Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Passion of the Christ

Today is Palm Sunday. The day of the Long Gospel, to those of the Catholic faith. It is also the Sunday where I find myself most often moved to tears during the Mass.

Perhaps it is because today is the start of Holy Week. Yet I think it signifies something deeper. I wonder if maybe today we get to see the Lord, our brother Jesus Christ, at his most human, and we also get to see the great example of how He triumphed over human weakness.

Can anyone understand despair quite so well and so deeply as Christ did? He prayed that the cup be taken away. He didn't want to face what He knew he must face; He knew the horrors of what awaited Him. Still, He said: Thy will and not my will. This despite prayer so fervent that He would sweat blood. Can we really understand that?

He would not answer the Sanhedrin, nor Pilate. He knew the futility of it, so He stood mute. He had faith that that was pointless and even that no answer would speak more profoundly than anything He might utter. Pilate was amazed. One can almost taste the apprehension the Roman felt...and one can certainly sense the human fear which caused him to symbolically wash his hands of the affair.

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? He cried. Many today believe it nothing but a cry of total despair. But it was not. It was the beginning of the 22nd Psalm, a prayer which ends hopefully and indeed gloriously. You may read it here: http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Apr2004/Feature1.asp#F9

Christ more fully understood human suffering than any one of us. Yet He gave Himself up to it, to show that it was not futile. Let's not fail Him in facing our own despairs.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sports Playoffs and Society

Before we go any further we want to say something to those readers who might not accept this column as political enough. If George Will, perhaps the current dean of conservative commentators, can write about sports in general and baseball in particular in his missives, then so can we. There: our street cred is established.

Sports Illustrated has predicted that the Cleveland Indians will win the 2015 World Series. Billy Beane, the remarkably successful general manager of the Oakland Athletics, has famously said that the playoffs are a crapshoot. How do these tidbits work together? Well, as SI points out and Beane's remark essentially confirms, the best teams in the regular season don't necessarily win the World Series (or by extension, the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup and so on). Just getting into the postseason is all a team needs in order to have the chance at finishing on top of the heap. SI notes that both World Series participants, the Giants and the Royals, were wild cards in the 2014 playoffs.

This means simply that playoffs aren't fair to the better teams. At the highest levels of play anyone can beat anyone else in a short series, especially as overall weaker teams can shorten their benches. It isn't unusual in baseball for example to see a fifth starter relegated to the bullpen to strengthen it for a short run. But over the course of a full season a team can't do that. It must play its whole team. This is what allows the cream to rise: weaknesses of whole teams tend to get exposed over time. These weaknesses can be hidden in short term events such as playoffs.

On another front, the effect of mere hot streaks, momentum, are generally ameliorated during the regular season. One might win several games in a row, even 10 or 12, but that by itself won't power a team into the playoffs. Such a run in the postseason, even a lesser run such as 11-3 (which would win a baseball World Series) can win championships. By rights, then, they ought to be dismissed as merely lucky when scored against superior opponents.

If sports are supposed to be about fairness and the best team winning, if they are supposed to instruct both participants and the broader society in good sportsmanship and in recognizing and accepting that competition means separating the wheat from the chaff and that there should be no jealousy among us in accepting that, then they need to reassess the idea of playoffs. As Sparky Anderson said, the best team in baseball is the team with the best regular season record and not necessarily the World Series winner.

Playoffs hinder rather than build character and mettle. It's the long haul which creates those virtues in a person. If sports wish to teach society that, they need to instill them within their systems of play. Anything less, and less is what we've got now, is nothing more than bilking people out of their cash with an artificial excitement. Such bread and circuses will only make a nation soft. Both our athletics and ourselves will be weakened.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

This Date, March 22, in History

We rarely stop to think about how much, over time, can happen on particular calendar dates. Today, March 22, is no exception.

Much of what has happened is rather bland. Sporting events have been won (Tara Lipinski for example won the World Women's Figure Skating Championship on this day in 1997 as Debi Thomas won hers on March 22, 1986) as even less important things have occurred (the Rutles, Eric Idle's spoof of the Beatles, played on NBC TV on 3/22/1978). Political events feature prominently, from the relatively recent South Dakota abortion restrictions in 2011 all the way back to Thomas Jefferson's installation as the first US Secretary of State way back in 1790 as well as many local and world governmental happenings. Religion too has its share of March 22: Anne Hutchinson was famously expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638 while the Catholic Church elected Stephen II Pope in 752.

President Franklin Roosevelt allowed somehow for 'near beer', beer with 3.2% alcohol, along with wine to be sold in New York: this about nine months before Prohibition ended in the United States later in 1933. For you hockey fans, Montreal AAA defeated the Ottawa Generals 3-1 in the first Stanley Cup game ever played. Golf fans may note that the first Masters tournament began on March 22, 1934.

