PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2013) — He paid his own hotel tab and carried his own luggage to the bus that he rode along with his other colleagues, even though they had a Mercedes limo waiting expressly for his private service. He told those who elected him, “May God forgive you” for what you have done, evoking gales of laughter from a groups that wouldn’t rank high on your “fun to party” list. He wades into crowds by himself, vexing his bodyguards. He made a phone call, dialing the number himself. The receiver thought it was a prank. He eschewed the ridiculous ruby-red Dorothy loafers of his regal predecessors to keep his beat up black sneakers.

Meet Francis, the new Pope.

A Fast Start in an Allegorical Office

POPE FRANCIS: An open face

Jorge Bergoglio has gotten out of the gates fast. The first days of an office as laden with symbol as the Roman Catholic papacy establish a permanent image that tends to become allegorical. The surface actions can be interpreted to reveal an underlying core meaning that eventually become a “theme.”

Pope Francis has come off as a humble man in touch with the streets, the possessor of a common touch and a rare penchant to act on an impulse, as when he went crowd diving, much to the consternation of his bodyguard.

Francis is the first Jesuit elected to the papacy and the first Holy Father to hail from anywhere except Europe in 1,300 years. He will conduct Holy Thursday Mass in a youth correction facility and not at overwrought basilicas St. Peter’s or the Lateran across town. Francis is also cutting American nus some slack.

You’ll recall that Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II before him didn’t like the way these “uppity females” were spending too much time on social justice and not enough time on abortion and homosexuality. For Francis, social justice wins out. God bless activist nuns. It is a welcome breath of fresh air, a refreshing elixir not emanating from the Church since 1963 and the papacy of Vatican II architect Pope John XIII.

Unlike the remote, high-pitched Benedict, Francis seems to possess a persona that connects with people on a human and not professorial basis. Unlike the pinched Polish prelate JPII, Francis, while he seems aware of the world stage, isn’t in love with it. His first homilies and speeches have been talks and conversations rather than lectures or performances. Unlike his predecessors, he talks on and off the cuff and doesn’t have to stage manage every blasted syllable into a gold-and-white microphone.

Francis seems like a guy who can tell a good joke and the type who laughs as hard as you do at it. The Vatican hasn’t seen this many smiles from a Holy Father since one day in the life of John XXIII, and that includes the entire terms of John Paul II and Benedict, two popes who presided over some of the most God-awful scandals one could dredge up from under the Edenic rock. At the forefront of these is the child abuse pandemic, plus the others revealed in “Vaticanleaks.”

While Francis is reportedly “conservative” with respect to doctrine, he appears to be “liberal” with respect to action. Whereas his predecessors tried to bring the Church backward into 1958, Francis — though it’s too soon the tell — seems willing to acknowledge that the world is round. Welcome, Roman Catholic Church, to 2013.

An Inclusionary Touch

This guy isn’t afraid to smile.

THE PLANET also loved Francis’ meeting with representatives of non-Catholic Christian religions (Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists), Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus on Wednesday. That a new pope would set a day for that type of ecumenical gathering so early into his pontificate adds to the allegory and the back story, suggesting the underlying tale might mean a more open view from Rome of the other approaches to God.

Pope Francis did not leave out atheists, either. He called people of no religion “precious allies” in the search for truth, adding that the world can and should unite to defend justice, work for peace, and strive always to protect the environment. [ED. NOTE: Spare us the lecture pointing out that “atheists” and “people of no religion” are two different groups. We are aware of that].

Even as a kid, Jorge had the smile.

He also nailed it when he decried the endemic materialism that has reduced human value to what a person produces and what he consumes. He called this “one-dimensional view of the human person … one of the most dangerous snares of our times.” Bravo.

The Cautionary However: Another Point of View

There is another side, of course, and a looming cautionary “however” in all this. Norman Birnbaum, in an essay titled “New Pope, Old Papacy,” published in The Nation, wrote, brings it to the front:

—– 00 —–

A Jesuit colleague reminded me, wearily and warily, that Pope Francis is “very conservative.” He is very unlikely to reconsider clerical celibacy, allow women a larger and more independent role in the church or encourage more autonomy at the base. He has been conducting fierce political conflict with the present Argentinian government over its policies on abortion and same-sex marriage.

A previous Argentinian president termed him the leader of the opposition to the government now in place, successor to the civilian regimes that, after the military dictatorship of 1976–83, restored democracy and human rights to the nation. The Argentine admirals and generals who murdered and tortured thousands (and abducted some of their children) were ideological siblings of European authoritarian movements like those of Franco and Pétain, which gave the Catholic Church sovereignty in culture and education. They were equally close to the Catholics who served Hitler and Mussolini in a common front against liberalism, secular modernity and “Communism.” The pope will be haunted by his relationship, as senior Jesuit in Argentina, with its former rulers. When appointed archbishop in 1998, he apologized for the failure of the church to oppose the dictatorship.

