tom Stewart, Guitar Player

And this is the same Tom Stewart, on stage with his 12-string solid body playing Beatles, Moody Blues and Tom Petty along with his fellow band members at last Saturday night’s Viva for Life breast cancer benefit for Roswell Park. It is obvious that he practices the guitar a lot.

Tom is also a karate black belt and an all-around nice guy.

Western New York has some great gems. Tom’s one of them.

Finding the Balance

August 8, 2007

Norma NowakA few people that I know seem to have found the balance that I’ve pretty much spent my entire life trying to find.  I often speak about my wife, who is one of those who simply completes the challenges before her, successfully balancing a demanding husband and family with career and personal life.

Norma Nowak is also one of those people.  Norma is world renowned for her work in genomics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (and now Empire Genomics as well),  instrumental in the development of the NYS Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences; she’s been a Buffalo ambassador forever, is extremely personable and, oh yeah, is raising two teenage boys as well.  She appears to be able to successfully juggle family, career and community demands for her time without showing signs of wear and tear.  I think she has figured out how to be awake at all times, because there’s no way that anyone who needs sleep can accomplish as much as she does in a normal day.

There are certainly other Normas in Western New York, but Norma came to mind today.  I hope she does not take offense by my bragging about her.

Ben Folds Live

August 4, 2007

Back in November 2006 I went to only my second live concert since college because my son, who was 17 at the time, did not have enough driving experience for my wife and me to justify allowing him to drive the roughly one hour to and from Geneseo State College.  Ben Folds was a master with both his keyboards and his audience.  Everyone sang along, to practically every song.  These were diehard fans of a very good entertainer.

This was a college entertainer, entertaining a college crowd.  I was one of few, very few, gray-haired people in the place.  I wonder if the kids around me wondered why I was there.

It was standing room only – there were no seats.  My son and I were in the front row, up against the stage, our reward for waiting two or three hours in the cold prior to the start of the concert.  Acoustics from the front row are always good.  I saw nuance that I had never seen before, like Ben Folds occasionally accidentally spitting into the microphone, and the band members cueing each other with little glances.

It was one of the best things I ever did with either of my kids.

Last Resort

August 3, 2007

A friend of mine is about to undergo two weeks of electroshock therapy.  It’s come down to that, or suicide – his depression is that seriously bad.  Electroshock therapy is generally used as a last resort, when anti-depressants and anti-psychotics don’t work.  The results are mixed, with patients’ experiences about its effectiveness all over the map.

For the past four or five years I can only define his mental state as vacuous.  When I speak with him I feel as if I’m talking to an empty shell.  A holder of several graduate degrees, he can barely string two cohesive sentences together.

He is afraid of his future.  I am afraid for him.  I hope it eventually helps his state of mind.

Communion Wars

July 22, 2007

There are several Eucharistic Ministers at our church. Some of them have conflicting convictions as to what constitutes appropriate Communion etiquette and for that manner, appropriate Mass etiquette.

One person in particular is anal-retentive about the rules as spelled on in Canon Law, word for word. Another person is one who prefers the spirit of the law as it allows for appropriate judgment when necessary. One helps the priest (when asked) pour the wine into the chalices (a Canon Law no-no); the other gets annoyed. One writes letters to the Bishop complaining about rules violations; the other complains about the person writing the letters.

When both serve Communion at the same Mass, there’s this sort of non-verbal tension that takes place. A little body english here, an evil eye there. But they both believe in the same God, the same religion, and the same parish. Interesting. One need only have a conversation with these two to understand why people from completely different religions might have trouble getting along. Or Shiites and Sunnis, for that matter.

We have a broad mix of parishioners. Some are very fundamentalist, some are very liberal and some just don’t show up. The fundamentalists complain about every change that’s occurred since Vatican II; the liberals complain that not enough is being done to make the church more inclusive, as Vatican II intended.

How come we don’t review our churches the way we review, say, restaurants? Wouldn’t that be helpful, especially for those who have strayed away from their church because it just didn’t provide them with what they needed?

Church Reviews. Something to collectively blog about.

Sibling Rivalry

July 19, 2007

Guitar Player

Three of my four brothers, and my sister, are excellent musicians. My sister is a pianist, the younger boys play various guitars and my older brother plays anything that can generate notes. He was amazing at age four and still is today.

My three brothers all played in various bands, and tomorrow night my youngest brother is getting back together with the guys from his high school band to play at their reunion, twenty-some years later.

I can finger a G major and sometimes a C major on the guitar. And I can find middle A on the piano. I don’t understand why almost everyone in my family had the gift but me.

