Happy at Home

espo columnI live in Illinois, where the governor has issued a “stay at home order” and I’m getting along fine and dandy.

Blame the coronavirus.

Let me start by pointing out that despite what some in the press are reporting there is not a “shelter in place” decree.  Shelter in place is what a high school does when a crazed shooter appears on campus; everyone seeks shelter and stays there until the “all clear” is given. It is what people in a chemical plant do if there is a toxic gas leak. It is what farmers in Kansas do when tornadoes appear on the horizon.

Stay at home is serious but less onerous. It means if you don’t have an essential job you stay at some. You can go for a walk or work in your yard, but you can’t visit the grandkids or hold your Friday night poker game.

Only essential business may remain open: groceries, gas stations, banks, carryout food, pharmacies.

Non-essential businesses include bowling alleys, dance clubs, bars, fashion boutiques, florists.

Schools and churches are closed and most people are working remotely from home or out of a job until we either get coronavirus under control or it runs its deadly course.

Pick up any newspaper and you will read of the psychological dangers faced by families suddenly faced with being in the same building for days and nights on end. Of course, those people who live alone can’t go out and mingle with the rest of humanity so they face a future some consider worse than coronavirus: cabin fever.

conradHowever, for some of us (me, in particular), life really hasn’t changed all that much on most days.  I’ve been working from home for two decades so I’m quite accustomed to getting out of bed in the morning and walking 20 steps to my office, which is wherever my computer and phone are charging. During these 20 years, I have had just one consistent office mate, Lady Conrad, a green-cheeked conure.

Being under stay at home orders has some clear disadvantages. I can’t visit my grandchildren and they can’t come to spend the day, which they usually do once a week. I can’t go to Mass at a church. I can’t get a cup of coffee and sit in my local coffee shop.

But with all the online technology available, I can visit my grandchildren via live video, watch Mass live, and still get coffee to go and talk a walk in the park.

Through the internet, I have access to virtually every movie, television program, piece of recorded music, and book ever produced. I also have dozens of books I have obtained with high intentions of reading but that remain on the “to be read” shelf in my office – or the download file in my e-reader.

I can talk to friends on the phone, use email or texting, and I belong to an online prayer group that meets weekly through video conferencing.

In other words, as a long-time worker from home, I learned long ago how not to be isolated even if it seems I am – at least physically.

Like any human being, God never leaves me alone. He is always there for me though I have to confess the sometimes I’m not there for Him. We do talk daily through prayer. Most of my prayers are short and simple. For example, when I complete a challenging piece of work I’ll say “thanks for helping me get that done”. When my computer freezes in the midst of an especially inspiring line of writing my prayer is more like “come on, why now?”

I’m also blessed during this time of being home because my wife’s place of work is closed and she is home with me. I expect there are many people who are not thrilled about the people they are sharing space with. But in my case, I have the person I love more than anyone else in the world, my best friend, and a really fun person all wrapped into one.

I have a happy home and I’m happy to be here.  Thank you, God.

Coronavirus Craziness

fearI think the one thing the world really needs is another commentary on the way the coronavirus is changing our lives.

You may not agree, so I dare you to continue reading to see if I come up with something clever or insightful about the current crisis. These really are interesting times and I fear we are just getting started.

Last week health officials suggest we avoid crowds. Professional and college sports leagues canceled their seasons. Churches suspended services.

You can roll a bowling ball across St. Peter’s Square in Rome and not hit a single pilgrim. The basilica is just as empty.

This week in Chicago, where I live, all the bars and restaurants are shuttered. Schools are closed and parents are trying to figure out how to work and watch kids at the same time.

By next week we may all be hunkered in our basements, fearful that the next knock on the door will be a federal health soldier asking for a blood sample.

Perhaps it won’t get that extreme. But I’ve already seen enough of the human reaction to a pandemic to have confidence that things will be much crazier.

Let me share a few observations.

