Monthly Archives: December 2011

On Rock-Paper-Scissors: Essay for New Year’s Eve 2011

The other night my son and I were discussing who was going to peel the cucumber for the dinner salad and determined that the only fair way to decide was the tried and true Rock-Paper-Scissors method. You remember, “Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoot.” Rock crushes scissors, paper covers rock, and scissors cut paper. It is an order of magnitude more complicated than simple odd and even. There are web sites dedicated to the methodology of the game strategy.

The game has elegance to it. There is the raw power of the rock; the stealth of the paper; and the ingenuity of the scissors. No single element is omnipotent. Overplay the power move of the rock and the paper will surely counter it. The stealthy application of the paper will yield to the ingenious play of the scissors. Success derives from the masterful and timely play of one element over the other. And seldom is the gamed played in a single round. It typically plays out over some odd number of rounds, thus allowing for a bit of give-and-take and room for some strategic compromise.

I was immediately drawn into a political context for this childhood game. Let’s consider the three players in November 2012: Barack Obama, Rock; Mitt Romney, the likely nominee, holds the scissors; and the American People, the paper. The President has the power of the mightiest office in the land. That’s why he is the Rock. Romney has to be clever and ingenious to win, thus the scissors. The American People are the paper because we are the stealthy ones. We hold a lot of leverage but also have a lot at risk.

We the People have the power to cover the Rock, the President, and bring a halt to the national calamity in which we have been embroiled since the dawn of the era of Hope and Change. But the Scissors held by Mr. Romney can cut us, if he turns out to be something different from what we seek. And we seek a lot.

There is risk here but I invite you to consider how much riskier the status quo under four more years of Barack Obama would be than under Mitt Romney, the pragmatic one. Some may wonder where Mr. Romney stands on certain issues. Yes, there have been the so-called flip-flops. And there is Romneycare. The Right can question his conservative credentials until the cows come home but one thing is certain: Mitt Romney loves America with all of his heart and will work to restore the way of life that has provided so much for so many in our country for so long. Can one say that about Barack Obama?

When you play Rock-Paper-Scissors, you play for the long haul; you use wit and guile to outsmart and outflank your opponent. You can withstand small defeats and still attain a large victory. There is no litmus test in the game. Only the final outcome counts. And so it must be in November. There is no litmus test that will restore American greatness. And one should not expect a string of unending victories without an occasional compromise along the way.

As Lord Macaulay once said, “A single breaker may recede but the tide is evidently coming in.” And so it must be in restoring American greatness. We will have our occasional setbacks as part of democratic give and take. Sometimes they are issue-by-issue, Congress-by-Congress or even administration-by-administration. We will prevail in the end.

We don’t need candidates who scare people, however righteous they may appear. It is a sure indication that they cannot effectively govern. Is that not where we are today with our current President? Is he a man to debate issues of the day over a beer? Certainly. But do I trust him with the future of my country or the destiny of my children? I do not.

There is a saying that everything will be alright in the end: if it is not alright, it is not the end. We must have faith and have patience. The American vision held by Barack Obama is not the vision held by Mitt Romney. It is not the vision held by you and me and the vast majority of Americans.

It is as simple as that for me. Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoot. I’ll take the guy with the scissors, please. Best two out of three.

Press on.

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On Peace on Earth: Video Essay for December 24, 2011

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On Peace on Earth: Essay for December 24, 2011

As December 25th draws close every year I think we all begin to wish for a calmness to settle over us. I know I purposely squint my eyes to create a gauzy glow to filter out the bad news and seek more uplifting stories of human triumph. Amid the din of sad news there is often a silver lining of some sort. Like the unexpectedly good B-side of an old 45 single, there are stories of Peace on Earth this year. Sometimes they strike you immediately; sometimes you have to look hard for them; and sometimes they emerge from despair.

Take the Women’s World Cup soccer final between a heavily favored US team and the very much underdog Japan team, only four months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Honshu. It was a special match from the onset as the Japanese team unfurled a banner of thanks to a generous world in the aftermath of the destruction. Their confidence grew in direct proportion to their level of play as they ultimately took down the giant US team on penalty kicks. The significance of the event was not lost on the US team as both teams joined in on the joyous celebration, cementing this event as a bona fide Peace on Earth moment.

Some acts of peace don’t end well for the messenger but have the power to transform by their sheer courage. The name Mohammed Bouazizi may not strike a familiar cord to most. In Tunisia, he was the street vendor whose self-immolation defined defiance of the Tunisian regime. His death sparked demonstrations that led to riots that led to the Arab Spring. The Near East will not be the same for another generation or more. And while the road to a peace will be a difficult one, Bouazizi’s death may someday be viewed as a turning point against autocracy and tyranny. He posted this on Facebook before his death:

“I’m traveling, mom. Put no blame on me. I’m lost in a road I have not chosen. Forgive me if I ever disobeyed you. Blame these days, don’t blame me. I’m leaving with no return. I’ve had enough of crying and no tears came out of my eyes. There’s no need to blame this age of treachery in this estranged land. I’m tired and putting everything behind. I’m traveling and I’m wondering if the travel will help me forget.”

