Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Last Waltz - One Last Update

UPDATE:  I will be taking this blog offline and making it private on Sunday night.  I will not delete it or abandon it because I do plan to eventually get back to blogging in about four years - or whenever I actually retire.  Until then, I've decided to simply keep it private.  But I won't actually be updating anything so nobody will be missing any new posting, I promise.  Once again, my readers have given me great joy for the past five years. See you all in the next permutation of life :)

Readers may have noticed that I've been posting less and my posts have not been as overtly political as usual.  I won't be coy about it.  I have been slowly disengaging from blogging because it's time to close up shop.

I did this once before because I was getting burned out and wanted to move on to try different forms of writing.  But once I had taken a much needed break, I realized how much I truly missed blogging and came back.  This time is different.

First of all, I'm not burnt out.  And I already know that I will miss it.  My reason for leaving is much simpler now than it was the first time I took a break.  I have a new job that would make blogging a conflict of interest.  I won't go into the details about the job, but please believe me that it would present a real conflict for me and my employer if I were to be running a blog and publicly sounding off about politics and other controversial issues.

I will still keep my Twitter and Facebook accounts as those are personal social networking sites.  But even there, my writing will be less about politics and more about personal sharing although, of course, I will still avidly be following politics.  I just won't be as expressive with my own opinions.

As much as I have enjoyed sharing those opinions through my blog, it is time for me to move on and to once again try something different and in this case, that something different pays very well.

I hope my readers are happy for me.  Please know I will miss all of you very much because I have had the best audience a political blogger could ever hope for.  You have been thoughtful, intelligent readers whose comments, even when disagreeing with me, have always challenged me and made me think about my own positions and why I held them.  I will miss that give and take.

And I am profoundly grateful to all my fellow bloggers whose support for my efforts have meant so much to me.  Across the aisle and across the political spectrum, I have truly found a group of people who have shared my passion for better government and for improving people's lives, even when we've disagreed about the best way to do so.

To be honest, I don't consider this leave taking permanent because in four years I will be thinking about retirement.  No matter how much I may love a job - and I very much expect to be loving the new one - I believe there is a time for everything under the sun and that includes moving on and discovering still other adventures.  One of those might be coming back to blogging.  Or by then, there may be even more innovative media and fresher opportunities.

For now, though, that new opportunity lies in a change in my day job that will present challenges and adventures which will engage my time and energy in fresh directions.  While I will miss what I leave behind, I am looking forward to what lies ahead.

So, till we meet again...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Christmas Warning: Do Not Try This At Home!

This was sent to me by a friend with a rather odd sense of humor.  One that matches my own.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Try Chrome - Update: Chrome Measures Up - and This is the Last Plug for It

UPDATE:  I have now been using Chrome for about a week and so far it has more than measured up to its initial promise.  I haven't had one freeze or crash and it is fast.  It loads Huffington Post and the Washington Post, both sites that have always given me the most problems with the screen freezing.  Again, I always thought it was the fault of the site but now I am rethinking that.  And every once in a while, I'll try loading both those sites on Internet Explorer, and guess what?  Same crap as before.  The difference is Chrome.  But this is the last "commercial" for it - promise!  It's just that it has turned my surfing and blogging experience back into pure joy, when I had gotten so frustrated with IE's performance that I was actually avoiding my computer.

Ok, I got a Google Wave invitation and when I went to retrieve it and install it I kept getting messages that I needed an additional plug in for it to work.  Now, that was helpful.  NOT!

What plug in?  Where do I find it?  There was no explanation.  So, I started Googling.  What else would you do?  I am convinced you can Google and get instructions for anything.  I learned how to thread a sewing machine needle, download YouTube videos, and perform a root canal by Googling.

Ok, I wouldn't actually try doing the root canal.  But I did find a description of what to expect at the dentist that went into pretty explicit detail of how it's done.  And I also have used Google to get instructions for how to do various things in Excel, Word, and Power Point since nothing comes with a user's manual anymore and Googling is the quickest way to find anything.

And when I Googled for instructions on using Google Wave I discovered that Internet Explorer doesn't support Wave.  Chrome does, so I downloaded it and sure enough Google Wave is now accessible.  And I discovered something else.

My whole computer Internet connection is better.  Everything from this blog to all the other blogs and sites I go to runs better than it did on IE.

I was forever having problems with stuff loading too slowly, the computer freezing up entirely, and crashing.  At first I thought it was caused by Verizon and I've been contemplating switching to cable.  Then after some research, I thought it was because Microsoft keeps running constant updates.  And that did have a lot to do with it.  I've disabled automatic update.  I still do the updating religiously, but at my discretion, not when Microsoft decides it should be done.

That way, I'm not losing work because my computer is going down and rebooting after I've written 10 pages. I just pick a time every few days and do my computer maintenance and it works out great.  But the biggest shock came when I installed Chrome.

For the first time ever my computer functions smoothly.  There were some sites that always gave me trouble and I just assumed that it was the fault of the site because it had so many videos, pictures, graphics, links that made loading slow.  Nope.  Not with Chrome.

Since the FTC now insists that, as a blogger, I disclose any financial arrangements I might have with Chrome, Google, or IE, let me assure you I have only one.  I'm a customer.  It's a free service.  And I make no money by telling anybody about my experience.  But if I can save some readers the same type of frustrations that I had been  dealing with by passing on some info, then I am happy to do it.

If you are having problems with your computer running slowly while you are on the Internet, don't assume the problem is your computer (unless, of course, you are also having difficulties in other programs).  Give Chrome a try.  You may be as pleased as I am with it.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Wafer Wars and Bare-Knuckled Politics

The Roman Catholic Church has recently inserted itself into a couple of public policy/political debates with a ferocity not seen in many years. Today, in a Washington Post op ed, Joseph Califano takes aim at the Church for its aggressive pursuit of its policy agenda and more specifically at its use of the Eucharist as a weapon with which to browbeat Roman Catholic politicians into following its dictates.

Citing Rhode Island’s bishop, Thomas J. Tobias, who denied communion to Representative Patrick Kennedy, here is what Califano said:

American bishops didn't used to do this. Even when they disagreed sharply with policies pursued by Catholic officeholders, they were willing to sit down and discuss alternatives. I know. I saw this when I served as chief domestic adviser for President Lyndon Johnson and as secretary of health, education and welfare for President Jimmy Carter. In the 1960s, LBJ became the first president to aggressively promote family planning abroad and at home. Abroad, he refused to send grain to India during a famine until Indira Gandhi committed to a family planning program. At home, he ordered federal agencies to make contraceptives available to the poor. I was the (Catholic) White House aide responsible for enforcing those policies.

Johnson's actions prompted a stinging attack from Catholic bishops, who charged that he was coercing the poor to practice birth control. The president told me to "work something out" with the bishops, who were our needed allies in battling poverty and racial discrimination. At meetings with Father Francis Hurley, the bishops' top Washington staffer, and Detroit Archbishop John Dearden, leader of the American bishops, I assured them that we were offering an option to the poor, not coercing acceptance. We ultimately agreed that if the president phrased his policy in terms of "population control" (which allowed for more food and the church-approved rhythm method of family planning as well as contraception), the bishops would cool their rhetoric. LBJ kept his word, and when he later signed a U.N. declaration supporting population control, the bishops were silent.

Carter and I opposed federal funding of abortion unless the life of the woman was at stake, a position Catholic bishops shared. Congress authorized funds for abortion in that circumstance and in cases of rape or incest "promptly reported." My options were to resign or to enforce the law by issuing regulations that defined "prompt" reporting. Back then, women generally did not report rape or incest unless they thought they were pregnant, so I set prompt reporting at within 60 days. The bishops were furious, and their attack vehement. Some said that I should have resigned rather than enforce the law. But none suggested that I be denied the Eucharist.
Califano argues that Catholics in public office must be free to exercise their conscience in the decision-making process. They also have an obligation to listen to many voices, including those of non-Catholics. As Califano points out, we live in a pluralistic society, where citizens may have legitimate religious, political, and ethical differences of opinion. While nobody should expect silent acquiescence on the part of the nation’s Catholic hierarchy, neither should they use raw political clout – and especially not the threat of denying the Church’s most important sacrament – to its members as a way to impose their views.

On the other hand, the Church, like any other religious institution, certainly has both a right and obligation to use its moral suasion to convince and persuade. Here are Califano’s final, eloquent words on this, as a Catholic caught up on the dilemma:

As Catholics and as citizens, we have a right and obligation to assert our convictions on public issues clearly and vigorously -- to hope and to work that they should prevail. To expect less from a public official would ask that he leave his conscience at home.

But to have convictions of conscience and be guided by them is not a license to impose such convictions indiscriminately on others by uncompromisingly translating them into policy. If public policy is to serve the common good of a fundamentally just and free, pluralistic society, it must brew in a cauldron of competing values such as freedom, order, equity, justice and mercy. Public officials who fail to weigh these competing values serve neither private conscience nor public morality. Indeed, they offend both.

Where we cannot find unanimous answers, there is at least one point on which Catholic bishops and Catholic politicians can find common ground: insistence that those who search for the right answers are doing so with integrity and sincere conviction. That was what the church leaders I dealt with in the 1960s and '70s recognized, as their successors should today.
I can only add that coercion is an admission of defeat. All types of institutions resort to it when they know they are losing their influence on their followers. As the Catholic Church suffers a shortage of priests and religious vocations and its membership rolls among well-educated Americans remains flat, it is resorting to bare-knuckled bullying to substitute for real moral authority. And that is its biggest tragedy.