Birnbaum goes on to take an unflinching look at the Curia, the body of senior Church officials who control the day-to-day operations of the Vatican heirarchy.

The pope has never served at the Vatican, which may command the portals to heaven but is situated on earth. It is saturated with corruption, hypocrisy and nepotism, which have recently become so evident that the churchmen situated in Rome have had to confront the criticism, even revulsion, of the faithful. Demands for “reform” are loud in the church. The cardinals and senior clerics commanding the Vatican’s utterly untransparent jumble of commissions, courts, directorates and offices are effective heirs to a centuries old tradition of delaying or blunting or negating “reform.”

They are, above all, interested in retaining their privileges and powers—which are inseparable from the papal absolutism the reformers contest. They could not install one of their own as successor to the exhausted octogenarian who has left behind him a church in crisis. They chose a septuagenarian with obvious political skills, a pleasing public persona, one lung—and no obvious passion for transforming the church.

Even from the Chair, this guy find the light side.

It is quite unclear what Francis will do when, in God’s slow time, he succeeds in deciphering the Vatican’s table of organization. It is even more unclear, on the uncertain supposition that he sympathizes with the divided and dispersed party of reform, what he can do. What we have experienced in the first days of the pontificate is Baroque street theater. After the play, the characters withdraw, put on their customary garb, and life goes on as before.

—– 00 —–

Obviously, any story as complex as this will not reveal the fullness of its lessons until the final page is read, and the story of Pope Francis has just begun. There will no doubt be an allegorical meaning to what we see on the surface, and we can’t possibly fathom what that will be. For now, we must observe with patience and interpret with hope. He’s just one man, but he is the Pope.

Viva Papa!



THE PLANET has spent many a day in spring training baseball camps, particularly in the decade from 1980 to 1990.  We’ve seen the game change from the relatively Spartan and sparse nature of of spring training 30 years ago to today’s over-produced “amusement park” extravaganzas. Frankly, baseball’s “new” version, which aims to dumb down the game and provide distractions for those who aren’t fans at all but who want to be at The Event, leaves us disappointed and, at this point, unable to tell the difference in roster or in heart between the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, and any third MLB team you care to mention.

Perhaps no greater symbol exists than ball girls. These little girls tend to be cute, perky, somewhat busty, often blond, bimbo types whose prowess with a baseball glove makes Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart look like Brooks “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” Robinson. Not only can’t they field, but some possess enough air between their pretty ears not to realize that a game is in progress or that a play might be getting dangerously close to them. One wonders: Do they even know the basic rules of baseball, or is it all crickets to them?

Check out this piece from Yahoo! Sports.

Incoming! Hooters ball girl has embarrassing encounter with foul ball (again)

By Mike Oz | Big League Stew – 22 hours ago

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Hooters ball girls who patrol the foul lines at Philadelphia Phillies spring games. Apparently, these ladies are drawn to embarrassment and danger like men are drawn to hot pants and chicken wings.

Surely you recall the gal from last week who picked up a live ball and tossed it into the crowd. Today comes this: An un-alert ball girl doesn’t move quickly enough when a ball flies her way and almost gets hit by the ball and bowled over by a New York Yankees player. Oops.

It turns out Tuesday was an especially blunder-filled day in the lives of Hooters ball girls. On the other side of the field, a Hooters girl totally Buckner’d two grounders and then got booed by the fans at Bright House Field at Clearwater, Fla.

These even happened in the same inning. Let’s all facepalm in the unison, OK?

The spring’s almost over so allow the Hooters girls to continue embarrassing themselves at Phillies games. But can we suggest something? Before trotting out these ladies again next year, someone at Hooters should invest in a couple Tom Emanski videos.

 —– 00 —–

Yes, there are girls and women who can handle a glove, but ladies and gentlemen, please a few suggestions:

1.) Baseball would be better off without any ball girls, boys, or people. Let a foul ball be a foul ball, to enter into the stands of its own will and not into (or out of) the glove of unnecessary personnel.

2.) If baseball insists on these unneeded spare parts, then at least employ  those who know the game, will pay attention to the game, and be able to make the play.

Have a great weekend, everybody!


The crowd at the ball game / is moved uniformly / by a spirit of uselessness / which delights them” — William Carlos Williams.





  1. Ron Kitterman
    March 22, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Looks like you’ve got the 9 and 10 commandments covered Dan, Miserando atque Eligendo

    March 22, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Pope sounds like he might be a GOB or maybe Mike Dukakis. He always used public transpotation.

