Monday, August 31, 2009

Ted Kennedy's Memorial Service at the Capitol

I had the honor of standing on the Capitol steps for the short memorial for Ted Kennedy on his way to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery. Here's the video:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ted's Funeral - Post Mortem

I watched every minute of Ted Kennedy's funeral. For me, it was a validation of everything I hold dear. As I've explained below, I was personally gratified that he chose Mission Church for the ceremony, given that it was my mother's childhood church and the place I prayed for her when she was sick.

But what struck me most was the humility of the memorial. To the untrained eye, it might sound odd to call a memorial, held in a "Basilica," and attended by four presidents, vast numbers of luminaries and Boston's Cardinal humble. Not to mention having Yo Yo Ma and Placido Domingo provide the music.

But on those elements of the service which contained the most meaning, Ted chose the humble option in almost every case. First, consider the church. Setting aside my personal connection, it is important to understand where Mission Church sits. It is in Roxbury, the poorest section of Boston. And while Mission Hill is coming back economically, it remains, at best, a working class neighborhood, which it was when my mother, the daughter of Irish immigrants, grew up there.

Then there was the Mass. Again, it may have looked majestic, but it was not a "High Mass." The music was awe-inspiring, but, significantly, none of the prayers during the ceremony were sung. That makes it a low Mass. And, while the Cardinal was in attendance, he did not say the Mass. In fact, Kennedy's local parish priest in Hyannis was the celebrant, with a number of concelebrants, none of whom were high in the Church hierarchy. One of them, Fr. Percy DaSilva, is a former priest in my church of Blessed Sacrament. Sen. Kennedy was a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament some years ago and I would see him occasionally at Mass, usually at the children's Mass. Fr. DaSilva is a diminutive priest from India with the heart of a lion who was beloved by all in the parish, particularly the children. He loved my daughter Bridget and she him. He made national news when he indignantly called from the pulpit for Cardinal Law's resignation during the abuse scandal at a time when the Church hierarchy was still standing behind the Cardinal. In addition to his love for my daughter, the other thing I most appreciated about him is that while he preached the Church's doctrine condemning abortion with conviction, he never, ever mentioned abortion in a sermon without also denouncing the death penalty. His presence on the altar spoke volumes about Ted's priorities.

Of course, within the constraints of a low Mass, you can still reach the heights. Most people would love to have the President of the United States do the eulogy at their funeral. But it was the music that made the ceremony transcendent. I have never heard Ave Maria sung so beautifully as by Susan Graham. It literally took my breath away. And Placido Domingo singing during the Communion, well, what can you say? At the Capitol memorial later in the day, I spoke about the service to Congressman Jim McGovern from Worcester who said, "Receiving Communion with Placido Domingo singing, I felt like this must be what heaven is like."

Fundamentally, as I've noted below, it was the Irishness of it all that so moved me. Forgive my paean to Irish culture, but I do believe that the Irish have a special awareness of human frailty. It brings out both the best and worst in us. On the downside, it makes us somewhat mordant, fatalistic and even reckless. I'll never forget hearing one of my uncles say at a family gathering, "I believe that life is a vale of tears, with a few bright spots thrown in." I was about eight years old and that comment has stuck with me all my life. That view, I believe, contributes to the kind of behavior that Ted exhibited in his younger days, the drinking and womanizing. You figure you don't have much time, so make the most of it while you can. For those that survive long enough to gain some wisdom, the Irish mystical traditions kick in. These have been with the Irish from pagan times. Since St. Patrick, it inspires a deep devotion to the Catholic Church, which provides hope in this "vale of tears."

Of course, it's more than physical frailty, though, God knows, Ted saw the consequences of that with all the tragedy in his family. We all knew about the tragedies of his own generation. But I never fully knew about those in his immediate family. Three of his kids faced life-threatening disease at some point in their lives. There is no greater emotional trauma one can face than the risk of losing a child and he faced it three times.

But human frailty involves moral frailty, as well. And that's where the humility comes in. It makes you less judgmental of the failings of others when you see the moral frailty that is within yourself. I have no doubt that Mary Jo Kopechne's memory haunted Ted to his dying day. Recognizing that - and others of his moral failings, made him, I believe, a more humble man, which is hard to be when you are a U.S. Senator, particularly a Kennedy. This moral humility was reflected in his letter to the Pope where he writes, "I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path."

