Tag Archives: news media

“Because we Loved our Country!” Why People Believe the Lies

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Press Secretary Sean Spicer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I couple of days ago I asked the question “how did we get here?” when I was discussing drumbeat of lies, which are now called alternate truth by the President and members of his administration. As the past few days have unfolded I have asked the question to myself a number of times as the statements continue, along with the admonitions from Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway to “always believe” what is being said by the President and for the media and other critics to “shut up.” The media of course now is always lying so it goes, and sadly some journalists have added fuel to the flame by misreporting, that doesn’t mean that journalists or the press as a whole are lying, but it sets up straw men for the President and his advisors to attack. Opposition is considered treason, and opponents must be silenced because it is the patriotic thing to do.

Likewise there is the silencing of Federal workers, and even agencies who simply report the truth, and the quashing of dissent by removing officials who may be troublesome later on. His foreign policy seems like it is going to be a go it alone, aggressive hyper-nationalism, forsaking longstanding and faithful allies to ally himself with the Russian dictator, and to threaten military action, trade wars, and to bring back torture. Yet, those are actions that in the long run are bound to destroy the United States, but there is no push back from the GOP majority in Congress.

Then of course are the executive orders which are being issued daily. President Trump is doing exactly what he promised to do during the campaign when we were told not to take what he said literally. Before his inauguration the President said that he may issue 200 executive orders in his first month in office. Such is to rule by fiat, to bypass Congress, the Courts, and ultimately the people, yet it is entirely legal and at the same time if unchecked by the Congress or the Courts will lead to a totalitarian state.

Yet the President’s supporters and the the vast majority of the Republican Congress say nothing and some are calling him brilliant. So I ask myself why? What is going on when people, people who are basically good, turn a blind eye to emerging tyranny. Why is it that otherwise decent, and even brilliant people will allow such things to happen, and even more, to wholeheartedly support the policies.

Then I began to think of the classic film, Judgment at Nuremberg. The question of how many Germans, who should have known better abandoned all sense and supported Hitler seems to me to be quite similar to what is going on with many Trump supporters. They are afraid of the future, they are frustrated, and their fear of the past, present, and future is such that they are willing to cast aside logic and blindly support a man who can only be called a madman. They are doing it out of “love for country.”

In the movie, Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning. As the trial dragged on he was content to allow his defense attorney to use whatever means necessary, even re-victimizing the people who were in fact the victims of his own judgments in support of his government’s policy. When he went to the witness stand his conscience finally got the best of him and he explained his guilt and how he and so many people like him abandoned all sense and morality in supporting Hitler. I could imagine when all of what we are just beginning to see happen before our eyes is done, and our world has crashed in about us, I wonder if some of those who supported the President and asked no questions will have the courage to say like Janning:

“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 sacrificial 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. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

I do not know what is going to happen, I still hope and pray that the President will do good things for the country and the world; but every word, and every action coming from him and his spokespeople serve to dampen any measure of hope that I have for this very young administration. Thankfully, there are people who are using legal means to resist and to speak out, but I wonder if that will be enough.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, film, History, laws and legislation, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Baseball, Perspective and Life

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Well my friends Opening Day is upon us after a long and at times brutal winter, and for that I am glad. So tonight after a very long day moving furniture and books getting ready for the contractors to come and install the tile on my living room floor I am basically doing a re-run but not calling it that. I was working on another article but it is too late and I am too tied to finish it, so I am reprising this article from 2011. Have a great night and catch you tomorrow.

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.” Bill “Spaceman” Lee

Bill “Spaceman” Lee is a funny guy. A Major League pitcher who has long since retired Lee somehow in an often convoluted way was able to keep things in perspective. I love this quote because it is a reminder that a lot of the stuff that we take very seriously in the long run isn’t that important. In fact it reminds of just how little control we have and why it is such an exercise in futility to be anxious and worry about things that we cannot control. I’m pretty sure that Jesus had a word or two about this as well which his disciples thought was important enough to put in the Gospels.

Anyway, last night was another night where for the most part I took the night off from looking at the news about Japan and Libya. I watched for a while as I ate dinner and did laundry but when I began to put my platform bed together I decided I didn’t need to keep listening to newscasters, commentators, talking heads, politicians and pundits as they pondered, puzzled and piddled about the problems of the day. Let’s face it unless big news breaks in the middle of any news channels’ programming it is all the same information being repeated repeatedly by people who many times are paid huge amounts of money to sound ignorant. I guess that it beats real work. Oh well I have continued to take a mental break from this things because they will be there in the morning and will probably be worse than they are now. But to paraphrase what I said last night what is going on now needs to be kept in perspective because this nation and the world have been throw worse during the 20th Century then we are going through now.

Since I wrote about some of those things in my last essay night I won’t re-hash them. But I will say that our media machine both the old established media and the new media are the greatest producers of anxiety that the world has ever seen. These people have created an industry where news is packaged to create anxiety and keep views hooked wondering what terrible calamity will befall them, because if it happened somewhere else it will probably happen here too even if all the facts on the ground are different. David Brinkley said it well when talking about television news: “The one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if it were.” Thus even hypothetical issues become objects which are used to drive up anxiety, anger and fear and I think that pundits of all types and stripes are the worst offenders in this. It is simply shameful but I digress.

