Deacon Patrick Moynihan

Deacon Patrick Moynihan

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

Articles by Deacon Patrick Moynihan

Family vacation

Mar 16, 2012 / 00:00 am

I did a lot more thinking on our recent family vacation than I had expected to do. I realize that vacations by their very nature often lend themselves to quiet reflection, but I was still surprised by how many times I found myself deep in thought during our week at the beach. It wasn’t a negative experience by any means—just different than I had anticipated. Mostly, I reminisced about my childhood family trips and my parents, especially my dad. Since I am nearing fifty, I am familiar with sudden flashes of mid-life nostalgia. This, however, was something different altogether. It was more prolonged. It was like experiencing two vacations at the same time—one live and the other relived. One experience enhancing the other.

Role reversal

Mar 9, 2012 / 00:00 am

Serendipitously, my brother’s responsibilities as CEO of Bank of America recently required him to go to Haiti.

Is all that Twitters gold?

Mar 2, 2012 / 00:00 am

I recently learned that some celebrities are making thousands by tweeting. I know – where have I been for the past six years, under a rock?

Walking in the shoes of others

Feb 24, 2012 / 00:00 am

A couple months after we graduated from college, a friend and I crisscrossed the US in search of everything US. We chose our destinations daily based on the closest piece of national culture we could find that lay in the right direction. We sought the high, the low and the food to match. The only pre-determined decision was to drive 400 miles each day without fail. Most days, we saw at least two things of note. We visited Hemingway’s grave in Ketchum, ID—better known today as Sundance. We passed through Carmel where we purposely got a parking ticket in order to get Clint Eastwood’s mayoral signature. We appreciated the neoclassical city squares that are sprinkled throughout the Midwest. We took in Big Art—two story prairie dogs and VW Bug sized strawberries—along the way and ate at plenty of diners. I even played a few hands of blackjack at Caesar’s Palace while my friend circled the colossal hotel with the car.

Marriage is beyond the law

Feb 17, 2012 / 00:00 am

Since we are not a theocracy, religion is limited to informing and guiding the government and its leaders on certain matters. It cannot dictate. Likewise, since we are not an atheistic tyranny, the government restricts itself from interfering with the practices of those who have freely chosen to live by God’s law as well as man’s law, as long as those practices do not violate anyone’s rights or well-being. It may be frustrating to watch our culture move away from God at times; however, it is clearly beneficial to both church and state that the two are separated. As part of my preparation to become a Catholic deacon, I had the opportunity to develop a very clear understanding of marriage based on Scripture, Tradition and Theology. My twenty-three years of marriage confirms in practice what I have learned intellectually and through faith.

T-shirt Mistakes

Feb 10, 2012 / 00:00 am

A colleague who has heard me tell stories about the odd t-shirts that end up in Haiti sent me a link to an article on mental_floss titled "What Happens to the Losing Team’s Championship Shirts?" The piece describes how sports paraphernalia companies “disappear” shirts, hats and other items that proclaim the wrong team as winners. They donate them to relief organization for distribution oversees to people in need. This also happens with misprints and over production. In the case of Super Bowl XLVI, according to the post, at least some of the un-marketable merchandise produced by NFL-licensed companies will be donated to World Vision, a large international faith based relief-development organization. Since World Vision operates in Haiti, we may soon see New England Patriots Super Bowl XLVI Champs shirts on the streets of Port au Prince. The shirts and hats’ misinformation will likely go unnoticed since soccer—the world’s football—is king here.

An underappreciated idea

Feb 3, 2012 / 00:00 am

Amazingly, a quick Google search of “One America” only produces hits for an insurance company, a large office building in Indianapolis and a civic organization with a commendable, albeit myopic message on our national diversity. Regrettably, there is nothing in the top search results about the countries of our hemisphere becoming one or even moving in that direction. While this is not conclusive proof that the idea of One America is underappreciated, it does suggest that the idea is not a national topic or a current foreign policy priority. Clearly, no one in the government’s top leadership is seriously thinking about a closer collaboration of the three dozen or so countries in the Western Hemisphere (WH). In fact, the most active voices in the political debate over immigration are focused on how to keep us apart.

Might as well let the dog out, too

Jan 26, 2012 / 00:00 am

I really thought that I was done with writing about the disappointing performance of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and their dubious record of handling the bulk of the world’s charity for Haiti. Honestly, I really thought I had it out of my system. But, I made the mistake of reading a job posting by Save the Children International in The Economist.

