Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Wish for you this Christmas... May you be very merry and disconnected.

My wife shared the enclosed essay from her spirituality class and it really hits a chord.  As someone who lives an always on 7 days a week lifestyle- I'm guilty as charged.  I've been looking forward to these days off with our girls to be able to distance myself from the everyday agenda.  A break to put some space in a very busy lifestyle.  

While many might say that technology has made the world smaller, it has also created greater distances between us.   I share this essay with you so that you might be compelled to unplug, become disconnected albeit for a couple of days and be present. 

From mine and ours to you and yours- Have a Very Merry Christmas! 
Disconnect and live your life.


"Christmas calls us to be present
By Jamie Manson  |  Dec. 23, 2013 Grace on the Margins 

This weekend, while I was scrambling with last-minute online Christmas shopping, my browser somehow pulled me on to the Apple website. But rather than being welcomed to the webpage with the usual images of iPads and iPhones in seductive poses, a video began playing [1].
An extended family is gathering for the holiday. They run out of their cars to embrace one another; they bake cookies; kids build snowmen; toddlers fall asleep in perfect alignment under a perfectly decorated tree. In each scene, we see a teenage boy with his head down, his eyes glued to his handsome new iPhone. Adults give him chiding looks, his young cousins throw snowballs at him, but he is unmoved.
In the end, we realize he has been capturing all of these touching moments with his phone's video camera and quietly creating a home movie. His big reveal of the video in the family living room is greeted with weeping and impassioned hugs.
Most Apple ads seem to want to convince us that rather than keeping us from being present to the people and places around us, their products instead heighten our awareness of love and beauty in the world.
One recent commercial insisted that the camera on the iPhone (the most-used camera on the planet) is responsible for capturing the most important moments of our lives. Another ad, showing a man wearing distinctive white headphones while looking out into the distance from a ferry, tells us that the phone's inner iPod creates the definitive soundtrack for our lives.
And even though I find myself writing this column with white headphones in my ears, looking off into the distance from a Long Island railroad car while my iPhone allows Leonard Cohen to sing me through this particular scene in my life, I remain unconvinced by Apple's pitch.
Because I have seen too many couples in restaurants where one partner is tapping her fingers frenetically on a phone while the other stares emptily into space. I've watched too many people swipe lazily at their phone screens rather than look up at the sunset or body of water spread out before them. I've witnessed too many individuals left hanging mid-sentence when a companion is pulled away by the buzz of an incoming text.
The text messages, the relentlessly updating Facebook news feed, the constant stream of push notifications illuminating our phone screens -- our multiple modes of communication are conditioning us to be in a chronic state of distraction.
The word "communication" is rooted in the word "communion," which literally means to "become one with." The word evokes high state of presence with another person. Nowadays, the word also evokes a sad irony: While it is true that our technology has allowed us to be more contactable than ever, it has simultaneously compromised our capacity for communion.
In our society, we rightfully warn one another about the dangers of distracted driving. But distraction is equally hazardous to our ability to be present to our loved ones, our communities and even ourselves. We know that our culture is in the midst of many crises. One of them surely is a crisis of presence.
In the last couple of years, it seems to me, it is becoming more challenging to get anyone to listen for a sustained amount of time. If you're inclined to be a listener, you may find that it is a struggle to even get a word into what is supposed to be a mutual conversation.
When we ask people how they are, sometimes we have the grace of receiving a substantive answer. But the chances of being asked the same question in return, let alone getting someone to stay focused long enough listen to our response, seem increasingly slim. Sometimes we come away from a gathering with the sense that we are no better known by our friends than we were when we arrived.
It seems to me that we live in a culture where most people are very eager to be heard, but fewer and fewer want to listen.
When I arrived as a student at Yale Divinity School, the great spiritual writer and teacher Henri Nouwen had left campus long ago. But I was surrounded by people who knew him and loved him. Whenever I asked what he was like, I often received a similar response. One former student said it best: "When he listened to you, you felt as if you were the only person in the world."
What an extraordinary gift Nouwen offered, making others feel truly heard and cared for, helping them realize how important they are. Nouwen's capacity for presence, it seems, not only showed others how much he loved them -- he gave them the sense that of how deeply God loved them, too.
When we truly love a person, we long to know them more fully. Perhaps that is the most painful reality of our increasing lack of presence: It compromises our ability to love one another well.
We spend much of Advent preparing for the extraordinary mystery that God so longed to know us and to be known to us that God chose to dwell among us, to become incarnate in a world both broken and beautiful, taking on a life that would bring about so much healing and endure so much pain.
The real beauty of the incarnation story is not simply that God hears us in our longing for God's presence, but that God's longs just as much to be present to us.
I think of Advent as a time to clean the lenses of my sacramental view of the world. Because the reality is, God is always among us. Our beloved Creator is always breaking through to us, in all of creation, in the beauty of nature, in all of our suffering, joy and ordinariness.
If Advent is the time to prepare for God's presence, Christmas then is the time for us to remember our calling to be God's presence to one another. Being present to one another is one most powerful ways we bring the life of God more fully into our world.
The boy in the Apple ad was aware that moments of embracing, listening, playing, and sharing meals were special, perhaps even sacred, so he recorded them on his iPhone.
The mystery of the Incarnation tells us that if we deepen our presence to the people and places around us, we will realize that there will never be an iPhone large enough to capture the ways in which God already dwells among us."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Human Nature: Passion Vs. Zealotry

