Main menu:

Binary Blues

By Tim Hayes

Mary and Joseph rode a dinosaur to Bethlehem.

That sentence sounds ludicrous, right?  Ridiculous.  Crazy.  Insulting, even.  A purposely disrespectful exaggeration.

But let’s think about this a bit more critically.

If one believes, and is convinced beyond any doubt, that the earth is no more than 6,000 or so years old, why not?   If paleontology offers proof that dinosaurs existed, and if Scripture and tradition place the Nativity roughly 2,000 years ago, then is the possibility so far-fetched that the two events could have intersected?


This scenario comes to you courtesy of binary thinking.  The insistence that there can only be two choices about any issue or question in life.  Black or white, 1 or 0, right or wrong.  No gray areas permitted.

And while binary thinking provides the backbone of all computing and artificial intelligence, its magic fades when applied to the brain cells and electrical synapses that drive human thought.

Winston Churchill once famously noted that, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”  Permit me to extend that observation.  A fanatic is both of those things, but is also a person who feels compelled to change your mind too – and won’t let up in that doomed crusade.

The wonder of this country comes in the Constitutionally protected fact that Americans can speak their minds in open dialogue.  The “marketplace of ideas” concept – as referenced by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in 1953 – holds that the truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in free, transparent public discourse.  This legal definition has been most often applied by the Supreme Court in cases involving questions around freedom of the press and the responsibilities of the media.

Simply put, we are each free to state our case, proclaim our version of the “truth,” and advance our arguments.  But when only one source is “selling” his or her own goods, that does not make it a “marketplace.”  If you can have the floor to speak and declare and propose and argue, then so can anyone else.

And that’s where we seem to be getting into some sticky issues lately.

Call it political correctness, call it tribalism, call it blind loyalty, call it whatever you like, but people seem to prefer immediately taking sides, digging in, aiming their rhetorical weapons at the other side, and blasting away.  All without inviting a dialogue.  All before giving an opposing view even a hint of attention, much less analysis and review.

One side is always right and the other side is always wrong.  Binary thinking.  And it’s dangerous because when a society accepts this absolute, take-no-prisoners, complete-victory-or-die-trying approach to solving problems, then that society must and will fail.

My e-mail inbox gets filled every day with messages from both ends of the political spectrum.  I’ve set it up that way intentionally, to get a read on what either side is telling its supporters.  Some of it can be characterized as thoughtful and reasoned; most is nothing more than wild, groundless, infantile hogwash.  And that’s equally true on both sides.

It’s shameful that we have abandoned the middle ground.  The place where shades of insight and truth from either end can mingle and bounce and learn from each other to arrive at a state of compromise – the place where everyone can feel an equal sense of achievement and sacrifice.  Where the best answers usually can be found.

Maybe we can start to steer this majestic old ship of state back toward that middle ground in a few weeks.  Maybe not.  Both sides need to step away from this awful grip of binary thinking.  It’s not helping.  Quite the opposite.

I have faith that this season of disagreeableness and disrespect will fade in time, and that we will find a way to talk with – not at – each other again, for the greater good.  And if we don’t, we might as well climb aboard our dinosaurs and ride them straight off the nearest cliff.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

The World at 3 a.m.

By Tim Hayes

It had been an especially intense week.  Not a bad week, quite the opposite.  But an intense one, filled with big events that required enormous and careful planning, and greatly focused execution.

By Friday evening, the thought of collapsing into bed and sleeping the sleep of the dead, as reward for the success and good fortune of that just-ended week of intensity, sounded so very, very good.  And that’s what happened.

Until 3 a.m., when the phone rang.

A medical anomaly had befallen a family member.  She was alone, confused, anxious.  We called 911 and learned where the responders would be taking her, as we climbed out of bed and started getting dressed to drive there ourselves.

It’s a different world at 3 a.m.  Things you think you know and recognize somehow either aren’t there anymore, or appear so different, as to cause you to shake your head in an attempt to rattle your brain cells – and the world itself – back into place.

Like the stillness.  It’s so quiet at 3 a.m.  Nothing moves, nothing feels real.  Where’s the road noise?  The neighborhood rustles?  The sound from the high school, just across the back yard?  Nothing.  Pure silence.  It’s spooky.

And the pitch blackness.  You realize, or are reminded, that the moon reflects the sun’s light and can actually cast shadows.  The stars flung across that enormous black sheet of sky truly are beautiful and amazing.