If we look at American History we see that while the media since day one has promoted anxiety and fear in one form or another that we have for the most part been able to keep things in perspective. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” he was absolutely on the money. Our problem today is that we live in a world where our ability to communicate information especially about bad things both real and imagined exceeds both our ability to absorb it and to cognitively and emotionally respond to any real threat vice the imagined threats. Branch Rickey once said “thinking about the Devil is worse than seeing the Devil.”

In such a tumultuous environment it is hard to keep to keep events in perspective. As I said in my previous article I was tired from hearing the constant barrage of bad news. Now I am pretty good about keeping perspective but even if I can cognitively deal with the news it can be hard to maintain a non-anxious presence if I am being constantly bombarded with disasters and tragedies of the magnitude that we have witnessed the past several weeks. Thus I turned off the news and put on baseball movies and decided to do the same last night.

Since I am tying baseball into the whole issue of keeping one’s perspective I want to mention the great baseball comedies Major League and Bull Durham. While they are comedies told through the lens of baseball they are great movies about life and keeping one’s perspective. I love both of these movies, they are not the emotional and spiritual tales like Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game they are great in using the medium of a baseball comedy to give life lessons.

Major League deals with a Cleveland Indians team that has not won a world series in over 40 years and whose owner is trying to lose so many games that she can move the team to Miami. The team is made up of has been players, cast offs and rookies of uncertain ability and maturity. In the movie which was set before the Indians renaissance of the 1990s dealt with a losing team that the owner purposely built to lose, but finds its pride to spite their nefarious owner and win the American League East. The character that I can relate to is the old catcher called up from the Mexican League, Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the field leader of the team helping the young players to mature while holding the Indians together as they go through difficult times and then go on to win the East against the Yankees and in the process rediscover a love that was lost due to his own mistakes.

Bull Durham is another one of my favorites and once again my favorite character is the journeyman catcher, Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner who is sent back to “A” Ball to assist a young pitcher named Eby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh played by Tim Robbins. In the process Crash helps LaLoosh, assists his teammates as they go through hard times and discovers love even at the end of his playing career.

What I like about these films is how they show how to keep perspective in life. In the movies both Jake Taylor and Crash Davis are guys on the down side of their careers. They play on losing teams which they help lead back into contention and help the young players mature into winners. They simply concentrate in the things that they can influence.

Of course baseball is taken deep into the future in Star Trek Deep Space Nine.

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The way I figure is that in life we can worry about stuff that we can’t control and ignore the things and people around us that really matter that we can have some influence upon and that is not just a baseball thing. That is a life thing; it is a faith thing and a relational thing. Are these characters perfect examples? By no means, they are regular guys in situations that are not the greatest to be in and they make mistakes, sometimes on the field and a lot of time in relationships. That is why I think that they are good examples; they are real not some kind of untouchable perfect hero. I can relate to guys like that.

I know that I’m a Mendoza Line* kind of guy in a lot of ways. I’m a journeyman who has been able to be successful enough to hang around a long time in my chosen profession. I think that is how I keep my perspective, I’ve been around long enough to make lots of mistakes, experience a lot of bad times and having come through a really bad time after Iraq realize that no matter what happens things will work out. That was like being in a major slump but somehow despite everything I made it through those hard times.

So when I now talk about keeping perspective on life I talk about it from a vantage point of having failed in different ways but also having succeeded in others sometimes even in the same endeavor. So my perspective is now I know that I can’t control what is happening in all the world’s crisis points or for that matter almost anything, I need to take care of the people and things that I have a little bit up influence upon.

I think that is a lesson that baseball teaches us. It teaches us that so much of life is beyond our control and that just because everything isn’t okay doesn’t mean that we need to live in fear and in a constant state of anxiety. As Walt Whitman so eloquently put it “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Peace

Padre Steve+
*The Mendoza Line is named after Mario Mendoza who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit for a career batting average of .215 and the Mendoza Line is considered to be a .200 average which is the line below which players can pretty much be assured that they will not remain in the Major Leagues.

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Filed under Baseball, faith, philosophy, sports and life

Updating Links on a Lazy Saturday

It is a lazy Saturday up here with Judy and our dogs Molly and Minnie in Hampton Roads. So i took the time instead of doing any serious writing to update the links on this page.

I have added or modified the link categories to help make them easier to navigate. I broke up the News and Weather section into News which links to major US media outlets, World News, Local News and Weather, Political Commentary and Weather. I have added numerous sites to the links including many more news and political commentary sites, much more world news, beefed up weather and sections on history and what I call “just for fun” which has links to a bunch of my favorite comics.

I want to draw special attention to my wife Judy’s blog. Her site, The Abbey Normal Abbess http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com. She has some fascinating insights on life and great art which I hope that she will post more of in the coming weeks.

