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Mr Mold Man: A Blast of Spores from the Past, the Mad Doctor Dundi at Work

I love the comic strip Over the Hedge. I have a remarkable affinity for RJ Raccoon, the brilliant yet twisted genius of the strip. I think that it is because he embodies so much of what makes me…well…makes me me.

This week RJ has been confronting his old refrigerator nemesis Mr Mold Guy.  RJ’s experience has caused me to do some soul searching and refrigerator emptying here at the Island Hermitage.

I don’t know about you but I am a fan of food and I like to buy food and sometimes I forget that I have bought food. Thus there are times when I am rooting about the fridge that I find some delicacy that I either forgot that I bought or pushed that I had buried under something else. I find that the back of the vegetable crisper is a haven for such lost food and that it becomes a rather transformative space where food loses its innocence and becomes evil incarnate.

Tonight I was making a grilled chicken pita sandwich and getting ready to fill it with lettuce, fresh tomatoes, pepperocini peppers, kalameta olives and kosher dill pickles when I came across a big red onion that I had forgotten. I love red onions, but this fellow had been in the fridge a bit too long. I really don’t know how long because I can’t remember when I bought it.  However it had to be a very long time because I know that it takes a really, really long time for Mr Onion Man to transform himself into Mr Mold Man.  Onions are not like tomatoes or strawberries which can make rapid transformations from their natural state to spore producers known as Mr Mold Man.

Now be assured that I have found items that are designed by scientists to be mold resistant in my fridge that have stood the test of time and then some. I can say that I have never been able to get Cheez-its to mold, or Twinkies. However given adequate time and the right environment even most of these chemically engineered gastronomical delights can fall victim to the dreaded transformation into Mr Mold Man. In fact at times I have even encouraged them to do so leaving them out in order to see just how they would be transformed.

When I was in junior high school I picked up the nickname “The Mad Doctor Dundi” because of what I would do to the cafeteria food left over from all of my friends serving trays. Lets’ just say that the food at Stockton Junior High School back in the early 1970s was not very good and there were always things left on our trays.

The menu always had elements of the most important food groups: Mystery Meat, Greasy Gravy, boiled Corn or Green Beans fresh from a No. 10 can and of course desert, my favorite the ever popular “orange pudding” which I believe was simply corn starch, sugar and orange food dye blended into a delightful gelatinous goo perfect for mixing other leftovers in.

My experiments continued into college where in my junior year at California State University Northridge I lived at the private dorm called the Northridge Campus Residence. My room-mate Gary and I were the odd couple. He was rather fastidious in his upkeep of the apartment while I was a bit more of a slob than I am now. Post Iraq I don’t do as well with clutter but I cannot be called a model of neatness but then as Gary can attest to I was really really messy.

We lived on the apartment side of the residence and had a kitchenette. This meant that we could supplement the rations provided by the dorm cafeteria which was far better than junior high school but still institutional food slopped on a tray. In fact it was very similar to the cafeteria in the movie Animal House but I digress….

Anyway as I was saying we had a kitchenette. We didn’t keep a lot of food but there was a time that I bought some White Bread, I even think it might have been Wonder Bread. Back then to keep the bread out of the way I would keep it on top of the fridge. This was one of those forlorn food items that got forgotten. Several weeks after I bought it I noticed that it had a small mold colony growing on it.

I probably should have throw it away, but that would have been a crime against science. As a historian and theologian I revere science, and I needed to conduct an experiment. The experiment was twofold. First was to see what would happen to Mr Wonder Bread and secondly and perhaps the more important part of the experiment, to see how long it would take for Gary to notice or take action. So I left it there and I can’t remember just how long it took but the mild mannered loaf of highly enriched and preserved Wonder Bread began a new life as Mr Mold Man.

Day after day I would check on Mr Mold Man and watch in fascination as he transformed inside that hermetically sealed plastic bag. I think that Gary had forgotten that the bread was there so Mr Wonder Bread continued his transformation into Mr Mold Man eventually becoming a completely green gelatinous mass inside the bag. One day, I think it was a Saturday Gary was cleaning and noticed my experiment. I cannot remember what he said but I do remember the complete disgust as he lifted the evil being’s remains off of the fridge and dropped it unceremoniously in the trash receptacle.

Here’s to food and and here’s to science!