Once dressed and having gulped down a quick glass of juice, we stumbled out to the car and began the drive to the hospital, about 15 miles away.  In that entire drive, only one other vehicle shared the road with us – and that included about half the distance on a four-lane highway.  During morning rush hour, that stretch of pavement causes clogs and bottlenecks requiring at least 40 minutes to traverse.

At 3 a.m., we made it in less than 15.  But again, even as the unimpeded speed may have been appreciated, the sense of aloneness still felt disturbing somehow.  We realized we were not built to function at 3 a.m.

Parking at the Emergency entrance, we got processed through security and signed all of the required insurance forms to authorize treatment, bill the insurer, and whatever other legalisms health care relies upon today.  Walking back to the treatment bay where our patient had been placed, the nursing staff talked and hustled and bustled and did their work like this was the most normal thing in the world.  Just another day at the office.

Were they nuts?  Had they looked at the clock on the wall?  It’s the freaking middle of the night!  How can people like this function so normally?  We were like the Walking Dead, willing our legs forward, right, left, right, left, while these unbelievable professionals in their uniform blue scrubs carried on without a hitch.

After getting the initial diagnosis about our patient – nothing very serious, they would just watch her for a few hours, and if the situation did not get worse, we could get her home again – we shuffled down to the cafeteria for a bite.

It’s fascinating to watch an enormous enterprise like a major city hospital begin to open its eyes, stretch its arms, and wake up for a new day.  The cafeteria featured a lot of prepackaged cereal and a do-it-yourself bagel toaster, but the stars were two very funny, very energetic ladies whipping up eggs and bacon together.  We got a little plateful and walked into the seating area, where you could have rolled a bowling ball in any direction and not hit another human being.

Quiet and stillness, even in a hospital cafeteria.  Crazy.

Before too long, we got the all-clear and brought our patient back to her house.  By this time, the sun and the city had returned in full.  Lots more traffic in the hallways and the highways, lots more noise all around.  Life had returned to normalcy, and so had our patient.  All of which created a real sense of relief.

It’s a different world at 3 a.m.  I guess it’s good to experience it every now and again.  But, all things considered, I’d rather be asleep, thanks.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

The Writing Life

By Tim Hayes

You ask a seven-year-old boy in the mid-1960s what he wants to be when he grows up, and you’ll get the expected responses – baseball player, policeman, fireman, even an astronaut like Major Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Then you ask me and get something altogether off-the-wall.  “I want to be a writer!”  Yes, I was one of THOSE kids.  The weirdo who liked playing pickup games with his friends, but avoided the invitation to humiliation that was Little League.  The one who enjoyed playing the drums, but saw it as a way to have fun and make friends, not as a real grown-up job.

No, I knew – or at least suspected strongly – from the days sitting in that linseed oiled parochial elementary classroom, that I wanted to write.  Advance the story a few years to high school, when Watergate had reached its apex.  Watching Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at The Washington Post systematically, methodically, carefully, responsibly, and most of all accurately document the many sins and transgressions that ultimately led to the first resignation of an American president, and I was hooked for good.

Receiving top-shelf training and guidance through undergraduate studies in journalism, the writing career I’d envisioned since grade school got launched, first as a general-assignment reporter at a newspaper, followed by a series of posts in government, PR agencies, corporate communications, and finally in my own practice, which is about to begin its 19th year shortly.

Along the way, attitudes and observations about the writing life have been collected.  Like the engineer at a company who, after raking me over the coals for a magazine article I’d written about his project, pointed to the wall of his office and said, “You see that diploma?  That means I’m an engineer with a master’s degree.  That takes a lot of study and skill.  But anybody can be a writer.”

The fact that his jaw remained unbroken stands as testament to my Herculean self-control.  None – not one – of his edits were made to the story.  Jackass.

The fact is, no, not anybody can be a writer.  This craft requires a lot of study and skill, too.  But more than that, I think.  Writers may be made in some instances.  But I think in more instances – the ones where they truly flourish – writers are born.  You have to love it because it’s who you are.  It’s like you almost can’t help it.  You want to write, you need to write, you love to write.

I have made a living and raised a family through writing.  Working with so many treasured clients means no day resembles the next.  I’ve been blessed to be able to meet and support and become friends with so many people over the years through writing.  It has been the doorway to a wonderful professional and personal life.

One might think that, after writing all day to earn a living, some other activity would be the go-to for relaxation and enjoyment.  And yes, sometimes I’ll wander down to the basement and whale away on the drums for a while.  But more often, I stay right here at the keyboard.  In fact, writing this weekly blog is one of the things I look forward to the most.

I’ve told my son for years that, “If you can write, you can eat.”  The world lacks truly skilled, enthusiastic, talented writers, perhaps these days more than ever.  Take a stroll through the miasma of sloppy, errant, syntax-allergic writing on the Internet and you’ll see what I mean.  I’m so proud to say that he has put his journalism degree to work, as I did, working as a professional writer today.

A while back, I came across a piece that crystallized my sentiments about the writing life, both as a way to make a living and a way to live a life.  I share it here with you:

“The joy of being a writer must come from your satisfaction with the work.  Some people might say only a blockhead would write for anything but money.  But they have it exactly backward.  Only a blockhead would think money’s the point.  The writing life is the thing.”

The writing life is the thing, indeed.  My hope is that you have found, or will find, the life that fills yours the way the writing life has filled mine.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Like a Rhinestone Earworm

By Tim Hayes

Hunched over the keyboard, a deadline bearing down upon me, the search for the perfect word proved elusive.

Even wearing my well-worn Radio Shack headphones, tuned to pure white-noise static to block out any distractions, my brain cells refused to click, connect, or cooperate.

And it sure as hell didn’t help that the last song I’d heard on my car radio – a full 36 hours earlier – was Glen Campbell warbling…

“Like a Rhinestone Cowboyyyy…Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeoooo!”

That accursed tune had burrowed so deep into my consciousness that it postponed falling asleep the night before, and bounded to the front of my cerebral cortex the second I had awakened that morning.  It clung like flypaper, rotating over and over, the whole three-minute aural torture rack, an infinite loop of despair.  Like the boring, boorish last guest at a party who won’t leave and go home, when all you want to do is turn the lights off and go to bed.

Old Glen just kept it up, singing about this poor sap with a dollar bill stuck in his shoe and a subway token to his name, daydreaming about strutting around in a shimmering Roy Rogers getup, who had somehow hijacked my life!

Is there anything more annoying than an earworm that will not, cannot, and does not go away?  I think not, Gentle Reader.

“Oh no, not I…I will survive…oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll be alive!”

Some earworms achieve Hall of Fame status, lasting for weeks on end.  I can remember the Great Siege of 1999, when this little ditty set up housekeeping inside my skull for the better part of a month:

“Hey now, you’re an all star, get your game on, go play…hey now, you’re a rock star, get your show on, get paid…and all that glitters is gooooold, only shooting stars break the mo-ooo-old…”

That particular musical shiv pierced my head so thoroughly almost 20 years ago that, even to this day, when it comes on the radio, I don’t just change the station – I shut the whole damn radio completely off.

“Sweeet Caroline…Bah-Bah-Bah…good times never seemed so goooood…”

The melodic malady of the earworm has actually been examined by researchers.  A 2016 study conducted by the American Psychological Association* tried to determine why certain songs cross the recorded Rubicon into infamy.

“These musically sticky songs seem to have quite a fast tempo along with a common melodic shape and unusual intervals or repetitions like we can hear in the opening riff of ‘Smoke On The Water’ by Deep Purple or in the chorus of ‘Bad Romance,’” said the study’s lead author, Kelly Jakubowski, PhD, of Durham University.

That all sounds well and good and completely scholarly, until you get to the official recommendations of how to extract one of the bloody buggers out of your head.  Along those lines, the best that the esteemed Dr. Jakubowski can offer is the following:

  • Engage with the song. Many people report that actually listening to the earworm song all the way through can help to eliminate having it stuck on a loop.
  • Distract yourself by thinking of or listening to a different song.
  • Try not to think about it and let it fade away naturally on its own.

Uhh, yeah.  Okay, so you’re supposed to either listen to the song or not listen to the song.  Wow.  Thanks a lot, Science.

“Hello, Darkness, my old friend…I’ve come to talk with you again…”

And again, and again, and again.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the deadline hasn’t gone away and I still can’t think of the right word for this piece I’m supposed to be writing.  It’s absolutely maddening!

“I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seeeeaaats…”

Damn earworm.  I’d like to do that to its leather seats.  Maybe next time it would think before it seeps.  Into my head, that is.  A man can dream, can’t he?

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes


That Face

By Tim Hayes

On a warm late August evening, while standing in front of the main auditorium building of my brand-new college campus, mere steps away – unbeknownst to me – approached the source of my first and only heart attack.  Figuratively, that is.

