The Beatles’ Happy New Zealand New Year

It is a warm and sunny New Year’s day in New Zealand. How did we get to 2015 already, I wonder. It’s a passing thought, as soft and gently fading as the fat lazy clouds dotting the baby blue sky as they sail silently out to sea. I am having a day of reverie and a day of catch-up with an old friend I have not heard from in a very long time. The internet is a marvel of information and connection. It finds people who were never meant to be lost and puts them back where they belong – as solidly in your life as they have been in your heart. It feels good and now I am sitting in my lounge chair, looking out at the hills and down into the valley. It is summer in New Zealand which means a sensory overload of fragrance and color. Intelligent Design, I think, is confirmed by the infinite variety of life – a Mind, I am guessing, that is easily bored with monotony and, therefore, is compelled to create infinite variety of life and form. Creators, it seems, must create lest they cease being creators.
I can hear the sound of someone mowing his lawn. A sound of a radio, wafting up the hill, is playing old Beatles tunes to welcome in the New Year. It is comforting to know that old friendships and old songs never really die. The time may fly but some things stand still forever in our hearts and minds. Good on them.
May every one of you have a joyous New Year, wherever in the world you are. May God grant the peoples of the world a way toward peace and unity. May every good intention overcome every bad one. May we be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise enough to know how and when to share all these things with those not quite as fortunate as we. Peace and Love to you all.

Hillary Clinton Got This Right!

Full disclosure first: I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton. BUT- I agree with her latest comments and admire her courage for speaking them outright and facing the criticism and political firestorm that followed. Once you read past the inflammatory headlines her statements make a lot of sense. What’s wrong with urging Americans to use “every possible tool and partner” to achieve peace. She didn’t call on us to surrender the country for Pete’s sake!

She went on to say this includes, “leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view.”

Within the cacophony of  contradictory remarks, retired Lt. Col. Oliver North called her comments “irrational.”

I remind Mr. North that Henry David Thoreau once said: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” Tell me Colonel, does this sound irrational?

For that matter, does fighting a “War On Terror” for twelve plus years, the results of which include the emergence of ISIS, a resurgent Al Qaeda, terrorists who are better organized, better funded and more violent than ever, sound rational?

Perhaps the reason I empathize with Ms. Clinton, on this point, has to do with my experience on the Dan Rivers radio show. When I suggested there might be a parallel approach to fighting the “War On Terror”, several listeners had the same reaction as did the Colonel. The notion that we try reaching out to the other side to better understand their motivation, or the point that terrorist numbers were increasing not decreasing, was lost on those who see military action as the only answer.

When continuous war becomes the only solution to conflict, I’m catching the first intergalactic flight out of here.

tdc

Ferguson and the Question of Justice

By Connie D. Atkinson

Another landmark day in American history goes down in a sea of violence, partisanship, outrage, and disunity. The Grand Jury has spoken and decided no charges will be laid against Darren Wilson – the police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on the streets of his own neighborhood in Ferguson, Missouri. No one seems happy with this verdict. What we are left with is what we started with – a great divide in our culture that seems to grow ever wider as the days roll by.

The opinions on the matter, voiced all over the country, through every possible venue, are not serene, composed, or conciliatory analyses. Opinions are polar opposites between those who are enraged at the injustice and racism apparently displayed by the System and those who are enraged that the Courts should be intimidated to make a pronouncement that is not strictly defined by the law. The division is truly horrible to witness, not only the carnage that is taking place in Ferguson, but also with people from all over the country who happen to think differently and, therefore, fall on opposite sides of the decision. Many are actually willing to break with their own relations – family and friends – over the disagreement. Too many are willing to decry their friend or relative as hopelessly racist, biased, or just plain stupid, if they do not agree with their view of the Court’s verdict.

Are we becoming a hopelessly divided nation? Are civil unrest, riots, and all-out civil war inevitable? Is this our future? Has our partisan political entities won and created a system of laws where we can never see each other as true brothers and sisters, true partners – a situation that must, inevitably, culminate in the destruction of our Union? Can the enforcement of justice cure all of our ills? Is there a crucial step missing between the political enforcement of justice through the legal system and real justice?