Real baggage

Jan 20, 2012 / 00:00 am

Thanks to a hotly contested Republican primary populated with colorful personalities and the seemingly endless supply of Hollywood rehab repeat offenders, the word “baggage” has been getting a lot of play these days. It is the go-to term used by journalists to suggest that an individual is hampered by an interesting past or ongoing psychological frailty without having to get into the sordid details. Stating that he or she has “a lot baggage” gets the dirty laundry out there, but keeps the particular facts discreetly in the basket. Being neither a political pundit nor a psychologist, I am not much of an expert on baggage in this abstract sense. On the other hand, having hoisted, carted and carried literally tons of luggage through four major US airports while racking up nearly 3 million miles of air travel in 16 years, I can vouch that the term is fitting. Luggage is always bad and cumbersome. When Christina and I first started on mission, we had two kids. This allowed us eight checked bags and four carry-ons. Not long into our tenure as missionaries, the addition of our other two children allowed us to move up to a dozen checked bags and six carry-ons. With weight limits still at 70lbs, we would end up at the airport with a mountain of luggage weighing a half a ton! Did I mention that baggage is always bad? In our defense, we were not porting Paris Hilton sized wardrobes. Some of the bags were filled with household items which were either too expensive or hard to get in Haiti; others were filled with donations for our neighbors. No space or weight was wasted. Everything was considered and re-considered. In those early years, packing was a ritual. Getting everything into the luggage involved soma-cube level concentration and a highly accurate scale. It also required a certain level of unnatural discipline on my part for not just chucking things in the 11th hour—Christina and the kids had an uncanny ability to remember every item they brought to the packing table. Any deletions made out of frustration during packing would exact twice the pain upon unpacking.Over the years, I learned that proper packing required keeping liquids separated from electronics and paper products. It was also important to keep soaps away from food. Any soap with a beautiful bouquet or even just Tide becomes a toxic chemical when packed next to spaghetti, crackers, etc. Given our practical need to move mountains of supplies for either our own use or to distribute to our neighbors, you may assume that I am against the new baggage fees and increasing enforcement of carry-on dimension restrictions. Well, I am not and neither is my elbow. Even if my high-mileage status did not allow me to avoid most of the increases, I would be in favor. The market needed some discipline. Some fees are appropriate. This is one of them. First and foremost, the fee is fair because it costs the airlines money to fly bags just like it does people. It is unfair to have all customers share equally in the cost of carrying the freight if they are not carrying the same amount of luggage. Light travelers should get a break. The fee puts everyone on equal ground: no bags, no fee. Second, the fee incentivizes being environmentally conscious and living less encumbered lives—two things we need to encourage. It takes more fuel to fly baggage laden passengers. Handling the luggage also increases the wear-and-tear on the planes and terminals. Without this fee, it is unlikely that we would consider these factors when choosing to throw in the fourth pair of slacks, or the third pair of shoes, or to tote the clubs just in case. But, travelers do now. Figuratively and practically, you can never have too little baggage.

Time to let the cat out of the bag

Jan 13, 2012 / 00:00 am

Over 2.5 billion U.S. dollars were collected by International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs), large faith based non-profits, and smaller ad hoc groups on behalf of the Haitian people directly following the January 2010 earthquake. The preponderance of this money was given to mega INGOs: the International Red Cross (IRC) along with its national affiliates amassed $1.046 billion, while UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and Oxfam received $299, $135 and $98 million respectively.

In good company

Jan 6, 2012 / 00:00 am

Because I am a deacon, I usually avoid entering into the fray of political campaigns. However, I feel compelled by Romney’s use of a famous Lucille Ball comedy sketch to denigrate his opponent to comment on this recent exchange in the Republican primary. I realize political races are fraught with hyperbole and negative quips, but somehow this particular remark struck me as especially out of place, rude even.

