Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Beniffer II – They’re Gone Girl

First appeared on Blogcritics.

ben1 The news that came late yesterday sent shockwaves across the nation – no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump’s big mouth or bigger hair or NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rift with Governor Andrew Cuomo – Hollywood super couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner were parting ways. Oh, such a travesty, this ending of Bennifer II, for anyone who believes in Cinderella tales, caviar wishes, and Bernie Sanders’ campaign dreams.

Alas, another celebrity split – the inevitable chemical reaction to the concept of marriage thrown into the toxic beaker called Hollywood. No, I haven’t been waiting to write that sentence my whole life, but it’s just a sudden thought about what did seem like a fairy tale romance in a sea of tempestuous unions and illicit affairs in La-la Land.

ben2In my house Ben is already “dead meat” in the eyes of my wife and daughter. “How could he do this to Jennifer?” They watch TMZ – sacred scripture to those who believe in the gods and goddesses of Mount Hollywood – and hear the story about how Ben’s drinking and gambling doomed the relationship. Bad Ben; bad, bad boy!

I must confess that I feel sorry for Ben here – female readers, please don’t start attacking me before you read further. Jennifer has the all –American girl factor, seems to be an earth mother, and is the nurturing sort. Despite coming on my radar as the kick-ass Sydney in the TV series Alias, since then Jennifer has grown into the loving mother-friend-wife anyone would want to have – both on screen and off.

Ben, on the other hand, has always been sort of an outlaw – in terms of the way he has been perceived ever since hoisting that Oscar with old buddy Matt Damon triumphantly in the air for the film Good Will Hunting. Since that film I must confess I have seen only two other Affleck films - The Town with him playing a bank robber who romances one of his victims and Gone Girl as a cheating husband whose wife goes to great lengths to be “gone” and then some. Neither of these films would have won Ben any fans as hubby of the year, and perception is everything.

It seems Jennifer will be able to rebound from this with aplomb. She will be offered sympathy from all those females who knew Ben was a cad since Bennifer I (when he broke poor little Jennifer Lopez’s heart). Ben comes off a bit cocky and speaks eloquently enough when appearing on TV shows, but there is something about gambling and drinking that will get the fans wondering what other impulses he cannot control. Ben could go out and surprise us all and make a film where he’s a good boy, but don’t bank on it.

ben3Of course, the real victims – and no, they are not the brokenhearted fans – are the couple’s three children. Here we have totally innocent kids who, like many celebrity children who came before them, have life as they know it totally destroyed. Whether it’s Ben’s habits or whatever else went on between the couple, the sad truth is that this is another split family in a Hollywood maelstrom where they are as commonplace as your daily cup of latte.

I am usually not inspired to write about such things – the last time I did was when Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes split. Even then I was more motivated by the fact that their daughter Siri was losing something more than her parents. After Tom had jumped around on Oprah’s couch, who wouldn’t think that TomKat was a union that would last forever?

So we bid adieu to Bennifer II. As I said to my daughter, “They’re gone, girl!” Needless to say, she was not amused.

 Photo credits:,, spot/akm-gsi

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ten Years After – Thinking About a Decade Spent at Blogcritics

First appeared on Blogcritics.

blog1Ten years ago today I wrote my first article for Blogcritics. Time is a funny thing – something we either want to remember or wish to forget, depending on the events that occur within a period. One may enjoy remembering a first date or wish to ban the memory, so thinking about a specific time is sometimes rather subjective; however, one thing one cannot change is that the date happened. That’s, fortunately or unfortunately, forever.

As I look back at ten years here at Blogcritics, I am amazed at not only how quickly the time has passed but also that I can remember so much of it. 2005 is in many ways like yesterday in my memories, and yet the concept of a “decade” dictates that it was a distinct and long period. I want to think about that period as a whole, but distinctly and irresolutely the days, months, and years break into separated sections of my life and the times I (and we) lived through.

If I am having complicated issues with contemplating this past decade of writing and editing at Blogcritics, in the bigger picture others much more learned and experienced in the matter of time study have problems with it too. As theoretical physicist Sean Carroll notes, it seems that “time” boggles his mind too:
But the particular aspect of time that I’m interested in is the arrow of time: the fact that the past is different from the future. We remember the past but we don’t remember the future. There are irreversible processes. There are things that happen, like you turn an egg into an omelet, but you can’t turn an omelet into an egg.
This may not help in my contemplation of time, but it also makes me think about all the articles I will write in the next ten years. While looking back at the last decade of articles written (and the hundreds that I edited as well), I see a wide array of very diverse omelets to be sure.

blog2My first article written for Blogcritics appeared on June 25, 2005, and was about my reaction to the death of James Doohan, the beloved actor who played Scotty in the original Star Trek TV series and films. At the time Eric Olsen was in charge of things, and BC was known as a place that featured “a sinister cabal” of bloggers writing about topics from soup to nuts and everything in between. 

During these ten years at BC, I have written about so many topics, all made possible by this forum where writers are welcomed, nurtured, and encouraged. Great editors like Eric Olsen, Lisa McKay, Bill Sherman, Jon Sobel, Gordon Hauptfleisch, and others helped me write better articles, to look for things in myself as a writer I didn’t know were there, and that is a gift that keeps on giving ten years later.

blog5I wrote about so many things, including my ongoing personal situation regarding the 9-11 attacks and their aftermath. Having the outlet to write about my devastated city (and my family’s loss on that day) at times proved to be therapeutic, and at other times cathartic. Having BC as a venue to explore my complicated emotional journey has been mostly my opportunity to heal, no matter how slowly, through writing about it.

blog4Over the years I wrote ongoing reviews about the TV series 24, reviewed countless films and other TV series, and offered my opinions on life, education, politics, and sports. All of these articles would never have been written without the encouragement of the BC editors.

Then, somewhere along the way, Eric asked me to become an editor. It reminded me of my time working in retail when, after spending so long as a regular worker, someone asked me to become a manager. In those days I turned that opportunity down, but I couldn’t say “No” to Eric, especially with his offer to be co-head sports editor with the great Charlie Doherty.

blog3During that time I turned my attention to writing about my favorite teams – the New York Mets, Jets, and Knicks. I also wrote about other sports matters, and continued to turn out articles on the TV shows and films I enjoyed. Charlie and I worked with our sports writers and encouraged them to submit regularly, and we continually looked for new writers to join the fold. It was a fabulous experience and got me to appreciate sports writing more than I already did.

In what seems like more a dream than anything else, at some point Eric left and BC ended up in the capable hands of Jon Sobel and Barbara Barnett. The once “sinister cabal” became “The Critical Lens on Today’s Culture and Entertainment,” and the format of the pages changed as did the sections and editors, but what remained was a distinct goal to get the best writers writing the finest articles on all things that mattered. As for me, I went from being a sports editor to a Culture and Society editor, where I remain today.

Just as with Dr. Carroll’s “arrow of time” concept, I have no idea where I am going, no "memory" of what articles I will write or edit, but the ones I have written, the ones I have edited, are indelibly left as memories – and their resilient footprints are also left in the archives to explore.

During those ten years I have “met” so many writers and editors, without ever seeing them in person. In this virtual writing reality, relationships are developed, and I respect these fine men and women who take their writing as seriously as I do. Also, sadly, along the way people have come and gone, and I miss some of them very much. When I learned that Gordon Hauptfleisch had passed away, I especially felt the loss of a man who had been a great writer, editor, and friend. Thanks to BC, I was privileged to know Gordon and many others in the BC family mourned his loss.

I think that sums up why, after ten years, I am still at Blogcritics. Whether a “sinister cabal” or a “critical lens,” it is a writing community like no other. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to be a part of it and, if you are not yet a writer for BC, I encourage you to come aboard and be part of a creative experience that will support, encourage, and challenge you.

I look forward to the next decade and can only imagine the writing I will do in the future, but I know for sure that I have miles to go as a writer, and there are countless eggs yet to be cracked and many omelets I look forward to making.

 photo credits: blogcritics,,,,

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father’s Day - Boys and Men Should Show Dad Some Affection

First appeared on Blogcritics.

dad4 When I was a little boy, I remember seeing my Dad give his father a kiss on the forehead. Pop was a tough old coot, and their relationship could sometimes be called tempestuous, but Dad always made sure to give the old guy a kiss when he saw him. Of course, I always followed Dad’s lead and kissed Pop on his stubbled cheek.

I was five years old and remember Dad started dropping me off at school, and he always gave me a kiss on the cheek before I got out of the car. At first I would look around, nervous one of my friends would see me (because I had never seen any of their fathers doing that), and Dad said the same thing every time, “Never be afraid to kiss your father goodbye. It could be the last time you see him.”

Dad paris 1Dad had been in the Army and survived D-Day. At that point he was a NYC cop, and I thought of him in heroic terms like Batman or Super Man. But as I got a little older it sunk into my mind what Dad meant by saying that it could be the last time I saw him as he went off to work. From then on I never missed a chance to kiss my father when I saw him, right up until the day he died at 94 years old.

It seems to me that society puts pressure on boys to be different with their fathers. Mom gets all the hugs and kisses, and Dad gets a firm handshake. That societal pressure for men not to cry, not to be affectionate, goes way back in time, but that does not mean it is the right way for us to operate.

My mother said that when I was growing up I was my father’s shadow. I followed him everywhere and wanted to do what he was doing. When he shaved, I had to put the cream on my face too and use a bladeless razor. I watched him change spark plugs, fix a pipe, and put in a ceiling fan. Besides spending time with him, I started to assist him and learn how to do these things too.

sheaAs I became interested in baseball, Dad would take me out to Shea Stadium and we would see my team, the NY Mets. He taught me how to understand the game, the strategies involved, and he even tried to teach me how to do a scorecard (sadly, I never could master that one). I still remember the cold spring winds on Opening Day, the pungent smell of mustard as it smothered a delicious hotdog, and the joy of getting some dinky little plastic prize from the Cracker Jack box.

But my fondest memory of going to the games with Dad was sitting in that chair next to him with his arm around me. Never have I felt safer, more loved, or happier than those times. I wish now I could have him back even for a few moments to sit there and watch the game with him again.

I understand that all fathers aren’t good dads – it is a sad fact of life. I knew friends who had problems with their fathers, and I know their lives were adversely affected by that. The importance of a dad – whether he’s a biological father, a stepdad, an uncle, or another male figure – is undeniable and, as studies have shown, crucial to both male and female children.

The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children, an excellent publication from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, makes clear how crucial the impact of having an involved father is on children’s lives:
Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes. The influence of a father's involvement extends into adolescence and young adulthood. Numerous studies find that an active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.
Most people don’t need a study or research to know the fact that having a good dad in one’s life is going to lead to good outcomes. I loved my mother very much and she taught me many things, but I would never have had a chance to become the man I have become if I didn’t have the opportunity to learn from such a good man as my father. When my kids were born, I took what I learned from Dad and applied it as best as I could.

When my son drove me crazy with his behavior, my Dad would sit there watching and laughing. I would ask, “What’s so funny?” and he said, “I always told you that I hoped you got a son just like you were, and now it’s happened.”

My son always saw me being affectionate with Dad, and he followed my lead and always gave Dad a kiss when we went to see him. After Dad passed away, my son continued the tradition and always gave me a kiss because “Papa said to do it.”

An article from the National Fatherhood Institute supports the notion that Dads need to find a way to show affection to kids of all ages:
It may become more difficult or awkward to show affection to your kids as they get older, especially in the teen or young adult years. But they still need you to demonstrate that you love them, perhaps even more as they enter more challenging stages of life. Don't be bashful about hugging your teen or young adult or saying "I love you." Even fully grown adults who have their own children need their father's love!
I found enormous strength in Dad’s love, how he hugged me, and gave me a kiss. By being affectionate with his children, my Dad taught us that love knew no gender. It was also important that I always saw Dad hugging and kissing Mom; affection was an integral part of our family, and that is something I continue to practice in adulthood. So today, gentlemen, whether you're 5 or 55, give your father a good hug and a kiss – not because it’s Father’s Day – but because it should be an everyday practice. Even if you have never done it before, it could take your dad by surprise, but I bet it will be one that makes him extremely happy.

dad2As for me, I cannot hug my Dad anymore, but I have pictures of him, remember stories about him, and I can touch the flag that the Army gave us at his funeral. Of course, one of the most important things I retain about Dad is the memory of his hugs that will last me a lifetime. And now I am going to go hug my kids and give them each a big kiss in honor of my Dad not because it’s Father’s Day – but to also perpetuate their memories of my being affectionate with them.

  Photo credits:, national fatherhood institute

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner, and Ernest Hemingway – Understanding the Narrative of Self

First appeared on Blogcritics.

self1 This is what I thought: for the most banal even to become an adventure, you must (and this is enough) begin to recount it. This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story. But you have to choose: live or tell?” -Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

Who gets to tell your story? In everyday life it would seem to be you. You get up each day, make that cup of coffee, and you begin construction of a tale for that moment in time based on the past narratives that you have chosen to share or not share. Your story is going to be construed or misconstrued depending on how well you can spin the tale, or as noted in Sartre’s words, how well you can live it.

Recently in the news we have been presented with two people who have more than contemplated the narrative of self – Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner. Both have teetered on that fine line between living and telling the tale, and both have been exposed publicly enough to put pressure not only on how the tale is spun but inevitably perhaps on how it reaches resolution. I am not looking to debate right or wrong in either case.

My interest lies more in the construction of a life, how a person deliberately goes about building a mythos upon which others can view that life. And make no mistake – since both Dolezal and Jenner are public figures – these people knew and understood the ramifications of living in a spotlight that can be exceedingly cruel and, for the most part, unforgiving.

In the essay “Narratives of Self” by Kenneth J. Gergen and Mary M. Gergen, the writers explore the issue of identity and how one sees him or herself:
It may be argued that one's view of self in a given moment is fundamentally nonsensical unless it can be linked in some fashion with his or her past. Suddenly and momentarily to see oneself as "fat," "poetic," or "male," for example, might seem mere whimsy unless such concepts could be attached to a temporal context revealing their genesis.

self4In Dolezal’s case she has built upon a past that includes adopted black siblings in her life. As she grew into an adult her past met her present, and she had to at some point make a choice – one that seemed like not only the story she wanted to live but the one she wanted to tell. As she said in an appearance on the Today Show, “I identify as black.” Perhaps that is not good enough for everyone (especially biologically black people), but it is obviously good enough for her.

As for Caitlyn Jenner’s narrative truth, apparently it was long understood by the person formerly known as Bruce and kept quiet because, as it must have seemed to him as a boy, the story would not be accepted. He thus chose to keep the live and tell parts separate, with the world seeing what he chose to tell rather than how he wanted to live. Given the fact that he became famous, a successful Olympic athlete, and then went on to agree to appear in Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the reality series that seems to have nothing to do with reality, it boggles the mind as to how the subtextual narrative had to be kept under wraps for so long.

Jenner got me thinking about Ernest Hemingway, arguably one of the greatest American writers of the 20th (or any) century, who purposely blurred the lines of his narratives of self and the stories he wrote as fiction. One could say that from his earliest days Hemingway began spinning the tale and, by the time he got himself wounded during World War I, that the story lines had inextricably become blurred. How could he present himself to the world and also promote the fiction that boosted the myth of the life he lived?

self5In Hemingway, Kenneth S. Lynn’s remarkable biography of the writer, we get a portrait of a man who fought hard to become what was expected of him. His mother dressed him as a girl until he was four years old, and thus established the thrust for the mythos of the hard living, hard drinking, heroic figure that Hemingway wanted and needed to be.

Lynn presents the case that Hemingway purposely went to war to get wounded to prove his masculinity to himself and, more importantly, to his mother, and it seems the tale spun out of control after that. Hemingway probably could not do anything more than live the tale he wanted to tell.

