Category Archives: celebrities

For Bucks and Ducks: The Brilliant Cynicism of A&E Network Regarding Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson

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Less than two weeks ago the A&E Network put Phil Robertson, the 67 year old “Patriarch” of the Robertson Clan of Duck Dynasty and Duck Commander on an indefinite suspension. When it occurred I waited to comment because I had suspicions that things were not entirely as they seemed.

The controversy was born in reaction to an interview in GQ magazine where Robertson made comments which equated homosexuality with bestiality. The interview was much more far ranging than that and if you want you can check it out here http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson?currentPage=1

Unlike Sarah Palin I actually decided to read it before making any comments and you should too. The fact is whether you agree or disagree with Robertson you owe it to him and more importantly your principles whatever they may be, to read it.  To be fair Robertson’s beliefs are not out of the Evangelical mainstream, especially the traditional Fundamentalist, the activist culture warrior and Christian Dominion crowd. Honestly I don’t think that Phil Robertson meant any harm to anyone in making those comments, it is just a big part of what he believes and he is not ashamed about what he believes. That is his right. From what I read about Robertson and his family they are generous and contribute much to an otherwise poor community.  As far as Robertson’s comments I don’t agree with them, in fact I strongly disagree with them from a theological and social standpoint as a Christian.

That being said Robertson has the right to his beliefs including the right to speak about them publicly in whatever forum he desires. Everyone has that right. However employers can restrict those rights. All of us if we work for someone else have constraints on our free speech rights in the workplace, either implicitly by contract or even the unwritten expectations of our employers. Likewise people have the right to watch or not to watch his show or buy or not to buy his company’s products. That is the free market. So if A&E wanted to suspend Robertson or to cancel the show based on his actions that would be their right and not be a violation of his rights. If the government did it that would be another matter.

When the controversy erupted and LGBT and other progressive and liberal advocacy groups protested the comments, A&E quickly announced Robertson’s suspension. That was on December 18th. In fact the suspension came so quickly that it surprised me. There was none of the usual hand-wringing that often accompanies media controversy around the star of a hit program and that puzzled me.

The first thing that triggered my suspicion was that Duck Dynasty had already finished filming for the season. Thus any suspension, unless it was a permanent cancellation of the show was only until the next season began. In other words it was a suspension of the off season. So in other words Robertson was not harmed in any way by the suspension. A&E did not fine him or take any money from him. The suspension appeared to me to be a ruse.

However, within moments of the announcement Evangelical Christian pastors, pundits and preachers went into action. Robertson was the “victim” of demonically inspired homosexuals, liberals and secularists. Even those that never read what Robertson said like “Governor half-term” Sarah Palin came to his defense.

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The outcry was amazing. Facebook and Twitter groups rallied to Robertson’s defense threatening A&E with boycotts and calling for his restoration. Likewise politicians introduced legislation to anoint him an “American hero.” Pundits and cable television commentators covered the story more heavily than they would actual issues dealing with the economy, unemployment, national security or events overseas that could harm the country. Preachers rallied their flocks to the cause and many used the controversy to condemn those who were the real victims of Robertson’s actual remarks.

The cry that Robertson’s Constitutional “free speech rights” were being violated and that he was being “persecuted” for his beliefs were oft repeated. The fact of the matter was that A&E never  penalized Robertson, never took any money from him and still allowed him to continue to speak, and even double down on what he said even after the suspension without penalty. In fact A&E aired a Duck Dynasty Christmas marathon on Christmas Day in which Robertson was in every show. How that qualifies as persecution or restricted Robertson’s free speech rights is beyond me.

Conservative media, especially Fox News jumped to Robertson’s defense, proving what Susan Jacoby said in her book The Age of American Unreason: 

“If enough money is involved and enough people believe that two plus two equals five the media will report the story with a straight face always adding a qualifying paragraph noting that mathematicians however say that two plus two still equals four.”

The nine days of unremitting media hysteria came to an end today when A&E announced that Robertson would return for the next season, without penalty and without missing a show.

I was not surprised by today’s announcement. What it showed me was that A&E which had dealt with a similar situation with “Dog the Bounty Hunter” a couple of years ago used the controversy for its own benefit and bottom line. It quickly acted to “suspend” Robertson ensuring that during the so called “War on Christmas” that conservative media that media coverage would provide more free publicity than they could ever spend  on a reality television show. They used the suspension to work up Evangelicals who reacted to fully support Robertson ensuring renewed interest in the Duck Dynasty series and product lines offered by many major retailers.

All in all the controversy and suspension was a successful enterprise for the A&E network and the Robertson clan. There was massive free publicity for the show and no penalties for Robertson. Even better the suspension was cloaked behind the veneer of a network acting like it was doing something to penalize a man for saying things that offended a minority that the viewers of the show despise and then after a carefully scripted “apology” reinstating him. In the statement announcing Robertson’s reinstatement A&E promised to “launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people…” It was cynical as hell but brilliant from a business standpoint. You see for A&E it really isn’t about ideology it is about profit. If Duck Dynasty was a failing show they would have cancelled it without questions and tossed show’s Evangelical viewers in the ditch. But there is too much money to be made. In the first 9 months of 2013 the show made $80 million in advertising revenues and merchandise sales have added another $400 million, about half of which went to Wal-Mart. It would be hard for a niche cable network to make up those kind of losses.

I resisted writing anything about this when the controversy erupted because I sensed something fishy. It seemed that given the circumstances that this was a carefully orchestrated event on the part of A&E. When they announced that he would return so soon after suspending him after milking the controversy for all it was worth I realized that my initial gut reaction was right. 