A Quarter of the Way

Dec 16, 2011 / 00:00 am

I am not sure why I am so fascinated with our national highway system. Maybe it is because I spend a lot time riding on roads so bumpy and full of potholes that they could be used for batch testing Fixodent. So, yes, I do appreciate being able to drive in a straight line and to make it out of second gear. In Haiti, the only time you get to go fast and straight is down the tarmac on takeoff.    I also appreciate the foresight demonstrated by those who persuaded our nation to invest in our national highways. President Eisenhower usually gets the credit for the initial vision of a country-wide, fully integrated interstate system. But, it took the commitment of everyone from shovel pushers to high level cabinet members to make it a reality. Our interstates are a testament to the quality and strength of our national character. This broader appreciation for our interstate system is also inspired by my experience in Haiti. The dearth and poor condition of Haiti’s roads hampers the country’s development by slowing work, increasing diesel consumption, and damaging transportation equipment—not to mention the human toll. It is not just a pain to have to navigate Haiti’s potholed, antiquated roads—it is costly.  It is a simple fact that serviceable roads are an integral part of a working country. As proof: the Dominican Republic has highways, interchanges and overpasses. Although it had a similar GDP to Haiti fifty years ago, the DR today has nearly ten times the GDP of its island partner. Surely there is a bit of chicken-and-egg here, but the roads, at least the major arteries, likely came first. Roads are the connectors of businesses; they are vitally important to economic growth. My most recent major highway trip was 557 miles of I-10 which is about one quarter of its length. I-10 is one of three complete coast to coast routes. Its 2,460 miles make it the fourth longest road in the US, right behind I-40. It intersects nine out of ten the north-south interstates. The most remarkable portions of I-10 are the eerily vacant 900 miles that lie within the borders of Texas and the raised sections traveling through the swamp areas of Florida, Alabama and Louisiana.   With three-quarters of our kids in tow, we made the drive from Jacksonville, FL to New Orleans in good time. It is a pleasant, uncongested trip along the bottom of the nation. Many people find the unbroken stands of pine trees which line the sides of I-10 a bit monotonous; not me. Sixteen years in Haiti, which has been ruinously deforested since the early 1900s, makes me appreciate every tree I see. The trip finished with an amazing sight as we came into view of the Big Easy. The colors of the sunset reflected off the intermittent open pools of water under the elevated portions of the road. I was not prepared for the majestic feel of cruising above swamps and heading into the history of New Orleans. It was more ominous than I expected.      Turning on to I-10 in Jacksonville with the only option to go west, I had a thought: What would it be like to drive the whole interstate system? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to boast of having seen every mile of the nearly 47,000 it encompasses and all the cities it connects? Immediately, I began to sing quietly to myself: Get your motor runnin, head out on the highway. First miles of highways are always Sybil-like for the inspired traveler. Before rationality could take over, I mentally took the challenge. I even devised a strategy. Having already driven I-95 and I-90 end to end, I will first complete all the coast-to-coast and border-to-border routes. That means two more east-west crossings and six more north-south trips for a total of around 26,000 miles. No problem. As the song goes, I am looking forward to whatever comes my way.

Off, but not lost—I hope

Dec 9, 2011 / 00:00 am

I find myself compelled to point out that Nicholas Kristof, who appears regularly on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, has succumbed to cheap sensationalism and anecdotalism. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner has unfortunately become a panderer to riotous populism and emotion. His writing has become highly caloric, but lite on substance. Hopefully, this will not prove to be chronic.It may seem cannibalistic for one columnist to attack another. But, writers don’t let better known writers write dribble. Therefore, this is not an attack; it is a strong but charitable attempt to stop a great writer from ending up in Schlockville. There are far too few discerning journalists in the world with the scope of Mr. Kristof. It would be sad to lose an insightful writer of his caliber and resources to Oprahitis.    I first became concerned about Mr. Kristof’s declining ability to see the trees for the forest when I read his December 4, 2010 column on the arrival of mobile cash in Haiti. Mobile cash is money circulated through cell phones rather than through traditional banks. In an uncritical, sophomoric column, Mr. Kristof gushed that being able to receive and store money on a cell phone would help the poor save.  In the article, Mr. Kristof claims—without providing support—that the poor do not save because banks will not accept their micro-deposits. To punctuate his point, he reported, “Banks typically won’t accept tiny deposits. In West Africa, private money dealers accept deposits, but they charge 40 percent annual interest rates on them.” What Mr. Kristof failed to mention is that the major banks in Haiti will open a regular savings account for the equivalent of $10 US—about the cost of a cell phone. Ironically, shortly after Mobile Cash was introduced, Digicel, the larger of Haiti’s two cell phone providers, announced plans to add a new application for the lottery to their service. Clients can now play the numbers directly from their phone. Mr. Kristof, in his blind enthusiasm, missed this point as well. Mr. Kristof hit a new low in his writing on October 8, 2011 when, having inserted himself as a heroic actor in his own story, he ended an especially disturbing column on child rape with a teaser. He wrote, “So is the situation hopeless? To my surprise, I found a hint of progress, especially when a teenage girl asked me to help capture her rapist. I’ll tell that story in my next column.” I would have preferred a punch to the gut. Sometimes it is not even clear that his presented “cases” are, in fact, cases at all. For example, in a more recent column built around an inarticulate mea culpa by a mid-level mortgage writer (“A Banker Speaks, With Regret”), Mr. Kristof provides two inflammatory assertions without an ounce of backup. (The “he” below refers to the source, not the columnist.) “If you had some old bag lady walking down the street and she had a decent credit score, she got a loan,” he added.“You’ve got somebody making $20,000 buying a $500,000 home, thinking that she’d flip it,” he said. There is no denying that the mortgage market got out of hand; however, I wonder if Mr. Kristof asked for any documentation to prove these statements. It appears more likely that he just blindly jumped at the chance to take a cheap shot at the banks. Not to load on, but when did it become kosher to refer to an indigent, homeless woman as a bag lady?Clearly, Mr. Kristof’s writing quality has crashed. Instead of educating his readers, he has taken to stirring the pot with a mish-mash of personal stories, strained facts and unsupported assumptions. He has developed a bad habit of building whole columns around generalizations. It is time to let him know that he is off his game before he becomes completely lost, which would leave us with one less person taking a good look at the world.  

Save money, live better. Really?

Dec 2, 2011 / 00:00 am

Given my close personal and proud connection to the CEO of one the nation’s largest banks, I cannot honestly present myself as an impartial judge in the messy street level socioeconomic debate that has erupted in our nation. But I can, without concern of personal bias, authentically gasp at the media’s recent presentation of Wal-Mart as the white knight in contrast to our myopically maligned financial institutions. Seriously, folks — that’s beyond the pale. Two recent articles — one by NPR — gushed about the disgruntled individuals who, angered by bank fees real or perceived, have gravitated toward Wal-Mart’s MoneyCard. The card, basically a rechargeable gift card on steroids, costs $3 a month. I get that $3 is less than $5; but, isn’t it also as obvious that the card is less because it is less? Why the joy and praise?Surprisingly, neither article pointed out that the card charges the customer to spend his or her own money — which was the oft repeated complaint against the bank’s proposed debit card fees. And it is really true here. That is all the card does. It allows a person to spend his or her own money. There is no credit, interest or other features attached. More unsettling, the articles only touched lightly on the fact that the MoneyCard is not a bank card and that Wal-Mart is not a bank. Neither article really made it clear that the blue giant is not taking deposits, it is facilitating future sales. Recharging the card is tantamount to making a deferred purchase, not a savings account deposit.  In his defense, Eamon Murphy of AOL’s “Daily Finance” did point out that the card “offered little or no protection for customers' funds.” But he did not elaborate on why. He also did not point out that customers are charged fees for ATM withdrawals even at the Wal-Mart’s in-store ATMs — an obvious prodding to induce card holders to make purchases at the register where cash-back is free. Even with the current sensitivity to big business and big money, there was no mention that Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world and largely owned by a family of billionaires. In 2010, the behemoth had 2 million employees and sold $405 billion in merchandise. $305 billion of those sales were made in the US. That’s nearly $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the US.  Can you think of $1,000 worth of stuff you need from Wal-Mart? Obviously, there are a lot of empty calories and impulse buying in those billions. However, there is no mention of that in the articles, nor is there any reference to a study by University of North Carolina Economist Charles Courtemanche about the impact of Supercenters on our waistlines. His research suggests that the growth in Wal-Mart Supercenters since 1980 has directly contributed to the increase in obesity in the US. Wal-Mart is also often named as one of the contributors to our other national weight problem: the deficit. Not surprisingly, Wal-Mart purchases a lot of stuff from China. How much is not absolutely clear, but it is tens of billions. While not mentioned in the articles praising the wonders of the Wal-Mart MoneyCard, others sources claim that Wal-Mart is responsible for as much as 10% of our trade deficit with China.  The articles also did not question the MoneyCard’s $10 bonus for setting up payroll direct deposit. This gave me the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as when I heard a casino ad promising bonus dollars for customers cashing paychecks for chips. Can Wal-Mart really want us to save money and live better if they are encouraging customers to deposit their paychecks on a hyped-up gift card? I am not telling anyone not to shop at Wal-Mart. After all, I am just a columnist, not a US senator. I am also not suggesting that anyone occupy anything other than their own home. I do not support the invasion of private companies and the scaring of rank and file employees. But, as a brother, a Catholic, a deacon, a writer, a humanitarian, a believer in free markets, a patriot and a person who struggles with his weight, I have to ask: How could the press, in this supercharged atmosphere, write such an uncritical article about Wal-Mart’s MoneyCard? 