Have a great weekend!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Matt Drudge and the New Media Cynicism: We Could Use a Little Good News

“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?” Sgt Oddball (Donald Sutherland) Kelly’s Heroes

One of my favorite characters in a war movie is that of Sergeant Oddball played with such great aplomb by Donald Sutherland in the 1970 film Kelly’s Heroes.

Oddball is an unlikely hero. In the midst of war’s desolation he finds purpose, in a decidedly hippy sort of way. He is determined that no matter what happens in the war that he will try to be positive. His attitude is something that I wish most of Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers would somehow whether it be through diligent study or divine revelation discover.

I look at the Drudge Report every day. He is probably the most influential individual in media today. Millions of visitors flock to his website every day. His traffic is off the charts.  Now I don’t know Matt Drudge, I just know that he has a large amounts of links to various stories and websites and I use him to jump off to see what he is reporting. He basically is show prep for most of the conservative media and blogosphere, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Drudge makes no bones about his conservatism. I remember reading him when he helped blow open the Bill Clinton- Monica Lewinski “it depends of what your definition of is is” sex scandal back in 1997. So I have been reading him for 15 years and have seen how his influence has grown.

However as I noted in a previous article called The Drudge Distort he often will twist the meaning of an article that he links to with a headline that does not resemble the actual article. His website is laid out brilliantly to define a number of breaking news subjects and form them in such a way that a reader who does not actually read the articles that he links to, simply sees a salacious, cynical, conspiratorial and just plain negative picture. It is positively depressing to look at his site.  Simply look at the site layout daily. If there is a big story Drudge will have several headlines to links which mold the way a story looks and when you dig deeper you find that the actual articles don’t say what he is saying.

While the site is heavily tilted towards politics which is perhaps one of the most cynical enterprises that one can report about, the cynicism of Drudge appears to me to color everything that he reports about: sports, culture, entertainment and even religion. There almost nothing hopeful on it, unless one is into some dark schadenfruede that rejoices in the misfortunes of others. Thus it is no wonder to me that so much of the country which is influenced by the Drudge Report is so negative about everything.

Personally I don’t care how he breaks news before media behemoths. I think that a free and independent media is important and that Matt Drudge does a hell of a job at breaking news. Admittedly a lot of news is bad now days. Headlines are all that many people read when they go to Drudge and so the way he presents the news is as important or possibly even more important than the actual news

The dark and cynical message of Drudge is echoed by much of the media, both the New Media and the Mainstream media. Coupled with the 24 hour, or should I say the 1440 minute daily news cycle Drudge feeds the angst of the nation which now feeds on negativity and is amplified by cable news and the multitude of “news” services, political pundits and even preachers. Media outlets echo off of each other be they from the left or the right of the spectrum and Drudge helps drive them.

I really think that this dark culture that pervades almost all of the media is quite destructive to any productive political or cultural discussion. This is the kind of media that helped destroy the democracy of the Weimar Republic and pave the way for Hitler whose media gurus Josef Goebbels and Julius Streicher understood this better than almost all of their contemporaries.

I wonder about the mind of someone who can constantly not only dwell on the negative found in any situation but must then ensure that everyone else is infected with this. I worry about people who do that. This is not just a criticism of Drudge, but the whole media complex. One can look at history and see similar whatever media the Yellow journalism of the 1890s and

Yes there is a lot of bad news in the world. But there is also a lot of good news, except those that make the big money in media find that bad news brings in more money than good news. Admittedly some reporters will throw in the obligatory tear jerker or good news story the rends our hearts, but even then for every good news story there are scores of bad news stories.

Anne Murray had a hit song in the early 1980s called Little Good News”  the last part of which said:

http://vimeo.com/5943612

I’ll come home this evenin’

I’ll bet that the news will be the same

Somebody takes a hostage, somebody steals a plane

How I wanna hear the anchor man talk about a county fair

And how we cleaned up the air, how everybody learned to care

Whoa, tell me

 

Nobody was assassinated in the whole Third World today

And in the streets of Ireland, all the children had to do was play

And everybody loves everybody in the good old USA

We sure could use a little good news today

 

Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town

Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down

 

Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain

We sure could use a little good news today… 

I just wish like Sergeant Oddball that Drudge would drop his sky is falling message and actually report something hopeful for a change. The Apostle Paul once said “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

I just wonder what would happen if someone in media, maybe even Matt Drudge actually took that advice. But then maybe I am just a dreamer.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under movies, music, News and current events

Doing the Sidestep: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and American Politics and Media

After the past week of seriousness I have decided to take a night off of the news and even away from ESPN before driving to see Judy tomorrow for the long weekend. After watching a couple episodes of 30 Rock and walking and playing with Molly I decided to watch a couple of more light hearted movies.

The first was The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas a classic musical comedy from 1982 starring Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, Dom Deluise, Jim Neighbors and Charles Durning as the Governor.  Based on the real life closing of the Chicken Ranch brothel near LeGrange Texas in 1973 I have always liked it.  The music is nice to relax to and I find the social commentary quite poignant about holy than thou media types that use their power to sensationalize stories and most politicians have no morality other than the latest poll numbers. My inner Libertarian actually thinks that the media and government should stay out of people’s private lives as Sheriff Ed Earl (Burt Reynolds) said “I’ve been fightin’ crime all my life but let’s not confuse crime with committing a sin. You can’t legislate morality.”

