Thursday, February 28, 2008

Emails with Dad

I have always looked up to my dad, literally. And up until recently as his poor knees have given way to years of asphalt and hard work, just figuratively. Today we sort of see eye to eye, even though my vision of him has grown to larger than life proportions. To this day I can’t imagine him than anything other than my boyhood super hero that could do anything conceivable. He is a giant in my eyes and a giant he will stay.

I’m the youngest of four. My two older sisters and brother are spread out across the country leaving their roots back home in New Hampshire. It’s only fitting that the one thing that has connected us all back to dad has been the internet. Many have praised the internet for its advancement of research, international commerce and other things. For my family, the simplest of all devices that it provides is a means to get unfiltered, earnest and inspirational advice whenever we desire from dad.

Most of the time I can picture him in his office typing back to me among the clutter of ‘real work,’ he has. If you were to ask him though, he’d probably tell you that he was doing real work by responding back to our little requests on how to cook our turkey or questions regarding what’s wrong with our cars? To him, just because we are many miles away from home in separate directions, does not mean that he has ever stopped being dad. Along with all of the titles people have given him throughout the years, dad will always be my favorite, since I know only four of us are afforded that privilege.

Reading his emails never get old. No matter how many times I’ve read a particular one or how busy I am. I marvel at the man behind these sometimes poetic and sometimes misspelled emails to the point of incomprehension. In a different life he may have been a writer himself but for my family, he’s just dad. For a man who had spent so many years in kitchens and on construction sites, an eloquent thought or suggestion might be the last thing some people might predict. Nevertheless his advice is timeless as the man behind the monitor. Often I feel like a judge listening to one of his well argued cases. Others, I feel like a son listening to just a few choice words from dad. Better yet, I feel like one of his students listening to one of his profound lectures which require no “reply.” Incidentally, he has sort of become a de facto teacher for me in many respects. These are his lessons.

My father has given me a lot of encouragement and advice throughout the years, most of it solicited and most recently over the computer. A decade ago he would never even have even considered using such impersonal correspondence. Amidst piles and piles of not filed yet organized-by his standards- documents, he was unable to comprehend anything beyond turning on his computer and using the word processor which by the way he has told me would have reduced his workload immensely with footnoting when he was in college using a typewriter. One day, a colleague of his must have introduced him to this phenomenon of emailing which he insists must be done IN ALL CAPS. My sisters and I tell him that in the cyber world that symbolizes “yelling,” but he refuses to give in. Sometimes I think it’s just because he is really that enthusiastic all of the time and then others I think maybe he’s just too lazy to hit the caps lock button and/or pay attention to grammar.


Only up until a few years ago, did he actually stop overbearing all of us with forwards. Some might think of it naiveté or flat out ignorance but I knew of the problem as a syndrome I call “honest Jim.” The man truly believed the person who wrote “Now send this to 11 people within the next 5 minutes.” Out of respect to the karma gods he made sure we would find bliss. These forwards came from the same guy who goes down in history as the worst “Malarkey” player known to man. The object of the game is to convince others that you know the definition of the word given by lying. Good ole’ honest Jim never did get past the first word of his ill-derived sentence before breaking up in hysteric laughter. Needless to say, we don’t play that game anymore, despite the fact that half of the fun was just watching him try to save face. My younger sister by the way is great at it…


Since I went away to college, I found myself in front of the computer more hours than I care to admit to. In the middle of my studying, web surfing and chatting with my roommate who would often be in the same room as me, I also found time to email my Dad on a constant basis. Boy, was I glad I did. I’ve never stopped since.

Calling my dad was easy and as much as hearing his voice meant the world to me, I always felt like I was taking up too much of his time. Now, being so far away from home with the time difference and all, I find the task even harder to keep track of. Once and a while I’ll get the occasional letter except even then I object. His letters usually contain bills that have been inadvertently forwarded back home or news articles highlighting my friends accomplishments (yellow highlighter included). Thankfully, he leaves out the friends in the police logs. Whatever is inside these most of the time meaningless envelopes, the most important is written on a small tear away of legal paper, reading “Love you much….Dad.”


He insists of scribbling in big bold letters as if forever frozen in an email “LT JOSHUA CARROLL, USAF,” across the envelop. It used to embarrass me, not because his penmanship was so childlike that it looked like my nephew wrote it and because it was so illegible that it ran a close second to his computer skills, but rather due to the pride that I know he feels writing every bit of that line. I haven’t told him that the title is completely unnecessary yet and I’ll probably wait until he and my grandmother are in the same room so that I can tell them both “thanks but no thanks.”

Visits from Dad are the greatest. I can barely resist showing him off to my friends. Over the years, I’ve become much more humble but have substituted that self envy with an infatuation of my hero. (To those who read my blog, you can attest to the several references in each post…he’s simply what brings me my inspiration). When he first drove me to college for the first time with my stuff in the bed of his big red truck and my mom and I packed like sardines in the front cab, I could recall wishing both he and my Mom could somehow find something useful to study and stay in my dorm room with me. Not only would my dad be a useful editor for papers I thought but with my mom cooking and cleaning…why I might be the most popular kid on campus.