We could go on and on. For those interested in doing just that, look here: http://www.brainyhistory.com/days/march_22.html We're sure there are more detailed resources elsewhere, and do not doubt that there is something for everyone on this date in history. Neither do we doubt that terrible things happened on various March 22nds, something you will notice to your horror and chagrin if you read that list on Brainy History. We will conclude by pointing out what may be the most significant event ever on March 22. On this in day in 1457, the Gutenberg Bible become the first printed book. The printing press was created, for which we are tremendously thankful. We wouldn't have this mode of communication without it.

With that, have a great March 22, 2015.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why cry foul on the Lynch nomination?

President Barack Obama has said that it's wrong for Republicans to hold Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch's confirmation subject to negotiation of other political issues. The GOP has delayed her appointment in an attempt to get a vote on human trafficking legislation. Other Democrats have gone even farther. Two, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Representative G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina have accused Republicans of racism. Ms. Lynch would be the nation's first black Attorney General.

At least the President was considerate enough to dismiss that lame accusation. After all, the GOP passed the Voting Rights Act of 1964, put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, and installed Condolezza Rice as the first black and female Secretary of State. Can't we all finally agree that charges of racism, by and large (for, sadly, there will always be racists of differing stripes because of human frailty), are things of the past? No sane politician of any party these days would or should toss a blanket charge of racism at their opposition as a whole.

Yet charges of obstruction such as the President has aimed at the Republican Senate are nothing more than posturing as is, yes, the GOP's refusal so far to consider Loretta Lynch's nomination. If you're the type to lament this type of gamesmanship, well, you may have a point. But you're barking up a tree.

In Washington, everything's a political football and everyone is trying to be the quarterback. That's just how it is and almost always will be in a Democracy. Short of something on the magnitude of a foreign invasion, you are simply never going to get anything less than bickering. And it will come from every corner. A Republican President will call out a Democratic Senate if it might stall on his or her will exactly as a Democratic President is calling out a Republican Senate today. This is no knock on either Party. It may be a knock on politics in general. But that's no different than lamenting that we must lock our doors. You're kinda wasting your breath.

The President and the Senate leadership are only doing what politicians do. Shut up and get used to it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Canada and guns

The Windsor Star, a major newspaper in southwest Ontario, reported the other day that Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper has caused a firestorm in Canadian politics by asserting that there is a connection between guns and personal security. This has rattled some of our northern friends, and prompted the Canadian Bar Association to advise Canadians that, should they shoot a home invader who is unarmed, they could be charged with murder. Canadians, said Eric Gottardi of the CBA, don't have the legal right to defend their homes with guns.

We'll be what many Canadians believe the typical American and say incredulously, What do you mean they have no legal right to defend their homes with guns? It's a home invasion, for crying out loud. Isn't that threat by itself enough to warrant self defense by whatever means? How are you supposed to know how big of a threat the intruder might be? He's broken into your home; certainly that demonstrates he has no scruples about you and your family.

We simply don't understand that line of thought at all. Obviously, it invites home invasion. What's to be afraid of when the homeowner cannot effectively do anything about a burglar but, apparently, run? We have to presume that's the case, because if you can't shoot an unarmed home invader then wouldn't it equally qualify as murder if you hit him over the head with a bat?

Really, now. Your home, indeed all of your personal property, is an extension of you. You have the moral right to protect it as much as the moral right for self protection of your family and friends. Aggression must be seen as exactly that; presuming that aggression will not necessarily result in the need for deadly force is just plain naive. You're better off presuming that aggression, especially that such as home invasion, will end up a deadly threat and treating it that way.

But no legal right to protect your home with firearms? We can't fathom that attitude at all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St Patrick's Day

Ah, the Irish. There's so much of them in every one of us. That's not really surprising seeing as there are so many more Irish outside of Ireland than still living on the old sod. And when you have St. Patrick's Day celebrations in such diverse places as exemplified as Buenos Aries, Argentina, you know that the Irish mystique pervades world culture.

Why is that? Might it be that the soul of the average Irish personality resides in most all of humanity?

An easy examination of Irish culture gives many examples of Irish fortitude, courage, allegiance, patriotism, and an appreciation of simple yet profound human relationships. Who does not, if they have any sentiment in their bones, shed a tear when hearing O Danny Boy? Whoever will not feel their chests swell with nationalistic pride when hearing God save Ireland? are indeed cold towards patriotism and their homelands and their brethren. Even sublime romanticism exists, heard through tunes like Black Velvet Band.

The more rambunctious bar songs of Irish lore appeal to the common thread of humanity. Have you heard The Wild Rover? A loser comes into his fortune and wins respect; redemption and respect indeed, as dreamed of by so many. Do not we all dream of that, to show everyone else that we've triumphed after all despite our flaws? How can we not believe in ourselves when listening to those happy tunes?

Acceptable extremes appear quite obvious in Irish lore. But do they not appear prominently in all human thoughts? The drunkard who believes God will forgive him if he makes Mass and does the occasional earthly good deed as did Darby O'Gill; will he not be forgiven by his faith in the simple acts which are the primary hope of redemption within the means of the most persons? The music was his, after all, wasn't it? Why? Because he did what he was asked to do within a legitimate frame.