  3. Twist
    March 22, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    I appreciated your comments about Pope Frank… good guy it seems and a breath of fresh air– just a note of clarity, Ecumenism is the inter-working of different Christian denominations… as soon as you include ‘other than Christian’ it becomes Interfaith… Both are vital and both should take place…

    • danvalenti
      March 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

      Agree with you there, Twist.

  4. Jim Gleason
    March 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    I like girls anywhere and those that bounce and giggle are great, as long as it’s not too much.

    • Pittsfield Pete
      March 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

      Good piece Dan and in many ways connected. The Pope makes a good point about main stream culture in it’s preoccupation with the material. Baseball is just a reflection of that preoccupation, but not unique as it is present in all pro – sports as well dominating main stream culture.

      Tinsel and glitter do not renew and provide very little substance to sustain our hearts and souls.

  5. Rivetor
    March 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    I agree with what Pope Francis has demonstrated thusfar. He’s inspiring. I like what Pittsfield Pete said about baseball, about being a reflection of what Francis said about materialism. Good stuff today, DV.

  6. Scott
    March 22, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    Nice piece Dan I liked it so much I signed out and re entered your site address in new tabs under various wi fi connections after clearing my browsing data and cache.

  7. Jonathan Melle
    March 22, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    I love Hooters!

    • danvalenti
      March 22, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

      What’s not to like?

      • FPR
        March 23, 2013 at 4:15 am #

        The wife clobbering you over the head for staring?

        • Jonathan Melle
          March 23, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

          What’s better than a cold beer, chicken wings, and Hooters?

          • Scott
            March 24, 2013 at 9:18 am #

            Wheat grass, lean fish and vegetables sharing a bottle of wine with the wife!

        • Scott
          March 24, 2013 at 9:22 am #

          Hey I told my wife I heard they have good wings and we should try it but her look alone was enough to forget about it plus I make some pretty damn good wings myself!

  8. FPR
    March 23, 2013 at 4:19 am #

    Dan the new pope is set to meet with the old pope.

    The encounter could create a time paradox, the result of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe!

    • danvalenti
      March 23, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

      It’s like turning on a humidifier and a dehumidifier at the same time. Implosion of catastrophic dimensions!

  9. Tom Sakshaug
    March 23, 2013 at 6:32 am #

    I released myself from the Catholic Church long ago for several reasons, but the main one was that the message of Jesus, which is overall a good one though not unique among religions, is buried under the top-heavy bureaucracy and the endless rituals. It’s very glittery and incensed and beautiful, but where’s the beef? The treatment of women as second-class is way too retro for me. So I left with no regrets. I really don’t understand why Catholics unhappy with the church don’t just leave. There are many other organized religions out there if you think you need one.

    Regarding baseball, the ball girls at Fenway look more like softball players than Hooters girls, and though plays are often muffed, sometimes they get cheers for fine glove work. I just wish they’d toss the ball into the stands rather than hand it to the rich kids in the front. Daddy can buy one.

    As far as I know, the Red Sox have the only MLB ballpark that does not tell the fans when to clap or cheer via the PA system and video board. All chants and cheers are fan-generated. Just a little more honest than most. The sellout thing is bogus, though.

    • Tom Sakshaug
      March 23, 2013 at 6:34 am #

      Hey, Dan…your website is still on Pacific Time. Is that a protest against Daylight Saving?

      • danvalenti
        March 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

        Not a protest. Simply the laws of physics based on the synchronicity of our orbit in the space-time fabric.

        • Tom Sakshaug
          March 23, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

          BS BS BS

          • danvalenti
            March 24, 2013 at 9:08 am #

            Didn’t you read comic books or love science fiction films a a kid? You should recognize articulations of veracity when they are made manifest. Get on the laughing gas and lighten up your load.

          • Tom Sakshaug
            March 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

            I do still love all that stuff…and I also enjoy the BS. My load is light without the gas!

          • Tom Sakshaug
            March 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

            And…judging by the adjusted time of my BS comment, I was likely in a “certain mind frame” when I wrote it. Didn’t mean it in a bad way at all. I do love to give and take it.

          • danvalenti
            March 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

            Thanks. I still love that stuff, too.

    • danvalenti
      March 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      I respect your choice. You are right about how the Catholic Church buries its “Goods” under a lot of politics, bureaucracy, ritual etc., so that often, the thing that becomes worshipped is the outer symbol and not that to which it points. I also agree about the ball girls handing balls to the rich kid in the front row boxes. Ball girls, however, are part of the accoutrements that MLB has added to the game that, for this traditionalist, have made MLB unwatchable — This includes ear-splitting music between every pitch and on every at bat. It’s obviously a strategy to get people who aren’t baseball fans into the stands. It’s not even about the game any longer, at the MLB level. It’s about the Experience — an overpriced cross between an Amusement Park and a satiric version of the game that used to be baseball.

      • ambrose
        March 23, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

        Plus the games take forever – when i was 12 my father took me to a red sox double-header with cleveland = left pittsfield at 8 0’clock A.M. , watched two games and was back in pittsfield before 9 PM – saw bobby doerr hit two home runs – two games for the price of one also

        • danvalenti
          March 24, 2013 at 9:10 am #

          Yes. One of my major turnoffs. Games were usually done in two hours or under. I can remember driving to Fenway in the early 70s with a bunch of friends. We’d get to the ticket office at 1 p.m. for a 1:30 game. We’d buy box seats for $6 apiece. We’d leave Landsdowne Street a little after three, and be home by 5:30 p.m., in time to play wiffle ball. I met Bobby Doerr but never saw him play. I did see Williams play in his next to last game, 9/27/60. Great memories, my good friend.

      • dusty
        March 24, 2013 at 3:35 am #

        The game itself has become a sidebar to the spectacle surrounding it. It would seem that the PR end of management dwarfs the true baseball people involved. There is much more money to be made in fan apparel and trinkets than on game tickets. And make no mistake, professional baseball is much more about money than it is about baseball.

        • danvalenti
          March 24, 2013 at 9:06 am #

          All true.

        • Tom Sakshaug
          March 24, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

          Of course the Pittsfield Suns provide pretty good baseball at a very good price. Always more errors than the pros but usually more scoring too.

  10. Joe Blow
    March 23, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Is anyone else wonder how a guy gets caught with 35 pounds of weed gets off and kids in Great Barrington sells a couple joints gets 2 years? Who did this kid know?

    • Scott
      March 23, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

      It’s not who he knows it’s genetic. He didn’t ask to be here. What I’m implying is his timing is a factor.

  11. Ron Kitterman
    March 24, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    “I don’t know (if they were men or women fans running naked across the field). They had bags over their heads.” A Yogi Berra quote …

    • danvalenti
      March 24, 2013 at 9:06 am #

      When a streaker interrupted a game at Fenway by running across the outfield, they asked Yaz after the game about it. “He showed me nothing,” Yaz said.

  12. Rivetor
    March 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Wow I hadn’t thought it it but I remember just getting out of high school in the late-70s and being able to but tickets at Fenway on the day of game for a few bucks, maybe $2 or $3 for bleachers.

    Comic books and science fiction movies? In my neighborhood we practically lived on them. Thanks for the laughs DV and Tom S.

    • danvalenti
      March 24, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

      When I tell young people of doing this — driving up to Fenway at the last minute, walking up to the box office, and being able to practically name your seats, for the grand price of a few dollars, with free parking to boot on Landsdowne and Van Ness — they look at me as if I am spinning fairy tales. They came of age when the Red Sox winning multiple World Series was no big deal (they also saw the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins win five world titles), but they missed a lot. They have no idea. It’s a different world now.

  13. Dave
    March 24, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    Off topic and maybe an idea for tomorrow’s column. Go to great website because you get supporting documents with all the petitions-easing the requirements on the PEDA funds given to Hancock Shaker Village from 250 properties to 100!! Well they will do other non-defined projects that “benefit the city” so I guess the PEDA funds weren’t wasted after all- WHAT A JOKE.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Read this as soon as it was posted Friday morning. I was gonna say something then, but figured I’d wait and see what others had to say.
    So am I the only person who has a problem with social justice? How about equal justice?
    Social Justice as practiced is basically theft. Taking from producers and giving to nonproducers.
    Certainly the Church can give to those who are in need as their donations come from those who freely give. But to throw around that social justice, which is a huge tenant of the left, is good overall, is misleading.
    For a religious group to practice this is alright as long as those donating perceive it so.
    However, to say that social justice is a good practice in general, not so much.
    I realize that the article was in fact dealing with the Church and nothing else. But words and terms matter.
    Social justice as practiced by our government is nothing short of stealing from producers to help nonproducers.
    I reject that the term can be used in a free society. Social justice is Marxist and has no place in a Capitalist society.

    • danvalenti
      March 25, 2013 at 6:43 am #

      Excellent points. From assets freely given — that’s the key to understanding this. If A FREELY gives to B, B may freely do what he wishes with the assets. If C forces D to give tribute, as the government does with taxes, C can give away assets but only immorally.

  15. Charles Trzcinka
    March 24, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    So how do you start with praising the humility of the Pope and end with bouncing, jiggling Hooters girls? Methinks I see a bit of an internal struggle in the soul of the Planet..

    • danvalenti
      March 25, 2013 at 6:41 am #

      THE PLANET, as do most poets, contains multitudes that typically embrace contradictions. We are like light: Both particle and wave, at the same time. Even the physicists cannot account for it!