Liberals and the LGBT community who protested actually fell into the A&E trap. Their protest was used as fodder for the network and for the Right Wing media for two different purposes that became a perfect storm: First the controversy fulfilled A&E’s need to bolster the show going into the next season by providing free publicity and reenergizing the viewers. Second it gave the Right Wing media and politically minded preachers the chance to demonize gays and their supporters as being intolerant and hateful, for simply reacting to words that can only from an LGBT point of view be seen as prejudicial, unfair and harmful.

It also gave A&E and the right wing media the chance to avoid Robertson’s other equally repugnant comments about pre-civil rights era black share-croppers which he had made previously.

All in all it was a cynical and brilliant scheme that worked all too well. Machiavelli and Goebbels would have been proud of the PR folks at A&E and Fox News who used Robertson’s unfortunate comments to create a controversy that enriched them and inflamed their supporters.

Progressives, liberals, activists and political moderates like me as well as the LGBT community have to learn to step back from our immediate emotional response to situations like this in the future. We have to be smarter at strategy and look at the big picture. Things like this do not happen in a vacuum. A&E probably assumed that at some point one of the Robertson’s would say something like this and that there would be a backlash. That is why they were able to react so quickly and carefully scripted their response culminating in today’s announcement. Likewise the right wing media sees this kind of controversy as grist for their political and ideological mill.

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Tony Perkins the KKK supporting head of the American Family Association demonstrated this in his press release tonight:

“The attacks on Phil Robertson revealed to the American people that the push to redefine marriage is less about the marriage altar than it is fundamentally altering America’s moral, political and cultural landscape. A&E Network’s reversal in the face of backlash is quite telling to the American people who are growing tired of GLAAD and cultural elites who want to silence people and remove God and His word from every aspect of public life….”

When a situation like this occurs we need to be suspicious and ask “why this? why me? why now?” If we ask those question we can keep from being suckered into no-win situations that those who want to take away our rights to dissent use to set us up and demonize us. In the cyber age of instantaneous communication this is hard to do and we do have to get better at doing it.

If you don’t believe me just look at Perkins. He took this as a way to propagandize his prejudice and hatred of the LGBT community and progressives, for that matter all who disagree with his theocrat machinations including other Christians.

The A&E network and people like Perkins have different goals. For A&E it is profit, for Perkins it is the use of religion and the state to persecute and discriminate against easily demonized minority groups, appealing to the worst aspects of human nature. In this case those often conflicting goals coalesced into the perfect storm.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Super Bowl XLVI: Commercials, Madonna and a Football Game

Well the Super Bowl is over, my predictions were right and amid the commercials and halftime show a football game was played.

I didn’t have a dog in the fight this year so I was able to watch the game and do running commentary on it, the commercials and the half-time show starring Madonna on Twitter. I tweeted more tonight than any single night that I have been on Twitter and it was really fun.  Seeing what other people were saying about the game, commercials and Madonna actually made watching the game a lot more enjoyable than I normally find it.

There were a number of commercials that I liked for various reasons and some that I thought could have been better.  My favorite was the Apocalypse commercial for the Chevy Silverado.  How could you go wrong with Manilow’s Look’s like we Made It playing amid scenes of destruction and Twinkies?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxFYYP8040A

Likewise I found that the Bud Light commercial involving the rescue dog Weego was really well done. My little dog Molly is a rescue and the commercial was cute.  I love my rescue dog.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoplehNzYoI Budweiser had a great commercial on the end of prohibition but if I had to choose a beer to celebrate the end of that sad period I would do a craft beer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGgosT-v5sw

Honda had a commercial for its Acura NSX starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, a space alien and Jay Leno that showed that Seinfeld has not lost his touch.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUFSHzT2xuY It was too bad that he didn’t have a hand in the Jockey underwear commercial featuring David Beckham. That would have been so much better if they had used George Costanza doing the photo shoot with Kramer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NL5wSs-9kI

Honda had a great commercial with Matthew Broderick reprising his Ferris Buehler persona for the Honda CRV.  I love Ferris Buehler and have had a Honda CRV since 2001 so for me it was two memories. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhkDdayA4iA

A different automaker had an ad which was far too funny and that I didn’t expect. It was the ad for the Fiat 500 Abarth. The commercial was really quite well done as only Italians could do mixing sexuality, Cappuccino and cars. This is not how I viewed Fiat for most of my life. When I was in Germany in the 1980s it was not uncommon to see Fiat 500‘s littering the roadside broken down.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7q1Ry0udQY

From an inspirational point of view the best commercial of the evening was Chrysler’s Halftime in America with Clint Eastwood doing the voice over.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8VpW8P8_kU

The halftime show by Madonna was better than I expected. It was kind of a retro 1980s Techno show, the only thing missing was Hans and Franz to pump you up. Madonna did the lip-sync thing well and didn’t do anything scandalous although guest singer MIA evidently have the middle finger salute during one of her solos. I didn’t see it because I was too busy tweeting pithy comments about the show to notice.

As for the game itself. It was about what I expected. It was close, the teams were competitive and it wasn’t a blow out. I really didn’t care who won so that took the pressure off. I saw the game as close enough that either team could have won and New England blew a chance to practically seal a win with about 4 minutes left in the game when Wes Welker dropped a pass that he would normally catch inside the red zone.

Eli Manning as he has shown all of this year showed that he could win when winning mattered. He, the Giants and their coach Tom Coughlin seem to have the Patriots number in big games.  The Patriots season ended with a Super Bowl loss. Tom Brady could not bring the team back in the final minute after the Patriots appeared to let the Giants score a touchdown in order to get the ball back with time on the clock. The move was a bit of twisted genius by Patriots coach Bill Belichick and if the “hail Mary” pass tossed by Brady in the final seconds had been caught by Rob Gronkowski the Patriots might have come out with a remarkable and miraculous win.

