Friday, March 7, 2014

First "Stupid" Then "A Knucklehead"

Several years back, when it came time to do the college search, our oldest son decided to apply to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  Living in Manhattan, coming from an international private school, and, for us, a family with no military background, it was an unusual path to take.

It generated not a few comments from those unflaggingly progressive New York City neighbors and friends of ours, most of whom had nothing particularly nice to say either to our son or to us as parents.  One especially angry neighbor stopped me on 14th Street just in front of the post office to ask what was going on and she (yes, it was a woman) finally could contain her distress no longer.  Her face red and her stance belligerent, she yelled after me that "only a 17-year old would be stupid enough to do something like that." Shortly thereafter, when our son was a first-semester plebe at West Point, then-Senator John Kerry delivered his own version of what most of my neighbors had been saying a few months earlier. Kerry told a college-age audience that they needed to be smart and get a good education lest they get "stuck" in the military.

Well, our son did do "something like that" and while he's not "stuck in Iraq" he is now a 25 year old soon-to-be captain in the U.S. Army.  He's been a platoon leader, planned missions and conducted training sessions. He handles and is responsible for equipment valued in the millions of dollars.  He lives in beautiful country, but he's 3,000 miles from the rest of his family.  He works long hours with modest pay.

And according to First Lady Michelle Obama he's a knucklehead. 

Oh, it's not just our son by any means, and she wasn't singling out knuckleheads in the military.  She was more sweeping in her characterization of young people as a group of knuckleheads.  I happen to have three in my family.  As Mrs. Obama puts it, my kids would be among those young people who are "cookin' for the first time and slice their finger open."  Presumably, according to the first lady, when my kids and their goofy lot aren't bungling something in the kitchen,  they're out "dancing on a bar stool," drunk enough to fall off and get a concussion I would imagine. And since they're all knuckleheads, they won't have insurance so they won't be able to get their finger stitched up, that is, if they're even smart enough to think to go to the doctor.

The First Lady's shallow humor was a push for her husband's Affordable Care Act, delivered at the expense of the young people who helped send Mrs. Obama and her husband to the White House.  Her hapless remark, like Kerry's "botched joke," has been covered by a variety of sources and there's not much more I can add except to shake my head in the disappointing knowledge that the first lady has a lot in common with my neighbors and friends of eight years ago.  They were merely speaking their minds when they let go with their opinions on young people joining the military just as Michelle Obama let us know who she thinks is stupid.  While I applaud them their honesty, I find it remarkable that these unflattering, critical labels roll so easily off the tongues of, well, liberals who pride themselves on being tolerant and well-educated and smart.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are you a homophobe?

You just might be called one if you have any doubts whatsoever that college football player Michael Sam who announced a while back that he's gay, is courageous or made history.  You just might be labeled a homophobe if you're not rushing to acclaim his action as "unprecedented" and "postmodern".  You certainly will be consigned to the ranks of what the enlightened elite calls homophobes if you aren't at least proud, respectful, and supportive of Michael Sam.  Watch out!   Being cast as a homophobe in today's politically correct culture puts you on the negative side of the balance sheet.

Sam's statement has created somewhat more hub-bub than NBA player Jason Collins's announcement of last year perhaps because, as eligible for the NFL draft, Sam could be the first openly homosexual NFL player. But back in April, even Collins's moment of truth elicited a response from Barack Obama who referred to Collins's announcement as an "extraordinary measure of progress."

There's something curious about the matter if you stop and think about it for a minute.  First,  I really don't know any homophobes.  I don't know anyone who has a fear of homosexuals, who is so afraid  that he won't speak to a homosexual or who is so terrorized by homosexuals that he would cross the street to avoid possibly grazing shoulders.  I know of no one who would first inquire as to a person's sexual preferences before patronizing their business, calling them a friend or helping them as a neighbor. A homophobe is a rare phenomenon.

Second, both Sam and Collins seem intent on emphasizing that their identity is not their sexuality but their profession. Sam himself testifies that he's a "football player", that's who he is, that his sexual preference shouldn't be a "big problem" that being gay is "nothing" compared to the hardships he's endured in his life.  Jason Collins has offered much the same.  He doesn't have time to think about making history.  He wants to focus on his job.  He says that this is about Sam "just being a football player and me just being a basketball player and trying to help our respective teams win."   Obama himself had this to say. "We judge people on the basis of their character and their performance, not on their sexuality. I'm very proud of him."  

So if we judge people on their character and not on their sexuality, why are we talking about their sexuality?

In the current public discussion of these sports figures, having a same-sex attraction, being 'gay,' is characterized for us as nothing special, just another choice, an alternative life style, not a big deal.  Anyone who doesn't buy into that characterization is a homophobe.  Period.  The label is tossed off freely, carelessly---and with not the kindest intentions.   

The powers that be, that nebulous "they" have dictated that there will no discussion, no dissent, no ifs, no whys or maybes. If you don't care to agree--for whatever reason--that homosexuality is no big deal, then you, my friend, are a narrow-minded, nasty, backwards fool.  You are a homophobe.  Is nobody allowed a little time for introspection,  questioning, wondering?  How did homosexuality all of a sudden become no big deal after millenia of being considered something different? When did homosexuality become the norm?  Or is it?  Sam and Collins are telling us it's nothing, they're just regular guys but they and the chorus behind them are also telling us that they're different and special and courageous. For being normal?  Which is it?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Parable of the Talents in India

This researcher found that for an exceptionally impoverished group of women in India, of the Dalit
caste,  there's a connection between becoming a convert to Christianity and improving their economic situation.  The Christian converts, as opposed to their Hindu and/or Muslim counterparts, invested monies they received from a microfinance program thus generating more capital for themselves and improving their lot.  Say, there's something to the parable of the talents after all!

Also noteworthy is the importance of owning a home, something those of us (even those who rent) in an affluent, free(ish) and democratic (still more or less so) society may take for granted.  As the researcher notes:
The impact of home ownership is crucial, since “by being able to own a house, these poor women were able to get bank loans, commercial loans, which they didn’t have access to before that. When you have a house you can get a loan at 3 percent, instead of from a money lender at 18 percent.  So having a house is a very important investment in your future, so you can have access to very affordable credit.” 
 An unexpected finding linked home ownership among these women with a greater likelihood of seeking help for abuse at the hands of husbands.   I think, though, that it's not so much the home ownership that does this, but rather the sense of worth that the Christian faith builds up in these women who realize the value of their existence. They become secure in the knowledge that they matter, that the fruits of their labor matter and that they don't deserve to be beat up by a bully not yet acquainted with the special gifts offered by Christianity.   The providential effects of Christianity for women have not gone unnoticed over the ages, being written about most recently by our own Cardinal Dolan.  He wrote up a good riposte to the imaginary "war on women" so popular with some in our society.  The cardinal writes specifically about the way in which early Christianity and now Catholicism elevate women, beginning with Mary, a teenage girl who finds herself pregnant and unmarried and becomes one of the central figures of the Catholic faith. 
Historians of the Roman Empire document how much the Church’s elevation of women threatened the status quo: in an empire that treated women like chattel, the Church declared her equal in dignity to man; in a culture that declared she could be dismissed from a marriage by a selfish husband (she could never divorce him!), the Church taught, with Jesus, that marriage was forever; in a society that coerced abortion against the natural maternal instinct, the Church proclaimed, no! In a culture where women were viewed as objects of pleasure for men, Christianity objected, raising sexuality from just the physical to a very icon of God’s love for us: personal, passionate, faithful, forever, and life-giving.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Michelle Obama On Living Out Your Faith

I know it's an old article, from 2012, a year and five months old to be slightly less than precise, but who can resist Michelle when she's "speaking truth to power" and talking about Jesus as an example for our lives.  I just read the article again after seeing Mrs. Obama's wise words quoted regarding Liberty Ridge Farms, a business that is doing just what First Lady Michelle is advocating--living out one's faith every day of the week.  Moved to speak about Christ, clearly Michelle is not an angry black woman.

“Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well, especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight’s not on us, and we’re making those daily choices about how to live our lives.
“We see that in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to the four walls of the church,” she said. “He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day. He was out there spreading a message of grace and redemption to the least, the last, and the lost. And our charge is to find Him everywhere, every day by how we live our lives.”

The owners at Liberty Ridge Farms remained  true to their beliefs not just on a Sunday when it's easiest to be faithful, but on a weekday when they explained to a probing caller that their business couldn't host a same sex wedding.  Now they're involved in a lawsuit and being asked to pay damages. 

