18 November 2017

Greeting the Beatification of a Simple Priest--Blessed Solanus Casey

Blessed Solanus Casey on Life

"Barney" Solanus Casey is being beatified in a ceremony  in Detroit, Michigan on November 18, 2017.  Casey will be the second  American born male to be beatified. Cardinal Angelo Amato, the head of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints will celebrate the Beatification Mass. Among the 70,000 in attendance at Ford Field will be four Cardinals and 218 Capuchin Friars.

The beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey is remarkable for a  Wisconsin farm boy born in 1870.  When Casey was called to the priesthood, he academically struggled at the seminary since instruction was in German.  Thus, Casey was just ordained just a sacredos simplex and served in the early and mid-Twentieth Century as a lowly porter for the Capuchins friaries in Yonkers, Harlem, Manhattan and for 21 years in Detroit.  

Despite not being able to give homilies or hear confessions, Fr. Casey had a remarkable impact.  His reputation grew as a compassionate holy man who founded a soup kitchen in Detroit in 1929.  Casey became well known as a priest  who could relate with people. Fr. Casey was also known as an ordinary Detroiter who enjoyed Coney Island hot dogs and the Detroit Tigers.  

Yet Fr. Casey drew people to him from his holy reputation and as a miracle worker who had a knack at helping get prayers answered.   In his vocation as porter, Fr. Casey lent a listening ear and a caring heart to those who came to him. Fr. Casey would also offer visitors an opportunity to join a Capuchin Mass Memorial Society, in which he scrupulously wrote down their petitions and updated the log with how prayers were answered.  

In 1954, Fr. Casey suffered a severe case of eczema over his entire body and was transfered back to Detroit to receive better medical case.  Alas, complications set in and he died of untreatable psoriasis.  It was estimated that 20,000 people showed up to mourn Fr. Casey's passing from this world. But when Fr. Casey's remains were exhumed in 1987, his corpse was incorrupted, save for a little decomposition around the elbows.  

After Fr. Casey's death, lay friends of the Capuchins sought permission to create a Father Solanus Guild.  As early as 1966, there were 24 reports of cures attributable to Fr. Solanus. Fr. Casey was named Venerable in 1995. 

Normally, the Catholic beatification process involves the recognition of a miracle associated with a Servant of God.   The Miracle which was recognized by the responsible Vatican  dicastry is from 2012 when a Panamanian woman who visited Fr. Casey's tomb who suffered from an incurable skin disease but was healed by praying for Solanus Casey's intercession.

16 November 2017

On Pope Francis on Pre-Mass Silence and Lex Vivendi

Pope Francis on Pre Mass Silence

Recently, Pope Francis lamented the tendency of Catholics to engage in small talk before Mass when they ought to be spiritually preparing for the liturgy.

This may be related to how the Mass is considered by the faithful.  The Council of Trent affirmed the holy sacrifice of the Mass.  The spirit of Vatican II considers it a family meal, thus what would be wrong with some pre-supper conversation?

While it is laudable to have pre-liturgical silence to encourage the People of God to prepare for the Liturgies of the Word and the Eucharist, it should be tempered by fostering community.

It is my experience that at least in America, parishes are no longer the tightly knit and stable discreet communities that they once were.  Folks typically move around.  There are volitional parishes where people choose to attend.  People often do not make a day of worship, sticking around for coffee or pot luck.

The infrastructure can also be an issue.  My parish's main church was built in the 1850s and has a very small narthex, so there is not a courtyard for people to gather and make small talk before going into the sanctuary.  Many modern churches have incorporated a gathering area for such purposes.

So what would be the best way to cultivate more reverence prior to Mass?  I would suggest catechesis and clues.

While I want thoughtful exegesis from a homily, it can sometimes be edifying to also have some instruction.  I regret that I did not hear more priestly presiders educate the faithful about the change from dynamic translation to static translation of the new Roman Missal in 2011.  I sought to educate myself and attended some additional talks which helped me understand the logic of the syntax changes as well as to become accustomed to the "clunky" new sound.

Pope Benedict XVI observed that the essence of liturgy disappears when we applaud in church and it becomes religious entertainment.  While the Mass that I frequently attend has a wonderful contemporary choir,  it still garners applause "from the crowd" after Mass.  Being shepherded by our Holy Father, I curbed my enthusiasm for post-prandial celebration.  It would have been instructive if clergy discerned if such a critique was praiseworthy and shared it with their flock.

Another moment where reverence not revelry ought to be instructed is during the "sign of peace". In some liturgies, it becomes a "half time" where people will briefly socialize with their neighbors.  Some celebrants campaign, needing to shake the hand of every Catholic "constituent".    Liturgically, we are sharing the unity coming from the altar after the fraction rite that comes sharing one body of Christ. So several years ago, the Congregation for the Divine Worship  published a piece which discouraged irrational exuberance during the sign of peace.  Yet this instruction received nary a mention from the pulpit.

