Monthly Archives: November 2011

Stand up to Government Officials that Attempt to Silence Political Dissent and Criticism: Emma Sullivan Stands up for Freedom of Speech

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism. ~David Ben-Gurion

I have written about the Freedom of Religion and religious speech a number of times and in doing so have often touched on the broader aspects of the right of Freedom of Speech.  I find that tolerance for opposing views from both sides of the political aisle to be a disappearing commodity and nowhere was this more evident last week then deep in our nation’s heartland, the fair an flat State of Kansas where an 18 year old high school student named Emma Sullivan found herself the target of Governor Sam Brownback’s communications director.

And what did did the audacious and dastardly Ms Sullivan do? She “tweeted” that Governor Brownback “sucked.” If she was Ann Coulter, Keith Olberman or Rush Limbaugh she would have been paid good money and cheered to say that about a politician.

Who would think that a “tweet” from a teenager to her 65 Twitter followers was a threat to the good name and reputation of a governor or for that matter any elected official at any level of government. Such tweets take place millions of times a day around the the nation and for the most part they go in one ear and out the other. They are in a sense the new form of schoolyard chatter that back in my day took place between class periods or at lunch.  One kid tells another “hey I think that girl is hot” or “that guy sucks” and their friends agree, disagree or laugh.  It is part of the human experience, it is high school, heck I can remember some of that even today and if Twitter was around back then would have probably “tweeted” about the Jimmy Carter Playboy interview and probably the centerfold a Ms Patti McGuire. But now the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media have transformed how all of us communicate, especially young people who are far quicker to adopt and maximize new communication tools, oh too be young again.

However the advent of this new media scares people in power. The thoughts posted on these sites don’t get edited by the media elites and packaged to maintain market share.  They are media from below so to speak. In the Middle East the “Arab Spring” and the unsupported “Green Revolution” in Iran and “Jasmine revolution” in China were and are driven by young people using social media.  Yes there are other powers at work, business, government, finance, military and political/religious movements in all of these countries.  However, the key in making these revolts grow has been the ability of young people to use social networks to criticize their governments and organize themselves in ways that were never before possible.

This is why people in power fear the media of any kind. Napoleon Bonaparte commented that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” But even more feared by some governments and individuals within government is the thought that springs up outside the institutional press, the kind of ideas that prior to our revolution were talked about in the pubs and ale houses of Boston and Philadelphia as well as in churches around the colonies.  They were the ideas of individuals that could not be shuttered and made their way into print because printing presses were not the sole property of a media elite.

At the same time many people legitimately fear excessive government intrusion on the internet, especially by agents of the government, police, or intelligence agencies.  It is bad enough that businesses can track us via tasty “cookies” planted on our computers for marketing sake and use our personal information for almost anything that they desire, but for all their power businesses do not have the police power of government at their immediate disposal. They can go to court to silence critics or mount advertising campaigns but they do not have the government’s power through the police, judiciary, legislative and executive powers invested in it to silence their critics through force.  They may brutally use the courts and their own economic power to silence opponents but they are limited in what they can do. If a high school student says “Pepsi sucks” the Pepsi-Cola corporation cannot impose penalties on the student. But government officials, especially unscrupulous, thin skinned and petty ones who fear dissent do have power and seem to be willing to use that power in was that would frighten those that founded this nation.

This was very much in evidence last week when Emma Sullivan “tweeted” what she thought was was funny to her twitter followers, her high school friends. She had been to the Kansas State Capitol with the Youth in Government program. She joked that she had told Governor Sam Brownback “just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” In fact people say to say worse about politicians of all parties, especially the President, key Congressional leaders and other major Presidential Candidates and do to tens of millions of listeners, readers or viewers every day and they make big money doing it, in some cases millions of dollars a year.  Most of us actually listen to at least the ones that we agree with or that say what we like to hear about people that we don’t like and don’t have the platform to say it ourselves. Sometimes these pundits cross the line and their employers tell them to tone it down or on rare occasions end their employment, but rude and crude they are free to speak as they want so long as their employers get enough advertising revenue from listeners to make money.

