Friday, December 30, 2011

Would feminism oppose sex-selective abortion to prevent the decline of the female population?

Apparently not in this day and age.  At least they're being consistent, right?  Choose the legal capacity to make choices over the ontological ability to have choices to make.

If I haven't said it before, I've intended to say it a thousand times:  evil is ultimately self-consuming, suicidal.  It is only parasitic on the good and when it has done all the damage it can do to the particular good off of which it feeds, it turns to other goods and extinguishes them, eventually cutting off the branch on which it sits; or as Tolly put it in the Silmarillion: her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last.

Thus do all evils eventually collapse or expend themselves.  The great 20th century dictatorships made great efforts to cull millions of their own people; Germany was saved only by attracting the righteous fury of the Allies trying to rescue Europe from fascism, the Soviet Union was spared perhaps as much by the demise of Old Joe Stalin but was felled by a gross overestimation of the propensity of humans to work for others before themselves, and China perhaps was a wiser student of history but is these days merely taking new bait for the same trap.

So we see it in the Roe effect.  Evil is sterile and cannot propagate itself, not without corrupting another fecund good.  I would speculate that this is why when Jesus touched the unclean, they became clean rather than He unclean.  The beast may raise its head again but here is one more reason why abortion will end:  there will be no one left to support it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

From Ms. Magazine, ten questions they think will stump pro-lifers:

  1. How many years do you consider to be a fair prison term for a woman who has an abortion?
  2. How many years for a doctor who performs one?
  3. Will the punishments be greater the second time around? 
  4. Where will the state get the money necessary to prosecute one-third of all American women for this crime?
  5. Forty-two percent of women who have an abortion have incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (that’s $10,830 for a single woman with no children, if you’re counting). When women are forced to have children they cannot afford to raise, will those children become wards of the state or simply new Medicaid recipients? Where will the state find the money necessary to support them?
  6. Will you be willing to watch your wife die in front of you when her life is threatened by an unsafe pregnancy that no one is allowed to do anything about? Your daughter?
  7. Will rapists have to pay child support to women who are forced to have their children?
  8. Will the child of incest be in the custody of its rapist father or the father’s teenaged daughter, his mother? In fact, 18 percent of women who have an abortion in America are teenagers. Will they be required to drop out of high school to raise their children or will the state provide free childcare?
  9. Will upper-class white women be prosecuted as vigorously as other women who have abortions?
  10. You are aware that upper-class white women have abortions, aren’t you?

