Pope Francis, the AntiTrump


When I was a young kid who was prone to looking through the World Almanac on a regular basis, the list of all the popes and antipopes always intrigued me. I knew what a pope was, but the idea that somebody could be recognized as an antipope was funny to me. 7-Up called itself the Uncola in those days, so why not have an antipope, as well?

I haven’t considered myself a Catholic in more than 30 years. There’s too many things that I do not, and will not ever, agree with in the church’s teachings. But I admire Pope Francis greatly. I even follow him on Twitter, which is as close to Catholicism as I’ll ever get.

His visit to the United States over the past three days has been a great reminder of what the world needs more of: more compassion, more respect, more love. We will do well to internalize the message and the example he has brought to these shores. I thank him for reminding us that being good to each other is what it’s all about.

And he stands, in every way possible, as the antithesis of Donald Trump. Trump wants to be the leader of this nation, and his “look at what a great success I am” shtick is appealing for some people. But Pope Francis reminds us of what compassion and love look like, and those two notions seem to have no place in Donald Trump’s world.

What appeals to me about this pope is that he is everything that Trump is not, and could never be. As Francis leaves our shores and returns to the Vatican, it’s a clear reminder that Trump is lacking in many, many ways, and these deficits render him unfit to lead what some people want to believe is a Christian nation (although the Constitution makes it clear this is not the case).

Anyone who still wants Trump as their leader entirely missed the lesson of the pope’s visit. There are some–perhaps a few thousand–who can shrug off the example of this pope, and still clamor for a man like Trump sitting on the throne of government, but I hope that I don’t know any of them personally. They certainly aren’t my kind of people.

Sending my best to Dominica


The first time I ever left the boundaries of the United States was for my honeymoon in August of 1992. My new wife and I took a Caribbean cruise, leaving from San Juan and going through the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, St. Maarten, Barbados, Dominica, and Martinique. The sunshine and natural beauty of the Caribbean overwhelmed me, and so too did the crushing poverty that I saw. It was my first encounter with the meaning of the term “third world.”

Tourist dollars like ours seemed to be what kept these places afloat, if floating can accurately describe what was going on. The cruise ships bring the tourists, and the locals do what they can to separate the tourists from their money. Giving tours is a big moneymaker, for sure, and they may be the thing that I remember most about these islands. Our tour of Dominica may have been the one I remember the most.

The infrastructure, such as it was, of the islands seemed to decline as the cruise progressed. From Charlotte Amalie and the duty-free shopping it offered on St. Thomas, and the FU money of those who could afford to live or vacation on St. John, there was a precipitous decline when we got to Barbados, and even more so when we arrived in Dominica. But it was also the most pristine of the islands we had seen, and the explanation of how a rainforest worked was facinating, at least to me.

By the time we arrived at a waterfall on Dominica, and bought a piece of fruit from a local vendor, I had decided that the beauty and the poverty of Dominica were both beyond what I was ready for. I was grateful to have a cruise ship waiting for me, to take me onto the next island and, ultimately, away from the Caribbean altogether. But the tour guides and the fruit vendors weren’t so lucky. They had to stay on Dominica and wait for the next cruise ship to arrive, to repeat the same process all over again.

The devastation of Tropical Storm Erika on Dominica makes me sad today. The cruise ships that take their patrons to the shores of Dominca could surprise me and come up with some money or supplies to help the people of the island in their moment of need, but it would be far easier to look for other places to dock their boats, or simply bypass the island altogether. Who wants to see destruction and human misery on their vacation?

Places like Florida, which is next in the path of this storm, will also feel an impact, possibly even a strong one, but in the end they will rebuild. Insurance money and other resources will flow to Florida in a way that they never will to Dominica and the rest of the Caribbean. The people on that island–and the Caribbean as a whole–are truly on their own. I wish them the best.

On Subway and the Failings of Fogle


Unlike many people, I can remember Subway restaurants in the pre-Jared Fogle days. I first visited a Subway shop in the summer of 1988 in Evanston, Illinois, and it seemed like a revolution in fast food to me. In some ways, that’s exactly what it was.

You mean I can pick my own type of bread? and meat? Veggies, too? And sauce on the top of it all? Wow! That’s exactly what being in a Subway felt like back then.

I imagine it felt like that for Jared Fogle, too. He found that he liked the sandwiches, and he used them–and a lot of walking–to tell a compelling story about the inner determination that we all have, if we can only unlock it and harness it effectively. Those huge jeans that he never tired of holding up were his ticket–and Subway’s–to the explosive growth that has occurred over the past two decades.

