Wednesday, October 29, 2014


If I, as a man, write about how I believe a woman should behave, whether in terms of morality or comportment, I will invariably be labeled as a chauvinist by some. (I will have been guilty, in their eyes, of chauvinistic views and actions of which I am totally unaware, having grown up as a male in a male dominated society.)  It has already been made quite clear to me by numerous responses to any writing that touches upon women and their state in our world, that I have no business writing about such things and that, as a man, no matter how intelligent I may (or may not) be, I simply cannot speak with any validity on any matter relating to women. In short, empathy just ain't enough. I just don't get it, the critics say.

Yet...I speak. I don't have a daughter, but I like to think in terms of fatherhood: What would I want for her? How would I want her to act? What I find is that I would want her to act the same way I want my sons to act: like a gentleperson. I'd want her to be dignified, self-assured, polite/assertive, strong (both physically and mentally), confident and kind. In fact, there is not one thing I would approach, conceptually, differently in raising a daughter than in raising my sons, in essence. (I say "in essence" because, let's face it, each child of whatever sex requires a slightly different parental approach.)

That said, there is this video going around... As with most of these, I will not repost is because I don't believe in contributing to the easy viral success of anything I disagree with. The video consists of little girls speaking about feminism and cursing, letting the F-word fly in Scorsese-like barrages.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Truth is, after all, a moving target..."

All of my adult life, and through a good portion of my younger years, I have been tormented by statements and maxims about "doing the right thing." Sometimes, in simple times and circumstances, "the right thing" is clear to all; most often, it is not. At any rate, I often have wished I could be as sure about everything as everyone around me seems to be.

Maybe because of my instinct and (I hope) ability to look deeply into everything I see, I could never help but say, "Yeah, can one be sure of what the right thing is?" I always knew that often "the right thing" was more connected to group consensus than to morality or reason. (In some ways, morality is nothing but a group consensus, when you think about it.) Stand among an enthusiastic group for awhile, and what they agree upon will seem the "right thing." But what if you had stood, first, among their enemies? You might have been just as likely to side with that group -- not because of any flaw in yourself, but because people who truly believe they are right think so as a result of their available perspective and of the information they have at their disposal. The "wrong" side may be in possession of different information that, if known, might put a whole new spin on things. Sometimes, though, bigger pictures preclude the sharing of such information, for better or ill. Or, sometimes, things simply get misintrerpreted. But the worst of all possible scenarios is the presence of people who are more interested in "winning" than in finding the truth.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Humor as a Parenting Tool

One of the biggest struggles of being a parent, at least for me, is that of convincing my kids that all of the hundreds of "inevitabilities" they are taught about are not really inevitable.

I have written, before, about my older son having come home and having said that he learned in school that day that when he becomes a teenager, his hormones are going to make him rebellious. His exact words were, "Did you know that when I become a teenager, I am going to start being mean to you?" It goes to show how careful we have to be about teaching. I, of course, corrected this by asserting that being mean is a choice; he can control how he acts toward me, no matter how powerful nature's pull may be. He was much relieved.

A few months ago, late in the summer, I was talking to another adult and my son (the same one as above) was with me. I mentioned that my son was going into the seventh grade. This person (an educator) immediately countered with: "Uh-oh..." and went on to explain how ("just you wait") seventh graders are so hard to handle and how he was going to change. A while room full of adults agreed, laughing the laughs of the battle-hardened parents. So, in front of him, I said, "Nah. Joe's a good kid. Everything will be just fine."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Letting Go of the Little Ones

I'm not much for nostalgia, but, today, I happened to look at a printed-out photo montage that my wife, Karen, made. It is a collection of pictures from the beach, of my two boys. They were much smaller and much more innocent than their present ten and twelve-year-old counterparts. The cheeks were fuller, the bare feet were chubbier and the eyes were ever so slightly wider.

In one picture, the two of them are standing in bright bathing trunks and oversized T-shirts, looking down and waiting for the cold water to hit their toes. They are fascinated by the bubbles and the illusions in the tide. They are looking at the ocean as a curiosity; as a rare and new thing.

In another picture, my older son -- though much younger, then -- is crouching and intently looking for treasures in the sand; in still another, the two of them are smiling with unbridled joy, sitting side-by-side on an amusement park race car ride. These are smiles that are empty of self-consciousness; empty of the need to appear any certain way other than simply happy. Their smiles are boys' smiles, unashamed and unaffected. Pure happiness -- the kind of pure happiness a grown up can never remember except through his children.

Monday, October 20, 2014


People waste a lot of time philosophising about religion. They debate minutiae and they kill each other over dogma. Some from the outside generalize the religious as uneducated morons and some on the inside label those outside as heathen rabble. It has been going on for centuries. But I can sum up what is good about Catholicism by something that happened at my Catholic school's open house on Sunday.

There was a good crowd of people milling about in the halls; prospective students and families were walking on tours with teachers who were showing them the premises and explaining about the programs; some of our most energetic students were chipping in, some of them adeptly leading tours of their own.

Many of the families were in their Sunday best; others were sharp in stylish sportswear or crisp jeans and sweaters, whistle-clean hundred-dollar sneakers on their feet.

Through the happy clamour, I saw an oldish woman standing at the sign-in table. Her coat was dirty and her gloves were worn through to the stuffing. Her sneakers were dust grey and her hair was a dusty, sparse red. She was bent over, filling in a registration card. Anne, our advancement director, asked her, "Do you have a prospective student with you?"

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ye Olde Ego

It's amazing how ye olde ego can sneak up on you.

I have, of late, had a bit of a drummer's resurgence. I have been a drummer since the age of fifteen. I have been in a working band since the age of twenty-ish. I have always enjoyed going out to play drums. But, somewhere between the ages of, say, thirty-ish and forty-ish, I started to put my songwriting and composition first and I started seeing drums as a small part of the big puzzle.

The new drums, on a gig. 
Then, I, for whatever reason -- I think it had a lot to do with having been inspired by the drumming of Gavin Harrison, recently -- I got psyched up for the skins again. I upgraded my beloved but tired old drumkit and bought new cymbals and, then, I started...dare I say it? I started practicing again, because, now, that tired old kit is in my little studio, permanently set up. (I have gone years without an actual acoustic kit set up in my house, warming up on practice pads and electronic kits, but it just ain't the same...)

But here's the weird thing: I have been practicing poorly. I just realized it the other day. You know what I have been doing? I've been playing stuff that is easy for me. Any novice musician knows that is no way to grow. I know it full well. Still...

...the other day, I tried something: playing patterns over a steady 3/4 (waltz) rhythm. (Inspired by Max Roach's "The Drum Also Waltzes", but with a slightly more complicated foot pattern.) Anyway, whatever level your musical knowledge is, let it suffice to say that doing this is more difficult than it sounds and, most importantly for this piece, much more difficult than I thought it would be.

I tried it a few times and just quit. Just stopped and moved onto something simpler. Today, driving in the car, it occurred to me why that was. I wasn't conscious of it, but I was saving face.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Morals, Law and the Yuck Factor

Is it yucky or is it not yucky for consenting adult siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

Is it immoral or moral for consenting adult siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

Should if be a crime or not for consenting adults siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

The venerable Peter Singer wrestled with this question recently because Germany is in the process of trying to figure out the last question.

I have question one pinned down: Yes. It is yucky. And I do think it should be yucky to all sane people. If you disagree with me, that is fine. It's what I think and feel.

Question two is tougher. It brings in lots of questions, including sanity and insanity and how these mental states relate to moral choices... I could give that a whole article, but that is not what I am up to here.

Question three, is difficult, too. Unless, of course, I answer from my gut. If I answer from my gut, I will be compelled to try to stop such yucky behavior. Should a harmless spider die because I think it is disgusting? Is homosexuality as much of a crime-able offense as incest just because I am heterosexual and am strongly averse to the idea of being with a man the same as I am averse to the idea of sex with a sibling?

Friday, October 10, 2014

When a Rabbit is a Cat: A Requiem for Pure Reason

On many occasions, I have been staggered by the foresight of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. From Franklin's predictions in the court of King George III; to the Declaration's almost magical connection to the eyes, minds and hearts of the future; to the structuring of the Constitution, it is as if there is nothing that, in some way, shape or form, they didn't foresee.

One thing I realize, most vividly at this point, is that setting up a republic was the way to go. I'm no political science expert, but my understanding is that there is a distinct difference between a full-on democracy and a representative one. We often refer to ourselves as "a democracy" but we are really a variant on a direct democracy. In our republic, we vote for people to represent us and, while we can voice our opinions whenever we want, we have indicated our trust in them to make the final decisions.

This used to annoy me. If 80% of the people polled believed a decision should go one way, I thought it was absurd for representatives to decide in the other direction. But I don't, anymore.

Maybe is was the vestiges of elitism still ringing in the heads of those very literally revolutionary men, but something told them that it was a bad idea to go to a full-on democracy. (It could also be that it was, in terms of practicality, impossible to gather public opinion in such a large country with nothing even remotely like phones or the Internet -- if so, a happy accident of fate.) However it happened, it all worked out to the people voting for others who would represent them in national and state issues.

Jimmy Kimmel likes to go out and ask people on the street questions about history and politics. The results are usually horrifying. The other day, I watched about ten people struggle to come up with the answer to: "Who is Joe Biden?" This was in New York City. He was visiting there that day.

In terms of purely democratically based ethics, these people should be allowed to vote, but do we really want them to have a say in final decisions?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This Just In From Jennifer Lawrence: Young Women Need to Make Porn for their Boyfriends

Jennifer Lawrence, you may have seen, finally (God -- how long was it going to take!? I could barely sleep!) opened up about her nude photos having been exposed and placed online some time ago. She explained their existence this way, to Vanity Fair:
"I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you."
Thankfully, my returning readers are kind enough not to complain when I use this blog as therapy. I have often written about the creeping feeling of alienation from the world as I get older; I have written about my own elders and their experiences with feeling as if they are strangers in a strange land... In short, paradigms change without us noticing too much and before we know it, the foundational things we thought we knew are flipped completely over.