So football season is over and we can now get serious. Baseball season is just ahead and not a minute too soon.  Within minutes of the end of the game I flipped the channel to the MLB Channel.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Hank Williams Junior’s Free Speech Violated? Give me a Break… it was Business doing what is best for Business

 

“After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision. By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It’s been a great run.” Hank Williams Jr. announcement Thursday after ESPN announced that he would no longer be featured as the intro to Monday Night Football

Back when I was in college I did something incredibly stupid simply because I thought that I was being funny.  I had a part time job as a Peer Counselor with the Educational Opportunity Program.  The program was to help kids from poor families with not so great educations get a chance at college. Some kids did well and others didn’t.  My wife Judy was a student in the University’s program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students.  The office that ran the deaf program was called Support Services for Deaf Students or simply SSDS.

Judy had a roommate named Kendra and the three of us came up with some pretty sick jokes. In fact I learned sign language more to tell jokes with Kendra more than any other reason. Since Judy was “just hard of hearing” I used some sign with her but mostly to help her understand in difficult situations as for the most part she functioned as a hearing person despite having a 77% hearing loss.   Judy is also an artist and a cartoonist. One day we came up with a fake flyer for a parody of SSDS.  We called it Support Services to Dead Students.  Judy did the drawing and all would have been well had I not gotten the less than brilliant idea to “spam” the flyer out. Now this was way before e-mail and Facebook or any other social media.  So I went to a copy store and made about 50 copies and took them to work. I put them in messenger envelopes and sent them to most school departments through the internal school mail system.  I thought that it was hysterical and I must have let slip to someone that I had pulled this off this prank. Anyway a couple of days later I was called into my boss’s office and was told by him that he knew that I did it. He felt that it was deeply offensive and that I could resign or be fired.  I ended up resigning and my boss was grateful.  To be truthful it had nothing to do with the EOP students we were poking fun at the deaf students. Yes it was still crass and insensitive but I didn’t think that I would lose my job over it. I thought that it was a funny parody. My employer didn’t.

I learned a hard lesson. No matter how funny I thought that my parody was that it didn’t mean that my employer had to keep me on. What I did embarrassed my department and paid the price for it. Was anyone harmed? No. Was it malicious? No.  Could it be interpreted in ways that I didn’t intend it to be? Yes. Did it reflect on my lack of judgment? Yes.  Did my boss have a right to terminate me? Yes.  Did I learn? Most of the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eF6vCv13bw

Now of course Hank Williams Jr. made a complete ass of himself on Fox and Friends Monday morning.  Not only did he compare President Obama with Hitler but he went into a rant that just made him look like an angry idiot.  He called Obama “the enemy” and in making the Hitler comparison really made light of the Holocaust.  There is little that any American politician on the right or the left can do to be compared with Hitler.  Even his Fox friends who are not known for their love of Obama looked really uncomfortable as Hank ranted on.

Now to get things right I will defend people’s free speech rights and I don’t have to agree with them. If one decides to compare any American President with Adolf Hitler Joe Stalin, Pol Pot or the Ayatollah Khomeini he or she can say it without fear of being prosecuted by the State for doing so and if he is I will defend his right to that speech, even if I think it is hateful.  It may be hateful and ignorant to do what Hank did but there is no law against it and if he was prosecuted for it by the government I would defend his Free Speech rights.

That being said if one is the face of Monday Night Football as Hank was ESPN then there are risks to acting like an idiot. The producer of that show and the NFL had a right to end his relationship with the show.  It is about business, other companies with that advertise on Monday Night Football don’t want to be linked to the “H” word.  If they had not ended the relationship it would have been bad for business.

Let’s face it using the Hitler analogy tends to get people fired and it is not about free speech it is about business.  There are probably hundreds if not thousands of “conservative” commentators, bloggers and journalists who have made the Hitler analogy frequently on the internet and in print. It is protected Free Speech.  In fact when George W. Bush was President left wing bloggers and columnists frequently played the Hitler card against him. .  However none of them were the face of Monday Night Football and generally they work for employers that make money by criticizing Obama and the Democrats or Bush and the Republicans so they keep their jobs.  Remember each business determines what is good for their business.   Monday Night Football decided that Hank was now bad for business.

Hank is now saying that he decided to leave Monday Night Football “with his rowdy friends.” He said that what happened to him was a violation of his free speech rights. Now it seems like most people with the exception of Hank and Sean Hannity think that ESPN was within its rights to end their relationship with Hank.  If I recall one of the key conservative tenants is that employers are the ones that set the conditions for employing people.  The right to hire and fire at will is something that conservatives and Libertarians love.  Firing and shunning celebrities for doing stupid, ignorant or hateful things or even for benign associations is a sport in this country if a business deems the celebrity’s actions bad for business.

Let’s just go back 50-60 years, the McCarthy hearings and the Hollywood “blacklist” which tarred and feathered many actors, directors and others involved in the film industry being associated with the Communists or other unpopular causes at some point in their life, even if they had renounced that association.  Those people were not allowed to work, many for years simply because their loyalty to the country which had nothing to do with their acting abilities was questioned and producers fearing audience backlash simply blacklisted them.  Some of the many people blacklisted included Orson Welles, Burgess Meredith, Eddie Arnold and Edward G. Robinson.

Then there was an actress named Hanoi Jane Fonda, daughter of Hollywood icon Henry Fonda who had the dumb ass idea to go to North Vietnam, make anti-American and anti-war statements and be photographed on an anti-aircraft gun within a mile or so of the Hanoi Hilton POW camp.  She couldn’t get work for several years and when she did start working again, many people, me included boycotted her films and I still won’t watch them.  She was able to say what she wanted but she suffered the consequences and is still one of the most hated Hollywood celebrities in conservative circles.

There are so many other examples where celebrities have been fired or shunned because of their actions. Here are a few:

Gilbert Gottfried: Tsunami jokes got him fired as the voice of the Aflack Duck.

Megan Fox: Canned from Transformers due to Hitler remarks.

Madonna: Fired from her Pepsi sponsorship when the American Family Association boycotted Pepsi after Madonna released her controversial “Like a Prayer” music video.

Michael Phelps: After getting caught smoking dope was dropped by Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes.


Mel Gibson: He was shunned after making anti-Semitic comments during a DUI arrest. His career has not been the same since.

Whoopi Goldberg: The Sister Act star got canned from her Slim Fast spokesperson job when she made double entendres about President George Bush at a John Kerry fund raiser.  She was also shunned by Kerry after it.

Sharon Stone: Dropped by Christian Dior inChina for suggesting that Chinese earthquakes were caused byChina’s treatment of Tibet.

The Smothers Brothers: Their hit comedy was cancelled by CBS for their controversial statements about racism,Vietnam and politics.

The Dixie Chicks: While touring “Old Europe” the country singers lashed out at President Bush and the Iraq War.  They were not fired but lost a huge number of fans in the process. The fans shunned them. They lost money and have not regained their former popularity.

The list can go on but I think I make my point. If people want to claim that business are free to do as they please and hire and fire people for whatever reason they deem fit on one hand, then they shouldn’t  that their Free Speech rights are being violated.  It is a two way street.  Think about it. If you are a business owner or in management and one of your employees does something that you think reflects badly on your business and may hurt your business would you fire them? You bet your ass you would and it doesn’t matter for what reason politics, religion or even your sense of humor.

What old Hank did was so stupid it defies imagination but he could say it. Fox didn’t cut away as he shot off his mouth, he wasn’t censored.  While his words and tenor were unbelievably stupid they were not illegal.  However I don’t blame ESPN for firing his sorry ass.  Hank is no victim of political correctness he shot his own balls off and I don’t care if he works ever again or he overcomes this and his career recovers.  However, he can say what he wants and believe what he wants and if he was prosecuted by the government for voicing those beliefs I would defend his Free Speech rights.  But that is not the case here.

Now I do have a lot of strong feelings about the often capricious ways that businesses use their liberty to mistreat or silence workers for speaking their political and religious beliefs in the workplace.  However if one wants to say that businesses should be free to do what they want to increase profits and market share without government interference then one has to expect that businesses will do best for business. Profit and not Free Speech is their number one concern.  Many celebrities and ordinary citizens have found this out before Hank; he can just join the club.  Heck, I’m no celebrity but it happened to me too… boo hoo Hank. Boo hoo. I’ll cry in my beer with you.  Wow that rhymed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under celebrities, football, laws and legislation, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary

Tom Watson: Gentleman, Champion and Supporter of the Troops

Tom Watson and Me

Shaking the Hand of Legendary Golfer and True Champion Tom Watson at Al Taqaddum Iraq 24 Nov 2007

My dad was a golfer.  He began golfing as he was in his last few years in the Navy.  Before he started golfing he was constantly watching it on TV when no baseball was on.  When he retired he began golfing in earnest.  It remained a lifelong passion of his even after he contracted Alzheimer’s disease.  He developed as a golfer and by his early 50’s had developed a decent handicap.  He also would help out as a volunteer at major tournaments at Pebble Beach.   Dad loved golf, but as with everything in his life he took it very seriously.  Sometimes when I visited home on leave dad would take me golfing and let me use his old clubs.  Well, since I would golf once every three to five years I would not do very well.  Before long he would be preaching at me and berating me because he said I had natural talent to hit the ball well and was wasting it.  Those were always interesting outings, as my brother Jeff can testify to himself.

Anyway, back in the 1970s when I was still living at home dad would frequently watch golf on TV.  One of his favorite players was Tom Watson.  Back in those days because of dad I was familiar with almost every major figure in the sport.  However they were not the same to me as like baseball players.  Baseball was more of my sport, though I did and still do appreciate golf and now that my shoulder is getting healed up from the beating it took in Iraq I am going to be getting out on the course on a much more frequent basis once the Minor League Baseball season is over.  The last time I was out in California my brother told me the same thing that my dad did about my ability to hit them ball.  I trust Jeff as he is a very good golfer and had coached golf at the high school level.  I think I am even more attuned to what I’m doing on the golf course because of Iraq and my PTSD.  I am much more in tune with what my body is doing at any given point of time.  I can now feel when a shoulder dips or I pull up on a shot as well as a number of other things that I never noticed before when I would go out on the course.

Because of dad I have retained a latent interest in golf.  So when I heard that Tom Watson was in the lead at the British Open while listening to my local ESPN Sports Radio 1310 on the way home from having the Undead Tooth of Terror extracted my ears perked up.  I had met Tom as well as a number of other golf legends in between missions at Al Taqaddum Air Base which was my home away from home while deployed to Iraq.  Tom and several others came through on a tour.  Now celebrities would make the rounds of Iraq and Afghanistan and I am grateful for them coming to visit, especially when things were not going well and a lot of guys were still getting killed and wounded.  Many times I was out in the far reaches when people would come through so I didn’t see many of them.  My friend Father Jose Bautista-Rojas was an escort for some dignitaries who accompanied the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen on his tour which included Lance Armstrong and Robin Williams.  Jose got to spend some time with them and got me baseball hat signed by both.  He said that Robin said that “I had better be praying for him.”  I thought that was both funny and kind.  I did meet Chuck Norris when he made his 2007 trip through Al Anbar visiting Marines.  He shook about every person’s hand and had pictures taken with them and he didn’t just go to the big bases, but some of the little remote places that I went. I would have liked to meet Robin. I have heard from a number of folks that he is great to military folks.  One thing that I noticed about the celebrities that came out, no matter who they were or what their politics, they were generally very friendly and seemed to care.  Celebrities take a lot of knocks for many reasons, some justified and others not, but when they come out to a combat zone it is appreciated.  I remember my dad talking about the Bob Hope tour that came to his ship off of Vietnam which included Sammy Davis Junior and Charro.