“What are you talking about?” I hear you screaming. What is “real” justice if not the passage and enforcement of laws by the courts that protect the vulnerable from the ignorant and evil?

But wait…looking back on history, haven’t we tried systems of laws and punishments as a way to peace, justice, prosperity, and security? Why are we still here and in the same situation? Why, with all the laws our leaders have written, both nationally and internationally, do we remain in a perpetual state of unrest, dissatisfaction, and war both inside and outside our country?

Could it be that we are missing a crucial step here? Could it be that mankind must evolve to a higher state of consciousness that precedes the application of justice in order for justice to be potent enough to effect real change and provide us the opportunity for lasting peace? Could it be that we need to become detached from our own outrage long enough to see what is just outside our line of vision?

Let’s look at the true reformers – those who have tried and succeeded in bringing about real change. Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Jesus Christ – they all had one thing in common. They all focused on the oneness of humanity – that ALL of mankind were their true sisters and brothers. They focused on loving their enemies – truly, and without reservation, loving their enemies. They were so convinced that this was the true and only way to real peace that they were willing to die for their beliefs. They were willing to love and forgive their enemies and those who wronged them and they did something else – they asked their followers to do the same. We see these Great Reformers. We hear their words. We pass on their history and their words from generation to generation and, yet, we still hold on to our outrage and sense of self-righteousness, no matter the side we fall on. We don’t seem to believe that their words and admonitions can possibly work and so we carry on fighting each other and creating the same carnage over and over to gain some justice that lasts for a little while until we have to fight again.

Hey, I have a proposition. Why don’t we try love for awhile – give love and forgiveness a chance? Why don’t we try to live by the example of our most revered heroes? Somehow, I sense that they would appreciate it a lot more than celebrating their birthdays once a year. Why don’t YOU try it – and see what happens. Try loving people who disagree with you. Try forgiving those who you find reprehensible or who have done you a wrong. Try turning the other cheek sometimes. Try understanding their point of view. Try walking in their shoes for a moment. Try seeing that the recognition of our oneness precedes the effective and lasting application of justice. Try love for a change. Hell, if it doesn’t work, we can always go back to killing each other.

A small insight – from the second Brotherhood of Purity novel

It is not the fear of reprisals, retaliation or even death that restrains us from killing. War will not make the purveyors of evil wish to do right. Disregarding this simple lesson is the trap leaders and politicians fall in to when they rely solely on force as the answer. For peace knows not violence. Rather, peace starts within as a flame of self respect; a desire, and a discipline, to do that which we know to be right and human. It is the value of one’s conscience, and the actions that flow from it, that determine how we feel about ourselves and how we are seen in the eyes of those around us.

Pathways of Learning with Sr. Marie Pappas

I will be a guest on Pathways of Learning with Sr. Marie Pappas – this Saturday, October 4.

The show airs at 7:00 am and 6:00 pm EDT across the U.S. and Canada on The Catholic Channel – SiriusXM – channel 129

The discussion will focus on the first book of The Brotherhood of Purity trilogy and how the authors were inspired by their experiences of 9/11 to write this book. I will share the story of the mystery man who saved my life and how I found the grace- through the gift of authorship, and storytelling – to work through the pain, and help the healing begin.

We’ll also begin a discussion on terrorism and terrorists. This theme will be more fully explored on later programs.

My heartfelt thanks to Sister Pappas; she is inspiring and a delight to be with.

Peace
Tom

Neverending War on Terror

“Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.”

John Milton

 

U.S. Sectary of Defense Chuck Hagel, accompanied by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, informed the world that the terror group ISIS were “beyond anything we’ve ever seen and we must prepare for everything.”General Dempsey went on to say, “They can be contained, not in perpetuity, this is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.”

 

As part of the growing chorus screaming for decisive action against the terror group, Gen. John R. Allen, USMC (Ret.), who led the Marines in Anbar Province and served as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, also called for the destruction of ISIS.

 

The problem is, they all say what, nobody says how. This leaves the elephant in the room question unanswered: after fighting the ‘War On Terror’ for more then a decade, how does a terrorist group arise, more powerful, more dangerous, and with a hatred of the west more virulent, than Al Qaida ever was. Asked in another way; did the ‘War On Terror’ succeed? Given today’s warnings from Senator Jim Inhofe, and the security alerts issued by the FBI and Homeland Security, the answer might be no, and if that is the case we must ask a follow-up question, why not?

 

If we stepped into Mister Peabody’s Way-Back machine, and zipped off to King George’s court just prior to 1776, the answer would be obvious. The king might say to Lord North, “ those colonists have this radical idea of freedom and self governance; we’ll contain them for now, but eventually, they will have to be defeated.” Everyone knows how that turned out.

 

Memo to the policymakers: you can kill people, sure, but you can’t kill an idea! For every terrorist you kill, two, three or four pop up to replace him.

 

It might be the time to do the jaw clenching, backbreaking, mind numbing work of confronting the ideology that drives ISIS. This is the hard stuff that no one wants to do – easier to drop bombs. But if we don’t do this soon, the cycle will repeat endlessly, and this is not a legacy we ought to leave to our children. If we must fight, open both fronts.

The Free Market Message of Pope Francis

“I ask you to insure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”

                           Pope Francis’s Message to World Economic Forum in Davos

 

Pope Frances’s remarks about economic injustice have engendered quite a bit of heated debate. Most of it is within the political sphere with one side co-opting the Pope’s moral authority to justify wealth redistribution while the other offers a spirited defence of free market economics.

Some free market acolytes, trying to divine the Pope’s economic thinking, went on the attack accusing him of Marxism – a charge the Vatican denied. Subsequently, when the Pontiff spoke of “unbridled capitalism”, a cacophony of voices arose pointing out that capitalism is already over-regulated with far-reaching state controls.

Still others took a more tempered, and perhaps a more condescending approach, by explaining that crony capitalism in Argentina influenced the Pope’s ‘limited’ understanding of economics. Yet it seems clear that the Pope knows free markets have lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system when he praised the fundamental role of modern business in helping to improve healthcare, education and communications.

The basic ingredients for a free market are, well, freedom for one (incentive based – deciding what is in your best interest), willing consumers, producers entering into unforced transactions, and capital that flows to where it will be most efficiently used. All three must occur without the undue external influence of government controls or private interference.

The only legitimate justification for government control is rooted in the basic economic theory that posits regulations protecting the public space are commensurate with free market capitalism. One example often cited is the public’s mistrust of factory owners that pollute the air and water, and since the air and water is a public resource, their activity must be monitored and governed by using disincentives and punishments should they violate the public trust.

For this to work it must be applied equally and fairly. Yet businesses respond to these controls by aligning themselves with politicians, giving rise to corruption. Government representatives increasingly tell companies what they can sell or manufacture; how they must make their products and, in some cases, invest taxpayer dollars in companies that have favor with their political base. The relationship of employee to employer and the management practices of corporations are all subject to regulations. Even regulations restricting a consumer’s choice (like what light bulbs to buy) are construed to be a public space issue. All these actions perturb the free market.

In 2010, before his elevation to pope, then Cardinal Bergoglio said, “…it is very important that governments of all countries, through the relevant ministries and departments, cultivate a culture of work, not of charity….” It is well settled among most economists that the best way to achieve this goal is for governments to remove employment barriers by reducing their size, regulatory burden, and footprint. In a companion statement he calls us to “…move beyond a welfare mentality for dealing with hunger and poverty.” The pontiff’s statements sound pretty supportive of a free and open marketplace.

Recently, the Pope issued a cautionary note to the World Economic Forum. His statement is not a condemnation of wealth, but a condemnation of greed and the idolatry of wealth, which is consistent with his faithfulness to the mission of Christ.

Last but not least, the Pope’s use of the term “unbridled capitalism” was not directed at the secular sphere of economics or government regulations but towards, what he refers to as, “the moral sphere.” The “bridle” to which the Pope refers is the governance of morality. Imagine a moral-based society where businesses compensate employees, from the CEO down, fairly and in proportion to their contributions to the company. Imagine moral-based businesses that don’t cheat their shareholders or investors, and wouldn’t think of selling their customers substandard products or engaging in misleading advertising. Picture for a moment, a culture where people don’t lie, cheat or steal and do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay instead of surfing the Internet. It may be an anachronism, but there was a time when an individual’s word was the only contract two parties needed. They trusted each other to do the right thing.

Trust is the first casualty of moral decline. What if we could trust those factory owners in the example above not to pollute the environment? Wouldn’t all those regulations be superfluous? Isn’t improving and enriching peoples’ lives one of the Pope’s goals, and wouldn’t a moral-centric culture do just that?

Whenever there is a decline of moral values in a culture a vacuum is created and filled by a proportional increase in government regulations and law enforcement. If the primary ingredient for free markets is freedom and the essential condition for freedom is a moral and values-based society; then Pope Francis’s message couldn’t be more timely; morality is not only essential for free markets, it is essential for freedom itself.

Tom DiCarlo

An Extravagant Gift of Love

Just In Time For Christmas

It’s that time of year. We sharpen our elbows, like pencils on the first day of grammar school, and then fly around shopping malls the way demented comets streak across our solar system.  Shoppers indulge in an orgy of consumerism and when retailers advertise sales and discounts, pandemonium ensues.

Is it a cause for concern when willing adults become slaves to materialism? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. However, it is troubling when our children expect, even demand, gifts so expensive, their cost would have accounted for the entire holiday celebration a generation ago. On a societal scale, income inequality is further exacerbated when the poorest among us go into dept trying to emulate the excessive lifestyles they see on television or read about in tabloids.

What will historians say? Will they look back in disbelief? When and how did we become these people? Of course we can easily blame the advertisers, but isn’t it incumbent upon each of us to look past the tablets, video games, smart phones and shiny baubles, and bridge this spiritual void? More importantly, is this even possible in today’s society?

This seems like a good place to reprise the lessons in Dickens’ immortal story, A Christmas Carol, but since we all know well the story of Scrooge, I’ll allude instead to C.S. Lewis’ acclaimed novel, The Great Divorce.

The lead character awakens, after death, in a place called Grey Town, a joyless, dismal neighborhood where it’s perpetually raining and always twilight. Dilapidated rows of homes and shops, tattered billboards and windowless grey warehouses stretch to infinity without nature or beauty to break the monotony. Time is frozen; the people are quarrelsome and continuously revert to their own selfish obsessions and indulgences.

The way out is via a flying bus that stops at the foothills of Heaven. Here, the passengers are but a mist without substance when glistening spirits appear, offering to act as their guides. The only problem is that to enter Paradise, the passengers must make a great effort to change. Remaining relentlessly who they are, most make excuses and willingly return to the prison of Grey Town.

The secret to change is obvious, for like the passengers on the bus, the lock to this prison is on the inside of the door and the key sits on the table beside us.

Through the remarkable gift of faith and prayer we can find the strength to turn that key and walk free. Free of materialism, free of what our deepest truth knows is something less than the spirit of the season. Long before we ever enter Grey Town we will find that freedom immeasurably improves our lives and contributes to our success, not just today, but also when we meet our spirit guides. So this Christmas, rediscover God’s gift of reasoned faith and renewed spiritual strength. Then turn that key.

On Writing About the War on Terror. By Connie Atkinson

Yesterday, Tom and I had the good fortune to be guests on the Dan Rivers Show on WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio, about our new novel, The Brotherhood of Purity. It is the story of an American journalist pitted against an Islamic terrorist. We had a wonderful time talking with Dan who is a skilled and intelligent interviewer. Glad folks were listening and had a good response. Some listeners felt that we conveyed an impression of sympathy for terrorist causes. We felt that this was an important observation that deserves the most thoughtful of responses.

Tom and I are trying to tell a story. After 9-11 we asked ourselves innumerable times, like so many Americans, “What were those guys thinking?” We did much research in search of an answer and our findings illuminated that question in many unexpected ways. When we began writing, we decided to write the book as fiction to reach a wider audience. Also, we just wanted to tell a “romping good tale” as one of our beta-readers called it.

