Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Exploring the 10th Commandment, NPR, and Manuel Noriega

Given my political leanings, it comes as a surprise to most people that I listen to National Public Radio almost exclusively whenever I find myself alone in my car for more than twenty minutes at a time.  In a media world, however, that seems more and more bereft of intelligent discourse, I find a great degree of stimulation in listening to programming that is largely commercial free, and that almost never uses the words, Nazi (except in reference to those who are self-professed Nazis), right-wing, loony, nut-job, or "those who hate America."  Moreover, I find that there is often a great deal going on in the world when we are able to ignore yet another dead blond in Aruba for just a moment.  As often as not, the commentators leave me hopping mad, but at least they have done so intelligently.

The entertainment offered by NPR is much better as well.  While I could do without the majority of the "world music" pieces and eulogies to newly-dead and barely remembered pseudo-celebrities, I love "Prairie Home Companion," "This I Believe," "What Do you Know," and "This American Life." (As an aside, I find "Fresh Air" to consistently be the most deplorable, vapid, self-satisfied, banal, smug, inane drivel to ever cross the airwaves.)

In February or thereabouts, I was over at a neighbor's house when one of the local teens arrived flushed with the excitement of having recently acquired an iPod Touch.  I am not a gadgety sort of fellow, and was little interested at first.  The more I looked at it, though, the more attractive it became.  It really is an eye-catching piece of electronics with unquestionable aesthetic quality.  I marveled at the touch technology and asked some polite questions, pretending I was interested.  What really piqued my interested, though, was the revelation that this little device (which I believe to be controlled by very tiny gremlins within) could be synchronized with my office computer's Outlook Calendar.  I had been searching for a device able to do this for a long time, and had reached the point of despair, believing that I was going to have to buy a smart phone with a data plan for which I would have to grudgingly pay.  For the rest of our brief interview, I coveted his iPod.  Upon returning to my own home, I immediately called my tech savvy friend in Denver and then promptly placed an order for my own iPod Touch to be collected at Best Buy the next morning.  Happy Lent to me.  Huzzah for instant gratification.

Though I am not a pro, I did manage to sync my calendar and to subscribe to several podcasts, most of which originate from NPR programming.  For the most part, these have been accumulating on my iPod waiting for me to have the time to listen to them.  A recent trip to Radio Shack and the acquisition of a small FM transmitter has allowed me to play these podcasts in my car while driving (thus saving me from the torturous possibility of enduring the utterly insufferable Terry Gross on yet another episode of "Fresh Air").  In the week or so since this purchase I have devoured Dave Barry's most recent book, several months worth of the "News From Lake Wobegone" and today, two episodes of "This American Life."  And so we finally get around to the point of this entry.

The second episode (I don't recall the air date) featured the story of a woman, who when eleven years old, became pen-pals with drug smuggler, murderer, and despot Manuel Noriega.  Through her letter writing she was eventually invited to become his guest in Panama for about a week.  The story focused on the fact that while Noriega perpetrated a variety of grave evils, to one little girl, he was a very normal man, living with his wife and children.  Through him, she had come to experience the goodness of Panama and the goodness of Panamanians.  Near the end of her visit, she received a letter from Noriega which he asked her to share with Americans upon her return to the States.  It is a beautiful and deeply moving letter that reminds us that even one who has done monstrous things remains a man.  He comments about his desire for peace in his own nation and to provide for the poor, homeless, and uneducated therein.  One cannot help but appreciate these desires, however misguided he may have been in his attempt to implement them.  I was moved by his eloquence; near the end of the letter he writes, "Peace is from God and therefore it is welcome to whichever part of the world will have it."

Though not nearly so eloquent as he, I was reminded of something I wrote several summers ago as the state of South Dakota debated the execution of admitted murdered Elijah Page:

There is no such thing as an evil person. There is no evil gene. There are good people who make bad decisions. There are good people, who by means of many bad decisions, become incapable of making good decisions. There are good people who, as a result of circumstances, believe that they have no choice but to make a bad decision. There are good people who intentionally make bad decisions to make us think a particular way about them. There are good people who are zealots for a cause, and for that reason, are willing to sacrifice any principle for it. There are good people, who, because of their own behaviors, place themselves in situations where they haven’t the mental or emotional capacity to make good decisions. There are good people who are often overwhelmed with passions and make decisions based on emotion as opposed to reason. But there is no such thing as an evil person.


  1. First, this sentence is hilarious: I find "Fresh Air" to consistently be the most deplorable, vapid, self-satisfied, banal, smug, inane drivel to ever cross the airwaves. haha!

    Glad to hear how the Ipod touch changed your life. My classmates here are all abuzz about the "e-brievary."

    And lastly, regarding the unexpected turn to discussion of capital punishment, it is eloquently stated. I think our church would gain more credibility on life issues if we were as loud about the death penalty as we are about many others. In the last year since I came to DC, Virginia carried out 3 executions, without a word from our church leaders. Unfortunately it seems to appear that we are willing to stifle our voice on this because the "pro-life" political candidates we want to encourage are in favor of capital punishment. But can you imagine how the dignity of the human person could be enhanced in popular culture if we could convince people that criminals deserve life?

    Anyway, that is just my personal angst as a Catholic who can't find anybody to vote for, yet with an obligation to do so. :(

  2. I appreciate your frustration in this regard. While I appreciate the fact that Capital Punishment and Abortion are separate issues, one of which is at least theoretically defensible and the other not, it would be to our advantage to be louder in our opposition to the death penalty.

  3. This is an insightful and thought-provoking post and discussion I will recommend to others, Father!

  4. And I find I feel almost exactly the same as you about NPR...

  5. After reading your last paragraph, I have to say that your parents did a fine job of raising you! Anyone else in your family want to be a priest? I hope so!


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