Dom Deluise portrays a consumer watchdog reporter for a Houston television station named Melvin P Thorp.  The song Texas has a Whorehouse in It is emblematic of such reporters methods.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5CXQGCxphU&feature=related

 Despite my attempt to avoid politics tonight I did get a laugh as Durning playing the governor answered a reporter’s question about what he thought of the Middle East saying “I was sayin’ just this morning at the weekly prayer breakfast, in this historic capital, that it behooves both the Jews and the Arabs to settle their differences in a Christian manner!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJG75FJkjr8

But the best is the song “Sidestep” the lyrics of which are below. The song sounds like it could come out of the mouth of any of our Presidential candidates that have either run for office or been elected in the past 50 years, with the possible exception of Ron Paul.  But the song sounds just like speeches I hear from those on the campaign trail on the news every night.

Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly see.

I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don’t speak out as plain as day?

And, fellow Texans, I’m for progress and the flag- long may it fly.

I’m a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-

I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,

cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,

I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer.

And now, my good friends, you can sleep nights, I’ll continue to stand tall.

You can trust me, for I promise, I shall keep a watchful eye upon ya’ll…

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-

I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,

cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now, Miss Mona, I don’t know her, though I’ve heard the name, oh yes.

But, of course I’ve no close contact, so what she is doing I can only guess.

And now, Miss Mona, she’s a blemish on the face of that good town.

I am taking certain steps here, someone somewhere’s gonna have to close her down.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-

I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,

cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep…

And, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step…

Cut a little swathe and lead the people on

So anyway, a little humor can help all of us navigate the current election season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, music, Political Commentary

Sex Sells the News: The Cain Scandal and what is says about Us


 

“A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will in time produce a people as base as itself.” Joseph Pulitzer

“News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” William Randolph Hearst

Well let’s see what’s going on in the world, seems such a boring day for news don’t you think?

In world news somewhere across the sea close to 100,000 American servicemen and women are still battling the Taliban or hunting down Al Qaeda terrorists.  Old news, only interests people with relatives and friends in the military.

Wait, stop the presses there are reports that the Israelis might be getting ready to whack the Iranians.  Forget that until the missiles start flying its just foreplay.

But then there is the Arab spring which seems to be continuing to churn along, Gaddafi’s dead? Old news, forget it.

The Euro is about to be fried inGreeceas the Greeks seem to have re-discovered democracy at the expense of the great financial houses ofEuropeand neither the French nor Germans seem very happy about it. Boring….

In this country we are still dealing with record long term unemployment and the ongoing financial crisis are causing us to lurch along while the so called “Super Committee,” Congress and the Administration dither along figuring out ways to blame each other for the problems rather than working together to fix them….yawn….

But these are kind of old news or just boring; despite how important they are they lack the one important thing to make them interesting, a political sex scandal.

Let’s face it, sex sells advertising and the media no matter what side of the political spectrum and that is why all this other news that in one way or another will effect all of us is on the back burner until something really hits the fan.  I suppose if German Chancellor Angela Merkel was caught in a tryst with the Greek Prime Minister that might get the top spot in the day’s headlines but what we seem too really like in theUnited Statesare the good old fashioned political sex scandals.

Fortunately it seems that we may have one, I’m sure that they media would have rather had it involve President Obama, Speaker Boehner or Representative Pelosi or Cantor but we can be choosy can we? After all does it really matter who it involves so long as it involves political scandal and sex? Not to the media because they, especially the Cable news types at Fox, CNN and MSNBC have to find a way to fill 24 hours or programming and what would you rather watch cerebral analysis of complicated issues, tragedies involving blimps and kittens or the visceral hatred engendered by partisan political sex scandals?

Yes it is the latter and the mainstream and the alternative media both have their Jockey’s in a wad about a possible sexual harassment scandal regarding Herman Cain.  The sharks of the political media complex are circling and Cain is fighting back even getting a bit testy in the process. It’s great, if somewhat nauseating theater.  It has all the tawdry elements that we love and right now the cool thing is that they are all speculation based on accusations that we don’t know any details about.

What do know is that the Politico dropped a bombshell on the Cain campaign that seems to have caught both the candidate and his campaign flat footed. We know that in east one case that the National Restaurant Association made some kind of financial settlement that involved a confidentiality agreement. The campaign’s responses to the yet only speculated charges seem confused or evasive and seem to me to be rather amateurish.

We also know that the flying fickle fingers of blame are pointing at a number of different suspects. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are blaming the Liberal media and now the accusations are flying that this was a political hit job put on by Cain’s GOP opponents.  Cain’s campaign Chief of Staff has blamed the Perry Campaign which in turn has blamed the Romney campaign and the Romney campaign hasn’t figured out who to blame yet.  Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann are tossing in their two cents to pile on Cain.  Others in the GOP and even a conservative talk radio host inIowaare stirring the pot as well just to make it fun.