Michelle talks about "our faith journey" though for all she and her husband are now affiliated with a faith journey, minus their perfunctory Easter family visit,  the Obamas are presumably among the 60% or so of Americans who seldom or never attend church.  (That's  except for the 20 years when the Obamas weren't really regular attendees at that Jeremiah Wright church in Chicago and didn't listen anyway when they were there.)  The President's administration is notably hostile to the practice of religion in the public square--exactly what the First Lady is advocating here--with its HHS mandate, its attempts to limit religious freedom in the military, its disinterest in America's commitment to religious liberty globally and the President's narrow interpretation of what religious freedom and the First Amendment mean.  From an article in First Things:
Barack Obama once asserted that “our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands . . . that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.”   
As the article points out, this is precisely what our democracy doesn't call on us to do.  Our "religiously motivated. . concerns" are our particular religious beliefs, particular to us, to the dictates of our conscience.  They are, as James Madison writes, our property to which we have that God-given right as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Referring to President Obama's commitment to religious liberty internationally, which differs not at all from his commitment to religious liberty domestically,  the article goes on to say,
The current administration, while it has delivered some nice speeches on the subject, has invested its energy and resources in the promotion of “LGBT” interests, not religious liberty. Obama took two and one-half years to get his ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, in place, and even then she was buried deep in the bureaucracy, with little authority or resources. Clearly the Obama administration has subordinated religious liberty to the international pursuit of what it believes to be superior rights claims. 
Michelle reminds us that what's important are "those quiet moments" when we make choices about how to live our lives. Speaking truth to power.  Fighting injustice.  Finding Christ "everywhere" by "how we live our lives."  Saying one thing but meaning another.  Probably.  Deception comes in many guises and turns of phrase.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Adrian Peterson and his "fraternity of brothers"

It could be that professional football and the media that covers the sport might be breathing a collective sigh of relief that 1) Adrian Peterson, Vikings running back, seems to have pulled through his "private matter" and can play ball today and,  2) the sports media doesn't have to report that it was one of the NFL's own being charged with beating his 2-year old son to death.

Peterson  recently learned that he was the father of a little boy in Sioux Falls, Minnesota and he was planning to go out and visit his newly-discovered son when the child met a violent end at the hands of his mother's boyfriend.  Most of the news coverage is about the boyfriend and his past history of domestic and child abuse.  Some of the news is about the fact the two year-old who died on Friday is not Peterson's other two-year old son, Adrian Jr.  Some of the news mentions that  Peterson also has a daughter.  Not much of the media mentions that Peterson isn't married but a while back they did report that Peterson enjoyed reading about marriage while at training camp this summer.   Some reports comment on the "world of pain" Peterson is experiencing.

Peterson himself  is tweeting blessings to his fans and expressing his thanks to his "fraternity of brothers" in the NFL. He's thanking the Vikings organization.  He has explained that he's always used sports to get through the tough times. Peterson says that he'll play today because God "wants good" to come from his son's death.  (Good like a Vikings football game maybe.)  Peterson says that he's at peace because his son got the "baddest" welcoming party in heaven.  Peterson feels "joy" because his loved ones are in a "better place."   Peterson, it looks like, has decided that everything is okay.   Whew.  Back to being a pro athlete.  

But in Peterson's "private matter," there is a dead child to think of.  Or ignore.  There's also the fact that at 28, Peterson is the father of three children, one of whom he didn't know existed until a few months ago,  and that he is apparently married to neither or none of the mothers whoever those women might be. What do the fans, the Vikings organization, the media and all Peterson's fraternity brothers think about that part of Peterson's private matter. 

Quite obviously they think it's not worth mentioning and they have the tacit consent of the popular culture to go on thinking that.  Peterson's children are among the 40% of children born to unmarried mothers--make that 72% in the black community as of 2008.   Since Peterson probably makes a hefty salary his children will most likely not have to worry about joining the ranks of those 70% of poor families headed by single-parents. That is, if his children know who their father is and live long enough.  And, as for the stability and continuity afforded by marriage, Peterson is no different from a majority of Americans for whom marriage is important, but not a priority.

The Sioux Falls Police Department is quoted here as saying that the identity of the dead toddler's father is not important.  But perhaps if Peterson had been married to the mother of the little boy, living with her and his son, being a father and husband to his family, things would be different.  The identity of the father does matter and in this case it's Adrian Peterson.  Can't help but wonder if Peterson and his NFL frat brothers ever stop to think about that.  That's where I think God wants the good to come out of this tragedy. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Brawn vs. ?

More about the differences between the sexes.