As we entered, I was one of about 100 or so people arriving that day since I had decided to play football. I remember my identity crisis as I packed my Deion-like doo rag but sided against pulling it out of my gym bag once I looked around and saw the guys that I’d be playing with (black guys more worthy and seasoned in doing so). I was indeed out of my element asking myself “what the hell did you get yourself into,” as my 250 pound roommate just stared at me while probably asking himself if I had mistaken football camp with computer camp. In any event, my mom fussed around insisting I put everything away while asking me inappropriate questions like “did you pack enough underwear,” and when I hesitated with my reply of “yes,” she demanded that I pull them out to show her. Meanwhile my dad acted as the savior as I remember him saying “it’s time to go now mom,” with such certitude as if to tell me that it was all up to me, my decisions, actions and consequences. He had done his job raising me, he was confident and proud. My mom looked up from stowing away the soda we had just bought from Wal-Mart and obliged.


I would see my dad often that year and the following 3 years after that. Every Saturday he was committed to coming to every game, home or away. His fandom prompted a question from several of the guys one game in mid October with sleet and rain pounding the field with few in the stands willing to subject themselves to the harsh conditions, “whose that whacky guy who rode his motorcycle all the out here in the pouring rain?” “Oh, that’s just my dad,” I replied shyly. With no resemblance, some of my sideline buddies chuckled until my roommate saved me and said “no that really is, he comes to all of the games.”

Yes, rain or even snow from NH to Long Island and beyond, my father was a faithful fan of the guy who saw less playing time than the little kid that they recruit before games that runs on the field to grab the tee after kickoff. I once told him how much it meant to me for him to be there, to which he simply replied “trust me those games mean much more to me.” He would later tell me once I played my last game that he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with himself on Saturday afternoons since he so looked forward to those fall drives to my campus and beyond. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I couldn’t have had him cheer for me more. Instead, he cheered for my friends and the team. He kept up with the happenings around the league and was so thrilled that I had befriended some of his favorite players. I once took him to hear Chris Matthews speak (they went to Holy Cross together) and after my friend who was doing work study pulled our ticket as we walked in, my dad asked if that was who he thought that was. He told me that he loved watching him play. At that moment I couldn’t have been more happy for my dad or my friend.

Lots of people got to know my dad either from him willing to sit next to anybody (girlfriends, drunken friends/fans, parents, you name it). By my senior year you could hear people yelling from across the field after games “Hey Mr. Carroll!!!” I readily admit he overshadows me and even during my football career he seemed to take more of the spotlight. Towards the last home games he would bring my nephew to sit alongside him. I could hear “83! 83! (pronounced eightee free, eightee free). After the game he always wanted to wear my helmet and since I figured someone ought to have that privilege for that day, I would give him that and my shoulder pads as well. I couldn’t help but watch my dad’s eyes as he looked at him almost as if imagining that one day he’d be able to go back and see him play.

*This post is part of an undetermined series dedicated to this particular topic. (To be continued...)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wars of our Fathers: A Generation Gap

We are a country whose generations are defined by war. For my Grandfather it was World War II, my father, Vietnam and for me, Iraq. The pulse of our nation can be categorized not so much by domestic policy but rather the endeavors we pursue outside of our own borders. These wars have a profound influence that contributes to generational attitudes and that sets the stage for our American identity.

My grandfather was a pilot. He taught Army Air Corps pilots in World War II. If not for a terrible plane crash which took half of his foot, he would have been a fighter pilot. My father on the other hand was trained as a combat engineer in the Army, and would later stay in the reserves as a cook. Although their decision to serve differed from two extremes, their obligations of duty and country were identical.

Most in my grandfather’s generation answered President Roosevelt’s call to service freely and voluntarily. One in five eligible men raised their hands to service. The country at the time truly rallied around the flag and the cause of overcoming global tyranny. My father’s generation on the other hand faced involuntary service through the draft board. The US Army during Vietnam was largely conscripts of men who were not professional soldiers and consisted of many who flat out opposed war. My father was dealt a bad hand. His draft card number was so low; it would have been inevitably called. Rather then waiting for what would have been the obvious, he enlisted. He went from protesting war on his college campus to now being sent to prosecute it.

My father’s experience with the Army was not all bad. However, it was an obligation that he would rather not have accepted. Today he often wryly remarks that he’s not quite sure how my brother and I got our crazy ideas to join the service, since we surely didn’t get it from him. And despite his opposition to certain wars and his inclination towards peace, he still praises the unique nature of our constitution that allows us to speak out against war and at the same time accept the responsibility of perhaps having to die for those same beliefs. Indeed my father sees this country with the same optimism as he did while protesting at Holy Cross, serving in the Army and now at present time. I don’t know what kind of soldier my dad was but knowing the man I know him to be, I can almost be certain he served admirably. If his tips for boot shining and bed making before I left for my own boot camp in the summer of 2003 were any indication, than I suppose there’s only more reason to believe that the system of transforming civilians to leaders in the US Army is the best in the world.

World War II was a shining moment in America’s history which produced an appropriate mystique about the ones we now consider “the greatest generation.” Great they were, and greatness they preserved. WWII proved to the world that the United States of America was unwilling to give into oppression and would fight at all cost to defend freedom. It was the ideal of freedom that resonates with so many of us even today. In the face of evil, I can look at the history books with pride, knowing that America was on the right side of history just as I can look to my family albums knowing that my Grandfather did not hesitate to answer a call to service.

Vietnam was much different. It represented a time of uneasiness about the prospects of forcing America’s ideals on a country that did not appear to be taking well to our involvement. There was much dissent about whether or not we should have been there. On the evening news body bags were shown flying in from cargo planes (today they are prohibited). The body count on the other hand was manufactured while enemy deaths were inflated as to pander towards public opinion. In a drastic change since the last major war, our government could not be trusted. Protestors across the country on major college campuses to small town streets asked for a stop to the war, all the while insulting the immeasurable contributions of personal sacrifice that thousands of uniformed men returning from war had made. In retrospect, it was a time to be proud of the American people to put an stop to an endless war and to also be disgusted by the manner in which they had ostracized the courageous men (many who did not willingly go) who had carried out the orders of their government.

That leaves us with Iraq and the so-called “Global war on Terror,” whose conclusion may never be answered by my generation. At times I shake my head wondering how we went from there to here. How the similarities in every war are unmistakable and how the images of our successes and failures resonate with us for our entire lives. I think back to 2003 as I watched our tanks roll through Baghdad with ease as I thought to myself that this had all but seemed too effortless. I remember my former roommate missing out a year of college to what he jokingly refers to as his “semester abroad program in Iraq,” and wondering on a constant basis whether he was safe. I also often wonder if those from the previous wars felt the same anxiety, helplessness at times and fear.

There have been a lot of comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. I once strongly debated this notion with my father through a vehement email exchange while I was in college and studying the two closely in ROTC. No matter how hard I tried to convince my father to see differently, there was always this feeling of inadequacy in my argument, for I had not been to war and I had not seen the effects of it like my father. Nor did I have to bury classmates and go through the rest of my life wondering “what if things had been different.” My father is an adjunct professor who often talks about the Vietnam War to his students. He remarks that “it might as well be the Civil war to these kids,” since they seem so removed from the history pages they read. In his eyes, I was at the time one of his students.

Neither my grandfather nor father ever considered themselves veterans. To me, as an active duty servicemember, I don’t think I’ll be able to do that either once my time is up. There is something very humbling about making the distinction between those who fought on the front lines with bullets flying directly at them and those who did not. There is for me-and perhaps like my father- a feeling of “I could have done more.” Yes, I think I’ll walk away knowing 100% that I fulfilled my commitment but will always fall short of using the V word. I’ll reserve that for the real heroes who I so dedicate this blog to in the first place.

And so, fast forward to 2008 where protestors and hawks have not clashed so much in open rallies but in debates. Both the Republicans and Democrats have become mere demagogues unwilling to accept the realities of either side’s truisms. For instance, the surge is clearly working as I type this in terms of a decrease sectarian violence and casualties, a fact the Democrats are unwilling to accept. At times it seems as though they almost want Iraq to fail as to reinforce their point that it had been “wrong all along.” I can’t help but think that for some in the Democratic Party, when the death toll rises, there are those who almost become excited since this can be more fuel to their argument.

The Republicans aren’t any better though. They have failed to state the benchmarks of success and even when they do, they rewrite them as soon as a new update arises. Sure it’s easy to say the surge is working but by what standard? Are the decreases in US deaths alone prime indicators of success? How do we measure it?

So is it that my generation is unable to capture victory like my grandfather’s or end a war like my fathers? Perhaps not. Maybe the inability to get straight forward results like wars past is not so much a reflection of our generations unwillingness but instead simply of our unknowingness. There appears to be a generational gap between my generation and generations before. The lessons learned, the mistakes, the failures are some how never translated to our current crisis. Instead, we start from scratch by using the blundered old models to our new problems. We erase history or put our own spin and interpretation so that it fits the neat little policy that we set forth. It has left us with doubt in our country’s integrity, competency and virtue.

My generation might constantly be reminded of our 9/11 roots and there is no refuting this. Still, I don’t know if it defines what we are. We aren’t like WWII, all volunteers. The back-door draft of the National Guard and the stop loss program are constant reminders to us. Then again, we aren’t all protestors either and those who do are the rehabilitated types who put our soldiers first. We haven’t won the GWOT nor do I think there will ever be a peace treaty to confirm victory. We are as I have so ineloquently concluded a combination of our WWII/Vietnam heritage. Some of us did step forward in a time of uncertainty to answer the call to service and still some stayed back to protest. Some of us see the toppling of Saddam’s government was a success and some of us think it only created more instability.

I suppose a lot of the answers we seek will have to be found out on our own as we seek to construct our own identity. And still, I think some of these questions that we ask might just as easily be found from our predecessors who have been down many of the roads that we continue down today. Maybe all we really need to do is talk to our fathers.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Last night I rented "Bobby," and although the cast was star studded, for whatever reason it was unable to break through in the box office. It was not the shortage of ticket sales that I was thinking about however, but instead the striking similarities of two seemingly young, optimistic, Senators who challenged a nation divided to put aside differences and embrace hope.

For those of us who did not live through the 60s, I suppose it'd be hard for us to relate. There were no plasma screen tvs, broadband internet connections, or even starbucks at every corner. What did transcend our differences were the challenges that our parent's generation faced and the struggles that we endure today.

If you were to ask my father how he got his inspiration, he would undoubtedly take you back to 1968 and the day that Bobby Kennedy was shot. He could tell you what he wore, how he reacted and how that tragic date represented the start of his life to see that those ideals did not die with that particular young man that year but were passed on as beacons of hope for the future.

June 4th, 1968 is a day that most baby boomers like my dad will never forget. For many it was a moment in history where millions around the world mourned a man not for his actions but his power with words. While he left behind his wife and family, he also raised a legacy for equality among men, shared responsibility, fairness, justice and peace among nations. And although I cannot claim I knew Bobby Kennedy anymore than I know the candidates today or anymore than Dan Quayle so inadaquetly knew his brother, I can without question see the impact that he had. His torch was one picked up during my father's generation and carried through to ours. It was a message of tearing down divisions in our society and raising the collective conscience of us all. 40 years later that message is still being received.

40 years later this nation is still at war, where there is a candidate trying to offer a better solution of peace. 40 years later there are crowds of people following a man who is the embodiment of the America that Robert F. Kennedy so courageously dreamed of. 40 years later a man with little experience in Washington, has decided that he has the audacity to run for office.
It is a great coincidence that these generations merge at a time such as this where a country has been taken over by the greed of a few. That our nation is at the mercy of the leadership of the weak and our voice has all but fallen on deaf ears.

Today Obama is my Bobby Kennedy, whether he wants to be or not. To me he represents the real possibiliy of change for the better. His vision of America is one that I want to live in and rather than just sit back and observe, his voice has called me to action. I can't claim to have been inspired by Bobby Kennedy since it was not my generation that he was speaking to. I do hold stake in Barack Obama's words though and the strength of character of the man that stands behind them.

There are some that doubt the power of words and refuse to see their impact. These same people are the ones that didn't believe blacks and whites could sit at the same dining room table together and break bread. They are the same naysayers who refuse to understand that diversity is not something that weakens us but which gives this nation its character. They are the cowards who believe war is the answer to perceived political necessity and that our freedom of speech should not be said aloud.

The weight of millions of people's hope rests on the shoulders of this Senator who tells us that the Moses generation in America believed in the mantra of "yes we can." His words tell us that now it is the Joshua generation that must reach the promised land. His words tell us that the rhetoric of fear and hate do not lift and inspire a nation, but inevitably bring it down. His themes are words of promise, of relevance and conviction. They are however, just words.

In his eulogy, Bobby's brother Ted Kennedy remarked, "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it." To think that a sensibility so seemingly simple could have shaped a nation is remarkable, to think that so many refused to seek out such beliefs is unfathomable.

The point is that no matter if Senator Obama does come out to be our next President of the United States or not, understand that his message like Bobby's was heard and will continue hereafter. The words that he has left for the "Joshua" generation are words that I will one day repeat to my children and grandchildren. This day, I am inspired. I should be so lucky.

Therefore, I urge you to listen to his words, to Bobby's words and then just imagine the possibilities.

Friday, February 8, 2008

My Confessions

· I don’t know the difference between a carburetor and an alternator. I rely on the symbols from my dashboard to light up when I turn on my car. Unless the job requires adding windshield wiper fluid, the hood of my car stays shut.

· I’ll be the first to admit that megabytes, terabytes and gigabytes really don’t mean that much to me. I turn on my computer and pray that it doesn’t crash. That reminds me, any of you computer gurus?

· I don’t know the difference between a D flat and an A sharp. I’m a top 40 guy all the way. If it’s pop sounding, put on the record. Stevie Wonder, just give me some Stevie Wonder!

· I can’t tell Maple or Oak apart. I’ve made it this far right? Oops, knock on wood.

· What function does the cerebral cortex serve again? I forget. I’ll study that if I ever get on Jeopardy.

· Certiorari, Amicus curiae, Habeas Corpus. Tell me why everything in law has to be in Latin again? I’m sure if I ever get locked up I can ask my dad.

· I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference among Jesuits, Augustinians, Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans or Xavarians for that matter. By the way, I went to an Augustinian school. They all wear hoods right?

· Alkali metals, halogens, noble gases? Point me in the direction of the periodic table. Is it still color coded?

· I don’t know if I could locate Kazakhstan on the map. Or distinguish it from Kyrgyzstan. Did I spell that correctly? Wait, which country was Borat from?

· I couldn’t tell you much about the Persian Empire, well outside of the movie 300 anyways. That sounds like a Google search to me!

· Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Hobbes. How did I remember Hobbes?

· I don’t know which Chinese language is most prevalent, Mandarin or Cantonese. Ask me to speak either?…Are you crazy! They learn English growing up anyways I’m told.

· I even always mix up the battles of Iwo Jima and Midway and I’m in the military for goodness sake!