The Symmetry of History

Nov 18, 2011 / 00:00 am

I was very young when I first heard the story about how my great-great-grandfather, Colonel John Byrne, survived a gunshot to the head in the Civil War by packing his wound with bread. He was shot while fighting with the all-Irish 155th New York Volunteer Infantry. The makeshift bandage worked, but he lost an eye. Fascinated by the tale, I have asked my mom to retell me the story several times to make sure it was not a figment of my childhood imagination. Colonel Byrne’s unique experiences did not end with his heroic self-treatment. After his honorable discharge, he returned to Buffalo and joined the police force. Just as he did in the Army, he rose quickly through the ranks of the Buffalo Police Department, ultimately serving seven years as Chief. His tenure ended when a change in the party make-up of the city Police Commission made it necessary for him to retire. Upon his departure, The New York Times warned, “…gambling shops will be opened…and security so long felt here will be a thing of the past.”After his well-respected police career, Colonel Byrne opened a private detective agency. This, along with his prior experience, led to his appointment as head of security for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo. Unfortunately, President McKinley was shot by an anarchist on September 6th at the Exposition and died 8 days later. There has never been another Pan-American Exposition.Not long after this national tragedy, Colonel Byrne’s son, Eugene, died in a freak accident while playing football for West Point in a game against Harvard. Astonishingly, he was one of three football players who died in games around the country that weekend. The Navy quarterback was also paralyzed the week before in a match against Villanova.The shock over the accidents put the nascent sport in question. It took a stirring eulogy and a strong defense of the sport’s ability to foster “manly virtues’ by West Point’s Superintendent to keep collegiate football from going the way of the Pan-American Exposition. West Point canceled the rest of the season and the rules changed, but the sport survived.   Courageously, Louis, Eugene’s younger brother, entered West Point the next year. He graduated in 1914, served his commission and retired as a major. My mom remembers going along on a trip in 1949 with her great Uncle Louis to show prospective football players around West Point. In recognition of Colonel Byrne’s service in the Civil War and the family’s unique commitment to West Point, all three are buried together in the cemetery at West Point.I contemplated taking a run at West Point myself, but ultimately chose not to seek a nomination to the Academy. I even broke my boyhood promise to my mom to pay for my college with ROTC. Nonetheless, this particular family story has stayed with me while others have faded with time.I now realize that the story was not meant to inspire me to join the military, but to support my son in his decision to go to West Point. The story has new vitality now that my son Robert is at the Academy. It’s as if the story has finally found its end a century later. No doubt, Robert will make his own story, but it will be amalgamated into what preceded him as well. National history, family history and the Long Grey Line assures that.It is also clear that West Point has gotten the better man by waiting one more generation. However, I am not completely bereft of the Byrne legacy. There is a part of my great-great-grandfather’s place in history that does resonate with me, namely his connection to the Pan-American Exposition. My work in Haiti is driven in part by a strong belief in the natural unity of the Western Hemisphere—a unity I hope to make more of a reality as I contribute to my family story and our national history.