  1. What is the single thing that Americans are most afraid of having to live without? TOILET PAPER. People are buying TP as fast as trucks can restock stores. People are hoarding the stuff and I think some families must have enough to last for years.
  2. People are stocking up on bottled water, medicine, favorite foods, pet food, hand sanitizer, and beer.
  3. There is always some greedy jerk who tries to make an extra buck during a crisis. A couple guys made the news last night when the police found they had bought up thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and were selling it for outrageous prices to fearful neighbors. A judge decided they should give all their inventory to charities.
  4. My local newspaper (a major metropolitan daily) offered a long feature article on how to occupy oneself if restricted to home. In other words, if you can’t go to work, school or the mall, what on earth could you do?  Frankly, anyone who can’t figure out how to occupy themselves has greater issues than coronavirus.  If you have a cheap computer with an internet connection you can for very little money access virtually every movie, television program, and book ever produced in the history of mankind. You can also pick up a physical book.  Other things you can do include spending time with the other people you live with, either roommates or family. If you live alone you can talk to people on the phone.
  5. Life goes on despite the lack of sports to watch or in which to participate. This is a reminder that sports are a pastime. That is, they are something people do to pass the time, not improve the world.
  6. As a Catholic, if I am quarantined I will have extra time to meditate and pray. Prayer is a good thing to do in a pandemic. It might do me good to re-read the Bible, a book that has inspiration, history, drama, romance, and poetry.
  7. I’ve learned two new definitions and my first instinct regarding the meaning of each was incorrect.
    1. Flatten curve. I thought this would have something to do with building roads or railways. Turns out is related to the reduction of the curve on a chart of increasing numbers of coronavirus cases.
    2. Social distancing. I figured this was a short description of the way I feel around the right and famous; I sense the social distance between them and moi. But it refers to keeping a distance of a few feet from other people so you don’t get their germs.
  8. Everyone is encouraged to be thorough in the washing of hands. A tip for Catholics or other open to Catholic ways; if you pray a Hail Mary slowly and with reverence, it takes just the amount of time required to do a solid washing of the hands.

Much of the “normal” world I experience is closed. Many of the things I would normally do are unavailable. But God is always available. I just need to start the conversation.

One Size Fits None

1024px-Rainbow-gradient-fully-saturated.svgThe California legislation is pondering a bill that would prohibit department stores from displaying merchandise for boys and girls in different aisles.

The law would require all clothes and toys to be gender-neutral, clearly, a tip of the hat to the movement aimed to ensure that nobody influences a child to believe they are male or female.

After all, what right have you or I to look at a child and call it a boy or girl? And if every child is kept in a state of confusion it gives adults a good excuse for their own confusion.

Frankly, when I first read about this I was furious. But the more I think about it, the more I realize the legislation doesn’t go far enough. There is so much more in our inconsistent culture that must be set straight. Without correction we risk preserving a world in which there are both men and women.

To address the shortcomings of the legislation I offer the following amendments:

  1. The uniformity in merchandise should not be only for children but for people of all ages. We can’t put all the pressure for reform on the little ones.
  2. There will be one aisle of clothing in each store that will feature a rainbow jumpsuit that comes in a single “one size fits all”. (I realize the suit will be too big for some people and too small for others but that is just something we have to put up with until genetic engineering can create a population in which every person is the same size, shape, and ambiguous gender.)
  3. Regarding what is worn under the jumpsuits: don’t ask don’t tell.
  4. Shoes are banned. We can’t apply the “one size fits all” rule here without generating millions of bunions and blisters. Thus, everyone will go barefoot.
    1. The barefoot idea comes from my son’s description of a philosophy professor he met in college. She went barefoot all year round, rain, shine or snow. She said it helped her maintain closer contact with Mother Earth.
    2. I recognize this will be a serious problem for the National Hockey League but we all have to adapt and sacrifice to make the world a bland but consistent wasteland.
  5. The gender-control of toys also will apply to adult toys, namely cars, airplanes, and boats.
    1. All car owners must drive a black sedan with dull gray interior. (This will have Henry Ford jumping for joy in his grave.) We can’t have, for example, a woman driving around in a pink car setting a gender-specific example for the next generation. And we can’t have men driving around in anything built by Dodge. Die muscle car, die.
    2. All airplanes will be painted dull gray. Passengers will be indistinguishable from the flight crew because everyone will be wearing a rainbow jumpsuit. So… it will be important to check IDs before letting people into the cockpit.
    3. All boat names will be removed and each boat will be labeled with the owner’s Social Security Number. We can’t have people sailing around with gender-screaming names like “Daddy’s Favorite” or “Sweet Loraine”.

I know some readers will react to my proposed amendments with the rage I felt when I first read about the legislation. Do not be afraid. Change is hard, but we can do this.

One size can fit all. Or none.

Messing with a Mascot

illiniI was blessed to attend the University of Illinois, where I earned a couple degrees that empowered me to search for a job and exhibit some critical thinking.

Today, I want to apply some of that critical thinking to call my Alma Mater to task regarding the naming of a mascot.  You might think this is a relatively unimportant issue but it is indicative of the political correctness that has grasped much of our culture, especially our institutions of higher learning.

When I attended the university we had a wonderful symbol called Chief Illiniwek. He was not a mascot.  He didn’t lead cheers or prowl the sidelines during football games.  He had a routine that he performed at halftime that was designed to be a tribute to the school and the state. This went on from 1926 until 2007.

Then, in a response to complaints from a few American Indians (or native Americans or first nations people or whatever they wish to be called) the school did away with the Chief. He was replaced by an orange “I”. And the athletic teams continued to be called “Fighting Illini”.

There now is a move afoot to designate the Kingfisher as the mascot of the university. And while a Kingfisher is a perfectly respectable bird and common in parts of Illinois, it can’t ever be a symbol in the sense that the chief was. In fact, as opposed to performing with honor, I expect there will be some gullible undergraduate dressed up in a bird outfit running around during football and basketball games.

Tim_Moore_Kingfish_Amos_'n'_AndyI also predict that someone will be offended by the Kingfisher.  Oh, I don’t think bird lovers will care.  I have a pet bird who is a truly noble creature, although I would not recommend her as a school mascot. I’ve seen Kingfishers when I’m on the lake or river fishing and they are rather impressive. They also are much better at catching fish than I am.

But it seems to me that Kingfisher might remind some people of Kingfish, who was a star of the live radio program “Amos and Andy”. The show later appeared on television in the early 1950s, when I was alive but I doubt any of the current undergrads at the University of Illinois were.

I won’t go into a detailed description of “Amos and Andy” other than to say that it supposedly took place in Harlem and portrayed African Americans in a condescending and stereotypical way.  It was removed from television after repeated complaints by civil rights groups and religious leaders.

Kingfish was one of the stars of the show. He was always dreaming up a scheme to get rich, none of which ever worked. He was not a model for young people.

So, ye politically correct makers of mascots at my Alma Mater, don’t be surprised if your new mascot upsets people even more than your university’s old symbol. That’s the way political correctness works.

The Glory and Gratitude of Aging

ShoulderOsteoarthritisFirst, I want to affirm that the words that follow shall in no way be construed to be an admission on my part that I am getting old.

Having said that, certain medical issues have reared their ugly heads in the past several years. One of them came to a head this week and caused me to choose a path of gratitude over a path of general grumpiness.

I offer three case examples from my personal medical experience.

  1. I have significant hearing loss. To deal with this problem I wear hearing aids. They are small and most people don’t notice them. Frankly, I don’t care if they do.
  2. I have glaucoma, which can lead to blindness. Every night before I go to bed I put a drop of fancy medicine in each eye. I have been doing this for a couple years and the glaucoma seems to be arrested.
  3. I have “significant” osteoarthritis in both shoulders. This causes lots of pain and loss of motion. I’ve had physical therapy, which helped a little. I’ve had cortisone shots to reduce the inflammation. I take pain meds daily, but nothing addicting and nothing likely to rot out my liver. If the pain and lack of motion get bad enough I’ll have surgery; the doctor can put in new joints.

A visit this week to the orthopedist for the shoulder damage got me thinking about my fragility. I have much I could complain about.

After all, if I had lived a few decades ago, I would be going deaf and blind and would be getting unable to lift my arms.

Instead, miraculous devices help me to hear, a wonderful drug keeps my eyes healthy, and a skilled technician can poke me with needles (painlessly) in the shoulder and stop the pain.

In other words, I have much to be grateful for. And I choose to be grateful.

I also commit to the thoroughly Catholic practice of offering up whatever pain and suffering I endure for people who are truly old and sick.

Getting to the Bottom of the Truth

bandI made a bold prediction to my wife when I heard the Super Bowl 2020 halftime show would feature Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.

The prediction: there would be much shaking of bottoms. And so there was.

I’m not going to give you a detailed description of the performance. If you missed it you can watch any of many replays available online. I won’t provide a link.

In summary, there was singing and dancing, with the two stars and lots of other people in outfits that got skimpier as the show wore on. There was a good deal of gyrating, suggestive gestures, skin, and, yes, bottom shaking. One of the stars demonstrated her skill at pole dancing.

The bottom line (so to speak) was that it was extremely sexual and inappropriate.

I have two-year-old twin granddaughters and two grandsons around a year in age.  They don’t watch much television and after this Super Bowl, I won’t be arguing for them to spend more time in front of the screen.

My wife and I watched halftime together, partly to see if my advance prediction was correct. I’m glad I wasn’t watching with my daughter, granddaughters or mom (God rest her soul).

The football itself was reasonably entertaining and the result in doubt until late in the game. That is good; it was supposed to be an athletic competition.