Ok, so I don’t know much. In this day in age, I am so thankful for Wikipedia for fostering my curiosities of adult education and for pretty much everything else under the sun that I was supposed to learn in school but brain dumped.

I’ll readily admit that my lack of knowledge is half ignorance. There are certain things like quantum mechanics, binary oppositions or essentialism that I may never comprehend nor want to. The truth is that 99% of what I’m told, I believe. That is because I outsource everything and expect experts to know and do their jobs. Car breaks down? Mechanic. Feel sick? Doctor. Floor repair? Carpenter.

There are only so many books you can read in the self-help, “how to” section of Barnes & Noble.
In today’s world, I rely on everybody else to keep me on pace. I don’t have the time or inclination to research everything from what shoes to buy to which road to take coming home from work. The reality is that even the information I get is outsourced. I turn on the news and trust that the stuff being told me is real. Sure, there are thousands of mediums among TV, print and the internet. I can’t visit them all though, so when it comes to consistency, well of course I’m going to ride horses.

One thing I do not outsource though are my morals, values and ideals. I just cannot allow these seemingly soft, intangible abstracts to be compromised by media, friends or anybody else. Every day that I turn on the news I hear reporters trying to either persuade or lecture me. I walk away unshaken. Sure I change positions occasionally. I’m a sucker for a compassionate argument and given certain facts that I didn’t know before, I’m more than willing to see the “other perspective.” Heck, I enjoy playing devil’s advocate myself and in the process might even question my own feelings on the matter.

My core principles are unchanged though. These ideals passed on to me and learned from experience along the way are just as useful to me as a monkey wrench in a tool box. I use these values as part of my judgment in practically everything I do. When I pass a car broken down on the side of the road, do I stop? If an older lady is behind me, do I wait and hold the door open for them? My life is far from the epic adventure that I’d like it to be. I can’t surf waves, skydive from 16,000ft or drive the Audubon every day. All I can do is listen to my conscience and hope I’m always doing the right thing.

Once and a while when I’m with my volunteering my time, I almost begin to think that “yes, I am doing one thing right today.” For all of those other times, I just pray for forgiveness.

By, the way…sorry for the fragments.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Case for Immigration

I recently revisited John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. At the time when I first read it in High School, I failed to identify myself with any of the characters. After all, as a New Englander in the 21st century, what did I have in common with a family of the Great Depression, escaping famine and migrating west for a better life? Then, as I read the story with fresh eyes and poured through the pages like a man seeking truth in the bible, it finally dawned on me; the prejudice against the Joad’s had nothing to do with skin color, ethnicity or nationality but fear…fear of something being different.

Last week I sent out a position paper concerning Immigration to many of the readers of this blog. After finishing The Grapes of Wrath, I have decided to post it for its newfound relevance in my argument. While some of you might dispute my comparison of migrants and immigrants, I would argue their plights are much the same. Whether the Joad’s were “Okies or Dagos/Chinks/Kikes/Niggers or Spics, the bottom line was that they were not welcome where they went. The story of the Joad family is as much my family’s story as any. I would ask you to go back and read this novel, go back and listen to your ancestors. I am quite sure you will find many similarities.

Above all, no matter which side you stand on along the imaginary fence that separates “us,” from “them,” do not forget that we are all people. Immigrants are people, they deserve their dignity, let’s treat them with such. At the very least, they deserve our respect, for their voyage towards a better life here in America is admirable.

My dad’s sole advice to me growing up had always been “whatever you do in life, do it with compassion.” As I think about that last word and my feeble attempts to implement that mantra, I often ask myself if other parents offered the same suggestions to their kids. The more I hear the debate of immigration from the presidential candidates, the less I think that message was ever received.

Two weeks ago we celebrated a man whose very life was about the topic that my dad hammered into me. My lone tradition that day has been to go back and read his march on Washington “I have a dream speech” from 1963. The words said 20 some odd years before my birthday are as relevant to me now as they were back then. Simply put, like the bugle played during taps, they give me the chills, goose bumps or whatever it is you call it when the feeling you get is all too real to even fathom. As a Christian, I’d like to think that Dr. King is still speaking to us on issues such as immigration and pray that the presidential candidates shut up long enough to hear him out. I have never been one to state opinions for others, although if forced to speculate, I’d like to think that Dr. King would welcome any and all who journeyed towards the land of opportunity with open arms.

Dr. King talked vehemently about his dream. This vision did not begin nor end with him. This vision lives on through ever immigrant whose hope is embodied in his or her destination. After all, at the heart of every immigrants experience is a dream.

So many of you might be thinking, “So what’s your point Josh?” My point is that the debate on immigration while relevant is one without compassion. It is a debate more so on xenophobia than the strain on the economy or working class citizens. It is on par with the notion that “English should be the official language of the United States.” This suggestion is beyond ignorant and is less subtle than policy makers might assume. It directly targets Hispanics. As I recall reading, The Italians, Germans, etc…all spoke in their native tongues while living in their boroughs and sections of America.