Build, not patch

Nov 11, 2011 / 00:00 am

Due to the impetuous announcement of a rushed, duct-taped plan to fund education in my country of choice, I have been thinking a lot about how subsidies impact the price of a commodity in a free market, especially one in limited supply. Of course, the most likely outcome is that the price goes up. This is one of those axioms you learn in Econ 101 — that is if you do not walk out on your professor as 70 students at Harvard did last week.  The reason this economic principle is on my mind is that Haiti’s new president has announced that he will boost school accessibility in part with a subsidy payable to private elementary schools. This is great news in a country where less than three percent of children have the chance to finish high school — except that there are not enough actual schools in Haiti and at least 60% of them are for-profit. Another important fact: the subsidy is not a full cost voucher. It is more like 25 to 30% and will not cover all students.  The last thing anyone wants in Haiti, except for the greediest for-profit schools, is for the price of education to go up. Average tuition for elementary schools already costs 75% of the annual per capita income. This disproportional price is only possible due to the informal subsidy provided by diaspora families. Of the one to two billion dollars Haiti receives in remittances annually, nearly 45 percent goes to pay for local schooling. With tuition already priced out of reach for most, imagine what a second subsidy will do?  The only real answer to Haiti’s education problem is to build public schools. This is based on another widely accepted economic principle: increased supply drops prices. Given the simplicity of the economics involved one would think anyone with a head for economics and effective government would strongly promote building public schools over subsidies. Oddly, the plan to use private sector schools has been pushed by former President Clinton, the Intra-American Development Bank and the New York Times. To be fair, the building of schools is in the plan, but not much will be done up front. The excuse: it takes longer to build schools than to pass out subsidies. This makes sense; however, quick, ephemeral solutions are exactly what keep impoverished countries poor. Notably, the IDB’s plan also includes funding 25 semi-permanent schools — another quick solution. None of this solves the long-term issue that Haiti’s schools are short over 500,000 seats.  What makes economics get set aside in important decisions? The culprits are likely populism and public relations. Subsidies are just faster and easier. They give a bit of breathing room to a struggling President and make donor companies look good — but they are also dangerous in a limited supply market and worthless in the long run. History will show that it would have been better to avoid the private sector altogether and concentrate on providing free public education through the State. But, the NGOs and International Aid Organizations will be in another country by then.   Now, how does this relate to my country of birth? On my recent visit home, I noted that a lot of people are upset. Those not working are angry at those who are, especially those making the top salaries. Among the populist vitriol, I have heard one salient point: young people graduate with too much college loan debt — on average $25,000 and as much as $60,000. I do not support Occupy Wall Street; however, I could not escape the irony of the US and Haiti having the same problem: education is too expensive. In the case of the US, it is university education that is too expensive. How could this happen in the world’s largest economy which rewards education with lower unemployment and higher pay? Could subsidies, aka college loans, be the cause?I am not suggesting an end to loans, rather an increase in the cheapest seats. How? Build new state colleges. It is time to expand the Big Ten to the Big Twenty with new greener, leaner, and European-styled [less campus housing] schools focused on graduating people able to develop products and services to market to the developing world — where the growth is.  In the richest country and in the poorest, the answer is to increase real supply, not to patch with subsidies.

Economics for Everyone

Nov 4, 2011 / 00:00 am

Can you make Yorkshire pudding?  No? I can’t either. My mom can. In fact, my mom can make Yorkshire pudding and police 8 kids in the midst of making dinner for twenty or thirty people. Really, she can. My mom is amazing. (She also reads this column without fail. Thanks, Mom.)My mother often made Yorkshire pudding when we had a big roast for a special occasion. By roast, I mean a big chunk of beef, not a ribbing from colleagues. But, when you have seven siblings, every family dinner is a roast of that type as well. That’s why Moynihans can take a joke over a meal so well. (That’s a shout-out to my brother who is doing a great job not listening to the Sirens as he steers Bank of America between a rock and a hard place.)The ingredients for Yorkshire pudding are not complicated. In fact, they are absolutely elementary: eggs, flour, milk, oil, and salt. The complicated part of the recipe is making it set-up properly in a wavy, delicious fluff. This is especially difficult with a gaggle of hooligans running about. One knock to the stove and poof! That’s it for the pudding. It also takes a steady hand and a delicate touch to take a large pan of just-baked Yorkshire pudding out of the oven and set it on the table without it going plop! When my mom was ready to take the golden, sculpted bread out of the oven, she would clear the kitchen with one stern warning. She was a master of domestic management. With all the financial chaos in world, why am I thinking about this nostalgic topic? Simple: it occurred to me that the management of the national economy is much like making Yorkshire pudding. Watching my mom make it over the years taught me that sometimes the complexity is not in the ingredients; it is in the handling.  I came to this realization after reading a wonderful new book by Sylvia Nasar called “Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius.” In this delightful walk through history, the well-known author of “A Beautiful Mind” brilliantly and entertainingly covers the development of modern Economics from Malthus to Amartya Sen. For added reading pleasure, she salted the text with wonderful references to Dickens and Eliot. It is an inspiring read and I highly recommend it.  Nasar does not mention Yorkshire pudding in her book—at least not directly. But, my takeaway from her excellent recount of the various economic “chefs” who have been given charge of the leading national economies over the last 150 years is that economists are always working with the same ingredients: capital, labor, technology and natural resources. Therefore, much like making Yorkshire pudding, the variant in the success of economic planning is not in the ingredients. It is how well the mixture is handled. Successful handling of the modern economy requires both touch and leadership. It takes a delicate hand to properly manage the money supply, the national debt, interest rates, regulation, trade agreements, and taxation in order to achieve a stable economy with a balance of public welfare [services] and productivity. It also takes steady and stern domestic leadership. The fact that our economy keeps going poof would suggest we are not getting the handling right. At times, our national leadership even seems to confuse handling the economy with being the economy. This not only concerns me; it leads me to believe that my mom may have better dexterity and domestic leadership skills than President Obama. Then again, my mom only had 8 children to police, not 535.

