Archive for July 2007

The Cheater, Hank and the Babe

July 31, 2007

As the Cheater, Barry Bonds, goes looking for his 755th homer to supplant Hank Aaron as the all time leader, a few comments are necessary.

It is nice to see the classy Aaron keep his distance thereby making a statement of disdain for Bond’s obvious use of steroids. Hank will not be part of this charade. An honest workman who overcame racist hostility, he was an extraordinary hitter. As for Bonds- just look at his body and compare the before and after sterpoids. Even his head and feet are bigger! Bonds has put up numbers no player past 37 has ever done. He would be a shoo-in for Hall of Fame without the juice but he made his bed and most of baseball correctly wants nothing to do with him. And Bonds reciprocates daily with his sneering attitude towards all and sundry.

But there was Wayne and Janet (Gretzky) wishing him the best on the scoreboard in Frisco. Ignore the celebrity tripe. As a matter of fact ignore almost everything Gretzky says-outside of hockey. As an American he was a cheerleader for Bush’s war. Don’t expect anything but banality from Wayne. His comments reflect the under read and over privileged.

All home run chasers inevitably get compared to the Babe.

The Babe was in a category by himself, a force of nature who comes along once in any sport. There was nobody like him and there never will be. To gage an athlete compare him to his contemporaries. Babe was beyond the pale in this regard. Some years he had more homers than the rest of the teams combined! Plus he not only hit for power but for a lifetime .342 average. Then toss in his 99 wins as a pitcher and his impeccable instincts as a right fielder.Ruth as Duke Ellington said about Ella Fitz, was “Beyond category.”

Follow the money

July 31, 2007

CNN and You Tube hosted a Democratic presidential go round last night.

Former senator (Alaska) Mike Gravel stood out. No chance of winning but his role in the Pentagon Papers in the 70s proved he was a man of integrity. The 77 year old ripped Obama and Clinton with the simple admonition: Follow the money. Look who is behind both Obama and Clinton.—Pharmaceuticals, HMOs—and in Clinton’s corner the massive Israel lobby. The woman is simply too tarnished.

it was nauseating to hear the candidates utter disgust over the pathetic health care system and the plight of the poor as well and the stranglehold of the HMO lobby. Where have these guys been? We know the Clintons were nowhere.

Michael Moore as usual, America’s most effective Catholic, will have done more for this issue with his movie SICKO than any of the Democrats.It’s creating a huge buzz in the States.Maybe as Ike said, the people will finally be so angry that the politicians will have to get out of the way.

Can Steve change?

July 25, 2007

Steve Harper, Canada’s interim PM is somebody Canadians just can’t embrace.

The lifelong, American loving policy wonk several times in his past has dissed Canada as “a second rate socialist nation.”

Try as he might, Harper’s visible uncomfortableness with ordinary people who don’t share his right wing views is constantly on display. Harper has always been out of synch with Canadian values—our sense of the common good, our social programs which honour our concern for the collective.

The other day something happened I never thought I’d see. Harper has always been against any serious foreign aid but then again he has never been exposed to the global poor and our common humanity. Until recently.

Driven through the running sore of Cite Soloeil in Haiti, Harper appeared visibly moved and so he expressed himself. It was nice to see. For once the ice man who has lived mostly in his head allowed la condtion humaine to touch him.

Leave aside our past terrible “cut and run” in Haiti, our shameful abandoning the legally elected government of ARistide, Harper met the divine in that sad country.

Can he change? Sure. God’s not finished with any of us.

Chilean tears

July 22, 2007

How can a game where nothing happens inspire such passion?

The soccer under 20 world championship was held in Toronto and a bunch of pampered, hot headed Chileans started to trash their bus when they lost. They had to find a scapegoat for their losing the championship which they thought was theirs. As a coach of 30 years, I asked myself where was the adult they call a coach? Even the Chilean president who should know better got into the act blaming the coppers.An official protest to Canada. Give me a break.

Give these kids a good dressing down and tell them to grow up.

Soccer of course (or football as the leader of the local Man United Fan Club corrected me a few weeks in his B and B festooned with past glories) has always been the working class sport where people invested vicarious hope and dreams. “The whole town felt better” Man U great Jackie Charlton said in 1972 when the local boys won. Oh really? Mature people have bigger dreams than that.

Soccer is a highly skilled game, great for kids but there’s only so much you can do with your feet. Most games are a narcoleptic snore. None of hockey’s excitement.

Now the millionaires are playing it. It’s still a snore which should be treated as all games—a minor divertimento which in the long run, matters little.

Fortunate son

July 21, 2007

Some folks are born made to wave the flag,
Ooh, they’re red, white and blue.
And when the band plays “Hail to the chief”,
they point the cannon right at you.

It ain’t me,
it ain’t me.
I ain’t no senator’s son.
It ain’t me,
it ain’t me.
I ain’t no fortunate one.

John Fogerty Fortunate Son 1969

I laughed when I heard John Fogerty sing this last night in Toronto. How prophetic. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. At the height of the Vietnam war Fogerty saw the obvious- those with the biggest mouths who were spoiling for a fight, never volunteered themselves. Those imperilal buffoons like GW” Mission Accomplished” Bush was a “fortunate son”, a rich kid who used his daddy’s position to weasel his way out of combat. Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 showed the same thing. One of 450 congressmen who cravenly opted for war, the overwhelming price paid by Iraqis, had a son in Iraq. So it has always been in imperialist wars.

Cheney—another war wimp—a number of deferments.Gasbag Rush Limbaugh another. Movie ikon Stallone another.Paul Wolfowitz and the list goes on. Add Canada’s David Frum and Steve Harper to the list. Drum beaters for wars in which they do not have to fight.

Now it comes to light and no surprise another war shirker Rudy Giuiliani, a Republican presidential wannabee is outed. Among the most vocal supporters of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Rudy was always quick to excoriate the faint of heart. He had the temerity to even carve John Kerry as not tough enough to combat terrorism. Now with a little digging (spadework years ago by the intrepid spotter of phonies, New York writer Jimmy Breslin) it has come out that Rudy cried for deferment from the war.Selective Service denied his spurious claim.He begged Judge Lloyd McMahon to write a letter claiming he was essential civilian employee.The good judge complied and Rudy stayed home making room for another poor kid who wasn’t a forrtunate son to go to the jungles of Nam.

Dick Gregory, the great humanist comedian stated it perfectly: “Vietnam: white folks sending black folks to kill yellow folks to keep the land they stole from red folks.”

Vote for Rudy, another “fortunate son.”

This is how bad US politics is.

Some folks inherit
star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war.
And when you ask them,
“How much should we give?”
They only answer “More! More! More!”

It ain’t me,
it ain’t me.
I ain’t no military son.
It ain’t me,
it ain’t me.
I ain’t no fortunate one.

Religion is always ambiguous

July 18, 2007

Rick Salutin, that ex- rabbinical student who writes a weekly column for the Globe and Mail is the best read in Canada, As far as I am concerned Friday’s prayer will include a serious look at Rick’s weekly meditation. He always makes us rethink our context. No abstractions, please we’re thinkers. As Jesse Jackson’s said “any text without a context is a pretext.”

So here is the thought for the day—brought about by Rabbi Salutin (july 6,2007). Rick objects to the notion that folks will only act morally if scared into it by religion. Religion-good, no religion, bad. He points out that religion can be used to justify violence and pacifism. it can be anything.

Surely he’s right if we look at the 20th century alone. Leave out Pope Urban ll revving up the Crusades because “Deus vult.” (God wills it!). The reason we have so many books on atheism today is that religion has been so severely tested and found wanting in the public sphere. After “the war to end all wars” in 1918 ,people started fleeing churches in England when they realized that rancid nationalism had replaced the nonviolent Jesus. And now 655,000 dead Iraqis, 2 milllion refugess because God gave W the go ahead.

Joseph Tiso a priest was hung after the WW ll as a collaborator. He also was the president of Slovakia. Franciscans helped run the death camp at Jasenovac in Yugoslavia as Orthodox Serbs were slaughtered in the thousands by Catholic Croatians and recently we learned that an Argentine cleric becames first priest on trial for ‘dirty war’ crimes. Father Christian von Wernich was charged last month with complicity in seven murders, 31 cases of torture and 42 kidnappings during Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship, in which an estimated 30,000 people died or disappeared. And he wasn’t the only guilty cleric who forgot Jesus in Argentina in those years.

And Christians of course have no corner on wartime insanity. Robert Fisk’s chapter (The Great War for Civilization) on Muslim madness in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) is enough to make you shiver.

Religion is always ambiguous.It’s that simple.

The evangelical humiliation

July 15, 2007

What does it matter to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

Mahatma Gandhi

Charles Marsh is a professor of religion and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia and in an article in the Boston Globe he commented on a favourite theme of mine-the humiliation of Christianity in the Bush years. He asked the question why did evangelicals rush to war given the near unanimous rejection of the Iraq catastrophe by the world Christian community? The Pew poll indicated 87% support from the evangelical community. “Evangelicals preached for the war, prayed for the war, sang for the war, and offered God’s blessings on the war” writes Marsh.

Marsh comments that this has certainly resulted in a lack of credibility for this religious community, a huge proportion of America’s Christians. The Falwells, Robertsons and Franklin Grahams have lessened Christian influence and deformed the public face of Christ. For what? Access to power and a walk in the Rose Garden, a photo op with the cynical smirking war shirker GW Bush and his equally cynical Svengali, Karl Rove.

Catholics fared little better. Official statements to the contrary, Catholics for the first time voted Bush, a comment on their growing affluence in America and their growing conservatism which money always brings. The Ratzinger intrusion in the last election squeezing the gospel into a narrow anti-abortion band was a major disservice to the Church, the country and the world. It resulted in the election of Bush, a disaster on every count.

The brave Charley Marsh ends his article with this lament:

The gospel has been humiliated because too many American Christians have decided that there are more important things to talk about. We would rather talk about our country, our values, our troops, and our way of life; and although we might think we are paying tribute to God when we speak of these other things, we are only flattering ourselves.
If only holiness were measured by the volume of our incessant chatter, we would be universally praised as the most holy nation on earth. But in our fretful, theatrical piety, we have come to mistake noisiness for holiness, and we have presumed to know, with a clarity and certitude that not even the angels dared claim, the divine will for the world. We have organized our needs with the confidence that God is on our side, now and always, whether we feed the poor or corral them into ghettos.

“We’re number one”-Benedict XVl

July 12, 2007

“It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church”

I pointed out on CTV Wednesday night that the latest Roman ecclesial missile from Benedict XVl is not as bad as portrayed in the simplistic media climate. The above quote reflects this. The question is: why release a statement like this? Why jeopardize decades of ecumenical work? There is little nuance here, little appreciation of the globalization of theology, the work which has gone into the deep listening some of our best minds have been engaged in communing with different churches in radically different contexts. Many of those contexts (Like India) occur in areas where Christians are a radical minority.

Further to this it seems to me highly presumptuous to claim the mind of Christ as in this statement: “Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community”[5], that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted.[6] “

That the Church grew out of the radical Jesus movement and separated itself from the synagogue in the late 80s of the first century is demonstrable. That Jesus somehow founded a church is not. That Jesus lived and died a radical Jew-yes, established a kingdom movement yes. But let’s get a little humility here and keep triumphalist statements to a minimum. A direct link from Jesus to unilateral Curia statements is impossible to make.

For Catholics it is OK to appreciate the long trajectory of history back to the first century. We know it is an ambiguous history—as all histories are, full of richness and betrayal. Islam grew out of this history. It attempted to purify and regenerate the religious response to Mystery. It has its glorious moments and its own problems. Its legacy is like Christianity’s—a mixed bag.

Maybe we best stay with that great phrase of Vatican ll—-semper ecclesia reformanda—we’re a pilgrim church, always in need of purification. That appears to have been stopped by Rome in the last pontificates. Our best minds shut down, humiliated often. One sided teaching, often triumphalistic promoted, a decided lack of humility. This Roman centralism has alienated and embarrassed Catholics all over the world and shut down the necessary dialogue we need as we attempt to understand and live in tune with the great Mystery.

This latest statement from Rome should be seen as part of the Ratzinger pontificate’s attempt to winnow the Church, to get back to the “little flock” which alone has the fulness of truth. The needless statement on the Tridentine Mass ( “Don’t do it” cried the British hierarchy) along with this ratification of “the one true Church” is a sop to the right wing, the base of this pontificate. It is all very sad. The “Church from below” must continue on dialoguing in humility with all believers-and nonbelievers.There’s no other way. Meanwhile Rome keeps shooting itself in the head.

The war on democracy : Raul Silva remembered

July 11, 2007

The War On Democracy continues on after Guatemala to point out Uncle Sam’s familiar pattern of intervention. Recently “the family jewels”, a history of this imperial behaviour was released in the USA. The 702-page CIA dossier was compiled at the behest of then agency director James Schlesinger in 1973. It included the bungled attempt to murder Fidel Castro. This pattern was repeated throughout Latin America in subsequent years. ”The tip of the iceberg” as Henry Kissinger says in the report. Pilger briefly describes the mass of the iceberg, 90% of which is still unknown to Americans.

The well known case of Chile is described well by the journalist. It was a 9/11 before 9/11. The elected government of Salvador Allende was brutally overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet on 11 September 1973. Pilger takes us into the stadium where suspects were rounded up, tells the famous story of Chilean national hero, singer Victor Jara who wrote his fianl song protesting the coup. He was then brutally murdered. This was a Kissinger masterstroke, told well in cinematic form by the great director Costa-Gavras. The 1982 movie Missing starred Jack Lemmon.

Gone missing (time constraints) from this collage of American brutality was the often heroic work of the the justice office of the Catholic Church which fearlessly documented the abuses of the Pinochet government. Cardinal Raul Silva was one of those great prelates of the pre-JP ll era who defended the humiliated face of Christ under repression. With other church groups Silva set up the Committee for Peace–an ecumenical organization to aid the victims of the repression. Pinochet closed it down and arrested 18 workers. Silva’s famous remark (the craven Pinochet seen blessing himself in the film would never dare challenge Silva in the Catholic country) “We can close [it], Mr. President, but we can never abandon our duty. If you want to stop us you’ll have to come looking for these people in my own house; I’ll hide them under the bed if need be.” Silva immediately founded the Vicariate of Solidarity, next to the cathedral. When he submitted his resignation in 1983, it was immediately accepted by John Paul ll .

While all the above is absent from Pilger’s fine piece, progressive catholic chutch watchers are once again reminded of the Church’s lamentable retreat from prophetic leadership and historical engagement. When the greatest Chilean church leader in living memory was buried, his prophetic words occasioned great applause at the funeral. The letter of condolence from John Paul ll was met with silence.

Central to Pilger’s film is his interview with Hugo Chavez the president of Venezuela. Backed by immense oil resources, Chavez seems to generally care for the poor who have consistently elected him as a serious reformer who places them in the forefront of his mandate. The heart of this engrossing film is the failed attempted coup by US backed reactionaries in 2002. The people refused to let it happen. This is fascinating to watch.

As Iraq smolders in ruins, as the Bush presidency continues to implode, Chavez’s statement at the end of the film rings true:”The empire is over.”

One would like to think so.

The War on Democracy: Guatemala

July 9, 2007

Pilger’s War on Democracy begins with the classic American take down of Guatemala, the original banana republic in 1954. This should have been common knowledge when the Sandinistas marched on Managua in 1979. Stephen Kinzer’s book Bitter Fruit written in 1983 should have been common knowledge by then, informing Americans of Uncle Sam’s consistent war on democracy in Latin America. Instead Sunshine Ronny Reagan’s blatant lies and skulduggery caused so much needless suffering there. He unleashed the contra war, mined the harbours and was condemned by the UN. Americans yawned. They were so proud that “America was back” with the Gipper riding tall making the locals forget the Vietnam nightmare.

Guatemala, as Kinzer’s book points out, was a classic case of American pique and CIA mayhem. In 1951 Jacobo Arbenz had initiated mild land reform, severely angering the United Fruit Company on whose board sat the angry Presbyterian John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State. Dulles called in his brother Allen, the head of the CIA and the famous spook Howard Hunt. The disinformation war began and Arbenz was finished and a pliant Castillo Armas installed, the first of many American proxies in “The Backyard.”

Though Pilger does not mention the following it should be on interest to Vatican ll Catholics. It highlights the terrible reactionary politics of the Church at this time. After the coup, the Maryknoll Order active in Latin America was in constant trouble with Spellman’s unblinking patriotism which would ultimately sink him as a credible church man. It was Spellman who made the famous “My Country, right or wrong” remark about the US involvement in Vietnam.It was also Spelly who had Dan Berrigan moved out of New York in those years for his anti-war activity.

Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York was a notorious America firster and rabid anti-communist(not to mention a closet gay, common knowledge in New York at that time). His “Arrogance “, as Ernest Hemingway styled him when he broke the NY City gravedigger’s strike by using seminarians as scabs, agreed to help when approached by the CIA. At this time Spellman was a powerful church presence because of the largesse he doled out to the southern Catholic church.

On April 9, 1954, Archbishop Mariano Arellano had a pastoral letter read from every pulpit in the land. It warned the deeply religious and largely illiterate campesinos of a devil called Communism. Under no circumstance should they support President Arbenz.

Game over in Guatemala