Anyway, I met Tom at Al Taqaddum in between mission’s right after Thanksgiving on November 24th 2007.  He and his group comprised of him David Feherty, Butch Harmon, Joe Inman, Tom Lehman and Howard Twitty were some of the finest and kindest men I have ever met while deployed.  These men took time with every Marine, Soldier and Sailor who came to see them.  They not only signed items but they gave away more things to our folks than I have seen given anywhere.  I received a hat signed by Tom and the others from the Rider Cup Team, and a picture signed by all, personalized to me.  That was really cool.  While talking with Tom I told him about my dad and his condition as well as my brother.  I asked if it would be possible to get something signed for them.  Tom got with the other guys and had a hat signed for my brother and each of the golfers inscribed a person message to my dad on the pictures.  They all expressed their well wishes to him and prayers for his health.  I was really touched by what gentlemen all of these men were.

I watched the last part of the British Open today pulling for Tom, but unfortunately he lost in the playoff to Stewart Cink after making bogey on 18. The golf miracle story ended with Tom finishing in second place, but even still he was not expected to do what he did even a week ago.  I really felt bad for him as he stood with tears in his eyes.  Despite the fact that he finished second Tom Watson to me is a gentleman, sportsman, a supporter of us who serve in unpopular wars, a man of compassion and a true Champion.  God bless you Tom and thank you for what you did for my dad while I was in Iraq.

Peace, Steve+

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Comebacks in Baseball and Life: 27 Outs- the Baltimore Orioles teach us a Lesson in Life

salazar home runOscar Salazar being greeted by Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Luke Scott

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” Earl Weaver

“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.” Calvin Coolidge

Last night something truly remarkable happened and it wasn’t something the latest in a political scandal, natural disaster, or war, coup d’état or international crisis.  Likewise no additional entertainment icons died and we have been Michael Jacksoned to death. His death while tragic is now becoming an annoyance as the media and everyone with an opinion about him, his family, his lifestyle, antics or the cause of death chimes in on those subjects.  The 24 hour non-stop news coverage is threatening to take on eschatological dimensions.  Even so, all of those things happen all the time.  They are not for all of the fanfare that remarkable or special be they wars, famine, death of icons, pestilence or scandals. Since they happen all the time they are not that remarkable.

No something much more remarkable happened last night which I am patently sure that the Deity Herself had something to do with.  Something that causes us to remember that nothing is ever certain and that almost anything is possible.  The Baltimore Orioles set the record for a comeback in a major league baseball game where a last place team came from behind to beat a first place team as well as their team record for biggest comeback set against the Red Sox in 1956.

The Red Sox have been great so far this year.  They are in the most competitive division in baseball.  The Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays are good teams and the Orioles, though bringing up the rear are showing promise as they continue to build a franchise based on a great farm system producing quality players.  They now are tied for the 3rd best team batting average in the majors at .274 with the Blue Jays and the 9th best slugging percentage.  What has hurt the Orioles has been pitching which is the third worst in the majors and this is slowly getting better as young pitchers developed in the minors are beginning to show up and do good things on the Orioles staff. The Orioles are not expected to be in the race this year, but the overall plan is to be contenders in a season or two.

However what matters now and makes this significant as it is an example of how something that happens on a baseball field can help us in life.  The game was delayed by rain delay of 79 minutes in the 5th inning. At the end of 7 ½ innings the Orioles were down 10-1.  It was a game that seemed to be over.  After all’ the Orioles had lost their last 8 games, going back to 2008 against the Red Sox and faced several outstanding Boston Relief Pitchers.  Likewise, it was not certain that to Sox would not score any more runs.  The Orioles pitching staff has not been consistent and the Red Sox have beaten up on the Orioles pitching staff. Things did not look good for the home team.  Then something happened. Aubry Huff singled to right to open this inning.  Huff was followed by rookie Nolan Reimold, who I have seen play many times this year at Harbor Park, who singled advancing Huff.  The Luke Scott doubled scoring Huff.  With 2 on and no outs Oscar Salazar, a hard working journeyman who was hitting .378 at Norfolk pinch hit for Melvin Mora.  Salazar took Red Sox reliever Justin Masterson to deep left for a three run home run.  Felix Pie (Pee-ay) who had relieved an injured Adam Jones drove in Robert Andino for a 5th run.

The game was now 10-6 as Boston came to the plate in the top of the 8th.  The Red Sox appeared to be getting something going.  With runners at 2nd and 1st with two out Jacoby Ellsbury hit a single to center.  Red Sox catcher George Kottaras trying to score from second was thrown out at the plate by Felix Pie for the third out.

In the bottom of the 8th the first four Orioles hitters; Reimold, Scott, Salazar and Wieters hit and Reimold scored against Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima who left the game.  Okajima was replaced by Takashi Saito who gave up two more hits to Ty Wiggington and Brian Roberts scoring Scott and Salazar.  To quell this Orioles uprising the Sox sent in the ever dependable Oriole killer Jonathan Papelbon who was 20-0 in save attempts against to O’s.  Papelbon looked like he was in control when he struck out Felix Pie for the second out bringing up Orioles Right Fielder Nick Markakis who had never had a hit against Papelbon.  Markakis hit a double off the left field wall to score pinch runner Jeremy Guthrie and Roberts to put the Orioles up 11-10.  In two innings the Orioles had scored 10 runs on 10 hits.  Going to the top of the 9th the Orioles brought in closer George Sherrill who shut down the top of the Sox order to get the save.