Peace

Padre Steve+

AKA “The Mad Doctor Dundi”

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Filed under Just for fun, purely humorous

National Teacher’s Day: Let’s Actually Start Valuing Our Teachers Again

What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today is National Teacher’s Day and not a moment too soon. However most people probably don’t know or care that it is. Teachers are not valued highly in our society. They used to be but not anymore. Ask a teacher how they feel about classroom conditions, support from the elected officials on school boards that use their office to attack the institutions that they have been elected to serve. Ask any teacher about the effects of the “No Child Left Behind” on their ability to teach and be able to reach out to students that learn differently from the rote memory exercises needed to pass a standardized test.

Higher education likewise is being gutted the formerly amazing California State University System, and the California Junior College system which I attended is being decimated. Professors have not competitive wages in years, programs are being cut while tuition is increased. I attended San Joaquin Delta College and paid $5 a semester plus books. I averaged $200 a year at Cal State Northridge. Programs were amazing, class sizes good, professors and instructors, excellent. That system and many others are in crisis.

You see teachers, especially those in Public Schools have for the last 30 years or so, ever since Howard Jarvis’s Proposition 13 passed in California and gutted educational spending the target of right wing pundits, politicians and preachers. They are blamed by some people for almost every ill in the educational system. If teachers complain or take their case to the media they are made the villain. In most States they don’t make a lot of money for all the education, training and certifications that they are required to have to teach.  They have few protections and those that they do have, mainly in the protections that they gained through their participation in organized labor are being stripped away in state after state.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s my dad was in the Navy. It was a turbulent time for our family. Due my dad’s transfers as well as a school boundary change in one district I ended up attending six different elementary schools in three states, three schools in three states in 4th grade alone. During that time our lives were in a constant state of flux and as a grade school student it was my teachers that helped me get through that time. Because of the transfers I didn’t get to have the opportunity to remain in a community long enough to get established until Junior High School. I was always “the new kid in town.” Not that that is bad or that I have any bad memories of that childhood. I found the new places, people and schools to be a grand adventure. In fact when my dad retired from the Navy I was not happy. I wanted him to stay in because I liked the adventure.

I remember every one of my elementary school teachers names, save one in 4th grade where were we not at the school long. There was the strict Kindergarten teacher, Mrs Brandenburg who made sure that she write with my right hand.  To this day my handwriting is illegible but who cares now when I type everything. Then there was my 1st Grade Teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs Christian. She was a sweetheart her husband was an airline pilot and in 1st grade, probably because of my handwriting I was tested for some learning difficulties. I guess that there was nothing wrong because that didn’t last long. In Second Grade I had Mrs Jackson. Then in 3rd grade a new school was opened and I attended Olympic View Elementary School.  My 3rd Grade Teacher was Mrs King.  It was in 3rd grade that I really began my adventure in reading. I devoured every book in the biography and history section that I could find in the Library, especially those dealing with military and political leaders, sports figures (especially baseball players) and military history.

I began 4th Grade at Olympic View but my dad was transferred to a travel intensive assignment in Long Beach California in the fall of 1968. I had my first male teacher at Olympic View, Mr Alguire who I really liked. We moved to Long Beach and it was a difficult move. there were a number of deaths and serious illnesses in the extended family and I attended Robert E Lee Elementary in Long Beach for just a few weeks before my dad had my mom, brother and I go live with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia. We arrived there in early December and I found that I was out of my element. My teacher at Miller Elementary was Mrs Gates. She was very tough and I was hammered with more homework than I had ever seen. I was also the “new kid” and since we had just moved from Long Beach a “city slicker” and was challenged to a fight in my first week. It was a draw. However Mrs Gates was a great teacher and I continued to read, write well but illegibly and learn to speak in front of the class.

When the school year was done we moved back to Long Beach when in a different neighborhood just across the cement lined San Gabriel River from Orange County I attended Hawaiian Gardens Elementary School where I met my friend Chris Brockel who I have managed to stay in contact over the years. That was probably my most fun year in school. I was asked if I wanted to skip 5th grade but I told the principle that I wanted to remain in my 5th Grade Class. My teacher was another gem, Mr Oliver. It was a great school year combined with the fact that my dad was always taking us to California Angeles baseball games.  But dad received orders to the elderly Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock CVA-19 home ported in Alameda California at the end of that school year which made another move necessary and initially thought had ruined my life. heck I had baseball, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, the Queen Mary and Sea World. I saw my first professional hockey and basketball games and it was a dream life.