The sad thing is that for all the chumming of the water which is feeding this frenzy none of us as of tonight really knows anything. We have not heard any details and maybe we shouldn’t.  I know that I really don’t want to hear them but unless I decide to move to theCongoI probably will hear more than I want. Already there are people in the conservative media attempting to smear the accusers even without knowing who they are or what they charged.  To me the whole thing seems to be a ready made diversion from the things that are really bad.

Now as far as the Cain campaign and the charges leveled against him I would rather that things were handled maturely by all involved.  I hope that whatever the truth is that it will be shown and people can then make up their minds as to whether they want to support Cain or not based on the strength of his ideas and character.  If the allegations are true and his denials are lies shame on him.  If they are not then shame on those that have whipped this up and a pox on them. Regardless of how much importance our partisans on both sides of the aisle ascribe to it, the story will play out in due course and Cain’s candidacy will survive and grow stronger or come crashing down with the result that another Republican candidate will gather up at least some of Cain’s support.

We deserve better from those that aspire to lead us and those that have the duty to inform us.  They should know better and we should too.  Maybe it is also shame on us for indulging in the tawdry and dishonorable spectacle that passes for news and our tacit approval of those decide what stories get told regardless of their ideology or political spin on the events that we call news.  But then sex sells the news even better than blood.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Baseball and Life: The Importance of Perspective

It’s all about Perspective

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.” Bill “Spaceman” Lee

Bill “Spaceman” Lee is a funny guy. A Major League pitcher who has long since retired Lee somehow in an often convoluted way was able to keep things in perspective.  I love this quote because it is a reminder that a lot of the stuff that we take very seriously in the long run isn’t that important. In fact it reminds of just how little control we have and why it is such an exercise in futility to be anxious and worry about things that we cannot control. I’m pretty sure that Jesus had a word or two about this as well which his disciples thought was important enough to put in the Gospels.

Anyway, last night was another night where for the most part I took the night off from looking at the news about Japan and Libya. I watched for a while as I ate dinner and did laundry but when I began to put my platform bed together I decided I didn’t need to keep listening to newscasters, commentators, talking heads, politicians and pundits as they pondered, puzzled and piddled about the problems of the day. Let’s face it unless big news breaks in the middle of any news channels’ programming it is all the same information being repeated repeatedly by people who many times are paid huge amounts of money to sound ignorant. I guess that it beats real work.  Oh well I have continued to take a mental break from this things because they will be there in the morning and will probably be worse than they are now. But to paraphrase what I said last night what is going on now needs to be kept in perspective because this nation and the world have been throw worse during the 20th Century then we are going through now.

Since I wrote about some of those things in my last essay night I won’t re-hash them. But I will say that our media machine both the old established media and the new media are the greatest producers of anxiety that the world has ever seen. These people have created an industry where news is packaged to create anxiety and keep views hooked wondering what terrible calamity will befall them, because if it happened somewhere else it will probably happen here too even if all the facts on the ground are different. David Brinkley said it well when talking about television news: “The one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if it were.” Thus even hypothetical issues become objects which are used to drive up anxiety, anger and fear and I think that pundits of all types and stripes are the worst offenders in this. It is simply shameful but I digress.

If we look at American History we see that while the media since day one has promoted anxiety and fear in one form or another that we have for the most part been able to keep things in perspective. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” he was absolutely on the money. Our problem today is that we live in a world where our ability to communicate information especially about bad things both real and imagined exceeds both our ability to absorb it and to cognitively and emotionally respond to any real threat vice the imagined threats. Branch Rickey once said thinking about the Devil is worse than seeing the Devil.”

In such a tumultuous environment it is hard to keep to keep events in perspective.  As I said in my previous article I was tired from hearing the constant barrage of bad news. Now I am pretty good about keeping perspective but even if I can cognitively deal with the news it can be hard to maintain a non-anxious presence if I am being constantly bombarded with disasters and tragedies of the magnitude that we have witnessed the past several weeks. Thus I turned off the news and put on baseball movies and decided to do the same last night.

Since I am tying baseball into the whole issue of keeping one’s perspective I want to mention the great baseball comedies Major League and Bull Durham. While they are comedies told through the lens of baseball they are great movies about life and keeping one’s perspective. I love both of these movies, they are not the emotional and spiritual tales like Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game they are great in using the medium of a baseball comedy to give life lessons.

Major League deals with a Cleveland Indians team that has not won a world series in over 40 years and whose owner is trying to lose so many games that she can move the team to Miami.  The team is made up of has been players, cast offs and rookies of uncertain ability and maturity. In the movie which was set before the Indians renaissance of the 1990s dealt with a losing team that the owner purposely built to lose, but finds its pride to spite their nefarious owner and win the American League East. The character that I can relate to is the old catcher called up from the Mexican League, Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the field leader of the team helping the young players to mature while holding the Indians together as they go through difficult times and then go on to win the East against the Yankees and in the process rediscover a love that was lost due to his own mistakes.