A magician or hypnotist or something would be performing inside shortly as part of a week’s worth of Freshman Orientation activities, to get newbies like me acclimated to college and make some early friends among dorm mates.  One of the only other fellow freshmen I knew was a friend from high school, so she and I agreed to go to this show.

I saw her come walking over the crest of a nearby hill and quickly realized that she had brought her entire floor too.  About 25 girls moving as a pack toward me.  But after scanning the group, it happened.

One face made me gasp.  I forgot to breathe for a moment.  My center of gravity shifted.  I felt sure my heart would thump right out of my chest onto the flagstone terrace in front of that auditorium.  That face, that gorgeous face, knocked me for a loop.

We dated all through the next four years.  Naturally, some semester schedules kept us moving from building to building apart all day.  But when we could meet for lunch or dinner or evenings together, after dealing with professors and classmates and reading and papers and exams – each time I would look up and see that face again, the breathing got shallow, the legs wobbled, the heart pounded.

After graduation, we started our married life together.  Two 21-year-olds with no money, a bucket of bolts for a car, and all the optimism and mutual support in the world.  I was able to start a job in my field, but she worked a series of jobs so far beneath her intellectually, just to keep our heads above water.  We’d both come home in the evening, tired, ready to have some dinner and watch a little TV.  And even though I knew she deserved so much better than the jobs she had, she never – ever – complained or lived with anything less than her usual joyful, caring, loving self.

And that face.  That beautiful face, which grew more treasured every day.

In time, the kids began to show up.  With each delivery, I saw that face in pain, exhausted, and ultimately set aglow when each of our three children was placed in her arms for the first time.  The images of that face, at those moments, may be the most incredible of them all.

I had to have emergency surgery a number of years ago.  Coming out of the anesthetic in the recovery room, I saw my Mom and Dad standing beside the bed, and that made me happy and very thankful for their love and support.  Then, a few seconds later, she came into the room and held my hand.  The best medicine of all, that sunny, lovely, face of my forever partner.

We’ve been together 40 years since that warm August evening as college freshmen.  A few more lines around the eyes, a couple new pounds around the waist, perhaps, but also a rhythm that only she and I can hear.  A way of communicating, anticipating each other, caring for one another.

That nonsense about familiarity breeding contempt?  Don’t you believe it.  There’s no one else in the world I’d rather spend this familiar life with.  She makes it so easy to love her fully, every moment, every day.

It’s the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before closing my eyes at night.  It’s in my mind’s eye all day, every day, whether we’re physically together or not.  And when she comes through the front door after work – from a job that truly honors her intellect, at last – the same feeling hits me all over again.

I forget to breathe for a moment.  My center of gravity shifts.  It feels like my heart is going to thump right out of my chest onto the floor.  That face, that gorgeous, kind, funny, loving, patient, courageous, giving, beautiful face, still knocks me for a loop.  And I couldn’t be more grateful.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Asking For It

By Tim Hayes

Watching the Grammy Awards back in 1983, something happened that stuck in my head all these years since.

The Australian band Men At Work won the award for Best New Artist, having scored No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Living In a Land Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now.”  All well and good.

But as the band mates took the stage to accept their Grammys, one of them leaned into the microphone and in a sneering, condescending, arrogant voice proclaimed, “We are the Men… you will see us again.”

Why this moment clings to my memory 35 years after the fact, I have no explanation.  But seeing that guy’s superior attitude cranked to full boorishness and preening self-confidence on national television caused me to reply, from the comfort of my living room recliner, “Wow, buddy.  You’re really asking for it.”

Turns out my guts hit the mark.  Men At Work never reached No. 1 again on the Billboard 100, and never received another Grammy nomination.  In fact, they broke up for good two years later.

Scripture, as found in Proverbs, issues the warning, stating, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom,” and later, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

They used to call it getting too big for your britches, the all-too-common failing of human beings to turn into obnoxious blowhards when things get to going really good – only to have it all come crashing down in due time.  I call it karma.  And karma always – always – wins.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have fallen into this trap.  I certainly have a time or two.  Or three.  Or twenty, along the way.

Singer Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote about this in her crowd-pleasing anthem, “The Bug,” with these lyrics: “When you’re a-rippin’ and a-ridin’ and a-comin’ on strong, you start a-slippin’ and a-slidin’ and it all goes wrong.”

Somebody far back in the early reaches of my career told me to be nice to people on my way up the ladder, because I was going to see them again on my way back down.  Ain’t it the truth.  It’s easier fighting your way to the top the mountain than it is to stay there.  Ask any athlete, politician, actor, or just about anybody striving to achieve greatness.

