What to name a French Poodle.

“Monsieur Le Chauffer, I have a question for you”, says my newly “re-homed” black standard  French Poodle the other day.

We are driving to a dog park and the radio has just finished a story on the rise of White Supremacy around the world. He’s spread across the entire back seat. He likes to lounge.

“Sure, Bud!” I say. I rarely get a question from him. Even though he’s only a year old, he has the ego of a much older dog and prefers to answer questions, rather than ask them – in French, English or Bark!

Today, it’s English, which is fortunate for me. I don’t speak Bark! and my French is old school – as in dusty high school French.

About two months ago, when I first got him, I noticed a small white spot at the front of each of his ears, as though he was wearing “Earbuds”. So I named him “Ear Bud”. Clever, huh?… (OK, not so clever. He told me it was “tres stupid! I’m French! Not common!”)

The next day my neighbor saw us walking. “What a beautiful French poodle!!” she said. She gave him a big hug and rubbed his ears. “You are so-o-o-cute!” He reveled in the attention. (Me? I’m just a necessity at the end of the leash.)

We get to the dog park. As I look for a spot for the car, he asks again, “What’s a White Supremacist?”

(I feel like saying it is a white person who believes in the superiority of the white race, kind of like a certain French Poodle who believes in his own superiority. But I am nothing if not gracious.)

“It’s a white person who believes in the superiority of the white race”, I say, and then turn directly to him,  “kind of like a certain French Poodle who believes he is superior to humans.” (Hey, I don’t get many chances, you know.)

“I will ignore that puerile little comment,” he says, as I leash him up.  “Really. What makes white people superior? You are white and you are certainly not superior. In fact…”

(What? What!  How does he do that so effortlessly?)

I sigh. “Well, it’s kind of convoluted. But the idea is that white people are smarter, win more wars, and are more successful than, say Africans, or Asians, or Middle Easterners, and others. So some white people ignore the thousands of years of other cultures’ successes and think their current success is strictly due to the color of their skin. They think they’re superior because they’re white”.

We get out of the car. The other dogs see us and start barking.

“Oh, so you’re saying non-whites are stupid, weak, and losers ?”

“Well, no. I didn’t say —“

“—But you just did.”

“No, it’s what the White Suprem—“

—Suddenly the leash almost pops out of my hand as he yanks me toward to the gate. I open it and unleash him. There’s more barking as he bolts to his friends. I see my friend Stephanie who has just gotten back from France. I join her. 

“He hates the name “Bud”, I tell her. 

“Yeah, well, he’s pretty smart, alright.” (Hey!…)

We watch as Bud plays with a Shelty. Shelties are herding dogs. Although he’s far bigger, the Shelty runs circles around Bud, nipping his heels until he moves where the Shelty aims him.

“Why don’t you give him a French name?” 

Bud does the one thing that only Poodles do. Using one of his huge paws like a hand, he plops the Shelty to the ground. Then, he runs off, this time after a Yorkshire Terrier, who darts under a bench. Bud tries to wriggle under the bench, but is too big. All we see is his big rear with its wagging tail. 

“You could call him Mon Ami.” When she says it, it sounds musical and sophisticated.

“Hey! Monna…Animini…ini !” I shout to him. She laughs. “Or you can stick with Bud. We’re not in France.”  

All three dogs now run after a greyhound, who does what all greyhounds do, leaves them in the dust. 

Bud comes over and stares at me, breathing hard. “C’est la vie” (such is life). Sometimes even French Poodles aren’t best at everything.”  Stephanie wraps her arms around him. “He is so-o-o- cute, isn’t he!”  He looks smugly at me, “But we are best often enough, as you can see.”  

And, over his shoulder, as he runs back to the other dogs, “Especially black French poodles. We may not be superior to other dogs all the time, but to certain individuals, we are definitely superior – bien sur!” (for sure!)

That does it. The name is Bud.

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It’s Not Trump’s Civil War

In the last Civil War, the division was clear: slavery vs. non-slavery. The Greys have always described it as a state’s rights issue, but that was horse puckey then and it is now: the “rights” were to own slaves.

The country today is nearly as divided as it was during the Civil War. Although only a few nutcases are thinking of wielding weapons against each other, it feels like we’re on the verge of another Civil War, this one not between the Greys and the Blues, but between the Reds and the Blues. 

This is not to belittle the Greys. In 1787, the drafters of the Constitution gave black people 3/5’s the voting value of white people. When you’re raised from infancy hearing blacks are 3/5ths of whites, you tend to believe it. 

And it’s not to belittle the fact that there was only one way to plant and pick cotton then, the Greys’ primary way of making money, and it wasn’t with robots.