Ok, let me pause. Some of you might be thinking (and yes I am very conscious of what others think) “Josh you were adopted, you’re Korean, of course you think this way.” Believe it or not, this issue is not personal in that sense, nor are others such as abortion. In my humble opinion, this issue ought not to even be partisan. In fact in both instances, I have been able to distance myself from the issue and look at it from a broader perspective whether it is from some 34 year old Mexican’s shoes standing at the border with his family, $20 in his pockets and a prayer or as a 17 year old girl who is pregnant. This issue is important to me because it is being misrepresented and even those who might think similarly to me are disingenuous at best.

The best way that I can make this argument is to tell you the story of two American heroes and their ties to a Wall.

As soon as the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Peter Pace said goodbye to the uniform he wore for all of his adult life, he made a trip to the Vietnam Memorial where he placed the stars which he had just retired on a index card and leaned it up against the name on the wall of a fallen comrade that read “these are not mine, these are yours,” and walked off without fanfare. That name was that of Lcpl Guido Farinaro. From the day that he lost that first man in his platoon, he vowed to stay in to honor his sacrifice. Forty years later, he still felt indebted.

If General Pace has an opinion on immigration, he’ll probably keep it to himself, fair enough. However, another man who fought in that same war and who happens to be running for President has made his opinion heard to the dislike of many in his party. John McCain often tells those who question his immigration policy to do go to the Vietnam Memorial and read the names on that wall. Rhetorically, he mentions that many of those names are Hispanic. Don’t tell him that Hispanics don’t sacrifice for our way of life.

John McCain is a border state Senator who must answer to his constituents on immigration every election. Why is it then that he favors a path to citizenship immigration policy that many critics have proclaimed as “amnesty to illegals?” My answer to that question is personal this time and comes from my experience in which I lived in San Angelo, Texas for a year.

I had never seen a bigger melting pot of people than I had in Texas. Sure, I had been to the big cities but in those places I saw less interaction among the populace and more segregation. In Texas, I’d ride horses on ranches owned by Hispanics with white employees and vice versa. I saw a mutual respect between the two groups that I wasn’t expecting. In fact, I pictured less tolerance and more bigotry to be honest. But to my surprise I saw one ton trucks with gun racks owned by Hispanics and whites, both of which wore cowboy boots and 10 gallon cowboy hats. Sure, there were the fair share of confederate flags and less inclusive groups around town, but beyond the anomalies there was an appreciation for what all workers in San Angelo had to offer. And yes, they all worked.

Another politician who has gone “against the tide,” in terms of his political party’s position happens to be our President. For all of the things that some may rebuke him for, I think in terms of immigration, he has allowed his compassion to fuel his policy. It may seem odd that I’ve given examples of two Republicans (soon to be three before this post is over). However, I mention these men and their affiliations because as I said, this issue crosses party lines. President Bush was a former border state Governor, who for the same reasons aforementioned, has separated himself from the “party line.” And his beliefs don’t end with himself but extend to his family as well. From his Hispanic nephew, to his brother JEB who had a phenomenal reputation among Hispanics in his governed state of Florida and even speaks fluent Spanish, so says my girlfriend.

This more compassionate immigration policy has less to with politics and votes than it does with what I would like to believe a deeper appreciation of the diversity that Spanish speaking people bring to this country. The immigrants are and have always been the back bone of the working force of this nation. Our economy would simply not flourish without these people working on our farms and manufacturing plants.

Anti-immigrant policymakers would have you believe that they are not racist and that they are merely protecting the American family and the American worker. They might even try to persuade you into thinking that their term immigrant is not synonymous with “Hispanics.” The truth of the matter is that Hispanics come to the US to work and Border States understand their need to fill voids in the job market. The truth is that many illegal’s are not criminals and those that are belong to gangs. Therefore, common-sense logic would be to go after gang’s right?

This post is getting long and for the most part I’m preaching to the choir; this I know. Nevertheless, I have to make my point for no other reason than because it weighs so deeply on my conscience and I hate sitting on the sidelines during a debate. America might be getting closer to Dr. King’s dream of uniting blacks and whites but perhaps farther from being the all inclusive country that America is destined to become. I don’t suggest that we open up the gates to allow every last person who wants to become a US citizen in. But on the same token, I can’t help but feel empathetic for those who pack up everything and risk it all just for the shot at the American Dream that Dr. King envisioned. Have we marginalized the dream to only mean for blacks and not Hispanics or not Muslims, Hindus, Asians, Frenchmen?!

I would like to believe that as the world leader that we still tend to hold some sort of influence despite our mishaps in foreign policy. I want to believe that we always feel as though we owe it to ourselves and to this country’s standards to pay our blessings forward to the next generation. The more we offer up policies depicting walls between countries, ID cards and National languages, the farther we stray from the ideals instilled in the document we call our “declaration of independence,” which was written by those who dared to flee from their own country trading for the very ideals (democracy) which we are said to be promoting in all parts of the world. Therefore, if we find it so necessary to enforce this principle on other nations to be more in our likeness why would we in turn, reject people who are trying to enter this country for the actual thing we impose?

Immigrants create competition for jobs, even at the cost of lower wages. Competition is what drives capitalism and free markets; it almost seems un-American to make the counter argument. They don’t explicitly ask for anything (healthcare, social security et al). Instead, they go about their business, trying to fly under the radar so that the government doesn’t catch on. They even go well below the speed limit as to not get a ticket. Yet we call them criminals.

Theodore Roosevelt was a great President. I would recommend people read Lion in the White House. Although his stance on an all inclusive immigration policy was questionable to many historians, I would at the very least call them compassionate. Anyways, the reason why I mention him is not because of his policies on immigration but rather a quote which I believe gives deeper insight into what he actually thought about American(s) and how we ought to think of ourselves.

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts “native” before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else. “

Sunday, February 3, 2008


*Disclaimer: If you are a die hard Patriots fan and do not wish to relive the last heart breaking moments of Super Bowl XLII than please do not read. You are liable to throw up.

The play clock hung at :01 second as if to taunt Patriot Nation for the 21 straight weeks of boasting it had done about its undefeated season. The outcome was unavoidable and just as quickly as I turned the television on right as I woke up, I reached for that remote, head down and shut the celebration off.

I couldn’t bring myself to make that concession call to my NY Giant friends. I almost felt like Al Gore after the 2000 Presidential election, except in this instance, I wasn’t afforded a recount.

I drove my little brother home in silence, no radio, no conversation, just my thoughts. I had initially invited him over to muster up any remaining good karma that I could get out of him. Shameless right?

The day replayed over in my head as I crept down low in my seat as if to avoid any hecklers at the intersections. While not completely embarrassed of the Asante Samuel jersey that I had worn religiously throughout the playoffs, I was indeed uncomfortable. I immediately began to wonder if I had done all of my Sunday rituals (and sorry God, I do not mean church).

  • Grey NE Undershirt
  • Asante Samuel Jersey
  • Red, White and Blue AFC Championship blanket
  • Call BJ for Pre-game analysis and predictions
  • Call family to find out where they are watching the game for situational awareness
  • Roundtable Pizza (must be different order from previous week)
  • Text nasty comment about Bruschi missing tackles before halftime to Luke
  • Pick up little brother for good luck and keep him happy

Ok I was being superstitious. But didn't I have a right to be? Were the Patriots not 18-0 and on the brink of capping off the most cherished season in NFL history? I wasn’t used to the feeling of anger, disappointment and regret. My thoughts shifted to the players of the Patriots and veterans like Randy Moss and Junior Seau who had contributed so much and came up shy of tasting the fruits of their labors.

It wasn’t supposed to end like that. Not after all that we had been through (the critics, spygate, flirting with perfection). I mean I wish I could have said that I was as calm under pressure as Tom Brady appeared even with :10 seconds left. The truth was that I was restless. I broke character (Coach Belichick would have been disappointed); I behaved like a Tiger held captive in a zoo and released into the wild. I was out of my element and panicking. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a caveman. I had seen Mr. Brady manufacturer comebacks over the years, but just not of this magnitude. As the last pass on 4th of 20 hit the ground, so too did my knees. I looked back at my little brother in silence as if to say that I had let him down. I was speechless (yes, me, the Patriot fan!) I realized for once that we were not going to have the last words on the podium, or the Championship parade. I wasn’t going to see Tom’s handsome face look into the camera and say “I’m going to Disney World.” Instead, I got up and turned off the celebration. My little brother knew it was time to go home. He followed me out the door.

I’ve never liked being at the top. I’d much rather be the comeback kid rising from adversity. I prefer David over Goliath and the underdog versus the favorite any day. Perhaps that is why a piece of me while resentful, almost feels happy for the Giants. They had been the physical manifestation of everything that I believed in. I know the Manning family is proud at this moment. And while I haven’t been able to bring myself to turn the TV back on to see whether or not Eli won the MVP, I know he probably deserved it.

Contriving this last line here has taken a considerable amount of my time. In a sense, I almost don’t want to stop this post as it will symbolize the end for me and an acceptance of defeat. How do I wrap up a season that was so enjoyable to watch up until the last second without feeling like a loser? I guess I’ll end it by extending congratulations to NY Giants fans and an acknowledgment of how imperfect the end can be.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Prison Break

When Michael Vick finally walks out of federal prison after serving his 23 month long sentence, he will be greeted largely by distrustful eyes and critical reporters from all facets of the media. Although the fate of his NFL career will hinge on Commissioner Roger Goodell’s evaluation, Vick’s future will still be head and shoulders above the rest of the criminals who leave thereafter. Michael Vick will be 28 years old by the time he is out of prison. He will be able to look forward to his multi-million dollar mansion, television interviews and thousands of still adoring fans. His future while not certain, will be brighter than the hundreds of others who served similar sentences and are released that same day.

The fact is that over 65% of persons released from Federal or State prisons will be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years. Based on the findings from a 1994 study, of the 272,111 offenders discharged that year, the combined total of arrests over their recorded careers totaled nearly 4,877,000. That figure averages out to 18 arrests per person. Still convinced our judicial system works?

I suppose I should clarify myself before I begin to sound like an advocate for criminal behavior. First off, I believe in the judicial process. It’s a belief that my father had instilled in me as I grew up watching him prosecute and later defend criminals. I watched in disbelief at times as I would read in the newspaper of him defending a rapist or child abuser. I wondered how a man with such honor who had spent so many years as a prosecutor could go on the other side and defend such actions with the same conviction.

It was not until he explained the origins of our judicial system and the laws that govern us that I truly began to understand the purpose that he served and how our society needed people like my father. Although unpopular at times, he would insist that all persons had the right to a fair trial, and that our law was based on the tenets of innocence until proven guilty. He used terms like due process, fairness and impartiality which to an outsider or first time criminal, might not sound like much, to him though, they were the hallmarks of justice .It is perhaps the reason why he chose to accept so many pro bono cases and defended the lowliest forms of society when very few would come to their defense.

My father molded my “judicial education,” and while I may not have a fancy law degree that says I am part of the establishment, I can read and comprehend the overwhelming statistics that are at our disposal to say that our prison system does not work.

The problem starts at sentencing. There is so much emphasis by our judges and legislatures to “talk tough,” that they are completely missing the point. The whole purpose of prisons should be to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes so that they can get out and become productive members of society. Instead, prisons have become de facto instruments of recidivism. They have failed to serve the purpose they were set out to do.

Let me be clear. I want all criminals who are convicted of a crime to pay their dues. But don’t think I’m going to allow a little rhetoric like “soft on crime,” scare me into thinking that my heart is not in the right place. In our judicial system there ought to be mechanisms in place to not only protect the victim but to also rehabilitate the criminal so that such acts do not happen again. Otherwise, there serves no purpose of having criminals rot in a prison cell that costs taxpayers money. ... (That’s another blog altogether).

Pundits don’t talk about our prisons or prisoners because they are too busy distracting us from the real problems. They will have us believe that immigration is invading the very fabric of our nation when in fact it has been the pillar of our strength. Politicians ignore what goes on behind bars because as long as these criminals stay behind bars (no matter how many times they continue to go back), they are no longer a problem. Legislatures have completely wiped themselves clean of the quandaries that face our prison system, because after all who would want to help a convicted felon? In fact, one could even say this issue has become modern day taboo.

There are certain crimes that I have no tolerance for, and for those serving life sentences, this blog need not apply. However, for those criminals convicted of non-violent crimes, I think we ought to consider them in the equation not only for their benefit but for our society as well.

Many of you might not be as sympathetic as I am and if you feel the urge to refute any of these broad proposals then please do. But before you begin to wonder why I chose this topic and why I am defending criminals, first take a look at these lopsided numbers based on demographics alone.

Characteristics of jail inmates

The prevalence of imprisonment in 2001 was higher for
--black males (16.6%) and Hispanic males (7.7%) than for white males (2.6%)

Lifetime chances of a person going to prison are higher for
--Men (11.3%) than for women (1.8%)
--Blacks (18.6%) and Hispanics (10%) than for whites (3.4%)

--Based on current rates of first incarceration, an estimated 32% of black males will enter State or Federal prison during their lifetime, compared to 17% of Hispanic males and 5.9% of white males.

--If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 of every 15 persons (6.6%) will serve time in a prison during their lifetime.

I’m not suggesting that law enforcement purposely targets blacks and Hispanics and that is the reason for the disproportions nor am I trying to scare anyone into thinking that we'll all be rounded up by the police in the near future. I’m saying that our prisons are a farce and rather than attempting to solve the crisis at the root, we wait until the problem happens again and again and again. Prisons are poorly funded, managed and supervised. A vision for correction of criminals is virtually non-existent. But don’t take my word for it; ask the criminals.

For the criminal who pays his debt to society and walks out of jail with no more than a bus pass in his back pocket and without a support system to rely on, the hope of ever making it in the real world is unlikely. What these prisoners need is the kind of vocational and secondary education that will land them a job when they get out. Half of them do not have a high school diploma; let’s give them a chance to get a GED. Many of them have families on the outside; let’s have parole officers do the legwork on job placement for when they get out. The statistics state that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to win up in jail than Whites; let’s create out reach organizations at the grassroots level with an emphasis on mentorship. The solutions are not simple, we know this. They cost time and money. More than anything, they require people to get past the mindset that what we’re doing works.

Judges fail to use their position on the bench to be innovative. They are scared to act out of the benefit of both the criminal and victim in fear that they are not upholding judicial precedence. They refuse to accept anything but the status quo because “that’s the way it’s been done before.” The focus in our judicial system should be on rehabilitating criminals. To think that by simply putting them in a prison solves anything is not only disingenuous but unoriginal.

All I’m asking is for people to question whether or not the system is working. Every time I read the annual recidivism statistics, I fail to believe that we have the best methods in place. I believe in second chances, and rather than just saying it, I think it’s time for us to put our money where our mouth is and to put some substance into that statement. We need to fund prisons and create opportunities for criminals to be successful. Otherwise, we’re in for more of the same and if the current state is any indicator of our future, than the outlook doesn’t sound too good.

I’ll leave it to the always pertinent Winston Churchill for the last word on this one…”One of the most unfailing tests of a civilization lies in how a country treats its criminals.”

*All statistics were derived from