Monday, March 28, 2011

Corporate News Is News ?

Recommended TV and Internet viewing for those wishing for news of what is happening other than Hollywood gossip.

Get yourself to television programs like "Democracy Now!" Grit TV and Thom Hartmann on channels like FREE SPEECH TV and LINK TV.

Corporate interests have not helped us learn much regarding what is going on in the world lIke they should: ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, MSNBC, etc. All these are short on what is happening. Their editing is not good for us common folk.

For good reporting the BBC-TV or BBC AMERICA are great. And generally PBS programs great, too. BBC-AMERICA is now on most PBS stations. An informed public can avoid wars and other odd things legislators come up with all the time.

All these are on the Internet also. Get informed.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wisdom from the silver screen

World knowledge gained from the silver screen

I was fortunate to get an early start on study of the history of the world. Every Saturday night mother took my sister and I to a double-feature at the one-aisled Queen Theater on Brownwood’s Center Avenue.

Out on the Brady highway Camp Bowie was in full swing and the town was full of young troopers, especially on Saturday night. While dad cut hair we enjoyed the movies. Then we all rode home together in our 1936 four-door Plymouth. Evidently the new military camp did not have good barbers, for dad’s shop never closed before nine-thirty on Saturdays.

I do not know if dad bought the Plymouth new or used. According to an old 1936 newspaper ad the new ones sold for $510. (In those days dad hardly cleared forty to fifty dollars a week – but then, a dollar was worth a dollar.)

Brownwood’s Center Avenue alone had six movie houses in those days. (For more on the subject see my book, “Along the Way.”) Also the Grenada, owned by movie starlet Jennifer Jones’ father, was a block off Center. All this and two drive-ins.

It is evident that I had plenty of places to do research in my early years. Research from the silver screen planted in my heart and soul what the world was all about.

Recently a friend took a holiday to Morocco. His trip may have been a good one, but for me he wasted his money. He did not see either Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman. In my ignorance I ask about the famous Casbah and learned it was in Algiers. But I really believe Hope and Crosby ran through the Casbah in their movie, “The Road to Morocco.”

My knowledge of the rest of Africa was reinforced with the Tarzan movies. I did additional research on Edger Rice Burroughs’ hero from his 1918 “Tarzan of the Apes.” (I still have six of the series, published in 1918 and the 1920s. They are insured.)

It took a while but I finally saw all 52 “official” films of the Tarzan legend. Johnny Weissmuller, won five Olympic gold medals and set 67 world records in the 1920's, was my favorite Tarzan. Among the many who played Tarzan were Herman Brix (later wisely changed his name to Bruce Bennett); Buster Crabbe (Clarence Linden Crabbe II, the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles he won a gold medal in the 400 meter freestyle setting a new world record); and handsome Lex Barker (Born Alexander Crichlow Barker, Jr).

The Queen double features also had a 15-minute serial every Saturday. When the serial was not about the Lone Ranger (where I learned much about Texas) or Flash Gordon (space knowledge), it was an episodic Tarzan serial. These always left the hero in a horrible fix facing death. But the hero always got out of it the following Saturday.

Since this is being published in Texas there is no need to relate all I learned about this great state and the West. Randolph Scott was born in Virginia, but, to me, he was a Texan. It was a long time before the Indians ever won a battle in cowboy pictures. They were depicted as less than human; rampaging savages and fiends as all of America’s enemies are depicted. See “Sands of Iwo Jima” or any John Wayne war film whuppin’ up on “Japs.”

The spaghetti western, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” had a message, but my poor Italian kept me from knowing what it was. Good prevailed and the good guys with the white hats won out against the bad guys in the last reel. (Buck Jones; William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy; Bob Livingstone (one of the Three Musketeers) and Alabama’s Johnny Mack Brown, who was most valuable player in the 1926 Rose Bowl upset of the Washington Huskies.

Certainly I would be as dumb on world affairs as Michelle Bachmann, had it not been for the cinema. Happy April Fools Day.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Love of war root of all evil

The events of recent weeks in North Africa and other Middle East countries show the inner desire of peoples everywhere is to be free and not dictated in everything they say and do. This is what could have happened in Iraq had some rather dim-witted folks in the United States government not gone to war. It was becoming a reality for the people of Iran back in 1953 when USA agents ousted a fully democratically-elected leader and brought the Shah back. The Shah killed more than the Mullahs have.

How many times does it have to be said? War solves nothing. War breeds more war. War is a hell far more frightening than that preached from the backwoods of East Texas. Or, for that matter anywhere hell is mentioned. It shows man's inability to learn from the past. It reveals how little men can be.

There is nothing heroic about war. Those who love war are not the kind of people any country needs in leadership. I could (and will) paraphrase the Bible verse: "THE LOVE OF WAR IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL."

SMU's Kaifeng China Torah

The Jews in China

In the 1950s, on a train from Taipei, Taiwan, to Kaohsiung, SBC missionary Pearl Johnson of South Carolina, told me about the Jewish congregations in Kaifeng, China. In the 1930s, when she was a missionary in Shandong and Guangdong provinces, she said there were about seven or eight Jewish families still in the city of Kaifeng. That started me wanting to know more about the Jews in China.

In the early1980s I was able to go to Mainland China. I flew into the city of Zhengzhou and took a bus fifty miles to Kaifeng. After visiting with an old pastor who was ill, I walked the Jiao Jing Alley in Kaifeng, the center of Jewish activity, but saw no evidence of the ancient Israelites. Their stone monuments and Torahs had long ago been purchased or stolen mostly by Europeans.

(A Kaifeng Torah is in the Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Texas. It was a special treat to see it once. It is Scroll 12 and includes Genesis. The history of how it came to be in Texas is as interesting a tale as the story of Jews thriving in China.)

In Beijing I met Zhao Shaowei, wife of Wu Jian, a former manager of the Jinling Hotel of Nanjing, China. Ms. Zhao was tall for a Chinese and had distinctly western features. She knew she was a descendant of the ancient colony of Jews in the city of Kaifeng. Both her mother and grandmother told her about the Passover meal and of eating, at times, baked bread without salt.

The West learned of the Israelite’s existence in China in the early 17th century. Pioneer Catholic missionary, Mateo Ricci, while visiting with a Kaifeng Jew who had a Chinese name, learned of their presence. The Jew styled himself an Israelite. The term “Jew” meant nothing to him. He told Ricci of their Hebrew Torahs and what he could remember of their history, which turned out to be little more than stone-carved monuments dated 1489 and 1663. Later investigations revealed the largest synagogue ever built to have been in Kaifeng.

The synagogue was established in the year 1163. The structure was destroyed several times, but always rebuilt. A 1489 inscription says the Jews arrived in Kaifeng during the Song dynasty (960 to 1126 AD). There were two stone monuments erected in the synagogue courtyard in 1663. On the stele they recounted the decades it took to rebuild the synagogue and rewrite the scrolls. By the 1850s the Kaifeng Jews referred to themselves as “the eight clans” with Zhao Shaowei’s surname being among them.

Consider the possibility of “The Lost Tribe of Israel” ending up in China. Descendents of the vanquished Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 724 BC could have migrated farther east and ended up in a cosmopolitan China. Maybe they were not lost, but living in settlements in Persia, Afghanistan, India and China.

Later migrations could have begun with the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and Judean exile in Babylon. Another good time for leaving home was in 70 AD as the Romans destroyed the second Temple.

Then again, It is more than probable that during the years of the Crusades, when Muslims and European Crusaders were fighting over who should “protect the holy places” of the Holy Land, Jews left in droves. Generation after generation they kept moving.

By the time of Jesuit Father Ricci, the Jewish congregation was on the brink of extinction, partly from the lack of rabbis who could read the Hebrew Torah and lead the services. Centuries of intermarriage with the Chinese had a part in melding the two cultures.

In China, the Hebrew people found the only place on earth where they were accepted and not persecuted. Their search, and ours, for peace and a normal life continues, as does my love of history.


Mike Royko, Patron Saint of Columnists

Mike Royko: A straight talking columnist

The only way the late Chicago Tribune writer Mike Royko could ever be considered a saint is that he is the Patron Saint of columnists.

Mike Royko columns were syndicated in more than 600 newspapers across the country. He was a man of the common people and had a keen sense of justice. He was gritty, real and considered a plague on conniving or shady politicians or disreputable bureaucrats. His words were not always liked, but were always respected by most readers.

The conversation, if we can call it that, of today’s America, appears to be scrapping the bottom of the barrel of communication. Instead of self-restraining exchanges in politics, religion and social gatherings, there seems to be a spirit of one-up-man-ship. Calling each other names. Splitting hairs over inconsequential matters. Seeing the worst in anyone’s words or views (not our own), now rules the day.

In 1968, when the war in Vietnam was heating up, in the paddy fields there and the main streets here, the rhetoric could not be heard for its volume. Lots of heat but little light. Add to that the emerging civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson wanted out. His announcement said it all: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Mike Royko wrote a column that year which is as up-to-date as if it were written this morning. Here is an excerpt of that column from Richard Ciccone’s book “Royko.” Ciccone is a veteran Chicago newsman. Three paragraphs of a Royko column still timely after 43 years is re-printed in Ciccone’s book:

“Unrestrained hate has become the dominant emotion in this splintered country. Races hate, age groups hate, political extremists hate. And when they aren’t hating each other, they have been turning it on LBJ. He more than anyone else has felt it . . .

“Maybe he wasn’t the best President we might have had.

“But we sure as hell aren’t the best people a President has ever had.”

Royko found universal truths in the lives of the people of his Chicago. He took up their causes with a spicy, sarcastic, sardonic but always with his own wit and humor. For those who missed out on his five columns a week for more than 30 years, many are reprinted in book form, such as “Early Royko: Up Against it in Chicago,” “For the Love of Mike: More of The Best of Mike Royko” and “One More Time: The Best of Royko.”

“His columns could make a person laugh or cry, sympathize or agonize, but they were always a joy to read” – Polish American Journal.

Some of Royko’s quotes that will live forever:

“Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers, and cheating on your income tax.”

“I never went to a John Wayne movie to find a philosophy to live by or to absorb a profound message. I went for the simple pleasure of spending a couple of hours seeing the bad guys lose.”

“It's been my policy to view the Internet not as an 'information highway,' but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”

And now, 14 years after his death the ‘electronic asylum’ is filled with his babbling --- only of a much better quality – the quality of a saint who knew his way around.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

LENT: A Renewal for Life

Lent, a time for renewal of life

Last Wednesday Christians of all stripes, convictions, attitudes and degrees of faith began the 40 days of Lent that leads to Easter Sunday. The Resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the “reason for the season,” to use an overused Christmas festival phrase.

In the early churches of the Middle East, the celebration of the resurrection was far more important than the occasion of the Christ child’s birth.

Traditionally the time of Lent began as a time of prayer, meditation and personal desires for spiritual renewal. Gradually some believers gave up a favorite food (one is giving up Facebook) in order to “observe” the event and for some strange reason many still think giving up something up as a way to “prepare for Easter.” (Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and some Protestants encourage their flocks in this manner – make some kind of sacrifice during Lent, as Jesus did when he began his earthly ministry.) With the passage of the centuries superstitions easily got wrapped around Easter as well as Christmas.

"What did you give up for Lent?" Since I grew up as a Baptist, the question held no meaning for me. For the Bible does not mention a season of Lent. In the first century Lent was two or three days of seeking a closer walk with the Lord, preparing the heart for Resurrection Sunday. As the church grew in influence and material power the observance went for weeks, finally settling on a symbolic 40 days.

In my Christian walk it has taken too long to fully appreciate the season leading up to Easter. It is at the very center of the “everlasting life” promised of John the Beloved disciple.

The last few years I have read and appreciated Peter J. Gomes’ books. I was sadden to read of his death at 68 on Feb. 28. His death of stroke complications, at such an early age, is a great loss for Harvard University and all Christian communities. After serving at Tuskegee Institute, he went to Harvard in 1970 and from 1975 the minister of The Memorial Church of Harvard as well as professor of Christian morals.
The Los Angeles Times said Gomes “was never one to let circumstances or the opinions of others dictate his sense of himself. He was a black Republican, a Baptist preacher in a stronghold of secularism, a descendant of escaped slaves who rose to become president of the Pilgrim Society.”

In his book “Strength for the Journey,” Gomes said much that is fitting as we set out on our Lenten journey. He writes: “Our Lord is not indifferent to our anxieties and our needs … Do you think that God does not know you are worried about your grades? Of course not, God hopes you will do something about it.” There is depth in his humor that all good teachers have.

By giving God priority we will gain perspective and everything else will fall into place … one thing that will fall into place is that we realize how much we have been given, how blessed we are at this moment.” He added that Christians suffer from anxiety, but also from amnesia, “forgetting all his benefits.”

In Gomes’ book, “Sermons, Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living,” he called his sermon on Easter, “When Life Begins.” God knows how to get our attention. God does not begin Easter with a peaceful rising of the sun. He begins it with an earthquake! The gospel says, “Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, … the angel of the Lord came down and rolled away the stone and sat on it!

“Easter Christians should realize that we do not have to die to live. You can begin it right now, right here. Live life while you are still alive. Life began for the disciples when they stopped being afraid.” Begin to live for reality as Easter approaches and then nourish God’s presence all year long.

Monday, March 7, 2011

San Angelo Presbyterian Challenge

First appeared in the San Angelo Standard-Times Texas, USA

The Challenge at First Presbyterian Church and an old Scottish Painter

Every now and again there comes into our lives an event that causes us to “study ‘bout” it, as my dear grandmother often said. And when the tale is grim and not to our liking, or interferes with our lives and routine, a great deal of humor is desperately needed at such a time. A sense of humor helps offset an appalling, heartbreaking catastrophe.

I am not sure how many Tom Green County citizens are aware of the local church that almost fell in on itself. It was within inches of crumbling rocks, bricks and clouds of dust, showers of splinters and a million and one stained glass fragments. The fragility of the 103-plus year-old wooden beams holding things together were evidently giving up the ghost. This “Sword of Damocles” (to paraphrase the ancients) became evident last summer to the fellowship of the First Presbyterian Church on the corner of College and Irving, San Angelo, Texas.

No, nothing fell on Pastor William Proctor’s head or crushed the pulpit while he was preaching. There was no panic in the pews. News of the urgency of the situation came as an announcement that the following Sunday worship services would be held in the Wood Fellowship Hall. The problem was discovered days earlier while some alert members were looking into another problem in the attic.

Apparently wood like people, with time, does reach a point of feebleness. As with humans the vulnerability of such frailty needs tender and delicate attention. As experts were brought in, the ailing beams were only part of the problem. Proctor told me that “the walls of the sanctuary were bowing out at the top by around four to six inches on each side – not a good situation.”

What could possibly be humorous about such a fate? Nothing. But the ailing wooden beams and my flabby muscles made it a perfect time to cease solving the word’s problems (for a season) and share with the readers three things:

(1) Share a harrowing local story. (April is the date Rev. Proctor hopes the sanctuary can be safe again and services held as usual. Watch for the announcement
(2) Remind us old fogies our muscles can be renewed just as wood beams, with attention.
(3) Share a funny old story. I do not know the author. It was sent to me by Perry Flippin, whom everybody knows is a former San Angelo Standard-Times editor. So if you don’t like the tale, blame him. Here is the story:

There was a Scottish tradesman, a painter called Jack, who was very interested in making a pound where he could. So he often would thin down his paint to make it go a wee bit further. As it happened, he got away with this for some time.

Eventually the Presbyterian Church decided to do a big restoration job on one of their biggest churches. Jack put in a painting bid and because his price was so competitive, he got the job. And so he set to, with a right good will, erecting the trestles and putting up the planks, and buying the paint and ... yes, I am sorry to say, thinning it down with the turpentine.

Well, Jack was up on the scaffolding, painting away, the job nearly done, when suddenly there was a horrendous clap of thunder. The sky opened and the rain poured down, washing the thin paint from all over the church and knocking Jack far off the scaffold to land on the lawn.

Now, Jack was no fool. He knew this was a judgment from the Almighty, so he fell on his knees and cried, "Oh, God! Forgive me! What should I do?"

And from the thunder, a mighty Voice spoke in answer to Jack the painter’s prayer: "Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!"

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