Nevertheless, it was what it was: slavery. And it wasn’t what it wasn’t: right. 

Even though the ‘Three Fifths Clause” was repealed in 1868, the belief in black inferiority is still in the country’s DNA. 

Aside from slavery, though, both sides in the Civil War shared many of the same values: fairness, integrity, protecting the innocent, morality, and trustworthiness, for example.

The divide over our current Civil War, is far less clear. Is it Globalism vs Nationalism, Capitalism vs Socialism, Climate Change vs (what?) Non-Climate Change, Rich vs Poor,  Progressives vs Conservatives? Or the old standby: Republicans vs Democrats? 

The answer is “Yes”. 

But we’ve survived national differences before. So, what’s different this time?

The first answer might be our Divider in Chief, right? Trump fights his detractors by attacking them, dividing them, and turning them against each other. Anyone who’s not with him is his enemy, and the list changes at his whim. He loves to boil the pot.

But he’s only been doing this for 3 years. And these issues have been growing for far longer.

I suggest the common denominator isn’t Trump; it’s a deterioration of shared values. 

Take corporations, for example. Increasing shareholder value didn’t exist before the 20thcentury. It now directs much of the US economy. This week a Federal Court found United Healthcare guilty of denying coverage to tens of thousands of mentally ill patients. They had insurance, but United Healthcare refused to pay for their treatment. That’s emblematic of the entire health insurance field, not to mention the Pharmaceutical industry. 

So much for protecting the innocent.

Cheating is another relatively new American value. Over the last few decades or so, it has become rampant in colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools. Until now, it’s been pretty much contained to students. This week, though, the Justice Department charged 50 people in a multimillion-dollar scheme of cheating on entrance exams and bribing college officials, including admissions officials at Georgetown, Stanford, and Yale. And the parents were part of it. 

So much for integrity.

(Can you imagine that even 50 years ago? OK, we won’t answer that until Penn publishes Trump’s SAT scores.)

How about an impartial justice system? In the last week Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in jail for defrauding the IRS of $6 million – stealing from the government. And those 47 months will likely be reduced to 22 months. Upon hearing that, a public defender in Brooklyn noted that, in the same week, his client was sentenced to 36 to 72 months – for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a laundry room. 

So much for fairness.

In 2016, the year Trump became President, a Gallup poll showed that only 26% of the country had confidence in our Justice system.

The Catholic Church, the bastion of morality, is finally facing up to raping children. In a January 2019 poll, fewer than a third of U.S. Catholics rated the honesty and ethical standards of clergy as “very high” or “high”.  

So much for morality.

How about the media? Remember when CBS’s Walter Cronkite shined a spotlight on the Viet Nam War?  According to Gallup, trust in the media, at 72% in 1976, dropped to 45% in 2018. Just last week, the Democratic National Committee blocked Fox News from hosting any of the 2020 presidential primary debates. Why? Because they’re biased against Democrats.

So much for trustworthiness.

These are just examples, but they make a point: a deterioration of shared values is causing Americans to lose confidence in our national institutions. And ultimately, ourselves.

Yes, Trump lies, cheats, and steals – more so than any leader we’ve ever had – but he is not the cause of this new Civil War; he’s just a symptom. It isn’t him; it’s us.   

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How To Be A Kid

There are a lot of books, articles, videos and blogs on how to be a parent, “How to be a good parents (with pictures)”, “50 Easy Ways To Be A Good Parent”, “Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting”, etc.

However, all that information begs another, far more important question: how to be a kid.

To be an expert in most things, you have to go to school, study hard, pass a test and get a license. To drive, you have to pass a driving test to get a license. To get married, you don’t have to go to school or pass a test, but you have to get a license.  

To be a parent you just have to know how to play a certain three-letter activity with a somewhat unpredictable outcome.

Which is kind of confusing for the kids. They arrive with a “What the…?!”

And it gets even more confusing from then on. 

As a kid you control nothing in your life. You only get fed when the big woman with the comfy chest decides it’s time. Yucky paper things get wrapped around your middle, often by the big guy with a big face that makes really big noises when the paper things slip. 

No one speaks your language. They can only differentiate between your crying and laughing (how stupid is that?!).  

As you get older, you learn their language (they never learn yours) and then they send you to a place called “school” where you learn boring stuff, but nothing about being a kid.

Later, it gets more confusing. When some of your friends have their own comfy chests, you’re told you can’t even look at them, much less touch them. And they just giggle and point at your funny-thing that they don’t have. Or vice versa. 

And maybe, during all that confusion, the two people who seem to know everything and keep you safe start yelling a lot and it’s scary. And one day one of them moves away and you don’t know why, but you’re pretty sure it’s your fault. 

Or maybe they just take you somewhere and leave you. And strangers give you food and a place to sleep, but the food is only sometimes and the sleep is no longer easy because its a scary place and now you know it’s your fault.

And through all of it, no one explains what happened or why. And even if they do, they use words with too many parts, like or “alcoholism” or “inappropriate”. Nothing about how to be a kid, nothing at all.

Later, maybe you get kicked out of school because math and english and science and history aren’t nearly as cool as smoking and drinking and drugging and doing what you want instead of what you’re told to want. 

And you have no idea why your life is in blurry pieces.

Or maybe you’re one of the really courageous ones and somehow, before it’s too late, you force yourself away from that path, you discover the damage that was done to you, you repair it to the extent you can, and save a life. Yours.  

Or maybe you’re really, really lucky and life is confusing, but laughter and hugs also fill your day and none of the scary stuff happens and you don’t have to save a life. 

Eventually you become an adult, get a job, marry a comfy-chested person or a funny-thing person and have a kid. So, finally, you get one of those books about kids – about the you who is long gone.

Pretty nutty, huh?

Kids have no responsibility or control over their lives. They’re completely vulnerable. They don’t know what’s going to happen to them until it happens. It’s only when they’re no longer kids, when they become adults that they control their own lives. They decide to learn about things like raising kids, having healthy relationships, about children of alcoholics or the impact of divorce, or foster care, and more. All the stuff its too late to do much about.

We are schooled on how to go to the moon, win wars, fight disease, invent new things, make money.  But, on being a kid? Nothing.

Imagine if, along with other subjects in school, there were as many books or courses – not on raising a kid, but on being a kid – as there are on parenting: on dealing with parents and other kids, on the physical and emotional stages of growing from childhood to adulthood, taught in kids terms. 

Imagine a kid understanding and learning how to be a kid – while it is happening – instead of later, when it’s too late to get it right.

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“Never take on the Catholic Church”

That advice has been offered and followed for centuries. Anyone who challenged the power of the Catholic Church would be crushed.

In February, 2019, a parishioner in the Archdiocese of Newark, and childhood victim of a pedophiliac priest, wrote a letter to the NY Times. He spoke for 400 years of children abused by the Catholic Church. 

”When I was a child, I was sexually abused by a Catholic priest.  I was prey, vulnerable to being groomed by the priest. The line was crossed.”  – Mark Williams, victim.

From it’s founding, Christianity was not just a religion. It was also a political organization, focused on membership. From the outset circumcised men could join, so Jews were eligible. The Virgin Mary was placed high in the hierarchy, so women were welcome, too, a notion almost unheard of at the time.  Christianity was a large tent. As a result, it spread across the world like wildfire.  

And then there were the rules, one of which: you had to show obeisance to the Church to get into heaven. Otherwise, you would go to hell.

Trauma is the devil. It stays in the core of your being. My tears waited nearly a half-century to stream from my eyes. – Mark Williams, victim.

Power also came from centralized authority. The Pope may have been troubled in high school, he may have stolen candy from Santa’s elves, but once ordained, he is infallible – never wrong.  Think about taking on an organization led by someone who is always right.

Sexual violation is at the heart of the church’s crisis today and threatens its sacredness. – Mark Williams, victim.

Some did take on the Church. In the early 1500’s Martin Luther started a whole new branch in Europe. A few years later, in England, Henry the VIII asked Pope Clement VII for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon; she hadn’t given him a son. And he wanted to marry Catherine’s lady in waiting, Ann Boleyn. Clement dragged his feet, so Henry kicked the Catholic Church out of England and formed the Church of England. In the process he also just happened to take over all the Church’s wealth, which he uses to solidify his power. He got his divorce and married Ann. Unfortunately, Ann only produced a daughter, so he executed her.

Henry was a multi-tasker.

“Some take their own life, like one friend of mine. I suffered the pangs of addiction, the subsequent lies, and depression and suicidal ideation, along with bankruptcy and the loss of my job and home.”  – Mark Williams, victim.

It turns out Henry VIII did a favor to all English kids. In 1629, a Piarist priest, Father Stefano Cherubini, was accused of “impure friendships with schoolboys” and fellow priests received “many accusations of impurity and ill-reknown.” Later more priests were discovered abusing little boys, so the Church established a policy of “promoveatur ut amoveatur” or“promotion for avoidance” to protect reputations of the priest and the Church. 

A long way from “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”  

“Truth didn’t seem to matter. Clericalism ruled. Secrets abounded. Files were concealed. Grand juries were never a part of the lexicon.” – Mark Williams, victim.