But woe betide the teenager that tweets to friends that the the governor of her state “sucks.” What she did is over the line and has to be crushed before it can damage the good name and reputation of the governor.  What happened to this teen after she sent her “tweet” out to her friends was one of the most Orwellian displays of the brute use of government power by an unelected public official that I have seen.  Governor Brownback’s communications director Sherriene Jones-Sonntag who is in charge of monitoring negative comments and criticism of the less than popular governor spotted the tweet and declared war.

Ms Jones-Sonntag contacted the organizers of the Youth in Government program and expressed her and presumably Governor Brownback’s outrage and indignation at the tweet. The organizers of the Youth in Government program instead of telling Jones-Sontag to pound sand and remember the First Ammendment contacted the Principal of Sullivan’s school.  The principal in turn scolded Sullivan for over an hour demanding a written apology to the governor by Monday morning.  Thankfully Sullivan did not oblige.  She refused and her cause became to use the language of the internet “viral.” This brought about an apology from Brownback who said “My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize.” Be assured there would have been no apology from the governor had Emma Sullivan bowed to her principal’s demands and the story gained national traction.

I find that the use of public tax dollars to pay public employees to peruse blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media in search of negative comments and then use their position to threaten critics as a mark of totalitarianism.  Unfortunately this is not just as Kansas thing because local, state and Federal government agencies, especially political appointees of both major parties routinely use their position to search out and work to counter or silence criticism but are usually much more nuanced in the way they do it in order not to be caught blatantly doing it. Most politicians have learned the lessons of Richard Nixon and are much more careful using surrogates, Political Action Committees, think tanks or political pundits that are not public employees to do their dirty work.  Almost every “talking head” on Cable TV news stations or the radio fits in category but they are not on the public payroll and not directly working for any particular government agency.

Ms Jones-Sonntag on the other hand is a paid public employee. Tax dollars paid by the citizens of Kansas pay her salary.  She is not only influential in the information management of the Governor’s Office but a key part of the executive branch of the state government in particular the Governor.  A call from her to a school principal’s office is enough to for a spineless educational bureaucrat to attempt to force force a student to apologize for crude but still protected political free speech. That is something that should send a chill down every American of every political point of view’s spine.  The capricious and dictatorial method employed by Jones-Sonntag against Emma Sullivan is something that every American that values their own freedom of speech, religion and association should rally against. In doing so we send a message to others like her that we will not tolerate a public employee of the executive branch no matter what their political party or ideology would use their government office to silence dissent, criticism or opposition.

Emma Sullivan stood up for her beliefs.  Whether one agrees with her or not it takes much more courage to stand up for those beliefs even when the result is further bullying from those that support the right of the government to suppress criticism.  Her criticism of the Governor Brownback was rather crude and juvenile but it is protected by the Constitution.

To his credit Governor Brownback apologized but that does not remove the threat posed by people like Ms Jones-Sonntag who prowl the internet on behalf of those in power to silence dissent.  If elected officials feel so emboldened that they can employ people for the purpose of not only spinning stories but actively trolling for dissent in order to crush it we are not far from Orwell’s  vision of 1984.  The sad thing is that had Ms. Jones-Sonntag and the Principal of Emma Smith’s school ignored this it would have never become an issue at all.  But those prone to love political power seldom pass the opportunity to go after people that they think will simply roll over. It happens all the time I’m sure if she had said the same thing about the President or a Democratic party Governor and had a White House aide or Democratic governor’s communication’s director try to silence her she would be cheered and defended by many of those that curse her now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The War that No One wants to Fight: Pakistan 2011

Supply Lines in Peril

This weekend there was an altercation on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which somewhere between 24 and 28 Pakistani soldiers were killed during a NATO airstrike.  Afghan military and regional government officials are saying that Afghan soldiers called in for air support after they were attacked from the Pakistani side of the border.  The Pakistanis are calling the the strike an “unproved attack.” NATO and Afghan officials note that the border is not very distinguishable and that Taliban forces often will shoot from positions near Pakistani outposts.  Unfortunately in Pakistan the only truth that matters is that NATO killed its soldiers and the fact that their country and some agencies specifically the intelligence service actively support the Taliban is irrelevant.  The truth is that the only reason that the Pakistani government and military has halfway cooperated with NATO is because of the vast amount of military and economic aid it receives from the United States.  The thin veneer of cooperation was broken this weekend and there may be little that anyone can do to reestablish any kind of real trust or cooperation despite the fact that the cooperation of the Pakistanis is a “necessary evil” as long as the US an NATO have over 100.000 troops deployed in “penny packets” around the vast  rugged expanse of Afghanistan.