Subway now has more than 44,000 restaurants all over the world. It’s safe to say that more than half of these only existed in the Jared Fogle days of the franchise. He was the face of the franchise, and quite literally its embodiment, too. Eat Subway and you, too, can get to a slimmer body size. And who doesn’t want that?

Jared is the opposite of Ronald McDonald, because he is a real-life person. His claim to fame was that he had eaten Subway and lost weight. That’s all. Athletes sometimes had endorsement deals with Subway–Apollo Ohno comes to mind on that front–but Jared didn’t have anything other than his backstory to offer. But that was enough, it seemed. Subway was Jared and Jared was Subway. And they both sold us all a lot of sandwiches as a result.

But real life people are human, after all. And when the freaky side of Jared Fogle was revealed, and then confirmed by his guilty plea to possession of child pornography, it created a major problem–perhaps even an existential one–for Subway and its owners, Doctor’s Associates. Can their brand, which depended on Jared’s smiling visage and uplifting personal tale, survive the things that Jared did on his own time? Should it survive?

Doctor’s Associates is a privately-held company headquartered in Milford, Connecticut. As a result, there’s been no precipitous crash in the company’s stock price, as there would be if this happened to McDonalds or Subway. But there’s also no spreading of the pain around between millions of individual and institutional stockholders, either. The pain is being felt by the people who own those 44,000 franchises around the world, and pay Subway for the right to use their name and sell their products.

The decline in sales at these locations is going to be very real. How could it be otherwise, when their corporate image is going to prison for at least five years? The food won’t taste any different today than it did last year or ten years ago, but everyone who steps through the door will have to ask themselves if they want to continue giving their money to a business that was at least partially created by a pedophile.

Subway has had a few weeks’ warning to scrub any and all images of Jared from their stores, and I’m sure they have done exactly that. But the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps this was all a misunderstanding of some sort, is gone, as of today. He did many terrible things, and his Subway-generated wealth will be used partially to repay his victims, and partially to pay lawyers who were able to work out a better plea deal than the average Subway customer could get in a similar situation. So Subway benefited Jared, one final time. But he now leaves an awful lot of franchise owners holding the bag, and facing a very uncertain future.

Jared will become forgotten, or the answer to trivia questions, or the target (because saying butt just felt wrong) of many cruel jokes. He brought all of that on himself, and I will shed no tears for him. But he will also serve as an object lesson for any company that expects to ride a spokesperson of any kind to bigger and better things. When you tie your wagon to just one horse, as Subway did for twenty years with Jared Fogle, you better be very sure that it’s a good one.

Waiting for a Cuban visitor


The blog that I’ve been keeping for some time now has traveled the world a lot better than I ever will. The World Wide Web is very well-named, as it turn out.

One of the things that WordPress does for people like me is that it tracks visitors to my website. It quantifies them by number of page views and number of visitors to the site, but those numbers don’t mean anything to me. If 5 people view the site, or 500 people view the site, I really don’t care. As long as someone does, that’s enough for me.

But what I really like is that it can tell where the visitors are from, and it highlights the countries on a world map. I love the idea that someone from a place I have never heard of of, and will likely never visit, has found their way onto this site. I can’t go to them physically, but an idea from inside my brain can. That’s pretty cool.

And in all the years this site has been on the web, Cuba remains as one of the few nations on earth where no one has viewed this blog. It’s the only nation in the Western Hemisphere in that category, and I’d very like to see it lit up someday soon.

In the Summer of 2001–the first year I wrote in this space–I visited a Cuban restaurant with my family and longed for the day when relations with Cuba weren’t so strange. And now, in the twilight of Obama’s presidency, it’s finally coming to pass. John Kerry visited Cuba this week, and the Cuban flag has been raised in Washington for the first time in my lifetime. Cuban access to the Internet remains limited, but I’m confident that will all get sorted out soon.

It’s a new day for the U.S. and Cuba, and hopefully the visitors to my blog will soon reflect that.

A kick ass American weekend


The first time that I ever felt any national pride over a sporting event was the Miracle on Ice hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. I was 11 years old, and giddy at the prospect of beating the big, bad Soviets at what appeared to be their own game.

Flash forward 35 years, to Sunday’s triumph of the U.S. National Women’s Team at the World Cup. Again, soccer doesn’t seem to really be America’s game, particularly since the rest of the world calls it “football” instead. But when America’s best matched up against the rest of the world, the Red, White, and Blue came out on top. A better way to cap off the 4th of July weekend cannot be imagined, at least in the sporting realm.