The problem for the Church was the same problem all authoritarian organizations have: no checks and balances. Only this was worse. Anyone who thought to stand up to a pedophile priest or a rapist priest would be kicked out of the Church and barred from Heaven. 

Instead of “Let them eat cake” it was “Let them eat wafers.”

“How could the clerical church have kept silent, covering these atrocities?” – Mark Williams, victim.

Because no one, for centuries, had the courage to take on the Catholic Church. Finally, in the 21st century, a movie like “Spotlight”, a District Attorney who documented 1000 cases in Pennsylvania, and other successful attempts, started illuminating the corruption of one of the greatest legacies ever, that of Jesus Christ. 

The few turned into many. “Suffer the little children” took on wings. 

Ironically, the people who finally took on the Catholic Church did so with the teachings they learned from the Catholic Church.  

Now, even the Pope is starting to join them. 

Finally, courage.  Finally, truth to power.  Finally, hope for children. 

Sister Veronica Openibo is a nun from Nigeria. In February, 2019, at the Vatican Summit for sex abuse, she spoke for thousands of Catholic leaders who, for four hundred years, never took on the Catholic Church:

Why did we keep silent for so long?”


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Change Isn’t Just Coming. It’s Here.

While we’re all starting to get charged up about the next Presidential election, and why Ford is dropping most sedan production and Amazon’s next move, it might be good to step back and look at a bigger picture.

This country, as well as the world, is going through more changes now than we’ve ever gone through. They will have a direct impact on, not just how we live, but in some cases, if we live.

* Climate change. The planet is heating up. We’re having storms we’ve never had before. A record breaking cold in our north at the same time Australia is having a record-breaking heat wave; tires and roads literally melting. During the summer before last, parts of the middle east were well over 120 degrees. Oops! Sorry, that was Phoenix, Arizona. It was so hot planes couldn’t take off.

Yet we’re still arguing over whether climate change is real. 

* Economy. The disparity between the poor and the wealthy is greater than it was in the Gilded Age. Remember when everyone wanted to be a millionaire? Now millionaires are a dime a dozen (if you’ll pardon the expression). Today it’s all about billionaires. In 1986, Sam Walton was the richest American with $4.5 billion. Today, the richest American is Jeff Bezos with $160 billion. There was less wealth disparity in the 50’s, with a high tax rate 70%, than we have now, with a high tax rate of 37%. The buying power of the middle class – heck the middle class itself – is disappearing. And that’s happening just as robots are arriving to take human jobs, robots that will do everything from picking out items in Amazon warehouses to helping a surgeon do a 4-way bypass. 

The disparity is so widespread we’re actually questioning the validity of the economic system that got us here: capitalism.

* US Leadership of the World. We’re losing our leadership position of the Western World. After WWII, we were the country with the power to make things right, to keep bad guys at bay. Now, as a result of stupid wars and stupid leadership, we are losing that respect. There’s a funny thing about leadership – a leader without followers is just a person with a big mouth and no audience. Between over-reach of assorted Presidents in the past 20 years and the pure disrespect for our current President, we’re fast becoming unimportant. 

That has enormous potential for trouble – worldwide – as bad guys like China and Russia fill the vacuum and assert their leadership.

* Culture change: From the founding fathers up to the 50’s, the US was led primarily by WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). In the last 70 years, that has changed as different immigrant groups arrived and started moving up the ladder, as African Americans stopped being held back and started moving up the ladder, as women stopped being tolerated and started up the ladder. Now everyone can compete and WASPs are becoming less important. The country is finally becoming the melting pot we always claimed to be. 

From Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue to Main Street, the culture is more complex and diverse than ever. Who is an American is harder to answer and more hotly debated than ever before. 

* Industrial Age vs Computer Age. The industrial revolution arrived in the middle of the 1800’s and sent the agrarian economy packing within a few decades. Kids left farms for factories. African Americans left the south in a huge migration to factories in the north. Silicon Valley, once a place of oranges and grapefruits is now the change agent for, not just the country, but the world.  

Those who aren’t conversant with computers have no one to converse with or about.

* Politics. Everywhere you look around the world, you see political change. Rightist governments are popping up everywhere, from Europe to the Philippines. Democracy, once the aspiration of peoples across the world, is being challenged by the rise of demagogues. In this country, we are having a genuine debate between capitalism and socialism. 

Which way will we go? Who knows?

These are not just a few changes. They are not minor. They are many and more varied than we have ever seen at one time. How we manage these changes, how we adapt to them, how we use them to better ourselves and others, is critical. Because they are happening now, not next year or next decade. Now.

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