Bull Durham is another one of my favorites and once again my favorite character is the journeyman catcher, Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner who is sent back to “A” Ball to assist a young pitcher named Eby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh played by Tim Robbins. In the process Crash helps LaLoosh, assists his teammates as they go through hard times and discovers love even at the end of his playing career.

What I like about these films is how they show how to keep perspective in life.  In the movies both Jake Taylor and Crash Davis are guys on the down side of their careers. They play on losing teams which they help lead back into contention and help the young players mature into winners. They simply concentrate in the things that they can influence.

The way I figure is that in life we can worry about stuff that we can’t control and ignore the things and people around us that really matter that we can have some influence upon and that is not just a baseball thing. That is a life thing; it is a faith thing and a relational thing. Are these characters perfect examples? By no means, they are regular guys in situations that are not the greatest to be in and they make mistakes, sometimes on the field and a lot of time in relationships. That is why I think that they are good examples; they are real not some kind of untouchable perfect hero. I can relate to guys like that.

I know that I’m a Mendoza Line* kind of guy in a lot of ways. I’m a journeyman who has been able to be successful enough to hang around a long time in my chosen profession. I think that is how I keep my perspective, I’ve been around long enough to make lots of mistakes, experience a lot of bad times and having come through a really bad time after Iraq realize that no matter what happens things will work out. That was like being in a major slump but somehow despite everything I made it through those hard times.

So when I now talk about keeping perspective on life I talk about it from a vantage point of having failed in different ways but also having succeeded in others sometimes even in the same endeavor.  So my perspective is now I know that I can’t control what is happening in all the world’s crisis points or for that matter almost anything, I need to take care of the people and things that I have a little bit up influence upon.

I think that is a lesson that baseball teaches us. It teaches us that so much of life is beyond our control and that just because everything isn’t okay doesn’t mean that we need to live in fear and in a constant state of anxiety.  As Walt Whitman so eloquently put it “I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Tonight is another baseball and life movie night with Game 6. The film stars Michael Keaton who plays an actor struggling with cancer, divorce and his relationship with his teenage daughter. He is a diehard Red Sox fan during the 1986 World Series. If time permits I’ll see what else I have on the shelf.

Peace

Padre Steve+
*The Mendoza Line is named after Mario Mendoza who played for the Pittsburg Pirates. He hit for a career batting average of .215 and the Mendoza Line is considered to be a .200 average which is the line below which players can pretty much be assured that they will not remain in the Major Leagues.

 

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Goodbyes and Prayers: Sending Friends off to War

My little war within the war, Christmas with the Bedouin

Yesterday I was honored to be at a pre-deployment ceremony for a number of my shipmates from Portsmouth Naval Medical Center about half of I know fairly well.  There were physicians, nurses and hospital corpsmen in the group, some going to Afghanistan with the Marines, NATO or the Army while others were going to Guantanamo Bay or Djibouti, the country rejected by both Eritrea and Ethiopia. I already have seen a good number of friends and colleagues from our Medical Center deploy and in some cases return and I know of one corpsman that came back wounded while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan.

COP South

I have done many of these send offs since coming to Portsmouth but I think that today I knew a higher percentage of the personnel deploying than normally is the case.  At these ceremonies it is customary for the chaplain to pray for our shipmates as well as their family members.  This deployment comes in the midst of monthly casualties reaching their highest point in the war and shortly after two US Navy sailors being killed when for whatever reason they left their base in Kabul in an up armored Toyota Land Cruiser and proceeded to drive alone to one of the most dangerous areas of the country.  With that in mind the safety of our shipmates is something that I and those that serve are ever mindful of when we send our people to deploy.  Yesterday I spent more time with the deploying sailors before and following the ceremony because so many were friends or close colleagues. The goodbyes from me this time were different as I will not be at Portsmouth when my friends return. My assignment as the Command Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJuene means that I won’t be there but I will continue to keep them in my prayers and stay in contact with as many as I can through e-mail or Facebook.  At LeJuene I will meet old friends from Portsmouth as well as from my Marine tours.  I will also get to deal with a lot more Marines and Sailors dealing with physical as well as psychological injuries resulting from their time in harm’s way in either Iraq or Afghanistan or in many cases both countries.

Pause for possible IED

It has been three years since I deployed to Iraq, in fact three years to the day yesterday that I arrived in Kuwait to complete final training before going into country.  When I was over in Iraq I was blessed my many expressions of support of many people, churches, schools and veterans groups.  At the same time I did not sense the overwhelming support of the people for our troops and that included many members of the political establishment that seemed more interested in using the war to advance their political objectives and unfortunately that was truly a bi-partisan endeavor.  Since we are an all volunteer force it seems to me that the only people really paying attention are people with sons, daughters, mothers or fathers or other family members or friends in harm’s way.  For others supporting the troops is little more than a bumper sticker affirmation, which I appreciate as at least most people aren’t damning us as so many did in Vietnam, a war that my dad served in and which as a Navy dependant experienced in the way that military families were treated by the protest set.