And part of why it proves so hard to stay at the top, once you’ve made it, is the lure of hubris.  Of puffed-up self-importance. Of expanding vanity and issuing pulsating waves of superiority.  Because all that does is give the recipients of your guff more motivation to see you get knocked down a peg or two.  Or three.  Or twenty.

There’s an old song by Mac David that pops the balloon of people whose opinion of themselves has become tiresome.  Part of it goes like this: “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble / When you’re perfect in every way / I can’t wait to look in the mirror / Cause I get better lookin’ each day / To know me is to love me / I must be a hell of a man / Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble / But I’m doin’ the best that I can!”

Crazy stuff, until you run into someone who would agree with every word.

In mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring and pined away until he died.  In Freudian psychoanalysis, a narcissist displays an excessive degree of self-esteem or self-involvement, a condition that is usually a form of emotional immaturity.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, a narcissist is a person who can’t change his mind about his own wonderfulness, and won’t change the subject.  Someone who might stand before a crowd of people, lamenting everything that’s wrong with the world, and then having the spectacular hubris to declare, “And I alone can fix it.”

If pride truly goeth before the fall, then such a person would be wise to buckle up and strap on a helmet.  Or, better yet, wouldn’t we all have a better time in this world by hanging on to our humility, even as we work to better ourselves and our fellow travelers on life’s journey?

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

The Intersection of Artistry and Pragmatism

By Tim Hayes

The theory goes like this.  The left hemisphere of the human brain controls logical, linear, sequential thinking, while the right controls the more creative, artistic, and expressive.

Some blending of these two counterbalancing poles of thought, impulse, and action goes on constantly, of course.  But for most people, one type of thinking and behavior has an edge over the other.

And for some, that blending, the place where artistry and pragmatism intersect, emerges so powerfully as to produce creations that shake the world.

Steve Jobs had this unique capability.  A tsunami of radical ideas in a black turtleneck and blue jeans, his insistence on elegance of design and breakthrough technological applications made all the difference in what Forrest Gump called “some kind of fruit company” – Apple Computer.

Jobs described his left/right brain obsession to Business Week this way in 1998: “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Walter Isaacson, in his fascinating biography of Jobs, quoted him as stating, “I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box. A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.”

Anyone who has purchased an iPhone, iPad, iPod, or any other i-Whatever knows this to be true.  The packaging itself is beautiful.  I feel bad throwing it out after I get my latest gadget extracted from the box, the molded plastic shell.  For cripe’s sake, even the bag they put it in is gorgeous.

Then you start to use the device, and the insistence on ease of operation, the smooth bevel of the casing, and a hundred other details that just feel right, start to become apparent.  In the Isaacson book, a story is told of Jobs insisting that the then-new “apps” function displays be rounded on the corners, to make them more appealing and friendly to the eye.  Amazing stuff.

But this phenomenon of art and technical skill, while rare, did not begin with Steve Jobs or his team of magicians at Apple.  If you have ever been to New York City, or seen it in the movies or TV, you’ve witnessed a similar – perhaps even more impressive – example of this at work.  An example that has stood for more than a century.  The Brooklyn Bridge.

The unmistakable iconic span over the East River connecting lower Manhattan to Brooklyn had its beginnings under the direction of master engineer and architect John Roebling.  But after his untimely death, his son Washington Roebling rose to lead the massive undertaking.

The young Roebling, over the 15 years of the historic project, created by hand more than 500 highly detailed drawings covering every conceivable aspect of the bridge.  In his day, naturally, these drawings provided the visual instructions that enabled contractors and workers to move forward with construction.  But the artistic quality of the drawings – discovered in a ramshackle shop in Brooklyn many decades later, and now on permanent display in a museum – remain breathtaking.

Historian David McCullough, in his essay, “The Treasure from the Carpentry Shop,” offered tribute to the genius of Washington Roebling as follows: “In the last analysis, one comes to something in these drawings impossible to catalog, that has little or nothing to do with however much biographical or technical background one might compile.  It is the incredible care and concentration you feel in even the least of the drawings, the pride, the obvious love – love for materials, love for elegance in design, love of mathematics, of line, of light and shadow, of majestic scale, and, yes, love of drawing – this passion in combination with an overriding insistence on order, on quality, that we of this very different century must inevitably stand in awe before.”

It may be true that most people favor either the logic and line of the left brain, or the creativity and art of the right.  But wouldn’t it be something if more people made more of an effort to bring both sides together?  What a different, more interesting, more challenging and delightful life it would be.

A life like that of Steve Jobs, who, again described by Isaacson, “made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.”

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Blank Canvass

By Tim Hayes

Having driven past this little enclave a million times – and that’s an exaggeration, but not that far from reality, actually – I found myself there at last, standing next to a friend, who rapped on the faded, splintered screen door of the rusted trailer home, perched along a muddy bank of the Allegheny River.

Emerging from the dark center of the living room and into the light of the outer porch strode what could only be described as one of the largest, toughest, meanest looking dudes I had ever seen.  Clad in the classic muscle T-shirt, bulging chest and arms in full view, with close-cropped hair and a set of eyes permanently dialed to “pissed off,” he looked at the two of us and said, “What?”

In my mind, the overriding thought was, Back away slowly, and get back to the car before this guy lifts a shotgun, blasts us to pieces, and tosses our bloody chunks in the river.  The perfect crime.

But instead, my friend launched into his well-rehearsed patter.

“Hi, we’re here canvassing for our candidate for Congress…blah, blah, blah…can he count on your vote this November?”

To which this mountain-with-eyeballs simply snorted, “No.”

Okaaaaay, the voice in my head whispered.  This is the part where we cut our losses and skedaddle out of here, right?

“We understand,” my friend said.  “Could we leave you this flyer anyway?  You might like to learn more about our candidate.”

The supremely ripped trailer-dweller opened the screen door, took the brochure, and said, “Yeah, okay.  Thanks.”

Well, you could have knocked me over with a hanging chad.  Welcome to my baptism into the wild, wacky, wonderful world of political canvassing.  A sociologist’s bonanza of unexpected reactions, unanticipated rewards, and unbelievable exhaustion.

The day began in a local resident’s basement game room, converted to command central, where about a dozen seasoned veterans of the canvassing wars – and the lone rookie, yours truly – gathered.  Each person received a manila folder containing his or her “turf” to be covered that afternoon, a carefully compiled listing of individuals by street clusters.

As a newbie to this process, I got paired with my friend and neighbor, who had been canvassing for various candidates for more than 30 years.  A real pro.

The sophistication and specificity of the information disseminated at the launch meeting impressed me greatly.  The turf listings contained names of identified individuals, by gender, age, and party affiliation.  I learned as we walked our turf over the next three hours that at this point in the campaign, the goal was to plumb these particular voters because they were still in the “attainable” category.  As things get closer to Election Day, the targets would sharpen to those voters with the greatest likelihood of supporting the candidate, to guarantee that they actually get to the polls and cast their ballots.

But while all of that strategic stuff sounds great, the tough tactical work still had to be done, moving door-to-door, pamphlets in hand, riding the Shoe Leather Express.

Our turf listing offered a striking dichotomy of income levels and housing options.  We had the riverbank trailer park mentioned earlier, along with a set of century-old brick row houses also in the river valley.  Conversely, we also had a high-income gated community perched on a clifftop high above the river that looked directly down at the valley below.  A Tale of Two Turfs, as it were.

As my friend and I rode from one section of the turf to the next, I asked whether he could anticipate the reactions of people based on where they lived or what their standard of living might be.  He said, “Watch and learn.”

By the end of the afternoon, I had done plenty of both.  And the answer came through loud and clear – there is precious little way to safely predict for whom a person might vote.  There may be hints and educated guesses.  There may be clear declarations for or against, when you’re standing face-to-face.  But in the end it’s still up to the crazy, fickle, occasionally illogical human mind.

My friend explained it like this.  We had information about our candidate.  We were working to convey highlights about him within the 60 seconds somebody answering the door would give us.  Each person could accept that information or not, could engage us in conversation or not, slam the door in our face or not.  But that’s not the end of the engagement.

In politics, there’s always that intangible spark, that unexplainable element.  A candidate or an incumbent either catches the zeitgeist, riding a wave of impressions, perceptions, and assumptions, or not.  It’s more of an art than a science, although to ignore the science would be folly.

Over our three hours together, we walked right into tiny front yards guarded by pit bulls, climbed innumerable stairs to reach doorbells, handed out lots of literature, had some friendly conversations and few clipped ones, and covered quite a lot of ground, literally.  Sixty houses in all.