The fact is that depending on whose statistics you look at some 40-50% of NATO’s supplies are transported overland from the Pakistani port of Karachi to Afghanistan. The bulk of these goods are things like fuel and heavy equipment without which the ability of NATO forces in Afghanistan cannot conduct effective operations.  The Pakistanis have already demanded that the US pull its CIA drone units from a key Pakistani air base and the Pakistanis are still smarting over the killing of Osama Bin Laden on their soil. The simple truth is that unless the Pakistani military can calm their country our supply lines will be cut off. Unfortunately this same military and government has used any excuse or provocation to stir up their population against the United States and NATO in order to preserve their hold on power.  Now it appears that the situation has reached a point that they will not be able to control the passions that they have stirred whenever the need suits them.

If the Pakistani military and government have put themselves and us in a bind. If they  appear to be “soft” on NATO in the eyes of their people they risk a popular revolt and more terrorism at home. If they harden their opposition to NATO and the US or use the latest incident to whip up more anti-NATO support they could find themselves in a war with the United States and NATO.  Any misstep could be disastrous to all concerned.

Unlike the Iranians the Pakistanis actually have deployable nuclear weapons in addition to a large conventional military force.  If they were to decide to stop US and NATO resupply convoys for more than a few days our operations in Afghanistan would be affected and if the impasse were to become long term it could cripple US and NATO operations in that country.

The sad truth is that the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are terribly exposed to dangers that neither they or their commanders control. It is what happens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that matters what happens between the United States-Israel and Iran can have a dramatic and even calamitous effect on our deployed forces.

The fact is that it is hard to replace 40-50% of your bulk supplies when they have to come by sea and the only port is in a hostile or at best semi-hostile country.  If the Pakistanis were to force the issue the mission in Afghanistan would be untenable.  A smaller force tailored to anti-terrorism operations could be sustained by air and via overland routes which pass through former Soviet republics but a heavy force of over 100,000 troops scattered across thousands of square miles of mountainous terrain cannot be sustained unless the supply lines for bulk fuel, water, food and heavy equipment are secure.

Logistics is not sexy but no modern military can do without it. You do not operate heavy mechanized forces in hostile territory without reliable supply lines. Simply ask the Germans in Stalingrad or the French at Dien Bien Phu how well they did when supplies were cut off.

It just doesn’t seem to me that most people especially politicians see the danger that US and NATO troops face in Afghanistan from forces that they cannot control in surrounding countries.  This is a dangerous situation and even if the current impasse is resolved the long-term outlook is bleak as long as the Pakistani regime plays both sides of the fence.

If the supply lines were severed for any length of time the mission in Afghanistan would have to be reevaluated and the possibility of military action to reopen them considered. At that point all bets are off and God help us.  It would not be good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Celebration of Black Friday

Yes my friends it is that most holy of occasions in American life, the annual celebration of Black Friday where others sane an rational people allow themselves to unleash their animal passions on the floors of our greatest retailers and on the internet.  We have observed the high holy day of Black Friday where Americans of all races and religious persuasions observe a day of sacrifice to the God of consumerism often spending days in preparation carefully hoarding their treasures in hopes of scoring the best deals at the nation’s leading retailers.

Last night just for fun after going to watch the new Muppet Movie Judy and I decided to just to a drive by a few retail establishments to check on the goings on. We drove by the local Best Buy to see what liked like an Occupy Wall Street demonstration only to realize that the tents and sleeping bags contained those most hearty of shoppers huddled in the cold waiting for the doors of the store to open. Deployed near them was a news van with its antenna up and I imagine with one of our stellar local news babes or dudes out interviewing these stalwart individuals.  There were a few places open the most surprising on which I thought was the craft store Michael’s. I could not believe that they were open nor could I ever imagine the vast number of cars in their parking lot.  Since I have a panic attack anytime I have to go in that store I cannot imagine why anyone would elect to break the peace of Thanksgiving a day early for that.  But then that is part of the mystic of this most holy day of American capitalism and consumerism gone wild.

According to our local news no one has yet been shot, knifed or trampled to death in any of our local retailers though I would image that customer number 201 in line for the 200 available the $199 HDTVs at Best Buy or other retailers with a limited numbers of Black Friday “Door buster” specials are feeling homicidal or suicidal or possibly both about now.

But I hear that in some places the holiday has been celebrated with much more aplomb than our sleepy city.  I have read about shootings inside and outside of different retailers, incidents where shoppers had to be tasered by police, pepper sprayed by store security officers or even better pepper strayed each other. I can only image how fun that was for them as they wrestled for all of those really “hot” deals.

I do think that this celebration says something about us now, while many people around the world would be willing to die for a decent meal or freedom of speech we are willing to harm our neighbors because they might be the fist to get the latest gadget for a few dollars less than us.  It seems perverted don’t you think? I can’t imagine Jesus or Thomas Jefferson approving such behavior but it is part and parcel of the culture that we are very much a part of and participate in and that means Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street types and everyone in between because whether we like to admit it we like our stuff and we want it for the best possible price, not that there is anything wrong with that…especially if you are a follower of Ayn Rand’s banal philosophy.

But when we let the urges for stuff overcome our common sense and any sense of decency, decorum or love of our neighbor then maybe we have lost our way.

I guess the fact that after Iraq I am claustrophobic and get panicky in big crowds in enclosed areas now makes me less inclined even to try to go to a major retailer today.  Maybe that makes it easy for me to say these things with relative impunity since the thought of going out in such crowds petrifies me. I certainly am not trying to be judgmental but when I see people doing harm to each other to obtain things that are more than luxuries for most of the world I think that we need to just step back and look at ourselves.

 

Look at it we have massive long term unemployment, our country is financially and politically broke and we have people fighting each other and some people actually doing physical harm to others for gadgets made in China or Third World countries by what amounts to slave labor. Not only that we have people in all levels of government and corporate America that promote this culture and make their living off of the people that are committing crimes to get a deal.  I think that says something about us and that troubles me.  But then I guess I don’t have enough faith in the God of Black Friday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Gives Thanks:Thanksgiving 2011

No matter what we do for Thanksgiving or who we celebrate it with  I will only get to do the prayer under supervision due to an incident like this 20 years ago.

Let’s face it 2011 has been tough. There is trouble in River City. Wars, famine, economic turmoil, massive unemployment, Europe and the Middle East in turmoil, social and political division, the epic collapse of the Braves and Red Sox and so many other calamitous events that it makes ones head spin like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

Yet on the 4th Thursday of November we as a nation stop just for a moment to give thanks.  I really don’t know of any other country that stops everything to give thanks before going absolutely bananas for holiday bargains the next day practically sacrificing their firstborn for the latest electronic gadget, game or entertainment system, but I digress.

We stop. Almost everything but the transportation system and football stadiums shuts down as we pause just for a moment to say thank you. Millions of people will take to the road to be with loved ones or to simply “get away” over the next few days, airports will be clogged and some travelers will go through hell in order to observe a day of thanksgiving.

Many of us will thank God for his blessings while others will simply pause to reflect on what they have and the people that bring meaning, love and joy to their lives.  Others believers and unbelievers alike will find it difficult to give thanks because of their circumstances but will try to find something to be thankful for. For some that may simply be having a place to stay for a night out of the cold or a meal served up by volunteers at a shelter but if you have ever wondered where the next meal was coming from or how you would pay your rent it is much easier to understand. The staff of our hospital provided Thanksgiving food baskets and give cards to over well 100 families this year more than twice the number given last year.  Times are hard and even people with jobs are not doing as well in many cases as they did in past years. Likewise our area took a lot of damage during Hurricane Irene this summer.

Some find time to give thanks in spite of adversity and give of themselves to serve others even as the rest of the country enjoys a day off. Military, Law Enforcement, Emergency Services and Medical professionals will spend their days serving and protecting their neighbors.

Many Americans including friends and the children of friends serve overseas in harm’s way as members of the U.S. Military and other Federal agencies fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or deployed in support of those operations. I spent Thanksgiving 2007 in Iraq and have lost count of the number of Thanksgiving days that I have spent away from my wife and my family while serving in the military.  Thankfully I will be able to drive up to see my wife on Thanksgiving morning.  I don’t know what our plans are yet but we will be together and that is something to be thankful for.

Personally I am thankful for much this year.  We have survived the first year of a three year tour with me as a geographic bachelor. I was promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy, something that in these times is a blessing.  I work in a great place with great people doing what I like to do and what I am called to do. My family both Judy as well as my mom, brother and his family are doing relatively well.

I still struggle with some of the effects of PTSD but I am doing better. I do still struggle especially with sleep issues but because I have been through the PTSD experience I am better able to understand and empathize with those that suffer from it and all the related forms of combat stress, depression, anxiety and panic disorders.

I have a tremendous amount to be thankful for this year and I am very thankful to those that read this website and those that comment on various articles. I am blessed to have all of you as part of my life.

My hope for you is that this Thanksgiving will be a time of joy for you and those that you love.  For those that have much please remember those in need, for those in harm’s way overseas we pray for your safe return and for those that serve at home today to protect life and health and look to the needs of the less fortunate may God bless you for your work.

Peace and blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!

Padre Steve+

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Remembering John F Kennedy

“And so my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy

“Now the trumpet summons us again. Not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are; but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’, a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”  John F. Kennedy

It is hard to believe that it has been 48 years since President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas on a sunny November afternoon.  The two shots that killed  the President were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald according to the Warren Commission and subsequent inquiries although there are a host of conspiracy theories regarding the assassination. My purpose is not to prove or disprove the official version or any alternative explanation although I personally believe that Oswald was the lone gunman.  It is merely to remember a horrible event in the life of our nation and how easily it could happen again.

Kennedy was not the first President killed by an assassin. Four Presidents of the United States have died by the hand of assassins. The first was Abraham Lincoln killed by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday 1865.  The next was James A Garfield who was shot on July 2nd 1881 by Charles Guiteau a disgruntled supporter who claimed that he had been commanded by God to kill a the President who he believed to be ungrateful for his support.  Garfield died on September 19th probably due to the incompetence of his doctors.   The third was William McKinley who was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 6th 1901. McKinley died on September 14th.  Over 20 other attempts have been made on incumbent or former Presidents of which one wounded Theodore Roosevelt after his Presidency and another which nearly killed President Ronald Reagan on March 30th 1981.  Gerald Ford had two close brushes with female assassins within 2 weeks of each other in September 1975. More recent attempts have been made on George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.  A man was arrested for shooting at the White House last week but President Obama was away from Washington during the attack.

However Kennedy’s assassination tends to be the most talked about and studied and has left a scar on the country that really hasn’t healed. I can remember the effect that it as well as the subsequent killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy had on my parents in the following years.  My mother recounted how she felt when she heard the news of Kennedy’s death on Armed Forces Radio while we were stationed in the Philippines.  I remember the times around the anniversary of his assassination we would watch television shows about it and the movie PT-109. While I do not have direct memories of President Kennedy’s assassination I do remember those of Dr King and Senator Kennedy as well as the subsequent attempts on President Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush.

John F Kennedy is one of my favorite Presidents. I know that John F Kennedy was a deeply flawed man and I do not gloss over his failings either as a man or some of his decisions while President. He was certainly not perfect or That being said I still I admire him.  He volunteered to serve in combat on PT Boats despite having chronic lower back problems tht kept him out of the Army and necessitated a waiver to enter the Navy. His actions in saving his crew after his PT-109 was sunk were nothing short of heroic and his crew knew it. After he his crew was rescued Kennedy elected to remain in action and commanded PT-59 in combat rescuing Marines on Choisuel Island. Kennedy’s citation for the Navy and Marine Corps Medal read:

For extremely heroic conduct as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 109 following the collision and sinking of that vessel in the Pacific War Theater on August 1–2, 1943. Unmindful of personal danger, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Kennedy unhesitatingly braved the difficulties and hazards of darkness to direct rescue operations, swimming many hours to secure aid and food after he had succeeded in getting his crew ashore. His outstanding courage, endurance and leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

His speeches still inspire me and as a child a had a copy of his book Profiles in Courage . I grew up with his promise to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, the creation of the Peace Corps, his backing of Special Forces, his love of the Navy, the great “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, his support of the Civil Rights movement and and his defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis all inspire me.  His inauguration speech where he said “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” was and still is a lot of my motivation for serving in the Navy.  John F Kennedy symbolized to me as a young person the hope of a country that had he lived might be different today.

I could be critical and point out all of John Kennedy’s flaws and contradictions.  But then too easy to do. People make a living doing that. People often forget that Kennedy was a hero, not perfect but a hero. I wish a quarter of our current elected officials served their country in combat as Kennedy did and understood what real danger and heroism is. Instead with very few exceptions we have elected men as flawed and contradictory as John F Kennedy with none of the personal courage the vast bulk who would happily order soldiers to their death but have no earthy clue about the dangers of war and the sacrifice involved. That John F Kennedy understood. That earns my respect.

I tremble when I think that someone would have such a deep hatred of him or for that matter any other President that they would kill or attempt to kill them.  That kind of hatred goes beyond me.  Lee Harvey Oswald was a small and pathetic man who needed to be a revolutionary, who needed to be important failing everything else he killed the President. Unfortunately there are people like Oswald on all sides of the political, ideological and religious spectrum who will gladly trade the life of a President or any other public figure for their moment in the spotlight and need to demonstrate their importance to the world.

I fear for our country because of the intense hatred that has become part and parcel of our political landscape. The hatred is almost palpable and while much is directed at President Obama because he is the incumbent President his successor if a Republican would likely have similar hatred directed at him just from different people.  Thus I do pray for the safety of our leaders and for God to protect us from ourselves.

While I do so I remember the President whose life was cut short by the bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Dominator 2011: Verlander voted AL MVP

2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander

For the first time in 25 years a starting pitcher was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League. Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was named the American League MVP today in as convincing manner as he pitched during the season.

The last time a starting pitcher won this honor was in 1986 when a young up and coming Roger Clemens won it as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  The last time a pitcher won the ward was in 1992 when Dennis Eckersley won it as a closer for the Oakland Athletics.  It was the first time since 1984 that a pitcher won the MVP as well as the Cy Young award.  In winning both in the same season Verlander joined Brooklyn Dodgers’ great Don Newcombe who won them in 1956, Los Angeles Dodgers’ legend Sandy Koufax who did it in 1963, St. Louis Cardinals’ great Bob Gibson and Detroit’s Denny McLain who led pitchers in both leagues in 1968, Oakland’s Vida Blue in 1971, Rollie Fingers who won it as a relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981 and Detroit’s Willie Hernandez who did so in 1984.

It is unusual that a pitcher wins the MVP. Part of the equation is that starting pitchers are not every day players and even like relief pitchers who may appear several times a week.  Because of this a starting pitcher must be absolutely dominating in all aspects of his game and do so in such a way that their team’s success is in large part attributable to their play.  This was the case with Verlander who dominated pitching this year.

Verlander’s accomplishments speak for themselves.  He went 25-4 in 34 starts, had a ERA of 2.40, held opposing teams to a .192 team batting average, struck out 250 batters while walking just 57 men.  His Walks/Hits inning pitched WHIP was a tiny 0.92.  He led every competitive category for pitching in the American League and  for that matter led all pitchers in wins and strikeouts during the season.  To top things off Verlander also had a no-hitter against Toronto coming a walk from a perfect game and he won 12 consecutive games leading the Tigers to their first division title since 1987.

The was no player in baseball that was as valuable to their team or as dominant as Verlander this year.  That may be a hard sell for those that believe that pitchers should not be considered for the MVP since they are not every day players but the numbers support Verlander’s selection as the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player.  His competition among American League position players could make no such claim, while excellent ballplayers none was such a standout that they had any real chance of winning.

Congratulations on a job well done!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Advent of Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome 2011

I hate to sound like a Grinch or Scrooge type of killjoy but here on November 20th I am bothered by an attack of Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome (EOHCS). EOHCS is not yet recognized as a Disorder in the DSM IV I have to wing it here but I think that the average person probably realizes that this condition is epidemic in our society.  Since I tend to avoid malls and the big retail outlets in general I can usually avoid attacks of EOHCS mostly by ignoring the incessant “Christmas” or holiday commercials of which car commercials seem to be the most offensive this year.  However I do  have to go out in public sometimes and on those occasions must do all that I can to stay sane as EOHCS seems to come earlier than it ever did.

I had to go get groceries this afternoon and went to a “Wal-Mart Super Center” in Morehead City because they carry a particular brand of pita bread that I cannot get at any of the grocery stores in my local area.  Now I expect that when I go to any retailer after Labor Day to find Christmas specials and an encroachment of Christmas paraphernalia and gifts with each passing week.  That is a given in our consumer driven society and whether I like it or not it is a fact of life and I am not going to change it.  However I just wanted groceries and not the full on Christmas press.  Now to be sure I only go to Wal-Mart when necessary because frankly the place sets off almost every alarm in my post PTSD mind and body.  When I go my goal is to get in and out as soon as possible and avoid any crowds, congested areas and noise.  Thus I will usually go late at night as if I were a stealth commando, but today I needed to go early to get it done.

Of course the store was littered with pre-Black Friday specials and had aisles of candies, cakes, toys, and trimmings. I felt like the Grinch walking through Whoville without the sweet ambiance of that cartoon town.  As I went made my foray into the store, knowing exactly what I needed and where to find it I was assaulted by and overwhelmed with the sound of Christmas music which was louder and more obnoxious than usual. I think the most annoying of the songs I heard today was “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” sung by Brenda Lee which seems to repeated about every 15 minutes during the holiday season.  I find her voice particularly grating and about as soothing as Pee Wee Herman scratching his nails scratching on a chalkboard when I am out shopping.  Now this song is simply annoying but when I hear songs that are meant for worship of the Lord being used as a means to condition us to buy things I get offended.  Thus when I hear “Silent Night” sandwiched between advertisements on November 20th in a store I want to scream, not that there is anything wrong with that; the screaming that is.

Now I like Christmas music, so long as it is actually somewhat close to Christmas even even the non-religious songs of which Grandma Got Run over By a Reindeer is my all time favorite, but I digress.  Since liturgically speaking it isn’t even Advent yet I find such a bombardment of secular and sacred Christmas songs while grocery shopping to be offensive to my somewhat liturgically correct sensibilities.  That may seem harsh but the musical assault at Wal-Mart only increased my desire to finish shopping and get the hell out of the store as fast as my cart would carry my food.  It did not induce me to hang around to see if I wanted to spend extra money on stuff that I probably don’t need.

And we wonder while there is little sense of the Holy in our society.  The fact is that somehow we have allowed our culture to devolve to the point that we utilize actions and holidays meant to point us in the direction of the Holy and use them to satisfy our most base desires. The Holy is subordinated to the profit margins of retailers who make their money satiating our desires for the newest and greatest stuff that we can get our hands on.

I am not against people getting nice things at all or giving gifts in abundance to their loved ones or even for themselves.  I like nice stuff too and I love the celebration of Christmas in its spiritual as well as cultural derivatives.  I like Christmas trees and decorations and the festiveness of Christmas especially with friends enjoying each other and a good glass of hot Gluhwein.

I guess I think that when we turn Christmas into a months long pursuit of profits and stuff that it really cheapens and degrades the holiday, even for people that are not Christians. Really, Black Friday is the real holy day in our consumer society and what gets more push back, a store being open briefly on Christmas or Black Friday sales encroaching on Thanksgiving?

Even allegedly “Christian” retailers take advantage of the holiday even selling trinkets that say “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” or “What Would Jesus Do?” at a healthy profit.  Again I am not against people making a profit from their labors people should be compensated well for work well done. But the fact that most Jesus junk like almost everything else is now made in China or Third World countries by workers that are all but slaves doesn’t seem to enter into the equation for jesus is the reason for the season“Christian” retailers and even ministries; just as it doesn’t for everyone else seeking to make a profit off the baby born in the manger.

How sad that as a culture we have reduced the celebration of God humbly entering into the human experience to a celebration of crass economic Darwinism much more in tune with Ayn Rand than Jesus.  Paul writes in Philippians though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness….” Somehow that concept seems lost in our culture.

Oh well, what can I say?  Maybe I am a Grinch after all or maybe I can get counseling for Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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