Healthy nationalism

Oct 28, 2011 / 00:00 am

Haiti needs a shot in the arm with a dose of healthy nationalism. I am not talking about xenophobia or the sort of rabid nationalism which has crippled Cuba and Venezuela, but a national pride which can inspire a positive move toward self-sustainability.

Personalities, please exit right

Oct 21, 2011 / 00:00 am

Early in my missionary career, I was invited to speak about our school in Haiti to a sixth grade class at Our Lady of Sorrows in Frayser, Tenn. Frayser is a largely blue-collar community of hard-working people who live north of Memphis. The school is encased in a positive moment of history. I remember being immediately impressed by the good behavior of the students.    

Thinking about home

Oct 14, 2011 / 00:00 am

Missionaries are commonly referred to by the place they serve rather than their birth place. For example, we know Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu of Albania as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Fernando Martins de Bulhões, who was born and educated in Lisbon, we know as St. Anthony of Padua. This could suggest that home is not important to a missionary.  This is simply not true. Every missionary comes from somewhere. Often, that somewhere provides the support and resources that make the mission possible. It may seem counterintuitive; however, I can assure you that home is as important to a missionary as where he or she serves.  I have been thinking a lot about my own home lately. It is not that the difficulties in Haiti are resolved to the point that they no longer occupy the bulk of my reflection time. It is just that on my last visit to the States things seemed so whacked out that the visit left me concerned. To be a bit more articulate, I found comments on the economy to be exaggerated and extremely polarized. Debates on several important issues, such as taxes, government spending and income distribution appeared out of control. The most vocal participants in these squabbles clearly have lost perspective. Rather than dealing objectively with these difficult issues, politicians have taken to name calling. Commentators are parsing speeches to find single words on which to hang twisted meanings and their speakers. Specifically, I was a bit shocked to see how much fervor the Occupy Wall Street movement had mustered. Then again, history proves that once a group is named and blamed, you can energize humans to do just about anything to that group. It has proven especially easy to excite a crowd if the group being attacked is very small and relatively unknown to the mob. You can’t get much smaller than 1% or much more obscure than Hedge fund managers.  The justification for attacking the top 1% of wage earners is that they take home over 20% of the money earned each year. In the minds of those picketing Wall Street, this makes the 1% blameworthy for the growing inequality in incomes in the US. This sounds appealing, but is it fair or even logical?  (One thing is for sure, it costs a lot.)If this is the criteria for attacking a group, what are we going to do about golf? I suspect that less than 1% of pro golfers make the lion share of prize money in the PGA. This is certainly true in any given tournament. Are the top golfers responsible for the scores of the other golfers or for the rules of the game?I don’t play golf and I also do not want to make light of the current difficulty being experienced by many households in the US. However, I do want to point out the irrationality in attacking Wall Street for an economic problem created by a multitude of factors, not the least of which is the freedom to succeed. Do we really want to blame the problems of the 99 on the 1? Are we even sure that 99% of people in the US actually have a problem?The “We are the 99%” do not represent me. While I recognize that recently things have not gone well for the middle class, I also know that the quality of life has improved steadily in the past century for everyone in the United States in terms of housing, education and health. I know this from research as well as from personal experience. My parents started raising my two oldest siblings in a Quonset hut at Purdue. 18 years later, I was raised in a modest, but ample house on 2 acres. Today, my parents live comfortably on their pensions and social security—two inventions of the financial crisis they grew up in. Life is most certainly easier in 2011 than 1911.Fear is a great promoter of irrational behavior. It is also plentiful in times such as this. What is hard to find in difficult times is what is needed most: leadership. Given how things are so generally out of hand in the US, one has to wonder if the current devolution in civility and intellectual veracity is not a reflection of poor leadership from the top. Let’s picket for better leadership. 100% of us need that.