Friday, February 28, 2014

I Found Religion - In Arizona

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, February 28, 2014

By Bill Gouveia


            I have found religion.  I am moving to Arizona and living my life by my own deep convictions so I can be free, in the truest and most holy sense of the word. 


            Arizona is obviously the holy land.  It is the state that gave us Barbara Eden, Barry Goldwater, Geronimo and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  It is home to great thinkers in the state legislature, evidenced by the bill they passed recently to defend the rights of those of us with true faith.


I have adopted the religion of Loopholeism, part of a widely growing religious organization.  We are dedicated to taking advantage of all the loopholes the Good Lord intended us to use in order to make our society what it should be, and what we demand it become.  We are all about freedom, even if we have to take away the rights of everyone else in order to get it.


            The Loopholeist philosophy is rooted in that most common religious belief that our way is the right way.  We just need to get everyone else to see it that clearly.  We hold fast to our conviction that every single person in this world has the right to do things our way, and no doubt would if we just forced them.


            In Arizona, lawmakers passed a bill (since vetoed by the Governor, a small delay) that would allow any company to refuse to do business with gays or lesbians if – and this is the key here – if doing so truly violated their religious beliefs.  Now according to Loopholeist theology, being gay is a sin.  Serving gays is a sin also, because by merely acknowledging their existence we give credence and value to that sin.  As a result, our right to feel good about ourselves at the expense of others is outrageously violated.


            As Loopholeists, we fully support the right of gay people to be sinners.  It is their choice, and we will defend to the death their right to be wrong.  But we cannot sit back and allow ourselves to be seen as serving or consorting with sinners.  After all, how can you feel good about yourself unless you have someone to look down at?  Equality is a wonderful thing, but only those who believe with us can truly be equal.


            Our Loopholeist beliefs are summed up in our holy book, known as the Loo.  Whenever we need to contemplate life, we go straight to the Loo.  The Loo is full of what we thrive on, and we pride ourselves on spreading as much of it as possible as far as we can.  And Arizona seems like just the perfect place for spreading.


            We do not align ourselves with any other religion, because to do that would be admitting there might be a way of doing things different from our own.  We think all religions should have the right to not serve gays and lesbians or anyone else they might object to, and would stand with them if they chose that path.  We are all brothers and sisters when it comes to separating ourselves from those less worthy.


            And when we are done making sure we are free from dealing with gays, we can move forward towards other worthy goals.  Of course, that may mean culling out some of our “brothers and sisters” who have views that violate our sincerely held beliefs.  But at least the homosexual sinners won’t be totally lonely.


            Being a Loopholeist also means being free of politics.  We are neither Democrats nor Republicans, not Liberals nor Conservatives.  In fact we don’t want to deal with those people either, unless they become Loopholeists.  After all, we are a welcoming group.


            Not much grows in the deserts of Arizona, but the seeds we seek to plant will firmly take root.  We will demonstrate the right way to live by highlighting all the wrong ways.  We will find fault with all others, until the only acceptable alternative is us.


            But all of you should feel free to believe in your own religion or philosophy.  You see, we Loopholeists aren’t in control of anything yet.  But if we can take Arizona today, who knows where we will end up tomorrow.  Veto be damned.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who hopes everyone understands satire. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Not Easy Being a Kid or a Cop Today

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on February 24, 2014

By Bill Gouveia

            It took jurors less than an hour last week to find North Attleboro high school student Patrick Skrabec not guilty of threatening to commit a crime and disturbing a school assembly.  He had been charged with making statements in his math class about shooting up the school in the days following the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Connecticut.

            Now that his innocence has been established, the question becomes was Skrabec a victim of over-zealous prosecution on the part of local police and the district attorney?  Was he a victim of the hysteria and fear resulting from the shootings across the country and our changing ideas on security?  Or was he just a kid who said something stupid at an inappropriate time?

            While not professing in any way to be an expert on the situation, I think a strong case can be made for the third option.  Patrick Skrabec appears to be a good kid who made a dumb mistake and paid a high price for his actions.  Not as high as it could have been had the jury voted differently, but pretty severe nonetheless.

            In the aftermath of his ill-timed and ill-advised remarks, Skrabec was jailed without bail for six days over the Christmas holiday.  His was subjected to a dangerousness hearing at which time the DA attempted to keep him there, despite reports from witnesses that he had never been in trouble in or out of school.  He was initially charged with a felony, which was dropped two months later in favor of the reduced charges.

            His father is understandably upset over the situation, and blames police officials and the DA.  He said some of the North Attleboro police leaders should be “held to a higher standard of behavior,” and that the district attorney should be “embarrassed and ashamed.”

            Did police overreact to the situation?  That’s easy to say, but hard to determine.  When it is your job to be responsible for the safety of thousands of school children as well as the community as a whole, you don’t have a lot of room for error.  If you make a mistake in the wrong direction – people die.  Police officers and law enforcement officials live with that knowledge every day.

            That does not mean police or the DA’s office are exempt from doing their job carefully and professionally.  The rights of the individual in this society still mean something, despite our political and social shifts of the last decade or two.  No one should be subjected to frivolous or unwarranted arrest and detention.

            But just like you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, you can’t talk about shooting up the school in your classroom these days.  It doesn’t matter that you are joking or don’t mean it.  The fact is if someone takes your remarks seriously, very bad things can happen.  Like the burden on police, the burden on our students is greater today than in the past.

            Skrabec’s attorney argued that “Maybe it was in poor taste and maybe it was inappropriate.  But that doesn’t mean he is a criminal or had criminal intent.”  While that is true, the word “maybe” is poorly used in this defense.  Seriously, counselor?  It was in poor taste, it was inappropriate.  But as a jury agreed, it did not make Patrick Skrabec a criminal.

            It is quite possible this whole affair will once again see the inside of a courtroom.  A civil suit is a distinct possibility, where the standard of proof will be different and the police and district attorney the ones on trial.  Here’s hoping that does not happen.

            And here is also hoping Patrick Skrabec graduates from North High this year and goes on to live a most happy and successful life.  He has no doubt learned that words – even those said in jest – can have serious consequences. 

            Let this also serve as a reminder that our kids are still children, and will make mistakes.  We have to be able to understand that and forgive them as well as be ready to act and punish when necessary.

            Our children have to grow up faster than ever these days, and that’s a shame.  It’s not easy being a kid or a cop in this world.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

NFL Needs to Grow Up Now

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, February 17, 2014

By Bill Gouveia


            It became big news recently when a highly-ranked college football player who would normally be selected in the first few rounds of the upcoming National Football League draft announced he was gay.  The real question is – why was it such a big deal?


            Michael Sam will not be the first gay player in the NFL.  He could become the first openly gay player, which is really what the alleged story is here.  And all across America, players and fans and observers of the game are asking:  Is the NFL ready for an openly homosexual player?


            The answer is the league had better get ready.  It has no business trying to keep gay players off its fields and out of its locker rooms, any more than it can keep certain religions or races from its ranks.  The real issue is not whether the NFL is ready for gay players, but rather just how long it can continue to get away with being judged differently than the rest of America in this regard.


            Can you imagine a story breaking in the national press that a major accounting firm was about to hire the first openly gay CPA?  Or perhaps that the Associated Press was considering the hiring of an openly gay editor?  People would be outraged that the sexual preference of any potential employee was even an issue, since it in no way affects their ability to do their job.


            But the NFL (and other major sports leagues) have apologists who point to how different the leagues are from other institutions.  We are somehow supposed to believe that an NFL locker room is such a bastion of male hormonal behavior that the mere existence of an openly homosexual player would wreak havoc and cause serious harm to the franchises that rely on the public for their very survival.


            This macho crap is enough to make even a diehard sports fan like me throw up.  Spare me this indignant righteousness when it comes to protecting the good name of heterosexuality as it pertains to the athletic men who compete in the NFL.  They are in the workplace just like the rest of us, although their job is certainly more physically demanding than most.  They don’t get to make their own rules concerning the society in which they live, and it is high time they understood that.


            I have heard it said the NFL locker room is a place where homophobic references are commonplace, and forcing political correctness would change both the players and the game.  To which I reply – good, it’s about time. 


            Spare me this talk of “a brotherhood” as one NFL player put it.  The “tight-knit” teams will be torn asunder because they can’t crack gay jokes and humiliate their new co-workers. 