I’m still jealous after all these years.

The Handoff

July 17, 2007

Campus Flyover

My wife and I spent a couple of days attending our youngest son’s college orientation. He is going to be attending the same university that his older brother, an upcoming junior, is attending. The same university that I attended a generation ago.

For all the vivid recall that I have of college – of the buildings, the classrooms, the walkways, and the faces – my boys clearly have taken over the legacy of memories. They own the right to tell me the stories while I sit back and listen. We have swapped roles.

I left the campus today feeling very unattached to it.


July 14, 2007

baby2For the first time in 18 years I had the opportunity this weekend to hold, feed and soothe a six-month-old baby.

I’m glad it’s not mine and I’m glad it’s not my children’s, either.  Maybe someday in the future I’ll be ready for grandfatherhood, but today was a reminder that today was not the day.

The Robots are Coming

July 12, 2007

asimoEver hear of ASIMO or QRIO? They are Honda’s and Sony’s humanoid-looking robots. They were designed to interact with humans in an appealing way. They, and Sony’s robot dog AIBO, were as much a social experiment as one that pushed the limits of current technology.

Aside from using its legs and arms in a quasi-human-like manner, and responding to simple pre-programmed commands, the robots do something profoundly compelling: They turn their gaze to you when you move or talk. Instinctively, we return that gaze, over and over and over. It is almost impossible not to look at the robot that turns its attention to you, even though the robot has no sense, no caring.

We are surely less than a generation away from newer ASIMO versions that will be able to elicit enough of a social response to become companions for the elderly and infirmed – a substitute for human companionship, a new kind of pet. This is not necessarily a move in the right direction, but since most of society would rather not have to deal with social problems such as the elderly and infirmed, it is bound to happen.

There’s a sort of problem brewing amongst robot designers. They are questioning if the exploitation of gaze behavior, speech mirroring (the Eliza effect) and humanoid features to popularize and sell their product is ethical, and there are real concerns about the addictive (and supposedly unhealthy) nature of human-humanoid interaction.

Even the most rudimentary social interactions can become addictive (witness Man’s interaction and relationship with cats). It will be interesting to watch how society adapts to any emotional and physical dependence on our artificial creations.

We should all read Pygmalion.

The Hollywood Sex Machine

June 24, 2007

Hollywood sex and glamour drives an industry that not only knows media penetration, it defines media penetration.  The glamour of sex is apparent not only in a relatively liberal country like the U.S. but even in extremely conservative countries like Afghanistan, where child prostitution and pornography can be found with relative ease, and where Chinese restaurants are utilized as fronts for Chinese prostitutes.  Much of the time the West is blamed for bringing its decadence to other parts of the world.  But really, as long as there is testosterone there will be sexual desire.  The availability of film just helps it along.

Back to Hollywood.  Without Hollywood, as a society we would still be curious about sex, curious about drugs, and curious about violence.  Hollywood’s exposition of our seamy underside, however, has really pushed the envelope to the point where the line between acceptable and aberrant behavior has become terribly blurred.  How many killings and implied sex scenes per night do we average today on television?  I love to laugh over a sexual reference, but when Scrubs is on Comedy Central at 7:00 I have to wonder how many kids who aren’t old enough to grasp the concept get the wrong impression about relationships.

And in the end it’s relationships that I’m worried about.  Long-term ones seem to be going to hell in a hand basket. 

So what came first:  Our sexual freedom or Hollywood’s image of it?


Naming Rights

June 24, 2007

Why do people get so crazy with baby names?  Why are they getting crazier?  This recent article in the Wall Street Journal makes me think that some prospective parents are on the road to neurosis. 

It seems a bit over the top to pay “specialists” by the hour to come up with an appropriate pick list of names to choose from. 

I can’t wait to find out what these same parents will do for their kid’s Kindergarten graduation or 18th birthday.  Some people have way too much disposable income.

Cause and Effect

June 19, 2007

CarrieThere’s more sex, and more violent events on television than there is in real life, right?  I mean, the daily lives of TV characters are exposed to a seamier underside, much more often, than the average citizen, aren’t they?  How many references to sex or sexual relations do we get in an evening?  Lots, actually; the number has doubled since 1998.

It begs the question about cause and effect:  Is the exposure to the hairy edge of morality and ethics caused by Hollywood’s attention to it, or does Hollywood show more to society because more of society is moving to that edge?

We keep pushing the sex and drugs and violence envelope to a younger age.  I would not want to be the parent of a 14-year-old girl.  It must be a very hard task.



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