From Blackfive, Deebow asks if you have to work at being as stupid as Col. Ellen Haring at the Army War College.   Why, yes, you do because you have to defy the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" repeatedly over a period of many years in order to firmly convince yourself that the sun really does rise in the west, that black really is white and that women certainly are just like men if you will only first strip men of the masculine traits which uniquely define them.  That is, once you re-define the world according to your own terms, you can be as far off base as Col. Haring.

In this article by Col. Haring, reported on here,  the colonel gets to the heart of her argument by calling into question what makes a good combat soldier.  Once she's pointed out that decorated hero Audie Murphy was physically unfit --by today's standards-- and that North Vietnamese soldiers are the size of women, she decides there's no reason to "rely on traditional notions of masculine brawn that celebrate strength over other qualities.”  Precisely.  Traditional notions are dangerous for feminists like Haring because tradition relies on the fact that physiological differences in the male body, like testosterone for starters,  account for greater male strength.  If she can define strength, brawn, out of the equation, women can play the game too.  To be sure, the colonel notes that  "Combat specialties, it turns out, are inherently endurance-based occupations. Evidence in hand, they [Canadian Forces] shifted from strength-based standards to endurance-based standards, and far more women began to qualify for combat specialties."  But as pointed out here, though women may qualify, they will likely not endure.   And as noted here  (8th paragraph), even if able to endure, they may not show. Now why in the world would a woman be more likely to have concerns about her family than a man?  Something about being a woman?

As argued elsewhere and in the comments to Haring's article, there is no reason to have women in combat roles other than to satisfy the politically correct, feminist entitlement argument that because they want it they should have it.  As Deebow writes, " . .  no matter how calm, creative, and quick thinking the fairer sex is, there are still less of them that can lift that 81 baseplate and walk it to the top of a mountain carrying a full combat load and their own gear than there are dudes who can do the same." 

But, even more to the point, brawn has a role to play, not just in being a soldier, but in being a man.   It's important not to define out of existence traits that make men manly and women womanly.  In fact, we can't.  Those "Laws of Nature of Nature's God" prevail. Society has a stake in the sexes knowing how they are different and in maintaining standards for traditional male roles vs. traditional female roles.  Will every man fit the stereotype?  Will every woman fit the stereotype?  Of course not, and those who don't will need to find their place but that doesn't mean the standard isn't useful. Along with re-defining soldiering, Colonel Haring might also wish to re-define the law of gravity, but if she chooses for some odd reason to jump from a 10-story building, she will likely find that she still goes down. With a splat.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Today is the feast day of The Saint of Auschwitz, the German priest who voluntarily took the place of a fellow prisoner who was to be put in a starvation cell to die.  Father Maximilian Kolbe was unknown to me until my mother mentioned his name in connection with a trip she'd made to Germany.  I paid little attention at the time, not being a Catholic and knowing little of saints or even priests, especially German ones.   However, one night, after reading to my kids from Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues, I flipped through the book absent-mindedly and happened upon the story of Father Kolbe.

The attempted escape of a prisoner at Auschwitz resulted in the punishment of the others.  Ten people in Father Kolbe's barracks were destined for the punishment, death by starvation, among them a man named Franciszek Gajowniczek who called out that, no, he couldn't be among those condemned, he had a wife and child who depended upon him.  That Gajowniczek, knowing himself to be a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, might have harbored the notion that his role as father and husband would have any bearing on his fate testifies to a certain irrationality of mind on Gajowniczek's part or maybe an incurable optimism of spirit.  Perhaps though it was the human being's unflagging will to live or some combination of all that.   At Gajowniczek's cry, Fr. Kolbe demonstrated another remarkable dimension of the human spirit and announced himself as a Catholic priest who would take Gajowniczek's place.  A sacrifice. Who would ever do such a thing I asked myself.  Answer, a saint.

The account as it's written in Bennett's book (a highly abbreviated version of which is here) mentions the names of the Nazis but identifies Gajowniczek only as the prisoner.  I tried to tell myself that maybe I was reading a fictionalized account of Fr. Kolbe's fate, but no such luck.  A few days later I found an entire website devoted to the man Fr. Kolbe died for.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the website again coming up instead with this .  There's also Wikipedia of course.   Gajowniczek, not a Jew by the way, did survive and was reunited with his wife.  He died in 1995.  

Fr. Kolbe was the last in the starvation cell to die, murdered by a Nazi who administered an injection of carbolic acid.