            That’s just doubletalk and excuses to try and allow these young millionaires to continue to avoid growing up.  They are supposed to concentrate totally on winning games and championships, so we somehow exempt them from being real and decent people at the same time.  That’s wrong and unacceptable.


            NFL locker rooms have been known to accept convicted criminals, regular drug users, and even sex offenders.  Somehow they manage to fit in to the “culture” of the league.  The idea that a gay teammate might somehow throw the entire franchise into disarray by doing nothing but being himself is absurdly stupid. 


            Many NFL experts say it will be the “distraction” an openly gay player will bring that will be the problem.  They also worry about those players of faith who will find it difficult to accept a teammate living a lifestyle they consider a sin.


            Having a gay player will only be as much a distraction as the league and the teams allow it to be.  Patriots Coach Bill Belichick is the poster boy for how to avoid distractions.  The rest of the league should watch and learn.


            And religion is a personal matter – much like sexual preference.  You don’t have to like or accept that of anyone else.  But yours does not override theirs in importance.


            Let’s make no more excuses for bad behavior by football executives and players.  Let’s start holding them to reasonable standards of behavior.  Let’s make that a big deal.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Foxboro Selectmen And Open Meeting Law

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, February 14, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia


            This state’s Open Meeting Law (OML) is often made out to be some complex series of regulations.  But it really isn’t.  It is a relatively simple statement of the rules for keeping government meetings open to the public.


            That is clearly evidenced by the fact most cities and towns have little trouble following it.  Sure, they might need some guidance from their lawyers or state officials on interpreting some of the finer points.  But year after year, for many decades now, Massachusetts municipalities generally abide by the spirit and the letter of this important statute.


            And then, there is Foxboro…


            When repeated and continued violations of the OML occur in the same community, it is usually because someone or some group of officials has decided following the law is inconvenient, politically inexpedient, or just beneath them.  The blatant disregard and political abuse of the OML in Foxboro is well-documented and quite institutionalized.  And it is time for it to come to an end.


            The town’s Board of Selectmen is the most recent and perhaps the most regular violator of the OML.  While it is difficult to term their abuse of the law as deliberate, it is becoming even tougher to believe it continues to be an accident.  Quite frankly, if you seek not to impugn the board’s integrity in this regard, you almost have to get to the point of questioning their intelligence.


            The selectmen violated the OML when they voted in closed session to terminate the contract of former town manager Kevin Paicos.  They did this with their attorney in the room.  They later admitted the violation and took the vote again in open session, after they had achieved the political objective that led to the illegal vote in the first place.  No harm, no foul was the apparent attitude.


            More recently they have fought with their own town counsel over whether or not they were guilty of another OML violation.  This time it involved an illegal communication from selectman Lorraine Brue to her other members concerning the proposed liquor license for the Splitsville bowling alley/nightclub.


            After selectmen and the town manager all stated there was no violation in this instance, it was discovered their attorney had a different opinion.  After much haggling and some citizen intervention, they decided to have Brue read her email aloud as a way to “cure” the violation they earlier said did not exist.  Once again, it amounts to copping a plea with no punishment after achieving their political goal.


            And there was great effort taken to stress the violation was “inadvertent”.  The OML does indeed differentiate between intentional violations and deliberate ones, but it is often very difficult to prove the former.  In the end, a violation is a violation.  If you take on the responsibility of being a selectman, the need to understand and follow the OML becomes a part of that.


            Now selectmen appear to be using the OML as a way of preventing their real and alleged violations from being discussed or addressed.  They have taken steps to structure their agenda to prevent citizens from bringing it up.  They have refused requests from one of their own members to publicly address the issue in a transparent and direct manner.  They are using the law to help them avoid confronting their own missteps and mistakes.


            Selectmen Jim DeVellis has been consistently thwarted in his efforts to focus the board on truly living up to the ideals of the OML.  He has tried to open up the process instead of covering it up, with little to no success.  “Selectmen and applicants come and go, but the public process should remain intact,” he recently stated.


            The sad truth is if selectmen put as much effort into following the OML as they have in trying to get around it, they would not be in the trouble they now face.  They would not be in the position of appearing to consider themselves above the law.  They would not be at risk of having their integrity publicly challenged.


            Selectmen have blamed the public for the prevailing political attitude permeating Foxboro these days.  But they need look no further than themselves for an example of bad behavior leading to problems in the local government.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.