On Syrian Border with Iraqi Border Troops

Today I saw an article about an Army Lieutenant one Christopher Babcock http://gen-reading.blogspot.com/ at a tiny base in Afghanistan.  I often felt this way when in Iraq, especially those times that I came back into the large base that I operated from and saw various news channels on AFN including Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.  Much of what I saw coming out of the mouths of reporters or politicians, showed me just how out of touch and how little our leaders on both sides of the political divide, the media and the American public understood this war.

Convoy in Ramadi shortly before we took fire

My war experience was different. The places I went were the places most people never heard of or will ever hear about.  My assistant and I travelled thousands of miles in fixed and rotor wing aircraft as well as in many tiny poorly armed convoys in the badlands of Al Anbar Province to the small Iraqi bases where our advisors to the Iraqi Army and security forces worked.  In the assignment I got to know a decent number of Iraqi officers and even spoke to the first class of female Iraqi Police officers in training at Ramadi.  I believed then and now that Iraq will do well in the long run.  Back in 2007 very few people believed that, but having gotten to know many fine Iraqis I know that they will repair their country and move on with life. They have been at war in some way shape or form since 1980 and are war weary and most want to move on to live in peace and raise their children.

Guests of Major General Sabah of 7th Iraqi Division

I do not believe this to be the case in Afghanistan. History tells me that we will have no better outcome than the Soviets.  We lost our opportunity when we let up on the pressure in Afghanistan to concentrate on Iraq. The Taliban were able to rebuild and regain control of much of the country between the Iraq invasion and 2010.  I honestly don’t know if we as a nation have the wherewithal to win this war or the resources to do so.  Many outstanding Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen as well as personnel from the CIA perform heroic work on a daily basis but they do not have the numbers or resources to fight a successful counter-insurgency campaign when the Afghan people by and large hate the Karzai regime and cast their lot with the Taliban despite their miserable life under that brutal, medieval fundamentalist Islamic regime.

But we go on with each service sacrificing needed equipment and personnel to fund the war. Even now the Navy is going to be cut maybe up to 25,000 sailors without any mission decrease. Likewise there will be no let up of the use of Navy personnel as Individual Augments to Marine, Army or NATO forces in the Middle East and in other locations.  As it is the force seems to be stretched beyond belief with many sailors not only deploying in traditional at seas, Fleet Marine Force, Seabee or Special Operations billets but when they are supposedly on the downhill side in a shore billet are pulled to serve as an Individual Augment.   The Army and the Marines are worn down by constant deployments with no end in sight.  There are no new drafts of personnel, end strength is limited and the same people go back time and time again.  If I was told I needed to head to Afghanistan I would because that is where many of my friends are and as a Priest and Chaplain I could do no other, but I would go with no illusions about the mission, the risk or the likely outcome of the war. It would be the place to care for God’s people serving in harm’s way.

Brotherhood of War

While this is going on there is the ever present threat of war on the Korean Peninsula or with Iran. A war in either location would open yet another front in a worldwide conflict, when we are already stretched to the breaking point elsewhere.  Any conflict in those areas could generate more casualties in a short period of time than all the personnel that we have lost in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Goodbyes and prayers… I am sure that there will be more of both in my future.  I just ask my readers to keep their head in the game when it comes to the wars that we are in.  Don’t leave the troops on a bumper sticker but keep them in your hearts and prayers and serve them through your actions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Giving Up Ideology for the Cross…Entering Into Lent

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and for many it will be as any other day.  For others it will be a religious event that is done because we have always done it and it is a part of the liturgical life of the Church.  For others it will be a time of commitment to a cause, a belief or in some cases ideology to base their lives upon.

Lent is a penitential time, a time to take stock of our lives and in the Christian faith in which it has a important place a time where over a period of seven weeks we seek to again renew our faith in Christ, examine our lives in light of the Gospel and learn again how to experience the grace love and mercy of God in the simple words of Jesus to the woman at the well “Your sins have been forgiven, go and sin no more.”

While this is the crux of Lent for some it will be a time of misplaced activity, not activity centered on prayer, good works and renewing faith in the Crucified One but rather in transitory political, social and ideological agendas that often have little to do with the Gospel, but are rather activities where well meaning people have been seduced into the false promises of ideologues of various persuasions who have no real interest in the Gospel but political or economic power be they conservative or liberal, capitalist or socialist.  The seductiveness of these ideologies appeals to the passion and emotion of people who regardless of their political or religious persuasions become enamored with the ideology and then reinterpret life, faith and relationships to fit the ideology.  When this happens to Christians this can lead to twisting Scripture and Tradition to fit the ideology much as did the theologians, pastors and lay people in German churches in the late 1920s and 1930s.

When two powerful ideologies collide as did Communism and National Socialism in Germany, Socialism and Gaullism is France or contemporary Liberalism and Conservatism in the United States the conflict will spill out and over into Churches and other religious institutions.  Well meaning people will sublimate their faith beneath the ideology and political ethos that they most agree with.  The ideology overrides faith even as the religious institutions and individuals within them conform their faith not to Christ crucified but to ideologies which may have merit and benefit but ultimately, despite the protestations of tier loudest purveyors have little actually to do with the faith and which embraced in their totality are the antithesis of the faith and the enemies of Christ.  It matters not if the ideology is “liberal” or “conservative” because ultimately these ideologies even when defended by pastors, theologians and “baptized” with Scripture, and despite some qualities which may be complimentary to the Gospel are often set against the Gospel and seek to use the Church, Christians and others simply as pawns to sacrifice in their quest for total unadulterated political, social or economic power.