Since it was the early 1970s and the Bay Area was in turmoil and I had a great Aunt in Stockton  we moved to Stockton just down the street from her. In Stockton I attended Grover Cleveland Elementary School and had the woman that I think was my best teacher of elementary school Mrs Dietrich. My dad was underway or deployed most of the time between 1971 and 1974 when he retired. That first year was hard and like my other teachers Mrs Dietrich was a rock of stability who encouraged me to learn and think for myself.

I attended Stockton Junior High and Edison High School and there are were teachers at every grade level who I remember fondly. My French Teacher from 7th-9th Grade was Mrs Milhousen who was very patient with me. My history teacher was Mr Silvaggio who my brother would later teach on the same faculty in his first teaching assignment. I remember my Printing Shop and Wood Shop teachers, back then you had to become familiar with trade skills as well as academics. I learned to play the French Horn in band class which was taught by Mr Hull.

At Edison I still remember great teachers like Gloria Nomura, Mr Riley, Mr Oji, all who taught History or Social Studies, Donovan Cummings my Speech teacher, Coaches Charlie Washington, Vick Berg, Duke Pasquini.  There were others but two of the most important were my Naval Junior ROTC instructors LCDR James Breedlove and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness.  I could go on and on about teacher.

That continued in college and seminary. I am indebted to the wonderful, gifted and dedicated men and women that were my teachers.  My mom was a teacher’s aid when life settled down in Stockton when dad left the Navy and retired from the school district. Likewise my brother Jeff is a teacher and in administration at an alternative school in the district, his wife is an elementary school teacher.  I now have a BA and three graduate degrees. I am indebted to my teachers and cannot forget them. Teaching is hard. I have taught a couple of undergraduate level Western Civilization classes and the amount of work is enormous.

When I hear the Unholy Trinity of Right Wing Politicians, Pundits and Preachers that beat up public school teachers at every opportunity. School Board members who seem to be more interested in political careers than education and those that hack away at programs that cater to the whole person I am disgusted. When I went to school those things that made me what I am today, the library, the gym classes, athletic programs, the foreign languages, art, music, speech, and things like shop were required. They helped give me an appreciation for the world and for people in general. They helped make me a more rounded person. From what I see now those kind of programs are being decimated and our kids will be poorer for it. This is not the fault of the teachers. They work with the crap being forced on them by politicians in Congress, statehouses and on school boards with ever shrinking resources and always increasing requirements.

We need to actually care about our teachers and educational systems. Policy and budget priorities set by politicians coupled with parents that are either bullies or absentee are the reason our schools are in trouble.

I hate to lecture but teachers matter. Education policy matters. Educational funding matters. If we want to be competitive in the world we need to make education a priority again and start giving teachers some measure of respect and stop using them as a straw man to divert attention from the real causes of our educational crisis.

Today is National Teacher’s Day. Admittedly it is after hours but take some time in the next few days to thank a teacher.  If you don’t have kids, go back and thank one of your own.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under economics and financial policy, laws and legislation, Political Commentary

Those that Should Know Better: Judgement at Nuremberg

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’. It was the old, old story of the sacrifical lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now…”  Judge Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) in Judgement at Nuremberg

I am getting ready to do some serious writing over the coming months about what Hannah Arendt called “the Banality of Evil.” Banality is not a word often used now days. But it simply means trivial, uncreative or simply ordinary and unremarkable.  I have been pondering this for years and believe that history has to be continually learned and written about in order not to see it repeated.

I studied Weimar and Nazi Germany as well as the Holocaust under Dr. Helmut Haeussler at California State University at Northridge as an undergraduate and in a year of graduate studies.  I also continued that study while in Seminary as well as in my Masters Degree in Military History. I was stationed in Germany several times, done an exchange tour with the German Army and my German friends say that I am fluent in German. I have been to Nuremberg, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I have stood on the reviewing stand where Adolf Hitler preached to the multitudes of assembled party faithful on the Zepplinfeld in Nuremberg.

As such I am a realist about the unique horror of the Holocaust. I am a realist about people and how and the circumstances of the times brought ordinary people, men and women to either commit, support or simply turn their backs on the greatest atrocities ever committed by a “civilized” Western nation. A nation steeped in the traditions of Christendom and the Enlightenment.

I have broken out many of my old books used in my various degree programs as well as  as the resources of museums and universities now available on the internet. I am also watching films about the era. Not war films, films about the ordinary men that carried out these crimes either by pulling the trigger, pushing a button, signing an order or simply turning their backs and remaining silent.

At the end of the movie Judgement at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy as the Presiding Judge Dan Haywood concluded his sentencing remarks with this statement. It is perhaps one of the most powerful statement and something to remember as the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers urge us to hate one another and those different than us. It is something that is especially needed in times of great societal stress as well as real and perceived dangers from without and within.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

This is an unsettling subject and people on the political right and left in this country are apt to compare their opponents to those that were tried at Nuremberg and those that led them. However it is possible that any party in society when divided by fear, hate and the desire for power can behave just as the industrialists, financiers, doctors, soldiers, jurists, civil servants, pastors and educators who oversaw those heinous crimes. People that should have known better.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, History, philosophy, Political Commentary

A Tuesday in DC: Lunch with a Dear Friend and a Night walk through the Monuments

Today was another good day, in fact really good day at the conference I am attending with the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health.  At lunch I was able to spend some time with my former commanding officer at Marine Security Forces.  It was good to see Mike again.  He and I went through some very trying times together and I treasure his friendship as well of that of his family.  I think that of all the commanding officers that have served under which have included some incredible men that he was the best.  We are a lot alike in many ways both rather cerebral and out of the box thinkers. We basically are the same generation as far as military service goes, when he was a young Marine Corps Officer I was a young Army Officer.

We reminisced about the way the country was back then how our leaders still worked together and even if we disagreed with the policies of those in the opposing party that we still knew that we were Americans and that at the end of the day we were friends.  I guess that Mike and I are dinosaurs now; we tend to look at the big picture and both being career officers of the same generation have seen the country change. We both entered the military during the Cold War and after the loss of Vietnam.  Our teachers were the men that served in that war, those who came home to a then hostile country.  Neither Mike nor I are service academy types nor the products of conservative military schools, Mike went to Harvard and attended Navy ROTC and I went to a California State University School, CSU Northridge and took Army ROTC at UCLA.  We both come from strong yet tolerant religious traditions and were influenced by chaplains early in our careers.  Mike’s academic background is Economics mine Theology and Military History and both of us hold advanced degrees in those subjects.  We both graduated from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.  We have both served overseas and in combat.  We love our country and treasure our military service and that of the men and women that we have served with over so many decades.

I am honored that Mike will administer the Oath of Office when I am promoted on September 1st at Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia.  By the way Mike loves baseball too and being from Boston he is a Red Sox fan.  His dad, a die hard fan died a few months before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. My dad died a few months before his San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Talking with Mike today made me think back to a time when things were not like what they are now, where political opponents were simply opponents and not “the enemy.”  I shared with Mike the terms the German Military used in the Second World War to describe those that they fought against.  The Western Allies were “die Gegener” or simply opponents and for the most part the German military observed the Geneva Convention and Laws of War when fighting the Americans, British and French.  However with the Soviet Unionit was different.  The Soviets were “Der Feind” or the enemy.

As divided as we were in the 1970s and 1980s there was still a modicum of respect for the other side and ability to work together when we needed and Mike brought up the relationship of Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’ Neill, vigorous political opponents who remained friends.  However there is today and has been for the past 20 years or so for members of the extreme wings of both major parties to identify their opponents as “enemies.”  The language difference is significant. An opponent is a adversary that you hope to defeat but there is not a hatred involved and when the competition ceases the opponents remain friends and even colleagues even as they prepare for the next “game” so to speak.

Enemies are another matter.  To be an enemy is to assume that the other side poses an existential threat to your side or your agenda.  Thus there can be no compromise and the opponent is not simply to be defeated but destroyed and annihilated much like the Old Testament when the Israelites were commanded by God to kill everything even the babies and pregnant women.  So much for being pro-life but I digress….

Today we are more divided than any time since the Civil War, blood is boiling and if there is compromise it will be a mere truce until the next round of political bloodletting which if we are not careful may become actual bloodletting and the enemies allow their unbridled hatred of each other spill out into open conflict.  Such affairs never end well and if we remember our history our Civil War’s military conflict was over in a few years and yet with the relatively primitive weapons of the ay killed more Americans than any other conflict.  The after effects well, frankly Scarlett took over a hundred years to recover from and I would dare posit that some believe that the war is not yet over.

Tonight I went to dinner alone cancelling my plans to head out to watch the Nationals play the Marlins. I needed the time and solitude and somehow a trip on the DC Metro seemed the last place that I would find it. I walked to the Gordon Biersch where I had dinner, drank a few beers and watched the Orioles beat the Blue Jays.  After dinner I detoured from my normal route back to my campus housing which takes me in front of the White House.