This brings us back to the concept of narrative of self which seems linked to what we learn in fiction. In Daniel Dennett’s essay, "The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity," he explores the way a writer can construct a character to explore self:
Pick up Moby Dick and open it up to page one. It says, "Call me Ishmael." Call whom Ishmael? Call Melville Ishmael? No. Call Ishmael Ishmael. Melville has created a fictional character named Ishmael. As you read the book you learn about Ishmael, about his life, about his beliefs and desires, his acts and attitudes. You learn a lot more about Ishmael than Melville ever explicitly tells you.
Is Dennett saying that Melville is Ishamel? No, just as Hemingway is not Jacob Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, although many parts of his life story coincide with what happens to Barnes in the novel. As a writer of fiction myself, I must admit that I can identify with all my characters, that there is a little piece of me in each one, and sometimes more or less depending on the story. I am not a world-famous person as Hemingway became; as his own story evolved his narrative of self had to meet the expectations of the tale he supposedly was living. That cannot be easy for anyone, even an apparently tough guy like Hemingway.

We can say the same things today about Dolezal and Jenner – that as public figures they have no choice but to expect scrutiny and intrusion on the personal life that interchanges with the public one. If this is the ugly part of living the tales that they want to tell, there must be choices made that will help them move forward to secure the life that they want to live.

self3Dolezal has resigned her post at the NAACP as of this writing, and what happens to her now is still part of the narrative she has created. Caitlyn Jenner has a different plan in place – a reality series based on her gender reassignment. This is more than Jenner saying, “Call me Caitlyn.” She is in reality saying, “I am Caitlyn!”

In a public person’s life there are different chances to tell his or her story. The obvious thing is for someone to write an autobiography, and many famous people have done this as an attempt to explain a personal narrative. A celebrity can also opt for an authorized biography written by a writer he or she trusts – that seems reliable for the celebrity because he or she has condoned it. Then there is also the unauthorized biography, one that can take turns and twists that the subject will be invariably not always pleased with. This is the lot of celebrities and their worst nightmare – the self-narrative taken out of their own hands and spun out of control.

self2If one views Edvard Munch’s famous autobiographic portrait, The Scream, it invites further exploration of the lines between living and telling. While this screaming figure looks nothing like the real artist, it can been visualized as he sees himself at that moment, as two dark figures in the background have obviously passed his way and caused or at least contributed to his unleashing of the horror through sound that perhaps shakes the night.

Can we say that all of Hemingway’s work was a similar “scream” to the world – this is who I am? Or is it more him showing the world what he wanted to be? Dolezal identifies as black; Jenner identifies as a woman – each has chosen a narrative and we have to consider it in relation to all that we know, but what the public sees is sort of their “scream” to reveal – whether we like it or not – “This is who I am!”

In our own lives we write the story of our days, months, and years as well, sometimes inadvertently, other times purposely. There are the truths we can admit to and the lies that we can accept as truths people want to hear. My father, a NYC cop who frequently worked undercover, used to say this of those he arrested: “The lies they tell are lies.” Perhaps that’s the case with all self narratives until something stops the story and demands the truth, and in the revelation there is bound to be unhappiness for someone out there.

So, as we all spin our own tales, what the world sees can be vastly different than what the world knows. This is not necessarily evil or wrong; it is part of the human need to reveal slowly or, if we so choose, not at all. In a world where the "selfie" is now king, how the world sees us is usually the way we want them to see us. Alas, celebrities are not that fortunate.

Most of us are conveniently far from famous, so the scrutiny level is nothing compared to what Dolezal, Jenner, Hemingway and all celebrities face. We can just be thankful about the fact that as we go about our days as far under the radar as we choose to be, deciding to live or tell the tale each day is a private matter. We can only hope it will always stay that way.

  photo credits:,,,,

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Glorious June – Dads, Grads, and Summer Vacation!

First appeared on Blogcritics.

g1 Here in New York there is an awareness that comes in June – one that is detectable in the streets. The cool winds of May disappear, and the air is singed with the burn of coming summer. The sun seems stronger, and as we move toward the summer solstice the skin on one’s arms begins to tingle, the poles in subway cars start to sweat, and the days last longer than the nights – it indeed becomes summer in the city.

Besides the change in weather, the inevitable celebration of “grads and dads” comes swooping in with a vengeance. Retailers are only too happy to remind people about these events, bombarding us with all sorts of advertisements. It just so happens that this June my family has six graduations to celebrate – three nieces (college, high school, and 8th grade), one nephew (college), and my own two children (8th grade and Kindergarten). Needless to say, retailers are getting their advertising money’s worth from our family this June.

g4My children attended the same Catholic school this year, and we knew that this June would mean a graduation for both of them. The Kindergarten ceremony came first, with the teachers establishing a lovely stage setting and theme – God’s creation. The children sang and danced their way into the hearts of everyone in the audience (they could have just sat there and we all would swoon anyway), and then they received their diplomas. This is a slightly emotional moment, but also a happy one because my son is moving on and yet staying put in the familiar place.

I sat there and recalled my own Kindergarten graduation – long ago on what seems a planet far away. I had the role of Master of Ceremonies, and I remember saying my line (which I had practiced over and over again before the big show). I went out to center stage, stood in the floodlight, turned to the pianist, and said, “Maestro, if you please.” That happened on a similar hot day in a different Catholic school, but the feeling hadn’t changed after all these years. This time my son’s role was “water” – an important element of the creation story – and had to sing a song, which he practiced as hard as I had practiced my line so long ago.

My daughter’s graduation was more problematic – she is venturing on to a new school and adolescence is in full gear. I don’t know what made me misty eyed more – seeing her in a cap and gown or her looking like a woman in the dress she wore underneath. The ceremony in the church was meaningful and significant – and in the end I wasn’t the only one shedding tears. She and all her classmates hugged, cried, and gathered outside the building for what ostensibly was their last moment together as students of the same school.

I thought of my own 8th grade graduation and remember it happening in the daytime, not in the evening. In keeping with June weather it was a scorching day, and in those days our church had no air conditioning. As large fans buzzed all around us, we stood in heavy caps and gowns with the sweat rolling down our backs. When we got outside I only remembered the hot sunshine and wanting to take that gown off, and the only drops on my face were sweat.

I recall during our last days in school that we sent a sheet of paper around the classroom, and everyone wrote his or her name, address, and phone number on it. That was copied and placed at the back of our yearbook. All these years later I still retain that information, though it is mostly useless as all of us have long moved on to other places; however, it still seems like a connection. These days my daughter and her fellow 8th graders will stay connected much better than we did. They have already texted each other a hundred times since the ceremony, and no doubt will be doing so throughout the summer and in the first days spent in their new high schools in September.

All of this emotional “grad” stuff starts to take a toll on the heart, soul, and wallet. The ceremony draws the inevitable attendance by family members and celebrations afterwards – restaurant owners are glowing in June as well as retailers. Trying to get reservations is difficult (impossible if you don’t book earlier than May), and then there is the gathering, the joy, and the big bill that comes when all the partying is over.

So by the time we get to that third Sunday in June this year – Father’s Day for those of you who don’t know – I am probably going to be wiped out and wishing just to be able to watch the NY Mets game if possible. Still, I know my kids and wife will cook up something for me, and the best part of this day is the homemade cards and gifts that my children present to me. Those will be kept with all the others from holidays and my birthdays in a big box I keep in my closet. By the time we reach that solstice the parties and Father’s Day will be over, but the memories will remain. When all the fuss is over, thoughts will be of good times had and the joy of seeing everyone being happy with our children’s success stories.

g2At this time a walk along the beach is what I will enjoy the most, smelling that sea air that in June is as welcome as a kiss from my kids. Even though the ocean water is still a bit cold, a dip is refreshing and the feeling that summer has arrived will be official.

I will be able to sit under my umbrella, read a book, and take a deep breath. The smell of June will still be in the air, and the whole summer will be before us. In my mind I will hear Alice Cooper singing “School’s Out” and remember that year I graduated from 8th grade and that song was a big hit. I thought that summer would last forever; alas, it went as quickly as the summer of 2015 will probably go, but each June it is the stuff dreams are made of for the kid in all of us – the endless summer. All made possible by June, glorious June!

Photo credits:,

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Duggar Scandal – Religion Is No Excuse For Bad Behavior

First appeared on Blogcritics.

dug 1 The Josh Duggar sexual abuse scandal begins to sound very similar to the Catholic Church and its sex abuse issues with priests. Of course, not as widespread or as pernicious as those ordained men who violated oaths and people’s faith, it still represents a situation where religion tends to provide a cover for the guilty and protect them and prevents the victims from seeing justice served.

dug 2
The Duggars are famous (and now perhaps infamous) for starring in TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, a show that chronicles the lives Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar and their brood of kids. Being that they are a conservative Christian family and promote those values on the show and by appearing in other arenas, the recent revelation that oldest son Josh (27) had molested four of his sisters and a babysitter when he was 15 sort of shattered the illusion that had been created on TV.

When the matriarch and patriarch appeared on FOX news and explained the situation, it didn’t help matters. It seems that the girls had not reported these incidents to the parents, rather it was Josh who admitted to doing these terrible things. The Duggars told anchor Megyn Kelly that they took Josh for “counseling” and the situation only came to light a few years later when police investigated the incident, but no charges were ever filed.

dug 3Two of the sisters whom Josh abused, Jill and Jessa, also appeared on Kelly’s program and indicated that they had forgiven their brother and that most of the accounts in the media were overblown saying, “Most of the stuff out there is lies.” They explained that Josh had touched them while they were sleeping and fully clothed and that they didn’t see themselves as “victims.” Jill Duggar added something that sounds very much like what could be a perfect promo for a new season of the show – if TLC ever brings it back – “We’re not a perfect family. We are just a family.” 

The fact is that these girls were violated by a young boy who, while still a minor, had to have a notion that what he was doing was wrong because he did go to his parents and confess. Why they sought counseling for Josh exclusively and not also his sisters who were involved seems unclear, but it is troubling that the people who could have been most damaged were not helped as much as the perpetrator.

The Catholic Church has also been accused of not helping victims of sexual abuse. For years priests who violated the trust and faith people had in them abused children in parishes all across the world. A recent case in Minnesota highlights the fact that this is not over in the Church, but an ongoing issue

The problem with some Catholic priests as abusers first came to light back in 1983, when lawyer Jeffrey Anderson filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of St. Paul, Minnesota, on behalf of victims of sexual abuse by priests. Since that time Anderson has led the way in the fight to expose these predators and the media has followed with new stories all over the country. In this new case by a victim Anderson is representing, the target is not just the diocese but the Vatican itself – attempting to make the case that the Pope has not done enough to stop these things from happening.

dug 5The situation in Minnesota highlights the fact that sexual abuse by priests is not over by a long shot, even though Pope Francis had promised to hold bishops accountable for not protecting children from priests who were sexual predators. The age-old practice of sending off accused priests to new parishes without any ramifications was supposed to end, but the sad reality is there is no proof that is the case.

The Duggar situation and the predator priests are part of the same problem – using religion to cover-up truly despicable behavior. It is no less hypocritical for Josh Duggar to stand up in public and talk about moral values than it is for a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse to stand on the altar to celebrate mass. In both cases being religious seems to obfuscate the line of responsibility, almost to the point that abusers are immune to being charged criminally. There is definitely something wrong with this picture.

The Duggars are a marketed product, and these interviews are clearly damage control to save the viability of selling it in the future. The Catholic Church is also afraid of poor publicity affecting its marketing – and its cash cow of donations from the faithful. In both situations the innocent victims seem less important than moving forward in order to forget and keep the money flowing.

Make no mistake – Josh Duggar’s sisters are victims even though they say that they are not, and the fact that Jim Bob admitted to putting locks on doors to keep Josh out of his sisters' rooms after the incidents clearly indicates that he understood the seriousness of his son’s depravity. Even though Josh was only 15, that does not eliminate his culpability and therefore he should have received more than what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

As a Catholic, I truly hope that Pope Francis is as wonderful as he has appeared to be in his leadership. I hope that he confronts the situation of sexual abuse by priests in America and around the world more proactively. Yes, it is a horrific situation, but the Pope should not just insist that bishops be held accountable – he should demand that all priests accused of sexual abuse come out from behind the protective veil of the church and be charged criminally like any other person accused of such abhorrent behavior.

dug 4For now it seems Josh Duggar – matured and changed man that he is – will go on with his life and continue to enjoy the now dubious amount of fame he and his family have achieved. Some accused priests will slip out of their assignments, appear elsewhere, and perform their duties including hearing other people’s confessions – how totally incongruous is that!

While these abusers will go on with business as usual, their victims continue to suffer pain beyond comprehension. I am happy the Duggar sisters seem completely well adjusted and are moving on with their lives, but it’s not so easy for other victims. It is on their behalf – the innocent young people who look up to someone who violates their trust – that we must not allow this Duggar case to alter the course of pushing for justice for victims of sexual abuse by any abuser.

Perhaps the Duggar case is an anomaly where the victims feel as if they were never victimized; however, I worry that faith and forgiveness have clouded Jill and Jessa’s judgement. Or, could it be a case of the family closing ranks, hoping to protect not just the oldest child but the most important thing of all – the sham of a product that they call a reality TV series about family values? In either case the Duggar defense of the indefensible diminishes the need to protect victims of sexual abuse everywhere.

Thank goodness for guys like Jeff Anderson who take a stand against these predators. We should all follow Anderson’s lead, be mad as hell, and not be willing to take any more of making excuses for sexual predators or anyone else who uses a position of power to hurt people.

  Photo credits: gossipbunch,intouchweekly,huffingtonpost,,

Friday, June 5, 2015

Belmont Stakes: Racing’s Triple Crown – American Pharoah Will Take It All

First appeared on Blogcritics.

crown1 The seventh game of Stanley Cup Championship series, the seventh game of baseball’s World Series, football’s Super Bowl – these are just some of the premier sporting events for fans to savor and enjoy. If a team wins in any of these games, a championship is bestowed upon it, but this is based on a group of players working together to achieve their goal. No one person’s performance can secure the championship, though a Most Valuable Player can be named who helped get the rest there.

There is the Grand Slam in tennis to consider – where one person wins all four of the major world tournaments. That difficult accomplishment is based on his or her training, skills, and perseverance; however, it still is not as arduous as getting one horse to win racing’s Triple Crown (winning the three major races – The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and this weekend’s Belmont Stakes in New York).

You have a complicated situation in racing that involves owner-trainer-jockey-and horse. There are many factors that people use to evaluate the chances of a horse winning. I have been hearing on sports talk radio and reading in the papers all about “better’s guides” to the race, and everyone seems to think that they know which horse is going to take it all. They use previous races for the horse, the jockey’s record, the trainer’s record, and sometimes tea leaves to come up with the odds for the horses.

crown2The exciting prospect of a Triple Crown winner makes this race garner even more attention. When you think about the 1.5 miles to be run and the $1.5 million purse, the pressure mounts as we wait for the 6:50 p.m. (EST) post time for the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes. American Pharoah has a chance to become the first horse since Affirmed accomplished the task back in 1978 with jockey Steve Cauthen aboard.

To gauge the difficulty of winning a Triple Crown, there have been only 11 horses to accomplish the task, with Affirmed being the last (coming after Seattle Slew in 1977 and Secretariat in 1973). After those 70's champions, you have to go back 25 years to 1948 to find the next Triple Crown winner (Citation), so this is a rare accomplishment, but one that many racing enthusiasts believe American Pharaoh can pull off. Trainer Bob Baffert has never won a Triple Crown and has only one victory at Belmont (in 2001 with Point Given). So many observers believe that this is his time, and he has excellent jockey Victor Espinoza, coming off his wins riding the horse in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

crown3Yet there are so many other factors involved, including weather conditions and what post the horse is bolting from (American Pharoah drew Number 5 post which is better than getting the rail as in the last race). All indications are that American Pharoah is strong, healthy, and ready for the chance at glory to become only the 12th horse to accomplish the task.

Are the stars aligned for American Pharoah? I don’t know about you, but I am putting my money on him based on a gut feeling that the time is now for this magnificent 3-year-old with Victor Espinoza in the saddle. All the excitement and hype will matter little at post time, but this horse has a chance to become one of the greatest in racing history.

 Photo credits: ny daily news, getty images,