The crux of NPO's

Working with volunteer based organizations I have found that the same thing that drives individuals to volunteer for a cause (or organizational non-profit) is sometimes the same thing that retards the organization's growth and progress.   Their very passion.  

In a world where profit ,rather no salary is provided as a self-interest, it shifts the paradigm towards reward and over importance of  title.  The perception of the power that exists in titles is sometimes lost on frail individuals who might lack the self-esteem or lack of a balanced lifestyle.   

Razor thin line

There exists a razor thin line between passion and zealotry.  At the point when volunteers become so ingrained in a group that they fail to see that not changing the dynamic will eventually lead to failure of their beloved organizations   The lack of turnover and succession planning in volunteer organizations often times leads to the creation of fife domes where new ideas and new members are excluded for fear that it might disrupt the status quo.  

In the name of the 'cause' 

Eventually, this leads volunteers crossing the line of passion into the land of zealotry.   The true art lies in channelling that passion and placing individuals into positions that feed their individual self-interests.  Proper succession planning sets up a structure that controls 'entrenchment' and the formation of incumbency networks that might preclude change. 

Proper motivation, recognition and reward limits the power struggle that prevails when incumbents are allowed to rule the roost.  In the end- turn over can be good because it provides a chance to 'reboot'. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Reflection: Focus, Interests and Opportunities

"One thing life has taught me: if you are interested, you never have to look for new interests. They come to you. ... When you are genuinely interested in one thing, it will always lead to something else."
Eleanor. Roosevelt

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Loss and meaning of preparation

Great Gospel today on the first Sunday of advent.  Preparing the house (your house) for his coming. We know not when we'll see him again.  Are we doing all we can to be ready?

Are we sweating the small stuff?
Are we living each moment to the max? Like it is our last?
Are we telling those we love, how much we love them?
Are we loving ourselves?  Before being able to love others it starts with us.

Dug this poem up to share with a friend who was struggling with a loss.  Read it with the team - really timely given out lunch conversation about those we've lost.

I'm Still Here
Friend, please don't mourn for me
I'm still here, though you don't see.
I'm right by your side each night and day
and within your heart I long to stay.

My body is gone but I'm always near.
I'm everything you feel, see or hear.
My spirit is free, but I'll never depart
as long as you keep me alive in your heart.

I'll never wander out of your sight-
I'm the brightest star on a summer night.
I'll never be beyond your reach-
I'm the warm moist sand when you're at the beach.

I'm the colorful leaves when fall comes around
and the pure white snow that blankets the ground.
I'm the beautiful flowers of which you're so fond,
The clear cool water in a quiet pond.

I'm the first bright blossom you'll see in the spring,
The first warm raindrop that April will bring.
I'm the first ray of light when the sun starts to shine,
and you'll see that the face in the moon is mine.

When you start thinking there's no one to love you,
you can talk to me through the Lord above you.
I'll whisper my answer through the leaves on the trees,
and you'll feel my presence in the soft summer breeze.

I'm the hot salty tears that flow when you weep
and the beautiful dreams that come while you sleep.
I'm the smile you see on a baby's face.
Just look for me, friend, I'm everyplace!

