Monthly Archives: August 2012

Honest Questions About God and Blue Moons

Tonight I walked my little dog Molly to the beach under the light of the Blue Moon. It was a beautiful night, the first without rain or clouds that we have had in the past month. As I walked with her, in the quiet with the noise of the surf in the background I was taken aback by the peace. It was nice to be able to take the time to walk with her and take in all that there was to see, hear and then feel as I felt the cool sand on my feet as we walked to the surf. I needed it.

The past couple of days I have been battling what I think is a combination summer cold and allergic reaction to the vast amount of mold spores in the air due to the very warm and wet weather the past month. I went to bed and woke up with sinus headaches the past three days and this morning had a bit of vertigo. So when I went to work I got in with  one of our doctors. Thankfully I don’t have any ear infection yet and don’t need any antibiotics. However he prescribed a couple of meds to help me with the congestion and told me to use my nasal wash solution.  I have also had my fill of politics this week, it seems that as hard as I try to avoid it the whole political game gets thrown in my face. So tonight I have only had the MLB baseball channel on and tried to avoid news and political commentary of any kind.

While I was waiting for my prescription this afternoon a young Marine Sergeant came in the waiting area and sat down across from me. There were a few others in the area but it was not crowded. At the time I was reading a book from my Kindle on my I-phone and as I glanced up he greeted me. I returned the greeting and out of the blue he asked:

“Do you ever have problems with God?”

I love being around Marines and Sailors because unlike a lot of others young Marines and Sailors, especially those that have been to war are likely to ask hard questions to clergy. There is little pretense among them, something that cannot be said for many clergymen or

I was wearing my service khakis with ribbons and of course being a Christian chaplain I have a gold cross on my left collar and my rank on my right. There is no question in this Marine’s mind that I am a clergyman. I also know that he expects me to be honest with him. I also know that he will know if I am attempting to bullshit him. Marines and Sailors who have been to war have a keen eye for bullshit.

I immediately put down the I-phone and looked at him. I paused acknowledged the question and said:

“To be honest yes, a lot of them.”

He said “I do too” paused for and asked “how do you deal with them?”

I smiled and told him that it was a long story, but gave him the nutshell of how after Iraq I had experienced a crisis in faith and was for all practical purposes an agnostic struggling to believe.

He then asked how I came to believe again. I briefly recounted the story that I refer to as my “Christmas miracle” (See Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle  http://padresteve.com/2009/12/24/padre-steve’s-christmas-miracle/ ) and said that I still sometimes have lots of doubts and questions.

He replied “So do I. I guess that’s why they call it faith.”

About that time his number was called and I gave him my card. He thanked me for listening and went to get his prescription.

I know that some believers are troubled when I express the real fact that I have doubts. But I have found that there are a lot of people like this young Marine Sergeant who just want Priests, pastors, chaplains or Rabbis to simple be honest when it comes to doubt and faith. The Marine Sergeant understood more about faith than a lot of ministers that I know.

It is not about how certain we are but instead about how certain God is in his great love for us that he allows us to doubt.

Admittedly I still struggle. But I still believe, sometimes against all rationality. The great Russian playwright Fyodor Dostoyevsky said something that I can only echo in its depth. “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”

I guess that is big part of why I am here.

Peace

Padre Steve+

About these ads

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, faith, Religion

Where did I Go Left?

 

Somewhere along the path from conservatism to moderation I got labeled.

I got labeled with the “L” Word. no, not the Lesbian one, the other less socially acceptable one, the Liberal label.

To tell the truth I don’t know how it happened. I cheered the demise of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis and even Al Gore. I listened to Rush as much as I could. Not even 8 years ago I was defending “W” against what I thought were unfair assaults from the left. I enjoyed liberal bashing. It was fun.

But a funny thing happened between 2004 and now, I think it was a place called Iraq, where I began to question the unquestionable questions of conservative orthodoxy in a number of forums. I became a moderate and a passionate one at that.

I think being a moderate is really a tricky thing. Back when I was in seminary during the pre-Fundamentalist takeover of Southwestern Baptist Seminary I remember hearing a big name Fundamentalist preacher say that “middle of the road moderates were only good to be run over.”  One of my professors who would be a casualty of the takeover of the seminary said that for many in the Southern Baptist Convention of the time that “Liberal means anyone to the left of me.”

Now I do have to confess, unlike a lot of people when they get older and become more conservative I have become more “liberal” in that I am more accepting of people different than me. I am also more willing to tolerate things that back when I knew everything I would attack without exception. When I worked up the guts to openly state that I questioned political conservative orthodoxy two years ago I got thrown out of the church that I was ordained. But despite that I still believed that I was somewhere in the middle of the spectrum but I am obviously wrong. My mom even thinks so and she used to think I was a right winger.

Where did I go left?

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under News and current events, Political Commentary, purely humorous, Religion

“We Built This” Part One: Smedley Butler Tells Just How Big Business Did it All by Themselves

I am amazed at the hubris of the Romney campaign doubling down on this “we built it” crap. The fact is that many of if not most of the “American” corporations that now in fact are multinationals that couldn’t give a crap about Americans were and are made much of their profits off of war and the sacrifices made by American military personnel for over 100 years. Politicians of both parties have been in on this game since the beginning and while I mention the Romney campaign he is not the first nor the last that will play it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of how American business and ingenuity can get things done. Nor am I against people making money, even lots of money especially if they produce something worthwhile and they earn their money honestly. Nor am I jealous of those that were born into money, so long as they are honest about it and admit that that it was the product of those that gave it to them or provided them the opportunity to succeed. Nor do I criticize those small business owners that invest their heart, soul and treasure into becoming successful and doing great things, often against the odds and government regulations which are written to favor the big players and multinationals.