I'm not talking about media-present things like big reversals in societal thinking... I'm talking about the stealthy shifts, like the one illustrated above.

Only a world that has changed significantly from the one I grew up in could produce a young woman who would make that statement.

Maybe naughty...but, in a mysterious way. 
You can judge her as you like for having taken nude pictures of herself, if you want, but I won't. And I am not going to defend whoever took those photos and made them public. It was wrong to do so. (Of course, the elephant in the pixels here is that if she hadn't taken them... She didn't, as some lunkheads might say, "get what she deserved," but, in this era, one who wants to keep things private ought not to digitize them.) But, in her statement is an indication that there is no shame in any of it. (A good friend of mine, Kevin, has been quoted here before for his wonderful phrase, "I miss shame.")

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How I Went From "Patient" to "Client"

When I was a small boy, my parents would take me, for my doctor’s appointments, to Dr. Bernardin. His practice was in a converted house and there was a sign outside that said, “Dr. Bernardin, Pediatrics.” I think he lived upstairs. He would examine me and then we would sit in his office and he and my mom would talk. She called him “Doctor” and he called her “Mrs. Matarazzo.” He knew us.  He’d mess up my hair and we would leave. I’d always have a lollipop in hand.

When I was a little older, I would walk to the doctor’s.  Dr. Binder was also in a house and he definitely lived in it. The house was in our neighborhood. In fact, my best friend lived next door to him and the doctor didn’t mind when we played basketball in his driveway on the weekends. If one of us twisted an ankle, he’d come out to check on us. ( I am pretty sure he didn’t sit inside wringing his hands, fearing a lawsuit. )

When I became a young man, I went to Dr. Milligan. His practice was in a house that was fully converted. He did not live there.  The sign outside his office read, “Dr. William Milligan, MD.” Dr. Milligan was a small, serious, bearded man who would eventually discover, by feeling my neck, that I had thyroid cancer. I went through the necessary treatments and he always remembered my medical issues without looking at my records. Then, he retired in order to explore alternative medicine, but before he did, he told me in a last appointment, shaking my hand. (I think he may be somewhere in South America.) He wrote his patients a warm letter, thanking them for years of support and wishing them well.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Band of Brothers: Some Thoughts About Warriors and War

In my adult years, I gravitated away from TV. As a kid, I watched tons of it, but other things took precedent later in life, I guess. But, ever since we got rid of cable TV, my wife and I have been delving back, on streaming channels, into the critically acclaimed stuff. We started with Lost, which we really enjoyed, despite the many objections people had to the later seasons. We watched and liked Deadwood and Rome. Deadwood got old for me at the end -- I found the over-the-top foul language started to make me feel numb after awhile. Still, it was good writing. I liked Rome better; I thought the characters and their portrayals were excellent. Most recently, we completed Band of Brothers.

My favorite interaction with art is when it stirs my emotions. While watching Band of Brothers, I was brought to tears at least once, every episode. 

Richard Winters
Having been based on Stephen Ambrose's book, the miniseries was sort of a different animal than the other shows we watched. Sure, Rome was based on history, but it was ancient history. That feels different, from the start. But Band of Brothers is about a war that family members of mine were in. My great uncle, Vince, may well have actually been saved by the central characters, members of "Easy Company" who, in a heroic effort pitting twelve men against fifty German soldiers, took out the guns at Brecourt Manor, overlooking the beach on D-Day. It's close. My great uncle, Bobby, was not as lucky in Europe. 

Most affecting, though, for me, were the interviews with the men, several of whom were still alive in 2001 when the show was made. Humble (and I do not throw this word around lightly) heroes, each and every one of them.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mediocre Stars

For years, people have been complaining that there is too much unwarranted positive affirmation in our society: kids getting trophies just for playing, etc. Of course, this all started with the idea that it is good to give little kids a self-esteem, the kite can't take flight unless we run with it a little, but then it takes off on its own into the sky. That kind of thing.

If it all works properly, everyone is a "star" for a little and the talented ones sort themselves out from the others as time goes on. I thought it was great that my kids, playing T-ball baseball got little participation trophies. They, like all of the kids, spent the season picking their noses and sitting down in the grass in the middle of an inning and when they were active, they ran from home to third or converged on ground balls in bunches of nine or ten, collided and fell, belly laughing to the ground. The trophies were to say: "See!? You participated and you got something good. Trying gets a reward..." A good thing, I long as it doesn't go on too long.

If it goes on too long (and it does), mediocre people feel entitled to things just because they worked hard. Here, the theories break down. We all know hard work, in and of itself, despite the tears of American Idol audition rejects,  is not rewarded in the real world; results are.

Maybe this is all fun to rant about in terms of principles and in terms of how things used to be "in the old days," but, there is a real danger in all of it, too. It's bad to elevate the mediocre, because as soon as one puts a mediocre person in the stratosphere, that mediocre person is unequipped to deal with it. Only exceptional people can handle exceptional societal elevation.