It was an amazing game.  A last place team that had no recent success against the first place team managed the biggest comeback of such a match up in Major League Baseball history and it was stunning.  Red Sox Shortstop Dustin Pedrioa said “It was a weird game, a terrible loss for us. That’s upsetting. Things just kind of spiraled on us.” While Manager Terry Francona said “We just had no answer. We went through everybody. Nothing we did worked.”  In the home clubhouse an emotional Orioles Manager Dave Tremblay said “That was probably the best game I’ve been involved in, right there. That was absolutely tremendous. When you talk about playing all 27 outs, that’s tonight.”  While Oscar Salazar said something that I think made the difference in the game, mental readiness to step in and play when it looked like the game’s ending was already written in stone.  Salazar who came up as a pinch hitter said “You sit on the bench 5 hours with the rain delay, but when they told me to hit, I was ready.”  As Salazar stepped to the plate and got ready to hit you could see the look of calm, confident determination that only years of hard work in the obscurity of the minor leagues can bring to a person.  A blogger in Boston had a banner headline: PAPELBLOWN and Sox Blow the Biggest Lead in the History of Earth.

Now of course the Red Sox being an excellent baseball team got their revenge at Camden Yards today, scoring 4 runs in the top of the 9th to tie the Orioles and go on and win in 11 by ascore of 6-5.  This being said they are the Boston Red Sox and as much as I have hope for the Orioles, the Red Sox are at this place in the space time continuum the far better team.

So here are the life lessons that I drew from this game.  First, no matter how bad things are you still have to keep playing.  I know this from really crappy times in seminary where it looked like I would never ever finish seminary and that all I had sacrificed to get through would be in vain.  There are 27 outs in a game and if you don’t give up, you always have a chance to win.  Life is not like football or basketball where people can run out the clock on you once they get a comfortable lead.  The other team still has to face you and if like Oscar Salazar and the other young Orioles you can step up and keep your head in the game you have a chance.

I have mentioned before how a number of people wrote me off in seminary making comments like “It’s obvious that you weren’t called to ministry otherwise God would be blessing you,” and “have you thought that maybe you were wrong to get out of the Army to go to seminary” or one that hurt the most, “you’re dumber than dirt for getting out of the Army to waste your time in seminary.”  I heard such comments from people in church, at work, people that I called for prayer and even some family members.  The toll on Judy was severe and though she was suffering she refused to even let me entertain giving up.  If I had quit I would not be here today, I had to gut it out with the odds stacked against me and at times when I even thought that God might have turned his back on me.

Likewise if you are riding high you can’t become complacent.  I do not believe that this happened to the Red Sox, but complacency kills.  Jonathan Papelbon noted “Give the other team credit. They put pressure on our bullpen tonight and we pretty much imploded. I can’t think of any other word that describes it better.”  The Red Sox infield also did something rather unique.  With two outs in the bottom of the 6th Dustin Pedrioa charged off the field followed by the rest of the infield thinking that there were three outs.  Only problem there were only two outs. The Boston Globe put it this way:

“And it’s hard not to attach some significance to that play in the bottom of the sixth, when the Red Sox infield trotted to the dugout with two out.  “I looked up and I saw Tek standing there all by himself,” said Francona. “The first thing I think is that I must be nuts. I’ve never seen that. Pedie came in and said, ‘I led the charge. I (screwed) up.’ ” Said Pedroia: “I think it was my fault. I got ahead of myself and everyone followed me.”

That is my lesson learned.  Watching the Orioles make this comeback against the Red Sox inspired me again to work harder and also reminded me from where I came and the struggles that we endured.  If you had asked me in the spring of winter and spring of 1989-1990 if I thought I would make it through seminary I would have said, I may not but I will do everything that I can to make it through.  Even 6 years later after finishing both seminary and CPE residency as Major in the Army Reserve Chaplain Corps I still had to work hard to overcome professional adversity.  I got my second chance in 1999 when the Navy signed me as a free agent to play on the big team.  My hat goes off to the young Orioles who fought back last night to win, especially Oscar Salazar who never gave up in 13 years in the minors.  They may not be in the playoffs this year, but they are doing the things that will make them contenders.  Any time a time does something like this against a team as fine as the Red Sox you know that they have the potential for greatness.  The same goes for anyone who has the determination to come back from adversity when defeat looks certain.

As Bert Blyleven said “The problem with being Comeback Player of the Year is it means you have to go somewhere before you can come back.”  Those places are not enjoyable places, but sometimes fighting our way out of them teaches us the value of persistence and perseverance.  These are far more valuable than having everything our way, and knowing nothing but success without knowing failure.  Without them we will never have the wherewithal to come back when things go bad.

Peace, Steve+

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Where were You When…? The Death of an Icon and Its Impact in Our Lives

Note: This post is one where I invite readers to share any memories they have of Michael Jackson’s death or other events that involved the deaths of cultural icons as well as significant events that either affected you or made a deep impact on your life or that of people that you know.  I will approve all comments except those identified as spam by WordPress.

The death of Michael Jackson yesterday was one of those events in life that when they occur leave a lasting impression on people. Even people who were not fans of Michael will remember because Michael Jackson was a cultural icon.  When icons die, or tragedies occur they tend to leave a lasting mark.  You can be talking to anyone and if they were alive when one of these events happened and quite a few or most people will be able to tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing at the time of the event.

