Respect vs. pity

I have long observed this and written about it, that instead of honoring those who hold the military vocation in the traditional way–admiring their prowess in battle and celebrating their victories–today our culture’s support for our troops is expressed by feeling sorry for them.  Now this is getting on their nerves:

The troops are lavished with praise for their sacrifices. But the praise comes with a price, service members say. The public increasingly acts as if it feels sorry for those in uniform.

“We aren’t victims at all,” said Brig. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, who commanded troops in Iraq and will soon leave for Afghanistan. “But it seems that the only way that some can be supportive is to cast us in the role of hapless souls.”

The topic is a sensitive one for military leaders, who do not want to appear ungrateful or at odds with the public they serve. They also realize that the anger that returning troops faced in the latter years of the Vietnam War was far worse.

As a result, most of the conversations about pity take place quietly and privately among combat veterans. . . .

The military’s unease springs, in part, from American indifference to the wars. Battlefield achievements are rarely singled out for praise by a country that has little familiarity with the military and sees little direct benefit from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“We, as a nation, no longer value military heroism in ways that were entirely common in World War II,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Instead, praise from politicians and the public focuses largely on the depth of a service member’s suffering. Troops are recognized for the number of tours they have endured, the number of friends they have lost or the extent of their injuries. . . .

Lower-ranking officers feel a similar frustration. “America has unwittingly accepted the idea that its warriors are victims,” Lt. Col. John Morris, a chaplain for the Minnesota Army National Guard, told the Rotary Club of St. Paul in August.

via Troops feel more pity than respect – The Washington Post.

Cosmology and the speed of light

We’ve blogged about the discovery of neutrinos that seemed to have traveled faster than light.  As scientists try to replicate and study that event, Joel Aschenbach has a good explanation of what’s at stake if light is not the fastest thing in the universe:

There is logic and beauty in a universe in which space, time, energy and matter are tightly associated with the speed of light. The special status of the speed of light isn’t like an Olympic record, something begging to be broken. Someone could come along who is faster than Usain Bolt, and it wouldn’t change the way we look at the world.

But the speed of light, according to Einstein, is an integral part of the geometry of four-dimensional space-time.

When we discuss the speed of light, we’re not talking about the characteristics of light so much as we’re describing the fabric of the universe. Light speed is the ultimate speed that anything (including things with zero mass, such as light or other electromagnetic radiation) can possibly go.

This also puts a limit on the speed of information, and, as such, helps enforce the fundamental law of causality. There’s an “arrow of time”: Splattered eggs on the kitchen floor don’t reassemble themselves in the shell and leap back onto the countertop.

“The melded nature of space and time is intimately woven with properties of light speed,” Greene says. “The inviolable nature of the speed of light is actually, in Einstein’s hands, talking about the inviolable nature of cause and effect.”

Michael Turner, a University of Chicago physicist, says the universe won’t seem as logical if there are particles that can move faster than light.

“In science we like surprises. We like big surprises. This one is too big to be true,” Turner said. “We really like things that rock the boat and turn us in a new direction, but this one turns the boat upside down and fills it with water.”

via Faster-than-light neutrino poses the ultimate cosmic brain teaser for physicists – The Washington Post.

Perhaps some of you can explain why breaking the cosmic speed limit would undermine cause and effect.  Aschenbach says “that” it would do so, but he doesn’t get into the “hows” and “whys.”

And now Cain’s brain freeze

This sounds even worse than Rick Perry’s memory lapse, a function not so much of forgetting something but not knowing in the first place:

In an interview today with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain visibly struggled to explain his position on President Obama’s Libya policy.

The video is particularly damaging for Cain, who has struggled on matters of foreign policy in the past.

Asked if he agreed with the president, Cain said, “Okay, Libya,” and then was silent for about ten — yes, ten — seconds, before asking, “President Obama supported the uprising, correct?”

Cain then said he did not agree with Obama’s handling of the uprising, before adding: “No, that’s a different one. I’ve got to go back, got all this stuff twirling around in my head. Specifically, what are you asking me did I agree or not agree with Obama.”

Finally, Cain concluded that he “would have done a better job of assessing the situation relative to the opposition first, before I made decisions about what we would do” but did not spell out any differentiation on policy.

via Herman Cain stumbles badly on Libya question – The Washington Post.

See for yourself. It isn’t just what he says–and asks–about Libya. It’s his rambling, incoherent discourse that follows. This video is really painful to watch:

Yes, we like him. Some of you think the sexual harrassment charges against him are bogus. But shouldn’t our president have at least some experience that relates to his office? Shouldn’t he show at least some knowledge of foreign affairs and other matters that he’ll need to deal with?

Being personally offended for someone else

I’ve noticed the phenomenon of someone getting personally offended on behalf of someone else, who, in fact, has not been personally offended.  A complaint has been filed against Catholic University for being insensitive to Muslims–basically by being a Catholic university–even though no Muslims have complained.  From a Washington Post editorial:

The press release announcing complaints against Catholic University of America for alleged bias against Muslim and women students begins with a mention of criminal charges leveled against a bishop in Kansas City for withholding information about suspected child abuse. It’s an irrelevant cheap shot. But it’s a good tipoff to the lack of substance in public-interest lawyer John Banzhaf’s high-profile campaign against Catholic University.

Mr.  Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University noted for litigation on behalf of non-smokers and women, recently complained to the D.C. Office of Human Rights that Catholic was violating the rights of its Muslim students. The complaint is focused on the school’s policy of not giving official status to non-Catholic worship groups, but Mr. Banzhaf, in interviews and releases, also suggests that Muslim students are uncomfortable with the symbols of Catholicism on the campus. He faults the university for not setting aside space — free of crucifixes and other religious icons — for Muslims to worship. The complaint follows another action by Mr. Banzhaf in which he alleges that Catholic’s elimination of coed dorm floors is discriminatory (he claims such adverse effects to women as not being able to find males to walk with them to their dorms after dark).

It’s a little hard to take the charges seriously considering no one actually claims to be aggrieved. Mr. Banzhaf acknowledged to The Post’s Michelle Boorstein that he had received no complaint from Muslim students but was acting on the basis of a 2010 Post article (which, to our mind, painted an overall positive experience of Muslim students at Catholic). The university has received no complaints from Muslim students and, in fact, reports a doubling of its Muslim enrollment since 2007, from 56 to 122.

via Campaign against Catholic University – The Washington Post.

Some Catholics will be denied the Cup

A huge issue during the Reformation was the right of the laity to receive Holy Communion in “both kinds”; that is, to receive both the bread (Christ’s body) and the wine (Christ’s blood).  The practice of Roman Catholicism up until Vatican II in the 1960s was for the laity to only receive the bread.  Clergy were the only ones allowed to receive the wine.

I never understood the rationale for that.  People, such as John Hus, were burned at the stake for insisting on both kinds.  And now at least some dioceses (specifically in the United States, Phoenix and Madison) are going back to the practice of denying the cup to laypeople, except on certain special occasions:

While Catholics across the United States are getting their tongues around the new translations of the Mass, Catholics in two U.S. dioceses will also be taste-testing another change: regular communion from the cup will be disappearing.

Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s new directives for communion from the cup, according to the diocesan website, will allow the assembly to receive the blood of Christ “at the Chrism Mass and feast of Corpus Christi. Additionally it may be offered to a Catholic couple at their wedding Mass, to first communicants and their family members, confirmation candidates and their sponsors, as well as deacons, non-concelebrating priests, servers, and seminarians at any Mass,” along with religious in their houses and retreatants. Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin made a similar decision.

The effect of the change, intended or not, is that the blood of Christ will separate some members of the assembly from others, notably priests and deacons (whether they are functioning in their liturgical roles or not), and seminarians and servers.

A close reading of the Phoenix rationale for the decision quickly makes clear a primary purpose: to eliminate extraordinary (lay) ministers of the Eucharist, because too many of them result in “obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers.”

This fear of “disproportionately multiplying” communion ministers is then applied to the feast of Corpus Christi, one of the few times communion under both species will be permitted. In that instance if a parish is lacking enough “ordinary ministers,” “it is common sense that [the pastor] would not be able to judge the necessary conditions as met,” because he would need a “disproportionate” number of lay ministers to distribute the blood of Christ. In other words, no cup—even on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ—all for the sake of reinforcing the distinct (and obvious) roles of the ordained.

The diocesan reasoning invokes the 2005 expiration of a Vatican permission granted in 1975 that allowed wide use of the cup but disregards the more general liturgical law that allows the diocesan bishop to make the cup widely available. The diocese even bizarrely argues that communion under the form of bread alone is a greater sign of Catholic unity because most Catholics in the world don’t get to receive from the cup. Because the faithful of the rest of the world are robbed of the fullness of the eucharistic symbol, the reasoning goes, Catholics of the Diocese of Phoenix should be, too.

via You’re cut off: No more cup for the people. | USCatholic.org.

Could some of you Catholics explain why the laity–not just in these two dioceses but apparently in other places in the world– would be denied the cup? I know about the priest/layperson distinction, but what is the rationale for manifesting that in this particular way?

UPDATE:  Thanks to Jonathan for alerting us that the Bishop of Phoenix has reversed his decision.

Romney’s good deed

Kathleen Parker draws attention to something Romney did that he really deserves credit for:  When Rick Perry had his 53-second brain-freeze in which he forgot which agency he was going to shut down, Romney tried to help him.

The 53-second eternity has been replayed sufficiently, so we needn’t belabor the cringe-inducing amnesia of the 47th Texas governor. It was so bad that even disciples of schadenfreude ducked under their blankies and prayed for deliverance.

“Oops” was all that was left to Perry when he couldn’t recall the third agency he would stomp beneath the heel of his Texas boot. “I can’t,” he said when pressed by moderator John Harwood. “Oops.” . . .

As Perry was free-falling into the abyss of lost thoughts Wednesday night, he turned to his fellow contestants as if to say, “Please, someone, can’t you tell me what I think?”

Unhelpfully, Ron Paul suggested there were really five agencies he should cut. And then someone did try to help him, and this to me was the most memorable moment of the evening. From somewhere on the panel, a voice reached out to the struggling Texan, a suggestion that might help Perry gather himself and emerge from this utter humiliation.

The voice belonged to Mitt Romney. As Perry’s brain was hardening into arctic pack ice, Romney suggested that maybe the third agency he wanted to eliminate was the EPA. Yeah, that’s it! But no, it wasn’t. Pressed by Harwood, Perry said it wasn’t the EPA, but blast if he could remember what it was. (Later he said it was Energy.)

Romney’s suggestion when most of the others were squirmingly silent was an act of pure kindness and self-sacrificing generosity. It was not especially noticeable. But if you were Rick Perry in that moment, you were well aware that Romney was the one who tried to save you. When Perry finally said, “Oops,” it was Romney toward whom he looked.

Small, but not insignificant, this gesture of active empathy tells much about the man who extended it. He’s a nice guy in a season of nastiness, a trait that may also be his greatest political failing.

via A nice guy in a season of nastiness – The Washington Post.

She goes on to say that Romney’s niceness will hurt him because we are in a time of voter anger.  I would say, though, that anger doesn’t play all that well in a presidential election, which (I argue) is part of the problem with the rest of the candidates.  What voters yearn for is someone who can make them optimistic.  I’m not sure Romney can do that.  But still, I’ll give him credit for trying to help his opponent.


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