Amid the lights and the amazing splendor of the buildings adorned with American and District of Columbia Flags I walked and simply observed people.  Tourists from across the nation and the world were taking pictures, business people and government workers hurried about, vendors hawked their patriotic wares, mostly made in China I might add or snack foods.  Here and there a protester sought to draw attention to their pet cause, there is the anti-nuclear weapons protestor that has been camped across from the White House since 1981, people demanding to see the Birth Certificate, those protesting for the removal of various Arab dictators and others peppered about. Capitol Police and Secret Service officers were out in force and amid the fortress like surroundings of many government buildings and the offices such as the World Bank and major business and financial institutions armed police and private security stood watch with cameras watching every move.

When I passed the White House I was rather down.  So I decided to walk the monuments that adorn the Capitol Mall.  I passed the Executive Office Building and Washington Monument and crossed the street to the World War Two Memorial.  At each place I paused before I continued to walk into the night.  I then stopped by the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, the stark reminder of the men and women killed and missing in that war as well as the rip in the fabric of the nation that I am not sure we have ever gotten past.  I then went and paused before the Lincoln Memorial and I thought of the immortal words spoken by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address shortly before he was cut down by a bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth.  They are words of reconciliation spoken even while Americans fought Americans in the last months of the war.

Fellow-Countrymen:  At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As I walked through the warm and humid night air I imagined what it must have been like for officers of the United States Army, Navy and Marine Corps as the nation split in 1861 with many Southerners leaving the service to enter the service of their own states.  Many tearful goodbyes were spoken by men that had served together in war and peace and on the lonely frontier of the nation, men who in a few moths time would be commanding American armies and killing their fellow Americans.  My family fought for the South being from Virginia.  I cannot say that I would have done different like them and so many Southerners or if like General George Thomas of Virginia I would have remained with the Union incurring the wrath of his family for the rest of his life.  Since I have never taken my Oath lightly I can only imagine that I would have done what Thomas did even if it meant the loss of family.

Today I fear that even if our leaders can avert a default on or debts that they have now set the stage for worse I the coming months and years. The open hatred and contempt of our leaders for one another and the ideas that each stand for has wounded the nation more deeply than any default or government shutdown could ever do. This is not simply partisan discourse it is a deep enmity and hatred that has not been seen in this country for 150 years.  If cooler heads do not prevail soon the damage may be irreparable and the consequences more terrible than we can imagine and why anyone would willingly continue down this road is beyond me, but hatred does terrible things to people and nations.

Since it was nearing10 PMI hailed a taxi by the Lincoln Memorial.  I entered into a conversation with the driver, an immigrant fromMoroccowho has been in the United States22 years.  I mentioned my concern and he was far more hopeful than me. He said he believed that a shutdown would be averted.  I love immigrants especially recent ones who have left home and family to become Americans.  My dad’s side family has been in this country since 1747 and my mother’s even longer.  It was inspiring for me to hear this man still be in awe of this nation despite all of our troubles. When I left the cab I thanked him, gave him a decent tip shook his hand and in my woeful Arabic said “Assalamu alaikum” or peace be unto you.

As a historian I tend to see the dangers in what is happening in our country and I do have legitimate concerns, but when I hear the words of hope and awe that this country engenders in those who come here to be free I hope again in spite of myself.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary, remembering friends

In Memoriam: Professor Helmut Haeussler the Most influential Teacher in my Life

I received an e-mail from the History Department of California State University at Northridge this week that a memorial service is to be held for Professor Helmut Haeussler. Dr. Haeussler was my primary professor in the department during my undergraduate years at the school as well as one year of graduate work before I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant and reported for active duty in 1983.

I studied under Dr. Haeussler for three years taking courses such as German History, World War II and the Holocaust followed by an extensive number of independent study courses where I concentrated on Germany from the end of the First World War until the fall of the Third Reich. In this my primary focus was the Weimar Republic and the relationship of the German Army to the Government and the various political parties.