Author Unknown

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A thought for Fathers

We are reminded daily of the need for fatherhood in our society by the headlines that frequent our daily newspapers.  Headlines ranging from "Deadly night in Chicago- 14 shot, five killed" or "Five men charged with brutal rape of 14 year old girl" or even "Newtown shooter shoots mother and 26 more".  While dramatic, they do illustrate the need for Fathers        Being present in their children's lives. 

When I look back at the blessings of not only having had a great Dad and role model, but also having had my Grandfather and Uncles to lean back on- it really highlights how far our society seems to have changed.  We live in this hyper connected, self-absorbed world where one day leads into another and it seems so hard to stop and catch a breath for at least a moment.   It seems so easy to pull back and worry about one's self or the " things that matter most" - but in the end are we? 

If all we do is worry about what corresponds to us, how far have we really come?  I remember the days when families and neighbors all looked out for one another's kids.  I harken back to my days on Dobson street in Cottage Grove heights.  The community of middle-class families that all worked hard and wanted the same- a better life for their children.   "Better" ,meant different things to some .  Those who had migrated to Chicago from Southern states of Alabama or Mississippi to seek a better life in the well paying manufacturing jobs of the Midwest.  Perhaps they left family members behind in countries like Poland, Mexico or Ireland for the dirty steel mills of Chicago.   They brought with them their old world values of work ethic, personal responsibility,  Family first, and faith. 

It mattered not where you came from- rather what you made of yourself in this new country.   Fathers were the ones that served as the balance in the household.  I saw it growing up. 

As our communities have marginalized fatherhood- we have now started to see the impact across various cross sections of American Culture.  It didn't just happen overnight, it's crept up over a few decades.  The increase numbers of divorce, high percentage of children born out of wedlock,deadbeat dads, rise of single parent households.  The symptoms are everywhere.  All the while- society weeps at the outcome.   Increase in gang recruitment in cities like Chicago, increase in poverty among single parent households- while not solely attributable to the lack of presence of fathers- it makes you wonder.   

Friday, November 15, 2013

A moment of pause for the direction in which we are heading.

I relish my drive time to school every morning.  It's tough at times because it often comes in the midst of the 'morning shuffle'- parents know what I'm talking about- My wife wakes our two girls up; manages their getting dressed; as all three come downstairs to my breakfast set-up, lunch pack and we all hustle out the door in an effort to make it to school- safe & sound.  Working parents know this routine all too well and everyone manages it differently, but that is how it goes in the Sandoval house.  

Once we get in the car, I have to force myself to take a deep breath and enjoy the drive to school.  It's my favorite time of the day- but I focus on staying present.  Some day, these memories are all I will have of my children when they are all grown up.  I love this time because  they are both usually at their sharpest in the morning and its real quality time where we have some of our deepest conversations in the midst of the thirty minute ride to school.

I was stopped in my tracks this week as my daughter asked me if I could take her and her girl scout unit on a camping trip.  "Daddy, can you take us?" she asked.  As I bit down hard on the response, I wanted to give (knowing way too much about the grown-up reasons why this might not be possible), I replied to her "Honey, perhaps mommy can take you- it would be great for you to be with mommy".  "But why daddy? (growing upset) I want you to take us and go with us- You are the outdoor guy- you are the scout!"  Her anxiety around the issue almost brought a tear to my eye.  As I bit back on the emotions, I replied "Sweetie, daddy's aren't allowed to participate in Girls scouts only mommies".  "Then I don't want to go Dad! I will only go if you can be part! Why can mommies be part of cub scouts and daddies, but in girl scouts only mommies?"  she wailed on the verge of tears.  "It would be a big shame if you didn't go. We know your leaders and they are good people.  We can always do our own family camping trips" I said "remember how excited you where about girl scouts?"  "Yes daddy, I remember" she whimpered.  "Then I want you to be the best girl scout - you can be.  I'll be watching and we'll be learning on the side honey" I replied. "Ok , daddy  I will.  Can you still teach me?"  she said as a smile started to creep into her teary face. " Both mommy and I will teach you- we're a family remember- we do things together" I said.