There also were a couple highpoints before the game. Gospel singer Yolanda Adams delivered a breathtaking rendition of “God Bless America” and Singer Demi Lovato did a glorious job with the national anthem.

A halftime show featuring the two of them singing would have been truly entertaining – and the kids wouldn’t have been scandalized. A marching band would be another good choice.

But I suppose kids aren’t the targeted advertising demographic for the Super Bowl. The desired audience is young men who like to party and fantasize about shaking female bottoms.

And if you are a woman who thinks this halftime performance empowers women, you also are fantasizing.

Upside Down

dead end road sign
Photo by Dustin Tray on Pexels.com

Dear Grandpa Diff,

I have not written for a few months and thought it was about time to update you are the world’s latest insanity.

This bit of silliness involves television advertising and a big football game this weekend. I can’t mention the name of the game because the football gurus carefully guard the rights to the use of the name. However, it seems it is the network broadcasting this particular game – Fox – that has created the latest slice of cultural craziness.

It costs lots of money to run an ad during this particular sporting event. But even in our capitalist culture, an ad can be rejected because it violates current norms of what is socially acceptable.

As a result, the television network has refused to air an ad that is pro-life; it has testimonies of people who survived abortions. (I believe we covered in earlier correspondence the fact that abortion is legal now, something that would not have been thought even faintly possible in your time.)

Anyway… the pro-abortion folks have pressured the Fox folks not to run an ad that favors babies being allowed to be born alive.

However, the network plans to run an ad that features “drag queens” promoting a brand of hummus. The previous sentence likely contains two terms you are not familiar with, what with being a long-time resident of Hayesville, Ohio. Hayesville has never been a place of cosmopolitan taste. So, let me explain…

Hummus is a dip made from mashed chickpeas with spices added. I’m thinking you lived your entire life without eating a chickpea let alone hummus.

A drag queen is a bit more difficult to explain. It is a man who dresses up like a woman and usually behaves in a flamboyant manner. Libraries frequently have drag queens read stories to children is a misguided effort to promote gender fluidity and tolerance. Yes, libraries have lost their way.

I realize I have used another term (gender fluidity) that likely makes little sense to you. In your day men were men and women were women. Today, it seems there are some people who are unable or unwilling to choose one or

the other and stick with their choice. They exhibit gender fluidity.

Grandpa, I miss you and wish you were here. But were you here, I don’t know that I could tell you what I am writing here straight to your face. It would be so awkward and you would probably say, “for the love of our country, what has your generation done?”

I’d probably try to keep the conversation focused on who will win the big game and can grandma bake a batch of sugar cookies.

Grampa, our world is upside down.

Love… Jim

Innovation in Illinois

640px-Marijuana-Cannabis-Weed-Bud-GramThere are moments when I’m proud to be from Illinois.

The Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks have sometimes made me proud (although not lately).

The Nobel-prize winners from our universities have made me proud.

Being the “Land of Lincoln” makes me proud. Lincoln was among the greatest of Americans.

In recent months our state officials have spent considerable time and energy (and lots of money) to prepare for what they say is a badly needed product in the state.  The governor and his minions claim there is a huge demand for this innovative product.

The people who buy it will be happy. And taxes on the product with fill the state’s coffers with vast fortunes to build roads, repair bridges, educate our youth, and provide all sorts of free stuff to the poor.

Not only that, this product is versatile and can be sold in many different forms in various quantities. Darn near anyone can afford it and it provides happiness and a vast sense of well-being.

On the downside, its use likely leads to more vehicle accidents, various health problems, addiction, and lost productivity among workers.

You see, we’re talking about marijuana.

At a time when government health officials are ranting about the dangers of cigarettes and passing restrictions on “vaping”, the folks running Illinois are making it easy and relatively cheap to buy and smoke pot – or consume its mind-altering component in various other forms.

Used to be at the annual Christmas gathering you could smell the fruitcake to determine whether it contained brandy and should be off-limits for the kids.  Now you can only hope the cake contains only child-friendly ingredients.

The legal sale of pot started January 1 and watching the local news in recent days I got the impression this was one of the state’s greatest moments.  People old enough to know better were extolling the benefits of the drug.

State officials promised licenses to sell marijuana will be fairly doled out and people from all creeds, colors, and economic backgrounds will benefit. You would think someone just invented a pill to cure cancer.

I’m willing to predict that the ill effects of legal pot will greatly outweigh the benefits. That is an easy prediction to make; the benefits are terribly shallow.

Being a resident of the state determined to be the nation’s leader in the sale of recreational marijuana leaves me ashamed.

I’ll Take Joan of Arc

604px-Joan_of_Arc_on_horsebackWho in the world is Greta Thunberg?

That probably seems like a silly question. After all, she is Time Magazine’s “person of the year”. That makes her famous and important.

Basically, she is a 16-year-old Swedish female who has become the voice and face of those who believe mankind is causing the climate to change and the world will end in a few short years.

At one extreme, some folks see her as the environmental version of St. Joan of Arc. At the other end of the spectrum, some folks believe she is a smarty-mouthed brat who ought to go home and study a little math and chemistry. In the service of honesty, I admit I’m more in the latter camp.

The Pope thinks Greta is wonderful and the Vatican has praised her message of environmental concern. President Trump has a less enthusiastic opinion and has subjected the young Swede to a few inflammatory Tweets.

Whether you think what Greta has to say has merit or not, there is something terribly wrong with our society where a girl’s parents, the media, church leaders, and the United Nations raise her to the status of an international icon. It is the political version of making someone a child movie star – except this is a young person without talent beyond getting in the face of the establishment.

The “person of the year” thing might be confusing to some folks.  After all, isn’t gaining that title a good thing? Perhaps, but the choice – made by some senior editor at the magazine – is really just a tribute to the biggest “newsmaker” of the year, the person who caused the most commotion (good or bad).

I looked at the list of everyone who received the recognition since 1927; there are some impressive people on the list…Charles Lindbergh, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, and a couple Popes.

There also are people who caused the world nothing but trouble: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatullah Khomeini.

There are 10 people on the list who drew a complete blank from my college-educated mind, suggesting that even for the person of the year fame is fleeting.

Unless I missed someone on Time’s list, Greta is the youngest to receive the title and one of only a few women. However, unlike the rolls of the magazine, the Christian catalog of saints includes a vast number of women, many of them quite young when they made their mark for the faith. Two of my favorites that come to mind are Saint Lucy of Syracuse and Saint Therese of Lisieux.

Of course, Saint Joan of Arc was a teen when she raised an army, fought battles, and was burned at the stake. I’m sure Greta would deplore the carbon emissions from the fire.

The End of Secret

Logo_of_the_United_States_Secret_Service.svgSecret just ain’t what it used to be.

I always thought something that was secret was something that you aren’t supposed to know about.  But the more I think about it, the less that seems to be the case.

Think about when you were a little kid.  If you told something to another kid and said it was a secret, that was a clear signal that is was something that would be shared with some special other person – but only them and nobody else (except their one special other person).

Under oppressive regimes like the Nazis and Soviets, everyone knew there was a “secret” police. You also knew who they were when they showed up at your house and it likely wasn’t a secret why they were there.

The government has lots of secret documents. They even put a “secret” stamp on them.  But that doesn’t keep someone from emailing them around and storing them on a computer server in some geek’s house.

Some documents are stamped “top secret”. Is that as opposed to “bottom secret”? I don’t think so; it just means that if it is top secret the government means it is really, really, really secret.

In my mind, something is either secret or it isn’t. It can’t be somewhat secret.

Military services have secret codes.  Enemies try to crack the codes and, sooner or later, they succeed. Then they are no longer secret.

James Bond is a secret agent. But he is always telling people who he is and what he does, so he really is more of a public agent.  Of course, that is the movies and in real life, there could be secret agents and they really are secret because nobody knows who they are.

Years ago when television came in black and white, there was a program called “I’ve Got a Secret.” A panel of celebrities would try to determine the occupation of a guest by asking only “yes” and “no” questions.  If the guest was a celebrity (Bishop Fulton Sheen once appeared), the panelists would wear masks and the guest would disguise his voice. The show lasted just 30 minutes, so the secret didn’t last long.

I got to thinking about all this secret stuff when the Vatican announced earlier this week that Pope Francis is changing the name of the Vatican Secret Archives to the Vatican Apostolic Archives.

As the center of the Catholic Church, I think the Vatican should have an archive that is apostolic rather than secret. The archive is essentially a repository of old papers and historic stuff. Everyone knows where it is and you can find pictures of the outside and inside of it with a simple internet search.

Scholars visit the archives. World leaders have their pictures taken in the archives. There doesn’t seem to be much really secret about the place. On the other hand, you can’t just wander in there off the street and have your sack lunch with a soda. There are rules.

After pondering on this I concluded that most of the things called “secret” aren’t the least bit secret. It is the things I don’t know about that are secret.