At the same time I also know that despite the rhetoric none of our major corporations or their CEOs got there all by themselves. Despite all the hype the facts are that our major corporations including the banks have subsisted on the government and American taxpayers for years. Bailouts, subsidies, government loans and all sorts of other perks are part of this history, but nowhere more glaring is how many in business got where they are by being war profiteers.

While these corporations have produced some the the best weapons systems ever seen. However they have also produced a lot of crap that failed the military, or which was not needed, or which were so bad or problem laden that they were rejected by the military. However they still got paid or are still getting getting paid for by the taxpayer.

To me there is something unseemly in saying “we built it ourself” when the profits are made off the taxpayer and with the blood of American military personnel. What is even more obscene is that some of these companies make money from our enemies  by supplying them even while those enemies use the weapons and materials paid at least in part by American taxpayers against our troops.

Major General Smedley Butler, US Marine Corps who was awarded the Medal of Honor twice wrote about how American business engorged themselves at the cost of Americans during the First World War, often without any positive result, apart from their profits. The fact is that little has changed since then.

Butler’s book, War is a Racket should be required reading for all voters if nothing else to demonstrate the absolute cynicism and moral bankruptcy of the “we built this ourselves” argument. The book was written after the war and Butler’s retirement during the Great Depression. The monetary figures are those of the period. One can adjust them for inflation if they want to, but it suffices to say that the big banks and corporations didn’t do it all by themselves.

Chapter Two of the book is entitled Who Makes the Profits. If you believe that these companies got where they were all by themselves then you need to read this. This article only discusses World War One. Volumes can be written about how American business has made much of its profit from none other than Uncle Sam, and our tax dollars.  The interesting thing is that many of the corporations named by Butler are still doing this today, sometimes under different names because of mergers but still the same companies.

I am already thinking about doing some more articles on just how various corporations made their money and exploited the government and taxpayers in order to do it. That is the wonderful thing about history. It shows when people are lying in order to increase their power.

So enjoy Chapter Two of War is a Racket

Who Makes The Profits?

The World War, rather our brief participation in it, has cost the United States some $52,000,000,000. Figure it out. That means $400 to every American man, woman, and child. And we haven’t paid the debt yet. We are paying it, our children will pay it, and our children’s children probably still will be paying the cost of that war.

The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits — ah! that is another matter — twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent — the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let’s get it.

Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket — and are safely pocketed. Let’s just take a few examples.

Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.

Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!

Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.

There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.

Anaconda Copper for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year. (One should read their history of strip mining massive pollution, ARCO bought them in the 1970s but was stuck with massive environmental problems, such that the company is only on the books to show the losses)

Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.

Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000. A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.

Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather. For the three-year period before the war the total profits of Central Leather Company were $3,500,000. That was approximately $1,167,000 a year. Well, in 1916 Central Leather returned a profit of $15,000,000, a small increase of 1,100 per cent. That’s all.

The General Chemical Company (now part of Honeywell) averaged a profit for the three years before the war of a little over $800,000 a year. Came the war, and the profits jumped to $12,000,000. a leap of 1,400 per cent.

International Nickel Company — and you can’t have a war without nickel — showed an increase in profits from a mere average of $4,000,000 a year to $73,000,000 yearly. Not bad? An increase of more than 1,700 per cent.

American Sugar Refining Company (largest Sugar refining company in the world, name brand Domino Sugar) averaged $2,000,000 a year for the three years before the war. In 1916 a profit of $6,000,000 was recorded.

Listen to Senate Document No. 259. The Sixty-Fifth Congress, reporting on corporate earnings and government revenues. Considering the profits of 122 meat packers, 153 cotton manufacturers, 299 garment makers, 49 steel plants, and 340 coal producers during the war. Profits under 25 per cent were exceptional. For instance the coal companies made between 100 per cent and 7,856 per cent on their capital stock during the war. The Chicago packers doubled and tripled their earnings.

And let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers. Being partnerships rather than incorporated organizations, they do not have to report to stockholders. And their profits were as secret as they were immense. How the bankers made their millions and their billions I do not know, because those little secrets never become public — even before a Senate investigatory body.

But here’s how some of the other patriotic industrialists and speculators chiseled their way into war profits.

Take the shoe people. They like war. It brings business with abnormal profits. They made huge profits on sales abroad to our allies. Perhaps, like the munitions manufacturers and armament makers, they also sold to the enemy. For a dollar is a dollar whether it comes from Germany or from France. But they did well by Uncle Sam too. For instance, they sold Uncle Sam 35,000,000 pairs of hobnailed service shoes. There were 4,000,000 soldiers. Eight pairs, and more, to a soldier. My regiment during the war had only one pair to a soldier. Some of these shoes probably are still in existence. They were good shoes. But when the war was over Uncle Sam has a matter of 25,000,000 pairs left over. Bought — and paid for. Profits recorded and pocketed.

There was still lots of leather left. So the leather people sold your Uncle Sam hundreds of thousands of McClellan saddles for the cavalry. But there wasn’t any American cavalry overseas! Somebody had to get rid of this leather, however. Somebody had to make a profit in it — so we had a lot of McClellan saddles. And we probably have those yet.

Also somebody had a lot of mosquito netting. They sold your Uncle Sam 20,000,000 mosquito nets for the use of the soldiers overseas. I suppose the boys were expected to put it over them as they tried to sleep in muddy trenches — one hand scratching cooties on their backs and the other making passes at scurrying rats. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to France!

Anyhow, these thoughtful manufacturers wanted to make sure that no soldier would be without his mosquito net, so 40,000,000 additional yards of mosquito netting were sold to Uncle Sam.

There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting in those days, even if there were no mosquitoes in France. I suppose, if the war had lasted just a little longer, the enterprising mosquito netting manufacturers would have sold your Uncle Sam a couple of consignments of mosquitoes to plant in France so that more mosquito netting would be in order.

Airplane and engine manufacturers felt they, too, should get their just profits out of this war. Why not? Everybody else was getting theirs. So $1,000,000,000 — count them if you live long enough — was spent by Uncle Sam in building airplane engines that never left the ground! Not one plane, or motor, out of the billion dollars worth ordered, ever got into a battle in France. Just the same the manufacturers made their little profit of 30, 100, or perhaps 300 per cent.

Undershirts for soldiers cost 14¢ [cents] to make and uncle Sam paid 30¢ to 40¢ each for them — a nice little profit for the undershirt manufacturer. And the stocking manufacturer and the uniform manufacturers and the cap manufacturers and the steel helmet manufacturers — all got theirs.

Why, when the war was over some 4,000,000 sets of equipment — knapsacks and the things that go to fill them — crammed warehouses on this side. Now they are being scrapped because the regulations have changed the contents. But the manufacturers collected their wartime profits on them — and they will do it all over again the next time.

There were lots of brilliant ideas for profit making during the war.

One very versatile patriot sold Uncle Sam twelve dozen 48-inch wrenches. Oh, they were very nice wrenches. The only trouble was that there was only one nut ever made that was large enough for these wrenches. That is the one that holds the turbines at Niagara Falls. Well, after Uncle Sam had bought them and the manufacturer had pocketed the profit, the wrenches were put on freight cars and shunted all around the United States in an effort to find a use for them. When the Armistice was signed it was indeed a sad blow to the wrench manufacturer. He was just about to make some nuts to fit the wrenches. Then he planned to sell these, too, to your Uncle Sam.

Still another had the brilliant idea that colonels shouldn’t ride in automobiles, nor should they even ride on horseback. One has probably seen a picture of Andy Jackson riding in a buckboard. Well, some 6,000 buckboards were sold to Uncle Sam for the use of colonels! Not one of them was used. But the buckboard manufacturer got his war profit.

The shipbuilders felt they should come in on some of it, too. They built a lot of ships that made a lot of profit. More than $3,000,000,000 worth. Some of the ships were all right. But $635,000,000 worth of them were made of wood and wouldn’t float! The seams opened up — and they sank. We paid for them, though. And somebody pocketed the profits.

It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52,000,000,000. Of this sum, $39,000,000,000 was expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure yielded $16,000,000,000 in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that way. This $16,000,000,000 profits is not to be sneezed at. It is quite a tidy sum. And it went to a very few.

The Senate (Nye) committee probe of the munitions industry and its wartime profits, despite its sensational disclosures, hardly has scratched the surface.

Even so, it has had some effect. The State Department has been studying “for some time” methods of keeping out of war. The War Department suddenly decides it has a wonderful plan to spring. The Administration names a committee — with the War and Navy Departments ably represented under the chairmanship of a Wall Street speculator — to limit profits in war time. To what extent isn’t suggested. Hmmm. Possibly the profits of 300 and 600 and 1,600 per cent of those who turned blood into gold in the World War would be limited to some smaller figure.

Apparently, however, the plan does not call for any limitation of losses — that is, the losses of those who fight the war. As far as I have been able to ascertain there is nothing in the scheme to limit a soldier to the loss of but one eye, or one arm, or to limit his wounds to one or two or three. Or to limit the loss of life.

There is nothing in this scheme, apparently, that says not more than 12 per cent of a regiment shall be wounded in battle, or that not more than 7 per cent in a division shall be killed.

Of course, the committee cannot be bothered with such trifling matters.

Smedley Butler, War is a Racket 

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, News and current events

TV Tonight: Orioles vs. White Sox or GOP Convention?

 

 

Walt Whitman said “I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”  I agree wholeheartedly with Whitman on this opening night of the political convention season.

I think I have picked up a summer cold or perhaps am suffering from allergies related to all the mold in the air from all the rain that has inundated us over the past month. I have had a sinus headache since last night and thankfully I was able to take off a bit early to go home, lay down and try to clean out my sinuses.

Regardless of what the malady is I am deciding what to watch on television tonight. The MLB Channel features the Baltimore Orioles against the Chicago White Sox while the Republican National Convention and other reality TV dominates the airwaves elsewhere. I’ll have a similar choice when the Democrats have their convention next week though it may not be the Orioles playing.

The problem is that I love baseball, I am thrilled that for the first time in years and years the Orioles are in playoff contention in late August but I also am fascinated by politics in the same way that I am by shark attacks and train wrecks. I began watching political conventions and debates 1968 when I was just 8 years old. I worked for the campaign of Gerald Ford as a volunteer in 1976 and I have watched campaigns and conventions ever since. However this year it is different. I thought it might be gutter quality of the campaign and the absolute polarization of the parties or the unwillingness of the uber-partisans on both sides to actually work together for anything that might be the cause of my lack of interest this year.  However that is not the case, other elections in my life have been nasty and partisan.