This was not how I wanted this conversation to go- but I feared this would come up some time- but not this soon!  Not at the age of seven!  My wife and I had talked through this scenario some time back.  There is countless social and psychological evidence that developing strong bonds with their fathers during the ages of birth and nine years of age is important to the self esteem and confidence of young girls.  The national girl scout movement has elected to restrict men from participating in scouting with their daughters.  Hidden behind the screen of youth protection - they have been successful in defending this as contrary as it might be to the preservation of strong families in my personal opinion.   The option for change might be to take a page out of Saul Alinsky's handbook and protest GSA, decrying their discrimination.  Perhaps I could mount a Supreme court level suit against them speaking for father's rights?  All in the name of equality!   We've seen activists mount those same tactics against the very bedrocks of American society in waging ideological warfare on religious and social institutions en route to recreating American society to their liking.   In the end, what would that accomplish?  I might weaken the very institution that could benefit my daughters development and probably (most likely) put a sizable hole in our bank account.  In the end, both would lose- our daughters and GSA.  It might make some constitutional lawyer happy should the suit win- but what would be gained? 

So the spot decision was to have her stick with it.  That's what I was taught in my years of scouting.  Finish what you started and learn from it.  Whatever it may be- learn.  I only wish the idealogues on both sides of the aisle- would listen.   We'll save that for another day.

Post script (amended 11/16/13)  :As life might have it- what do I have come up in my google feed today than this story..  Timely or a message from a greater being?   You tell me.

Wall Street Journal: O'Laughlin: When Liberal Convictions Run Into the Reality of Parenting

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Lighthearted look at the world around us: Affordable Boat Act

With all that is going on in the world- We might all be served by just getting out and boating.

Affordable Boat Act (ABA)

The U.S. government has just passed a new law called: "The affordable boat act" declaring that every citizen MUST purchase a new boat, by April 2014. These "affordable" boats will cost an average of $54,000-$155,000 each. This does not include taxes, trailers, towing fees, licensing and registration fees, fuel, docking and storage fees, maintenance or repair costs.

This law has been passed, because until now, the perception is that only wealthy and financially responsible people have been able to purchase boats. This new law ensures that every American can now have a "affordable" boat of their own, because everyone is "entitled" to a new boat. If you purchase your boat before the end of the year, you will receive 4 "free" life jackets; not including monthly usage fees.

In order to make sure everyone purchases an affordable boat, the costs of owning a boat will increase on average of 250-400% per year. This way, wealthy people will pay more for something that other people don't want or can't afford to maintain. But to be fair, people who cant afford to maintain their boat will be regularly fined and children (under the age of 26) can use their parents boats to party on until they turn 27; then must purchase their own boat.

If you already have a boat, you can keep yours (just kidding; no you can't). If you don't want or don't need a boat, you are required to buy one anyhow. If you refuse to buy one or cant afford one, you will be regularly fined $800 (in the first year; 2% of your annual gross income) until you purchase one or face imprisonment.

Failure to use the boat will also result in fines. People living in the desert; inner cities or areas with no access to lakes are not exempt. Age, motion sickness, experience, knowledge nor lack of desire are not acceptable excuses for not using your boat.

A government review board (that doesn't know the difference between the port, starboard or stern of a boat) will decide everything, including; when, where, how often and for what purposes you can use your boat along with how many people can ride your boat and determine if one is too old or healthy enough to be able to use their boat. They will also decide if your boat has out lived its usefulness or if you must purchase specific accessories,(like a $500 compass) or a newer and more expensive boat.

Those that can afford yachts will be required to do so. The government will also decide the name for each boat. Failure to comply with these rules will result in fines and possible imprisonment.

Government officials are exempt from this new law. If they want a boat, they and their families can obtain this by Federal Tax subsidy. Unions, banks and certain companies may also be granted exemption on a case by case basis.

The website should be up and running any day now ....

Friday, June 28, 2013

The "Path"

The "call" came at 805am. "He's in ICU and might not make it." said the voice.  "How , why- what happened?" "He was with his friends and a rival gang opened fire on them- shot him five times- very serious"

As someone who has an extended family member in one of the local trauma centers recovering from being shot over the last two weeks in the city violence, I can say with clear conscience that it is not the guns that did it rather his failed lifestyle and upbringing.   HE chose a life of Gangs. You can say that we (his family ) collectively failed him.  While I've known him for only half of his short life on this planet- many who knew him before that - some of the same who now lament at the ICU at his state of being- scratch their heads at how he got there. In their heart of hearts THEY know.  The gang life is path in life that finishes in one of two endings- dead or in jail. 

 He got a second chance- (I'd argue a third chance) - if he doesn't see it , he'll result as one of these bylines in the local rag and a red blood stain on the pavement.  It won't have been the gun that caused his demise - it will have been the path he chose.  I close this with a prayer that he is able to see how his life could have ended.  The hope is that he will alter the course of his path so that we don't end up at this juncture again-possibly with a more fatal outcome. 

In the summer of 2013- It is a summer of violence. Regardless of how much regulation politicians try to instill- the outcome is fairly predictable.  Address the issue of broken families and declining family values and this story will continue to be told- again and again.   

This edition- came very close to home. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to be the best attribute to your daughter.

June 4, 2013

Like many parents I am no expert in parenting.  There is no manual that comes with the title: "Dad". With Father's Day coming up- I did some reflecting recently on what it means to be a dad.   I have been fortunate in receiving the blessing of having a great dad and good role model.  I've taken the things I saw my dad do well for us and have tried hard to improve upon them with my own daughters.  Sometimes with good outcomes, other times- not so much.   

We have heard the cliche's:  " Any male can father a child, it takes a real man to be a father" or "The difference between a biological parent and a father is the time you commit".  There are many others I am sure.  I like the later because it strikes at the core of some of the problems I see at all ends of the economic spectrum-Time.    In poor communities, either for lack of education, finances (perhaps a need to provide) and other reasons- there may not be the time put into properly mentoring young boys or girls.  There are alot of programs for at-risk youth-but have you ever noticed that in spite of this - at-risk youth still exist?   In wealthier communities, money is showered on children, perhaps to make up for the self-absorption of their parents and because the means exist.  You still see the same degree of dysfunction- its just that mom and dad's money might be able to correct any issues that come up.   At both ends- money is thrown at the problem either through government funded programs or the wealthy parents.  Neither hits the mark as the main thing is attention , love and caring.  You can buy that and you surely can't fund that through a poorly administered program with no accountability. 

It's sad that we live in a hyper-sexual world where there seems to be an empowering of one gender at the expense of another.  That seems to be the mantra these days-I win- you lose in everything.  As a parent, I worry about what this is teaching our kids.  You really want to just unplug the 24/7 media and their droning.  Makes you long for the simpler times of black and white TV, getting your news via the paper and kids being kids.   I guess for that to happen, adults need to parent and focus on the main thing.     

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday's Leader April 12, 2013

Here is this Friday's leader quote: 

"A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit." —John Maxwell

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happy Birthday Mr. President!

These words ring so true in these days.  We stand a country so divided- a division that is fed by political agendas.  We miss you Mr. President.  One of my favorite quotes which is often atributed to Abraham Lincoln*- it speaks to the essential fiber of what our great country is for everyone that comes looking for their opportunity-their American Prosperity. I'm sure honest Abe would concur.
American Prosperity*
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the
weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by
discouraging thrift. You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage
payer down. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class
hatred. You cannot build character and courage by taking away men's
initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for
them what they could and should do for themselves.

---often attributed to Abraham Lincoln---*Actually cited by William H. Boetker-1942

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What's "really" important

Pertinent Thought: It has been a rather tough week.  I have found myself relfecting on the significance of my life or lack of it.  A friend shared this and I found it particularly relevant given all that is going on in the world around us.  It is easy to blame many things for why our world is the way it is- yet it really comes down to the most important thing in life if you are so blessed to get the position: being a good parent.  Thanks Mom & Dad!


 A Reminder

All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow, but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost-adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves.
Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now.
Penelope Leach, T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education—all grown obsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories. What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations—what they taught me, was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all.

Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One child is toilet trained at 3, his sibling at 2.

When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself.
Eventually the research will follow. I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month old who did not walk.
Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.

Every part of raising children is humbling. Believe me, mistakes were made.
They have all been enshrined in the "Remember-When-Mom-Did" Hall of Fame.
The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language - mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleep-over. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, "What did you get wrong?" (She insisted I include that here.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night.

I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity.
That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.

Anna Quindlen, Newsweek columnist and author