24 December 2014

The Story of NORAD and the Santa Tracker

A family tradition in my youth was worshiping at a Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and driving around nearby neighborhoods with wonderful holiday light displays while listening for NORAD reports on Santa Claus' whereabouts.  As a jaded grown-up, I presumed that these reports were performance shtick on a long media night.  Little did I know that the reports were real and that a typo and the good cheer of an Air Force colonel brought joy to the world.

During the 1950s, America was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union which threatened to become hot at any moment. School children of the era was raised to be prepared to duck and cover at any given moment due to a sneak nuclear attack from the enemy.  Soon, Sputnik's successful launch made watching the skies even more important.

In Colorado Springs,Colorado at  the Continental Air Defense Command    a.k.a. CONAD (the predecessor to the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD), there was a red telephone on the commander's desk which had a secret telephone number known only by a four star General at the Pentagon, which would have been used to convey news of an enemy aerial attack.

However, in December 1955, the CONAD commander's red phone rang and the voice on the other line was a little voice which asked "Is this really Santa Claus".  At first the Colonel was upset at what he thought was a crank call, but when he heard crying, the straight laced Colonel changed his demeanor.  The CONAD commander ho-ho-hoed and asked the caller if he had been a good boy.  Afterwards, the Santa Colonel asked to speak to his mother.

It seems that a copy for a Sears Roebuck newspaper ad had a misprint, so "Santa's private phone" number not connecting to Toyland but was actually the secret military number for what is now NORAD. Colonel Shoup delegated a few airman to act like Santa Claus for kiddie red phone callers.

Col. Shoup's daughter,  Terri Van Keuren, recounted: "It got to be a big joke at the command center. You know, 'The old man's really flipped his lid this time. We're answering Santa calls".  So much so, on Christmas Eve 1955, airmen modified the big glass board used to track air flights and included a drawing of a sleigh and eight reindeer coming from the North Pole.

When Col. Shoup saw this modified big board, he exclaimed: "What is this?".  His subordinates apologized and insisted that they were just making a a joke.  Shoup pondered the predicament for a bit and then telephoned a radio station with the message: "This is the Commander at the Combat Air Center, and we have an unidentified flying object.  Why, it looks like a sled.".  Hence the tradition began.

Now kids can call 1-877 HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) to talk to NORAD staff about Santa's exact location.  The internet tracker for the big man in red began in 1998 with the SantaCam.  At noradsanta.org, people can view the SantaCams from around the world as well as understand NORAD's main mission. Last year, "Operation Feel" had F-18 fighter jets escorting Santa and his sleigh, which led CNN reporters questioning if the US military had taken possession of Santa Claus.  Of course, these reporters failed to report on "Operation Noble Eagle" with the Royal Canadian Air Force escorts over their territory or how these videos infuse some of NORAD's primary mission to girls and boys along with the spirit of the season.

Colonel Shoup died in 2009.  But even in his 90s, Shoup proudly carried a briefcase which he treated like had top secret information that contained letters thanking him for having a good sense of humor in allowing NORAD to track Santa.

h/t: NPR

19 December 2014

Scuttlebutt on the Sony Hack Cyberwar Skirmish

Former Speaker of the House  Newt Gingrich opined that America lost its first cyberwar associated by the Sony Hack, which demanded that the feature film "The Interview" be withdrawn from distribution. 

So America's freedom of speech is subject to the whims of a tinpot dictator (albeit with a few nuclear bombs) from the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. 

A corporation like Sony Pictures may harbor concerns about liability associated with the publicized threats made by the anonymous hackers calling themselves "Guardians of Peace"  against movie-goers who attended the now cancelled Christmas day opening.  

Voices from both side of the political spectrum, from former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) to Alan Dershowitiz.  But Sony Pictures pulled "The Interview" from all prospective platforms.  There may also have been pecuniary motive for the move.  If the picture is never officially released, Sony Pictures could recover from insurance money, otherwise they would absorb the $41 million production costs.  

This does not explain Hollywood's cowardice towards pissing off Pyongyang. After Sony Pictures cancelled "The Interview",  the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas announced that it would show "Team America: World Police"(2004),  Alas those puckish plans were foiled by Paramount Pictures which refused to offer the Trey Parker and Matt Stone's film which satirizes Kim Jon Un's father Kim Jong-il due to "circumstances beyond their control." Those who want to revel to "I'm So Ronery" can still see it on Netflix or through Amazon Instant Video. 

If that is not sufficient evidence that Hollywood waved the white flag for the Hermit Kingdom, New Regency pulled the plug on the Steve Carell project "Pyongyang", which was slated to start up in March, 2015. And George Clooney spent a week asking a large number of Hollywood executives to sign a petition protesting the Norks blackmailing Hollywood through the Sony Hack.  Tellingly, no one had enough courage to sign the petition.  During World War II, studio produced propaganda pieces like Bugs Bunny cartoons sending up der Fuehrer. Now, such Tinseltown execs like the fortitude to sign a meager memo protesting business blackmail and standing up for freedom of speech. 