The Irish are fightin', the Irish are sad and humbled; the Irish have been under the boots of their oppressors for centuries. Yet they hold true to what is true about who and what they are and about what defines them: their God. They recognize it even in their shortcomings. Their Irish guilt won't let them admit it, and rightly so.

Yet humanity requires that sort of odd pride, doesn't it? Perhaps it requires that profound and almost humble comment of the rebel Irish soldier to the northern Irish soldier near him at Appomattox, when Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant in April 1865. The Confederate leaned into the Unionist and remarked, "You only won because you had more Irish than we did".

Ah, the Irish. They can teach us something, can't they?

Why not mine the Moon?

A private company in cooperation with NASA is interested in mining the Earth's moon. Moon Express and several other companies are working with NASA on the overall plan to harvest the many useful resources, including such valuable commodities as gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3.

This is a fascinating concept, and one surely worth, ah, exploring. We see no reason not to exploit the Moon. Yet will it become cost effective, let alone practical, anytime soon? Those and other questions are beyond us. But as the attempt ties into the the Google X Lunar Prize, an offer of $30 million dollars to the first who can place a commercial spacecraft on the Moon (and meet a few other requirements, outlined here: http://lunar.xprize.org/ )it certainlt sounds as though there are people of means who believe the, uh, ah, prospecting worth the effort.

It will be interesting to see what type, if any, of opposition to the plans might arise. We haven't found anything or anyone so far who has expressed deep concerns or outrage. But we expect it to happen, not unlike all those who oppose Arctic oil drilling and exploration. They'll never be there, they'll certainly never even visit the Arctic (or the Moon) but when their environmental dander gets up so will their blood pressure and indignity. The thought of commercializing otherwise and generally barren landscapes simply drives some folks mad.

What will happen in either direction remains to be seen. But if the private sector can make a go of it at a reasonable cost there's no reason why the idea should not be pursued. That's the conservative position on the issue, and as such where we mildly stand upon the question.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

All Lives Matter

A young black man has been shot and killed by Madison Wisconsin police. As of this writing it has not been confirmed whether he was or was not armed. That question may or not prove to be of importance in the overall matter.

Tony Robinson was shot and later died, shot apparently at the hands of a Madison police officer. He was described, may we say typically, as not violent. You may read initial reports about the incident here: http://www.aol.com/article/2015/03/07/police-black-man-19-dies-after-shot-by-officer/21150762/

We do not know the particulars of the case. Neither do those prone to knee jerk responses of belief in the officers' (and by extention) the government's complicity in this case know where the truth lies. But we will note that very quickly after the incident, protesters had gathered chanting that black lives matter.

Absolutely, they do. Because all lives matter. If Tony Robinson was viciously gunned downed by the local police without cause, then justice demands those guilty stand trial. Yet if he was not, justice demands as well that the officers involved as well as their governmentally emplaced collegues, stand safe from public censure.

Is this a case of overreaction by government employees, or of overreaction by libertarian (or worse) of the politically minded? That question we dare say will never really be asked, because people of every stripe seek to control each situation as it arises. Including us conservatives.

Let us take a breath and wait for details. Then let's pursue the path towards justice. Before that point we should presume that we are all reactionaries, out only for the proof of our philosophies.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mets to Murphy: Quiet about Gay Rights

New York Mets infielder Daniel Murphy will no longer discuss the gay rights issue. So says the New York Mets, anyway, through a spokesman. This decision comes after the team hosted a visit by Billy Bean, Major League Baseball;s new 'ambassador for inclusion'.

If there's an Orwellian title anywhere in the real world, that is it. It's a rather disingenuous title, really, given that it appears an attempt to hide what it really means. It means to promote the tolerance of active homosexuality among professional baseball teams and nothing more.

Why hide from your purpose if you're so certain that your cause is true? We don't see Mr. Murphy hiding from what he believes. He's said openly that he thinks active homosexuality is morally wrong. Of course, he apparently is expected to never publicly voice such opinions again.

And that leads us to our second concern with the matter. Why do the New York Mets feel they must not allow Daniel Murphy to speak his mind on the question? What scares them about someone speaking what he sees as the truth? Simply that it might make waves? That people might not, if he is wrong, see through it? Or are they merely trying to sweep a troublesome question under the rug?

That's cowardice, or worse. True, MLB and the Mets are private organizations not subject to political censure. Yet that might just be the real problem: when private beings self censure simply to pander towards their interpretation of public opinion, we have to wonder whether anyone's real rights are safe. Even what rights homosexuals might actually have.

At least Murphy is speaking on behalf of something not in his direct interests. That gives him what we like to call Integrity of Position: he's arguing for a sense of morality beyond any given person. Gay rights activists almost by definition are arguing for the right to be self serving, a right which the self serving will take to wherever they feel it.