Saturday, July 30, 2011

Another piece of evidence

I don't know where my friend Becky found this picture. Area code 715 is northern Wisconsin; that's all I know about this particular sign.

In this one sign is the summation and epitome of everything I've tried to say in many blog posts on sex, marriage, reproductive rights and the teachings of the Catholic Church. It's the symbol of everything that's horribly dysfunctional about our postmodern, "post-Christian" sexual ethos.

God be with you, SWF. I'll pray your baby's daddy shows up. But I won't count on it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday! (Vol. 9)

Last Friday, my little bro Bob was feeling weak, and had been having high blood sugar readings all day (highest was 394 mg/dl). The nurse suggested we take him to the emergency room, as she thought he was dehydrated from an infection. It's a good thing we did: tests showed a blood clot in his right leg! So now he's back home, with yet one more pill to add to his regimen.

 With all the megillah of getting Bob to the hospital, I thought that I would miss meeting my buddy Steve at WinStar Casino for a concert featuring Yes and Styx. However, my older brother Ted stepped in and made sure my mother got home from the hospital after Bob was admitted (her car was not road-worthy). So with only a minor qualm, I hied me off to Thackerville, Okla., to rock out to the music of my youth.

WinStar has to be the oddest casino I've ever seen. The exterior has façades from several different cultures and time periods, from the Circus Maximus in Rome to a tower of pagodas from China. Inside, the walk is extremely long; Steve and I joked about needing people-movers and trams to get around. And while I'm quite sure there are table games there, I saw nary a one: massive room after massive room stuffed to the rafters with slot machines. It's just as well, as I didn't have any extra change for a round of craps or blackjack.

I don't own the rights.
The last time I saw Styx in concert, they were on the Kilroy Was Here tour in 1983 ("Domo arigato Mister Roboto /Mata au hi made /Domo arigato Mister Roboto /Himitsu-wo shiri tai" apparently means: "Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto /Until we meet again /Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto /I want to know your secret"). Since then, there have been changes in the lineup. Instead of Dennis DeYoung on keys, Chuck Panozzo on bass and John Panozzo on drums (he died in 1996), we saw Lawrence Gowan, Ricky Phillips and Todd Sucherman, with James (JY) Young and Tommy Shaw providing guitars and continuity. However, if I shut my eyes, I could never tell; their vocal harmony is just as tight as it was when "Come Sail Away" hit the airwaves in 1975.

I don't own the rights.
I've caught Yes live a couple of times (the last on the Big Generator tour in 1987), and seen a couple of other televised and taped concerts, the most interesting of which was Symphonic Yes. Yes is practically known for their lineup changes, with only master bassist Chris Squire present in every incarnation. Their new lead singer, Benoît David, is a Canadian Squire and guitarist Steve Howe discovered on YouTube with a Yes tribute band, and who sounds like the signature voice of the band, Jon Anderson. Once again Alan White was at the drums as he has been since about 1974; Geoff Downes, who briefly appeared with Yes in the very early '80s, played keys.

Yes has always been more of a band whose music one wants to sit down and absorb rather than get up and dance to; along with Jethro Tull and Genesis, they're more of my idea of progressive rock than Styx. Stylistically, it's hard to find two bands in the same genre more different in style. However, since I like both bands, the transition from one to the other was very easy. Besides, you can dance to "Roundabout" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart".

*sigh* No, I don't own the rights.
Yesterday, while helping Bob with some things, I briefly caught a bit of Everyday Italian on Food Network. And for the first time, I actually paid attention to what Giada De Laurentiis was making: a raspberry pound cake with Vin Santo cream. Oh, sounds heavenly: a dash of cinnamon, a little orange zest, a touch of vanilla extract and whole raspberries folded into the batter. Instead of the Vin Santo cream, I suppose you could put ice cream or even just plain ol' Cool Whip ... the pound cake itself would be divine!

While Steve was in town — he lives in Omaha, and his wife and daughters had gone to the water park in Kansas City — he and I decided to attend Mass at the Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. Although the Mass was the Novus Ordo, the monks accompanied it with Gregorian chant, which gave a much greater depth to the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrament.
I say "the Eucharistic sacrament" for a specific reason ... I could swear the Mass schedule said it began at 9:30! As it was, Steve and I hove into the doors just as the priest was intoning, "Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to the Lord our Father." I still feel sheepish ... and not a little mortified.

*     *     *
And that's it for this week. With the summer doldrums, it may be harder for me to come up with seven items of not-mind-croggling-dullness the next four or five weekends. But, as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." Have a great weekend, and God bless!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From the "Sell stupid someplace else" files

I've been reading a few articles on Anders Behring Breivik, the twisted mind behind the Norway massacres. I wasn't aware until now, though, that he had written a manifesto, let alone one that referenced Christian bloggers such as Fr. Dwight Longenecker.

The predictable narrative has already begun to take hold [writes Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. in Catholic Lane].  The confessed perpetrator of a bombing of government offices in Oslo and a seek-and-destroy operation at a Labor Party youth camp on Utoya Island, Anders Behring Breivik, is depicted as a “Christian,” “conservative” and/or “right-wing extremist.”  His attacks, we are told, were animated by a delusional ambition to save his country from an Islamic take-over.
 Hmm. Sounds like a replay of this last January, when the liberal MSM began to blame Sarah Palin and the Tea Party for Jared Lee Loughner's attack on  Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. 

So tell me: When are we going to hold Sir Paul McCartney and the estate of John Lennon accountable for Charles Manson and the Tate/LaBianca murders?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are "brights" smarter than faith-heads?

So yesterday I posted on The Other Blog about a couple of studies purporting to find a negative correlation between religion and IQ. The short version of my conclusion is that the studies reminded me too much of white supremacist "scientists" who tried to prove the mental inferiority of African Americans in much the same fashion.

But I can almost hear someone saying, "So how would you do it, smartypants?" And it's an interesting question to answer, because, when I was going to college at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, one of the required courses for sociology majors was in research methods; one of the required projects was designing a study.

First, establishing any kind of correlation between intelligence and religiosity requires "clearing out" intervening variables that will affect the outcome, so you can compare apples to apples. The two studies in question were trying to prove that religiosity depresses intelligence. However, there may be any number of other factors that explain the apparent relationship without reaching that conclusion.

For instance, what kind of family background do religious people come from, versus the irreligious? Psychologist Paul C. Vitz, in Faith of the Fatherless, explores the relationships of several historical atheists with their fathers and finds a tendency towards fathers that were distant, absent or abusive. (It doesn't follow from that point that atheism is therefore false, I hasten to add.) Are atheists more likely to come from homes with higher incomes (and therefore more educational support)? Were their parents atheists or religiously indifferent? Are they more or less likely to have come from single-parent homes or divorced families?

Second, among the professional and academic disciplines, are there any that have a bias for or against religiosity? It would seem to be obvious that theology schools and seminaries would be biased towards religion. But what about schools of natural science and technology? Or what about the so-called "studies" (women's studies, gender studies, ethnic/racial studies, etc.) and the social sciences? What about business colleges, or the fine arts? This seems on the surface to be asking the same question as the first — intervening variables — but the problem is different. In the first case, we're asking whether any other factor affects intelligence; in this case, we're checking for a subcultural bias that pressures students towards atheism/agnosticism ... a bias that I suspect begins even with high school science textbooks.

Third, it doesn't illustrate much just to compare the median IQ scores of the religious and the irreligious. A median of 100 is the halfway point between 50 and 150, but it's also the halfway point between 80 and 120. If, I suspect, atheism is related not only to education but to subcultural bias, then it would help to compare median scores between similar levels of educational attainment. If Christian Ph.D.s have a median IQ similar to atheist Ph.D.s, then the conclusion "religion depresses intelligence" is false. Similarly, if doctorates of theology have a median within a couple of points of doctorates of physics, then the conclusion is on shaky ground. And again, if the median score of atheists is significantly higher but the distribution between the high and low is narrower, then that needs to be looked at too; it wouldn't say much if the highest scores all turned out to belong to religious people, right?

Finally, it needs to be kept in mind that, no matter which way the ball bounces, proving that one side tends to have higher IQ scores than the other doesn't prove that that side is right, or even more likely to be right. However, a couple of studies have suggested that irreligiousness is correlated with poorer physical and emotional health; one researcher even stated that irreligiousness had as negative an impact on health as a pack-a-day cigarette habit. I've already touched on some potential issues; the point of looking at physical/emotional issues is to see if there's a possible skew that's also correlated to IQ. Do parental expectations of educational achievement, for example, create an "emotional weather" that biases a person towards atheism or religiosity? Are high-IQ people more prone to alcohol or drug abuse? Is there a particular mental image of God that's more associated with irreligiousness than with religiosity, or with higher IQ than with lower IQ? Is there a left-brain or right-brain predisposition to either side?

Summing it up, then, a properly done study would ask a lot more questions and take a lot more into account in looking at a potential relationship between religiosity and intelligence. It certainly wouldn't assume that IQ scores are unmediated measures of raw intelligence; it certainly wouldn't assume that all religions had at least one god, and that to be godless was therefore to be irreligious. Above all, it wouldn't be undertaken to prove that believers are necessarily smarter or dumber than unbelievers.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Return to Akita

Here's an interesting reference in a post on Thoughts from a Catholic Oasis by Jane Mossendew:

The absence of holy obedience in both the Corapi affair and the Austrian rebellion is obvious but there is another frightening feature that they share. Both are 'sowing discord among the brethren'. It may be thought that the latter is more important than the first but one should remember that the original 'fan-base of Fr Corapi numbered by some accounts at more than a million souls. That base is now divided as can be seen in 'The Black Sheepdog' com box. Some seem determined to follow this 'Sheepdog' out of the fold. Just how many souls will follow the 300 Austrian rebel priests into heresy and schism remains to be seen. If the rebellion grows then surely Rome will have to step in, and if it doesn't what then? It is hard to see what Cardinal Schönborn can do on his own. He hasn't exactly set his priests a shining example of obedience and helpfulness to Rome. His actions in connection with the Medjugorje business.seemed ill-considered given the fact that the Vatican enquiry was not and still is not, complete. And his undermining of the Bishop of Mostar on his own territory, was shocking.  It is hard not to think of the prediction of Our Lady of Akita about bishop being against bishop, priest against priest.

“The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church. One will see cardinals opposing other cardinals ... and bishops confronting other bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres; churches and altars will be sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises, and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord."

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

I don't usually care for recycling my posts, but check out what I'd originally written at the time of the Japanese tsunami, as well as the backstory and other comments on Outside the Asylum.

Seven Quick Takes Friday! (Vol. 8)

My nephews, Colin and Aidan Toth, managed to get a bit packed in over the last week: A couple of days' worth of swimming, as well as a day at a water park; shopping at Grapevine Mills with Aunt Annette; watching DC United play FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco and getting to meet their cousin, DC goalie Steve Cronin (whom I hadn't seen for a couple of years); and driving go-carts with Uncle Ted. I especially had fun grilling up hot dogs and brats for them.

While they were here, my niece Charlene Dill (Ted and Annette's oldest) came into town with her two girls, Tori and Gracie; I got to see them a couple of times. Tori is looking to turn out to be a red-headed Irish mischief-maker (you'd think the Irish strain would be a bit diluted by now), while Gracie is a bit sweeter and not so much a scamp. They had plenty of fun tormenting their old great-uncle.

My buddy Steve Thelen, whom I've known since first grade (forty-one years ... good Lord, where does the time go), is coming into town this weekend while his wife and daughter go off on a trip. We're going to meet up at the WinStar Casino in Thayerville, Okla., to hopefully catch Yes and Styx in concert. And perhaps this Sunday we'll catch Mass at the Cistercian Abbey at Our Lady of Dallas (complete with Gregorian chant!).

With some trepidation, I stepped into the wider world of Twitter. I've found that it does make getting my blogs posted to my Facebook page that much easier, and I do have a number of people that are now following on Twitter that aren't doing it through Google, Networked Blogs or FB. On the down side, it's easier to fall behind on Twitter than on FB. You can follow me by clicking the button on the sidebar, or by looking up @AnthonySLayne.

Devin Rose at St. Joseph's Vanguard has mentioned both Impractical Catholic and Outside the Asylum, putting me in such stellar company as Patrick Coffin and Francis J. Beckwith. That's on top of the relationships I've already begun to form with Frank Weathers, Lisa Graas and Stacy Trasancos, who have been in the apologetics game longer than I. I'm quite humbled ... and actually a little scared; next to these folks, I'm a newbie and a punter. Oh, well ... to slightly paraphrase Edna St. Vincent Millay, a person who writes a blog appears willfully in public with his pants down.

After five years in North Central Texas, you'd think I'd be used to the summers here. And I know there are many places across the US (and Canada!) where the temperature is going over the 100° mark. Still, the high here is supposed to be 102°, and that's the coolest it's supposed to be for the next five flippin' days!  Holy cow! Life comes to a standstill when you don't even want to run to the store for food because that takes you away from central air conditioning. Who even wants to eat anyway, when it's this bloody hot?

I haven't seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 yet; if Steve and I do a movie (in lieu of golf), it'll be a toss-up between that and Captain America. Yes, me and my educated, highbrow tastes ....

*     *     *
That's it for this week's installment. I don't know if I'm going to be able to post anything in the next couple of days, but certainly come Monday I'll be back on the job. Have a great weekend, and God bless!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How does Mark Shea do it?

Recently, Simcha Fisher made a comment I found amusing ... well, not that that's strange, because I think she's on her way to becoming this generation's Erma Bombeck (with a Catholic twist). Anyway: "Some people (coughmarksheacough) make [blogging] look easy. He can blog with his left hand while writing a book with his right. Heck, sometimes he writes one book with each hand and just lets his beard do the blogging."
You know how he does it? I figure it's because he doesn't let himself get sidetracked by what's going on in the comments. Oh, he'll throw out one or two replies here and there, but mainly he lets his followers and the occasional drop-in anti-Catholic (or anti-Shea, since he writes no-holds-barred) fight it out amongst themselves.

The last couple of days, I've been having a grand old time trading comments with an agnostic (who turned out to be a pretty cool guy once we dropped our defenses a bit) on a couple of my posts here: "The Golden Calf of Scientism" and "The Ideological Turing Test". But between responding to his comments, taking care of my brother, and grilling up some hot dogs and brats for my nephews, I never got around to writing a post for either blog. (Not to mention that Twitter is starting to make incursions into my writing time ... #@&$! new-fangled social media ....) 

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I've said elsewhere that I generally prefer to argue by email anyway. But now I'm at the point where Outlook is beginning to receive as much mail every day as at my last job with the Brobdingnagian Banking Institution ... and that's not counting the spam. (Although it does include the notifications I get from Twitter, which are rather pointless when I have it open on my desktop all the flippin' livelong day.)

Which is all by way of saying that you'll be seeing fewer replies from me in the combox from here on out, though I won't completely blow y'all off. Feel free, though, to refer friends and bloggers over here to agree, disagree or fight with whomever else (dis)agrees. I figure my first job is to write things compelling enough to bring you over in the first place ... which is hard to do if I spend my time arguing over the last thing I wrote.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lament for Éire—UPDATED

And so the ideological assault begins. From Catholic Culture:

Irish government leaders have insisted that they will not allow the secrecy of the confessional to limit the scope of new legislation that would require reporting of all complaints of child abuse.
“The point is, if there is a law in the land, it has to be followed by everybody. There are no exceptions, there are no exemptions," said children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald. Quickly dismissing the sanctity of the confessional, which has been recognized by governments for centuries, Fitzgerald said: "I'm not concerned — neither is the government, — about the internal laws, the rules governing any body.”
“The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny said. ...
“The Catholic Church and the State are on a collision course” on the question, the Irish Times reported, saying that the legislation as it is framed “is likely to encounter significant resistance within the church.” That is an understatement. Since the Catholic Church requires priests to maintain absolute secrecy about what they hear in sacramental confessions, all priests would face a moral obligation to defy the law.
Thus if the sweeping legislation becomes law, Ireland could see a return of the days in which a priest could face imprisonment for the “crime” of acting as a Catholic priest.
 Of course, this begs the question of whether child abusers confess their crimes to priests. Since no one has done a thorough investigation of the matter, all we have is anecdotal evidence, which as Dromore Bishop John McAreavy says suggests they don't. 

Irish legal experts, according to the Irish Independent, also warn that the move could eventually undermine the lawyer-client relationship. Just so; the confidentiality of both lawyer-client and doctor-patient relationships are analogous to the privacy of the confessional; the same rationale that aims itself at the priest-penitent relationship can be transferred all too easily.

Besides, just how do these brainiacs expect to enforce this measure ... sit outside churches on Saturday with barrel microphones aimed at the boxes, in the fleeting hope that a wandering pedophile will suddenly decide to bare his soul of his pernicious crime? Let me remind you, folks: Nothing in the rules requires a Catholic to make his confession in the box; the seal applies whenever and wherever the priest and penitent invoke it. 

Let me also remind you — since you Irish lot seem to have forgotten — for many, many years the faithful of Ireland held religious ceremonies in the farthest reaches from civilization to escape the eyes of a persecuting government.

O Ireland, country of my ancestors, did you fight to preserve yourself as a holy people for so many centuries only to abandon the Faith at the first taste of prosperity? Does the Breastplate of St. Patrick now lie to rust beside the Gàe Bulg of Cù Chulainn?

Update: July 19, 2011
According to the Catholic News Agency, it appears that the proposed law will unite the orthodox and liberal wings of the Catholic Church in Ireland on at least one point.

Father Tony Flannery, a priest with the Association of Catholic Priests (which has shown reluctance to accept the new English translation of the Roman Missal), sent an email to CNA stating that the ACP hasn't taken the proposed law very seriously; as I suggested above, they believe the law isn't "workable". Apparently most confessionals in Ireland are like the old boxes of my childhood and in the movies: “'When a person confesses in the confessional box, the priest would not normally know who they are, or indeed be able to see them,' he explained. 'So how is he to report them?'"

Father Flannery also reinforces the lack of anecdotal evidence of sexual abuse being confessed, and also brings up the implications for other legally confidential relationships. He also brings up something I hadn't thought of: the possibility that reporting would be required for other crimes. “Why make this one the only crime to be reported?”

In sum, Fr. Flannery believes the whole thing will blow over in a few months. BUT,  “if this does come to law — which I do not expect — priests will resist it strongly.

Or maybe they'll go out into the fields and woods to hear confessions. Like Irish priests did under British rule.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Ideological Turing Test Contest

Julie Robison at Startling the Day forwarded a link to me, leading me to the “Ideological Turing Test Contest” at Unequally Yoked (with its catchy slogan “A geeky atheist picks fights with her Catholic boyfriend”). The idea of the contest was to have a somewhat random sample of Christians and atheists write answers to certain questions, first from their own perspective and then from the other perspective, and then have everyone try to guess which side wrote what answers.

Rather than directly participate, I thought I’d just make some observations. I don’t intend to spend any time picking apart the answers; when people have written hundreds of rather thick books trying to justify belief and unbelief, I can’t expect attempts at “clinchers” in 200 words or less from either side.

The first observation is this: Leah (the blogger) was attempting to identify whether atheists or Christians were more prone to postulate “straw man” arguments. But whether it’s by the very nature of the arguments or because, by her own confession, Leah wasn’t attempting laboratory-level rigor, it was very difficult to separate the real posts from the notional.

Seven Quick Takes Friday! (Vol. 7)

I'm now on Twitter! You can follow me: @AnthonySLayne. Also, is sending feed from both blogs to the Outside the Asylum Facebook page. And I'm currently working on a deal where, when you close your eyes at night, I appear on the inside of your eyelids. (Sorry, recycled Bob Hope joke.)

Two of my sister's boys, Colin and Aidan Toth, are in town, spending a week with us while Peggy and her DH Michael (one of the most stand-up guys I've ever met ... a great person to have as a BIL) take a cruise courtesy of Michael's employers. This gives me the perfect excuse to see HP&DH2 in the theater. Not that I'm concerned about being a grown adult seeing Harry Potter movies on my own ... I just can't justify the expense of going to a movie by myself. The boys seem cool with the idea, although Aidan has this bit of frustration with the movies: apparently, they take too long to cut to the action at Hogwarts. (How do I tell him that all but the last few chapters of DH take place everywhere BUT Hogwarts?)

In preparation for the boys' advent, I cleaned and dusted my office and bedroom, which I normally keep in states of Dickensian clutter ... books on every flat surface, some opened face-down with cracked spines, some closed and dog-eared, all showing the signs of one who actually reads the books he owns (several times). Much to my surprise and embarassment, I found I already own a copy of Pope Benedict's The Spirit of the Liturgy! So now I'm reading it in what spare time I have. I love reading Papa Ratzinger's work; it's a perfect blend of rational theological scholar and mystic poet you find few other places.

Speaking of organization, I still need to take a crack at the shelf in my office where all my reference books reside. In 2002, when I first started researching for the only book I actually finished writing (and then lost in a hard drive crash ... back up your work, Layne), I started buying books by other Catholic writers. Nine years later, I haven't taken full inventory yet, but it should comprise something like forty-five to fifty different soft-back books representing over $600, from Hilaire Belloc to Pope Benedict, from G. K. Chesterton to Karl Keating, including writings by St. Thomas More and Thomas Merton (Seven-Storey Mountain, not one of his later Eastern strayings). All piled up on one shelf in the office closet ....

Great Value has a chocolate raspberry creamer that is just AWESOME! Of course, it would be great if I had some Mystic Monk to put it in ... though I'm almost morally certain Father Z would consider it a venial sin to spoil MM Coffee like that ....
I request your prayers for my uncle, Joe Cronin, who had a fall July 3rd and broke his arm. Because of a condition with his carotid artery, the doctors aren't going to pin the fragments together; they'd rather hold off surgery unless it's absolutely, life-saving necessary. So it's going to be a long, slow heal for a man who's had a hard-luck life, a man I love and respect tremendously.
Had a great exchange with Devin Rose and Brandon Vogt on Facebook on the inerrancy of Wikipedia, especially on the ongoing battles with "sola Wiki" and how it contrasts with "solo Wiki" (which admits that other Internet sources have their use, although they're not as authoritative). Between manning the pro-life barricades with Stacy Trasancos, tweeting with Lisa Graas and (of course) exchanging posts with my friends the Bright Maidens, I'm meeting so many people I admire as Catholic writers ... and finding out they're pretty fun people as well!

Wherever the Catholic sun does shine,
There's laughter and music and good red wine.
At least I've found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!
Hilaire Belloc

And that wraps it up for this week! Next week, I promise to have the installment out on time. Have a great weekend, and God bless!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mermaids ....

Yumiko Kayukawa: Mermaid Lady Time
I refer you to The Wide-Eyed, Legless, a blog centered on mermaids, which also links you to other blogs that apparently have these mythical sea vixens on the brain.

Is this the new thing? Did Hans Christian Andersen and Disney inspire a segment of Generation Y to opt for sirens instead of nosferatu? I can only hope; after all, the whole Goth thing is so done.

(Though I must admit Pauley Perrette's "Abby Sciutto", the Goth forensic scientist on NCIS, adds depth to a kind of  person I'd only encountered in Omaha's Old Market area, looking misunderstood, hostile and more than a little emo.)

Can anyone clarify, or add to my pathetically small knowledge of this subset?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who cares what Grover will say?

A friend of mine sent me a copy of an article from The Economist,The Republicans are playing a cynical political game with hugely high economic stakes”. Just four paragraphs is all we need to look at; you can follow the link to make sure I’m not ruining the analysis with an out-of-context fallacy:

The House of Representatives, under Republican control as a result of last November’s mid-term elections, has balked at passing the necessary bill. That is perfectly reasonable: until recently the Republicans had been exercising their clear electoral mandate to hold the government of Barack Obama to account, insisting that they will not permit a higher debt ceiling until agreement is reached on wrenching cuts to public spending. Until they started to play hardball in this way, Mr Obama had been deplorably insouciant about the medium-term picture, repeatedly failing in his budgets and his state-of-the-union speeches to offer any path to a sustainable deficit. Under heavy Republican pressure, he has been forced to rethink. …
The sticking-point is not on the spending side. It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.
[The Economist] has a strong dislike of big government; we have long argued that the main way to right America’s finances is through spending cuts. But you cannot get there without any tax rises. In Britain, for instance, the coalition government aims to tame its deficit with a 3:1 ratio of cuts to hikes. America’s tax take is at its lowest level for decades: even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when he needed to do so.
And the closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look. Earlier this year House Republicans produced a report noting that an 85%-15% split between spending cuts and tax rises was the average for successful fiscal consolidations, according to historical evidence. The White House is offering an 83%-17% split (hardly a huge distance) and a promise that none of the revenue increase will come from higher marginal rates, only from eliminating loopholes. If the Republicans were real tax reformers, they would seize this offer.

House Republicans have used the rhetoric of raising taxes on “Americans”. However, the loopholes the Obama Administration wants to close would only affect those in the top tax bracket, and would go a long way towards the reform the Republicans say they want.

Let’s face it, folks, while Republicans have scorned the White House’s “reckless spending spree”, a good chunk of the $14.3 trillion national debt preceded Barack Obama’s inauguration, from two overseas wars and a couple of bailout packages for “too big to fail” industries … expenses the Republicans approved when Dubya was in office.

Now the Republicans are trapped by their rhetoric and their voter base into standing firm on a “no new taxes” pledge that’s just plain silly, and of a type that not only Reagan but Bush père reneged on. Moreover, it looks increasingly to me as if it had always been their plan to stick the Democrats with the onus of raising taxes, and have suddenly realized that owning the House of Representatives right now takes that legerdemain out of play.

Read my lips: Any way you slice it, a political disaster is in the making for the GOP unless they give in on closing the loopholes. Their position isn’t so firm they can afford to be stubborn on the matter.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A variation of Godwin's Law — UPDATED

Just to remind you of what Godwin's Law states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%)." Ladies and gentlemen, I now propose for your thoughtful consideration Layne's Exception:

In any online discussion where the topic is the Catholic Church, its leaders or beliefs, as the discussion thread grows longer, the probability of a reference to pedophile priests approaches 1 (100%).
  • Corollary 1: The reference will be not only invalid but inappropriate and abusive.
  • Corollary 2: The earlier the reference is made, the greater the probability the rest of the discussion will follow the reference down a rabbit hole.

Any comments?

Update — same day
Made a minor modification to broaden its scope. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Golden Calf of Scientism

Science works.

Wait, no. That's actually wrong. 

The scientific method produces useful results. It adds to our body of knowledge. It leads to technological applications that, in general, have increased the length and quality of our lives ... though not without costs and dangers.

But science is not a machine. It's not a self-programmable computer cum assembly line that takes in raw data at one end and spits out illumination at the other. Science is a methodology.

Because science is a methodology, it can be misapplied, or even barely applied. Scientists get emotionally vested in imperfect explanations. They bend data to fit models rather than models to fit data. They draw incorrect inferences. They commit logical fallacies and mathematical mistakes. They build experiments that can't falsify the theory they're testing. They cherry-pick statistics and results that support their arguments, while leaving out those that contraindicate. Their successes can come by accident, or after years of by-guess-and-by-golly. In biology, under rigid controls of light, heat, moisture, food and temperature, the biota will do as it damn well pleases regardless of your theory. The peer review — the gem of the method — can be sloppily or cursorily done (consider the "Bogdanov affair"), letting shoddy research out into publication.

But most of all, since the scientific method has produced such a humonguous body of results, at least 90% of what any one scientist knows is taken on authority. There's simply not time enough in any person's life to re-check everything. So when a highly reliable theory stops producing expected results, it can take years before scientists start checking the theory for subtle errors; the trust in the system produces an institutional inertia.

Because science is, in a sense, an art — a human art — it's vulnerable to all the weaknesses of fallen humanity: ignorance, sloth, greed, envy, fear, and so on. Because science is done by humans and not machines or angels, it can fail, it can err, it can create public dangers, it can be deliberately subverted. That's why, to work, the sciences need men and women with integrity, compassion and well-formed consciences. That's why scientists should not be treated as gods or superhumans, and should not be given unquestioning credence or obedience.

And that's why I get irritated with secularists who treat Science (and the way they speak of it, you might as well capitalize it) as a cross between the Oracle at Delphi and a soda-pop vending machine. To listen to them, you'd never know any scientist had fudged his results, or that the various disciplines have their internal quarrels over competing theories. The myth of Scientism is quicky eclipsing the quirky, messy, mundanely human reality of science, creating a cult-like atmosphere of fervent credulity, and treating the obiter dicta of people like Stephen Hawking as the Voice of God even when they speak outside their spheres of competence.
xkcd ... I don't own the rights.

In fact, if they're not careful, they'll become everything they've always accused Catholics of being: intellectually-crippled sheep placing blind faith in mere humans. If it happens, it'll be because they've convinced themselves it will never happen.

Yes, science has been wildly successful, and therefore I shall always remain respectful of the scientific method. But it's not The Source of All Knowledge. I refuse to be ruled by the priesthood of the lab coat. I refuse to worship at the Temple of the Method. I refuse to bow down before the Golden Calf of Science.

"I came in here for a good argument!"

So, after having a no-fun-at-all argument with a pro-choice ... person yesterday, I managed to post about it, heckle New Atheists and poke fun at myself. Got it all out of my system.

No, I didn't. Otherwise, I wouldn't be up at 4:18 am with a stomach churning like an overloaded washing machine and a back too tense to sleep.

At the end — and, believe me, it was neither pretty nor one of my best performances — I countered her dismissive, snide "Study embryology" with a snap: "Study the philosophy of science, and actually engage arguments instead of trying to insult them away." Her reply? "You've got to be joking. Philosophy is just a bunch of people's subjective opinions."

Now, realize that this ... person has also been trying to discuss morality and ethics with Stacy Trasancos and others, misusing the words abominably, not to mention using subjective to mean alternately "personal" and "skewed and boneheaded". Half of her arguments weren't arguments at all; they were an attempt to re-create Al Jaffee's Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions ... a failed attempt. (If you don't remember Al Jaffee from MAD Magazine, all I can tell you is that you missed a golden era of satirical humor for the immature ... though he still does the fold-in back cover.)

So when she wrote three thousand years of search for truth, meaning and reality off as "a bunch of people's subjective opinions, I simply signed off: "*sigh* Yep, that's what I thought you'd say. I'm out."

What I wanted to say was this:

Yep, that's what I thought you'd say. Of course, you don't realize that, because YOU DON'T KNOW JACK ABOUT PHILOSOPHY, you just wrote off all the fundamental assumptions of science as "subjective opinion". And, because YOU DON'T KNOW BUBKES ABOUT PHILOSOPHY, you don't realize that you just wrote off all your own belabored arguments about ethics — A BRANCH OF PHILOSOPHY — as "subjective opinions". (By the way, "subjective" is NOT synonymous with "personal" or "false"; "ethics" is the theoretical study of principles of right and wrong, while "morality" is the study of their practical and cultural application. If you wish to be understood, you will PLEASE USE WORDS AS OTHERS USE THEM.) 
And, because YOU DON'T KNOW DIDDLY-SQUAT ABOUT PHILOSOPHY, you don't know HOW you just rendered every argument you've made so far incoherent, with a statement that — ironically — you intended to assert your intellectual superiority. Guess what? FAIL.
Argument can be enjoyable even if agreement never follows. But between your mule-headed dogmatic pronouncements, your snide slanging and your philistine dismissal of anything you can't or don't want to understand as "subjective opinions", it gives me no joy whatever even to tell you that YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. I repeat, STUDY THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE. You may not end up agreeing with us anyway, but AT LEAST YOU'LL KNOW WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT. I'm done.
 Now I feel better! And, believe me, that was the charitable version!

Actually, the whole sordid affair reminded me of this classic sketch:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Back at'cha, Abbie Hoffman!

Reading Abp. Timothy Dolan's remarks on the gay-marriage fight two Fridays ago, I nearly started humming "Blowin' in the Wind" and making myself some tie-dyed shirts.

In passing, the Prince of the Big Apple said, "As Blessed John Paul II often commented, the Church is 'counter-cultural,' like Jesus, often at odds with what passes as chic, enlightened, and progressive." Another way to say it is that we're a sign of contradiction, a living poke at the complacency and self-assurance of those who account themselves wise according to the world. His last two paragraphs really bring this theme out:

Finally, last point, for us in the Church, not much changes.  We continue to hold fast to the God-given definition of marriage, and acknowledge that no unfortunate legislative attempt can alter reality and morality.  Yes, we have a big catechetical challenge, in that we have to admit that quite a few people no longer hold to this timeless moral truth.  (Although I still believe most people do; thus the fear of a referendum on the issue by those who still claim this is a “grassroots movement” sweeping the nation.)  Yes, we do have our work cut out for us, as even some Catholics, and, scandalously, even political leaders who claim to be Catholic, tell us the Church is “out of it,” and has no claim on truth.
So, we try our best to witness to the truth, encouraging our married couples and their kids to be loving, radiant, “lights to the world.”  We acknowledge that, as St. Augustine taught, if something is wrong, even if everybody else is doing it, it’s still wrong; and, if something is right, even if nobody else is doing it anymore, it’s still right.  Like St. Thomas More, we’re willing to take the heat and even lose our head from following a conscience properly formed by God’s revelation and the teaching of His Church, even if it is politically incorrect, and clashes with the King’s demands to re-define marriage.
Yes, those who once lived according to the motto, "Question Authority!" have themselves become The Authority (and they don't tolerate being questioned!).
But it's not "We Shall Overcome". It's "He (the Lord) Shall Overcome"!

Now to complete the revolutionary picture, let's have a little Marx and Lennon!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some thoughts on L'affaire Corapi

I was going to let the John Corapi story die without comment; the whole situation is just too sad and sordid for me to add myself to any dogpiles. However, I can't.

First, I'm saddened and sickened by the loss of a priest who was an effective communicator of our Faith. Whatever he does from now on to the end of his life, Corapi will never have the same chance to make a difference in the lives of American Catholics.

I wish I could say I were shocked. However, his own testimony about his life prior to entering the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity makes it clear to me that money and fame aren't a good combination for him. Many men have come from equally ugly backgrounds to become not only priests but saints; St. Camillus de Lellis comes immediately to my mind. However, the founder of the Hospitallers never had to drink from that lethal concoction called celebrity.

In general, I'm more convinced than ever that even parish priests should live in community with other priests, to limit the dangers of loneliness and help reinforce each other's vows. It's not good for any man to be alone. In this respect, the Society bears some of the blame for letting Corapi live apart and set up his ministry without oversight; I doubt this situation would have come about had Corapi been a Dominican or Franciscan.

On the other hand, I can imagine someone outside the Church demanding of me, "Why aren't you more angry? Why aren't you so disgusted with such hypocrisy and filth that you leave the Church?" My response would have to be: "Why would I be so astonished that what the Church teaches about temptation and human frailty happens to be just as true of priests as it is of laypersons?" 

It's a fairly recent innovation — and not altogether a good one — that the Church in America has begun shooting her wounded. Christ's parables of the wheat and the tares and of the net full of fish (Mt 13:24-30, 47-48) teaches us that there will always be bad Christians among the good, and that their final disposition will be with everything else at the end of time. Until then, we should extend every opportunity for conversion and commitment to discipleship, keeping in mind that we may need such opportunities ourselves.

Above all, Corapi is a reminder to all of us that to set yourself up as a public witness to the Faith is to set yourself up as a target of Satan. His Infernal Majesty is to be feared most not when you're faced with opposition and hatred but when you encounter adulation and admiration; his deadliest weapons hit you at your spiritual weaknesses in private, not at your strengths in public. "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt 10:28). 

This is why St. Paul says, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:25-27). We should never be so certain of our conversions that we neglect the care of our own souls; that way lies pride and presumption.

Finally, we should pray for the quondam Father Corapi ("The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek'" [Ps 110:4]), for the Society, for the women hurt by his behavior, and for the faithful he has betrayed. And let's all remember the prayer attributed to St. Philip Neri: 

"Lord Jesus, watch over me always, especially today, or I shall betray you like Judas."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 235th Birthday, America!

Over the last month, I've had plenty of opportunity to reflect on what freedom means. But it wasn't until today that I finally saw something I'd missed about patriotism. Doubtless many of you are wise enough to already know this:

To love your country is to run the same risks as to love another person. It's to risk disappointment when your country doesn't live up to its promises, to the ideals it professes. It's to risk being hurt when you and your people are rejected and disrespected. When your leaders sell out for their own gain, when your intellectuals become dishonest, when your religious leaders lose their faith or their courage, to love your country is painful.

And yet, without that love, your country can never be better than it is right now. The old Latin tag tells us, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (To die for your country is both sweet and seemly). However, for a country to fulfill its promise, to live up to its ideals, you — Joe Citizen — have to live for your country. Duty isn't enough: a man doing his duty does simply what is asked, and does it well, but doesn't necessarily go any further. In a sense, to help make your country beautiful, you have to see her as beautiful first, if nowhere else but in your heart.

We hold these truths to be sef-evident:
that all men are created equal;
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights;
that among these are LIFE, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness;
that to secure these rights governments
are instituted among men,
with their just powers of government
arising from the consent of the governed ...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday! (Vol. 6)

The funny thing is, I didn't feel any worse at 1:40 am Thursday morning than I did when I woke up ... or for Lord knows how long before that. So when I started coughing up blood, it kind of piqued my interest.

Turns out I've had a touch of pneumonia for some time; what coughing I've had I'd written off as part of my usual smoker's hack. I just got out of the hospital a couple of hours ago, with a couple of prescriptions, a couple of Band-Aids from the sticks, and a throat made a little raw from breathing treatments and O2 stuck in my nose. However, looks like my ongoing sinusitis is clearing up!

While I was laying on my back, trying to tune out my frustration at not being hooked up to the blogosphere and aching for a cigarette, one of the talking heads was grumbling how Congress could come to such an easy agreement over switching the hats of Gen. David Petraeus and Leon Panetta but no one could come to grips with the spiralling national debt, a major driver of which is the cost of US intervention in foreign lands.
"Well," says I to myself, "that'll make an interesting commentary for The Other Blog." I'll have to work on it. But the short answer is: The DoD is a major driver of the budget because the DoD is a major driver of our economy! The money we send to Washington every year doesn't just sit there or go into congressperson's pockets, folks! A lot of it gets spent on stuff that 1) costs a lot of money and 2) puts a lot of people to work at 3) quite a bit more than minimum wage. Do you really want to put thousands of servicepersons, government workers and government-contractor employees on the dole right when we're trying to get out of the doldrums? (And that's part of the reason I think we're nailed.)

You should never go to a hospital for a rest. Nurses, techs, specialists and other folks are scheduled to interrupt sleep at two to three hour intervals.

On the other blog, a person commented that the idea of women fertilizing women, laughable in 1992, is being worked on even now. She reminded me of something my family and I — all major Star Trek: The Original Series fans — have talked about before.

Tablets and Kindles = PADDs. Your cell phone is rapidly becoming a cross between the communicator and the tricorder. Although the tech is still a little gimpy for my tastes, you can talk to a computer that talks back to you. (Just think of Jimmy Doohan — God rest his soul! — in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: "A keyboard ... how quaint.") On deck, a lab in Australia is working on transporter technology; over here, we have a race on for commercial shuttles, as well as burgeoning applications for adult stem cells in re-growing skin, bones and organs.
On the downside, though, we have genetic manipulators working on creating Homo sapiens 2.0. Just think of Khan Noonien Singh, and wonder how far we are from the Eugenics Wars ....

My nephews Colin and Aidan are coming to Texas in a couple of weeks. Both of them are really good kids with sly senses of humor; Aidan is the one that's going to be in the movie I mentioned a month ago, Life Fine Tuned. Then, a week after that, my buddy Steve is coming down from Omaha to kill some time while his wife and kids are out of town; we may go to WinStar to see Styx and Yes in concert ... or we may just spend the weekend swimming, playing penny-ante poker and drinking beer over at my brother's house. So this month's had a rough start, but it looks to be good from here on out!

Got another email requesting a book review. The author introduced himself as Thomas Peters, and I was thinking, "Cool! American Papist himself!"  But then I read a little of his bio, and he's a bit older than I am, let alone Ed Peters' boy. Nevertheless, after I get some contact issues settled, I'll hopefully have something else I can recommend to fellow readers. I still don't think Steven Greydanus has anything to fear from me ....

Julie at The Corner With A View is looking to devote some posts in August on the Catholic Church and sex — not sexuality, sex. I enjoy her writing style; moreover, she's one of the Bright Maidens, whom I've written about as "what feminism should have produced but didn't". I'll probably contribute posts to a couple of the topics, but do go check hers out first!

*     *     *
On Monday, I will probably post a couple of quick blips noting the Declaration's 235th anniversary, and pick up steam again on Tuesday. Of course, look for Random Political Observations on Sunday. As always, have a blessed weekend!