One parish which I attend while visiting relatives has a barn-like sanctuary.  Several minutes before they start they dim the lights to get the People of God in the mood. Visually, they are giving them a clue.  Where I believe that they go off the right path in making announcements or having brief secular speakers come up front "before the show". 

For me, good liturgy is key.  However, community is also important.  There is probably not a one-size-fits-all approach.  But pastors and sacristans can discern what will work best for their "faith community".  And homilists ought not to be afraid to challenge their congregation to  prayerfully consider how we comport ourselves in the sanctuary before, during and after our liturgies.  And may the clergy not dismiss righteous chaffing from the faithful just because they are in charge. 

When Swamp Rats Are Dirty Rats

The revelation of sexual misconduct by Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein has transitioned to the District of Calamity.  Accusations of sexual impropriety threatens to swing two Senate seats and effect the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

Much has been made about  allegations of skivvy conduct by Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore (R-AL).  These accusations stem from conduct nearly four decades ago that were unreported to authorities, but came to light in the closing days of a special election to fill the seat vacated by now Trump Administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The alluvia of allegations sound bad, but are past the statute of limitations, based she-said-he-said allegations with little to no corroborating evidence and relies upon the court of public opinion. 

From a political standpoint, Democrats are anxious to make Roy Moore a poster child for Republicans in 2018 and use the hermaneutic that Republicans condone sexual harassment as a cudgel to impeach President Donald Trump if Democrats regain the House of Representatives.  In the near term, the muck about Moore put the White House in a box.  On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, establishment Republicans did not like a loose cannon like Judge Moore to be in the Senate chambers, when it endangers the clubby atmosphere of the Upper Chamber and he could help shake up the leadership.  So many GOP party loyalists were quick to condemn Moore for the alleged but unproven misconduct.

There are concerns that Republicans might lose this previously considered "safe" seat, as Moore is polling with a double digit deficit after these allegations have been publicized.  Since candidate Moore refuses to step aside due to this scandal, the DC GOP suggested writing in another Republican. Apparently, this did not test well and was dropped.  After a careful reading of the Alabama state statutes, centrist Republican Hugh Hewitt claims that the problem could go away if   Senator Luke Strange (R-AL) resigned, creating a new vacancy which would cancel the shaky December 12th election, and Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) could appoint another caretaker Senator until the next general election (in November 2018).  Considering the shaky ground Jeff Sessions is in at the Department of Justice, it is possible that Sessions be appointed back to his own seat.

[L] Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) attending [R] Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) swearing in

Recently, after a pleasant Sunday brunch, we chatted about the troubling news about Roy Moore. As the topic expanded to include sexual harassment by elected officials, two ardent feminists insisted that Congress needed to do something about it and make offenders on Capitol Hill as accountable as the rest of us.  I asked who were their bosses.  The obvious answer was the people.  I maintained that voters get to fire their elected officials periodically and they should decide rather than an insider committee.  That viewpoint was not well received.

Well, it seems that when Congress pushed to make the same rules apply to them as their constituents, there were a few quirks.  Regarding charges of sexual harassment with members of staffers, there is 30 day waiting period before pressing charges.  In addition, the victim making the accusation must undergo mandatory counseling.  That sounds munificent, except the counseling comes from the employer whom someone is accusing.  It would seem that it could be made clear to accusers that going public would not be in anyone's best interests.   If I recall correctly, John Batchelor's news-maker interview indicated that this system has paid out $15 million since its advent in the 105th Congress with nary a word making the press.

Congressional Sexual Misconduct payout ledger

What took party hacks off their sexual harassment game plan was the revelation by a Los Angeles radio personality of Al Franken's inappropriate conduct during a USO mission to the Middle East in 2006, before he was elected as Senator from Minnesota.  The woman reported that she was supposed to do a skit written by Franken that involved a kiss and wanted to rehearse-- she demurred but eventually consented.  During the practice, she alleged that Franken put his tongue halfway down her throat and grabbed her head.  She immediately insisted "Don't do that again!", and she deflected his approach during the skit.

The problem with sexual conduct and Al Franken is about the contemporaneous  photographic evidence. The woman in question wanted to grab some rack time during the 36 hour military flight.  When she was asleep, Franken was seen with a coprophagic grin cupping at her breasts.  No doubt, Franken thought this was funny at the time (and probably a great way to get back at her).  Franken has been known to take outrageous photos for laughs (but the infamous Franken diaper photo was a fake).

Citizen Al Franken takes a picture with a sleeping beauty during a 2016 USO tour.

But this Al Franken moment  was captured on camera. Oops. And the accuser is Leeane Tweeden, a KABC-AM radio personality. Tweeden initially posted #MeToo, but she decided to come forth after hearing Congresswoman Speier's (D-CA 14th)  allegations that members on both side of the aisle have thrust sexual advances while in Congress.

Now this puts a kink into progressive partisans' plans. One of their prominent members stands accused. The public has been primed to always accept the word of victims.  In addition, there is photographic proof. This takes away from the rip the GOP as blanket sexual predator smear.  Rush Limbaugh points out that in this environment, Democrats will have to proverbially throw Senator Franken (D-MN) under the bus to not to seem hypocritical and prospectively use it against their ideological opponents. 

Franken publicly apologized to his victim, claiming that he thought that it was funny.  In addition, Franken submitted himself to scrutiny from his peers.  Maybe this gets it out of the headlines and it gets buried by the press.  If push comes to shove, Minnesota has a Democrat Governor Mark Dayton (D-MN), so Franken would undoubtedly be replaced by another Democrat. 

While justice is a noble pursuit, in this charged environment, the court of public opinion may well condemn non-guilty people just based on innuendo or unproven accusations which are promptly swept under the rug out of convenience.   The reform from the 105th Congress seems to allow members to slide, in a process intended to apply the peoples' law to Congress.  Although there are Ethics Committees to punish members egregious actions, I suspect that the ballot box is still the most efficacious way to punish when swamp rats act like dirty rats. 

09 November 2017

A Show After the Show for Ferguson the Play's Final Closing Curtain

Playwrigh Phelim Mc Aleer on unscripted closing for Ferguson the Play

Conservative entertainment provacateur Phelim Mc Aleer held the World Premiere of his  2015 play "Ferguson the Play" in New York City . The drama depicts the shooting of Michael Brown by a greater St. Louis police officer  in 2014 which sparked several days of rioting. This ugly incident which galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement under the ersatz slogan "Hands up, don't shoot."  Mc Aleer wrote the play because he believed that the truth that it was a defensive shooting was not getting out because of media bias buying into a progressive activist agenda.

What made Ferguson the play notable is that playwright McAleer constructed the verbatum theater completely using the released transcript of the Ferguson Grand Jury.  McAleer and director Jerry Dixon worked with a multi-racial cast to put on the controversial courtroom drama  for a short run at the 30th Street Playhouse in Manhattan.

On the closing night, Cedric Benjamin commadeered the stage at the close to voice his displeasure as he thought that the play was unbalanced and biased.

Director Jerry Dixon shut down the rogue actor's rant, but the histrionic polemic spilled out into the street, with actor Benjamin accusing playwright Mc Aleer  of "white arrogance".  

Mc Aleer later praised the director for shutting down the unscripted lecture by a cast member.

It seems ironic that the actor invoked arrogance against the playwright, who raised over  $51,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to mount the production, when the actor could not just say his lines. Mc Aleer deliberately brought Ferguson the play to New York after the cast of Hamilton accosted attendee then Vice President Elect Mike Pence to defy the conceit that conservatives are not welcomed in the New York theater community.

On the first production, which was a stage reading in 2015, nine members of the Los Angeles cast walked off, with one actor claiming that he did not trust Mc Aleer's motives.  At least those thespians were professional enough to disassociate themselves with a theatrical vehicle with which they could not agree.

Ironically, Cedric Benjamin's grand gesture might prove to be counterproductive.  It has drawn more attention to a small production, thrusting it into the news.  Phelim Mc Aleer continues to fund raise over the controversy with an expressed purpose of continuing to perform Ferguson the Play in New York.   Mc Aleer took great consolation that one BLM attendee who attended the play and left shocked and mystified that "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" was a lie.

Pollster George Barna recently sought to understand why evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump, who seemed to contradict many of their mores.  A large part of the answer is that SAGE-cons (Spiritually Aware Governmentally Engaged) conservatives have great distrust in the mainstream (a.ka. lamestream) media because of biased reporting against Trump that they now use alternate media sources to avoid "fake news".  By banding together on core issues like rule of law,  Barna contends that this 11% sliver of of the American electorate voting for Donald Trump was "The Day Christians Change America" (2017).

The strength of SAGE-cons influencing America was shown more than for Election 2016.  The informal boycotts by football fans of the NFL as they tolerate players who Take A Knee during the National Anthem has severely cut into attendance along with television ratings and is influencing advertisers like Papa John's Pizza to pull back.  Such a motivated minority of SAGE-cons may well see Ferguson the Play as a chance to actuate their ideas and counter the "fake news" phenomenon in entertainment as well as cultural conceits.

16 October 2017

Stephen Bannon Declares War Against Republican Establishment

Ex Trump White House Advisor Stephen Bannon Declares War on Republican Establishment

Although he opened his 2017 Value Voters Summit speech by echoing Ecclesiastes about the time of the season, former Trump Senior Adviser Stephen K. Bannon kept true to his street fighting instincts by declaring political war in a bombastic address to Evangelical voters in Washington DC.

Bannon voiced frustration that many Republicans in the Senate were either Janus faced or openly hostile to their President Donald Trump.  Bannon particularly took aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Foreign Policy Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN).

To wit, Bannon declared war on the GOP Establishment.  As Bannon is no longer shackled as a White House West Wing advisor, Bannon is free to support the Trump nationalist populist agenda from the outside.  Bannon intimated that he is working hard to primary many RINOs who do not support the Trump agenda.

Bannon claimed that there is time for Establishment sinners to repent, but otherwise he insisted that Deplorables will come after those not supporting Trump during the 2018 primaries.  

FRC President Tony Perkins at VVS17
This message was well received by the Values Voters Summit crowd.  A constant theme during the three day conference of politically active Evangelicals was "Drain to Swamp."  To underline that sentiment, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins honored his Louisiana roots and jocularly dressed in muck wear to open the Value Voters Summit. 

05 October 2017

Appraising the Impact of Tillerson at Foggy Bottom

Rex Tillerson on Being Trump's Secretary of State
Over the weekend, Trump Administration Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was accused of saying that the President, his boss, was a "f***ing moron". This exasperated expletive was alleged uttered after President Trump's rousing remarks before the 2017 Boy Scouts Jamboree. When these comments came to public light, Tillerson held a news conference which denied that Vice President Pence needed to convince him to stay at Foggy Bottom because he never considered resigning.  It is notable, however, that Tillerson did not back away from the original insulting allegation. This has led pundits to ponder how long Tillerson will remain as Secretary of State.

In the Politico Magazine, Rich Lowry wondered if anyone would notice whether anyone would notice if Tillerson left his position at Foggy Bottom.  In the Trump Administration, foreign policy leads seem more driven from the Oval Office (or perhaps Twitter postings) than from Cabinet officials. Secretary of State Tillerson has voiced policy positions, particularly on Climate Change and Qatar, which seem at odds with President Trump.  Moreover, @POTUS Trump has posted Twitter thoughts which undermine Tillerson attempts to achieve diplomatic solutions with North Korea.

During his nomination hearings, Tillerson was vilified for his role at Exxon and connections to Big Oil. But through these petrochemical connections, Tillerson was said to have cultivated good relations with the Russian Federation.  It does not seem that Tillerson has neither been effective in lessening tensions with Moscow nor distancing the Trump Administration from accusations of Russian collusion.

One of Tillerson's virtues was that he had more of a business background than a political resume, thus his organizational skills might be different at Foggy Bottom.  Perhaps this may be true on paper, but Secretary of State Tillerson seemed reluctant to clean house at the State Department. In April 2017, well after his confirmation, Tillerson indicated that he was in no rush to fill nearly 200 State Department posts.  In August 2017, Tillerson announced that there would be fewer promotions at State. These may have been an attempt at pruning an overstaffed State Department, but it also gave the opportunity for Obama Administration holdovers to exert undue influence in Foggy Bottom.

One of the major motivations for many loyal Trump voters is to "Clean the Swamp". In other words, to divest power from progressive elites who have burrowed their way into the bureaucracy.  This is especially true in the State Department. But this is impossible to achieve if the chief acts like a short termer.  In late July 2017, Tillerson confided with friends that he did not expect to last a year on the job.  Notwithstanding his recent denial of resigning over the moron kerfuffle, Tillerson is not taking the broad measures to clean house. The Iran Deal is an example in which the State Department has been enthusiastic in promoting and preserving, yet it is in conflict with Mr. Trump's campaign promises as well as inklings from the West Wing.  A cabinet official who is deemed a short termer will have little sway with the bureaucracy in aligning with the President's foreign policy predilections.

Secretaries of State can take different tacks to their job.  Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, took a leading role in formulating the realpolitik and detente foreign policies.  George Schultz, President Reagan's long serving Secretary of State, did not seek the limelight and was able to earn the loyalty of State Department officers by staffing for professionalism rather than political concerns.  Hillary Clinton, President Obama's First Secretary of State, did her bosses bidding by racking up frequent flier miles in visiting diplomatic outposts rather than take the lead on foreign policy.

Aside from trying to shrink the size of the State Department by attrition and to stop relying on special envoys, it is unclear how Secretary of State Tillerson is making a difference at his job.  Moreover, the friction between Tillerson and Trump on personal and policy fronts, makes his position tenuous.

At a time in which Americans have been distracted by ephemeral issues like the NFL Taking the Knee during the National Anthem and dealing with disasters, such as hurricanes and the Las Vegas shooting, there are serious foreign policy concerns brewing.  North Korea continues to be belligerent.  The world will no longer buy the peace through bribes for worthless promises of non-aggression or denuclearization.  While the United Nations has applied additional sanctions, this does not seem to be achieving the objective of de-escalation of tension or DPRK regime change.

Rich Lowry on Trump Secretary of State Charles Sprugeon

Considering a prospective conflict with North Korea, it would be unwise to have Secretary Tillerson leave his Secretary of State post at this time.  However, presuming this situation with the Kim Jung Un regime comes to a head in the near future, it would be prudent to have a Secretary of State who is more in tune with the Commander-in-Chief's expectations for Foggy Bottom and who more accurately reflects (at least in public) the President's foreign policy positions. 

11 September 2017

Never Forgetting 9/11 Video

06 September 2017

A Fire Line for The Blaze?

Glenn Beck and a Fire Line for The Blaze TV?
Last week, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and Mercury Radio Arts announced a 20% cut in staff. Many critics take schadenfreude at this cost cutting moving for the six year old trans-media company.  Beck felt compelled to can his longtime friend Mike Opelka (a.k.a. “Stuntbrain”) who had been hosting during the weekday 12pm-3PM and Saturday morning slot.  Despite the venom spewing from MAGA critics and liberal cynics, this does not spell the end of Beck’s alterative media venture, but is certainly a setback.  As Beck’s platforms undergo an agonizing reappraisal, it is worthwhile to make a Blaze-ing (sic) retrospective of the ventures.

For full discloser, this writer has been a subscriber to GBTV/The Blaze since its inception. While one ought to respect the integrity of Glenn Beck and appreciate his contributions to the media and political landscape, it does not preclude taking a critical eye or thinking for onself on issues.

Glenn Beck started a syndicated national radio program for Premiere Networks (the same group which syndicates Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity).  Beck started with a rodeo clown shock jock reputation. But after the terror attacks on 9/11, he took an increasingly serious interest in current events, albeit with a wry and emotional sensibility.

Beck got into television via a show on Headline News Network (a CNN channel) from January, 2006 to October, 2008.  As President Obama was being inaugurated in 2009, Glenn Beck Program premiered at 5 pm on Fox News.  It was there Beck achieved phenomenal ratings for his non-prime time slot as well as considerable controversy. Beck left Fox News in July, 2009 to start up his streaming television venture GBTV through Mercury Radio Arts which later morphed into “The Blaze TV”.

"Waffle Face" John Kerry
Glenn Beck has not shied away from taking political stands which ruffle feathers and are not in lock step with his supposed side.  Despite prominently promoting “W”’s re-election in 2004 (the John Kerry Waffle Head bit was memorable), Beck seemed to become dissuaded with President Bush after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the confirmation of Beck’s libertarian sensibilities. After President Obama assumed office in 2009, Beck posited that Obama had racist tendencies as displayed by his reactions Henry Louis Gates arrest. During the run up to the wide open Republican Presidential Primaries in the 2016 election, Beck was charry about candidate Donald Trump and the articulation of nationalist politics. This evolved into becoming an anti/never-Trumper which persisted through the General Election. Of course, the stunt in which  Beck and his posse doing Cheetos facials further stoked the ire of many MAGA loyalists.

 One of the major motivation of establishing alternative media platforms was to ensure that an unadulterated message could reach an audience.  While Beck maintains that he left Fox News on good terms (and continued to appear for years on The O’Reilly Factor, Megyn Kelly and Tucker Carlson Tonight), Beck was steered away from focusing on some subjects and encouraged to tone things down on his own show.  Beck worries about the potential of government censorship (e.g. a re-application of “The Fairness Doctrine”) as well as corporate steering of topics.

Orson Welles’ meteoric multi-media career in the 1930s served as an inspiration for Glenn Beck’s multi-valiant media ventures through Mercury Radio Arts, including “GBTV/The Blaze”, “Blaze Radio”, “The Blaze” website, Mercury publishing, stage appearances, films, music and charity.  The streaming television part of the media empire started in 2011 with an eponymous name and anchored by a simulcast of the three hour radio program along with an extended Glenn Beck TV program.  Beck sought to de-emphasize his imprint by assuming the moniker “The Blaze” (a reference to how fire burns to the truth).  A year later, The Blaze Radio began, which featured different radio hosts (beginning with Doc Thompson and Jay Severin, later Buck Sexton, Mike Opelka and Chris Salcedo).  There are also several regular radio shows which are available for podcast.

The Blaze TV was one of the first successful paid streaming television ventures, using MLB Advanced Media technology for a great picture, whether on a mobile device or a large screen HDTV. While NewsMax and One America Network have made strides in cable carriage, arguably neither have made a major media impact.  Ventures like PJTV and SarahPalinChannel have withered and died, failing to monetize ideological video on the web.  But CRTV venture seems much stronger than PJTV, including the originator Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin and Stephen Crowder.

Glenn Beck has proven to have a good eye in spotting and developing media talent. The Blaze TV’s first hire was Amy Holmes. Beck developed Buck Sexton into an accomplished radio host and television commentator (though Sexton’s TV simulcast was short lived).  A Dana Loesch producer Lawrence Jones was lifted to the media spotlight and given his own radio show, along with commentator appearances on other networks. And The Blaze TV gave then 23 year old Tomi Lerhen her own show, in which she catapulted into the conservative commentator stratosphere, until she was terminated for being inconsistent about her so called conservative views favoring abortion.

The Blaze TV has mainly relied upon a subscription internet model, although it is also available as a premium channel on Dish TV satellite and Verizon’s FIOS cable.  Mercury Radio Arts made serious enquiries about buying Current TV (Al Gore’s channel)  in 2013 and was rumored to buy its successor Al Jazeera America, the latter which Glenn Beck vehemently denied.

The Blaze TV was based in Dallas, Texas but the Real News roundtable and later Buck Sexton’s radio/TV show was produced in Manhattan. The Blaze also had an office in Washington, DC.

As a media venture The Blaze TV is challenged by limited conventional carriage issues. During the kerfluffle on fairness in presenting the 2016 Republican debates, The Blaze TV made a strong pitch to host a GOP debate . Obviously, the move was intended to attract attention and prospectively earn wider cable carriage. But this did not happen, which may have in part been due to the never-Trump reputation of Glenn Beck and the networks.

As for “The Blaze Radio”, the programming mainly has been distributed as live streaming as well as via podcasts (e.g. I-Tunes, Stitcher et ali) and I-Heart Radio (Clear Channel). There was a still born endeavor, which The Blaze Radio would have channels with regional news/traffic focus (e.g. Philadelphia), but that was a short term one off. As Buck Sexton went off to his own syndicated show, The Blaze Radio adapted and started to carry his early evening show live.

 For four years, The Blaze Radio had its own channel on Sirius/XM, which was eventually demoted to a streaming sub channel before it was terminated in 2017).  For several years, The Blaze Radio provided top of the hour news updates for a couple of Sirius/XM talk channels.  The Blaze website was intended to be a center for up to date news, which would feature positive takes on faith and some feel good stories. The website has not been as successful as Breitbart and developed a poor reputation of appearing cluttered and simply “click bait”.

Although Beck has strived not to make his media ventures, his shadow looms large on the various ventures.  The original concept for his TV show was to eventually involve viewer interactivity, in which a viewer could pause a program to search prior shows about unfamiliar concepts before returning.  Alas that is an idea which Beck is again slightly ahead of the curve. Starting out, GBTV/The Blaze was intended to be a streaming TV netlet with a strong news emphasis (such as the nightly one hour Real News), investigative journalism (For the Record), wholesome afternoon kids show (Liberty Treehouse), simulcast of Beck’s radio program and his extended TV program along with original entertainment shows (Independence USA).

Obviously, some media concepts fall flat, such as a survivalist reality TV show.  Other programs like afternoon educational kids programming reveal there is a small market.  And then there’s the gorilla in the room, the costly nature of producing quality news programs.  That being said, a fair portion of upheaval in programming comes from shifts in The Blaze driving force’s priorities.

Beck knew that it was costly to produce quality news, but wanted to be recognized as a legitimate news network. When the nightly news round table folded, The Blaze TV went to great lengths to produce investigative journalism.  But those shows seemed to have abruptly ended.

Another impetus of The Blaze has been to educate the audience.  While on Fox News, Founder’s Friday proved to be wildly popular.  Beck sought to replicate that last season with a twice weekly “The Vault” (showing history artifacts while telling the story) and “HIStory” (an extended historical bio show). In addition, Beck produced cross platform serial segments on history. But that programming seemed abandoned mid season.

Beck has shilly shallied from being a conservative political activist to a libertarian contrarian and now seems despondent at the course of current events. In the 2016 election cycle, The Blaze Radio hosted commentary shows after many of the Presidential debates. As mentioned, Mercury Radio Arts wanted to fairly host a GOP debate in Dallas.  Judging from Beck’s current commentary, he seems to want to guide the network away from partisan bickering where you can find everywhere else in the media. That is wise, but apparently educational news that you can use or extended format history segments are not profitable for The Blaze.

The current layoffs were not the first significant downsizing with The Blaze ventures. In 2016, Mercury Radio Arts laid off 40 people and shuttered their New York City and DC offices. Beck rued the bloat in which he felt was becoming a money pit that was out of control. Beck also wanted to revamp The Blaze website, that he regrets had just become “click-bait”

Glenn Beck's Man on the Moon (2013)
While it is foolish to believe that everyone employed at The Blaze are Beck’s automatons, Beck does exert an extraordinary influence the direction of the venture. The Blaze seems to have backed off on small enterprise live spot advertising (aside from the self owned realty group). . Moreover, there has been a de-emphasis on 1791 clothing, music, publishing. And there has been a lack of live shows, whether they are comedy tours, artistic events (like Man on the Moon in 2013) and public affairs gatherings (e.g. Restoring Honor, Restoring Love). Perhaps these ventures took away from Mercury Radio Arts core competencies or were too difficult to do well, but these changes reflect Beck’s constantly shifting priorities.

The Blaze TV’s programming has seen several shifts: 1) full service streaming netlet 2) educational news you can use 3) supplementing personal conservatarian activism 4) current events source 5) less partisan programming featuring radio simulcasts. These constant shifts hurt network branding and positioning.

Some of the programming choices seem like friendly personal predilections, such as “The Wonderful World of Stu” and "Pat and Stu".  It will be interesting to see if Pat Gray can live up to his billing of being a crack radio host on his own during mid-day radio prime time.  In mid-September, Mercury Radio Arts is conducting an all-hands-on-deck meeting which, in the interests of opacity, will be released in a podcast, to flesh out the direction of the networks.

Glenn Beck is convinced that media is at a pivot point and that traditional networks are a dying breed of media dinosaurs. As predicted in 2011, The Blaze has been ahead of the media curve and was wise to employ a multi-media and trans media approach to find out what works. Despite alienating some Trump-eteers and mockery from the mainstream media, Beck has developed a loyal audience for his streaming network. The Blaze's mission statement is to "change the world for the better". But increasing those eyeballs requires integrity and a sustained vision. The latter quality may mark a fire line for The Blaze in setting the world on fire with truth in order to make the world better.

05 September 2017

Concept Video: Federation Law and Klingon Justice

One of highlights of the Museum of Science Fiction's Escape Velocity 2017 Convention was the symposia on the Law and Star Trek. A panel of distinguished lawyers, including a law professor, a partner in a private practice along with a couple of attorneys working in the court system lent their collective wisdom on how legal concepts were applied on The Original Series (1966-1969), The Next Generation (1987-1991), Voyager (1995-2001) as well as several major motion pictures. The discussion consciously avoided the many violations of Star Fleet's Prime Directive, which sought to prevent the imposition of values and technologies by superior space races (i.e. civilization which had achieved warp speed).

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned Star Fleet justice to be meted out as would an  18th Century colonial captain. Under Admiralty Law, the highest in command in an area was the person who wheeled great discretion because of scant communications with Star Fleet Command.  But as Star Trek progressed, it seemed to favor Common Law tendencies to individual rights, guarding due process and being conscientious about justice rather than the blind application of law.

As the session was ending, these words were tested by Klingon Justice. 

03 May 2017

Reflecting Upon Jim De Mint's Confusing Heritage Departure

It should be noted the  Heritage President Ex Senator Jim De Mint (R-SC was ousted by the Heritage Foundation's 22 member Board of Trustees after leading the conservative think tank for nearly four and a half years. 

De Mint was skeptical about Heritage Action, a 501(c)(4) influencing branch of Heritage run by Mike Needham. It was said that De Mint did not want to throw control of the think tank. to 30 something political operatives with no policy experience.  Ironically, the official spin from Heritage on parting ways with De Mint is that he was making the think tank too political.

"The public statement released earlier is puzzling given that the Board of Trustees have praised our work for four years and approved performance bonuses for our entire management team each year for a job well done." 

 Some have speculated that De Mint had been too outspoken in favor of Donald Trump, which alienated GOP Establishment elements in the organization.  Heritage Foundation Board member  Mickey Edwards (and former Congressman from R-OK 5th) noted

“When DeMint went in, Heritage became very political. It changed from a highly respected think tank to just a partisan tool and more ideological — more of a tea party organization than a think tank.”

Heritage Foundation founder Ed Feulner has agreed to again take the reins of the think tank as interim President while a leadership search is conducted.

Heritage Foundation founder Ed Feulner 

There is talk that De Mint may soon find a spot within the Trump Administration. That seems much more credible than the rumor (or joke from Fox New's Chris Wallace) that Steve Bannon will become Heritage Foundation President. 

Ex House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX 26)
This series of backroom recriminations seems reminiscent of the attempted coup of the Freedom Caucus by ex GOP House Majority Leader Dick Army (R-TX 26th) in late 2012. At least no one felt the need to pack heat at Heritage.

Nevertheless, Capitol Hill conservatives need not be afraid of adversity in the District of Calamity, but they must find ways to solve problems lest a short stint at being the majority be their real Heritage. 

Paying Tribute to Quality-- RIP Robert M. Pirsig

Author Robert M. Pirsig died at the age of 88 in South Berwick, Maine after a period of failing health.  Pirsig was renowned for writing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance-- An Inquiry Into Values (1974), a loosely autobiographical travelogue of a 17 day cross country road trip in 1968 with his 11 year old son and two friends during which he pondered weighty philosophical problems to discern the metaphysics of quality,  

Pirsig had served in the Army in the Far East before the Korean War.  During a trip on leave to Japan, Pirsig became fascinated by Zen Buddhism. After his military service, Pirsig received graduate degrees in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and Banaras Hindu University.

Like the unnamed protagonist in the novel, who sometimes referred to himself as Phaedrus (a name inspired by Plato's Dialogues),  Pirsig was a brilliant thinker with a high IQ who eventually suffered a mental breakdown which was treated by electro-shock therapy that altered his personality. By delving deeply into undercurrents of thought, the novel can be seen as a detective story of a man in search of himself.

Robert M. Pirsig, 1975
The title of the book was a play on another popular tome Zen and the Art of Archery (1971). Pirsig's playfulness was also evident in the forward in which the author wrote:

"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles either.”
But the book contemplated how man relates to machines, the roots of our culture and what inspires madness.

Plato & Aristotle "The School of Athens" Raphael (1510)
Phaedrus ordered existence between "classic" values (like rational problem solving in fixing motorcycles) and "romantic values" (like beauty and the arts). This philosophical chautauqua ("circus of ideas) which Phaedrus grappled with in his deep thoughts was how the Western mind had separated ordinary experiences from transcendent experiences because Plato and Aristotle had done so. Moreover, the mind-body dualism championed by the Greeks stoked a mental civil war which stripped rationality from its spiritual underpinnings and spirituality of its reason.

What man really ought to strive for is quality.  As Pirsig contemplated:

"Quality . . . you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist."

The book became a phenomenon which the author later described as a “kulturbarer" (Swedish for culture bearer), which developed a near cult popularity amongst hippies.  Pirsig mused: “I expressed what I thought were my prime thoughts and they turned out to be the prime thoughts of everybody else." Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance truly appealed to Baby Boomers. When the novel was first published, New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote: 

"[H]owever impressive are the seductive powers with which Mr. Pirsig engages us in his motorcycle trip, they are nothing compared to the skill with which he interests us in his philosophic trip... when [Pirsig] comes to grips with the hard philosophical conundrums raised by the 1960's, he can be electrifying." 
 When reflecting on the impact of ZAMM, Todd Gitlin, a counter cultural sociologist speculated that by blending the deep thoughts with the drudgery of daily life, such as motorcycle maintenance:  "Pirsig provided a kind of soft landing from the euphoric stratosphere of the late ’60s into the real world of adult life.”

The counter cultural novel sold over one million books in the first year of its publication and sold several million more since then.  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became  the biggest selling philosophy book of all times and remained on the best sellers list for over a decade. This is remarkable for a manuscript which was rejected by 121 different publishers before William Morrow signed hi for a small $3,000 advance.

After the unexpected success of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig won a Guggenheim fellowship, some fortune and unwanted fame. Pirsig got so freaked out by what his neighbors called "Pirsig Pilgrims" to his Minneapolis home that he eventually packed his bags and would live in a camper or a sailboat for months.  Pirsig spent the last 30 years of his life in a small town in Southern Maine

Pirsig wrote one other book, Lila- An Inquiry into Morals (1991), which achieved neither the same success nor cultural impact.  But sometimes one oeuvre is enough to make one's mark on the world. 

Personally, I found Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to be a highly influential book. Believe it or not, it served as a textbook for an Advanced Placement American History course in high school. Despite the unorthodox textbook, I achieved highest marks on the exam as it honed in me an incredible analytical inclination which remains with me to this day (sometimes to the consternation of those close to me).  

While I may not be an adherent to Zen Buddhism, nor will anyone catch me fixing motor scooters or the ilk, I am graced by the idea that there is a nexus between the simply joys and drudgery of daily life and the transcendent. More than a quarter century later, I am still inspired by a quest for quality. To be so deeply impacted by a book demonstrates its importance. 

Robert M. Pirsig on Life

H/T: New York Times