I made the comment to my friend that we got just as much exercise and spent as much time canvassing together, as we would have done playing a round of golf – and saved ourselves a ton of money in the process.  If Mark Twain called golf “a good walk spoiled,” then canvassing would certainly be “a good walk rewarded.”

In these unique political times, regardless of your stance or which candidates you might support, I encourage you to get personally involved at the local level.  That’s where you can help to create energy, excitement, and change.  After my initiation into door-to-door canvassing, I came home, had something to eat, and promptly crashed, falling dead asleep for two hours.

But exhaustion never felt so good.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Faith of Our Fathers

By Tim Hayes

I am a lapsed Catholic.

That statement gives me no satisfaction, no pride.  But it does give me some hope.  At least I’m not a former Catholic.  Not yet.  But that line is a lot closer to being crossed today than at any other time in my life.

My sisters and I were raised in wonderful fashion by two amazing people.  My parents gave us eight years of elementary education at a Catholic parochial school, where we received superior academic training and faith formation.

The girl I met the first week of college, also a Catholic, remained instrumental in maintaining my faith through those four years of intellectual and emotional growth and exploration.  The moment I first expressed my love for her came during Mass at the campus church, in fact – the same church in which we were married a month after graduation four years later.

We brought our children up in the faith, as well.  While they didn’t attend parochial school, we remained very active in our parish.  My wife taught CCD classes for more than a decade, each of the kids sang in the weekly choir at Mass, and I even served a term as president of Parish Council along the way.

As the kids each left for college and struck out on their own career and life paths, and as a succession of increasingly disappointing and sub-par preachers shuttled through our parish, my dedication to Mass attendance began to wane.  My wife and I even went on a “summer of churches” tour, sampling services at other parishes.  But no such luck.  My dedication to the church began dying on the vine.

Then, this past week, the Pennsylvania Attorney General issued a devastating Grand Jury report, citing evidence of some 300 priests – a third of them operating in the Diocese of Pittsburgh alone – sexually abusing more than 1,000 children over the past 70 years.  The report only began to scratch the surface, though.  It excluded the enormous Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and covered only those cases that had been documented – and only those in Pennsylvania.  Think of the thousands of priests across the country, and hundreds of thousands of victims they abused, and the picture becomes even more revolting.

But back to the PA report.  In reading newspaper reports delving into the details, one name leaped out at me.  A priest from our church who had come to bless our home after we joined the parish nearly 30 years ago.  This monster turned out to be part of a ring of abusers who “marked” children for attacks and shared those children with other priests in the group.  Thank God we only had a one-year-old and a newborn infant at the time.  To think that this sick, twisted deviant had been in our home, and that we took Communion from him at Mass, now makes my blood boil and my spine shiver.

As much as it pains me as a lifelong member of this faith community to say, I’m not sure I believe the Catholic Church in its present configuration is the true Body of Christ any longer.  I believe Christ is present in the Eucharist.  I believe that his word in the Gospels, his death on the cross, and his resurrection offer the path to salvation of souls.

But I do not believe that the people entrusted with the administration, formation, and demonstration of those eternal truths can be trusted.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tears into the high priests of his day, shouting, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”

Whitewashed tombs, pristine and perfect on the outside, but rotten to the core.

This certainly is not meant as a condemnation of all priests, the majority of whom take their vows and their calling seriously, and who must be as ashamed and angry at the sins of their counterparts as the rest of us.  No, this disaster falls at the feet of those in charge.  Those who knew and said nothing.  Those who coerced victims into silence with threats and payoffs.  Those who shuffled these reprobates around, thinking it would solve the problem, but instead only giving predators fresh pools of victims.

Would opening up the priesthood to women, or permitting priests to marry, solve the issue?  Perhaps.  I think those are great ideas, and long overdue anyway.  I mean, for Heaven’s sake, Saint Peter was married!  The first pope!  Why can none of his descendants live the same way?  Mary Magdelene was one of Jesus’ closest, most trusted disciples!  She was the first person to witness the resurrection!  Why can’t her gender help lead the faith today?

The deeper, more difficult fact to face, though, in my opinion, is that a pedophile is a pedophile – regardless of gender, marital status, income level, religion, or any other qualifier.  Jerry Sandusky at Penn State was married with children, and we all know what he did.

No, the real solution to the cold callousness at the center of the Catholic Church today may require a complete restart.  Clean house, from the Vatican on down to the diocesan and parish levels.  Appoint an independent commission – with a majority membership from outside the church – to achieve this goal impartially and fairly.  Settle all lawsuits, compensating victims at terms to which they agree.

Then, once free of this dreadful stain and any lingering personnel-related, emotional, financial, or legal obligations, work like we’ve never worked before to welcome the faithful back into the fold.  I promise, I’ll be first in line to help out.

The world, our nation, our parishes and neighborhoods are filled with lapsed Catholics, like me.  But unless the church makes dramatic, positive changes, we may have no other choice than become former Catholics.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Then They Came For Me

By Tim Hayes

TV host Lou Dobbs this week said he supported the White House’s decision to ban a CNN reporter from a press event for asking President Trump questions earlier that day.  “My question is, who the hell are you?” Dobbs said after reading CNN’s statement about the ban. “The president does insist on respect.  It’s about time there were consequences for disrespectful behavior in the White House.”

Well, Lou, thanks for that interesting perspective.  A rebuttal, if I may?

“Who the hell are you?” you ask.  CNN and its reporter are properly, legally accredited members of the White House Press Corps, that’s who.  A press corps with a specific job to perform – namely, pressing the administration for answers regarding issues and policies of interest to the American people.  This arrangement has been around for a few years, now.  You may have heard about it, oh, maybe on…the news?

“Just because the White House is uncomfortable with a question regarding the news of day doesn’t mean the question isn’t relevant and shouldn’t be asked,” the CNN statement read. “This decision to bar a member of the press is retaliatory in nature and not indicative of an open and free press. We demand better.”

Bret Baier reiterated Fox News’ support for CNN following the ban. “As a member of the White House press pool, Fox stands firmly with CNN on this issue of access,” Baier said on air.  When this administration gets criticized by Fox News, you know it’s bad.

But, hey, let’s be realistic about it.  Every president gets fed up dealing with the media.  From John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and George Bush and Barack Obama.  Nothing new there.

Every president finds a way to handle the press, as well.  JFK used charm.  LBJ used a blending of finesse and pressure.  Most let their press secretaries take the arrows.  Again, nothing new.

But you might be hard-pressed to find any record of an administration actively isolating and barring individual reporters, and intentionally and aggressively working daily to delegitimize journalists as a group.  This, sadly, is new.  And it’s dangerous.

When freedom of the press is threatened – even in small doses, like this week’s instance might appear – voices need to rise up and hold fast in opposition.  Being posed uncomfortable questions may not be very enjoyable, but this is what office holders signed up for when they took the job.  Elected leaders at every level still work for the people, whether they would rather forget or disregard that truth or not.

A free and unfettered press is the vanguard of democracy.  I will never, ever step down from my soapbox on this point.  Journalists covering government – and especially the White House, regardless of who the current occupant may be at any given time – must be permitted to do their jobs.  No exceptions, no exclusions.

Dobbs’ statement that “The president does insist on respect” also gives me pause.  I agree that all Americans should respect the office of president.  Yet can respect for any individual be insisted upon?

Respect is earned through demonstrating maturity, responsibility, accountability, civility, and integrity.  As respect is earned, it becomes mutual – due to the other person, and owed to oneself.  Respect can’t be demanded or commanded.  Unquestioning obedience and loyalty, or operating under an environment of fear or intimidation, doesn’t produce respect.  Grudging accommodation, maybe.  But not true respect.

A president has every right to expect his staff to carry out his vision.  They are part of his team, of course.  But a critical media has no similar obligation.  They are charged with supporting our nation by challenging leaders, asking the tough questions, discerning the truth.  As Jefferson noted time and again, a well-informed electorate is essential to our future.  The White House is public space, after all.

So, Lou, I disagree with your assessment of the situation.  I see something much more upsetting afoot.  Something to be challenged, opposed, spoken about.

While you enjoy your station in life, comfortable, well-fed, without worry about arbitrarily losing what you have, it might be wise to think of those whose freedom to travel has been curtailed because of their religion.  Or those whose freedom to love whomever they love faces discrimination.  Or those whose editorial stance is under fire by an administration with a stated goal of causing Americans to lose faith in their reporting entirely – leaving the field open to complete control of information by government.

Loss of freedom starts small, but builds power as it rolls along.  After V-E Day in 1945, Martin Niemoller, a Protestant pastor who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps, described the danger of not speaking out in the early years of Nazism as follows:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.  Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Excluding a member of the press may not seem very threatening on the surface.  But it’s the tip of a slippery slope into an expanding loss of freedom.

Any attempt at such coercion must be challenged.  The press must be free, so that we all can remain so.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes