The dubious characters behind the sudden emergence of hydroxychloroquine as “America’s chemical savior,” and their legacy of providing medical “expertise” to the American public and their real motives. Read the rest of this entry »
The dubious characters behind the sudden emergence of hydroxychloroquine as “America’s chemical savior,” and their legacy of providing medical “expertise” to the American public and their real motives. Read the rest of this entry »
Blog friends, I know you have been patiently waiting on me forever to get SOMETHING published and out the door since I began writing around August-October 2011, and shut down the Future Quake radio show after seven years in February 2012, so I could focus on book writing. From that time, I had launched myself full-stop into writing what was intended to be a single book, and over time had grown into what currently comprises at least a 12-volume (with more to come) books series entitled, The Holy War Chronicles – A Spiritual View of the War on Terror. That series had come to comprise well over 4000 pages of research-based manuscripts by the fall of 2018. During the latter part of that period I began this blog to (a) let people (mostly long-time Future Quake friends) know my thoughts on a variety of current-event topics in recent years and days, and (b) to let people know I hadn’t died, or went into the Witness Protection Program, or “off the grid” (and I know some of you have since become disappointed that I am still breathing).
Since the last general election cycle, I began to post a few blog posts on various facets of what the public persona of the evangelical Christian community during the election time revealed about the state of their inner heart and priorities, and “first loves,” which were somewhat found to be some of my most unpopular and controversial views, writings and posts (on a site dedicated to controversial views, and a legacy of such from Future Quake as well). My good friend Adam Sayne of the Conspirinormal podcast told me he thought I should get some of this material, including deeper elements I had been pursuing beyond the blog posts, into a book before the Holy War Chronicles books, because of its relevance to the upcoming election cycle. I had originally planned to publish The Holy War Chronicles after I had finished writing the last volumes of it, because I knew I would have to “switch gears” to learn the ropes of formatting manuscripts for the latest grammar and syntax rules, and the expectations of modern books, as well as the mysteries of publishing major non-fiction works today, and also the marketing techniques via websites, podcasts, radio, Youtube and other venues. I was afraid that this old mind and withering memory would have a hard time “switching back and forth” between this world and the world of writing and researching, and the million details and process steps in all these facets (and believe me, I had no idea how involved it was). However, the perceived need that this work needed to “get out” expeditiously, no matter how controversial it appears to be to many of my old friends and many Christians (the controversy of such Bible-based material disturbs me even more than the material itself), led me to violate that rule, and time will tell if it was a mistake. This “new” subject matter, with the intention of it being yet another single book began to grow, as the data led me in new directions, until it comprises what apparently will solidify into three volumes, with about 80 percent of the material of Volume 2 and over 40-50 percent of Volume 3 having already been drafted, with the second volume hoped to be released before the end of the year and the third a reasonable time after that (if I have risen to any extent on the “learning curve” and can shorten this process going forward).
Here is a slightly-ambiguous and murky capsule of the book, from its back cover:
Why Do Many American Christians Today Oppose the Values of Jesus?
In recent years, why have most evangelical Christians been more concerned with political “winning” over soul-winning? Why have they been willing to “deal with the Devil” to further their interests and agenda, and disregard their call to “love thy neighbor,” and its impact on their witness to the world and reputation of the Church? Why do their calls to limit government assistance and citizen protections mirror those of the financial, business and wealth classes? Do these modern values reflect the sermons and gospel they hear on Sundays, or the “sermons” they hear on talk radio and cable news during the week, like the Pharisees whom Christ opposed? How did this “cognitive dissonance” arise in recent generations of Christians, and by whose hidden hands did they infiltrate the doors of the church?
These questions and others will be addressed in full in this first installment of the Two Masters and Two Gospels series, by a Bible-believing Christian researcher who has uncovered shocking influences and culprits from the darkest corners of both the Mammon-worshipping establishment and Gnostic counter-culture, into the minds of generations of clergy, and through them into the Christian community at large.
Here are a couple of reviews on the back of the book:
“Dr. Michael Bennett makes some bold and provocative claims in his new book….He documents how the messages of talk radio hosts have infiltrated the church and warns of the dangers of conflating the message of the Christ with the propaganda of the media and political systems. Bennett tells a disturbing narrative of how the message of Jesus was co-opted by those who sought wealth and power…In these polemic times, it is important to know the back story. Bennett fills in some of the gaps.” Martin Brooks, Interim President, Peace Catalyst International
“Every once in a while you read a book that fundamentally challenges and changes your world view. Two Masters and Two Gospels is one of that breed. It exposes the cynicism and hypocrisy of the so-called ‘religious’ right, and proves through meticulous research that for some, God is the ultimate brand, a tool for power and control with a big bank account attached. Those who knowingly and willingly abuse the trust and generosity of others who live their lives as true Christians, with grace, humility and love, deserve to be called out. And Mike Bennett isn’t afraid to do it. It’s an incredible read.” Ginny Welsch, Executive Director, WRFN-LPFM, Radio Free Nashville
A brief note to old friends: if you do not feel comfortable now jumping into a narrative that challenges your cherished Christian cultural presuppositions, even though it is wall-to-wall scriptural exhortations from both the Old and New Testaments, feel free to skip forward to the historical analysis that reveals little-known historical evidence of how Big Business and Wall Street starting buying out clergy back into the 1930s to fight their bad reputation after the Great Depression and New Deal provisions to help the unemployed, and the strange pagan-styled people who were employed to give spiritual guidance to the majority of our conservative clergy for over generation, as well as neo-Nazis and those of similar ilk who dominated Christian media from the 1930s to 1970s, forming the foundation of the Religious Right. Once you have tasted of almost 200 pages of major-league Future Quake weirdness in those sections (starting on page 186 in the paperback and the chapter on James Fifield), you might be in the proper mood to digest the early portions and the remainder of the book in the proper frame of mind.
The book can be obtained at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle ebook form at this link:
and at Barnes and Noble in paperback form at this link:
A version in EPUB ebook form for Barnes and Noble Nook, Apple and other venues is forthcoming, as well as hardcover versions as well.
Before I forget, here are the new websites to keep up to date with my book writing, starting with the site of my publishing imprint, Circumspect Press:
I also have my own author page, Mike Bennett Books:
Thanks so much, everybody, for being so patient, and for waiting for years to see me get something out (and having disappeared from this blog site for over a year). I also appreciate your support by obtaining a copy, either in paperback or ebook form of your choice (both are good, but I’m a paperback guy, plus the chapter headings and formatting looks so much better, and it has a BOSS index of players and subjects!).
A last word: please don’t pass judgment on the material until you have read and digested ALL OF IT (some have quit prematurely and pitched it across the room!), and please leave a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and let podcasts or radio shows (even TV shows!) you know that you would like to see me as a guest, or have book review sites review it, or at least pass on such contacts to me, so I can pursue them further. Thanks, friends!
Just this week, there was a report that came out about the growing crisis of the rise in suicide rates over the last two decades – a topic to add the broader mental health crisis that undergirds almost every major problem we have in our society today, in some form. This report from the government, as stated in various news media outlets, states that “Suicide rates increased by 25% across the United States over nearly two decades ending in 2016, according to research published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30%, the government report finds. More than half of those who died by suicide had not been diagnosed with a mental health condition”. Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, added that “Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the US right now, and it’s one of three causes that is actually increasing recently”, also noting that “The other two top 10 causes of death that are on the rise are Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdoses”. They note that in 2016 alone, about 45,000 lives were lost to suicide. The rapid increase is not limited to one culture or region of America, but rather spread across it, with the biggest increase being noted in North Dakota, and the highest increases in diverse places such as Idaho, Utah, Vermont and New Hampshire. Montana has the highest rates of suicide per capita, at over four times the rate of the lowest place – Washington D.C. They note that about half are accomplished via firearms, with strangling or hanging the second, with about 31% of the victims having opioids in their system. It notes that suicides are highest in men, but women are rising faster, and that 18% of all suicides were among veterans, even though they only make up 8.5% of the population. Another expert they cite notes that it is particularly problematic in rural areas, where mental health services can be scarce, and even if available, may be too expensive, difficult to reach due to transportation limitations, and subject to the reduced privacy in small towns whose residents observe who is parked at the one mental health clinic in town, and the stigma associated with it. They note that the occurrence of suicide is even affecting the bulk data of the overall life expectancy of Americans.
Within about a 24-hour period on either side of the release of this report, two celebrities – both seen as being highly successful and still effectual in the culture, and having overt successful personal relationships as well – committed suicide. Ironically, both purse designer Kate Spade (whom I knew nothing about) and Anthony Bourdain (whom I was fairly familiar with) chose the mode of hanging – a type of death fiercely avoided as a means of capital punishment, including by known criminals, for its grisly and unsavory nature; this includes the clever Nazi second-in-command to Hitler, Herman Goring, who cheated the gallows at Nuremberg in desperation, willingly choosing poisoning by his own hand. Others who chose this form of death by their own hand included comedian Robin Williams, actor David Carradine, the “D.C. Madam”, and a host of others.
So what is going on here? I am told that Kate Spade was sort of “on top of the world” in the designer field of fashion purses, not only in high society but amongst the everyday women we all live around, and a beloved figure throughout the clothing world. She and her husband had founded a successful handbag (supposedly “very affordable” at $150 to $450, I am told) line, and launched into a wide array of products, boutiques worldwide, and she even wrote three books on the subjects of etiquette, entertainment, and fashion—Manners, Occasions, and Style. She and her husband sold the business for a lot of money as she was the darling of the business world as well, to then focus on raising her daughter, and then started a new fashion company of footwear and purses with other investors, called Francis Valentine. In other words, she had found success, money, fame and wealth in her own creative venture, still popular and with business and creative clout, and able to express herself creatively in many forms, and yet finding time to create a family. She was only 55 years old, married for 24 years to Andy (brother of comedian/actor David Spade), and mother to a 13 year old daughter. However, her husband released a statement to the New York Times after her suicide, an excerpt of which is quoted below:
“…Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease…We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this…There were personal demons she was battling…For the past 10 months we had been living separately, but within a few blocks of each other. Bea was living with both of us and we saw each other or spoke every day. We ate many meals together as a family and continued to vacation together as a family. Our daughter was our priority. We were not legally separated, and never even discussed divorce. We were best friends trying to work through our problems in the best way we knew how. We were together for 35 years. We loved each other very much and simply needed a break. This is the truth…She was actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last 5 years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety. There was no substance or alcohol abuse. There were no business problems. We loved creating our businesses together. We were co-parenting our beautiful daughter.”
Ironically, the aforementioned CDC report mentions that chronically depressed people are typically not those who tend to lose their life to suicide. One thing that is not mentioned in her husband’s statement or other narratives of her lifestyle is any evidence of active religious participation on their behalf.
I am much more familiar with the story of Anthony Bourdain. As a “news hound” who typically has cable news on in the background (with sound either on or off) for all hours of the day, in recent years it always seemed to be plastered with Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” television program, running almost continuously on CNN. He came to CNN supposedly in 2013, bringing his combination travel-and-food show to the network – an unorthodox fit, but in tune with the new management’s desire to do more lengthy background news pieces like documentaries. It served as an offbeat, irreverent forum to visit far-flung places, or those in our back yards, and probe mysterious cultures, seeing exotic places and its common folk in action, and seeing the search for the culture’s gourmet and common street food as a backdrop to understand their cultural mindset. It talked to its local authors and journalists (sometimes under fire from their own governments) as well as chefs, street vendors, and mothers in their kitchens and dining rooms, discussing aspects of their cultures and daily lives heretofore unknown to average Americans, and the pressing political and cultural issues and dangers they were facing. It has been smashing ratings hit and recognized for its artistic merit, garnering five Emmy Awards, and certainly raising Bourdain’s respect and mystique, and allowing him virtual carte blanche and clout at the ailing network as a type of flagship program that added to their prestige.
With Bourdain’s show, viewers were able to see life in little-known places in all parts of the world, often traveling by austere means to very remote sites, seeing those for whom meeting Western visitors was not common, and explaining how food and its preparation helped explained their cultural history and their day-to-day life, while he chatted with locals (as seen in the pictures above), or their regional chefs, writers, politicians or even street vendors. Sometimes the political hotbeds he visited made news in and of themselves, as when he visited both Israel and Palestine, or Lebanon in the midst of their civil war. Sometimes, those who interacted with him paid a steep price for their honest public discussions with the plain-spoken Bourdain. Russian dissenting senior politician Boris Nemtsov, himself a brilliant scientist and successful reform politician, spoke honestly with Bourdain in 2014 about the gangster-like nature of Putin and details of his and the government’s corruption, as well as his understanding that his life was in danger; mere months after the show’s airing, Nemtsov was gunned down on the street with four slugs in his back, with later investigations suggesting government complicity. Similarly, Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post Tehran, Iran bureau chief, was arrested and jailed with his fellow journalist wife by authorities (for “propaganda against the establishment”) just a few weeks after Bourdain interviewed him with a frank but restrained discussion of the good and bad aspects of life in Iran (a show which also featured Bourdain hanging out with Iranian youths with hot-rodded American cars drag racing and eating pizza, in a typical (for him) type segment), and after much campaigning by Bourdain and others publicly, he was finally released around 18 months later. As a response, Rezaian (in the above linked article about him) says that Bourdain “changed his life”, calling him “one of the most beloved television personalities, and people, of our generation”, who “raised awareness in a different kind of way that nothing else could have”; he also said Bourdain helped him privately to re-integrate back into society after his arrest, and decided to have Bourdain publish a book about his experience.
On occasion, Boudain sought out those he idolized, drawing on his “bad-boy”, New York punk rock-loving past (which he still loves) by seeking out and finding punk rock legend Iggy Pop in Miami, discovering him aging quietly (and still amazed to be alive after his drug-addled younger life, like Bourdain) and eating healthy food, and enjoying the serenity of a modest breakfast and a quiet beach. Another icon of his he corralled was comedian Bill Murray, who shared his somewhat pedestrian yet offbeat lifestyle in his adopted Charleston, South Carolina. More likely, though, were the celebrity fans who sought out the “coolness” of Bourdain, and one of those evidently was President Barack Obama, whose staff arranged for Bourdain to eat with him in a “dive” in Hanoi, Vietnam, while there for a summit shortly before his departure from office. The experience of meeting and eating with Obama there was shared by Bourdain himself in an article he wrote, the following excerpts of which will give the reader a feel for the lack of pretense in Bordain himself and devil-may-care attitude, yet seriousness regarding things befalling the common man:
“Some people at the White House had reached out and hinted at the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we might find a time and a place where the two of us could sit down to a meal together. These discussions were, out of necessity, very closely held until the very last minute. CNN didn’t know. The producers, even the camera guys who were to shoot the scene, were not told until the day before. At no point did the White House, CNN, or anyone else, offer guidance, suggestions or ground rules for what I might talk to the President about. There may or may not have been an offer of a ride on Air Force One at one point. But I figured we’d look totally in the bag if we did that. You ride in a man’s car — or his plane — you owe him something. And it just seemed weird.”
“I’m not a journalist. Or a foreign policy wonk. My politics are my own. Contrary to the assertions of angry Twitter warriors who think I’m getting regular guidance from the “Communist News Network,” I’ve never once received a phone call or an e-mail or had a conversation that contained the words “wouldn’t it be a great idea if…?” or ” how about?” I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had as dining companions over the years everybody from Hezbollah supporters, communist functionaries, anti-Putin activists, cowboys, stoners, Christian militia leaders, feminists, Palestinians and Israeli settlers, to Ted Nugent. You like food and are reasonably nice at the table? You show me hospitality when I travel? I will sit down with you and break bread.”
“So I wasn’t going to “interview” the president. And though I may admire him, I wasn’t going to be a platform for discussion of a particular foreign policy agenda. Barack Obama was apparently interested in sitting down for a meal with me — and I intended to speak to him only as a father of a 9-year-old girl, as a fellow Southeast Asia enthusiast (the President spent time in Indonesia as a young man), and a guy who likes a bowl of spicy, savory pork and noodles with a cold beer…Various locations were discussed. But when Vietnam came up, as one stop on a multi-country state visit to Asia in May, I knew where I wanted it to be. I love Vietnam. Everybody on my crew loves Vietnam. We have a lot of experience working there, we have friends, connections, favorite dishes, favorite restaurants. It’s beautiful…Bun cha is a beloved local specialty of Hanoi. It’s basically bits of marinated, charcoal-grilled pork patties and pork slices in a room-temperature dipping sauce with rice noodles and herb garnishes. It’s delicious.”
“It’s always seemed pointless to me to go all the way to someplace as extraordinary as Vietnam and spend time in an air-conditioned, Western-style restaurant with tourist-friendly food. The President, I guessed, had spent more than his share of time in the banquet rooms of major chain hotels, slogging through long state dinners, eating representative menus of “national dishes.” Bun cha is NOT a national dish. And the second floor of the small, family-run, decidedly working class Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant, in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, is not exactly the kind of place the President was likely to be taken by his hosts on any official state visit. I got the definite impression that the Secret Service was initially less than delighted with our choice of venue. The location was … sub-optimal, as far as they were concerned. It was tight, with minimal exits, not particularly clean — and set off a narrow street. But they persevered. I’d like to thank them. They were, all of them, very nice guys with thick necks. Many of them had to spend a lot of time standing stoically in the driving rain.”
“What can I tell you about what it’s like to sit across from the President of the United States and drink beer from the bottle? I can tell you that Barack Obama was, in spite of having had a high-ranking leader of the Taliban whacked in Pakistan a few days previous, very relaxed and at ease. He seemed to enjoy himself sitting on a low plastic stool eating noodles and pork bits with chopsticks. I talked to him as a father, as an enthusiast for the region, and he responded with real nostalgia for the Indonesian and Hawaiian street food of his youth. When I asked him if it was OK that I get along with Ted Nugent, who has said many, many deeply offensive and hateful things about him personally, he responded “of course” — that that was exactly the sort of person we SHOULD be talking to: the people who disagree with us. He was oddly resigned to and forgiving of his enemies. And when I asked him if — given the very likely ugly and frightening contents of the daily intelligence briefings to which he is privy — if it was “going to be OK” for my daughter as she grew up, he replied with confidence that on balance, it would.”
“In general, he spoke with the lack of careful calculation of a man who is no longer running for office. My hot dog question might have been diplomatically problematic for a first-term president. He answered without hesitation — like a Chicagoan. He was funny, quick to laugh. When I asked him if he ever missed being able to go out to a bar, sit down by himself and have a cold beer while listening to old songs on the juke, he smiled and said “in about six months.” He put my crew at ease. Was kind to them. So much so that we were not nervous while we were with him. Only afterward, when he had gone, did we all look at each other and say, “Did that just HAPPEN?””
“The next day, I was suddenly recognizable to the Vietnamese who rode their scooters and motorbikes around me. They’d seen me in the newspapers and again and again would point at me, shouting “Bun cha! Mister Bun Cha!” A few young Vietnamese who spoke English approached me and told me, with tears in their eyes, how incredulous they were, how shocked — how proud — that the President of the United States had come to their town and eaten not pho, or spring rolls, which they would have expected — but bun cha. Bun cha! It was THEIRS! Their proud local specialty! And Hanoi beer too! They couldn’t get over it. And on a low plastic stool, in the kind of place they always ate. The effect was extraordinary. I cannot possibly overstate the warmth with which he was received by the Vietnamese — particularly the young ones…”
“Vietnam may still be a communist country. But you can hardly tell from the streets. Money flows in and out in a raucous, free-market scrum of Western brands and materialistic expectations. Buildings are going up everywhere, private enterprise having long ago outpaced ideology. As in Cuba, the toothpaste is out of the tube. And there’s no putting it back. And as the show will remind you, Vietnam remains an extraordinarily beautiful place. It is enchanting. Its people, for as long as I’ve been going there, warm, food crazy, hospitable and proud….At the end of the show, I quote Gen. William Westmoreland’s notorious quote claiming life is valued less in the East than in the West. A statement so stupid and ignorant that it still shocks today…I will sure as shit remember this trip to Vietnam. Not very long ago at all, I was a 44-year-old guy still dunking French fries with no hope of ever seeing Rome, much less Hanoi — much less EVER sitting across from the President of the United States, talking about hot dogs”.
Bourdain himself did not cast a shadow as the stereotypical “Chef Boy-r-Dee”, with an intimidating accent, off-putting air of perfection, or smug demeanor towards all things plebeian. All you had to do was look at him – a body covered in tattoos (and always adding new ones, even to commemorate special good times on various episodes), a long, lean body that looked like it experienced more intake from the intravenous needle and long neck bottle rather than a fork, and a long, infinitely craggy face that was too weathered for Mount Rushmore – which all told a tale of a man who had experienced much in life; maybe too much, even for a 61-year-old. At times, often when he was drinking on the show (which was about every five minutes), he might share, in a voice-over, snippets of his past. Such as being born in New York City and being raised in New Jersey, unmistakably contributing to his “tough guy”, “take no guff” persona. His being born to a Catholic father and Jewish mother, and (not surprisingly, having heard many times the same tale from celebrities raised in similar locales and family situations), being raised in a non-religious home. His untamed youth, in which he left the prestigious Vassar College, sowing his wild oats (in an early 70s that featured lots of rampant wild-oats sowing) in the seafood kitchens of Cape Cod restaurants with fellow reckless youth (later saying he learned the most about life while washing dishes). Eventually graduating from the American Culinary Institute, and paying his dues in famous New York City gourmet restaurants, while getting hooked on LSD, heroin and cocaine in those lawless days, being a user while on duty along with his youthful chef peers. Although he eventually became a respected chief of a prominent New York restaurant for decades, it was his 1999 article for The New Yorker about the foul deeds that carried on in the kitchens of the country’s finest restaurants, and a subsequent book of his war stories in the field, which became a best-seller, which led him to his meteoric rise at the dawn of the 21st century. Additional books of cooking and his culinary experiences during his adventurous travel expeditions, and subsequent popular television programs which documented his experiences, led to his penultimate contribution via his CNN series.
Bourdain was on “top of the world” himself as 2018 rolled around, as everyone wanted to be around him, and was much beloved by CNN personnel, his staff and show participants, and his legion of fans, with a show that was a consistent ratings success while being critically acclaimed and oft-awarded. For a nomadic loner of extreme experiences and views, he had seemed to find a soul mate (as he himself described her) in 2017 in a fellow “bad girl” Asia Argento, the daughter of one of the most famous cinematic directors ever (Dario Argento) and a successful actress and director in her own right, and whom he met on one of his show productions in her hometown of Rome. Their mutual rough exteriors and wizened, cynical views seemed to dovetail into each other, and he strongly defended her in the press when she was one of the first actresses to charge Harvey Weinstein with sexual harassment. Bourdain had finally achieved undeniable success, respect, a beloved reputation, and finally, personal love in his life.
Thus, no one expected what occurred suddenly in June 2018, while Bourdain, his best friend, the French chef (and often sidekick) Eric Ripert and his staff were in a scenic vista on the north French coast to produce a show of Alcasian cuisine – a “recipe” to certainly enliven and warm Bourdain’s heart. When Bourdain did not join Ripert for dinner one night, as well as breakfast the next morning, his good friend knew something something wasn’t right, so he and one of the hotel staff entered his room, finding him hung by the belt of his hotel bath robe from the bathroom door, and Ripert himself finding him unresponsive, necessitating them to notify his crew to cancel the photo shoot scheduled nearby mere minutes later. According to a report by The New York Times, Bourdain’s mother told them that “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this…He had everything. Success beyond his wildest dreams. Money beyond his wildest dreams”, and said that his friend Ripert told her that “Tony had been in a dark mood these past couple of days”. Another fellow TV chef stated that “He told me he’d never been happier. He felt that he had finally found his true soul mate in Asia”. The Times quotes him in describing his earlier days in the Cape Cod seafood restaurant scene, saying that “I saw how the cooks and chefs behaved. They had sort of a swagger, got all the girls and drank everything in sight.” They add that after his first divorce, he married Ottavia Busia (identified elsewhere as a mixed-martial arts fighter), and had a daughter Ariane, who is now eleven; he separated from Busia two years ago, and last year began dating Ms. Argento. They also added a quote from himself when he stated, “I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rear view mirror for flashing lights.” On a Massachusetts episode of his “Parts Unknown”, which covered the opioid crisis in New England, the normally-guarded Bourdain actually participated in a drug recovery group, giving his testimony of early drug use that should have killed him, and how having a daughter, and a need to raise her, motivated him that life was worth living, and to proceed at it for her benefit.
Another report notes that his show that just aired a week ago from Hong Kong was directed by his girlfriend Argento, with camera work (in a pinch, since his regular camera man fell ill) by famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Of the episode, Bourdain was reported to have said (days before his suicide) that “It was the most intensely satisfying experience of my professional life and a show that I am giddily, ecstatically proud of. I plan to get a Du Kefeng tattoo, in the original Mandarin, as soon as possible. As you might have guessed, I already have an Asia Argento tattoo.” Bourdain’s publicist was reported to say that “He was effusive and happy about the Hong Kong episode—that was all he could talk about weeks leading up to it, how it was like a high water mark for him…I didn’t talk to him this week but all I know was he was so happy last week. I mean giddy. He was texting me and emailing me, which he doesn’t normally do, about publicity for episodes, but he was like, ‘This is a high water mark, this is the best thing I’ve ever done.'”
Another report notes that actress Rose McGowan, already a troubled soul and the central figure in exposing Weinstein and headlining the “Me Too” movement, with a similar “in your face” style to Bourdain and Argento, Bourdain having provided hands-on support to McGowan and her friend Argento in their travails of confronting sexual harrassment, stated that Bourdain had been fighting depression for a long time. The report noted that she stated that Argento had asked her to speak out about Bourdain’s struggles publicly on her behalf. She wrote that “In the beginning of their relationship, Anthony told a mutual friend, ‘He’s never met anyone who wanted to die more than him.’ And through a lot of this last year, Asia did want the pain to stop,” McGowan continued. “…thankfully, she did the work to get help, so she could stay alive and live another day for her and her children. Anthony’s depression didn’t let him, he put down his armor, and that was very much his choice. His decision, not hers. His depression won.” They also add that “Before his death, Bourdain “reached out for help” but didn’t take his doctor’s advice, McGowan said, advising fans and followers not to blame Argento”, and asked the public to rather rally behind her.
Having said all that, I want to discuss what impressions I personally gathered from Mr. Bourdain, particularly since he seemed to be staring at me through the television virtually non-stop for some time, as maybe the most frequent visitor to our home, even if usually casually ignored. I would first like to talk about some things I really admired about him, even though our cultures were vastly different. First of all, even though he was instantly recognized everywhere, and everyone thought he was so “hip” and “cool” and wanted to tag along, beside his residual New York/New Jersey gruffness and cynicism, he certainly was not a “diva”, although he had every right to be. As I casually observed him, he seemed to go to every God-forsaken place on earth, and squatted down in the midst of flies and Lord-knows what types of meat or food, and he always complimented the chef, and the cultures of those he visited (I have read that his meal of “unwashed warthog rectum” may have been his worst meal, but he received it gladly, I am sure). And he not only complimented the cook; he told the viewer about all the noble aspects of even the poorest and most remote peoples, and the things that really appealed about them, or their unique contributions. Many of these peoples may have had bad impressions of Americans in general, but one could see he put them at ease, and proud of their own humble home kitchens or roadside shacks. Bourdain could be at home in the most provincial five-star French restaurants, totally familiar with the cooks as well as all the items in each dish, but also in the homes of toothless mothers cooking in their sinks for their families, and he seemed to enjoy it even better.
One of my most impressive displays from him was recently, when this New Yorker went to the unsung state of West Virginia, to discover the joys of “mountain food”, put together from what was cobbled together or scavanged from local mountains, as he reveled in “vinegar pie” and explained how cuisines all over the world are developed by what was within reach. He has explained over the years how “peasant foods” remain his favorite foods to eat, along with anything prepared fresh on the side of any street (he said that the most disgusting thing he ever ate was a “Chicken McNugget” – in essence not knowing in what infernal laboratory it was created, or its contents). In all cases, he set down with locals, at least heard their stories and hung out with them, and asked about why they liked their culture and locale so much, and what had become so hard about preserving it. Even the lowliest have noted that he always cheerfully had time for pictures and discussions, and evolved into a champion of the common people; one person noted that he spent 15 minutes off camera talked to a restaurateur who had served him canned food, and went to bat for a waitress fired on the spot by her management (he also had a hankering for Popeye’s fried chicken and macaroni and cheese). Christians could learn a lot about respecting different cultures from a guy like him.
I have come to embrace my personal adage that “an opinion reveals as much about the opiner as it does its subject”, and the following is a case where my observation about Bourdain is as much a revelation of where my head has been in my upbringing. One thing about Bordain on his show that stood out to me, based upon my cultural upbringing, is that he drank alcohol – a lot, and always. It was ever-present any time he sat down, to eat or to carouse in the wee hours, or basically anytime. It was as much a part of the show as the food itself. In some shows, it appeared he was in a competition with his new companions (such as in Japan) to see who could stay upright while drinking the most. He must have been VERY experienced in the art, because I don’t know how he still performed his duties with his apparent consumption, any more than how he kept his leanness with such a parade of sumptuous food. He almost seemed incomplete without an alcoholic beverage in his hand, as an essential part of the conversation.
The other notable matter was his clearly apparent secular worldview. This is not uncommon in television, which has a legacy of performers from secular Jewish or lapsed Catholic backgrounds, or other non-evangelical varieties, as opposed to evangelical-types who otherwise would parade their religious views into every topic they discuss (and in many cases, should), but which is deemed to make “bad television” by being too divisive or “heavy” (it doesn’t help that evangelicals have tarnished their image so badly, or go over the top with their proselytizing in such a manner as to lampoon their otherwise serious positions, that it inhibits their opportunities to participate in general public “reality television”). However, in the case of Bourdain’s show and his topics, he covers heart-burning issues that just scream for a learned, spiritual insight, and his legitimate compassionate views would be so under-girded with a sound spiritual reality and mandate behind it. As such, he comes off to one like myself as a hard-partying drinker with a confused but sometimes noble mish-mash of values. As one curious example, when he came to the Jerusalem Temple’s “Wailing Wall”, the proprietors there found out he was of Jewish heritage, and promptly ushered him to the wall, clad in a yamulke; he admitted to the viewers being awkward being there as an unbeliever in God – an honest admission to not want to be a fraud, I believe – and looked awkward, not knowing what to do there. Even though his popularity and admiration has been unmatched, maybe this tension is part of the roots of what mysteriously took it all away, or left him unsatisfied by it.
I was raised in what Bourdain, and many readers, would view as quite a cloistered culture, although it certainly was not intentionally so, as with many in some heavy fundamentalist cultures. I was raised in a blue-collar family on the outskirts of what is well known as a “church town” (Louisville, Kentucky), and our culture centered on the activities of our small Baptist church. While our family vacationed together (often with the pastor’s family), not to France or Italy like the Bourdains but to the local lake, or went for jaunts for ice cream and such (often in my father’s and brother’s cool Bucket-T roadsters they built), our social life was centered on the many social activities at our church, with simple, humble families much like ourselves. This included a number of worship services each week, as well as softball, youth lock-ins and mission trips, and the annual trip to King’s Island amusement park in the rickety youth bus. While I was kept pretty close to home aside from that, by my latter teenage years I had a good corral of buds to hang out with, all from my church, except for one from my Christian high school whose friendship I renewed in college. None of us drank alcohol (at least that I knew of, while we were together), nor did our folks. We would have been well out of place in a bar, and in hindsight, pretty bored, and even our teenage testosterone probably would have cooled off quickly with some of the girls we might have met in them. We loved going to see the bizarre midnight cult movies on Saturday night at the downtown sleazebag Vogue theater, seeing how the wilder half lived (I remember stepping over a couple having sex in the aisle before the movie started once), and then returned unscathed to our suburbs and ready for church choir the next morning (albeit a little sleepy). I remember one memorable trip with the gang while in college on Spring Break to Florida, and we also realized the humor of how the relatives of one of the guys we were staying with obviously saw us as such nerds for not hitting the clubs each night. We loved comedy in poor taste, movies, cruising around, pizza and everything other people liked in the “pre-Internet” world (even starred in three feature-length movies I produced that have been seen around the world), but we didn’t see much for us in the bars but did in doing stuff at church; obviously, the cool chicks stayed away from us. Remarkably, with some inevitable checkered history, we all have been fairly successful husbands eventually and at times, and able to function independently and not be too much of a burden on society; thankfully as we age, the “uncool” albatross around our necks doesn’t seem to pack the same wallop.
That is not to say that I (and I presume the other guys I knew) were not aware of our “uncoolness”, in how we differed from people our age we saw in movies or on TV. I was constantly made aware that “cool” guys hit the bars, could hold their liquor, and had hot chicks hit on them, of which one they had to pick to take home that night – a typical life of a young person, I was told. And it looked so cool to get plastered! Those guys seemed to have all the great stories. I was exposed to that environment more first-hand when I went to a secular university, although my fellow students in engineering school could usually at best muster a Friday night drinking themselves silly, and maybe a beer to two at lunch or after classes, because there was just too much studying to do (maybe “idleness is the devil’s workshop”). When I began my work career, the younger guys (newly minted lieutenants and captains) went more for that sort of things (because they did have a lot of idle time), as well as a perverse, crude boss who drank his lunches (a mean drunk afterwards; I learned to never brief him then) and then hit on the ladies at night (thankfully I only had to go on a business trip with him once). Thankfully, in my long work career and even as a consultant with some very different international companies afterwards, I was always able to avoid having to go bar-hopping with them (although I’m sure they would have liked to have me as a designated driver), and particularly not have to go to the “gentleman’s clubs” (a misnomer if I ever heard one, and containing companionship there that no true gentleman would ever want).
My point here is not to shame or shake my finger at these people, but to confess that while I knew all the spiritual answers why that type of life was indeed lifeless, there was always a small part of me in the back of my mind that wondered why I didn’t “get it”, and why it sounded like their lives were closer to the coolness I saw on TV, while I was sitting alone in my hotel room, maybe reading a Bible. Television, movies and advertising has a remarkable way, along with peer pressure, to implant urges and understandings subliminally in all of us, which our rational mind otherwise could dismiss. How many of you have seen those couples on the beach in the “Sandals” or “Beaches” all-inclusive beach resort commercials, and not had a fleet thought of why our lives don’t look like those people, in skimpy swimsuits swinging each other around in the surf in carefree fashion, or drinking cocktails while the flames roar from the surf side gourmet kitchen, which then requires your rational mind to dismiss the thought? Why do at all the places I vacation, nobody looks like that? How come I don’t climb mountains (or even mountain bike) like those cool people on TV, and run the rapids in a raft with all those fun-loving people, who all look like models although they seemed to down a lot of beer, and rather still be a loser and hang out at church all the time? Although I’ve had my share of globe trotting, how come I don’t do it all the time, skipping from one exotic hip restaurant and bar to the next, rather than just sitting here in the same frumpy living room in Tennessee night after night, when every one knows the former is the real way to “live”?
I know my ruminating sounds pitiful, and I may not be communicating effectively and just giving TMI (too much information) about myself and the cobwebs of my memory, but I want to reconsider what state “pitiful” really is. I know many people get so enamored with the carefree lifestyle of the beach fantasy, that they sell everything, quit their promising job, leaving their relationships and “head for the beach”, prepared to live life to the fullest, and endless nights of excitement and passion, from one hip nightclub to the next. Then reality sets in. Bills have to be paid, rent has to be met, people get sick, cars still break. Even the night life gets a little monotonous. The people at the hip clubs don’t seem to be interesting much any more, and certainly not as fulfilling as our hopes had let on, or reliable friends when you’re down and no fun, any more than those who spent the Prodigal Son’s money for him. All our satisfying relationships and interesting careers were back home. Its hard to develop one’s life sitting on the beach or in the bar all the time. Before long you become a beach town local, paying the bills by trying to accommodate tourists to have their own fantasy. I knew some young guys who worked in the defense industry like me who headed to Southern California to find exciting jobs and “where the action is” for young people, like on TV. When I went to see them, all they did was work around the clock, so they they could pay insane rent along with a number of roommates (same thing in Washington DC). They still hit the bars and drank (just like the old geezers I traveled with), but it was because they had nothing else to do, and no other communal connections. Some “exciting life” to envy. In all my business travels with such people, over dinner or on flights, I never heard them talk about the spiritual truths that underwrote their motivations in life, their spiritual goals, or even an afterlife that scripted their priorities today. Mostly just where the next bar is, and something else to buy, to fill the void. I have also seen professing Christians falling into the same dead end path. Most such people cannot direct their life based upon spiritual goals, and often become nomadic, with minimal regular relationships, their lifestyle almost entirely dictated by their jobs, business travel, and maybe a distracting hobby; they couldn’t imagine carrying on a series of meaningful, deep conversations with the goal of learning spiritually from each other, apart from the “liquor doing the talking” in some uninhibited, incoherent scattershot philosophy shared in the wee hours at a bar. Part of the reason is that they do not frequent ‘un-hip” places where such people might possibly be found (although they may find “philosophers” who may grasp in the darkness just like they do), and they do not stay still long enough and make the sacrifices to build community locally, particularly if they are transplants like me. But they do look hip to others, doing all those exciting things they supposedly do. I have decided that those who live such a “fast-paced life” do so typically because they are “running” from something.
I’m probably reading way too much into this, but I see this mindset typified in spades in Anthony Bourdain and others of his ilk. Other sources I read said he traveled at least 250 days a year, although he tried to spend a few days with his daughter between trips. Others said he was mentally and physically exhausted – the common “reward” for being a “success” in worldly pursuits and business. He said he was a big “doubter” that did not believe in certainty regarding religion and God; I wonder how much energy he put into trying to resolve that most important issue in the universe? Did he pursue people who might have had some ideas on how he could resolve it? Was it so important an issue to him – will he have a life after this earth – that he put great effort to its resolution, including making such great efforts to get the answer directly from God, or rather tried (like many) to distract themselves with other pursuits to bury the nagging spectre? We can take comfort in knowing that our Lord says that “He who seeks, will find”, when those who pursue answers to the real meaning of life and the knowledge of God and their role with Him, do it like the one who lost the sheep or the missing coin, ignoring all other matters until they get it resolved. From this we should try to stimulate a desire for answers to those questions in those we know and meet (starting with the general mystery of “where consciousness comes from”), and encourage them to become honest and dedicated “seekers”; they should also be gently reminded that all other pursuits – including even careers, and the seduction of early success and the accolades that come with it – all always have their conclusion at the grave, regardless of accomplishment, and even the general and honest skeptic of God should recognize, and be motivated by that.
A lesson I take from this musing is that I should be supremely grateful for the lowly, unremarkable, and mundane upbringing I experienced, and in particular being exposed to the most important truth in life – that I was made for a legitimate and important purpose, that life exists beyond the grave and for eternity, the decisions I make here matter in that regard, and I have an eternal destiny to fulfill, and labors to be performed now that will carry over into the next world. To be honest, I did not really have to resist the fast-paced lifestyle, including the early experiments in sex and drugs, because in His grace God simply protected me from it, by giving me good parents, siblings and friends to hang out with apart from that scene (and maybe an inability to attract that kind of girl, anyway). The price I paid for at the time, was feeling inadequate, bored, unnoticed and not fulfilling my potential (at least as seen on TV), but what I got in return was a healthy upbringing, few regrets and life baggage, real friends and a meaningful life that grows in satisfaction, rather than less.
Another lesson I learn from this, and has been on my mind more so lately, is that even with the most successful people in worldly terms like Mr. Bourdain, or other celebrities or businessmen of lesser character, the apparent futility of all their hard work, dedication and resultant short-term success, and lack of personal satisfaction it provides, which suggests to me that the best use of my time today, and any time, is to focus on activities and pursuits that will survive into the world to come. We all need time in our decaying physical bodies and mental states for periodic diversions and recreations to rest our bodies and minds, and spur inspiration, creativity and fellowship, but they should play a supporting role, not be the main function. Those of us Christians “in the know” as to the limited data we know of the emerging “Kingdom of Heaven” would be even more foolish than the “Mr. Bourdains” of the world by not letting this knowledge, which we purport to believe by faith, to dictate how we spend the activities of our days, and our thoughts when we are still. We believe that there are some things, and some works, that will not decay or burn with this world; why are we not more about doing them? Why is our sacred, eternally-important rescue mission not more of a premium? Why not more “cups of cold water” in Christ’s name, and invitations to the Kingdom to all who will hear, and burdened in the heart? Are we not so much more blessed to be aware of the genuine lasting meaning behind such endeavors, rather than those who have no such illumination, and who rather stumble in the darkness of not just uncertainty, but rather utter ignorance of the things eternal, even though they seem to have this world on a “string”? What lasting lessons can we learn, people we can assist, and good works we can accomplish that we could carry with us into the next world?
Lastly, this latter contrast between the believer who has been privy to secret revelations since the Cross that even the exalted angels “desire to look into” as to God’s “end game” and our ultimate destiny, and the “hipster” whom the world loves today and who receives much adoration, but it being short lived and at great price, and ultimately unsatisfying to the secretly-insecure recipient, should cause us to pity such popular and “successful” figures – even presidents – and not to envy them, yet nor despise them. Christ called the rich, successful hipsters at Laodicea blind and poor, from a heavenly perspective. Those who seek good times in drink or drugs – even casually – or seek truth with God on the outside, may seem like divas and arrogant at times, but they really are pitiful and in need of our spiritual help, even if it is resisted by them. Many of the most intimidating people we meet may just be a step away from throwing in the towel on life, and unlike the world, see themselves as a dismal failure, or wondering when it is going to stop, and the world gets tired of them or asks, “What have you done for me lately?”, or have their fears recognized that they are eventually discovered as being a talentless fraud. Robin Williams, the comical genius, had those same feelings, and worked himself to death and despair to dig out of the hole he had gotten in to, both financially and relationship-wise. Who was there with a wise spiritual word for him, and patiently waited while he wrestled with it?
Learning from the pitiful example of Mr. Bourdain, one possessed of many virtues, we need to stop adoring these high-profile figures or trying to emulate them, and also not despise them for any “despicableness” (as a mask for our envy), but rather to pity, in a non-judgmental and non-demeaning way, just as our Lord would do, rightly ascertaining the real spiritual struggles they face, and a lack of a spiritual grounding we take for granted. These types of people in our circles should be subjects for our prayers and ministry of intervention, and not our adoration. And we better be thankful for our boring humble lives, with time to think, pray, fellowship on a real spiritual level with our family members and friends, and participate in our local church and greater spiritual community, as opportunities to be real “successes” in life.
It seems almost a “synchronicity” (I sound so contemporary using such a term) that I would just discover such an important movie as Pressure Point, produced by Stanley Kramer, and starring Sidney Poitier, an amazing Bobby Darin (yes, the 60’s crooner), and even a young Peter Falk in a brief role, right after the events of Charlottesville and the rising profile of the neo-Nazi/”alt right”, and the disconcerting issues raised in my last post just days ago.
The 1962 film concerns a black prison psychologist Poitier in 1942 who inherits a prisoner client (played by a Bobby Darin that revealed his acting chops) who had joined the Nazi movement in America and had been sent to prison for sedition. Refusing to be analyzed by an African-American, he eventually relents when he cannot overcome his sleeplessness and torment over events in his upbringing that made him the Nazi monster he came to be. I cannot think of a movie that more relevantly or intelligently sheds light on how young people can be pulled in to movements that espouse hate of others, even in America and after the terrible experience of the German Nazi regime, and how we can never turn a blind eye, or our backs on such movements that never seem to go away. Even for such an ugly person, it exudes an empathy as we see the family and societal influences that break and corrupt young minds – just like today.
I have only seen part of it so far, but it was so good that I had to recommend it to my reader friends before I forgot, and while you might be able to find it. I discovered it on the MGM HD channel that is carried on cable and satellite. It is also available for rent at Amazon Video, or available for purchase.
As a big fan of film, I have often thought that the “golden age” of particularly American film (and public discourse in general) was in the high-definition black-and-white days of about 1955-64 – the days of brilliantly insightful films like A Face In The Crowd, or Dr. Strangelove. They reflected (and required) a general intelligence and insight from the public that would go over the heads of most of the public today; the students of the late 60s still reflected this intellectual rigor and academic capability, but it has rapidly declined since then.
The producer, Stanley Kramer, produced or directed many of the most unforgettable and brilliant “message” movies of the era – often at personal expense and risk. They included not only this film, but Inherit The Wind, The Defiant Ones, the post-nuclear On The Beach, High Noon, Judgment at Nuremberg, The Caine Mutiny and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.
A viewing of the titles mentioned in this post would be an incredibly spiritually rewarding experience for any reader here. I am ashamed to say that not only did I learn the types of spiritual truths from Stanley Kramer’s and similar films that I should have learned from those behind pulpits, but when I reflect on the infantile, Disney-fied (and even harmful) “chewing gum” embarrassments I see produced by Christian filmmakers these days, such as Fireproof or God Is Not Dead, I am almost (but not quite) too embarrassed to tell other thinkers whose “team I’m on”. Will real Christian intellectuals like the C.S. Lewis’ of old ever rise up, and more so, will there ever be an appetite in Christian circles for those who make us think, self-critique and empathize?
I mentioned in my last post that it was probably ill-advised, but that due to rhetoric I had heard from Christians close to me, I could not be silent, and rather focus on more long-term productive tasks like finishing my last book manuscript. I posted anyway, and spent a good bit of time mentioning thoughts to consider, and aspects of Trump’s character and actions that would be good for Christians to ponder further. If you have read it and the comments thereafter, you saw that my points were controversial for some, like most of my posts (it would have been even more controversial if it had been circulated within the greater Christian community, and not just the very special readers of this site).
However, as with many posts I have made (and as a foreboding of the expected response to my books to be imminently released), some of my points were evidently misunderstood, accidentally by many, and maybe intentionally by some. First of all, let me make it again clear for doubters that my last post (nor this one) was an intention to promote the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I did vote Tuesday as a civic duty, but I did not vote for her or Donald Trump, because they did not meet my standards for trustworthiness, character, wisdom or mercy, as a Christian and humanitarian (I did not try to whitewash their limitations and vices in Christian “double talk” either). I also did not mean to insinuate who I thought would win – after the shocking Brexit vote, I knew that polls were not a reliable indicator). The real reason of my post, as I tried to explain, was my primary concern about how the Christian Right leaders and their followers re-packaged Trump as a pious Christian example, and visionary spiritual leader and messianic figure to “deliver us from evils” as sent by God, and how this rationalizing “spin” behavior will impact the long-term mission of Christians in America in their appointed tasks for the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, that is the motive of almost all my posts, and my books – how our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions of us as self-proclaimed “representatives of God” impact our eternal heavenly mission and “ministry of reconciliation”, particularly in our frequent quests to obtain transient advantages in power and influence in carnal matters for our own selfish interests and in spite of the “Kingdom fo Heaven” standards, which emphasize the Golden Rule and loving your neighbor and enemies. I may overgeneralize at times (or be perceived as such by those who do not read my posts carefully), but for these objectives I do not apologize. I also did not add a lot of references and linked citations in my last post (as I said I wouldn’t, as I haven’t in other posts as well), because it is very time consuming to do so (and I really need to focus on book writing), and I felt the recent events cited were fresh enough that people should be aware of them (although I shudder to think how many of my Christian colleagues do not read a wide array of news sources outside of talk radio, Facebook and one or two partisan sites). I expect that some people may be in disbelief in many of the assertions and data I cite, and thus why I do cite extensively in my permanent writings. Some readers here may be unaware of the data I cite, and other commenters here try to seed doubt and accuse me of inventing facts, when they merely could confirm them with a one minute Google search. Thus, for this post I will take the extra time to cite online linked references for the actions and quotations I cite, which I think will be embolded in the text for you to click on them, if you desire.
Anyway, on to the subject of my post today. I felt like I had wasted enough time on my last post which probably did little contructive good, and certainly had no intention to go “double or nothing” and post again after the election. However, I had an idea this morning just as I was getting up. Most of you are familiar with (or are watchers) of what has evidently become the most-watched television program in the history of television, and a bona fide cultural phenomenon, called The Walking Dead. Not only is it the only television show that I think is well-written enough to warrant my time, but it is very “non-Hollywood” in that it does not focus on Millennial angst, or beautiful youths hopping into bed with each other, or elite upper-class folk swapping spouses (in which I just described most other shows on TV today). I see it rather as a modern day “Western”, filmed in rural Goergia and not Hollywood, in which a sheriff and a rag tag “klan” of his family, those he loves and his new-found brethren try to survive in a lawless society, where the greatest threat is not the zombie “walkers” (their version of the Apache “savages” in the wasteland), but rather the other survivor groups of dubious nature and purposes. Even the weekly talk show Talking Dead after each episode leads an interesting public debate with a variety of people on set and callers as to the ethics of the actions of these people under dire circumstances – a discussion that is warranted for television.
The recurring theme of the show is the attempt of this group, under non-stop duress and no-win circumstances, to maintain their own humanity and mercy, in a merciless age and environment – a goal at which some times they acomplish better than others. They have generally and consistently taken risks to the group’s well-being to rescue one or two of the group to leave “no child behind”, and have struggled to take risks to incorporate new people into their fold (sometimes causing them to realize new dangers and be betrayed, and sometimes to fail to accept them, all over much debate and soul searching). However, a main portion of the conflict durng the seven seasons is over their encounter with groups who have sacrificed their humanity, for the sake of survival, and the risks it poses to them. They have survived a mentally twisted Governor and his idyllic community, and a group at Terminus who were broken by other savages and now resort to the worst taboos against others. Others were purely depraved like the Wolves. However, this current season, which is breaking all TV viewing records, concerns their deadliest foe yet – the brutal yet pragmatic “Negan” and his mercenary group “The Saviors”. The picture above shows Negan towering over the the star Sheriff Rick Grimes’ group as Negan and his men have terrorized and then captured them, forcing them on bended knee before him as he taunts them. Shortly thereafter, he executed (pun intended) the acts which have become most famous in the series – brutally and mercilessly bashing in the brains of two beloved members of their group with his famous barbbed wire-lined bat called “Lucille”, they having been chosen randomly to “teach them all a lesson” not to resist (a “message” which broke them to the point of capitulation).
In the few weeks since this episode aired, we have observed and learned more about Negan and his group. This morning I sudenly realized the similarity between Negan and his “operation”, and that of Donald Trump and his supporters and followers to “make America Great Again”. Follow me as I give a few examples of their natures and similarities, and a few citations to both confirm and archive these actions:
NEGAN – Negan is a charismatic figure with wit, a sense of irony, supreme self-confience and focus on “winning” over others, wrapped up in a “swagger” that attracts followers more than repulses them (at least many types of people), not being burdened by propriety or political correctness, or even the Golden Rule.
TRUMP – I need no citations to make this comparson clear to most readers. This last description is the best way to describe Trump’s life and image, both historically and during the campaign. “Winning” was a major and recurring theme of Trump’s campaign, as well as his books (which have been ghostwritten by others), Trump University, etc. Trump can evidently “charm the socks off a rooster” with most of the public, who are dazzled by his swagger, bravado, boasting comments, conspicuous opulence and self-absorption (which is why he may have close affinity to evangelical leaders who can do the same to them as well).
NEGAN: One can see that Negan has attracted brutes, bullies, ruffians and “hot heads” to his gang, who like to threaten others as much as he does. He has encouraged them to beat up outsiders brutally, not wanting to have all the “fun” himself. This includes group member Darryl (on two occasions), and other people as they are captured or encountered on the road.
TRUMP: One needs to only watch the Trump rallies closely to see many of the same crowd in their functions. He bragged on televised addresses over his early victories that polls showed he leads in support amongst the “poorly educated” saying, “I love the poorly educated!”. After the election, pollsters showed that he led in those without college degrees nor college-educated. Certainly there is nothing sacred or noble about a college degree, and if it makes one smug or elitist it is a detriment, but it is clear that Trump has focused his message on those with limited tools of discernment, and the many televised interviews with Trump supportors have shown them largely (but not totally) motivated by emotions or anger, or simplistic views of problems. More disturbingly, Trump has been shown encouraging rally members to be physically violent with protesters at his rallies. He has told rally attendees on camera to “knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”; in others, he has said, ““I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya,” to a protester. Attendees at these events have been shown punching or roughing up protesters at the events or Muslim women reporters ; elsewhere, the cited erefence notes that “a 78-year-old white male audience member at a Trump rally in North Carolina was videotaped sucker-punching a black protester being escorted from the event by police. The man, John McGraw, was later charged with assault and battery. But it was the protester who ended up in handcuffs at the rally”. Many more such exmaples could be listed, but do you get the point? Is this how things looked at Nazi rallies in the 1920s, when his SA goons grabbed protesters of other political views who were then drug out of those halls and worked over?
NEGAN: Negan believes in using terror, or the fear of terror, to control people as a “force multiplier”, to keep not only outsiders but even his own people in line, and not challenge him as a single man with a bat who mentally controls many. His barbaric barbed-wire-lined bat, dripping with blood, he uses phallicly toward others, directly in their face, to breed their fears and to dehumanize them. When Sheriff Rick initially offered some resistance, Negan countered by forcing him to amputate his own son’s hand (to the point of committing the act). Others in his own group who did not meet his demands he disfigured on their face with a hot iron. Even more heinous means were in his toolbelt, to get what he wanted from others.
TRUMP: Trump has clearly gone on the record that he not only wants to bring the torture protocols back for detainees, but also make them even worse. When a suspect was captured from the recent Paris terror attacks, Trum said on his Twitter that he would have talked “a lot faster with the torture”. Trump has been far more explicit; he said on a New Hampshire television interview that “we’re going to have to get much tougher as a country. We’re going to have to be a lot sharper and we’re going to have to do things that are unthinkable almost.” In the televised New Hamphire primary, he stated, ” I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” On Feb. 17, he publicly said, ” Torture works. OK, folks? You know, I have these guys—”Torture doesn’t work!”—believe me, it works. And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question: What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding”, and on July 27 he said, “I am a person that believes in enhanced interrogation, yes. And by the way, it works.” At a recent rally, he said regarding torture you have to “fight fire with fire”, and added, “What do you think about waterboarding?” Trump asked the crowd. They cheered as he gave his answer: “I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough.” These are but a few examples.
NEGAN: Negan has no compassion for “outsiders” outside his “klan”, unless he can exploit them for his purposes. Regardless, he has no mercy on them or see them as fellow human beings. They also will be kept out and away from the benefits of his society unless they can offer more in return.
TRUMP: The hallmark of Trump’s campaign was to exlcude and eliminate “undesirables”. At a press conference he held on December 7, 2015, he read an official statement that said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering in the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on…we have no choice…it is going to get worse, you’re going ot have more World Trade Centers…we can be politically correct and we can be stupid…folks, those days are over, we have to be tough…yes we will look at mosques”. This view is not only that of Trump’s – it’s that of his “klan” coast to coast. A June 2016 Reuters poll showed that 50% of all Americans said that there should be a temporary ban of all Muslim immigrants to the U.S. CBS News reported in July 2015 that Donald Trump followed up his early campaign pronouncements (as in his early debate appearances) with the assertion that the U.S. was becoming a ‘dumping ground” of outsiders with the world’s problems, and reiterated his position in a CNN interview. He stated that the Mexican government was sending people of which “they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”. when the interviewer pointed out that the women Trump cited as being raped were victimized prior to entering the country, Trump replied, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don. I mean, you know, somebody’s doing it. Who’s doing the raping?” – a phrase he reiterated during the campaign. Alicia Machado, the woman he crowned Miss Universe (as Trump runs many beauty pageants), was told she was fat by Trump and fired, and as a Hispanic was called by him, “Miss Housekeeping”. I am glad Trump was not able to force his immigration policies in ancient Israel – the world would have missed the contributions of Rahab, and the Moabitess Ruth – both famed ancestors of our Lord. If the Philistines had had such a policy, they would not have generously accepted David and his followers as they were wanted men in Israel. Of course, Trump himself imported his own wife as an immigrant from one of the U.S.’s recent Iron Curtain enemies – I wonder if he might send her back, as Ezra the priest did in sending all foreign women and children away to their death who had married Jewish men, to set a good example to the rest of us?
NEGAN: Negan’s fundamental policy was to take the spoils and resources of any outsiders he encountered as his own. Sometimes he would let people in his spheres of control keep up to half, at his discretion, and would continue to take from them over time. He also encouraged his loyal henchmen to help themselves to the goods of others as they desired.
TRUMP: Trump has a similar policy; whereas before he had to use his access to capital, and to New York lawyers to enforce these provisions, he will now have the IRS, CIA and military to do the collecting for him. While he did not think it was wise to invade Iraq (after originally supporting it), he did think it could be worthwhile if we confiscated the profitable oil from the very country which we ourselves had destroyed and impoverished (first by sanctions, and then by bombs). The Atlantic noted that in August 2016, like many times before, Trump gave a speech in which he stated regarding our involvement in Iraq, “We should have kept the oil…I was saying this constantly and consistently to whoever would listen. I said: Keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil…In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils…Instead, all we got from Iraq—and our adventures in the Middle East—was death, destruction and tremendous financial loss.” The Los Angeles Times added that “It also would have violated decades of international law, including the Geneva Conventions, as well as the United Nations mandate that authorized the invasion.” I guess we now know that Trump also would not have come to the aid of the millions of victims in the Tutsi-Hutu conflict in Africa – there was no oil there to justify it, as America’s critics now feel justified in having pointed out over the decades. Trump even declared that he would not honor America’s long treaty commitments to aid a fellow NATO member if attacked, unless they had paid significantly in advance. In a July 2016 New York Times interview regarding helping NATO nations, Trump stated that “You can’t forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that..Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”, and in May 2016 also told the Wall Street Journal that when other NATO nations “don’t pay up, they’ve backed out of their obligations, then we no longer have an obligation to defend them.” (while they note that the only time the NATO provision has been enacted is when the other NATO nations came to the aid of the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks).
Trump thinks like a businessman, and makes decisions based upon the bottom line ledger – not morality, or mercy or civility. He sees war as only another money-making operation, and would only pursue it in that context (and would stay out of those he did not deem monetarily profitable). Trump also plans another way for he and his henchmen to clean up from others – this time their fellow Americans; in one of the few detailed plans Trump has produced, Trump’s published tax plan will adjust the tax brackets so that the rates on the most wealthy will come down considerably, while the lowest bracket of the poor will rise, and the lower middle class will be about the same. By eliminating personal exemptions, low and middle-income families with many children will have their tax go up a good bit. Currently, estates above $5.45 million are subject to inheritance tax regarding the fortunes passed on to offspring within rich family lines to prevent their need to work for generations; Trump will make sure that this tax on the ultra-wealthy will be eliminated. He will also bring the tax brackets down for the largest corporations down (from 39.6% or so) to about the rate of the most poor in society (15%). Will Trump’s own estate benefit from these rules?
NEGAN: Unless you are one of his “elite” henchmen, residents at Negan’s ‘Sanctuary” have to earn “points” to gain their basis necessities he has confiscated from them. In the case of one of his henchmen on the show, this includes access to fundemental health care needs such as critical medical drugs. In contrast, Sheriff Rick’s group provided medicine freely to anyone in his group who showed a need for it, and they would often risk their lives to obtain it, such as an intubator for his son Carl, or emergency medical care for a sick pregnant member.
TRUMP: Trump prefers Negan’s approach to health care, by abolishing Obamacare, which provided basic health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions who could not get coverage as “bad investments” to the insurance companies, and making sure they had access to catatrophic care so the banks could not later wipe them out; Trump sees “no money” in covering these people, and will leave them to their own fate.
NEGAN: Negan has been shown to sneer and mock the weak and wounded, including those whom he has just beaned with his bat and look “real messed up”, and otherwise are a “mess” because of their suffering and misfortune.
TRUMP: Trump shares a similar view. He is famous for recently mocking a disabled reporter investigating his claims. He unfortunately has a palsy-like neurological condition that causes limb contortions and tremors, to which Trump at the lectern began to impersonate with exaggerated limb shaking and facial contortions – behavior society deems unacceptable for teenaged boys, much less the Leader of the Free World. Trump always outdoes himself – at the 2015 Family Leadership Summit in Iowa, Trump famously said of long-time tortured POW Senator John McCain, “He’s not a war hero…He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” The citation adds, “Trump received four student deferments from military service between 1964 and 1968. In Ames, he told reporters another medical deferment he received after graduating was for a bone spur in his foot. When asked which foot, Trump told reporters to look up the records.” A published survey showed that people felt that this was his most offensive comment (while noting that Trump claimed he did not know the reporter nor that he was disabled, while the reporter claimed that he and Trump had been on a first-name basis for many years), even more offensive then his statements that the “second amendment people” amongt his followers should take care of Hillary Clinton.
NEGAN: Negan is famous for how he treats women. He rates them based if they are “smokin’ hot” or not, and if he takes a shine to them, he forcibly taked them to be his concubine “wives”, thereby nullifying their lawful marriages to other men present.
TRUMP: Trump’s history is very similar, which American Christian supporters have amazingly excused. An abbreviated list of some of his more famous past and recent comments about women include his assertion that debate moderator Megyn Kelly was menstruating during the debate to justify her fierce quesitoning of him (saying that “blood was coming out of her…whatever”), such as when she cited that it had been documented that”You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals”, to which he said it was only directed to Rosie O’Donnell. He said in a 1991 Eqsuire Magazine profile that “You know, it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass. But she’s got to be young and beautiful.” He said that Arianna Huffington was “unattractive both inside and out”, and that a female New York Times reporter had “the face of a dog”. Of a female contestant on his show The Apprentice, he said as she stooped in front of him, “It must be a pretty picture,” he said to her. “You dropping to your knees.” He also tweeted that Bette Midler was “extremely unattractive”. Of Hillary he said, “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote,” Trump said in April. “The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card.” He now uses former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, whom the network found was sexually harrassing women there, to be a chief advisor for him. He released an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz next to his own wife, and entitled it, ‘The images are worth a thousand words”. On an Entertainment Tonight interview in 1992, he pointed out a 10 year old girl nearby, and said, “I am going to be dating her in ten years. Can you believe it?”. He not only called Miss Universe Alicia Machado “Miss Housekeeping”, he also publicly called her “Miss Piggy” and “an eating machine” (the New York Post also reported that Trump also arrived unannounced in his beauty pageant dressing rooms as the contestants were nude, making “creepy” comments to them (including 15 year old participants), and later saying on the radio to Howard Stern in 2005 that it was one of the “perks” of ownership, adding, ““I’ll tell you the funniest is that I’ll go backstage before a show and everyone’s getting dressed…No men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it…You know, they’re standing there with no clothes…And you see these incredible-looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.”) . Of course, the list also includes the video of him bragging to an interviewer (who has since lost his job with the Today Show) about his targeting of married women to initiate adulterous affairs, and grabbing women by their genitals and leading them around or forcing himself on them and getting away with it because he was a celebrity. Another published list notes his assertion that people should not vote for primary rival Carly Fiorina because of her face, and that he said he’d really like to date his daughter Ivanka. In 1992 in New York Magazine, he said of women that “You have to treat them like shit”. When asked in 1993 about his reputation as a womanizer, he said, “Yes I have that image. I think women are beautiful – I think certain women are more beautiful than others, to be perfectly honest – and it’s fortunate I don’t have to run for political office.” Talking of one of his former wives, he said, “when I come home and dinner’s not ready, I go through the roof.” Regarding prenuptual agreements for his wives, he said, ““There are basically three types of women and reactions. One is the good woman who very much loves her future husband, solely for himself, but refuses to sign the agreement on principle. I fully understand this, but the man should take a pass anyway and find someone else.” He said that when he bought the Miss USA pageant, “I’m going to get the bathing suits to be smaller and the heels to be higher.” Of his daughter Ivanka, he said, “”You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her. Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall, she’s got the best body.”, and adding on the TV show The View, “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” Trump said on Howard Stern’s radio show that he’s “been with women with extraordinarily bad breast jobs’ and ‘pancake tits’. There are many more I could list.
NEGAN: His followers have been corralled and maintained by a combination of privleges offered to them, and dreadful fears if they do not stay in line. However, some of them are having doubts and are considering defection.
TRUMP: Trump similarly has made promises of insider influence to prominent evangelical Religious Right leaders and other conservatives whom he has portrayed as his spiritual advisors. Others, like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Ted Cruz he has corralled after their original adamant refusal on grounds of principle, with threats of political disenfranchisement and blowback if they did not get in line. CBS election day exit polls found that of the “winner”, Donald Trump, 60% of voters said he was not honest or trustworthy, and 60% of voters said that Trump was not qualified for the office of the presidency, with even 25% of Trump voters saying he was unqualified (I guess motivated by their Hillary hatred exclusively). NBC exit polls said that 60% of voters had an unfavorable view of Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton received almost a quarter of a million more votes than Trump (how would he have acted had he won the total vote count but lost the electoral collage in his “rigged system” mindset?), who himself secured less than half of the public’s votes. When they all see that Trump now has no obligation on fulfilling any promises to these individuals and groups, now having obtained their support to accomplish his election objectives, will any of them then have the courage to defect and stand up to him? When Trump has control of the CIA, FBI and IRS, will they dare speak up, given his history of petty reactionary harrassment?
A BIG Difference between them:
NEGAN: Negan came to power during a time of lawlessness and upheaval, in a society suddenly with “no rules”. He somehow provides a measure of security, along with exploitation and brutality, that might be at least partially excused in his unique times and challenges.
TRUMP: In contrast, Trump came to prominence in a time of relative prosperity and peace in America, without any tangible civil wars or major unrest, or economic calamity. America had built on almost two hundred years of racial and human rights progress. Public demographics were turning away from those interested in Trump’s xenophobic, paranoid demagoguery. Now Trump has a majority in both chambers of Congress, and has no restraint on his excesses moving forward, much like Hitler when he assumed the Chancellory in 1933. So how did he do it? Exit polls show that Trump received 81 percent of the evangelical vote, while noting that 76% of evangelicals are Republican, making up one fifth of all voters, and a third of Republican voters. The story of how he seduced most of Christ’s Body in America (and particularly its leadership), and what it reveals about their gullibility, lack of principle and respect for basic virtues and values, and lack of recognition of the true spiritual priorities of Christ Himself and for God’s people in assisting secular governments in the scope of responsiblilities God has given them, as distiguished from those of the church itself, and lack of basic common sense maturity much less maturity of the spiritual variety, is a story that requires much data to consider, and is beyond the scope of this post, but may be started to be discussed soon thereafter. What this has revealed about the true mind of most of the American evangelical community, and how this will affect their mission in the future, is the far bigger story than who won this last election, in my view.
The BIG question is – Trump has gotten his big objective and trophy, presumably, in being the most powerful man in the world and secured his place in world history, but what will be his true motivations and goals during his administration? Using his life history as a guide, Trump would be first motivated by (a) what raises his prestige, respect, praise and overall “brand”, and (b) what will monetarily help him and his financial peers either now or down the road. Regarding (b), the clear details of his proposed tax plan (which will likely fly relatively unscathed through a Republican-controlled Congress) will largely accomplish those goals for his checkbook and others; how he opens doors for big business via his foreign policy and stopping raises in the minimum wage or the requirement to provide health care to workers, for example, are other ways he can accomplish this objective. Regarding (a), what else does he have to accomplish for his ego? Wipe out ISIS? Raise the gross national product? Be popular enough to be able to be re-elected if he chooses? Time will tell.
Most people who have had concerns about Trump recoginize that they really don’t know what he will do – could he be surprisingly statesman-like and visionary, or autocratic and cruel to minorities on the margins, as he has suggested? Heal rifts with other cultures and nations, or bring us to war? What did his behavior during the campaign, much less his history, suggest will happen? Actually, his history of being an intimidating “tough guy” and using strong-armed tactics reveals that he usually doesn’t believe the nasty things he says, for once he has “won” – albeit in securing the business deal or contract, the court case, or even the court of public opinion – he then begins speaking kindly of those he has humiliated after he has defeated him, suggesting that he may not actually pursue the most severe, ugly and draconian policy approaches he sold to his followers in the campaign. Even during this campaign, how many times has he warned people of the unsuitability and dangers of “Little Marco” Rubio, “Lying Ted” Cruz, and even “Crooked” Hillary, all of whom he has praised after he had disposed of them. As another example, The Hill, Buzzfeed and others have reported that the New York Times possesses an audiotape and transcript from an off the record portion of their interview with Trump this year on his immigration plans, which attendees suggest or implied that he does not plan to actually follow through on the positions he sold to his followers, as evidence the Times will not release unless he approves, which led Sen. Ted Cruz to state that the tapes they have suggest that Trump “doesn’t believe what he’s saying on immigration. That all of his promises to secure the borders are not real and if he’s president he doesn’t intend to do what he says…The New York Times apparently has this on tape…The voters deserve to know if he says something different when he’s talking to The New York Times then he does when he’s talking to the voters”, as a posiiton also echoed by Sen. Marco Rubio. This tendency for Trump and his peers to make these serious and dramatic charges against others as traitors and criminals (including Hillary, whom he promised to lock up to her face in a debate, and now praises right after the election as a real patriot) leads us not to take seriously what any of them say; not only should we not get worked up over their allegations, but why do we not not get behind leaders who have a reputation for honesty and straight talk, even with policy differences, rather than who has the most charisma, bravado or macho image? However, if he hesitates to pursue all these inquisitions against Mexicans, immigrants and Muslims to the severe degree he “sold”, it will certainly disappoint many Christians that counted on him to be the “strong man” and bringer of wrath. I suspect that they will find that after he has secured their votes, the last thought on his mind will be how the Religious Right members he counted on for election consider his actions, or if he lives up to what they wanted him to be.
In any case, beyond my verbose opinions, what I do know is that the Bible is clear that Christians are to pray for the blessing of their rulers. We all have that obligation on behalf of Donald Trump by the command of our Saviour, that he could help fulfill the role of what national governments are to do to secure the well-being of its subjects on the issues God has assigned to them as evidenced by the words of the Lord through the prophets and apostles, to protect their citizens from outsiders, look out for the minority and vulnerable stranger, the poor, the widows and orphans, and provide honest and fair courts and marketplace for everyone, and particularly the poor. I plan to do that duty in prayer for Trump; I wonder how many Christians have fulfilled that duty in sincerity for President Obama? I also plan to still critique my own heart and values as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that of my brethren here; that is the right and productive thing to do, because “judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17), and due to Paul’s admonition to the church itself that “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Cor. 5:12-13). While we are to be educated about the true nature of these exploitative politicans of every stripe to “be not deceived”, the real focus of judgment and self-assessment belongs to the Church in America itself, for and of itself, and who it needs to be in the midst of these issues.
The experience of this election process, and how I perceive the American church participated in it and how it revealed its values, reminds me of the words of the Greek philosopher Thucydides, in his famous writing History of Peloponnesian War, Book III, 3.82, as he saw demogogues emerge in his society on the advent of regional war – which may be what we will receive as a consequence of this age of demagoguery – when he observed:
“To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defense. Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect…If an opponent made a reasonable speech, the party in power, so far from giving it a generous reception, took every precaution to see that it had no practical effect.”
Tomorrow I have to cast a primary vote in Tennessee for the upcoming presidential election. I think we can all agree this has been some kind of disturbing election season, which I think portends a work God is doing to show us who we as Americans, and in particular Christians, truly are, in the eyes of God and everyone else. I am not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to suggest the kind of person to vote for.
Vote for Pedro.
Those of you who are now confused (or think I am being racist) are obviously the few who have not seen the wonderful and insightful (and funny) 2004 movie Napoleon Dynamite. The “heroes” of the movie were a trio of geeky outcasts at school – the types we all knew, or better yet (as in my case) were. One of the main story elements was a competition for school student body president between a socially awkward Mexican transfer student Pedro, whose shyness reveals the courage and daring (or madness) he exhibited in even deciding to run, and the domineering “insider”, the popular and beautiful cheerleader “Summer”. While her many popular friends posted “Vote for Summer” signs everywhere (she probably did not have to compete for Prom Queen), Pedro’s buddy Napoleon sported the now societally-popular phrase “Vote for Pedro”, using an old iron-on “puffy” transfer on a T-shirt. As the movie’s many viewers fondly recall, Pedro was ready to get his head handed to him in the election, when a school assembly beforehand let Summer and her cheerleader friends use their sex-appeal in a dance number, contrasted to Pedro’s unassuming and unimpressive speech, until Napoleon saved the day with the most exotic dance number ever put to celluloid.
The message of this aspect of the film is more relevant now than ever. It contrasted the two kinds of people in the world – the “insiders” (“Summers”) and the “outsiders” (“Pedros”). We and the public make numerous value judgments each day over who are friends are or those we want, the leaders we want to follow, the people we want to trust and then purchase from, the company we keep, and the kinds of people we aspire to be like. In this context, the “Pedros” never have a chance when it comes to earning our devotion, wallets, endorsements and emulation. Ads and commercials are filled with beautiful and macho “Summers”, male and female, who have ideal weight and body type, do amazing physical sports and exercise, go on all-inclusive vacations to the Bahamas and dance in formal wear on the beach, walk with a swagger and confidence, and “know what they are doing”. And then there’s the rest of us – including those who try with great effort but in vain to measure up or gain their acceptance and approval, or those of us who gave up, either due to lack of energy or interest.
Here’s some of the traits I can think of concerning the “Summers” and “Pedros” of the world:
Seen as physically attractive, sex appeal “Average” or less looks, appeal less noticed
Confident in statements and positions Tentative, self-critical, slow to speak
Swagger in style and image – “big talker” Meek, self-effacing
Surrounded by adorers or other “insiders” Loners or small group of fellow “Pedros”
Often born into “Summerdom” by parents Humble upbringing
Wealthy, connected, advantages for success Starts from the bottom, no insider help
Gets heard, attention whenever they want Often overlooked, seen as hopeless, “loser”
Gets all the breaks Gets few breaks
Will drop friends when no longer useful Loyal to fellow “Pedros” who offer nothing
I could go on, but you get the point. The “Summers” get picked first in pickup sports, get invited to the slumber parties, get multiple prom date requests, selected as team captains and class presidents, fraternity and sorority offers, lucrative job positions, quick promotions (particularly in the military) regardless of true skill, and offers to join high society. And then there’s the rest of us “Pedros”, who could only dream of such attention and opportunities, and watch such people adored on TV and elsewhere. Janis Ian, a backward wallflower growing up herself, wrote of these latter people in her hauntingly melancholic hit song, “Seventeen”. Some of the lyrics are
I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for the beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth
And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
And the rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly
To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me
These “Summers” are the people who are “super-salesmen” who we admire and thus succeed, becoming charismatic military leaders, entrepeneurs and CEOS by “looking like they know what they are doing”. Even well-known pastors in mega-churches and para-church organizations can come from these ranks.
I have been blessed to be around wise Christian family and friends of great attributes but humble estates my whole life. I have rubbed shoulders with billionaires and connected people in my early career, and even had Lear Jet rides and the keys to executive positions dangled in front of me. However, I knew then I could never fit in or pull it off, and I am greatful to God to be spared such a shallow and unfulfilling existence. When one becomes aware of the move-prop facade this type of “success” is, one cannot help losing one’s natural envy of others who do “make it”, and all its material perks and supposed esteem-builders, and feel sorry for those struggling so hard to find that elusive contentment and real acceptance with that crowd, and truly feel pity for their BMW and “work hard/play hard” worlds. If is particularly sad to see women in Southern California, and now everywhere, who have been told that their value is merely their looks and youth, and thereby mutilate themselves at times in a vain attempt (excuse to the pun) to retain their “utility”.
The ultimate domain for the “Summers” is in the field of politics. It is often all about image, swagger, “tough guy” mentality, and frankly being a bully. As you can imagine, in a regular field of narcissists we now have a candidate who probably is the ultimate “Summer” – a wealthy billionaire born into wealth and connections, with people who hang on his every word, whether it is foolish or not, and even if he is insulting them or pandering to them in an obvious condescening way (and I have to say that Christians always seem by and large to be the most gullible). They are dealing with a “dealer” whose life of deals are not those that are “win-win” for two parties who meet each other’s needs, but where one is a “winner” and the other a “loser”, decided on who has more inside information or assets, or merely by bluff, bullying and intimidation. Those who are in the way either get out of the way, or get sued – just ask Merv Griffin – to further show his awesome “power”. His success? You know what they say – “Everybody loves a winner”. The people proving this adage the most by beating a path to sit at his feet are many of our most prominent Christian leaders, and professing American Christians in general.
Well, I have started a movement some time ago to start voting for the “Pedros” of the world. If it is real popular in society right now, be it a television show, style of music, gadgets or other styles, I’m probably going to take a pass on it. If it is a “trend”, “fashionable” or status symbol – count me out. If a person comes well-connected or with lots of money in their background, I’m probably going to write them off right on the spot. If they come with associations with powerful or prominent organizations and institutions, I will probably write them off too. If they are not selling themselves, but rather a noble idea, particularly one that looks out for the Forgotten People (those in institutional care, the elderly or low-income, all of whom are of no interest to Madison Avenue, Wall Street or the politicians, or others “out of favor”), then I will probably buy in, even if I disagree with them on certain matters; it is a question of integrity. If “insiders” recommend them, groom them or try to influence them, they are off my list, regardless of the good “positions” they claim to represent – I am old enough now to know whose interests they really represent.
This is a life decision for me, concerning all aspects of life. Tomorrow I am going to “vote for Pedro” at the ballot box. Won’t you join me?
I have not seen this as breaking news on World Net Daily, but check out the following two videos from Sen. Ted Cruz and study his voice and face carefully:
Now see how his voice and face resembles another prominent salesman and businessman, Mr. Haney from Green Acres…
The more speeches you hear from Sen. Cruz, the more it becomes apparent! Apparently he learned to sell “ice cream to the Eskimos” like his old man…
I know I come across as frequently whining against the short-sighted, maudlin, and boorish behavior and attitudes of my fellow American Christians whom I love (“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”, Rev. 3:19. Jesus to the Church at Laodicea); think about what my close friends must put up with!
However, I want to emphasize that I do see many promising developments amongst followers of Jesus, particularly amongst the young, but as a consequence of relating to today’s culture they will be knocking down a few walls of tradition and culture masquerading as religious fundamentals, and it could get messy at times. Older Christians raised as their predecessors (and myself) in a traditional evangelical/Catholic/Protestant culture of narrowed language and accepted means of expression, constrained levity and satire, and a propensity of “sacred cows” that dare not be skewered (such as our veneration of the divine nature of our nation, pastors and religious establishment and its other heroes) will be hitting the bottle of antacids frequently in the days ahead, or (like many) will turn bitter, resentful and evermore exclusionary in their thinking. A few of my cautionary “heroes”, whom I think might yet preserve a genuine Gospel ethic in the current and future generation (albeit in their own daring way), are even some “old geezers” like myself.
One such person I highly regard is Stephen Colbert. Most older Christians probably do not know who he is, even though he has been a cable television superstar for many years. Others would hold him in high suspicion because of his early association with John Stewart of the Daily Show (himself one of the best bastions of old-fashioned Christian ethics (while not himself a Christian) even though they don’t recognize it), and his skewering of many conservative icons and sacred cows on his show who were not to be touched.
I personally find him to be a true genius of our generation. Not only is he a multi-talented, highly educated and intellectual Renaissance Man of our generation, having an unparalleled litany of remarkable credentials to his credit (having invented the now-accepted word “truthiness”, multi-Emmy Winner and one of Time Magazines “100 Most Important People” in 2006 and 2012, has a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor named after him, has a Virgin America plane named after him, Grammy Award winner, has had four different species of insects officially named after him, is the only person to have a piece of equipment in space named after him (the COLBERT treadmill) and having been knighted by the King of Jordan, amongst many accolades). He definitely produces the most insightful and intellectual content on television. How he provides these subtle and insightful subtexts, even when acting as a buffoon or crassly, is appreciated by many, however it sadly goes over the head of most older Christians I know. His interviews and comical pieces not only make me laugh, but better yet make me think.
One of the unique aspects of Colbert beyond his cleverness and intelligence (and the fact of being a month younger than me, I get him), is his strong continuing Christian faith, even while enticed by all the trappings of the entertainment world. You can read about some of his background and religious influences here. He mentions his upbringing in a healthy, practicing Roman Catholic family, that was shattered when his father and siblings were taken away in a plane crash when he was only ten. Like many young men he began to lose his faith, when he says someone gave him a Gideon Bible on the streets of Chicago. In here he found Christ’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, which changed his life, and which he likes to talk about (you can find the Sermon’s influence in much of what he does in his comedy, if you look for it). He is known for being a regular Sunday School teacher as well – how many television darlings can you say that about today? I have observed, when I watched his wickedly funny and insightful Colbert Report shows on rare occasion, was his consistent defense of basic Christian truths such as man’s creation by God – even when interviewing an evolutionary biologist – and make it seem funny, endearing, non-threatening, and likeable (and he comes across as more enlightened, informed and intelligent than his scholarly expert guests, without being a boor).
He will say a few naughty words or vulgarities on rare occasion (at least on cable) to make a point, joke about sex (while being presumably faithful to his wife of 23 years) or discuss topics that make fundamentalists squirm. However, he is one of the few voices for the basic principles of love and decency toward others as Christ taught that the people in society respect, and will listen to. The only other peer that I can think of in his class is another controversial figure in fundamentalist circles – the Christ-loving TV and film producer Tyler Perry, who is arguably the most powerful (and wealthy) man in Hollywood, openly teaching marital fidelity, devotion to Christ, wife and children, and redemption and forgiveness in the guise of dressing up as a woman (“Madea”) and spitting out a foul word or two for laughs, while millions watch and learn, as many of our dour churches lay empty.
We as Christians should diligently pray for these two decent Christian brothers, who are two of the few witnesses for Christ who, while ruffling our feathers at times, retain any measure of respect and credibility in reaching today’s culture. Pray that God will send more like them.
Here is a link to Colbert’s inaugural show as the new host of David Letterman’s former show The CBS Late Show (his first foray into network television) – watch for his skewering of the media’s addiction to Trump coverage by use of an Oreo analogy, and the final musical number with one of gospel’s Staple Singers calling for societal love and unity.
As I said in the blog description, I have a soft spot for culture from the 60s to early 80s, be it a “good ol’ boy” country music song from the 60s about hippies and the war, to this gem from the 1969 edition (the season premier) of the iconic TV series Dragnet. It focuses on Detectives Friday and Gannon being asked to defend police brutality and profiling on a controversial, confrontational TV show, and it is a classic (the Hulu link should play, but you might have to sit through a commercial):
For you youngsters out there, Dragnet became one of the early mega-hits on TV in the 50s, lasting for eight seasons and making star Jack Webb a TV mover and shaker. He became, post WWII, the quintessential defender of the “Greatest Generation” and its values, warning of the risk of Commies taking over our towns in many works, and defending the actions of authoritarian figures such as the military and cops, and the “American Way”. He brought back Dragnet for what I feel is its most interesting era, in early color from 1967 to 1970, probably because it was TV gold monetarily, but also I suspect because he was worried about the emerging “hippie culture” and youth movement that was really impacting his home town of Los Angeles. He starts each show with some iconic words about “carrying a badge” and the virtues of LA – with its recurring elements, such as the “bad guys” being sentenced at the end in some type of police line up, becoming iconic and being parodied on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and elsewhere (Dan Ackroyd also did a spot-on impression of Joe Friday in the 1980s movie Dragnet). His first show of 1967, “The LSD Story”, has some of the most classic engagement scenes between square oldsters of the establishment, and “flower children” and junkies, as caricatured by his older generation as he wrote their parts. It is must-see TV for fans of unintended satire. Jack Webb, and his character of Joe Friday, is THE archetype of that generation and those who ran the Establishment, with views and characteristics for better or for worse.
In the episode I linked above, Friday and his partner Gannon get roped into defending the cops on a confrontational show that must have emulated the 1960s Los Angeles “Joe Pyne Show” (with episodes itself you should watch on Youtube), which became a confrontational forerunner of the “Morton Downey, Jr. Show” and Jerry Springer. They get ambushed in debate by a hippie (played by the great Howard Hesseman, later to achieve fame as “Johnny Fever” in WKRP In Cincinnati), a leftist human rights professor, and blacks, Hispanics and others from the poor neighborhoods who hurl questions to them about police brutality and profiling. Joe Friday makes an eloquent and heart-rending appeal on behalf of the beat cop, but never really addresses tangibly how to solve the problems they cite. Although it is obvious these antagonists are stereotyped by Jack Webb through the lens he saw them through when he wrote their parts, the debate shows that the issues have NOT changed in the last half century, and even this contrived debate is more eloquent than what we see in the public sector today (at least they had a dialogue, and acknowledged the problems then; how would today’s Religious Right and conservatives be accurately portrayed in such as show?).
Hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and I look forward to your comments!
P.S. As a bonus, a Youtube link to “The LSD Story” is here: