Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why I'm supposed to be writing

I apologize for the overload of vertical pronouns in the following post. However, yesterday I got a reminder of why I got into the blogging game ... or, rather, why I'm supposed to be writing. A big, fat message from God saying, "You're doing it wrong."

On Nov. 4, 2012, I published a post here exploding the elitist-left trope that people join the military because they're "too dumb to go to college"

College tuition assistance, I wrote, has been a big draw for the military over the last forty years. You have to have a certain amount of intelligence just to be able to join; and if you don't have the intelligence, self-discipline, and self-motivation to succeed in the armed forces, you're not likely to succeed in college, either. Besides, I explained, you're not likely to have a long or prosperous military career if you don't get an advanced degree along the way — a bachelor's, if you're enlisted; a master's, if you're an officer. Some have even gone on to earn doctorates while still in uniform. The Department of Defense spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year just on paying tuition for the currently-serving, veterans, and retirees. Overall, I concluded self-righteously, the "too dumb to go to college" is long past its shelf life, and needs to be discarded.

Yesterday, I received an email from a Marine veteran:

Sir, two items:

I appreciate your post about servicemembers being well-educated, citing the example of the Grammar Marine on twitter.‎ I'm passing it along to my Marines in grad schools.

Also, thank-you for linking the Drexel University veterans' program. The VA lost my MGIB, of course, forcing me to drop out of my PhD program. Then I'd gotten nowhere with AMU‎ Admissions: It seems that an unacceptable candidate is one publishing multiple internationally-acclaimed works and achieving a GRE of 1220 *after* a major brain injury. So I have just now enquired of Drexel's online graduate school instead .... you've given me hope and, fingers crossed, a way through.

Semper Fi, my friend, and thank you for your service. Please pray for this Marine, and for all veterans facing similar difficulties.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Houston Grand Jury Indictment: When Consequentialism Backfires

David R. Daleiden. (Source: Urban Christian News.)
People who have never read Vom Krieg often know Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz's most famous dictum, "War is the continuation of politics by other means." The indictment of David R. Daleiden and Sandra S. Merritt on charges of tampering with a government record "with intent to defraud" — a penalty that carries with it a 20-year maximum sentence — and a misdemeanor attempt to purchase human organs is further proof, if we needed it, that in America jurisprudence is another means.

Daleiden and Merritt are central figures in the Center for Medical Progress' "sting videos", in which mid-level Planned Parenthood employees discuss the compensated harvesting and sale of fetal organ tissue for medical research. Until now, the abortion provider has traded on the fact that the pro-abortion rank and file, not to mention the American "mushy middle" that's against abortion "for myself", is unwilling to watch any of the full-length video clips, allowing PP and the militant pro-aborts to claim that the shorter "good parts" clips are deliberate misrepresentations.

According to California lawyer Donald R. McClarey, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) urged Harris County prosecutor Devon Anderson (R) to prosecute Planned Parenthood based on one of CMP's clips (probably either this one or this one). [Full disclosure: while Donald and I are barely acquainted with each other, he's a fellow Catholic Stand writer.] During her 2014 campaign, Anderson sold herself to the Texas GOP as a "proud pro-life mother of two". On the surface, then, it appeared that CMP and the pro-life movement had some chance for success.

But this isn't the first case against an abortion provider that Anderson's office has fumbled.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Catholic Stand: How Should We Honor Our Elderly Parents?

In response to Dr. Denise Hunnell’s December 29, 2015 Catholic Stand post, “Family Life as ‘Domestic Pilgrimage’”, a loyal reader brought up a question in regards to the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12; cf. Deuteronomy 5:16):

I have yet to hear, never mind expounded upon, what would constitute a mortal sin in a family context setting. In today’s mobile society where siblings leave for far-away places seldom to return, is talking to one’s parents (or siblings) less than a week a year the kind of DIS-honor God envisioned when He placed that omission on the top ten? Would continuing to live one’s own life thousands of miles away while an aging parent or sibling slips the bonds of life in a medical setting or at home constitute a mortal or grievous sin, and should such a family member be denied Communion for acting this way? After all, it is very similar to divorce when you think about it.

This is a topic that touches me personally. Since 1994, I’ve devoted a good chunk of my life and time to taking care of physically disabled family members — first my younger brother (who passed away in 2011), and now my mother. Both my other siblings pitch in as well, to the extent they’re able. Between the three of us, we’re doing what we can to make sure our mother’s final years are lived in comfort and company.

But before we can attempt to answer our loyal reader’s question, we should first ask ourselves, “How does the Catholic Church understand the Fourth Commandment?” Before we can ask whether the situations the reader describe constitute dishonor, we need to know what’s meant by honor.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ponderings on Powerball, Probability, and Poverty

Yes, there is. A mighty slim one, but still a chance.
So, have you bought your chance to be an instant member of the “one percent”, courtesy of Powerball and your fellow greedy, gullible Americans? I have. I’m worse than greedy and gullible — I know a little about probability math and finance, too. If I knew more, I’d be the worst: a trader in derivatives, the triumph of faith in mathematics overcoming common sense.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook, “I’m not a math person at all, but I was explaining to [her partner] that the odds of winning get lower as the powerball amount gets higher. What would I do if I won (assuming I bought a ticket)? Ruin my perfect life.” She explained:

Years ago I had an AA sponsor who told me that scarcity is a mindset characteristic of addiction. They have to grab as much as they can in case it dries up. They don’t trust that there is plenty. It doesn’t seem healthy for the whole country to be fantasizing about their epic dream binge. There’s bankruptcies, paycheck advance usury, blacks stuck in jail because they can’t pay traffic tickets, subprime car loans you need to get to work that doesn’t pay enough to cover the bills. And the shrinking middle class, of course [what comprises the “middle class”?]. I’m not good at the math, but I can see society is psychologically sick to get off on a game like powerball.

My friend’s wrong about the odds, precisely because she’s not a math person. As for the rest of it ... later we’ll talk.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie to be released in February 2016: “Risen”

Here’s a movie coming in February that you should seriously consider watching: 

Risen tells the story of the Resurrection through the eyes of a Roman tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love, Hercules). Clavius and his aide, Lucius (Tom Felton, Harry Potter), are first ordered to oversee the execution of Jesus (Cliff Curtis, Fear the Walking Dead), then to insure that the Nazarene’s tomb is sealed and guarded. When the tomb is opened and the body disappears, Pilate (Peter Firth, The Hunt for Red October, MI-5) orders Clavius to hunt down the body.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mary had a choice

St. Mary's Catholic Church, 36th and Q Sts., Omaha, NE.
(Photo credit: Susan Austin.)
The photo at left was taken by a pro-choice friend of mine. It's one of those friendships where you're glad there's plenty of respect and charity between the two of you, because your views of life are largely incompatible. (But then again, as Chesterton once observed, "Men and women, as such, are incompatible.")

I hate church marquees that try to rack up points on the culture-war scoreboard. I honestly think that, if Jack Dorsey et al. had really looked at such signs and thought about it, they would have strangled Twitter in the cradle, because activist church marquees are way too much like analog tweets: too many people trying to reduce complex issues into Parthian shots of less than 140 characters.

Let's skip over the anachronism of a first-century Jewish girl being "pro-choice", and cut right to the theological chase: The Blessed Virgin Mother did have a choice ... she could have said "No" to St. Gabriel. Of course, in her case, saying "No" would have obviated any need for abortifacients, as God would not have coerced her into the Incarnation against her will.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Syrian refugees and the courage to be Christian

Syrian refugees coming ashore at Lesbos.
(Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis/Getty.)
Last week, longtime reader Michael asked me to do a fuller piece on the Syrian refugee crisis. A couple of mass shootings have happened in the meantime, one involving Islamic radicals. Nevertheless, the refugee issue hasn’t been settled; and the Muslim identity of the San Bernadino shooters has thrown more anger and panic into the mix.

The other day, Br. Anthony J. J. Mathison, OP, wrote an excellent essay on the matter, which sums up my thoughts with greater charity and knowledge than I possess. However, it’s too long to quote at length here; and I’m not sure whether Br. Anthony intended it for further publication. So let me confine myself to some general concerns that Br. Anthony and I hold in common. I'm not going to spend the time he did refuting ten common objections, since most of them assume a radical position that brings everyone in without screening or background checks ... a position few if any propose in any seriousness.

The principle of humanity inscribed in the conscience of every person and all peoples includes the obligation to protect civil populations from the effects of war. ...
A particular category of war victim is formed by refugees, forced by combat to flee the places where they habitually live and to seek refuge in foreign countries. The Church is close to them not only with her pastoral presence and material support, but also with her commitment to defend their human dignity: “Concern for refugees must lead us to reaffirm and highlight universally recognized human rights, and to ask that the effective recognition of these rights be guaranteed to refugees”.—Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 505, cit. St. John Paul II, 1990 Message for Lent, 3

“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me ....” This is among six acts that Jesus names in the “Judgment of the Nations” passage (Matthew 25:31-46) as things done by the “sheep”, the righteous, who will “inherit the kingdom prepared ... from the foundation of the world.” In this passage, Jesus draws an unmistakeable “equals” sign between himself and the wretched, even the despised, of the earth, and tells us we may no longer overlook them, that we may no longer neglect them, that we may no longer judge them as lesser beings. Earlier, in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), he told us to treat others as we’d like to be treated; now, we must treat these “least of ... my brothers” as if they were Christ himself!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

“Prayer-shaming” won’t destroy the American pro-gun culture

Cover of 12/3/15 New York Daily News.
As if we needed another political buzzword, we’ve got one now, provided by Atlantic writer Emma Green (and retailed by American Conservative pundit Rod Dreher): prayer-shaming.

A couple of years ago, I came across a meme which suggested that religious people pray instead of doing things to make the world better. Of course, that ignores the vast bulk of history, in which most people who worked for positive social, economic, environmental, and political changes were also people who prayed, went to church, or had some other form of religious expression. (Ever heard of Dorothy Day? Lech Walesa? Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? Martin Luther King, Jr.’s doctorate wasn’t in astrophysics! The list is endless.) In many cases, the activists’ religious convictions pushed them into the fight; in many cases, they considered their devotional lives sources of emotional strength.

The idea that a life of prayer precludes a life of social action is ridiculous on the face of it ... unless you’re a Republican politician. Then you’re fair game for the charge that “the only thing you’re willing to do about this mess is pray!

There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer [writes Green]: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence. At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Catholic Stand: The Politics of American Narcissism

Egotist, n.: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

In 2000, you probably could have asked twenty of your friends and coworkers and found only one person who knew something about narcissism. Fifteen years and a gazillion selfies later, narcissism and narcissist are tools of the trade for the commentariat; activists demand empathy where once they would have been content with sympathy. Often, though, like Bierce’s egotist, it’s a matter of the pot calling the kettle “self-absorbed”.

Narcissism and the Appeal to Pity

Let me give you an example: In 2010, neuroscientists Jennifer N. Gutsell and Michael Inzlicht of the University of Toronto in Scarborough published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Gutsell and Inzlicht claimed that an experiment showed people displayed differences in “mirror neurons” between viewing people of their own race having difficulty and those of “outgroups” in the same situations. In the latter case, they claimed, to those who had tested high on racial prejudice, the effect of watching “outgroups” in difficulty was similar to “watching a blank TV screen”.

To be fair, Drs. Gutsell and Inzlicht tried to use neutral terms and generalize their conclusions. However, the test subjects were exclusively white. Had they tested non-white subjects in the same manner, I submit they would have found the same correlation, and done better science to boot. They simply hadn’t neutralized the experiment sufficiently. Since they didn’t, the test results were interpreted by the press as a uniquely “white” problem; and outrage generators like Democratic Underground said, “See? They don’t empathize enough with us!

In informal logic, it’s called an ad misericordiam fallacy, or “appeal to pity”: You must agree with me because 1) I have suffered; 2) I am suffering now; and/or 3) I will (continue to) suffer if you don’t give me what I demand. The narcissist demands that we agree with him, not because he’s right, but because he’s wretched. At its worst, it becomes a manipulative whine: “If you really loved me (if you really empathized with me), you’d do X.”

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Syrian Refugee Crisis: About Those M&Ms ...

There's a couple different versions of a meme going around, featuring a bunch of M&M candies which (supposedly) includes a few poisoned ones. The meme dares you (or your family) to eat them, then compares them to the Syrian refugees.

Well, there's quite a few relevant problems with the comparison, the chief of which is that nothing bad will happen to the M&Ms if nobody eats them. Appellum ad terrorem or ad metum — scare tactics. Beyond that, though, I'm sick of us letting our fear dictate our policies. We've become a nation of entitled scaredy-cats and spoiled brats, afraid to do the right thing because it may hurt, it may cost, it may discommode us, or it may put us out of our comfort zones and puncture our little bubbles of happiness. So here we go: