Saturday, January 21, 2017

When a New President, Dancing With His Wife, Was Cut In On by an Army Staff Sergeant

I found this part of last night's Armed Services Ball to be entertaining and even moving.

It began with Melania Trump making the best speech of the day. Here it is in its entirety:
Thank you all for your service. 
I am honored to be your first lady 
We will fight. We will win. And we will make America great again.
The mostly military audience loved it.

There is a certain amount of back and forth on the internet about whether comparing Melania Trump favorably to Michelle Obama is politically biased, sexist (overemphasizing her looks) or even racist. Now, Melania Trump is obviously a beautiful woman, as many also thought Michelle Obama was. But Melania also has an obvious grace, dignity and class that is quite striking and palpable. And that has nothing to do with politics or genes.

I'll take those three lines, above, over the last eight years of blather any time. And if you think the statement was brief because Mrs. Trump might have been at a loss for words, remember that she knows six languages.

Then the First Couple started to dance to the lovely Whitney Houston song, "I Will Always Love You." As is the tradition, they danced alone for a few minutes. Then Mr. and Mrs. Pence came out, followed shortly thereafter by their families.

But an equal number of unformed men and women from all branches of the military also walked out onto the stage. Two of them headed for the First Couple, where they proceeded to "cut in." And the others found partners among the family members.

The President danced with U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Catherine Cartmell of Newport, Rhode Island. Mrs. Trump danced with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jose A. Medina of Ponce, Puerto Rico.

I wonder how one gets that honor. It will be quite a story for their kids.

If you haven't seen it already, I'll think you'll enjoy this short video.  

EXCLUSIVE: Shadilay! Pepe the Frog Hacks Women's March

UPDATE (3:25 PM CST): The hack is no more.

Today, thousands of fema-fascistos from all over the country descended on Washington for the post-inauguration "Women's March."

It's the Frumpsters vs. the Trumpsters.

They're marching against racial profiling, racist cops, abortion restrictions, climate change and Islamophobia. They're marching for Indians, unions, immigrants, transgenders, artists, Chicanas and endangered sea creatures.

I'm not sure why "Women" is in the title. Maybe it's just a marketing thing.   

The Women's March also has over 600 "Sister Marches" in all fifty states and many countries. Indeed, all seven continents are covered, with "eco-visitors" on an expedition ship actually holding two "marches" in the Ross Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula.

There's also a march in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Or so it seems.

This intrigued me when I saw it on the map. You can organize a leftist "Women's March" in Saudi Arabia? You can really do that?

But if one clicks through from the official site of the march, one finds that the Women's Sister March Riyadh is labeled "Shadilay - build the wall" and has a smiling and dancing Pepe the frog as its mascot. The Event was created by "Pepe The Frog" from "Pidgin, Saudi Arabia."

Pepe the Frog and his slogan "Shadilay" are surrealist alt-right pro-Trump memes.

The email contact for the march is a certain Hakim was actually interviewed three days ago for Romper:
"My friends and I have want to help the American women on their march against Donald Trump," wrote Aaminah Hakim, organizer of the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia sister march. "Unfortunately, we do not live in America; making us not able to match alongside the American women. But we can still march in solidarity with you! As of now, only a total of four of us (this including me) will march, but we hope to go as high as 1,000." More than 800 people have registered for the Riyadh march thus far.
Either Hakim is a sly Saudi-Arabian pro-Trump provocateur, or her particular page was hacked by Pepe. Either way, seeing Pepe the Frog dance a jig across Women's March Riyadh is very funny.

Of course, Islam is not very funny, especially for women. And people who march for women's rights while also marching for an ideology that is currently denying rights to hundreds of millions of women are also not very funny.

But that doesn't mean we can't laugh at them.


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Creepiest Defense Yet of Amoris Laetitia

Fr. Rogers of the College of Holy Cross

A certain Fr. Michael J. Rogers S.J. just published the creepiest defense yet of Amoris Laetitia. It was posted on Crux, which in fairness has published a diversity of views recently, some of them useful.

The basic idea of the article is that Catholic documents should read like the prose equivalents of 1970's era struggle sessions. Amoris is "murky," which is just how it should be. Teachers shouldn't teach by force unless you ask the wrong question, in which case you're expelled from the room and the rest of the class moves on.

The argument (such as it is) deserves mockery. Fr. Rogers deserves a class monitor. Not for his sake but for that of the kids. 

The actual text of the article is in black. My annotations are in red.
Pope Francis knew what he was doing in writing a document that provides few clear answers, while inviting the faithful to be concerned with the movements of the Spirit. He knows full well that life in the Spirit leads to the living of the law in its fullest, richest sense. Well, he didn't really write it, but fair enough. However, is this Catholicism or something else?
For three glorious years, I was a high school teacher. During those years I taught Religious Education to Freshmen and Sophomores at Boston College High School, and I have to admit that, while I genuinely loved my students and am still in touch with a good number of them, there was one type of question that came from them that I couldn’t stand. Glorious...genuinely loved my still in touch. This creeps me out.
Inevitably, I would get it before each test and usually, it had the same foundational reality foundational reality?. It would go something like this: “Mr. (I wasn’t a priest yet) Rogers, how do we answer the essay question?”
But there was no right or wrong way to answer the questions I posed them. There were certain guidelines that showed me that a student had engaged the material, had thought about it, and generally understood what it was about. Writing good essays (whatever the answers are supposed to be, or not supposed to be or whatever) is not merely about "engagement" with the material, etc. It's about giving logical arguments, expressing the arguments in good English, writing with effectiveness and style, and so on. And I should add, from someone who graded hundreds of philosophy papers, imprecision and ambiguity in defense of one's thesis, is usually a bad thing. Why was "Mr. Rogers" getting paid to not teach these things to his students? 
Some essays were, of course, better than others, but much more often than not they were good, honest attempts at answering the question such that the students received passing, and usually very good, grades. I'm sure being able to give "good, honest attempts" served his students well in college. 
The problem with the aforementioned question, though, was that underneath it was also the implicit question: “Could you please just give us the answer, or tell us what you want to hear so that we’ll get an A?” My students wanted answers. What idiots. But we still stay in touch. 
It’s not that easy. Actually, on certain issues, it is.
As any teacher will tell you, most of what you do when you try to teach is not merely delivering content nor is it pouring facts and figures into the brains of the youth so that they can spit them back. The educational project is rather about helping young people learn how to think and giving them the practical tools that they need to think critically. That's true to an extent, again depending on the subject or topic. But only to an extent. If you're teaching students the Catechism, you're teaching students the Catechism, not primarily teaching them to think critically about the Catechism.
It is never ultimately about passing a class, but rather, as most educators worth their salt will tell you, it is about passing at life. Puke. 
The image of those students, asking for the answers and not willing to struggle with the material Mao more than ever is, however, an image that came to mind several weeks ago when I deigned deigned? to post on twitter that the debate over Amoris Laetitia had gotten out of hand, and that it is time to accept the document and move on. What ever happened to thinking critically? 
The responses that I received pointed to a need for clarity, they demanded that I remove my tweet, and hounded me, many over the course of days, implying that such a lack of clarity was putting souls at risk. Full disclosure: I only made a few "demands" and they were written in pasted newsprint. And I only left ten messages on his cell phone, which I wouldn't call "hounding." 
The truth is that Amoris Laetitia is a murky document, it doesn’t give us quick and easy answers to our questions, and even famous footnote 351, which many take to be the place where the Holy Father allows divorced and remarried people to receive communion, is not obviously clear. This unfortunately reminds me of my kids' bathtub. But let's move on. 
Amoris Laetitia is a murky document second occurrence of "murky" - stop!, and how could it be anything but? It talks about some of the most wonderful and messy experiences of human life, places where things aren’t always immediately apparent, and where most of us are forced to simply do our best, hoping against hope that it is enough. Puke, again. Plus, divorce isn't wonderful, you stupid Jesuit. 
Pope Francis, having been both a pastor and a teacher before his role as universal teacher and pastor, knew full well what he was doing in writing a document which provides few clear answers while leaving the door open for the faithful to be concerned not so much with the letter of the law, but with the movements of the Spirit, knowing full well that life in the Spirit leads to the living of the law in its fullest, richest sense. That's deja-vu all over again (see the first paragraph, above). He taught writing? 
Of course, the problem with such an approach, in the classroom as much as in regular life, is that the obsession with having the correct answer, the need to be right, can often leave one missing the forest for the trees. People who seek the truth are irrationally obsessed. 
The need to be right, or more clever than the teacher my students tried to win, but I showed them means that those who worry about the famous footnote neglect that the document as a whole attempts to give families the tools that they need to never have to worry about that particular situation. Is he really arguing that people who truly "engage" with Amoris Laetitia will never get divorced?  
To paraphrase Cardinal Kevin Farrell in a recent Crux interview, the whole point of the document is to never have to concern oneself with being right about what footnote 351 does or doesn’t provide. Do you understand, Grasshopper?
If we spend time focused on one tree, or one footnote, we lose sight of the forest, or the document, which surrounds it. Yes master. I grock it. 
The goal of education, of teaching, whether it is in the classroom, the pulpit, or in a document like Amoris Laetitia, is not the memorization of rote facts, nor is it hoped that students will merely always be somehow justified because they are “right.”
Rather, the pedagogical enterprise is about imparting the skills and values that allow people to flourish as human beings. 
In short, the goal that is missed by so many critics of Amoris Laetitia is to help people be better rather than to be right.
The claim here, (such as it is) is insane. As if the Ten Commandments themselves should be criticized for literally inscribing rules into stone.
"Mr. Jesuit: Is it okay if I bludgeon my grandmother to death in order to steal her money and go on a date with Suzy?"
"I think it's better if you learn that for yourself."
"Mr. Jesuit: Is it okay if I sleep with Suzy tonight?"
"There are no right or wrong answers."
"Mr. Jesuit: Is it okay if I sleep with Johnny tonight?"
"That's a good question. Let's discuss it privately in my office."

I Was Alive and I Waited for This

And, yes, it's happening right here, right now.

In one hour, Donald Trump will take the Oath of Office.

Here is the Fox News Schedule (all times are in Eastern) for the remainder of the festivities. For all of its issues, Fox News is still the place to watch.
Friday, January 20 
8:30 a.m. - Private prayer service for Trump and his family at St. John’s Episcopal Church 
9:30 a.m. - Coffee date at the White House between the incoming and outgoing presidents 
11:30 a.m. - Swearing-in ceremony, with performances by Jackie Evancho, The Rockettes and more 
12:00 p.m. - Oath of office and Trump's inaugural address 
Afterward, Trump and Pence will attend the Congressional Lunch in the Capitol. 
3:00 p.m. - Inaugural parade 
7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. - Inaugural balls, which will be attended by the president-elect, vice president-elect and their wives. Below is information from the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee: 
The President-elect and Mrs. Trump and Vice President-elect and Mrs. Pence plan to attend all three inaugural balls to join in ringing in a new day in America.
Liberty and Freedom: The Official Presidential Inaugural Balls will take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and, for the first time ever, the Presidential Inaugural Committee will provide all television networks the right to freely air the live two-hour show simultaneously in both balls, allowing Americans throughout the country to watch the President’s remarks and first dance with the First Lady. 
Liberty and Freedom: The Official Presidential Inaugural Balls will also feature special appearances from Sam Moore, Tim Rushlow and his Big Band, Silhouettes, The Rockettes, Pelican212, The Piano Guys, Circus 1903, Cache Olson, Lexi Walker, and Erin Boheme. The Salute to Our Armed Services Ball will feature special performances from Tony Orlando and Josh Weathers. 
The Salute To Our Armed Services Ball will take place at the National Building Museum. This ball is by invitation only, and tickets are being provided free of charge by the Presidential Inaugural Committee to invited guests, who include active duty and reserve military, Medal of Honor recipients, wounded warriors, military families, veterans, and first responders. 
Saturday, January 21 
10:00 a.m. - National Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral... we'll have LIVE coverage throughout the day starting at 6:00 a.m. ET on "Fox & Friends Weekend" and followed at 10:00 a.m. ET by Neil Cavuto on "The Cost of Freedom." 
You can also watch the ceremonies live at or on the Fox News Facebook page and interact with us on Twitter using #Trump45.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Former Tallest Building in Tehran Collapses in Horrific Fire - Perhaps 30+ Firefighters Killed

The iconic Plasco Building, a fifteen-story concrete and steel-framed building in downtown Tehran, and the tallest building in the city from 1960 to 1963 collapsed earlier this morning in an horrific fire.

The collapse was witnessed by thousands on the ground and recorded live by hundreds of sources.

Though most news stories aren't mentioning it, it is of course impossible not to immediately think of the Trade Center collapse.

In some ways the cases are similar. They both happened on a sunny morning and were witnessed in awe and horror by commuters. In one of the videos, an unseen voice wails in Farsi as the Plasco Building starts to fall. Though I can't say precisely what he said, the conveyed emotion was eerily the same as that expressed in some of the most well-known videos from 9/11.

As with 9/11, I assume this was an unprecedented tragedy for Tehran's firefighters. Reports have varied as to casualties but it's clear that many died.

There's some debate on the internet as to whether or not Plastco had a steel frame. I assume it did as it would be hard to construct a 15-story building without one. It appears as if the fire melted the metal frame past the breaking point.

Of course a fifteen-story "skyscraper" doesn't seem high by modern American standards. And Tehran itself now has many taller buildings and towers. Some of the firefighters were actually able to spray water through the top windows of the building from cranes, and indeed one narrowly missed perishing as the wall collapsed next to his elevated platform.

Obviously, this tragedy was on a much smaller scale than that of 9/11, and today's fire was a "mere" disaster, not a terrorist attack. Many of those in the Middle-East now mourning the Plasco collapse were cheering the collapse of the Twin Towers.

But that makes no difference to the firefighters who died today or their family members.

The building was built by Jewish businessman, Habib Elghanian who named it after his plastics company.

That was in the days when Jews were allowed to build skyscrapers in the Muslim Middle-East.

Elghanian would later be executed for "espionage" in an anti-Jewish purge shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Here is dramatic footage of the collapse on live television:

And here is the latest from Reuters via the Daily Mail:
Troops, rescuers search for trapped firefighters after Iran building collapse 
By Parisa Hafezi 
ANKARA, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Soldiers, sniffer dogs and rescue workers searched for trapped firefighters and medics treated dozens of casualties after a blazing high-rise building collapsed in downtown Tehran on Thursday. 
One witness described the 17-storey commercial building's collapse as like a "scene from a horror movie." 
State TV reported that at least 75 people, including 45 firefighters, had been hurt when the building came crashing down in a giant cloud of dust early on Thursday morning. 
Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said there were about 25 firefighters trapped under rubble and the semi-official Tasnim news agency said troops had been sent to help dig through the ruins. 
One of the first firefighters to be reached shouted "leave me alone, let me go back inside and save my trapped colleagues" as he was brought out, Tasnim reported. 
Most of the hurt had been taken to hospital and many were quickly discharged, state TV said. 
An electrical short circuit caused the fire, Tasnim said, citing an official in the Tehran governor's office. Reuters could not immediately verify the cause. 
Earlier, President Hassan Rouhani had ordered an "immediate investigation" and compensation for those affected. 
The building's occupants were evacuated but firefighters had still been trying to control the fire when the building came down. 
State TV said the occupants included garment manufacturers and broadcast footage of business owners trying to re-enter the wreckage. 
Sniffer dogs searched for signs of survivors buried under giant slabs of concrete and heaps of twisted metal. The rescue operation could last more than two days, state TV said. 
The Plasco building in southern Tehran was more than 50 years old. Tasnim said it "had caught fire in the past". 
A fire department spokesman told state TV that the building's tenants "had been warned repeatedly in the past months by the municipality to evacuate the building because of safety concerns." 
The owner of a nearby grocery store, forced by police to leave the area, told Reuters by telephone that "it was like a horror movie. The building collapsed in front of me." 
The semi-official Fars news agency said police had cordoned off the British and Turkish Embassies that are located near the Plasco building. 
"The flames could be seen kilometers away from the old building," the Fars news agency reported. (Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Richard Lough)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Introducing Papa Francis Girl

Malta, the Luther stamp, yet another review of Silence...

Just when you thought 2017 couldn't get any worse...

...I present to you, Emily Clarke.

I like Obama Girl better.

I liked the early Cindy Lauper better.

Clarke is a quasi-successful Irish singing personality who composed and sings the official anthem for Limerick.

She seems to be a faithful Catholic in many ways.

But she does appear to have this one little, ahem, obsession...

By the way, at the precise moment where she cozies up to the Mercy Logo in her slinky red dress and gives it the once over, the lyrics of the song ring out "...and how we went astray."

Next up, Austen Ivereigh and "Strangers in the Night."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Chelsea Manning Commutation: Chivalry Isn't Dead

Obama just commuted much of Bradley/Chelsea Manning's sentence for leaking classified military material.

Even though Manning is, as far as I know, still anatomically a guy, I'm going to call her a girl.

In truth, I think she looks better as a girl.

What are we to make of this?

Leaving Manning out of it for the moment, the White House has bragged that Obama has commuted more sentences than all of the last twelve presidents combined.

Whether that's good or bad, I think it's an odd thing to brag about. If giving people a "second chance" is a good thing, why not go all the way and pardon everybody? Or, at least 50%? Or at least 5%? Or even 1%? (As opposed to a fraction of 1%.)

I'm not being snarky here. I'm honestly asking. If I don't understand the logic, pardon me.

Obama also commuted the sentence of a Puerto Rican terrorist who pointedly refused to renounce terrorism. Google "Oscar Lopes Rivera". Rivera rejected an earlier commutation because it was conditional on him making a vow he didn't want to make. He served an extra 16 years for that. I don't think much of Rivera, his cause or his murderous principles, but in a sense he has more honor than Obama.

But back to Manning.

It's not unreasonable to claim that a sentence of 35 years for what she is excessive. It's out of line with some other cases. She didn't sell secrets to hostile foreign governments but rather leaked information (much of which was embarrassing and tragic but also true) to Wikileaks. She violated an oath. She broke the law. But it isn't clear to me that she "put American servicemen in danger" (as many now assert). Espionage is espionage, but not every leaker deserves 35 years in prison.

What Obama, Hillary Clinton and others have done to endanger our national security and the lives of Americans (Hillary actually directly got Americans killed and then lied about it) for a variety of motives was far worse. It has arguably treasonous. Tell me again how many years they're getting?

Manning actually would have been eligible for release anyway in only two more years (which either argues for or argues against the case for commutation depending on how you look at it).

Does she deserve clemency because she's "transgender"? Of course not. I reject that particular argument entirely. But by the same token, that doesn't mean she should be penalized for it. As it were.

Another twist here is that Julian Assange promised to allow himself to be extradited to the United States if Manning was given clemency.

Manning was given clemency.

What will Assange now do?