We believe it is important for America to think about how we conduct the War on Terror because, regardless of whether or not we feel safe at home, there are thousands of American military personnel who are dying and being maimed by this ongoing fight; there are many, many more dying every day by their own hands; there are still more who are homeless and unemployed and our country is not doing the best job of protecting them. We need to think about what we are doing and whether there is a better way to protect them as well as the folks on our shores. Lest we forget, Americans dying and being harmed on foreign soil is, nonetheless, Americans dying. In that sense, no, we are not safe and we add to this the erosion of our freedoms that is taking place day by day.

As long as Americans, anywhere, are dying and being harmed; as long as hundreds of billions of dollars are being consumed in the fire of war; as long as innocent people in the Mideast are also suffering death and injury at our hands which only seems to help terrorists recruit more suicide bombers and enemies who plot to destroy us all, don’t we have an obligation to continue to explore better ways of, not just ending war and avoiding future wars, but of creating lasting peace?

This is a story that took courage to write. We had to battle our own demons, and each other, a great deal. At the start, we just wanted to lash out at the terrorists and vent our own hurt and rage. But in the end, we realized that it was necessary to become detached from our own beliefs and just tell the story. The story took many about-turns as we were writing and started seeing more layers to the truth than we ever imagined existed. We think we wrote a book that many will find surprising and, perhaps, edifying.

The story, itself, never addresses the issue of whether, or not, the authors sympathize with terrorist causes, or not, nor should it. In the interest of integrity we just tell the story. In reality, we found that the story told itself as we were writing it. There is no purpose or advantage, in our eyes, in telling the reader what to think, but in showing many viewpoints and then letting folks come to their own conclusions. We hope that, like all good books, it will touch on some of our common human experiences and provoke a dialogue.

I’ll leave you with a short review by one of our NetGalley reviewers:

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the characters were engaging and believable. I applaud the aims of the authors, and look forward to more from this pair.” Alan Fisher

We would love to hear from our readers. Write us at http://www.thebrotherhoodofpurity.com and let us know what you think?

Software Lessons and the Big Bang

Watching the rollout of The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) one can clearly see the parallels from many other major software releases by the Federal Government: An exasperating, maddening experience for wearisome users, that will persist, for a long, long time. The best solution; roll back the ACA software now.

How do I know? Well, I managed several enterprise business systems and once tried the ‘Big Bang’ approach. That’s right, we launched all the functionality, for all the requirements, for all the users, in one vainglorious software release. The results were, to say the least, disastrous!

This did not deter us at the time. No, we soldiered on for weeks, working round the clock; slogging through two million lines of code to find the one offending bit. That is, until the suffering users screamed, our executives ordered a roll back and, my boss reminded me that, “It’s very hard to paint the wheels on a moving locomotive.”

Properly chastened, I learned a valuable lesson: everyone has a problem software release once in a while. So we adopted the soft launch approach and never looked back. All subsequent releases were deployed to a limited user base with a manageable feature set; we monitored production, listened to the users, for big issues we rolled back, but most of the time we just tuned the servers and tweaked the functions and user interface. The end result: a happy user population, and my weekends were mine again.

The point of this story is that The Affordable Care Act application is overloaded and each additional user’s click of the mouse is adding to a ‘denial of service’ attack from the software’s point of view. Thus I make the following suggestion, but first a disclaimer. I am only looking at this from an IT perspective and not commenting on the legal, political, or even the moral merits of The Affordable Care Act, or whether it will really lower healthcare costs as its name implies. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests it will not. Only time will tell.

So here goes. Lets begin by giving the common folks the same courtesy as was extended to big business and delay full implementation of The Affordable Care Act for one year while the “glitches” or “bugs” can be sorted out. For now, pick a ‘Blue State’ that will work to make it a success. Then pick another ‘Blue State’, then the next. Once demonstrated in these states, rollout the software to the total user population. The risk of course is the application doesn’t work or the advertised benefits don’t materialize.

Anyway, as an IT professional, that’s my two cents.