“There is no God”

I was disappointed to hear that Dr. Stephen Hawking – in one of his final statements – declared “there is no God.” Too bad he didn’t take a cue from one of his predecessors in science — Albert Einstein.

Einstein, born Jewish and somewhat pantheistic in later life, was once asked by a student if God existed. Einstein responded “What percent of the total knowledge of the universe do you suppose we as humans now possess?” The student thought – and speculated around two percent. To which Einstein replied “Now tell me – what are the possibilities that God exists in the other 98%?”

Parents are normally wiser than their children in making decisions. A child may want to eat only chocolate cupcakes for each meal – yet the parent knows better. What’s to say that we as adults don’t have a grander force that “knows better?” I am reminded of the continuous thread in the Bible that the wisdom of man is folly with God (see e.g. I Corinthians 3:19).
In 1660, Blaise Pascal offered “Pascal’s Wager” on belief. 
If you believe in God and there is no God – no problem
If you don’t believe in God and there is no God – no problem.
If you believe in God and God exists – peace now and eternal
If you don’t believe in God and God exists – big problem. . . . . .
Sir Isaac Newton summed it up – “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”  For me, I just open my eyes in the morning.  And I think Wow. . . . . 

The Thin Blue Line

[A reprint from 11/16/15] When I was growing up, I was inculcated with the notion that ALL lives mattered. Not just black ones. . . .

It is insulting to hear some folks calling on their brethren to “kill police.” Or attack police.  Let’s have a show of hands — who agrees with these “people”??

When I was a States Attorney, I worked with the police every day. Hundreds of them. You know what? Most were good guys (a few gals) (see my post of 3/20/14).  Sure – there were occasional bad apples (and we dealt with them).  A few were lazy.  But most were just doing their job.  A pretty good job.  Of protecting the public.  Thus, I stand behind the police.  And so should you. . . . .

I would invite all of you to stand behind the police in your community. And for Mayor de Blasio of New York and those folks who urge violence against them — if you won’t stand behind the police when bad guy bullets start flying — please stand in front of themThat is where you belong . . . . . 

Tribes

I am troubled by the animosity that we see on both sides of our political spectrum.  I’m sure many of you are too.

Can we agree that both parties bear responsibility for the current state of politics in America?  So what do we do about it? 

Rather than promote political labels – it may be more productive to work toward consensus on issues.  I want to help the poor. I hate inequality.  And prejudice.  I want to eliminate hunger in America and everywhere. I yearn for peace among nations.  All Americans need health insurance.  I want to improve education in America’s poorest schools.  Our country needs a strong economy where all will benefit.  We need freedom of speech on campuses – and in politics. All sides should have a voice.  America has a right to control its border but a fair and compassionate policy for admitting immigrants is needed.  I love my family – and want my grandchildren to grow up healthy, happy, safe, wise, educated and with a religious faith.  And to abide by the principles of faith, hope and charity — for all of humanity.  And you know what?  I want that for your children and grandchildren too.  So what am I – a Democrat or Republican?    

Yes – there are one or two “hot button” issues on which neither “side” will bend (and some refuse to discuss).  Yet I like to think that most folks are on the same page on the issues above.  While we may differ on how best to address them, THAT is where civil discourse, compromise and conciliation come into play.  To solve these issues.  And to bring our tribes together as one.   
 

Did you ever pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?

A classic scene in the 1971 movie “The French Connection” is where Gene Hackman as Detective “Popeye” Doyle chases down a suspect.  He throws him up against a wall and asks “did you ever pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?” The perp looks at him like “wtf”?  And Doyle repeats it.  And the guy answers.  The question wasn’t meant to be funny.  The purpose was to disorient the subject and change the situational dynamic. Next time you have a disagreement with someone, ask a random – unrelated – question (at the right moment of course). And see what happens.  

When you read of the failures of our prison system and the collateral damage of incarceration, you wonder if changing the situational dynamics of rehabilitation might provide better result.   Breaking the patterns of troubled youth might be just the ticket.  For first and even second offenders, this could include mandatory programs for:

Socialization — Learning to sing, act, dance, debate, do stand-up comedy, counseling others;

Scholastic — The reading, writing and arithmetic but also languages, computer programming and skills like cooking;

Discipline — Toeing the line.  You’re in the program and you cooperate;

Sports — Learning the atypical:  golf, tennis, skiing, squash, handball (no basketball or football);

Responsibility — Caring for plants and animals; working with therapy dogs; visiting senior centers; getting jobs;

Nutrition — Not just eating healthy but learning why you eat healthy.

You read of boot camps where young offenders are pushed by drill instructors.  They do push ups, lift weights and toe the line — just like they would in prison.  But just think about getting young men to learn ballet, play golf, prepare spaghetti carbonara or perform in a Shakespearean drama.

Modifying situational dynamics can enhance levels of success for a lot of things (marriage, politics, parenting, academics, business).  Creative thinking – inside and outside the box – can pay dividends.

Don’t You Like Our Looks?

Some years ago, Donna and I were in Galway with some friends. We decided to go exploring with another couple.  We reconnoitered the town and saw a pub called the “Quays” (pronounced “Keys”).  It was night.  Raining.  The place was off the beaten path.  Donna and I and our friend Ivo and his wife walked in. The pub was dark and filled with smoke.  Big men.  Heavy.  Bellied up to the bar.  Beards.  Black leather jackets.  Noise.   Many of the occupants turned to give us the eye.  Have you ever been somewhere and gotten that feeling you just don’t belong?  Once inside, we looked around and got that feeling.   

As we moved toward the door, a loud voice from a corner booth holding about 8 people caught our attention “what’s the matter?  Don’t ya like our looks?”  Ivo and I looked at each other and I – respectfully – pointed out that the place was “very crowded” and there was no room for us to sit.  The chap who’d called us out started to move – “sit here.  We’ll make room for ya.”   And people began shuffling.  Shifting.  All watching us.  I looked at my friend.  He raised his eyebrows like “let’s see where this goes.”  And we moved into the group – squishing ourselves into corner seats. 

They were curious about where we were from (Chicago/Edgartown, MA), why we were there (a meeting) and where all we were going (we detailed).  They bought us drinks.  More drinks.  And refused our offer of reciprocity.  After an hour or so, Morris – the chap who’d called out to us – invited us to join him and some of the others at another pub.  The Tribesman.  Where he was playing a horsehide drum in an Irish band.   At that point, how could we say no?   We walked a few blocks.  The Tribesman was packed.  Morris shooed people away as he pushed his way to the small alcove stage with us in tow.  He set two small stools right in front of the band.  Donna and I sat.  Listened.  Enchanted.  Then we traded seats with our friends who’d been standing in the back.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever had.  It could’ve all turned out verrry differently if we’d said “gosh thanks anyway.”   And scurried out the door. 

Burning Leaves

(An Autumn repeat – from September 11, 2016)

For millennia, folks have been burning garbage and “stuff” with relative impunity.  The smoke was often choking.  And sometimes toxic.  Now – there are limitations on such activity.  

But. . . . as a kid, I remember my father – and other men in the neighborhood – raking leaves in the fall.  And ushering them out to the street – at the curb – and lighting them up.  Saturdays and Sundays in October were the optimal days for raking, gathering and burning leaves.  And the distinct smell of burning leaves was overpowering.  And – from my recollection – not so unpleasant.  Everyone burned their leaves.  I mean what were families supposed to do with them?  My dad would stand – smoking his pipe – and talking with the other men.  As the leaves burned. . . . .   

I tend to think it would be nice if for one day in the fall, everyone could spoon some dead leaves out to the street.  And burn them.  Like the “good old days” (did I really say that?).    I don’t need a “bad for the environment” speech.  Or “think of what it does to your lungs.”  Or “aren’t there regulations?”  Just think about sharing an indelible olfactory moment of an autumn afternoon long ago . . . . .   

14 Years

In 1972, Donna and I took an extended honeymoon to Spain and Portugal. In Spain, we traveled around – sightseeing and attending the corridas of famed matador Diego Puerta in Madrid, Cordoba and Sevilla.  And we took pictures galore. In Ayamonte Spain, I traded three ice cream cones for a photo of three little boys (“It’s okay – he’s a tourist” said the woman working the open air shop). Then there was the fishing boat where the six men were quick to pose following my request. And in Lisbon, we walked the gardens of Jeronimos Monastery.  A gardener – wearing a black turtleneck and jeans – was suspended on a board over a large circular clock garden.  Clipping flowers.  He smiled, tipped his beret and posed.  Snap.  Snap.  Snap.  

Fast forward nearly 15 years.  Donna and I returned to Spain and Portugal with our 10 year old daughter, and friends, Diane and David and their son Dave.  Before leaving, I had the photograph assemblage mentioned above blown up to eight by tens.     

In Ayamonte, we went back to the same ice cream shop and I showed the same (now older) woman the photo of the three little boys.  She gasped.  And identified each one.  She asked us to be at her store in the morning.  And we were – greeted by a crowd.  And the three little – now grown – boys.  We gave each one an 8″ x 10″.   One mother cried on seeing the photo as she had no pictures of her son as a little boy.  

The fishing boats were gone – replaced by a small office of the Guardia Civil — the national police who sport the tri-cornered hat.  An officer identified one fisherman as the father of Ayamonte’s head of Guardia Civil – who marched over.  And began weeping when I gave him some 8″ x 10’s”.  His father had died a few years before.  He handed me his card – “if you ever need help in Spain, you call me.”  I still have his card. . . . .

And in Jeronimos, we found the gardener — now in a drab gray uniform.  Raking leaves.  And three weeks from his retirement.  He saw his photograph.  And his eyes filled with tears.  At his request, we buzzed through two rolls of Polaroid film taking pictures for our gardener friend – and each member of his entire gardening crew.