Dr. Haeussler was unique. He was born in Germany in 1922 during the turmoil of the early Weimar Republic and his family immigrated to the United States in the early 1930s. He was attending the University of Wisconsin when the Second World War broke out and served as an intelligence analyst and interpreter with the 82nd Airborne Division and as an interrogator at the Nuremburg trials. After leaving the Army he continued his education eventually graduating with a Ph.D. from in History from the University of Wisconsin.  He joined the faculty at Northridge in 1963 and he retired in 2005, having taught many courses in German History, Modern European History, World War II, the Holocaust, Anti-Semitism, and Military History.  He also taught at California Lutheran College on occasion. He was a tremendous teacher and for our class on the Holocaust he had a survivor of Auschwitz named Mel Mermelstein who challenged Holocuast deniers in court and won. Mermelstein’s fight was dramatized in the television movie called Never Forget in which he was played by Leonard Nimoy.  Dr. Haeussler, a Lutheran from Germany and veteran of the United States Army was a man who did not want the crimes of the Nazis to be forgotten and the dangers of a divided society which has lost its sense of identity.

He wrote a book on the life of General Wilhelm Groener who was a key figure in the formation and preservation of the Weimar Republic from forces on the Left and Right in its fragile early years. Along with the Majority Socialist President Friedrich Ebert and Defense Minister Gustav Noske he forged an alliance between the very conservative Army Officer Corps and the Socialist Government which endured until Ebert’s untimely death in 1925.

Dr. Haeussler spent many hours with me recommending research resources and writers, looking over my work and challenging my conclusions at many points. I still have all of the books from his classes as well as books that he recommended. When I went on to a second Masters Degree, this one in Military History and the work that I did under him paid dividends in those studies. I appreciate what Dr. Haeussler taught me and how he pushed me to constantly pursue learning. Readers of this site can find much of his influence in my writings on Weimar and the Nazi era and application for the present day, especially as our society becomes increasingly divided and the government as ineffective and the Weimar Government after the death of Ebert.

Dr. Haeussler’s passing is also a watershed. He was the last faculty member at Northridge who had served in the Second World War. This is yet another reminder to us of the members of that generation who are passing away at an ever increasing rate.

The information on the memorial is below. I am simply pasting it from the e-mail that I received.

The History Department will hold a reception on Sunday, March 27, at 2 P.M. in the Whitsett Room, Sierra Hall 451.  Emeritus Professor Michael Meyer, a long-time friend and colleague, will bring his violin and play German songs that Helmut would have liked. Faculty, friends, and former students of Professor Haeussler are cordially invited to attend and share their memories. Refreshments will be served.  Please call the History Department, 818-677-3566, so that we may plan accordingly. Parking will be available in the lots west of Sierra Hall.  Visitors must stop at the parking kiosk on Prairie Street, just east of Darby, to obtain a permit.

I wish that I could attend the memorial and spend time with those that worked alongside him and fellow students. I was privileged to have a professor who has continued to influence my learning almost 30 years after my last class with him. I wish that every student would have such a teacher at some point in their life.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, remembering friends, world war two in europe

The Sacrament of the Smile….Making it Real

In Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mystery “The Archbishop in Andalusia” the character Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I’m the kind of person that if I’m angry or not doing well my face can show it even if I don’t want it to.  It’s sometimes hard to hide emotions even though I try, but I have gotten pretty good at hiding them by putting on a poker face and smiling, even if it hurts to do so.   This works most of the time, but sometimes with people who know me pretty well it catch me.  They ask me if I’m doing okay and they are pretty good at taking care of me in those moments, which unfortunately are a lot more common after Iraq than before it but occasionally happen.

However on the whole I remain a pretty upbeat person.  I think my most common greeting with people that I work with or see relatively often is “Hey, what’s up, what’s new, what’s happening in the world?” Most of the time I’m a pretty laid back kind of person. I think that this is due a blend of genetics from a recessive gene in my family as well as having grown up on the West Coast and spending a lot of my adult life somewhere in the former Confederate States of America.   The genetic factor has to be a recessive gene as a lot of folks in my family can get spun up and pretty serious pretty fast.

Since being upbeat unless I am downcast is the baseline for me, even with my PTSD I find a lot of humor in life and still manage to have fun.  I love the folks that I work with in my ICUs and being in those places with those colleagues does me an incredible amount of good.

One thing that I have noticed is that it is important for me to smile; in fact I generally like smiling except when I don’t.   I admit that there are some times and some people that I am like the scene in the movie Patton where Patton is forced to make conversation with a Soviet General after the war.  In those kinds of times the smile is definitely faked and thankfully most people don’t realize it.

However what I find is that many people respond positively to a genuine and caring smile and greeting.  Let’s face it times are not the best, all the economic problems and political conflict coupled with ongoing wars and wondering what is going to happen stress a lot of people out.  A lot of this is the news media’s fault as they heap one negative story after another on their viewers, particularly those who are addicted to 24 hour non-stop cable news and talk radio.  As a result it is amazing to see the number of people out in town who don’t smile.  Since I work in a pretty good sized teaching medical center I see people going through a lot of health and life crisis, but even here I don’t quite see the level of disgruntledness that I see out in town.  Frankly I’d like to see a lot more gruntled than disgruntled people.