Unlike other election years there is no drama. Neither party’s convention packs any drama this year. Obama was an unchallenged incumbent and Romney destroyed his fragmented conservative opponents by carpet bombing them when they started to gain traction. There will be no surprises. The nominees have been set for months, the VP picks are chosen, the platforms offer nothing really new. Gone are the days of tension waiting to find out the VP nominee of a close role call vote or an insurgent candidate that is allowed, unlike Ron Paul to speak at the convention. Even protestors, who are a staple of the American political drama are being cordoned off by massive police and security forces a half mile away from the convention site. What happens in Tampa will be followed next week by the same show under a different name in Charlotte.  It is as if the conventions of both parties are completely in the thrall of the special interests and that nothing unscripted can be allowed to interrupt the show.

The speakers will do their best to fire up their respective electoral base by demonizing the opposing party and at the same time will do their best to make their candidate look good. The pundits and preachers have all chosen sides and smelled armpits while the advertising barrages of both campaigns and their allied Super-PACs and mega-donors are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in mostly negative advertisements. I get no respite from this since where I am stationed and where my home is are both swing states. Thus I and millions of others have to suffer through an unending bombardment of negativity, lies and distortion.

The one issue that really matters to me, that of what is happening to our military serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan will scarcely be addressed. There will be short tributes to “the troops” at both conventions but it will for the most part be bumper sticker patriotism devoid of any real depth, passion or empathy. But the fact is the vast majority of the country is not involved in the war and many don’t even know that there is a war going on or that we are on the verge of being sucked into other wars. Everyone is happy to “support the troops” especially if it doesn’t cost them anything. So for me that huge displays of red white and blue decorations and Old Glory flying over these conventions is somewhat askew with the reality that I see. It is cheap patriotism, except for the diamond, ruby and sapphire studded 24k gold pendants and American flag pins adorning the faithful. Those are expensive.

Please know that I recognize the profound differences between the parties and the choice that the voters of this nation will have to make in November. I just think that this year the conventions are lacking in drama, lacking in real passion and for that matter are simply places where the most partisan elements of both parties gather, surrounded by the big money people and treated as a new aristocracy by the media.

Streakers would make either convention more interesting

Because of this, and the availability of all the convention coverage by a multiplicity of sources from all sides of the American political-media spectrum as well as overseas media I don’t need to watch either convention. I might watch Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their acceptance speeches but I am not going to trouble myself with the rest of it, unless a hoard Ron Paul of streakers make a dash through the convention, Paul Ryan converts to Islam, Chris Christie makes the case for himself in 2016 or if Joe Biden shows up in Tampa and steals the GOP nomination. That would make it interesting. It would take similar events at next week’s Democratic Party convention to make me watch it.

So tonight it is baseball. The Orioles are having a magical year. They are three and a half games behind the Yankees in the American League East and tied for the lead in the American League Wild Card race. They have already won more games this year than they did all of last season. They have won 13 straight one run games and no-one, with the possible exception of me and maybe Buck Showalter thought that they would be in this race right now. With just over a month left in the regular season the Orioles matter. That my friends is drama, that is inspirational, that is worth watching. So to Mitt and the GOP faithful this week and President Obama and the Democrat faithful next week, I have better things to do than watch you. I have baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, News and current events, Political Commentary

Praying for the Gulf: Hurricane Isaac Channels the Ghost of Katrina

Hurricane Katrina was a devastating event. The hurricane nearly came ashore as a category 5 hurricane, weakening at the last minute before coming ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Even so the storm had major and long lasting effects. Over 1800 people lost their lives and property damage exceeded $81 billion. Parts of New Orleans still remain an uninhabited ghost town. It is etched in the psyche of the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast and the nation. Whenever a storm forms in the Gulf of Mexico it brings back those terrible memories of August 2005 when death came to New Orleans in the form of Katrina. The ghosts of Katrina still remain and Hurricane Isaac has channeled those ghosts.

Katrina

In 2005 I was serving as the Chaplain for the Marine Security Forces in Norfolk. I preparing to fly to New Orleans for a conference on Sexual Assault and Prevention. I was watching the weather closely and as Hurricane Katrina tracked toward New Orleans and grew stronger I got word that the conference had been postponed. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to the conference, meeting some colleagues that I had not seen and had planned to see a Minor League ballgame when in town.

My disappointment rapidly shifted to concern about the areas of New Orleans and Gulfport Mississippi. Initially I wasn’t too concerned but watched in horror as the storm strengthened. I was thinking hard about the Navy in Gulfport where I had talked the detailer out of sending me in to be the junior chaplain in the base chapel 2003 because I wanted to remain operational. Had I meekly agreed to the detailer we would have been directly in the path of Katrina’s track.

To watch the disaster unfold was frightening. To see people suffering and the breakdown in civil order as the city was inundated was frightening. Emergency response was woefully insufficient, public order completely broke down as levees failed and local response providers became victims themselves. The Super Dome was a prime evacuation center but it was hit hard, supplies we short and the attempt to provide shelter to the poor who could not evacuate a disaster. State, Local and Federal responses were poorly coordinated and executed.  I some ways New Orleans will never completely recover from Katrina.

It appears Isaac is tracking to New Orleans and Gulfport.  If it continues its path and the models are correct the effects should be nothing like Katrina although massive rainfall and storm surge could create some chaos. Thankfully some dry air is keeping Isaac from gaining too much momentum however Katrina surprised many by gaining a huge amount of power in a very short time.

Local, State and Federal government agencies are on alert, the National Guard has been activated in some areas and evacuations of coastal areas have been going on for a couple of days.

Isaac will have economic impacts beyond any life or property damage due to the storm but, hopefully only short term. Oil drilling and production facilities will be shut down for several days even if they sustain no or little damage and gas prices are moving up. Oil platforms have been strengthened since Katrina but all it takes as one platform to fail to create an ecological disaster.