Clearly, we should take the advice he offered in his eulogy of his brother, Bobby, and "not enlarge him in death beyond what he was in life." But I have to say, more than any other other event of its kind, I do feel changed a bit by these memorials to Teddy. He does provide a model for living a good life and the hope that it's never too late. When he was my age, he was still "Wild Teddy," drinking and carousing with Chris Dodd. And yet he changed in a very deep way and died at some peace. It's a story of redemption that offers hope for us all.

And, finally, he vindicated another quality of being Irish in which I believe strongly. No culture puts on a better funeral than the Irish. I think it comes with that fatalism mentioned above. I recently bade farewell to my mother and I have to say that we touched, in her memorial, many of the same themes that were explored in Ted's memorial, the music, the laughter, the melancholy. We didn't have Placido Domingo, but we did have the singer from a local parish church sing Our Lady of Knock at the same place during the Mass, which generated a lot of tears. And there was singing and laughter at the post-funeral celebration.

So, goodbye Ted. You didn't know me. But you made me proud to be a Boston Irish Catholic Liberal Democrat. And, excuse me while I check on my kids.

Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted's Funeral

I am shocked and gratified that Ted Kennedy's funeral will be at Mission Church in Boston. My mother and her seven siblings grew up on Mission Hill and that was their church. It is the church in which my mother was baptized and married. I've spent a lot of time at Mission Church over the past year.

When my mother, who died four months ago, was sick last year and being treated at the Brigham and Womens Hospital only blocks away, I went to Mass every day at Mission Church before going up to the hospital to stay with her. On her darkest day, I and my siblings went to Mission Church to light a candle. We prayed that she be given more time - that we be given more time. Not that she be cured. We were simply not ready to say goodbye. That day she turned around and we had another year. And it was a very special year. My sister calls it "the miracle of Mission Church." I so wish she was around to see this.

Ted Kennedy

Senator Kennedy died today.  There will obviously be a torrent of words memorializing him.  I met him a couple of times at political events.  There is a picture of me meeting him in my office.  It is prominently displayed and draped in black today.  But I had no personal connection, whatsoever.  Still, I considered myself part of the extended "Kennedy clan."  As a liberal Boston Irish Catholic Democrat, I identified with him.  Of course, he was a whole different kind of Irish Catholic than I was, but I felt like he knew me. 

My fondest memory was attending one of his St. Patrick's Day fundraisers here in Washington.  His guest of honor was John Hume, the Irish politician who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Irish peace process.  He sang "The Town I Love So Well" and there was not a dry eye in the room, including Ted's.  He really wore his Irishness on his sleeve, which was one of the many reasons I loved him. 

I never knew the days of NINA (No Irish Need Apply) that my parents and grandparents experienced.  John Kennedy was sworn in as senator from Massachusetts 5 months before I was born and, outside of the flunky seat warmer who held the office before Ted was old enough to claim it, Massachusetts has been represented by a Kennedy in the Senate my entire life and I'm 56 years old.  I've never been anything but proud, even boastful, of my Boston Irish heritage.  And I think I have the Kennedys to thank for that, even with all their flaws.  Their commitment to causes beyond themselves is a proud family legacy, epitomized by Ted. 

I feel like a massive hole has opened up at the center of American politics that may not be filled in my lifetime, which makes me very sad.  I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Don't Have to be Crazy to be Wrong

The New York Times has a story today about an opponent of healthcare reform from Georgia.  He's a very calm man who traveled an hour to attend a town meeting held by Congressman Sanford Bishop, (D-GA), described as a moderate who's undecided on the legislation.

Mr. Collier waited until the end of the 3 hour meeting to pose a comment to the Congressman urging him to oppose the legislation because it would lead to "rationing" and would, essentially, destroy our way of life.  The story depicts Mr. Collier as a sincere and honest man with genuine concerns about the reform proposals before Congress.  Presumably, this was an effort to balance against the loonies and to show there are real people with real concerns.  It, thereby, increases the credibility of the opponents.

However, the story goes on to say that it was Mr. Collier's personal experience with the healthcare system that moved him to attend the town meeting.  His wife contracted breast cancer and was treated apparently successfully.  But here's her story:
When Ms. Collier’s breast cancer was diagnosed three years ago, Mr. Collier’s employer-provided insurance paid for her office visits, a biopsy and three surgeries. But the insurer covered only a small fraction of her radiation treatments, which it considered experimental, leaving the Colliers with a $63,000 bill. To their great relief, the charge was later written off by Emory Healthcare, whose doctors had recommended the regimen.
So, the insurance company rationed her care.  It denied coverage for life saving treatment.  Yet this is the system that Mr. Collier is seeking to preserve.  Why?  How could he be so misguided?