During his end of the year press conference, President Barack Obama opined that Sony Picture executives made a bad choice in pulling the film and that they should have talked with him.  It seems that running a rough cut in front of State Department officials was insufficient. Our Dear Leader's messianic charisma, Obama's renown negotiating skills and his steadfastness in setting red lines (and then ignoring them) surely would have made a difference.  But President Obama promises to study the problem and offer a measured US response to North Korean Cyberwar provocation. After all, Mr. Obama will be 6,000 miles closer on golf courses in Hawaii to offer leadership.

The United States does have limited options in dealing with North Korea.  There are virtually no economic sanctions left to use.  Moreover, Pyongyang is insulated by charity from the Peoples' Republic of China so the NORKS can continue create trouble with the US.  We can not forget that the Hermit Kingdom does have nuclear capabilities.  Then there is the small matter of the DRK having 10,000 missiles aimed at our treaty ally South Korea, where we incidentally have 37,000 soldiers stationed.  

There may be black operations by the US which should not become public, as well as behind the scenes diplomatic de marches with DRK allies in Beijing.  But the best public responses that I have heard so far involve Hollywood using the Oscars ceremony on Washington's Birthday to use "The Interview" actors James FRANCO, Seth Rogen and Randall Park to come out in character and joke around.  While at the same time, the Pentagon sponsors a joint training operation with the South Korean, Japanese and American military forces in the Sea of Japan.
But considering the cravenness recently displayed by Hollywood, it is more likely that the Oscars would be hosted by the actual Kim Jong Un with a special appearance by Sony Picture's Racial Inclusion Czar, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Eric Holder's Odd Interpretation of Civil Rights Law

In a memorandum, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed that the Department of Justice will consider Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as including trangedered individuals as well as those with gender identity issues (e.g. transvestites).   Holder rationalized that the federal government's approach to the issue had evolved over time.  So even though such classes were not contemplated by Congress when the law was enacted, they ought to be covered despite the plain text reading and 50 years of DOJ precedent. Or it should be affirmatively decided by the highest court in the land.

Holder invoked the logic of Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs. (1978), a Supreme Court decision which purports that statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils".  A complication with relying upon this language as it focuses on acts which applies to discrimination on women and men. Holder's ukase is that it establishes new classes of Civil Rights coverage, namely for cross-dressers as well as transgendered people.  Such unilateral Administrative action was anticipated by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

However, Congress did not pass the Employers Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) because of concerns in the House whether the bills prohibitions on discrimination on sexual orientation would also include gender identity. ENDA did not pass Congress, but no matter for the Obama Administration to fashion its own law.

Although this holding supposedly only extends to the Federal Government, the limited scope of the Federal Gay Marriage applicability in U.S. v. Windsor (2013) was not respected.  In addition, consider how Attorney General Holder's logic of juridical evolution could be liberally applied.

Does America still have the rule of law or the rule of men?  This is a hard question to give a straight answer.

h/t: Michael Ramirez 

Obama White House Channels JFK?

Josh Earnest on JFK

In response to the uproar over President Obama normalizing relations with Cuba without gaining any real concessions from the Castros, White House spokesman Josh Earnest invoked the spirit of JFK.  Earnest intimated that President Kennedy would change his policy of isolation after seeing that it did not bring about the desired change.

Really?  Is this wisdom akin to Mr. Obama's assertion that he heard the 2/3rds of Americans who did not participate in the Midterms shellacking of President Obama's Democrats in the House and Senate?  Of course, such perspecaciousness is unsurprising for a Commander-in-Chief who can see fallen heroes in a Memorial Day audience, especially Navy Corpsemen (sic). 

While the left and the right may seek to claim the mantle of Camelot after 50 years, it certainly seems like a stretch to imply that a Cold Warrior such as JKF, would give up for nothing.  After all, President Kennedy gave the final  approved for the Bay of Pigs invasion (before he withdrew air cover during the operation thus dooming the mission).  And Kennedy stood up to the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Furthermore, JFK  plotted several assassination attempts against Fidel.  It seems with his spurious assertion that Josh Earnest continues to be the ironic Obama spokesman.

But pro arguendo, should American foreign policy toward economically isolating Havana change after 50 years?  Well, 190 other nations have not been observing the boycott and what sort of political and economic liberalization has occurred in the island prison state?   Hmm, foreign tourists enjoy white  sandy beaches in Cuba but are cordoned off from the grime the common people live with through tourist apartheid separated by barbed wire fences.  Many regular Cubans seek to work as "sex workers" since prostitutes can garner some hard currency from tips.  Western companies can invest, but they must partner with the kleptocratic communist Cuban government  which keeps 92% of the joint venture worker's salary.

Then consider President Obama's diplomatic skills.  Once again, the 44th President is coddling a dictatorial government who is actively opposed to our interests, without winning anything in return. Wonder what our Dear Leader will offer Kim Jong Un in the wake of Sony Hack Attack in appeasement?

h/t: A.F. Branco 

17 December 2014

Gov. Chris Christie on Being a Cowboys Fan

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) attended the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game on Sunday night and even sat in the Visitor Owner's box at Lincoln Field.   This appearance did not go over well with some grumpy Garden State area gridiron fans. 

While at the game, fans directed some choice words towards Governor Christie for sitting with "the enemy".  Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney (D- At Large) used his official Twitter account to share some ad hominem attacks against Governor Christie. 

So much for Kenney's aspiration to "Let's be decent to each other." However, Councilman Kenney is presumptuous that Christie was ingratiating himself with "Texas ass" for 2016.    Governor Christie has been a Cowboys fan since age nine.  This was something which came up during his first run for high office in Trenton.

Governor Christie refused to engage with Councilman Kenney asking: "First of all--who?"  Then Christie opined:  “I don’t even know who this guy is. But listen, there’s lots of people who attempt to use me to increase their own fame.  He’s got to get somebody else beside his parents to know who he is, so that’s good.”  This reinforced Christie's rough and tumble reputation of not suffering fools gladly but doing so without drawing proverbial blood.

But to be fair, there may have been a counter-intuitive political calculation with Chris Christie's unabashed Cowboy fan-dom.  It was not necessarily to win friends deep in the heart of Texas.  It is more likely that it was a Sister Souljah moment.

During the 1992 Presidential campaign, then candidate Governor Bill Clinton (D-AR) was questioned about whether he agreed with Sister Souljah, a hip hop artist and political activist, on black on white violence in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.  Mr. Clinton publically repudiated Sister Souljah and cultivated a centrist political reputation going into the 1992 General Election.

In this vein, Governor Christie used his lifelong support of the Dallas Cowboys as a means to reinforce his brand.  Rather than take a mealy mouthed political position to root for the "home team", Christie rejected this "namby-pamby crap” of hiding his love for his team.   By standing firm to his internal compass and offering straight talk, it also reinforced Christie's brand.

06 December 2014

Was Hillary Clinton's Smart Power Speech Being Too Clever By Half?

Former First Lady, New York Senator and the Obama Administration's first Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only attracted a small crowd when she spoke at Gaston Hall in Georgetown University. 

Much of the press focused on the empty seats.  Clinton staffers blamed the meager crowd on finals. Politicos pointed to poor staff preparation for having their principal speak before an optically empty house.  But this is not the first time which Hillary has been unable to fill the seats, as demonstrated by her rally in October 2014 at the University of Maryland, College Park

 Liberal media pundits like Dana Millbanks opined that Mrs. Clinton is a candidate who does not have the "new car" smell.  After all, Hillary has been in the national public eye since 1992.  So her presumed second run for the Presidency is about a quarter century after her life intertwined with the District of Calamity.

Pundits from Fox News questioned Hillary's political raison d'etre.  Democrat pollster Doug Schoen (and former adviser to President Bill Clinton) wondered what was Mrs. Clinton's rationale for running for the nation's highest office.  Monica Crowley quoted her former boss ex President Richard Nixon: "The only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being dull," and Crowley concluded that Hillary is boring.

Recently, I was able to have a civil exchange with rabid liberals from beyond the District of Calamity who had definite opinions on politics but admitted that they did not follow it closely.  When one of the interlocutors opined that he supported Hillary, I asked him to name one achievement which Secretary of State accomplished during her four years at Foggy Bottom.  This simple question was a stumper.  The best excuse that I heard during the exchange was that the world did not hate us like they did under the Bush Administration.  Ambiguous perceptions of being better liked in the world with a dash of Bush Derangement Sydrome does not make for a compelling general election campaign eight years after "43" left the Oval Office.

So it seems that both Hillary's supporters and detractors should shift away from worry about smart politics and concentrate on Hillary's concept of "smart power".  Does the former Secretary of State believe that empathizing with an enemy like Al Qaeda or its break-off successor ISIS is a successful strategy?  Can America realistically define the problem and shape the solution when negotiating  with the Mullahs in Iran from stopping their military nuclear ambitions, or will the US again be played like in North Korea and arguably as we are in Iraq with the six party talks?

Is a theory of smart power just being geopolitically too clever by half when interacting with unconventional diplomatic counterparts?  It is kind of hard to use "smart" power to aim to sing Kumbaya with others who are intractably oathed to obliterate you, as is demonstrated by Hamas' modus operandi viz-a-viz Israel.

16 November 2014

How Ecumenism Has Run Amuck at Washington National Cathedral

Despite Reverend Franklin Graham's disappointment which he shared on Twitter about the Muslim led prayer service at Washington National Cathedral, this is not the first time that the sixth largest Cathedral church in the world  has ecumenically opened its doors to non-Christian worship.

In January 2014, the Washington National Cathedral hosted "Seeing Deeper" which welcomed worshipers of different faith to bring  prayer mats, yoga mats, zafu meditation cushions and mandalas to touch the divine.  So having a Muslim led prayer service is not surprising.  

Regarding the recent Muslim Prayer Service, the Dean of National Cathedral Gary Hall was unaware or did not care that the Muslim prayer service at Washington National Cathedral was held on the centennial of the last Caliph declaring a holy war on all non-believers. When Breitbart News journalists informed the rector, Rev. Hall equivocated:  "[I]t actually seems to be more appropriate to have an event that is on an anniversary of a hard time… There have been atrocities on both sides. There have been extremists on both sides.”  After pointing out that Menachem Begin and many founders of the state of Israel were "terrorists",  the Episcopal minister mused: “Everyone’s hands are dirty at some point… There’s no one in the world who has absolutely clean hands."

Muslim led Friday Prayers at Washington National Cathedral Nov. 14, 2014 [photo source: AFP]

The prayer carpets for the around two hundred Muslim faithful gathered for the Jumu'ah (Muslim Prayer Service) were laid diagonally in the transept on the side of the sanctuary to face Mecca without seeing any Christian icons, as Islam forbids prayer in view of sacred symbols which are alien to their faith. 

Before the prayers started, a lone protester proclaimed: "Jesus died on that Cross for us.  Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior." before being whisked out of the supposedly Christian church.

It seems that forthrightly proclaiming the faith in the House of God which a Cathedral church represents is unwelcomed at Washington National Cathedral.  It runs counter to what Rev. Canon Gina Campbell, the Cathedral's liturgical director, espoused in publicizing the event:  “This needs to be a world in which all are free to believe and practice and in which we avoid bigotry, Islamaphobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Christianity and to embrace our humanity and to embrace faith.”

The Right Reverend Gary Hall has interesting ideas about ecumenism.  Hall does not believe in talking about God with members of different faith as that only leads to arguments.  Instead Hall believes that "Let's all pray together and experience the divine together in our own way."  It ignores the great commission of MT: 28:16-20 but why be pushy about divine matters for the National House of Prayer?   

Washington National Cathedral was founded on a charter from Congress but is an Episcopal Cathedral.  While it is wonderful to reach out to people of faith to find commonalities, it seems pusillanimous to not represent the faith at the seat of the Archbishop, who should be shepherding the flock.  Moreover, treating Washington National Cathedral like an International House of Prayer seems like it is making it a big venue religious entertainment.  Then again the Very Reverend Gary Hall wished about to roller skate or throw paper airplanes down the temporarily empty nave of Washington National Cathedral

Ecumenism is illuminating and foster tolerance and perhaps peace in the proper context. This is often accomplished through interfaith prayer services, which may concentrate on the spiritual things which unite various confessions.  However, a renunciation of truth by not sharing the Good News when worshiping in a Cathedral church is indeed troubling. This leads to what Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI labeled a renunciation of truth that is lethal to faith.  When eternal symbols become inter-changible, we may find ourselves singing: "Have a RamahanuKwanzMas" soon. 

07 November 2014

Reality Bites for Clay Aiken

In the wake of the GOP wave election results in the 2014 midterms, Republicans gloated about the many liberal legacies and legend candidacies which went down to defeat. One of these sideshow races involved Clay Aiken, the 35 year old singer who first came to fame coming in second on American Idol II and Celebrity Apprentice.  Aiken sought to parlay his fame and social activist instincts into politics, running against freshman Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-NC 2nd).

This was set to be a tough race, as it is a Republican +11 district.  Still, Clay Aiken resorted to fundraising in California to fight the good fight. So it was no surprise that in a Republican wave election that Clay Aiken once again was the bridesmaid.  But what did raise eyebrows from fans, politicos and financial supporters that despite his crushing 17% loss in the election, Aiken still won a mini-series documenting the campaign with Esquire TV, which hypes it as "a raw and honest look at American politics through an incredibly unique and compelling candidate."

While the mini-series move might seem smart to professionally cover one's behind, the Esquire announcement did not go over well with some well placed supporters.   Steven Tyler, a Hollywood based actor/producer, who organized the Los Angeles fundraiser for Aiken bridled at Clay's self-serving chicanery.

[L] Actor/Producer Steven Tyler [R] Clay Aiken at Sept. 30 political fundraiser

Those attending the September 30th California fundraiser were told that the camera crew following Aiken were doing a BBC documentary.  The releases which attendees signed were for British broadcast, not in the US. Tyler thought that Aiken's idea of documenting the campaign was a good one but objects to the legerdemain in the releases.

Aiken's seven minute concession speech obliquely references coming in second (yet a third time) but still fighting on:

"The result did not go in the way that we wanted it to tonight, but we've walked down this path once -- or twice before.  And when about 11 years ago, after 'American Idol' we came up short in another vote, we found reason to be happy, we found opportunity to see a win.
My voice is not going to be silenced by this. My voice is only going to get louder and we’re only going to tell more stories.”
That was boffo bravado for the cameras, but Aiken does not realize that by landing the mini-series, he spent his credibility.

It's a pity.  Aiken started his public career on American Idol being a nerdy teacher for autistic children with an exceptional voice.  He blossomed into an entertainer who was a safe celebrity for tween girls to idolize as Claymates.

Despite losing American Idol, he crafted a successful entertainment career crooning standards and Christmas tunes while advancing philanthropic pursuits to help intellectually disabled individuals and cautiously representing for homosexuals after he came out.

Those admirable accomplishments are marred by a mini-series which was produced on false pretenses and is self serving.  One wonders if Clay's concession speech was just for the cameras too.

Wendy Davis, Democrat Texas state senator who gained national notoriety as Abortion Barbie for her ill fated filibuster in 2013, used that moment as a springboard for a quixotic gubernatorial campaign (which she lost by 20%).  Many political observers expect Davis to soon be appearing on MSNBC, but even she had the good sense to wait a bit before trying to transition to television.

On the hustings in North Carolina, candidate Clay Aiken refused to sing because: "The minute I sing, I'm a punchline... People like me. But I need them to take me seriously."  Aiken need not worry about being a punchline in politics.

But if Aiken expects to be taken seriously again on the public stage or advocating issues after this docu-series, he might well find that Reality Bites. Clay should consider taking the stage again, and it is leaving in five minutes.

06 November 2014

DISHing about the CNN Blackout

Dish Network's 14 million  satellite TV subscribers have been unable to see CNN or many other Turner Network channels since October 21st due to a carriage contract dispute.   The two big Turner Entertainment channels, TBS and TNT, are on a separate contract and were unaffected by the blackout.

Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen is a maverick who has pushed broadcast rights to the brink in the past to drive a better bargain. Ergen's quip about CNN and MK-370 highlights the tension between supplying costs and subscriber demands.  CNN has appeals to modest spectrum of news viewers yet Turn wanted a double digit increase in carriage costs.  Losing Dish Network cuts into 17% of their prospective market, which may also include the millions of monitors in waiting rooms and airport terminals

Dish Network the only television provider which has played hardball in contract terms.  DirecTV dropped with NBC/Universal Weather Channel in February over carriage costs and anticipating niche competition, and the Weather Channel tried fighting back to claim that dropping the channel was a public safety issue.

If it were for CNN, Cartoon Network and TCM alone, Dish Network might be tempted to permanently drop these Turner channels, but TBS and TNT will be up for renewal at year's end the NBA agreement might be the leverage to clinch the overall deals.

Cord cutting consumers might think that they avoided the messy media melee by ordering programming ala cart with broadband internet.  But a recent report indicates that bundled programming packages on cable or satellite might be less costly than the ala cart option.

Considering CNN's ratings, it is dubious if anyone would notice about the absence without articles. However on Election Night --the SuperBowl for political junkies--CNN managed to garner 1/3 of Fox News Channel's ratings.

31 October 2014

Justifying a Celebration of Reformation Day?

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther wrote the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdelberg Albrecht to object to the sale of indulgences. Luther wrote "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" (which later became known as the 95 theses) and posted them on door of the Schlosskirche  in Wittenberg, (also known as the Church of All Saints). This defiant act by the Augustinian monk lead to the Protestant Revolution.

 Luther's major theological insight from the 95 Theses is Justification by Faith (sola fides), which undercuts indulgences.  

Contemporary Protestants have suggested celebrating Reformation Day as an alternative to Halloween. Wags waxed about Reformation Day that theology nerds need a holiday too.  But it seems dubious if kids will dress in brown robes and try to nail papers to many doors.

Two points of history underlie the Reformation protest.  The issuing of indulgences were fueled by the existence of the secular Papal States.  Indulgences were sold to support the Holy See.  Since the Holy See lost the Papal States in 1871 (and came to terms with the loss of secular power as embodied in the 1927 Treaty of Lateran) the Vatican can concentrate on pastoring the faithful.

 A marker in intellectual history is why the Protestant Reformation was spread so successfully.  The circulation of Luther's ideas in the 95 Theses was greatly aided by the advent of the Gutenberg printing press in the Fifteen Century.   

Many have likened the ease of exchanging ideas via the internet with the revolution brought about by  the Gutenberg press.  Social media is another cyber revolution which has religious reverberations to date.  

During the recent Synod on the Family at the Vatican, some of the organizers tried to insert language which the secular press called an earthquake.  A great majority of the Synod Fathers dissented but this was going against the machine.  However, social media proved to be an ideal platform for bishops to disseminate information and for the Catholic vox populi to share their concerns.  Disseminating information and allowing the faithful to voice their views proved successful.   Pope Francis had the Synod vote on every paragraph and the three egregious parts did not receive adequate support and were removed.

Although it took 482 years, the Lutheran Wold Federation and Catholic Church did come to terms with their differences in a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), in which a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ."  Catholics maintain that it did not negate the Council of Trent but  that its canons are non-applicability to concrete Christian bodies in the modern world.  

Still, some Christian soldiers want to fight, but like the Hatfields and McCoys, they have forgotten what they are fighting over.  During a thoughtful conversation about faith, a Protestant was unphased when he learned of the agreement on sola fides between the Churches and wanted to continue to haggle over the other 94 points-- and he was not even Lutheran!

As we live in a time when Christians around the world are being persecuted for their faith, we ought to remember the wisdom of the Lutheran Theologian  Peter Meiderlin (a.k.a. Ruptertus Meldenius) :  "[U]nity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things." 

It is commendable to mark a point of history like Reformation Day.  It is cute but quixotic to try to have an alternative to Halloween with a holiday for theology nerds.  That is almost as futile as First Lady Michelle Obama's advice to kids about Trick or Treats.  But we should join with our brothers and sisters in faith on the many things on which we agree  to help build the Kingdom of God rather than continue to form a spiritual circular firing squad. 

On Reconsidering Liturgy

America, the Jesuit magazine, published an interview with Cardinal Francis George as he prepares to cede pastoral responsibilities for the Archdiocese of Chicago to current Spokane Archbishop Blaise Cupich. The  wide ranging interview touched upon secular hot button political issues, sacerdotal celibacy, clerical sexual abuse and the recent Synod of the Family.  

But Cardinal George's comments about Liturgy have particular as the third anniversary of the implementation of the New (Third) Translation of the Roman Missal approaches. Some priests formed "in the spirit of Vatican II" persist in improvising during the Liturgy or revert to favorite older translations.  

As one of the prominent people in the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), Cardinal Francis George's comments deserve consideration.  Cardinal George does concede that some things can sound "clunky" but can be facilitated by preparation to understand the grammar and intention of the prayers.

Recently, I participated in an challenging colloquy with a cleric who was contemptuous that the 1998 ICEL translation was rejected and who still feels liberated to say: "The Lord IS with you" in antiphons.  I noted that the loosey goosey improv impulse which was allowed under the 1969  Comme le prévoit  was illicit under the new translation. His retort was the aspiration to make liturgy accessible to the youthful masses. That seemed like a jesuitical argument as all Christian denominations have bled worshipers and vocations.  Yet diocese which have more traditional inclinations (e.g. Peoria IL, Lincoln NB, Steubensville OH) seem to be the most vocation rich.  Might there be a correlation? 

One of the pities about the implementation of Vatican II is that the works of the Council were overtaken by "the spirit of Vatican II" which fundamentally misunderstands the Council Fathers work.  Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, had the expectation that priests would educate the faithful. However, according to Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P. who co-authored “Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church”, priests were not properly formed in the new liturgy before it was implemented to the laity.  The logic of  Comme le prévoit  gave great latitude to presiding liturgists.  Thus US Catholics misunderstood Sacrosanctum Concilium as a capitulation to modernity instead of the  "aggorionmento" ("bringing up to date) which Pope St. John XXIII intended when he called for the Council  in 1959.

It would behoove Catholics to become more educated about first things --not just what we do, but why we do them in the Liturgy.  The Liturgy along with Sacred Scripture are the primary means of how we experience Christ.  Our lack of learning on liturgy loses lackluster Catholics and makes mass or mechanical or risks relegation to religious entertainment.

23 October 2014

Tar Heel "Paper Course" to Ensure Eligibility for Athletes Now a Public Fail

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is again embroiled in an embarrassing controversy which now impeaches both the Tar Heels  athletic as well as academic reputation.  To try to settle the matter, the University of North Carolina hired Kenneth Wainstein to investigate scholarly controversies in Chapel Hill.  

What Attorney Wainstein found was that from 1993 to 2009, Dr. Julius Nyang'oro "taught" an African American studies course at UNC.  During those 18 years, 3100 students (among them 1500 Tar Heel student-athletes) took a phantom course with easy grades.

In universities with competitive intercollegiate athletic programs, often there are courses which have an easy reputation where many student athletes are enrolled. These student-athletes may also have tutors to make sure that learning is achieved thereby retaining academic eligibility.  

 Dr. Nyang'oro's "shadow curriculum", however, went beyond the pale.  Students in his African American Independent Studies courses never had to meet with the professor, or their scheduled classes actually never occurred. The grade was derived entirely from a single paper, which was often plagiarized and padded. Then these paper were given a cursory read and generously graded by Deborah Crowder, a non-academic motivated to help struggling athletes.

These academic abuses came to light when Nyang'oro retired in 2012. In December 2013, a grand jury charged Nyang'oro with a felony for taking $12,000 for a class which was never held.   These criminal fraud charges were later dropped when Nyang'oro cooperated with authorities like Wainstein, although Chapel Hill did deduct $12,000 from Nyang'oro's final paycheck. 

For several years, administrators in Chapel Hill were content with the conceit that this phantom curriculum was confined to a couple of rogues in the African American Studies department. But Wainstein's investigation, along with academic advisor whistleblower Mary Willingham has revealed a more extensive and sinister customary operating procedure at Chapel Hill for struggling student athletes.

As an academic advisor for athletes, Willingham was a learning specialist designated to help athletes who were not academically equipped for coursework at Chapel Hill to pass their classes.  Willingham sometimes employed phonics reading method so her student athlete could spell Wis-con-sin.  She admits to violating NCAA by rules ignoring cheating which she saw, but the NCAA never interviewed her and they found that the Tar Heels had broken no rules.  

Willingham went public because she could not countenance the fraud of functionally illiterate students passing so that they could keep academic eligibility.  Willingham expected death threats, but she did not expect UNC to disavow her research that between 8% to 10% of student athletes could not read beyond a third grade level.  

Attorney Wainstein's hard hitting report disputed the inference that student athlete cheating were isolated incidents and gave credence to Willingham's data that Tar Heel student athletes were poorly equipped to study at an elite research university, but that a system of phantom curriculum kept them eligible.  Moreover, UNC officials overlooked the number of independent studies courses coming from the African American Studies department, and how many of them were taken by student athletes. 

What was telling was how African American Studies secretary Deborah Crowder negotiated with academic officials as to what grade student athletes required to retain eligibility.  In one case Crowder haggled via e-mail with the Womens' basketball academic adviser about what was the lowest grade that could be given so the player could retain eligibility.

Boxhill, who was the former womens' academic advisor, is now the Director of the UNC Parr Center for Ethics.  Of course, Boxhill was not available for comment.

Wainstein's report reexamined 150 assignments  from this "paper course".  These three outside academic experts found that 25% were plagiarized verbatim from other sources.  It sounds like Montana Senator John Walsh's Masters thesis at the National War College

One of the more egregious examples was a paper about the like and works of Nikki Giovanni and African American culture.  This opus simply had a two page introduction and a final page of test and the rest of the paper were transcriptions of poems and texts formatted to fill the margins for the assignment requirements. There is little doubt that the fake class kept many struggling Tarheel student athletes eligible to play.  

The easy grade from the AAS Independent Studies course boosted 169 student athletes above the 2.0 GPA threshold, including 123 football players, 15 mens' basketball players and 5 women hoopsters. So much so, student athletes cajoled their students to get their work in before the gravy train ended:

 "Debbie Crowder is retiring . . . if you would prefer that she read and grade your paper rather than Professor Nyang'oro you will need to have the paper completed before the last day of classes, Tuesday, July 21st."

After Ms. Crowder retired in 2009, the academic average GPA for the Tar Heel football team for the Fall of 2009 dropped to 2.121, the lowest rate in ten years.

The Wainstein report shows that there was a culture of corruption at Chapel Hill and was much more widespread than initially thought over the past three years. Not everyone in charge were willing to play along with the shadow curriculum.  Current Tarheel Mens' Basketball Coach Roy Williams  allegedly felt uncomfortable with these classes and tried to steer his players away from the African American Studies department. However, Rashad McCains, who was part of the 2005 National Championship basketball team, charged Coach Williams of knowing of the fraudulent scheme.

The reason why the Wainstein report is different than two prior investigations into the matter is that Wainstein obtained the cooperation of Nyang'oro and Crowder, the two UNC officials at the center of the scandal.  So far, the Tarheel phantom curriculum scandal has claimed the scalp of Chancellor Holden Thorpe and forced the resignation of Tarheel Football Coach Butch Davis.

The NCAA is also investigating these charges on Chapel Hill cheating. Observers can rightly exclaim that the Tar Heels cheated their way into ten football Bowl appearances and three basketball National Championship under Dean Smith (1993), and Roy Williams (2005 and 2009).  

The problem is that justice delayed is justice denied.  Adjudication (and stonewalling) this situation for so long makes tarnishing the Tar Heels reputation kind of academic.  What would be the just thing for the NCAA to do?  Ultimately, what should the University of North Carolina do to convince the public that it educates its student athletes rather than exploits them with an ersatz degree in exchange for four years of eligibility? 

 Right now, it looks like Chapel Hill's shadow curriculum is a big public fail.

     Fox Sports

UPDATE 01/01/2015  The Tar Heel "Paper Course" scandal has claimed the jobs of two more prominent Chapel Hill academics.  Timothy McMillian, who was  a senior lecturer for 17 years in the African American and Diasphora Studies, resigned in the wake of pattern of no-show courses and gift grades.  

UNC Chancellor Carol Fort also revealed that the university has taken steps to terminate   former faculty leader and Philosophy professor Jeannette Boxhill  for her role in the student athlete scandal.  Despite the fact that termination could take years to adjudicate, Boxhill was named  "in light of the extraordinary circumstances underlying the longstanding and intolerable academic irregularities described in the Wainstein Report, as well as her role as chair of the faculty council during a period of time covered by the report."

On the day the Wainstein Report was issued, former football counselor Beth Bridger, who steered players towards bogus classes, was terminated from her job at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington the day the report was published.

What justice is this?  A low level person gets canned on the day of the report, Professor Nyang'oro retires and receives immunity for cooperation with Wainstein, McMillian "retires" after 17 years and Boxhill's involuntary departure from an ETHICS Center attached to UNC is dropped on New Years Eve.  Considering Boxhill's biography, will she be eligible for full retirement benefits for time served.

And what of the athletic achievements during this period?  

20 October 2014

San Fran Radio Bans Lorde's "Royals" During World Series

After the San Francisco Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals to clinch their right to represent the National League in the 2014 Major League Baseball World Series, two Bay area radio stations made waves.  Both KFOG-FM and KOIT-FM announced bans on playing the minimal art pop song "Royals" by New Zealand chanteuse Lorde.  This ersatz outrage is a silly attempt to generate civic pride for the a World Championship Series with two wildcard teams.

During interviews last year, Lorde became inspired to compose "Royals" in a half-hour writing session after seeing a photo of George Brett signing baseballs.

The song is about aspirationalism and uses pop artists' luxurious lifestyles as a counterpoint.

One would think that there would be more tolerance in the City by the Bay.  Then again, the  message might be challenging to those actually listening to the lyrics of the Lorde's song. 

The radio silence on "Royals" seems like a cheap publicity stunt which jumps on the civic bandwagon while getting earned publicity.  But this may be a desperate ploy to generate enthusiasm in San Francisco for the World Series.  

This is the third time in five years in which the San Francisco Giants have made it to the World Series, whereas it has been a 29 year drought for the Royals.  

This is reflected in World Series ticket prices on the secondary market.  It would not be cheap to see the San Francisco Giants play their World Series home games, averaging around $700 a seat. But in Kansas City, expect to pay between $1,000 to $1250 a ticket to see "Royals" in the World Series up close and personally. 

14 October 2014

Confusion Concerning the Interim Report for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family is a two week gathering at the  Vatican of over 250  Bishops to grapple with “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”  Each day was dedicated to contemplating a different issue. This Extraordinary Synod will produce a working document which will lay a foundation for an ordinary synod in 2015 which would implement any formal changes to church guidelines touching about difficult family matters as well as a prospective Apostolic Exhortation.

The Synod Fathers heard from selected lay Catholics from across the globe to illuminate some of the challenging issues facing the modern family.  “Synod 2014"  touched upon hot button issues such as: cohabitation; divorced Catholics who civilly remarry, contraception, homosexuality; and the current elite cause celebre same sex so called marriage. Considering the subject matter the secular media keenly monitored the Synod and promoted any signals of progressive politics.

Unfortunately for the faithful not participating in the proceedings, there are conflicting signals coming from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  For example, Pope Francis encouraged participants to “speak fearlessly and listen humbly.”  Pope Francis spoke out against bishops afraid to disagree with the Pope when he said: “This is no good.  This is not synodality.”  Archbishop of Durbin, South Africa Wilfrid Cardinal Napier certainly followed this exhortation.

This sounds like there would be a robust exchange of views and not a pre-ordained set of conclusions.  But Pope Francis took the unusual step of appointing six prelates to draft the final report from the Synod fathers.  Conservative Catholics lamented that many of the committee, including Washington Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl, are reputed to have liberal tendencies.  However, the Synod participants elected relegators to report on the small working groups.  These relegators include Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura Raymond Burke (formerly Archbishop of St. Louis), President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum Robert Cardinal Sarah (of Guinea) and Arbishop of Brussels-Melechen Andre-Joseph Leonard, all of whom have conservative leanings.

Despite assurances from the Vatican Press Office at the start of the Synod that there would be no doctrinal changes only better strategies for communicating the truths of the family, the secular and liberal Catholic media reports  as demonstrated by Jesuit Fr. James Martin report of “stunning changes” on how the Catholic Church approaches the LBGTQQ? persons. This characterizes the Synod of the Media, which capitalizes on the media blackout to interject their Synod spin.

Since Synods are messy, General Secretary of the Synod Lorenzo Cardinal Badissiri (of Pisa, Italy) imposed a media blackout on the “interventions” (speeches made during the Synod) but with a daily press briefing from three participating prelates.  Chary  observers like Fr. John Zuhlsdorf think this media gag could be to coordinate leaks to control the agenda.

Mid way through the Synod, a relatio post disceptationem was released which summarized the large group session discussion for the small working groups.  Progressives praised the relatio, implying that it marked monumental changes rather than discussion points.  Conservatives are concerned that final pastoral positions may be preordained.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop of Poznan Stanislaw Gadecki, the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference seemingly rejected the relatio as being unacceptable.  Archbishop Gadecki postulated: 

"Is the purpose of this Synod pastoral support to families in difficulty, or is its goal the study of special cases? Our main task is to support the family pastorally, not to hit her, exposing these difficult situations that exist, but which do not constitute the nucleus of the same family; they [the special cases] do not void the need for support, which should be given to good, normal, ordinary families, who are struggling not so much for survival as for fidelity.”

The Polish Prelate expressed concern Pope St. John Paul II's teachings on the Family seemed to be ignored.  Gadecki urged preaching the truth and not give the impression that the Church has not teaching mercifully in the past.

Cardinal Burke's reaction to the relatio has be likened to aftershocks to the pastoral earthquake of the synod summary.  In an interview with Catholic World Report, Cardinal Burke blasted:

“While the document in question (Relatio post disceptationem) purports to report only the discussion which took place among the Synod Fathers, it, in fact, advances positions which many Synod Fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept. Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable.”

After the relatio was released and not universally welcomed, the Synod did not hold a regular media briefing with questions and answers. Catholic media sources like the Archdiocese of New York's Catholic Channel on Sirus XM satellite radio went wall-to-wall to correct impressions of the relatio.

The groundswell of dissent coming from within the Synod demonstrates that those pulling the strings did  not appreciate how the interim report would be proclaimed as the gospel truth in the so called Synod of the Media which has its hot button issues on sexuality. In addition, the relatio did not reflect a balanced view of the discussion points.  Moreover, this relatio concentrated pastoral approaches without clearly reaffirming Church teachings.

As the Synod on the Family proceeds, it will be curious how the groundswell of concerns about the interim relatio are corrected.  Furthermore, how these disputes in the final relatio are addressed may make a difference.  During the Second Vatican Council, Pope Blessed Paul VI wanted there to be unity coming from the Council.  Thus language in the final documents required 90% approval, which practically meant that there was ambiguity which allowed for various interpretations.  Hence a liberal "spirit of Vatican II" which led to innovations and consequence not anticipated by Vatican II council fathers.  Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI would disparagingly label this  as a  hermaneutic of rupture".