Ironically, sometimes acts of extreme violence clear the way for acts of peace. We reserve a very small space in history for people whom we believe to be better off dead than alive. Osama bin Laden is such a man. When the US Navy’s SEAL Team Six daringly assaulted his compound and killed the man who was the architect of some of the most dastardly terrorist attacks in history, the world was a little closer to Peace on Earth. Unfortunately, it was just a little bit.
That Peace on Earth is an elusive goal is no secret. That is why we use upper case letters as if it is a chapter title in some book. At an individual level, the lower case “p” level, we can look to acts of peace on earth all around us. I see peace as I pass by Hopedale Pond as the mist forms in the early morning; I see peace in a sunrise as the rays pierce the darkness; I see peace in the eyes of children as they sing carols to the elderly whose memories are wonderfully jarred by the familiar strains of harmony; I see peace in the efforts of families heading home for the holidays to the one place they know they can be at peace; I see peace in the Christmas Story as told by the apostles.

We all wish we could magically grant the upper case Peace on Earth to all citizens of this planet. Woefully, we cannot. But we can work our magic one person, one act at a time; keeping close to mind the teachings of our faith to treat our fellow man as we would have them treat us. That would be a great start. And from what the sacrifice of Mohammed Bouazizi taught us, great starts are often all it takes.
I wish for all of you this holiday season a lower case peace on earth and a very Merry Christmas.

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On Our Iraqi Departure: Video Essay for December 17, 2011

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On Our Iraqi Departure: Essay for December 17, 2011

It began almost 9 years ago the American experience in Iraq. Our country was still in great pain and shock from the attacks of 911. Our focus became that of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Did Saddam Hussein, remember him, have WMD’s? The President said he did, so did Colin Powell, our Secretary of State. Washington, having averted an attack by airplane, was under attack by mail. Anthrax nearly shut down Washington. Try sending a letter to Congress even today and you will be surprised how long it takes to get through security.

To say that our lives have inexorably changed since 911 and our war in Iraq is a gross understatement. In fact, our lives may never return to the same level of blissful ignorance we enjoyed before that fateful day. That is a pity. Our innocence is gone as a country. We have been bloodied and there is blood on our hands, as well. Retribution is an ugly thing. Loss of innocence is an ugly thing, too.

We do not commemorate the end of the War in Iraq so much as we celebrate the return of the last of the American troops this month. Who knows if peace will ever come to Iraq? I certainly hope that it does and that the sacrifice of so many Americans meant what it was intended to mean. Time will tell but if the Arab Spring showed us anything it was that an infant democracy will yield to Muslim autocracy.

Let’s consider some of the obvious costs of the war: four thousand five hundred dead Americans; 35,000 wounded Americans; 800 billion opportunities to invest an American dollar somewhere else; one and a half million American youth whose lives were directly altered by combat. That’s right: 1 ½ million Americans passed through the war zone over 9 years. Their lives can never be the same. Many have returned home with mental scars and torment that will last a lifetime through no fault of their own. They simply did what their country asked them to do.

And for those who have not passed though the war zone itself, they too have paid a price. They have lost their innocence, their childhood, to images of war. My children are children of America at war with terrorists, with Afghanistan, with Iraq and with radical Islam. They are a generation who do not remember when the headlines and the airwaves were not dominated by war. They are a generation who has never known the simple joys of unfettered access. They have never known the liberty of walking a city street un-surveilled. Airport security has become a gauntlet whose unintended consequence is to instill a consistent level of unease with any peaceful experience.

Is there victory in Iraq for America and the dwindled coalition of the willing? Mission Accomplished? Maybe it is but no one is claiming it as vociferously as did President Bush aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. What I do know is that one and a half million Americans answered the call of their nation. They did their duty with honor. And to our credit as a nation we have responded to their sacrifice with appropriate respect and admiration.

We still remain in Afghanistan today with an equally uncertain end game. There is no discernable path to victory in the land of Hamid Karzai. And history teaches us that any victory in Afghanistan is a temporary state. We have put another half million troops through Afghanistan in our ten years there. And another 1857 American deaths, 549 of them in this year alone.
If our troops are fighting for our freedom and safety this begs the obvious question, “Is America any freer or any safer now than it was ten years ago?” I think wistfully about the good old days before the advent of modern international terrorism. One could argue about whether those days ever existed at all but I would suggest that we concluded the pre-modern age of international terrorism with the end of the Cold War and the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. There were perhaps a few brief years of respite before Operation Desert Storm sparked the modern age of bombings aimed at the United States. Recall that the World Trade Center was first bombed in 1993.

Life certainly seemed simpler when you could delude yourself into thinking that nuclear attack was survivable as long as you could hide under your desk. As I’ve grown older, I guess I’ve lost my innocence, too.

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Conservatively Speaking: Inteview with Mass GOP Chair Bob Maginn 12-11-2011

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On the New Dawn: Video Essay for December 11, 2011

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