Isaac has delayed the Republican National Convention in Tampa which was very much in the target zone just a few days ago. Anyone who has ever been to Tampa knows the danger if a storm was to hit it. There have been studies one of which, Project Phoenix http://www.tbrpc.org/tampabaycatplan/pdf/Project_Phoenix_Scenario_Info.pdf  which analyzes the effects of a worst case scenario. In 1921 Tampa was hit by a category 4 storm that did great damage to Tampa and St Petersburg which were then much smaller metropolitan areas.

Damage from the 1921 Tampa Bay Hurricane

While Tampa should suffer little from Isaac, the city was right to take preparations and the GOP leadership was right to delay the start of the convention. Since hurricanes often make unexpected moves and sometimes strengthen in ways not expected they could not take that chance. That being said if Isaac hits New Orleans hard it could put a damper on media coverage of the convention. After all in our society natural disasters and human tragedies always get more coverage than political rallies.

I have been through about 6 or 7 hurricanes or tropical storms in North Carolina and Virginia and another in Okinawa. I have rode out hurricanes and Indian Ocean cyclones at sea. they are not to be taken lightly. Last year I experienced Hurricane Irene which was a very large slow moving category one storm which did enough damage in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to be classed as one of the top ten natural disasters in the history of the country.

So I pray for all of those in the path of Isaac tonight and in the coming days as the storm hits the Gulf Coast and then moves inland.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, natural disasters, News and current events

Thoughts on Choosing a President and the Results of Not Getting it Right: Lieutenant General Harold Moore at West Point

Lt.Gen. Harold (Hal) Moore is a legitimate American hero. Moore was commissioned as an infantry officer in the closing months of the Second World War, served in Korea and later in 1965 ed the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division into combat at the Battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam. In that battle, the first major engagement of US forces against North Vietnamese Army Regulars Moore’s outnumbered battalion held off elements of two NVA regiments. Moore’s book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young was adapted and released as the film We Were Soldiers where Moore was portrayed by Mel Gibson. His second book, We are Soldiers Still: A Journey back to the Battlefields of Vietnam are must reads for anyone who wants an honest assessment of going to war and the costs involved.

In 2005 Lt. Gen. Moore was invited to speak at West Point. It was during some of the worst times of the Iraq insurgency and Moore had been a critic of the war and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He recounted the question and answer session in We are Soldiers Still:

“In a long question-and-answer session following my speech I was asked about Iraq and then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. In this place-where cadets live by a code that says they never lie, cheat, steal, or quibble-I was bound to speak the truth as I knew it.

The war in Iraq, I said, is not worth the life of even one American soldier. As for Secretary Rumsfeld, I told them, I never thought I would live long enough to see someone chosen to preside over the Pentagon who made Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara look good by comparison. The cadets sat in stunned silence; their professors were astonished. Some of these cadets would be leading young soldiers in combat in a matter of a few months. They deserved a straight answer.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander in chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake-and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million Americans gave their lives to protect and defend.” (Lt. Gen. Harold Moore at West Point Spring 2005) http://www.dailypaul.com/81039/inspiring-quote-from-lt-gen-harold-hal-moore-usa-ret

I make many comments about politics on this site. I am a critic of both parties and and their Presidential candidates. I find much to be desired in the leadership being displayed by many in political office and those running for office. However no matter which party a candidate belongs to I expect, like Lt. Gen. Moore that they are “wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country.”

I completely agree with Moore that We should not choose “someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.”  

We should know better by now. We have experienced the tragedy of leaders who failed their soldiers and this nation in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. However it is the responsibility of the American people to elect well qualified men and women to office. It is not to simply for people vote for their special interests and vote for those that can play the electoral game the best regardless of their actual qualifications or for that matter their wisdom.

I have served as an officer for 29 years in the Army and the Navy. I have served under five Presidents all of whom I found reason to agree with and disagree with on matters of policy. But they were the President and I was and still am not. It is possible that I will serve a sixth President before I retire from the military. Regardless of who that is or which party they represent I will be faithful to my oath and to the Constitution and be respectful of Office of the President and the man, or woman who holds it and I will pray for them. Likewise I pray that the men, or women that they chose as the civilian leaders of the military are both wise and morally courageous, unlike Robert McNamara or Donald Rumsfeld. The same is true for senior officers that set policy and lead troops in combat. We do not need what David Hackworth called the “perfumed princes” as leaders.

That being said I do pray that whoever is elected this November will be more than a good campaigner and be wise and thoughtful before committing the nation, and especially those that serve in the military to war. Our men and women serving in harms’ way deserve as much. Too many American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen have died or come back horribly maimed from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan for us not to expect as much from those that seek to lead the nation regardless of their political party.

Moore’s co-author, journalist Joe Galloway, a critic of both President Bush and President Obama wrote concerning Afghanistan in 2010:

“For God’s sake, don’t ratchet up slowly, buying time with the bodies of dead and wounded American soldiers, while you try to sell the wrong war in the wrong place against the wrong enemy to the American people.

For eight years, we’ve heard presidents and other politicians talk about setting conditions for a democratic central government in a country — really a bunch of tribes and clans — that’s never had such a thing in 2,000 years and seemingly doesn’t want one now.” http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2009/09/03/74876/commentary-afghanistan-isnt-worth.html#storylink=cpy   

We should listen more to men like Lt. Gen. Moore and Joe Galloway than to those that use the military for their political or economic gain spouting sound bite foreign policy to mask their ignorance.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

One Giant Loss for Mankind: Neil Armstrong Dead at 82

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTBIr65cL_E&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMINSD7MmT4

Today the United States and the World lost a true hero. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon died of complications of heart surgery today at the age of 82.

Armstrong was born on August 5th 1930 in Wapakoneta Ohio. He fell in love with flying at an early age and earned his flight certificate when he was just 15 years of age. He became a Naval Aviator at the age of 20 and flew 78 missions over Korea while assigned to VF-51 aboard the USS Essex (CV-9) flying the F9F Panther.  He transferred to the Naval Reserve in August 1952 and returned to Perdue University where he earned a BS in Aeronautical Engineering and the to the University of Southern California where he earned a MS in the same subject. He became a Test Pilot with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1955.

After seven years as a test pilot Armstrong was asked to join the fledgling NASA space program in 1962. He was one of two civilian test pilots to join the program, the other Astronauts were active duty Naval Aviators or Air Force Pilots.

He first flew in space in 1966 as the Command Pilot of Gemini 8 and as Commander of the Apollo 11 flight which made history landing on the Moon on July 20th 1969. I was 9 years old and remember it like it was yesterday. His words on setting foot on the surface of the Moon “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” still echo as one of the most memorable statements in human history.

Armstrong retired from NASA in 1971 but remained active in teaching, business international contact and conferences regarding space travel. He served on NASA accident investigations for Apollo 13 of 1970 and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. He remained a proponent of further manned space expeditions and was openly critical of the cancellation of the Ares 1 Launch Vehicle and Constellation Moon Landing program in 2010. He also spoke out in favor of manned missions to Mars even offering his services to command such a mission in 2010 at the age of 80.

The loss of Armstrong is a great loss. He was both a visionary and an explorer.  Our leaders during the great era of the Space Program, from John F Kennedy to Ronald Reagan were visionaries who could unite disparate groups of Americans for common and great goals. One of our great problems today is that our leaders, especially political and business leaders have ceased being visionaries.  Religious leaders are even worse with the most influential promoting ignorance and fear while ignoring or denying science and anything that might challenge faith or more importantly their stranglehold on power. To me such leaders must have an awfully small God in order to promote such ignorance. There seems no vision on either side of the political divide for anything more than what political power and spoils benefits their side.  As a man who comments a lot on this site noted we cannot even accomplish unambitious goals, which have become “pie in the sky dreams.”  Our leaders seem to forget that without vision the people perish. The greatest accomplishment of humankind have been when when men or women reached for more than they could see, when they took risks, dreamed dreams and even in times of war or crisis were willing to believe that better was possible.

We need men and women of  real vision, courage and good will like Armstrong who are willing to make “that giant step.” We need people who actually believe in causes greater than themselves and their interests. We need men and women who are willing, to use the words of Gene Roddenberry “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Rest in peace Neil Armstrong.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under History, News and current events

One Small Step… Memories of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11

This is a re-post of an article that I wrote last year. I do it today in memory of Neil Armstrong who died at the age of 82 today. I will have an article about him posted later today. 

I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was the stuff that dreams are made of the stuff that inspires a generation.  A tiny and fragile Lunar Module, the Eagle piloted by Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Bud Aldrin landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Within hours the two men had made the first walk on the Moon.  Armstrong made the statement “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  In orbit above the Moon Astronaut Michael Collins piloted the Command Module ColumbiaIt was the stuff that legends are made of and help point humankind to higher and nobler goals.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8rlwp_cbs-news-apollo-11-moon-landing-jul_shortfilms#from=embed

Shortly after he became President, John F. Kennedy promised to have a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.  His comments supporting the Apollo mission before a joint session of Congress are quite remarkable especially in light of the state of the technology available at the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouRbkBAOGEw&feature=player_embedded

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The United States wholeheartedly threw itself into the race for the Moon and though Kennedy, struck dead by an assassin’s bullet nearly six years prior did not live to celebrate the occasion it was something that in a time of war and deep political division united the Nation. It did not matter if one was a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat the Space Program and in particular the Apollo missions made us glad to be Americans. In the midst of trying times marked by racism and riots, political assassinations, anti-war protests and social unrest.

It was an amazing event which could have ended in disaster but instead helped us as a nation to aspire to higher and nobler goals. The landing on the Moon inspired many to study the sciences and Astronaut camps attended by children furthered that desire.  The invention, innovation and ingenuity sparked by the program helped birth more invention many times providing the basis for devices that are ubiquitous today but unthinkable except possibly to the writers of Star Trek then.

We dreamed and aspired to great things.  We were Americans then.  Now we have become a collection of deeply divided hatred filled special interests.  The last Space Shuttle mission that of the Atlantis will end tomorrow and no one knows what will follow.  But does it matter?

It probably doesn’t matter anymore because we have stopped dreaming or envisioning a hopeful future.  The Moon, Mars and beyond, forget that we need to sacrifice, well everyone but the people that put us in the mess we are in.

What does a space program matter when we are so divided against ourselves?

Our politician’s pundits and preachers of all political leanings and persuasions drive that poisonous wedge deeper every day and many willingly indulge in the “us against them” mentality promoted by those that beg us to listen to the “three hours a day every day.”

That Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers seems so bent promoting their ideologies and theologies that they forget that they all have a responsibility to a nation that is greater than their respective faction, special interest and even religious views.  Now we have politicians signing statements written by special interests groups and there are an ever growing number of them, as if they were the Constitution, binding them and their fealty to unelected and unaccountable power brokers who have only their ideology to promote.  To see politicians shamelessly entering into such pacts to win a nomination or primary makes me wonder what they will do if they are elected to the offices that they aspire.

Back in 1969 the country was a mess, but when the Eagle touched down on the Sea of Tranquility we were Americans again.  We took a moment and believed again and we achieved again.  Unfortunately I don’t see anything at the present that will make us so again at least in the near future.  I fear for our country. Maybe it’s just my PTSD “Mad Cow” getting to me; maybe it is the fact that as a historian and theologian I know where the path we are traveling ends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under History

Persistence: My Motto

Persistence by Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. 

Talent will not;  Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. 

Genius will not;  Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. 

Education will not; The world is full of educated derelicts. 

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved  and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

If there is anything that I find is true about me it is that I am a persistent person. The motto on the family crest is the French word Esseyez, or in English, “try.” Somehow I can see the chieftain of the clan lining everyone up behind William Wallace, who by the way was executed on this day in 1300 inspiring his troops saying, “just try for once.” My parents used to say “quitters never win and winners never quit.”  I have been inspired by great naval Captains like John Paul Jones who when asked if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight” and James Lawrence who when mortally wounded gave his crew the order “Don’t give up the ship.” I am inspired by the words of the legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver who said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

I love this poem by Calvin Coolidge. In fact I have a small framed copy of it presented by my residency director at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 on my desk today.

I have never been the smartest, fastest, strongest, talented or educated dog in the pack.    I just work hard and don’t quit. I love the journeyman that one finds in baseball. I admire the utility player who can play a lot of different positions, plug holes and fit in well on the team. The same for the pitchers pitchers that pitch in middle relief or are the 5th starter in the rotation. I like the guys that gut it out and hang around long after others have written them off.

I have been having to go through and recount the really significant parts of my life as I get ready for the EMDR and Biofeedback therapy for my PTSD. It has been really amazing to see a couple of threads that are prominent in the tapestry of my life and without which I would not be me. The things that keep coming up again and again are a dogged persistence to succeed and unwillingness to quit and profound dislike of bullies.

My Clinical Pastoral Education residency which followed a brutal seminary process was one of the most pivotal parts of my life. My CPE Supervisor was a man named Steve Ivy. CPE is one of the best training in that anyone working with people in churches, hospitals or the military can have. For me it helped me see areas that I was blind to in my life. It helped me become a better listener and more accepting of others. But even more it helped me, and still helps me integrate me theology and philosophy into life.  Dr Ivy made a comment that was one of the most instrumental in my life since I heard it. That is that I can write my future that I do not have to be condemned to perpetually repeating the past or being stuck in place or being a victim of circumstances or others. It was a revelation of a positive humanity and the grace of God.

But even before that I was a fighter. In seminary when everything that one could imagine to go wrong did and pastors, and people at ministries told me that I should reconsider my call or quit. In the fall of 1989 when everything had gone to complete shit in our lives, Judy was sick, we had lost our home, cars and were living in a horrible house in a horrible neighborhood of Fort Worth, I was working two jobs and was in the National Guard, was a full time student and it looked like my time in seminary was over and that I had failed I called a TV ministry prayer line. I told my story to the prayer partner who told me that I couldn’t be called to ministry because if I was “God would be blessing me.” Somehow that hit me wrong. I just couldn’t imagine Jesus telling anyone that, nor could I reconcile it with Scripture or Church History.

I got mad and kept working despite everything going to hell managed to hang in long enough for things to work out. I didn’t do it all myself because a lot of people came alongside when they saw that I was in this for the long haul and would not quit. I graduated from seminary in 1992 with a 3.5 or 3.7 GPA, I can’t remember which and am not looking at a transcript while working more than full time and being in the National Guard. I worked my ass off and between good people and the grace of God made it through.

That continued after seminary when I was a late addition to the residency program at Parkland, when I got my first hospital chaplain job and when I was rebuffed by a senior chaplain in the Army Chief of Chaplains to return to active duty as a very young Army Reserve Major in 1997. He told me that I wasn’t good enough to bring back.

But despite that things continued to work out. I was helped along the way by great people. I had opportunities that opened up which gave me great experience and provided for my family. This culminated when I was selected for active duty in the Navy and resigned my Army commission to go in the Navy Chaplain Corps at a lower rank in February 1999.

There have been hard times in the Navy especially after my return from Iraq. I went through an emotional and spiritual crisis that I never imagined was possible, but I  I didn’t quit. I am an average guy who worked hard and got a lot of help along the way. But had I quit at any point I wouldn’t be where I am now and there were plenty of opportunities when I was ready to give up but held on just long enough to make it through.

Calvin Coolidge was so right. I am not the most talented person that I know in my field. I am not a genius and though I have a good education there are plenty of other people that know a lot more than me. However, I am persistent. I gain inspiration every day when I look on my desk and read that poem. I am thankful for grace of God and the people that God put in my life and who helped me during the tough times. I hope that I can always be the kind of person that helps people through their tough times and inspires them to keep trying, to keep working and never to quit and then pass that along to others.

The past few weeks have been a blessing because I have had to look back at my life and remember what got me to this point. Some of the memories have been difficult to think about because they were so difficult but at the end of the day I can count myself blessed.

Have a great night and don’t give up your dreams and always stay in the fight.

Peace and Blessings!

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, leadership, Pastoral Care, philosophy

HD Dreams and Stranger Things: PTSD and Sleep

Those that have followed me on this site for any length of time know that I have been dealing with PTSD since my return from Iraq in 2008. I have written extensively about it including times when I was not doing well at all. Just take a look at some of my articles from 2009 and 2010 and you can see how bad I was doing. I have occasionally likened my dreams to the character of Binkley in Bloom County with his “Closet of Anxieties.”

I am like thousands of other active duty, reserve, retired military personnel or veterans  that suffer from PTSD related to my time at war. When I started treatment in 2008 one of the things that my therapist asked was if I thought that I could talk about my condition. It was a scary thought because there is where we like to admit it there is a stigma attached to PTSD and other psychological conditions. At some point I decided to say “what the hell, I’m going to talk about it.” That was really a big part of why I started writing on this blog. Since then I have been able to share my story in a number of venues and have had a lot of people contact me, many to share their stories and simply to offer either thanks or support. There have been a few knuckleheads but what amazes me is how many people contact me and how many military personnel or family members deal with the same things that I have faced.

I am hyper-vigilant as hell and there are a lot of places that I don’t feel safe. I still have bad days and there are plenty of times that I get in situations, like doing through airports, malls, Wal-Mart and sluggish traffic where I really have to fight anxiety and panic. The sight and smell of smoke and brush fires and sewage send me back to Iraq. The smell of death, which I still occasionally deal with has its own dread quality. Certain types of vehicles, aggressive drivers and debris on the road can send me back to Iraq. I can attribute a number of speeding tickets and an HOV violation to flight or fight responses in traffic.

Loud noises, screams, explosions and numerous other external and unexpected stimuli can trigger one hell of a startle reflex and anxiety. Tonight I was walking Molly down to the beach, a normally peaceful experience when an unexpected loud scream and crashing noise from a beach house startled and scared the hell out of me. That is not normal for my neighborhood. Thankfully Molly was there to protect me and her unflappable reaction was reassuring.

I am also unsettled by the political vitriol in our country, especially that stirred up by preachers because I have seen the results of such vitriol in Iraq and the Balkans. When I read or hear about the killings of US or NATO personnel by supposedly friendly Afghan “partners” I have a hard tome sleeping. I spent my time in Iraq traveling and doing a “circuit riding” type ministry with US Marine Corps and Army Advisors to the Iraqi Army and other security forces.  I look at some of those times and it causes me to think of just how easily I could have fallen victim had any Iraq Soldier or Policeman turned on any of the small groups of Americans that I was out with. But it is night when things get weird.

One of the things that I deal with is chronic insomnia. I used to be a very good sleeper but a few months into my time in Iraq I found that I wasn’t sleeping. So for about five years I have had very few good nights of sleep despite numerous attempts by doctors to help with sleep and anxiety meds. Those help sometimes but have side affects. On duty nights when I might be called in to the hospital I can’t take my meds because I want to be able to drive the 23 miles to work down a rural state highway.

Since Iraq my dreams have become rather HD, or High Definition involving some quite terrifying blends of Iraq and other parts of my life. I know that Judy and our dog Molly have been been awakened by me screaming or fighting the things that I battle in these dreams which are often nightmarish. Even relatively benign dreams have the DH quality now.

When I was in Houston a couple weeks ago and staying in a hotel the dreams were quite disturbing. Somehow not being in a familiar setting is bad for my sleep. But even the least disturbing was a dream was rather startling. In the dream I was sitting between the stands and the left field foul line at a major league game about 50 feet from 3rd base. I woke up when dreaming of diving for a baseball I ended up on the floor. I have to admit that the outfield grass was the lushest and most beautiful that I have ever seen. I don’t think that the left fielder and third baseman appreciated me being in their way when tracking down the pop ups and line drives hit towards me in the dream.

Thankfully though startling that dream was benign.  I find that the dreams of wounded Marines and soldiers in Mass casualty situations, night convoys with small teams of advisors, patrols and getting shot at on occasion that are the ones that really get me. When they are intermingled with current life events or other parts of my life in HD it is quite terrifying.

The dreams are almost like horror movies that you can’t leave. I have woken up from a dream, gone back to sleep and have the same dream resume. Other times I cannot go back to sleep.

I wondered why and a few weeks ago I was able to get evaluated with a QEEG or Qualitative EEG. Basically it is a brain map that tracks responses to various stimuli. Some of that testing is done with your eyes closed to see the differences in how the brain works when there are no visual stimuli. Before I had the test I spent a couple of session telling the doctor what I was going through and he would tell me what part of the brain that was affected. When I took the test it showed in graphic form what was going on and validated what I had been experiencing for these past five years.

Normally when people close their eyes they can relax. I used to be able to do this, but it has been a long time. The results of the test showed that unlike normal people when I close my eyes my brain basically goes into overdrive. The doctor remarked “no wonder you can’t sleep and have such vivid dreams.”

I have another couple of evaluation sessions before I begin EMDR and or Biofeedback therapy. For the first time in a long time I am hopeful that I will get some relief and improvement in my condition that may actually help me get off some of my medications. That would be nice. Normal sleep and a decrease in the HD dreams and nightmares would also be a good thing.

Thank you for your prayers and kind words. It has been a while since I have written about this in any detail and I hope as always that what I share will help encourage others suffering from similar issues and hopefully encourage and educate those that have to live with them. Believe me, it has not been easy for Judy.

There are resources available and one that I recommend for those that are dealing with PTSD is the Real Warriors Campaign http://www.realwarriors.net. I also recommend Doonesbury’s The Sandbox http://gocomics.typepad.com/the_sandbox/  Both sites allow military personnel to share their experiences. There are numerous other resources and if someone asks I will gladly post some others. I do have a link to the National Center on PTSD on the site.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under News and current events, PTSD