Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival (Vol. 14:4)

Here's how it works: A Catholic writer (such as Your Humble Blogger) writes a post in which s/he includes links to other posts written the previous week. The post includes a link to the "Snippets" page. Then, the link to the new post is submitted to RAnn's site. So when you follow the link above, you'll find a page that will link you to a bunch of fellow Catholic bloggers who offer you the best of their efforts, which will make tasty reading for a lazy afternoon.

This week I reached a major milestone in my life: I celebrated my fiftieth birthday on Thursday, Jan. 23. It just so happened that that day coincided with my monthly submission to Catholic Stand, which features plenty of good, solid Catholic writing, much by people with a higher profile in the Catholic blogosphere than mine. So my contribution for this month was "My First Fifty Years: What I've Learned", my little idiosyncratic take on important life lessons.

On Outside the Asylum, I posted what I hope will be the last economics post for some time, "The tragedy of the corporations", which argues that individual corporate efforts to hold down labor costs is the business world's collective decision to depress consumption and thus reduce their own income ... a kind of collective suicide pact. And on this blog, I posted "Calling George Orwell", a little reflection on a disturbing text message received by thousands of demonstrators in the Ukrainian city of Kiev.

That's all I have. Enjoy your Sunday, and I'll see you next week!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My First Fifty Years: What I've Learned

Yes, I still play. (Photo: Steve Thelen.)
Eight years ago, I was playing around with Microsoft® Money and found an add-in for investment advice. As part of the program, it asked various questions about my general health background. Being interested, I followed through, answering the questions as honestly as possible then hit the “submit” button. The program digested my answers, thought for a couple of seconds then generated its answer. Among its conclusions, I found the rather disturbing prediction: “Life expectancy: 46 years.”
If you’ve done the math, you’ll have figured out that I was 42 at the time. Yikes.
Considering that I’m celebrating my fiftieth year of life today, rather than decomposing in a pine box somewhere, is merely a reminder that actuarial tables have the force of neither physical nor human law.  The longer you live, the longer they expect you to live. (That is, no combination of answers will ever cough up the result “This guy should have died four years ago,” or “Check your watch; you could go any second”). In fact, since 1996, when I survived being robbed at gunpoint for the second time, every breath I’ve taken has been in the knowledge that life is an unmeritable gift.

 Read more at Catholic Stand!

Calling George Orwell

Earlier this afternoon, a woman who used to be my supervisor and I were talking about advances in technology. Like many of my generation, I'm about 1/3rd computer geek, but I'm also a bit of a "tech skeptic" — I don't believe that technological progress is equal to or the same as social progress, or that it will necessarily lead us to Utopia. That doesn't stop me from wanting the latest cool toys, though.

Anyway, I mentioned to Maranda a blurb I'd read where someone claimed that all cars in America would be hooked up to the Internet within the next 5 – 10 years. Consternation dropped on Maranda's face: "Why the hell would anyone want their car hooked up to the Internet? We've already got a big enough problem with people texting while driving! Who needs to be surfing the Web at sixty miles an hour on the open road?" We agreed the idea was pretty ridiculous, and went on talking about MP3 players, Google glasses, iPhones, shoes and ships and sealing wax.

Meanwhile, over in the protest-torn city of Kiev, thousands of men and women protesting the increasingly authoritarian régime received this chilling text message yesterday: "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance." You see, Ukraine passed a law prohibiting public demonstrations; using new technology, the government can locate any cell-phone subscriber in or near a place where prohibited activities are taking place.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival (Vol. 14:3)

Sunday Snippets is a weekly link-fest hosted by RAnn at This, That and the Other Thing. This post contains links back to my writing for the week, while also linking you back to RAnn's blog, where you can find links to other Catholic writers looking to entertain, instruct and amuse you. If you've already read what I've written earlier this week, then by all means go over to RAnn's place and delve into some other writers!

My main effort this last week was in Outside the Asylum: "Dumb idea #6,258: Create jobs by paying poor people less". There's been no small effort by conservatives to pooh-pooh a minimum wage raise, and as a measure to reduce the "wealth gap" I certainly agree that it can have no more than a temporary effect. But Richard J. Epstein wants us to go further: get rid of the minimum wage entirely, because by his reckoning (based on no identifiable facts) labor costs are too high. While I can certainly appreciate his major point — government-mandated redistribution of wealth is generally a bad idea — cutting the minimum wage is not just inappropriate, it's what-color-is-the-sky-in-your-world insane.

In The Impractical Catholic (this here blog) I managed to post three times on non-economic topics (woo-hoo!). First, there's "Being a jerk about gender pronouns", in which I explain why an intelligent, honest person should not use masculine pronouns in reference to a cross-dressing woman or feminine pronouns vis-à-vis a man pretending to be a woman. Then there's "Breaking up with the Pope is hard to do", in which I tweak Philip Pullela of Reuters for insisting that Papa Bergoglio's recent comments on abortion were meant only to placate Catholic conservatives. Last is "An end to arrogant atheism?", in which I reflect on a recent article in Slate by Richard Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association calling for atheists to be more charitable in their dealings with believers.

Go get your Catholic reading on! Have a great week!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An end to arrogant atheism?

It might be worth your while to read the post in HuffPo by Richard Speckhardt, the executive director of the American Humanist Association, before you go on with this.

I truly respect the points that Speckhardt is trying to make in this post. It's not that, in making them, he occasionally makes patronizing comments ("While Dawkins certainly has a valid point regarding mainstream religion's frequent opposition to critical thinking and empiricism ...." No, he doesn't!). It's not that, in making them, he falls prey to the same smug, unsubstantiated assumptions that clog the brains of many New Atheists and set religious apologists' teeth on edge ("Yet again, Dawkins has a valid point — that the anti-science mentality of many religions has limited its adherents from learning about science and working in the scientific field ..." GA-AAA-AH!). In the main, his point is as valid for the religious as it is for the non-religious: as the old saying goes, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." I just wish he'd use less vinegar while asking for more honey.

No, my only objection is that arrogant atheism will only end the same day arrogant theism ends — when Christ comes again and all things are made new. Or, if you prefer, when the last human being quotes the Iliad and dies.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Breaking up with the Pope is hard to do

Oh, that terrible moment when you finally realize the Pope you fell in love with is not the Pope who's running the Catholic Church nowadays.

Some people are still in denial, of course. Philip Pullella of Reuters, for example, chooses to believe that Catholic conservatives are some kind of political constituency that Francis has to keep pacified while he lays plans for Vatican III. So he insists that the Pope's reference to abortion in Monday's "State of the World" speech, in which he called the practice "horrific" and part of a "throw-away culture" in which "human beings themselves ... are discarded as unnecessary", is a mere nod to Church conservatives, backing his contention with one quote from Bp. Thomas Tobin of Providence and an allusion to conservative websites.

Well, yes, there are a few ultra-conservatives who think Francis doesn't go far enough on anything they hold to be crucial. But they've sung the same song about every pope who's followed Ven. Pius XII, with only slight changes in the lyrics here and there. No one who's been paying attention to Papa Bergoglio the last few months can doubt his orthodoxy, his sincerity or his passion concerning the horror of the Great Western Atrocity.

Philip, buddy, you're only fooling yourself. Francis is no Hans Küng; he's no Dan Berrigan or Andrew Greeley; he's not even the kind of Jesuit we here in North America have gotten used to. He's not the kind of progressive you're looking for, because the Church has her own goals and standards by which she measures "progress". You're only going to get hurt if you think he's going to change, or that he'll be okay if you just get him away from those big ol' meanie conservatives.

Maestro! A little break-up music, please.

Being a jerk about gender pronouns

"A few years back," author T Cooper relates in The Slate, "if I had to draw a pyramid to represent who has it 'hardest' with respect to the subject of me and pronouns (with 'most difficult' on top and "not really difficult at all' on the bottom), it would look something like this:

"Notice that I am nowhere on the pyramid," Cooper continues. "This is because for many years, I was generally apologetic about my situation. I didn’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable, ever, so I readily shelved my own discomfort over being referred to by the wrong pronoun." HANH!?

That's right ... Cooper is one of the thousands of people who think creative linguistics can overwhelm biology. In this case, Cooper is a woman trying hard to get us to accept her as a man.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival (Vol. 14:2)

Welcome to The Impractical Catholic ... although, given the recent predominance of a particular subject, it tends to read more like "The Armchair Economist".

Today is Sunday, which means another episode of "Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival", hosted by RAnn at This, That and the Other Thing. If you're a Catholic blogmaster looking for an outlet, here's how we play the game: First, you write a post with links to things you've written over the last week; be sure to give it the "Sunday Snippets" title and link to RAnn's weekly post. Then hit the "Publish" button and copy the link; go over to RAnn's post, and use the Inlinkz function to add your link to the rest. 

While you're there, write a nice note to RAnn thanking her. Also, while you're there, check out the links to the other Catholic writers participating. You see, they're in the main new or obscure, just waiting to take the Catholic blogosphere by storm; and they need you to go tell other people in Netland that they're out there and deserve to be read.

So what did I do this week? Well, I wrote a lot about income inequality ... or, to be more accurate, I wrote a lot about what other people wrote about income inequality. This week actually saw two posts on Outside the Asylum: "Catholics can't have 'designated sinners'", in which I take the Obama Administration and the New York Times to task over the persecution of the Little Sisters of the Poor; and "What's the problem with income inequality?", in which I endeavor to demonstrate that the "wealth gap" is a problem not just for the poor but for the rich as well. By contrast, there was only one other post besides this one on The Impractical Catholic: "Cutting taxes doesn't work", in which I tear apart a favorite conservative cure-all for economic sluggishness.

And there you have it. Now go get your Catholic reading on! Have a great Sunday!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cutting taxes doesn't work—UPDATED

Is this the year that The Impractical Catholic becomes a blog on economic issues? God, let’s hope not.

Normally, when I spout off about economic matters, it’s on The Other Blog, as part of that platform’s current-events orientation. I’ve had to write on economics a couple of times in the last month or so, first because Evangelii Gaudium brought out the conservative “cafeteria Catholics”, and second because Pat Buchanan, a prime example of conservative “cafeteria Catholicism”, wrote a bunch of inane blather about income inequality not two days after I’d finished a post concluding that the rising tide for the top 1% was not lifting the boats of the bottom 80%. Income Inequality, it turns out, happens to be one of the hot topics now, and appears to be one of Pope Francis’ bugbears, so don’t be surprised if it comes up more in my writing.

One point I try to bring up whenever appropriate is that the Catholic Church is neither “conservative” nor “liberal/progressive” as those terms are usually meant in American political discourse. The Church has her own agenda, which means her own benchmarks for progress and her own ideas about what needs to be conserved. Both Popes Benedict and Francis have said substantially the same things vis-à-vis social justice; the differences have been of style and of the meta-narrative imposed on them by the media (“God’s Rottweiler” vs. “The Progressive Pope”).

I make this point because it seems to me the conservatives who write for Human Events are historically and economically illiterate; at times, they’re as guilty of historical revisionism as any radical college professor. [But see the update below!] First it was Buchanan. Now it’s Donald Lambro, whose post, “Look to what’s worked before to spur sluggish economy”, is a welter of conservative parrot-talk mixed with nostalgia for a past that didn’t happen the way he remembers it.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival (Vol. 14:1)

Welcome back, my friends,
To the show that never ends.
We're so glad you could attend;
Come inside, come inside!
—Emerson, Lake and Palmer, "Karn Evil 9"

Yes, once again it's time for "Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival", hosted by RAnn at This, That and the Other Thing. As she explains, "We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other." First, I create a post (here) to discuss and link to my week's efforts (or, my weak efforts, ATCMB). Then, I create a link to this post at the "Sunday Snippets" main page above. 

This has (hopefully) two effects: 1) It drives readers to my blogs from other blogs; 2) It exposes you, Dear Reader, to some tasty writing by other Catholic authors just waiting for their chance to break out of obscurity. Do please follow the turquoise-linked road ... you may very well be glad you did.

So what did I do over the last week? Not much, I'm afraid. 

In Outside the Asylum, I kinda stepped out of my normal comfort zone to write about "the recovery that isn't" — that is, the persistent lack of confidence in our economic recovery despite the most recent news about the gross domestic product (up 4.1% at the end of the third quarter of 2013) and the unemployment rate (down to 7.0% at the end of November). My answer: the recovery isn't nearly as strong as it's being painted, and it won't get much stronger until something is done about income inequality.

That post wasn't up two days when I came across an article written by Patrick J. Buchanan in Human Events, entitled "Inequality — Crisis or Scam?" (Guess which side he took?) It's not just that he missed the point of everyone's concern with income inequality; he missed it while making such stunningly obtuse statements that at the end I no longer wondered why the GOP shuns him ... he's the kind of Republican that makes the GOP look like it's the party "of the rich, by the rich and for the rich". (Well, in some ways it is — in fact, both parties are pretty much run for the pleasure and benefit of the wealthy — but most Republicans at least realize that such an appearance doesn't contribute to electability.) 

Anyway, that's what brought on my latest post here, "Pat Buchanan's clueless defense of income inequality", which ended up recycling some things I said in The Other Blog. Sometimes that happens: when a particular story gets hot, or a particular issue produces a spate of events and commentary, I'll find myself writing two or three posts on the matter, such as on l'affaire Phil Robertson (see last weekend's "Sunday Snippets").

And ... that's it! Go do some reading, and have a great day!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pat Buchanan's clueless defense of income inequality

Patrick J. Buchanan
Recently, a friend posted an old post by David Wong, "6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying". The list includes such aggravating and patronizing sentiments as "Hey, I worked hard to get what I have!", "If I can do it, so can you," and "You shouldn't be punishing the very people who make this country work!"

If Wong read Pat Buchanan's latest piece for Human Events, "Inequality — Crisis or Scam?", then he's no doubt updating and adding to the list of arguments which demonstrate how clueless and out-of-touch with poverty many rich people (and their defenders) really are. Buchanan makes it worse because he buys into the Randian fairy tale that the richest are by definition the brightest and best of society and therefore deserve everything they get because they do and create everything (and the poor do and create nothing save babies).

Buchanan begins with a comparison of China under Mao Zhedong in 1972 (more equal) with the China of 2013: "Today there are billionaires and millionaires in China, booming cities, a huge growing middle class and, yes, hundreds of millions of peasants still living on a few dollars a day. Hence, there is far greater inequality in China today than in 1972. Yet, is not the unequal China of today a far better place for the Chinese people than the Communist ant colony of Mao?"

Buchanan not only forgets that China is still nominally Communist, he ends this beginning section with this jaw-dropper: "Lest we forget, it is freedom that produces inequality." Funny ... I thought we were talking about the People's Republic of China; it seems to me they've done a great job of creating inequality without doing much in the way of liberty. So, for that matter, did Soviet Russia. Plenty of illiberal nations throughout history have produced and sustained dramatic levels of income inequality. Buchanan is hardly 200 words into his argument and has already shown he's either oblivious to what he's saying or living in an alternate universe.