Here's how:
The Colliers are committed conservatives who have voted Republican in presidential elections since 1980. They receive much of their information from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh’s radio program and Matt Drudge’s Web site.
That's the battle Obama faces. Ignorance, pure and simple, fomented by interests who's real agenda is to "break" this president.

Makes me sad.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Arms Race

So, now we have a pro-healthcare reformer coming to a demonstration with a sidearm.  Frankly, that saddens me.  I'd rather maintain the moral high ground in which only the conservative loonies bring guns.  It was a nice contrast.  Here's a picture of the guy, posted in TalkingPointsMemo.

Wouldn't you know it would be a Yankee fan?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Harvard beats Yale

I watched a great movie with my 19 year old son yesterday. It was a documentary on the Harvard Yale game of 1968. Fascinating sports movie. I'm embarrassed to say I was unaware of this game. But Harvard was supposed to lose badly and ended up tying, which was considered a major upset. In addition, they scored 16 points in the final 2 minutes to get the tie. Very exciting game. But the movie goes beyond the game to discuss the war in Vietnam and other issues of the sixties.

The Yale team included many of the characters who live on today in Doonesbury as Gary Trudeau was in that class. Tommy Lee Jones played on the Harvard team and has a lot to say in the movie. He's still bitter about a missed point after early on the game which would have given Harvard the win.

Good movie. Rent the DVD. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


There, I've said it. I am so proud of him for skewering a right wing nutcase at a town meeting.

I hope this gives some backbone to other Democrats.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I had a dream last night

Actually, it was more like a nightmare.  It was likely inspired by the rabid criticism Obama is enduring over the healthcare proposal.  I also wrote an email yesterday to my "teabagger" cousin exposing his hypocrisy in attacking Obama, but remaining silent over the crimes of George Bush.

In any event, I dreamed that there was a presidential election and George Bush beat Barack Obama.  Thinking of the Obama administration, I wailed "It was too short!"  In the dream, I wept bitterly and even woke myself up.

What a relief to realize it was only a dream.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Crank it Up!

I am so sick of the mealy-mouthed response of the official Democratic spokespeople as they respond to the knowing lies that the conservative zealots are fomenting regarding healthcare reform. 

Yesterday, on Meet the Press, David Gregory asked Tom Daschle for a reaction to the accusation that the Democratic plans have "death panels" that would "pull the plug on Grandma."  He called the charges "hyperbole."  Hyperbole??!!  How about "boldfaced lie!"?  That's the problem.  On the one side, we have these wild charges that are treated as legitimate topics for debate.  And, on the other side, we have reasoned discussion and the media treats them as equivalent.

Yesterday's Post had a great column by Rick Perlstein entitled "Crazy is a Pre-existing Condition" that explores this issue with far more eloquence than I could.

And, today, we have good guidance from the Democrats from a TPM Reader.

It is more evidence that ignorance drives out intelligence in today's media.Technorati

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

On the deck in Falmouth

Here's the view from the deck where I'm staying on Cape Cod.

Weather is overcast and muggie. Just narrowly avoided disaster when I almost put my eye out with a screwdriver trying to get the bike off the van. Lotta blood, but I can still see.

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Stop Long Voice Mail Greetings

Here's a campaign I can believe it.  I had no idea that those long voicemail greetings that come after the user's greeting were a money-making scheme by the cell phone companies.

David Pogue at the New York Times is starting a campaign to get the companies to stop.  I strongly endorse this campaign and encourage you to do so, as well.

Here's Pogue:

These messages are outrageous for two reasons. First, they waste
your time. Good heavens: it's 2009. WE KNOW WHAT TO DO AT THE BEEP.

we really need to be told to hang up when we're finished!? Would
anyone, ever, want to "send a numeric page?" Who still carries a pager,
for heaven's sake? Or what about "leave a callback number?" We can SEE
the callback number right on our phones!

Second, we're PAYING for
these messages. These little 15-second waits add up--bigtime. If
Verizon's 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a weekday,
Verizon rakes in about $620 million a year. That's your money. And your
time: three hours of your time a year, just sitting there listening to
the same message over and over again every year.

In 2007, I spoke
at an international cellular conference in Italy. The big buzzword was
ARPU--Average Revenue Per User. The seminars all had titles like,
"Maximizing ARPU In a Digital Age." And yes, several attendees (cell
executives) admitted to me, point-blank, that the voicemail
instructions exist primarily to make you use up airtime, thereby
maximizing ARPU.
This must be stopped!  Join the cause!