I am 49 years old, though patently I don’t really look my age, nor do I act it.  Being that I am nearly half a century old it means that I have seen a fair amount of life.  Since I am passionate about life and a keen observer of life, society and culture being a historian as well as member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park parish I remember a lot.  I’m told by some that I have one of those phonographic memories.  You know the kind where you get a thought in your head and it keeps going and going round and round at 33 1/3 RPMs.  I will remember this because we had just arrived at the Capital Hilton and were preparing to go out for dinner with Judy’s cousin Becki at Murphy’s of DC to celebrate our anniversary.  I had just checked the news when I heard that Michael had been found down and was in cardiac arrest.  Since I have seen a lot of these cases roll into ERs that I have worked in I knew that Jackson had very little chance of coming out of this alive.  Most news sites were reported that he was getting CPR and had been taken to UCLA Medical Center.  Then I checked the website of Matt Drudge, the Drudge Report following a look at CNN.  I opened the page and Drudge’s trademark old fashioned police siren light was flashing and below it in red was “WEBSITE: JACKSON DEAD!” and had a link to the celebrity gossip site TMZ.  TMZ actually reported the death over an hour prior to most of the networks.  It also turned out that TMZ’s report was pretty accurate.  Later other sites began to announce the news pretty much confirming TMZ’s initial report. I saw the report on CNN as we walked to get a cab to the restaurant with Becki.  It was kind of surreal as Michael Jackson, despite his eccentric actions and nearly continuous controversy surrounding his life, was a larger than life figure.

So events like this get etched on people’s memories like images of the Virgin Mary on grilled cheese sandwiches or pizzas.  These have been reported by the faithful and offered for sale on E-bay so they must be authentic right? They are something that you reallymust  remember. Talking with Judy and Becki at dinner we began to recount where we were at different moments events over the past 30 years or so.   For me the events are often linked to other seemingly inconsequential events going on in my own life. As I have said before we have lived a life  much like the characters in the show Seinfeld so some of these things may not be as funny to you as they are for me.

Some of the things that I remember which stand out include the following events.  If you remember where you were at these events please feel free to comment or add your own in the comments section.  This is one of those rare times when almost everyone has a memory that surfaces because a current event triggers the memory of that particular event.

For me I’m going to first each back to is the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King on April 4th 1968.  That was strange because we lived in the little town of Oak Harbor Washington where my dad was stationed.  The town was small and isolated by being on an island.  We saw the news reports that night this time I believe we were watching NBC’s Huntley and Brinkley give the news. This was way before Cable news and so it took a while to get the story out.  As a little kid I was astounded that anyone could kill a minister and I knew that Dr. King was a leader in trying get blacks the same rights that whites enjoyed.  The next day our teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs. Jackson talked about it with us.  This was follow just two months later by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy following his California Primary election victory.  I remember the news reports the next day and how upset that my parents were about his death.

The next event was Apollo 11 Moon landing, the “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind” moment on July 20th 1969 where Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Lunar Module on the “Sea of Tranquility.”  I was a kid and on summer vacation still living in Oak Harbor.  We were at home watching Walter Cronkite report the event live when it happened.  That was an amazing event.

The next really big thing for me was the Marshall University Football team plane crash in Huntington West Virginia where at 7:35 Pm EST a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed into a hillside just short of the runway killing the team as well as numerous boosters, alumni and Huntington notables.  This was kind of person for us.  I had seen that team practice at the old Fairfield Stadium across the street from my grandparent’s house the previous spring before we returned to California to rejoin my dad after he had found us decent housing.  We were watching the evening news in Long Beach California when the local announcer interrupted the story he was working on and announced the crash.  My mom knew a number of people on the aircraft and was devastated.

I’m going to jump forward a bit, to the fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975.  This was a bitter day for me.  My dad had fought in Vietnam and I knew kids who had lost their fathers in the war.  I had experienced a Sunday School teach telling me that my dad was a “baby killer” for being in Vietnam in 1972 and I felt that we had let the South Vietnamese down and that it was the fault of those in the media, on the street and in Congress that had ensured that our men died in vain.  I think that was the point that I decided that I was going to enter the military.  I still cannot look at Jane Fonda and some of her fellow travelers without feeling a sense of anger.

Jumping again a few years I remember the fall of the Shah of Iran and the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran by so called “students” on November 4th 1979.  The takeover which lasted 444 days began in my sophomore year of college.  The humiliation of the country and the poor response of President Jimmy Carter confirmed that I would enter the military after college.  I won’t forget the nightly updates on ABC hosted by Ted Koppel which became the long running show Nightline. I would stay up every night to get the updates.  When the hostages were released this was cause for celebration, but the damage was done.  Of course we saw the pro and anti-Ayatollah  protesters on our university, Northride a big business school responded to a pro-Ayatollah by driving the protestors off campus.  So much for riled up MBA students and Science geeks huh?

When Elvis died on August 16th 1977 I was a getting ready to enter my senior year of high school.  In fact only a week before I had won a copy of a blue vinyl copy of his last album Moody Blue in a local pop radio station give away.  I was on a church high school trip when the news came over the radio.  The man driving the car a real estate agent who was a deacon in the church started to cry, I mean like really cry almost like Middle Eastern mourning kind of crying.  As someone who is less expressive of such emotions being a Romulan at heart I was mildly taken aback, after all it wasn’t like they had dated or anything.  I had seldom seen men cry before and this was some pretty emotional stuff.  My mom had the same kind of reaction I discovered on my way home.  I guess it was the generation thing.  He was the icon of his generation and changed both the style and the performance of music.  It was Elvis that I immediately thought of when I first saw the news of Michael Jackson’s death.  I guess the fact that both were known as the “king”, that both died young and unexpectedly and that Michael was briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley makes their connection a bit stronger than otherwise expected.  I wonder if there will be stories that Michael is really dead or if it was staged to get him some privacy.  I’m sure that conspiracy theorists will be looking into this as both a death and a disappearance.  On a side note I visited Graceland in 1983 on my way to Fort Knox Kentucky and sat in the “pink Jeep.”  Judy had a Tonka pink Jeep when she was a kid.