In the past year that I have been here I have endeavored to be as positive and cheerful as possible and with some exceptions I have managed pretty well.  In fact I have made it my crusade to honestly try to greet everyone that I contact with a kind word or smile and often a God bless you or simply “blessings on your head.” What I love to see is someone who has been obviously beaten down; do a double take when they realize that someone; that being me, is taking the time to say something nice to them.  I love the sheepish smiles, the surprised thank you and God bless you responses that I get in return.

No place is this more important than church or chapel service when I or for that matter any Priest or minister serves God’s people.  Grumpy pastors, who are too bothered to care, perform their duties in a perfunctory manner or worse are rude and disrespectful to the people that God entrusts to their care  do damage.  It’s like Archbishop Blackie said, the encounters that we have are occasions to share the grace and love of God, to be with them, care for them and are in a very real sense both evangelical and sacramental occasions.  When I was in Jacksonville Florida as a Navy Chaplain I would occasionally serve at the altar of our cathedral church.  People would almost always comment on how joyful I looked while celebrating Eucharist and serving communion.  How can I not be when I am entrusted with such a great gift for God’s people?

Judy and my college room-mate Kendra is in town this week.  We had kind of a three’s company situation.  I had my men’s bedroom which was a total college guy mess and Judy and Kendra shared the other bedroom.  At the time Kendra was an Atheist being bombarded by many of our well meaning but hyper aggressive Christian friends.  We had a blast.  Kendra is like super duper deaf, lost all of her hearing at the age of four after she had learned to speak and read. She’s incredibly intelligent and as a 15 year old scored in the upper one percentile of the SAT where I not to be too flashy scored somewhere around the upper thirty-fifth percentile due to my abysmal math score. It was due to Kendra that I learned sign language.  All of Judy’s friends were deaf at Cal State Northridge and I needed it, but Kendra and her sense of humor helped make me do it.  When I first met her Judy had to run out and when Judy came back to her dorm room, this was before the three’s company” set up she found Kendra and I reading the “Official Sick Joke Book” and since I couldn’t sign just yet pointing to the jokes and laughing.  Anyway, Kendra eventually came to faith and joined the Episcopal Church in Pasadena just a few years back.  In her spiritual biography she mentions us not trying to convert her, even going to church with us without feeling pressure. She knew that we cared for her and our continued friendship was a part of how she came to faith.  I thought that was so cool.  My sign language is in the crapper now but I am going to do my best to have fun.  I picked up a copy of “Mommy Dearest” so we could watch it and relive great memories of chasing each other around the apartment with wire coat hangers saying “no more wire hangers.” Trust me you have to see the movie to get this one.

Of course I try to ensure that I don’t appear to be a total idiot when I do this, with some mindless smile or joke that is inappropriate to the occasion.  Let’s look at a unlikely scenario: With me in the room the Doctor says to the patient “Sir, I have good and bad news.”   The patient says “What’s the good news?” The doctor replies “the good news is pretty soon you will feel no pain.”  The patient says “Doctor that’s wonderful news, you know I’ve been in so much pain for so long.  So what’s the bad news?” The doctor replies “Son you’re going to die.” Then I as the chaplain with a mindless big grin on my face chime in, “Let’s focus on the positive now…have you seen The Bucket list? Gotta love Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman huh? They are such good actors.  Hey, I have an idea, you want to pray?”  As the nurses and doctors struggle to pull the man’s hands from around my throat I gasp out “so do you want me to come back later?”  That of course is extremely unlikely in my case; in fact I usually am the glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to dealing with sick people since I am neither a physician nor God.

I have a sense of gallows humor but am very careful how and when to use it and thankfully I am able to not smile like an idiot when bad news gets delivered.   It’s a gift.  Let’s face it there is that stuff about those Chinese kids Yin and Yang, everything has to be in balance.

All this being said there are times where the foot is in the other shoe. These are the times that the person who is afflicted with a life threatening condition or knows that they are dying is the one who smiles and comforts others, even throwing in a joke or poking fun at someone in the room.  Having experienced this even very recently I have to say that these kinds of folks do more for me than I think that I can ever do for them.   Often there is a time of interaction where the person allows me into their world, to share a story, a laugh and a blessing.  For a Priest it doesn’t get any better than that.  These are holy times where God shows up and tonight I have the honor of spending time with such a man and his family.  I am reminded at these times how precious the time is and just how in the midst of pain, suffering and even death, that the God who says “I will never leave you or forsake you” is truly with us as we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

I’ll be smiling tonight in every ward that I visit and hopefully with every staff member, patient and family member that I encounter, knowing that in their lives, that smile might be the only good thing that happens to them all day, or maybe even all week.

Make sure that you smile and give a kind word to someone soon.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Pastoral Care, philosophy

Class Acts in Baseball: Tommy Lasorda

“Listen, if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before too long you’re up in the stands with them.” Tommy Lasorda

I have had the privilege of meeting some great baseball players and managers over my lifetime beginning back in 1970 when my dad would take us to see the Angels at Anaheim Stadium.  One manager who I think is a class act is Dodger’s great and hall of fame manager Tommy Lasorda.  Despite the fact that he “bleeds Dodger Blue” and is forever associated with mortal rival of my Giants, I have always liked him.  It really began when the Abbess of the Abby Normal and I moved to the San Fernando Valley to attend California State University at Northridge in 1980.

Money was tight so we did not get to see many games while in school.  Television for us was the old 13 inch black and white TV’s, until Judy’s dad had her come home to pick up a new 13 inch color TV that he had bought for her dorm room.  Neither of us had cable but the Dodgers and Angels were frequently on either local or national stations so I did get my baseball fix.  In doing so I got to watch a great manager in action.  He always seemed to have some nugget of practical down to earth wisdom that made sense, especially in leadership and dealing with people.   He still has a knack for it and he is gracious when you meet him.   He is a very real person who has despite his “Dodgerism” managed to find a soft spot in my heart.  I can relate to him, he speaks in my kind of language and a lot of his leadership and managerial philosophy and approach to people are similar to mine.  Of course this is something that has taken me a long time to figure out having played around with various approaches throughout my life.  Lasorda is simply himself; he is a regular guy who is comfortable with himself.  I think that is one of the big things that has made a difference in my life.  I am finally comfortable with whom I am and want to be the best at being me and doing what I do, whatever that may be.  One of the keys for me is to I just have to good at being me and who I am within my calling and vocation as a Priest, chaplain and writer.

I remember back in 2003 as I was waiting for a Jacksonville Suns game to begin, the Suns at the time being the Southern League AA affiliate of the Dodgers.  Mr. Lasorda walked right in front of me as he came off of the field.  I looked up from whatever I was doing and realized that I had seen a legend.  I was awestruck, a man who I held in such esteem walks right by me. I had always wanted his autograph but even now I am hesitant to just walk up to someone and ask as I try to respect their space.  At Harbor Park I have gotten to meet some of the players charting the games and some of the scouts and collect some autographs always being respectful of them and letting them know if it is for the Baseball Shrine in my kitchen and dining room or if I am having signed for someone else, usually sick kids in the hospital that I work at.  So I sat and kind of brooded, according to the Abbess I am quite good at brooding even before I came back from Iraq.  I guess I brood well so I sat in my seat wanting to go up and ask him to sign the baseball that I had, but not feeling like I should.  About that time an usher that I knew came up, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mr. Lasorda will sign your ball for you.”  I looked at him funny and said “Really?”  He said yes and with that I went over to where Mr. Lasorda was sitting and said “Mr. Lasorda I was going to college in Los Angeles when you managed the Dodgers to the Worlds Series win over the Yankees.  I would be honored if you would sign this ball.  He looked up at me, took the ball, signed it and then shook my hand.  I felt like a kid again, but then when don’t I feel like a kid at a ball game?

The ball is now in a case displayed with other signed baseballs and memorabilia in my dining room.  It is a connection to a classy man who always managed to inspire me.  He was also true to his word: “ALWAYS give an autograph when somebody asks you.”

Tonight at Harbor Park I saw the Tides win a vital game against the Gwinnett Braves and in the process paid off the 1967 signed Willie Mays baseball card that Marty the Card Dealer had for me and had the baseball that I carry every day at work signed by Tides pitcher Chris Waters who was charting the game.  Elliott the Usher and his lovely bride Robin celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary tonight, neither look old enough to have that much time in service in their marriage.  If they were not from Massachusetts but Appalachia I might think that their parents had married them off when they were 10.  Congratulations to these wonderful folks and many more.

Peace,  Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, philosophy