In our contemporary American culture the loudest and most prominent voices and those which have more influence on churches and individual Christians are the political ideologues of the right and the left who inhabit talk radio and the various cable television news networks.  It seems too often that well meaning Christians and others assume everything being spoken from media personalities and entertainers that they like and agree with is compatible with the faith.  However just because Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Keith Olberman, Chris Matthews or any other commentator on the airwaves says, nor because our political party leaders and Presidential or Vice Presidential candidates echo our passions and feed our fears about the other party does not mean that what they say is Christian or compatible with the Christian faith and tradition even when those individuals claim the mantle of a “Christian” leader.  The adoption and blessing of the often perverted theological ideas of media personalities, talking heads and politicians by individual Christians, Church leaders and denominations can only result in their enslavement by the individuals and organizations to whit they give their blessing.  When this happens the ideologues will readily support social or policy goals of the religious groups but only to gain their vote.  This is proven by history and experience.  One only has to look at how German Christians of various traditions were seduced by the promises of Hitler and the Nazis during a time since November 1918 their society had been ripped apart by military defeat, economic humiliation, internal revolution and societal change which threatened the values that they held dear and in reactions to the Nazi promises sold themselves and their country to the devil. This type of thing has happened in other countries but is most glaringly seen in the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi era.

Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth, a leader of the Confessing Church was an outspoken opponent of the Nazis lectured about how ideology can become its own idol and the purveyors of ideology can themselves make it an idol from which they cannot separate themselves and to which they become mouthpieces for as they bend their deeply held belief’s to the ideology.  The ideology itself becomes an absolute from which no deviation is allowed.  As Barth so poignantly stated:

“[Ideology] comes about as [one] thinks he can and should ascribe to the presuppositions and sketches he has achieved by his remarkable ability, not just a provisional and transitory but a permanent normativity, not just one that is relative but one that is absolute, not just one that is human but one that is quasi-divine.  His hypotheses become for him theses behind which he no longer ventures to go back with seeking, questioning, and researching.  He thinks that they can be thought and formulated definitively as thoughts that are not merely useful but instrinsically true and therefore binding.  His ideal becomes an idol.  He thinks that he knows only unshakable principles and among them a basic principle in relation to which he must coordinate and develop them as a whole, combining them all, and with them his perceptions and concepts, into a system, making of his ideas an ideology.  Here again the reins slip out of his hands.  This creature of his, the ideology, seems to be so wonderfully glorious and exerts on him such a fascination that he thinks he should move and think and act more and more within its framework and under its direction, since salvation can be achieved only through the works of its law.  This ideology becomes the object of his reflection, the backbone and norm of his disposition, the guiding star of his action.  All his calculations, exertions, and efforts are now predestined by it.  They roll towards its further confirmation and triumph like balls on a steep slope.  Man’s whole loyalty is loyalty to the line demanded by it.  He thinks that he possesses it, but in truth it already possesses him.  In relation to it he is no longer the free man who thought he had found it in its glory and should help to put it on the throne.  He now ventures to ask and answer only within its schema.  He must now orient himself to it.  He must represent it as its more or less authentic witness and go to work as its great or small priest and prophet. At root he no longer has anything of his own to say.  He can only mouth the piece dictated to him as intelligibly as he can, and perhaps like a mere parrot.  His own face threatens already to disappear behind the mask that he must wear as its representative.  He already measures and evaluates others only from the standpoint of whether they are supporters of this ideology, or whether they might become such, or whether they might at least be useful to it even without their consent, or whether they must be fought as its enemies. Its glory has already become for him the solution not only to the personal problem of his own life but to each and all of the problems of the world.” ~ Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV/4, Lecture Fragments, 225.

Barth’s words which are the result of seeing good people surrender their faith to ideology should not be taken lightly as we enter into the Lenten season.  The season of Lent is a time to acknowledge our need for the grace and mercy of God and find forgiveness for ourselves while extending the same grace, love and mercy shown to us to our neighbor, even the neighbor who does not agree with the ideologues that we prefer.

Our challenge in a time of turmoil and conflict is not to be seduced by the shameless appeals of ideologues of all stripes but to return to faith in the God who comes to us, suffers for and with us and in himself provides the promise of redemption and the forgiveness of sins.

For me this Lent will involve a more premeditated effort to encounter Christ in all that I meet and rebuilt spiritual disciplines that suffered when I went through the crisis of faith that dominated my life for nearly two years.  I do pray that for those who elect to observe this season that it will not be a time of legalistic obedience under which we chafe but rather a time of returning to our first love and forsaking the idols of ideology that can so poison our life and relationships with those that we live and interact with on a daily basis.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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