The proceedings in Soldier Field were also a pretty good capper, in the artistic realm. It was a great weekend for America, all the way around.

A Moron and his Flag


This is such a raw and terrible moment in our nation. The scourge of racism is alive and well, unfortunately. Anyone who thought that the election of Barack Obama somehow made us “post-racial” has now been proven wrong.

I grieve for the Charleston victims and their families, and I also grieve for everyone who no longer feels safe in their house of worship. Some would like to carry their guns to church with them, but those people live in a twisted world that I would never want to share. If we need to be strapped to worship the almighty, we may as well cease to consider ourselves civilized.

And if the massacre inside a church in Charleston has any silver linings at all, it will be that everyone–except for the most dark-hearted and hard-headed among us–now understands that the Confederate flag is a stain on America’s past, and has no place whatsoever in America’s future. It won’t bring the victims of Dylann Storm back, but it will have an impact going forward.

Thinking for myself


The stories about the tragic and needless deaths of African American men and boys have been coming at us for some time now: Trayvon Martin. Mike Brown. Eric Garner. And now, Freddie Gray. And I can almost certainly say that another name will be added to the list shortly.

The reactions in the media and online have been both predictable and lamentable. The dead black man is routinely and as a matter of course demonized and called a dangerous thug.  The word “thug” only seems to exist as racial shorthand for victims who somehow brought their demise on themselves.

The cops or law enforcement who caused the death of the supposed “thug” is routinely lionized, as well. Or at least, there were extenuating circumstances that make the death somehow rational. Never mind that the murdered African American men all had friends and loved ones who will mourn their passage. No, the world is now better off without the menace that the dead man or boy would have no doubt posed to society had they continued living. This is the narrative we’re fed on a regular basis by the media in this country.

In the name of being “informed” about events like this, people will willingly allow themselves to be told this narrative over and over again. So I would rather just skip all of this, because I know the conclusion I’m supposed to draw. And I won’t allow this to happen.

I visited Baltimore once, for a few hours on Spring Break three years ago. It won’t ever be the same again, not after the riots that brought about the imposition of martial law in the city. But give it another week or two, and the same story will play itself out all over again. The victim’s name and location will be different, but the end result will be all too familiar.

I’m taking the time that I otherwise might spend on hearing the media’s old story and doing something constructive, instead. I don’t regret broken windows or destroyed property, because that can be replaced if the will to do so exists. Rather, I mourn the loss of life because nobody can wake the dead.

Murder is an act of brutal finality, and it needs to be understood as such. What will that take for this to become an accepted societal narrative? I’m not sure, but there’s no way that CNN or the other news sources will ever provide it to me. That’s one thing I can confidently say.

If you’re an idiot and you know it

University of Oklahoma fraternity singing racist chant_1425883302277_14678237_ver1.0_640_480

Social media has taught the SAE fraternity, and all the rest of us who are paying attention, an important lesson: Don’t be an asshole, even for a few seconds. And when you sing racist songs, you are an asshole.

What I haven’t yet heard anyone say is that the racist tune that was sung on the bus was set to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” A simple child’s tune about happiness, which any three-year old knows how to sing, should never be used as some sort of racial manifesto.

How many others have sung this song, within the SAE organization? We won’t ever know, but the ones who sang it on the bus learned it from somewhere. Anyone with a speck of common sense knows that much.

There are times when I wish the Internet and social media existed when I was in college, back in the late 1980s. But then I reconsider this idea, for while I never sang racist songs, I did do some stupid things which I would not want to end up going viral. After all, the college days might fly past, but the Internet is forever.

O Beautiful

Obama Selma 50th (18)

I witnessed a moment of history today, watching President Obama’s speech at the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. In a nation still marked by racial strife–witness the Ferguson report and the killing of Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin–the president did what presidents are supposed to do: lead and inspire the people.

The entire speech is as good a history lesson as you’ll ever find. America is always striving to better itself, instead of returning to an idyllic past that never existed in the first place. The president has rhetorical and oratorical gifts, and he turned them all the way up to 11 today. The moment demanded nothing less.

Thank you for your words, Mr. President. You brilliantly captured the importance of the day, both in recognizing the struggles at Selma and elsewhere, and challenging us to press ahead with the work of making America better in the days ahead. We will all do well to take your words, and the sacrifices of John Lewis and others, to heart.