The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 20th 1981 stands out.  I was a junior at cal State Northridge and was taking my lunch on the lawn outside of the office where I worked as a peer counselor.  I was getting ready to go to class as I watched to really good looking girls go walking by me talking.  I didn’t notice anything unusual until the past me and continuing to watch I noticed that each had their hand down the back side of the pants of the other one.  I had never seen this before.  Of course having grown up in California I knew homosexual men and I had heard of lesbians but this was the first time that I ever noticed women of that persuasion like doing some affection or foreplay in public.  Since then of course I have had many friendships with both male homosexuals and lesbians but this was one of those moments that sticks out in my mind.  Anyway, as I walked back into the office to grab my books for class the office TV was on announcing the attempted assassination and what I will never forget is watching retired General Alexander Haig as Secretary of State have a news conference where he stated “I’m in control.”  Of course he wasn’t the next in line and though he thought that he was he was not in control, even of himself that that point.  I don’t think that then Vice President George H.W. Bush was very impressed nor were the actuals in the line of succession.  So the shooting of President Reagan is intermixed with my first view of lesbian touching and seeing a General go out of control to be in control.  As Mr. Spock might say to Captain Kirk, “Captain I find this fascinating.”

In January 1985 I was a young company commander in Wiesbaden Germany.  The Space Shuttle Challenger with 7 Astronauts aboard blew up shortly after launch.  It was already the close of the business day in Germany when this happened.  I had the First Sergeant release the soldiers a bit early and set the duty, the Charge of Quarters, the Assistant and the Duty Driver.  I was staying late as always to take care of maintenance management and personnel reports when Specialist Lisa Dailey rushed into my office.  Lisa was the Charge of Quarters or CQ that day.  She knocked on my door and said “Sir the space shuttle just blew up.”  She had been watching it live on the new AFN broadcast of live stateside TV news broadcasts.  If I recall this was the time slot of the Today Show, and yes it was when there was only one AFN broadcast channel.  I looked up from my mountain of reports and said to her, “Specialist Dailey, space shuttles don’t blow up.”  And she said, no sir it just did, I was watching it and it is on TV right now.”  So I got up from my desk and walked at a brisk pace down the hall with my spun up specialist and looked on in horror as I saw a replay of the launch.   I was stunned as like I had told Lisa “space shuttles don’t blow up.”  However this one did and it was sobering.  I should have believed Lisa, she was a great soldier and the last time that I heard from her is doing well working as an RN in Southern California.  I had an eerie reprise of this when the Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry.  At the time I was waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace who was to be our guest speaker at the Battle of Hue City Memorial Weekend in Jacksonville FL. He was delayed a couple of hours by an emergency meeting of the Joint Chiefs.

Fast forward a few years to the bombing by Libyan agents of Pam Am flight 103, the Clipper Maid of the Seas over Lockerbie Scotland, on December 21st 1988.  I had left active duty for seminary a couple of months previously and was engaged in a nearly futile job search in oil and real estate busted Texas.  I had completed the share of my morning futility mailing our more resumes, making more calls and picking up more job applications.  As always I would take a football out and punt it as far as I could to relieve the stress.  I had already found out that breaking things that you actually need when being accosted by bill collectors is not good a good way to deal with stress.  In today’s current economy I suggest anyone is such straits pick up a football and punt the crap out of it rather than taking anything out on home appliances, electronics or loved ones.  Eventually things will work out as sucky as they may seem now; the Deity Herself has assured me of this.  Anyway, back to the plane crash.  This really was weird for us because barely two years prior we had flown the same aircraft back from Germany when we were reassigned to the states.  We remembered this because then they showed the photo of the nose and cockpit area we saw the name of the aircraft.  I looked at Judy and said, does the name of that airplane look familiar?  If I recall correctly she said something like “Oh my God” and I said: “Remember back in Frankfurt when I saw the name of the aircraft prior to boarding?” and how “l liked the way Pan Am gave pretty names to its aircraft.”  It was funny because we both vividly recalled waiting for our flight and what we said about the aircraft.  That was totally weird and surreal almost like an X-Files thing as I thought back to details inside of the aircraft and the trip home from Germany.

We were in Fort Worth for the first bombing of the World Trade Center and the destruction of the Branch Davidian Compound outside Waco.  Both times I was at work and watched the events unfold on the televisions of our ministry’s television production department.  The Branch Davidian stand-off and attempted seizure of by Federal Agents used M-751 Combat Engineer Vehicles from my National Guard unit.  The vehicles were not manned by Guardsmen but Federal agents.  Later that summer I saw a couple of the vehicles which still had white paint scratches on them from the Branch Davidian building.   In 1995 I was home getting ready to go to work in Huntington West Virginia when the Murrow Federal Building was destroyed by Timothy McVeigh.

There are quite a few others that I could mention but will finish with the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers on September 11th 2001.  I had finished a couple of counseling cases and put out some other brush fires as the Chaplain for Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division.  Leaving my office for a belated PT session at the French Creek gym I was closing out my internet explorer.  On the Yahoo home page there was a small news line that said “Aircraft crashes into World Trade Center.” I shrugged and figured that some idiot private pilot had flown his aircraft into is by mistake and when out to my car.  I got in my 2001 Honda CR-V and some guy on the radio was blathering about it being an airliner and then I heard a chilling line that I will never forget. “Oh my God another aircraft has hit the second building.”  I went over to the gym and stood staring in disbelief at one of the TVs with a bunch of Marines and Sailors.  I shook my head, ran back to the office and changed over to my cammies and when to the Battalion Headquarters where we were informed of what the command knew and then set to work taking anti-terror precautions as no one knew what might happen next.  Camp LeJeune became a fortress.  There were checkpoints at key locations throughout the base.  Patrols were set up and we remained in lock-down for almost 4 days.  That is a day that I can never forget, over 3000 Americans and others killed by Islamic extremist terrorists out to ignite a world war.

So those are some of mine.  What about yours?  Feel free to add your posts here and get a discussion of these and other notable events including the death of Michael Jackson going.  It will be interesting to see and I will approve all posts to this article, excepting of course spam posts.

Peace, Steve+

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