From me:
  1. I don't know, what's the usual penalty for infanticide?  If she did it out of desperation, then I might say it's analogous to murder three.  It would be, after all, a felony.  We're not going to get to the point as a society where abortion is off the table until having a child--even just having one and giving her up for adoption--is not viewed as a greater problem than killing a child; where trying to make the problem go away instead of facing up to it is not viewed as preferable to taking a hit in the lifestyle.  Until then, just putting people in jail isn't going to be any better a solution than putting basement tokers in jail under "zero tolerance" laws has solved the drug problem.
  2. I don't know, what's the usual penalty for infanticide?  Since he's just doing it as a matter of course, then I might say it's analogous to murder one.  It would be, after all, a felony.  I'd make the same analogy as I did with the war on drugs, but abortion clinics are notorious for not meeting the professional or hygiene standards of real medical facilities, and that kind of problem is of a more dire order than an agglomeration of college dropouts living smokey lives of quiet dissipation.
  3. Aren't they usually?  Why wouldn't they be?  Couldn't think of more than nine good questions?
  4. From the money it doesn't give to Planned Parenthood (by some estimations, nearly a million dollars a day--one figure I saw was $363 million a year), if your assumption is correct that the vast increase in number of abortions after Roe would not be reversed by its overturn--and is that one third of all American women, or one third of all American pregnancies?  We should be clear on this point; I'm actually uncertain, and haven't seen numbers on the propensity of women to have abortions repeatedly, recently enough to remember any figures.  Or maybe we could do things differently:  Instead of making it illegal to procure an abortion, just make it illegal to perform one.  After all, we already have laws that distinguish between possessing, buying, and selling controlled substances; if we want to be sensitive to desperate and scared mothers, we could focus on the doctors who actually do the dirty work.  Similarly, going after drug dealers would probably be more effective than going after people who would just prefer to toke up on Friday nights with a few friends instead of gathering around a box of King Edwards and a bottle of Crown Royal Reserve.  But still:  if we wanted another zero-tolerance law to enforce, do you think a million a day would cover it?
  5. So fewer than half of women who have abortions live in poverty?  Why does it seem natural to kill children who would be born into poverty before finding your own answers to questions like "who would take care of them?" and "who can afford to have children?"  And why are you assuming that the state needs to shoulder the direct responsibility to care for children?  There is such a thing as finding would-be parents who would handle these details and save lawmakers and voters much grief.  Sure, kids are expensive to raise, but decrepit senior citizens are also expensive to keep in nursing homes, and I'd like to give them the chance to do better than hold a pillow over my face when they tire of watching me linger.  But if they do neither because they were never born alive, who's stuck with the job?  The state--that is, you taxpayers.  Does that trouble you now?  Sure, you get to start making claims about how your money gets spent, but now your money's getting diluted more and you'll be fighting with more people who are anteing up and also want a say on how their money's spent.  You're worried about money?  If we ban abortion, start giving money to Distributed Parenthood so adoption fees and whatever medical expenses accrued during delivery are covered for poor mothers, since it looks like Obamacare is going to be driving Catholic Charities out of the business and taking over most everything anyway.
  6. You're asking me if I would be willing to kill my son or daughter to save my wife's life, not just from an "unsafe" pregnancy where the complications surpass current medical arts, but where for some reason doctors are barred from acting (a facile equivocation; in the real world abortion isn't the only possible solution to pregnancy complications).  First, two words:  double effect.  That's an argument too big to pack in here.  Second, maybe you should ask my wife if she was willing to kill her son or daughter to save herself.  Making this about male oppression makes you the sexist.  As for my daughter, well, I would never kill my grandchildren, and I would hope she wouldn't either; I guess you could say we're "barred" from murdering our offspring by the same logic.  You want to talk about unsafe pregnancies?  Try to frame a hypothetical situation in terms that don't require me to commit or authorize physical violence to resolve a "sometimes life's just a bitch" problem.  I wouldn't even kill you to save someone's life, unless you yourself were the immediate threat, and even then my desire and intent would not be your demise but the removal of your immediate ability to propagate harm.  Half of all abortions are elective, anyway, which means there isn't a vast majority of genuinely troubled and at-risk mothers desperate enough to risk a D&E in some marginally sanitary office.
  7. I think that's the least they should do.  Forcing them to marry their victims like in the old days was never a good thing, but it did reflect at least a dim understanding of accountability for one's actions.  Why would you even ask this?  Trying to make it easier on rapists by insinuating that they shouldn't, that rape victims should be protected from any possible "reminders" of their attackers?  Have you really ever gotten to know mothers whose children were the product of rape?  Or is this just another shocker of a non sequitir to keep pro-lifers off balance and pretend you actually scored some rhetorical points?
  8. Again with making every solution a power of the state.  Thanks for the patronizing lesson in abortion statistics.  Why would a rapist of any stripe now get custody of the child, and why would that change?  Does it relate in any way to laws on the books before Roe?  The father's a rapist, he should be in jail.  Do you realize you're assuming we would stop prosecuting rape in the case of incest?  Where the hell do you get that idea?  Just throwing out outrageous suggestions to get a rise out of us, so you can either pretend we're the unreasonable people for taking rightful offense at offensive claims and acting like the the only scandalized adult in the room?  As for teenage mothers, if it really gets to be a problem, maybe we should start having day care at high schools; in the meantime, we have day care elsewhere, and maybe the feds could offer a tax break or subsidy for child care if we're going to go that route instead of leaving it to today's grandmothers to raise a second generation of kids, hopefully better than the first (don't get hung up on rape--the vast majority of accidental pregnancies are from consensual sex).
  9. Why shouldn't they?  Are their children not just as human as the poor brown children you insist we hold to a different standard?  Or are you referring to the fact that rich people, perhaps disproportionately, already are not prosecuted with the rigor as other demographics, when suspected or accused of the same crimes?  That's a fair cop, since it's something that already happens with all kinds of crimes, and probably has been happening in the West for the last five hundred years, and longer before that and in all other places if you replace "brown" and "rich and white" with any other two disparate demographic groups historically and geographically proximal to each other (whether or not it's just, the double standard between alien or minority and native or majority is almost universal), so I don't know why it's only a scandal when trying to trick people into thinking their desire for mercy for desperate and scared and pressured pregnant women is really a belief in choosing abortion.  I can only imagine this is supposed to be a parallel with the death penalty, but to really be a proper analogy, we'd be debating whether to legalize or ban murder on the grounds that fewer white people get the chair for murder:  there may be a problem, but this is a different one.
  10. Oh, I see.  You're the one who holds poor brown people and, apparently, rich white men to different standards.  So you're racist as well as sexist.  No wonder I was only incredulous, and not stumped, at your really insightful and penetrating, um, caricatures.  You think we don't think about who has abortions?  You think it only occurs to us that abortions don't only happen to "not me and nobody I know" but "not me, nobody I know, and nobody of my race or economic class?"  Do you realize how artificial a way of thinking that is?  In spite of this, do you think it hasn't occurred to us that while perhaps a third of pregnancies end in abortion, half of all pregnancies of black women end in abortion?  Do you think we haven't noticed that, while half of abortions are not for reasons of medical or financial desperation (I'm reluctant to say "necessity"), the majority of Planned Parenthood clinics are in poor neighborhoods?  Do you think those rich white folks you so disparage are just going to happily come to those run-down and dangerous parts of town you want to pretend we think don't exist?  Do you think we haven't noticed that these differences are, as they say, statistically significant?  I'll tell you this much:  it's not because we're promoting abortion among minorities.  What do you think is going to happen to minorities if they maintain the highest abortion rates in the country?  But please, by all means:  tell me more about how abortion hits close to home.  Please, by all means:  when you've run out of reasonable arguments to make, make some more graphic or inflammatory comments to try to gin up some squeamishness or frustration to feed your schadenfreude.  That's how they roll on the internet, after all.

These things remind me of people I knew in high school and college, and even a few in grad school, who are pretty smart, but maybe not as smart as they think they are, and are hung up on getting by with native talent and not bothering to do any real homework.  Sure, someone looked up that 42% figure somewhere, but coming up with this list of questions, it's like they couldn't get past the misconception that pro-lifers are really just about controlling women and hiding that agenda under a veneer of sentimentality.  But what's sentimental is talking like we need to save PP because it's such a great provider of women's health services, like it's one of those "too big to fail" corporations loaded up with the nostalgia of an older friend who will hold your hair back when you're puking in the toilet and give you a lift to the mall when you need to Take Care Of Something.  No thanks; I like a friend who helps me when I'm sick but I don't want one who would support me in doing something wrong, and I hope I wouldn't be a friend who would, either.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is there such a thing as truth, or just facts?

Has anyone noticed a pattern lately?

For the past several months, on and off in the marginally philosophical circles I occasionally run tangent to, I've seen a slight increase in the incidence of people distinguishing truth from facts, and it rubs me the wrong way.

I'm not saying I think there's a perfect correspondence between the two ideas.  There just seems, to me, to be a concerted effort to divorce truth and facts, a little undercurrent in human discourse that changes the direction of thought and discussion ever so subtly.

I'm not sure I can give an adequate definition of "truth" in this context; usually what I see is assertions or bald existential conclusions (perhaps justified by observation or reasoning somewhere, and not just presumed, but it's left as an exercise to the reader) that truth is unknowable or nonexistent and all we're left with are facts.

But when I learned what a fact was, I was taught that it was an objectively true idea or statement.  You can debate whether it's warm or cool, cold or hot--that would be a matter of opinion--but you can't argue that it's not winter on December 27 in the northern hemisphere.

There's some wiggle room, I get it--if there's a premature thaw and New Year's passes with highs in the 50s, then it's not really wintry weather--but we don't have to go there.  I could also say it's a fact that 2+2=4, that it's absolutely true, if we bar silly games with rounding and deviant numeral systems.  I'm not dealing with that right now; we can describe those situations with other facts.

There's truth and then there are facts?  Last I knew, if it wasn't true, it wasn't a fact.  Is the window open? It's true the window's open.  It's a fact that the window is open.  If the window were not open, it would not be true that it's open, and it wouldn't be a fact that the window was open.  You could say "It's open" anyway, but then you would simply be wrong.

It would be a fact that you said it's open, but that's not the same thing, and maybe therein lies the difference.  Still, it's a matter of the fact, the truth, being "You claimed, or believe, that the window is open," which if you're wrong could have nothing to do with the configuration of a window.  But then the fact is "someone asserted X," not "X" itself.  Sure, it's true someone asserted X, but I don't care about that any more than I care about how to label mild weather the week after Christmas; I care about X being true and what's going to happen to the snow.  Some things we can only have empirical evidence for, true (ha!), but some things are not empirical and nobody argues about it (see 2+2=4, above).

So, is the window open?  You say it's closed.  You're right, or you're wrong, or you define "closed" by some idiosyncratic criteria, or it's partway closed and you want to split hairs, but if you're not psychotic we can sort these things out.

You can claim any of these things.  Are they thereby facts?  No, the only facts are (1) whether the window is open or closed and (2) that you think something about it.  These things are true.  At first I gave the second as "what you think about it," but that's an opinion, not a fact.

The line between opinion and fact is getting blurred; all we're left with is what people think is going on around them, either poorly documented or uncamouflaged and called opinion or empirically documented and called a fact (even though the fact is not "well-documented X" but "we have observed X to be predominant condition," which is still contingent on statistics).

Anyone else noticing this?  Is it a recent development in philosophy that we can have "facts" with no truth value, or just some relativistic claptrap that has trickled down to the hoi polloi who consider themselves bright because they call themselves Bright?

I was annoyed enough when I first heard people making unequivocal assertions like "there is no objective truth," but this seems like an attack on the idea itself.  If we can no longer rise above the confusion to even conceive what "truth" would be, how could anyone claim there was such a thing, or that they had it?

Good question.  But I'm not playing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What politician is down to earth?

Larry Elder at Catholic Exchange concludes an insightful analysis by reminding us that, ultimately, none is--not at the national level, anyway.

But he spends most of the article demonstrating how the Democrats' vocation of championing the unwashed masses does not arise from firsthand experience in the lower class and lower middle class predominating the biographies of the DNC's top players.  On the contrary, Democratic leadership is every bit as out of touch as that of the GOP; but that's not the narrative we hear, is it?

No, we hear lots of sentiment about protecting the little guy from corporate fat cats--you know, the one who are tycoons because they either inherited wealth from their robber baron parents or because they managed to foist all taxes off on the people who make under $28k, or somehow stole it from them (or the corporations they own somehow did, or maybe just people with college degrees and desk jobs and as a demographic the lion's share of the tax burden).  We hear a lot about punishing the successful and the lucky for the crime of drawing resentment from the destitute, the jealous, and the professional class warrior.  We hear not just patronizing propaganda and behalfist rhetoric but weird, presumptive editorializing like claims that "people cringe when politician X says Y about issue Z," where "people" is supposed to be all-inclusive and make X appear to be, again, out of touch, but really only includes the journalist or the propagandist and his staff or circle of friends and probably few others, and definitely not others who have a different but still reasonable view of what truth and virtue can mean.

Elder's article didn't surprise me, but the picture he painted drew into focus an inconsistency I hadn't noticed before.  The DNC and its minions have been painting the GOP's candidates as being in various degrees of alienation from at least the rest of America.  By contrast, the Democrats are supposed to be relatable and understanding.  Like Larry Elder said, both sides are lacking in this department at that level, but what really seemed curious to me was the fact that the Dems were bothering to play the "common man" card, after this theme developed in his support base and went unanswered by the then-future-president.  

Is he the superhuman who got elected or is he a common man in the right place at the right time for the next election?  If he were both, I guess he would have to be God, wouldn't he?  But he's not.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Marc over at The Bad Catholic wrote an insightful essay--well, he writes several, but this one from several days ago just came back to mind earlier today and I wanted to connect a couple dots.

An agnostic I once read, long enough ago that I have forgotten who it was (I welcome all offers to identify the person and the circumstance for me), admitted that despite the dearth of objective, tangible evidence for God, one thing that materialists haven't really been able to account for is the presence of so much beauty in the world. The idea is that it would be simpler to evolve a psychology in a species that lacked any sense for beauty, and lacked any need for it, than a psychology that has a sense for beauty that helps propagate one's genes, or a psychology that has a sense for beauty that serves no materialistic need.

Marc points out some instances where a Darwinist might suddenly recognize that there are things of value that are not simply material, and then turns them on their heads. To wit:
How can you not believe in God? Have you never seen yourself seeing a sunset?”
What evolutionary end is furthered by being able to admire a sunset? Or music? Or the human form in non-reproductive terms?

Spare me references to magpies hoarding shiny things or the insistence that any appeal of one human to another is sexual. The former may be no more than analogous to a moth with its navigational instincts overwhelmed by a hundred watt light bulb, and the latter forgets that there can be more than one way for people to be just friends.

As CS Lewis would point out, why do we have this appetite for it if there is nothing real to satisfy it?  What sense would it make for the human brain to have acquired such a developed and nuanced sense of beauty, only to satisfy it with self-deluding judgments of sensory input?

Ah, but I've been talking about beauty.  What about ugliness and pain?

Same thing.  Witness a group of animals where one is wounded or brought down, not quite dead, by a predator.  The survivors might flee out of an immediate need to survive, and in some species parents might defend their young for the same gene-perpetuating reason (or sometimes a larger social group than the nuclear family, but whatever), but they don't attempt to rescue each other.  An ungulate gets caught in the mud near a watering hole and a cheetah is able to reach it without sinking, and starts eating from its hindquarters while it bleats in agony; the other antelope, sensing the departure of an immediate threat, return to drink and just keep an eye on the cat.

People, though?  Don't just rescue a person from the lion display at the zoo, look at yourself rescuing the person!  What motivated you?  A desire to prevent or stop the suffering of a fellow human?  Even a desire to play the hero?  Both motivations impossible for other animals.

Whether it's beauty or pain, we're capable of abstracting it and nothing else is.  Just think about why and where this capability originates.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The inclination to moral bankruptcy of the pro-abortion movement

I had a weird experience over the weekend, albeit one that wasn't too surprising, upon reflection.

Was web surfing and found an interesting food blog--barbecue I think was the main theme, and for what it's worth I'm a sucker for meat that's been cooked low and slow.

The blogger had posted on a pig roast, and some anonymous vegetarian left a comment to the effect of "your unborn child should suffer the same fate as that hog."

The blogger was understandably on the far side of annoyed, and after a brief and righteous condemnation of a coward flaming from behind the shield of anonymity, the blogger...proceeded to instruct the commenter that "unborn child" is a contradiction ("child" being defined by some assumed authority not to include the medical category "fetus"), and then spent the bulk of the message defending the legitimacy of meat consumption.

You can eat meat or not if you wish, but I was a little off-put by how this blogger just blew past the rhetorical threat to her son or daughter.

I shouldn't be shocked but it still goads me to see people hiding behind technical terminology in casual communication.  Especially here, when the retort was hardly a rebuttal.

Whether or not "unborn child" would be acceptable parlance in medical or legal literature, it's specific enough that no one fails to understand the reference.  It would be like me interjecting into a conversation on building materials with "You should know steel isn't a metal;" in a sense it'd be true, because steel is an alloy of elemental iron (a metal) and small amounts of carbon (usually forming a stoichiometric compound in the so-called alpha matrix), along with sometimes some other elements; but I would generally only be confusing the non-pedantic people who are concerned with matters to which my hair-splitting is irrelevant; and beyond that I still wouldn't be entirely correct because the steel would remain predominantly metallic in the sense that the iron's conduction and valence electron bands still overlap.

See what I did there?  Completely derailed the discussion by insisting on an inappropriate use of strict terminology.  Maybe intimidated a few people with my posturing.  Certainly confused and annoyed some people who understood perfectly what was going on until I jumped in and pretended to clarify things with impenetrable jargon--in essence, hid an entire forest behind a bunch of trees.

John Wright has written more thoroughly, and superiorly, on the abuse of language and how it is propagated through political correctness, and it's perfectly reflected by what this blogger did and what I just demonstrated:  Control of the discussion was claimed by one party, who overtly or subtly tried to dismiss the concerns of another party and redefined the terms from words that were well understood to malapropos words that are so specific they cloud the real issue, divert attention to other matters more easily argued than the matters that were relevant.

But still, why that detour?  The vegetarian rhetorically wants your kid roasted on a spit as payback for doing the same thing to a pig, and aside from this horrific overreaction to reading about a person eating meat, before going on a long diatribe about how eating meat isn't so bad, you have to stop to point out that--wait for it--it's not really a child the vegetarian wants to see cooked?

That kind of knocks the wind out of any rebuttal.  It would have been more clear how silly it is if the argument had been laid out differently.  "Your child should die in a fire as payback for you roasting that innocent pig whole."  "Hey, don't be so scandalized; almost everyone in the world eats meat.  But it's not really a child, anyway."  Huh?  So, maybe it would be okay, but if not, at least it's not like they'd be making her give up barbecue?  What?

I can only surmise it is part of the perpetual campaign to darken people's vision of what should be perspicuous, that innocent humans born or unborn are entitled to freedom from deliberate harm.  Without the high-falutin' rhetoric to counter rational thoughts to the contrary and this disjointed murmuring to keep people off guard and stop them from having quiet enough moments to think, people would be likely to realize the self-evident for themselves, start making well-informed and thoughtful decisions for themselves.

I wonder how the child would feel, looking back at the blog archives ten or fifteen years from now, and seeing his mother imply that while he might have been spared the embryotome, it was not because he deserved or had any right to be.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two stupid things I've heard, relating to politics/democracy:

Abortion: "Needs to be made affordable/less restricted because it's the law of the land, and if it's not universally available, it's being discriminated against."
 BS. It's a medical practice, not a citizen, and therefore has no rights and is not subject to discrimination laws, but rather to the same regulation as any other operation.

Gay marriage: Voters in MA or PA or somewhere, so it goes, have the same right to vote on the matter as those in CA.
We live in a hybridized democratic republic, but that doesn't mean you're entitled to vote on any issue you want at any point. No. Voting is only one part of the process and only comes at certain times. At other times and places, go campaigning. Don't complain that the movement in different states is in different stages, except to call attention to more or less progress is being made in one state than another. That can motivate people to be more active. It's as fitting (which is to say, not at all) to demand to vote on the east coast because people on the west coast are, as it was to ask Bush to step down early so Obama could get a head start on saving the country.  Keep talking that way, though, and you'll give the impression that you or your cause or people on your team are entitled to special civic and legal privileges, which is distasteful to people who are aware that you haven't earned the right.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Are "mysteries" the crutch of the intellectually lazy?

No, or, not necessarily.

Calling something a theological mystery and not having a solution is not a lack of inquisitiveness or a sign of sloth.  All mysteries are mysteries before they're solved; are detectives and private investigators, then, merely lazy?  Of course not.  A mystery is simply something we can't explain with the facts and logic at hand.

When we speak of transcendental ones, we do generally mean they're unsolvable by temporal means.  It's good to accept they're beyond us, in the sense of cultivating trust and patience, but it's not a sign reading "think this far and no further."  Mysteries are not devoid of meaning; they are recognized as possessing more meaning than we can apprehend.

It's a race we know we probably can't finish.  It does not mean we should not or will not make the effort.  Some people may be more or less disposed to apprehending some part of the whole, but some people also may be more or less disposed to apprehending parts or all of complex cobordism, either, and there's no shame or conviction in that, either.

It may be expanded to the subject of religion as a whole.  How often do you hear things like "The Catholic Church tells you what to think?" (more on that another time)  Sure, there are professional theologians and philosophers, but most of the people you meet on the street are amateur theists, so to speak; they--we--can't answer a lot of the tough questions, or recognize some of the stupid ones, so we end up trusting what the Church tells us.

How is this a moral failing?  I'm sorry, but I'm too busy to figure out why the difference between homoousios and homoiousios is important; I will take it on faith, ponder it when I have the means as well as opportunity to do so, and allow the experts in their fields to do their job.  They keep me from falling into heresy, and I'll keep their planes from falling out of the sky.  Is that not a fair deal?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Unbelievers keep saying that the miraculous healings attributed to saints are merely rare, natural occurrences that we don't have the science or technology to explain.

I think God, in His infinite wisdom and power, works miracles that happen to be beyond the understanding of anyone who would witness.  A miracle to a panhandler a thousand years ago might be transparent to a physicist today; a miracle to a lawyer today might be transparent to a doctor a thousand years from now.

This may seem tidily pat to unbelievers, but hopefully it will remind believers of hope.  There's plenty of room for mystery.

God can do whatever He wants, remember?  If we explained every mysterious healing by saying "I'm confident medical technology will advance to the point where this sort of thing is commonplace; it just happened to occur spontaneously in this case," then we're making hulking, looming idols out of science and technological progress.

There's nothing wrong with putting mundane faith in science; with as much as the state of the medical arts has advanced, there are lots of reasons to hope for continued improvement in maintaining health.  But reasonable optimism is no substitute for sober open-mindedness to unexpected possibilities, or for rational and informed thought.

I'm sure I'll revisit that subject more in the future, as I have in the past.  Permit me a disjointed segue.

Most often, the standard I hear for a healing to be considered miraculous by atheists and non-Christians is the regrowth of a missing limb.  It would be an understandably dramatic and easily documented event, to be sure.  Has such a thing, then, never happened?

In the little research, I've done, I haven't heard of such a thing--the closest I could come was a few references to a surgery in the third century by Saints Cosmas and Damian where the gangrenous leg of Deacon Justinian was replaced by a leg from the cadaver of an Ethiopean.  Not quite the same thing, not a lot of corroborating evidence at hand, if still miraculous in magnitude given the era.

There are a few other cases that might be dramatic enough to qualify, however.

In 1921, Peter Smith was born at Mother Cabrini Memorial Hospital.  As was custom at the time, a silver nitrate solution was put into his eyes for prophylactic purposes.  Instead of using the usual 1% concentration, however, the nurse accidentally used the stock 51% concentration.  Young Peter's eyes were burned out of his head, and the solution ran into the crying infant's mouth and down his throat, burning his lungs.  His temperature rose to 108°F.

They prayed for him before the Blessed Sacrament.  In two days, his eyes were restored.  A day after that, his fever was gone.

Father Peter Smith died of an aneurysm in 2002.

In 1892, Marie Lemarchand visited Lourdes.  A victim of lupus, she bathed in the waters and was cured; her ulcerous skin was regenerated, and she no longer coughed up blood.  Atheist and author Emile Zola was there to witness it.  

But believing and seeing are two different things, and there is such a thing as a dogmatic faith that miracles do not happen.

Zola had claimed he only wanted to see a cut finger healed by dipping in the miraculous water.  Although he examined Ms. Lemarchand closely enough to describe the condition of her skin (he omitted the details of her coughing in the report on his trip to Lourdes) when she arrived, when asked to look at her after bathing in the water, he said "Ah no!  I do not want to look at her. She is still too ugly."

Before he left Lourdes, he asserted that he would not believe in miracles even if everyone at Lourdes were healed.  In his book on the subject, he suggested that it perhaps wasn't lupus the woman had at all, and that her cure was merely psychosomatic.

You can almost feel Zola considering the possibility that the world was stranger than dreamt of in his philosophy, before falling back on "it wasn't really lupus so it wasn't really a miracle."

Some have even speculated that Padre Pio was only faking his stigmata, since they miraculously healed in the days before his death.  While doctors had examined his wounds in life and his woundless body after death, the skeptics comfortably asserted that no medical investigation was allowed or made, for convenience of perpetuating the "myth" of Padre Pio's stigmata.

But what about limb regrowth, you ask?  Was that not the original contention?

I submit that limb regrowth is a more trivial matter than the cure of lupus.  It may also be simpler than regrowing an eye, although I won't stake anything on that.

We are already culturing tissues in the lab.  Teeth and ears have been grown, and in July of this year a trachea was grown and successfully implanted into a human.

To this I say, so what?

We are not talking about "medical miracles" of coaxing stem cells to replace missing or excised tissue.  We are talking about spontaneous curing of conditions of missing limbs.

We must be careful, we believers and we skeptics; for to explain how something might have been done is not to explain how something was done.  In cases when we cannot be sure of all the events, the gap between "what we know at the moment" and "what we know could have accomplished this" may be large enough to admit reasonable doubt, and there is no shame or conviction either way in that; but when we speculate about likely explanations for bizarre phenomena, and we later come into facts that make reasonable suppositions impossible, it is silly and dishonest to persist.

I say this because at some point I would wager a missing limb will be miraculously restored, and some skeptic is bound to say "That could have been done on an outpatient basis" and be satisfied that no supernatural explanation could disprove a natural means for healing, even if it is known that the subject did not in fact visit a hospital, that no one who had the means to grow a limb "in the field" was present. Theists do have it a little easier in that God can work through natural means just as well as directly intervening, and so we may never know when God may make an exception to how the natural processes run in a case of limb stumps or cancer or lupus, but we want to be careful not to accede a miracle when someone fails to prove a mundane occurrence was possible in opportunity while spending all his effort to prove that a mundane occurrence just happened to be physically possible.
It's the difference between "could have done" and "did do."

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Prayer request

My grandmother was admitted to hospice yesterday.  She's ornery and had a series of small strokes years ago, followed by a couple years of mismedication, so it was thought that she was merely getting more ornery and senile, but for reasons I'm not clear on they decided to get someone to review some test results taken about a month ago; it turns out she's got a cracked L4 vertebra, I think it is, and cerebrospinal fluid is leaking somewhere in her brain.  She's in pain but lucid; seemed happy to be admitted and is ready for an end to living with all that pain.

Pre-diagnosis, they speculated she might have a month left to live.  Knowing that she has actual medical problems and what they are, I'm not sure how it changes her prognosis; if she were younger, perhaps surgery could help, but they don't think she's strong enough to survive an operation on her back.  No idea what palliative options may even exist for her brain thing.

Prayers are requested, for a happy death whenever it comes and comfort in the meantime.  She gave up going to church a few years ago and agreed to see a priest when asked but didn't want confession because she still harbors a lot of anger.

On that note I would also ask for prayers for my grandfather and her relationship with him; I don't know what may have gone on between them but he is the target of much of her ire.  He may be a curmudgeon, but he doesn't have much else in his life than her.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Over the weekend I caught part of a show on the radio talking about how the mayor of New York has declined to invite to his 9/11 memorial service any of the first responders or anyone who might have been expected to say a prayer in public for the victims of the WTC attack.

Whatever the real reason, it strikes me as a profoundly tacky and misguided attempt to honor the separation of Church and state, just for starters.

As far as that was part of Mayor Bloomberg's motivation, it's also representative of a larger movement to more broadly and thoroughly enforce the Establishment clause.  This trend in Constitutional philosophy is troublesome where the prohibition of establishment is exalted over the prohibition against inhibiting free exercise, and it is promoted in part by misguided sensitive, considerate believers as well as by nonbelievers who feel oppressed by the existence of people from the first group.

The conflict leads to many questions about the relationship between Church and state in this country.  Many governmental bodies (including a few in New York) open their sessions with a prayer by rule and not just by tradition or convention; "In God we trust" remains on all our money; "God Bless America" is often sung at sporting events.  Should these things be stopped?  Should such pious practices be allowed--tolerated, so to speak--but no sign of condonation be made, as long as they are not disruptive (for reasonable levels of disruption, which I will not argue here)?  They've tried to stop prayer in schools,  such as at graduation ceremonies and before football games, but where the laws get overly broad, as the bumper sticker says, "As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in school."

So it occurred to me that maybe we're asking some of the same kinds of questions that come up in the torture debate--questions that that tend to further torture because they muddy rather than clear the waters. When we ask "How harshly can we treat someone before it's considered torture?" with the purpose of deciding what types of positive or negative punishment may be applied to gain compliance in a subject, then we've already crossed a moral line with regard to intent.  As I've said before, I don't believe that mild discomforts or inconveniences inherent to incarceration are properly torture, but if our guiding star is "how much can we get away with," then we're asking for trouble and committing a grave evil against our fellow man becomes a question of "When?" instead of "If...."

What does torture have to do with the price of eggs in China?

The matter of the relationship or lack thereof between Church and state comes up all the time, and whether it's a slippery slope argument bemoaning the repression of longstanding traditions of public prayer or a thinly veiled attempt to trick or convince everyone that formal oppression of religion is real freedom, or something reasonable in between, it often seems that the harder we try to figure out what religious activities the state should keep its nose out of and what the state should butt into in order to protect the interests of people of different religious persuasions, the harder it is to get a clear picture.

So, maybe we're asking the wrong questions.  Maybe "What infringements are reasonable?" only has wrong answers.

Maybe, if the state can't do it right, the state shouldn't be doing it at all.  Don't get involved in things where there's a conflict amongst believers, or between believers and nonbelievers, unless actual violence occurs.

It wouldn't be unheard of.  Laws have been overturned before on the grounds that they were prohibitively difficult or impossible to enforce.  I can't think of a law that has been overturned because the only available means to enforce it happened to be prohibited by higher laws, but if "protection from association with religious believers" rulings were challenged, I don't think it would be much of a stretch to frame the argument in these terms.

But I'm not a law scholar.  I haven't come up with any answers.  I just thought it was an interesting question to throw out there.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I missed a chance to speak against abortion the other day.

Maybe I was just afraid. If it was something else, it wasn't a terribly good reason either, I'm sure.

I didn't want to jump in with both feet and be trying to defend myself from attacks literally on both sides--I walked into the lab that morning when two of my coworkers started talking about how annoying protesters (particularly March For Life types, since it was just the day before that one of my coworkers saw them, which is what brought it up in the first place, but they got in some jabs at the Westboro types along the way) can be.

I settled for listening to their arguments, trying to formulate responses in my head during a situation that lacks the convenience of time for reflection and referring to other minds for insight, like I do when I'm writing more apologetic stuff here. It was possible, after all, that I might even hear something new, and I wanted to consider some new arguments should I someday be faced again with countering them.

The conversation was pretty short, so they didn't make too many points at all before getting back to work.

One of them was that they just cannot understand why pro-lifers care so much about what other people do. It just purely seemed beyond them. "Not that I'd do it," one of them said, "but I should be able to go into my home, and shoot up with heroin, and if it's not affecting anyone else, if it's not hurting my job, why should it matter to anyone else?"

Well, he's begging the question. If it's not negatively impacting anyone else, then, okay, maybe we shouldn't be regulating it, but it's a pretty big "If," which is why outside of the rhetorical world laws against heroin already exist.

The funny thing there is that coworker of mine is a proponent of gun control.  If I pulled a gun on a criminal, he says, the criminal would just take it away and shoot me.  There's a lot of assumptions I've addressed before, but a lot of the motivation behind gun control devolves from the argument "Okay, say you wanted a nuclear bomb for your own protection.  The government would be right in prohibiting that because there's no way for you to use it without adversely affecting your neighbors, all without their consent."  That's a fair argument against certain types or scales of weaponry, but it denies the benefit of the doubt on the personal level that is generously extended to would-be partakers and promoters of narcotic drug use and infanticide.

This "if it's not hurting anyone, never mind" mindset treats the presence of a human life--the entire raison d'etre of the pro-life movement--as a trivial detail. With the specter of private autonomy looming over everything, maybe I shouldn't be surprised that the rights of a "victimized minority," that seem to conflict with the rights of another "victimized minority" that's pushing abortion itself, would be impossible to see.

"When the pro-life people came to my school," one of them said, "what I wanted to do was go stand next to the demonstrators and just hand out coathangers, saying 'Here, if they get their way you'll be needing these.'" I'm ignorant of the statistics (as opposed to the mythology) of coathanger abortions, except that by any lucid application of statistics the total number of abortions did in fact increase after 1973, so if someone can cite a reference, maybe a reliable web site, I'd be grateful. Most of what I've heard has pointed to underground abortion services that really weren't any less professional or sanitary than what's out there now. Anyway, the point of the demonstrations on college campuses wasn't simply to get people to vote against abortion and make it harder for a supposed majority of women to fight some epidemic of chronic unwanted pregnancies. The point is to change the hearts and minds of everyone, so that an evil institution can be seen for what it is and eliminated.

"They're standing out there in the cold, with small children, even having the kids passing out pamphlets with pictures of aborted fetuses on them. Maybe someone should call child protective services on them!" Maybe, if the parents were neglectful of their children's health and safety. They certainly shouldn't be exposing toddlers to hypothermia or tremendous gore, but what's an acceptable risk of harm to body or mind is within the purview of the parents. CPS does have a role to play for when parents are remiss, but there's a world of difference between having kids stand outside and exposing them to the equivalent of an R-rated movie, and tearing kids' limbs off and crushing their skulls. Where's the protection then?  I mean, "Don't accuse me of murder with a raised voice and harsh words and photographic evidence?"  Really?

I can't speak for every child, but I learned about abortion when I was in, I think, first grade. Not exactly a toddler, but when I stumbled across a pro-life booth at some function at church where they had pictures of post-abortion children on trays and in waste buckets, I certainly found it terrible, but it didn't give me nightmares; seeing the horror didn't do me any more harm than learning in the first place that some adults would have held my existence in such low regard. The only shock I felt was seeing the results of an abortion and having to wonder how anyone could look at what was obviously the mutilated remains of a baby and still think it was any different from doing it to, say, another adult.

I don't think I was dealing with people who spend most of their free time worrying about conservative politics, or they might have realized that pro-lifers aren't just irritated about a lifestyle choice that carries no moral weight, as if they're all Monopoly players who hate people who play pinochle. I have, on very rare occasions, heard some abortion apologists say "I recognize that there is human life within me, but I believe that that person is subordinate to my dignity, so I may act against him as I will;" I wonder how many people fall into this category and how many will just say "What's the big deal?"
But I don't really relish finding out the answer to that.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

"Why doesn't the law allow someone have a spouse of the same sex?"
"What would be the point?"
"I love him; it should be me who gets to make life decisions with him; or for him, and him for me, if we can't make decisions for ourselves."
"The state is not interested in how you feel about someone.  It rightly sees that it has no business butting into things based on sentimental motivations."
"You love your wife."
"Yes, and we are also trying to create the next generation of citizens. "
"We can--"
"Yes, you can adopt in some jurisdictions, but you don't need to be married to do that.  That justification has already been taken off the table."
"Who is the state to stop two consenting adults making a private decision to share their lives--"
"Hold the boat here, your complaint was about the law, originally.  The state hasn't tried to stop you from living together so far, you or any other couple, gay and straight.  What you want is public approval, or else you wouldn't be insisting on getting the laws changed and sending out invitations to attend your 'private decision to share' ceremony at a public venue."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Do you believe in the real presence?" "Yes." "I don't think you do. If I did, I'd be at church every time its doors opened; I would crave it."

Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn't.  I've known some people who are very faithful, very diligent, but people who never falter are few and far between.

It's easy to say you believe in something profound and your dedication would never flag, but the human condition is not amenable to putting that into practice.  You have to come down the mountain sometime, and even if you live in the lowlands according to what you saw on the peaks, eventually the honeymoon will end.  Eventually, you will realize, that if nothing else, you no longer personally have the strength or energy to maintain the level of enthusiasm you started out with.  That's just the way things are.  People go through dry spells (sometimes, if not always, by God's will, so you learn to rely on Him and trust in Him and not make an idol of euphoria, even in the presence of the Presence), and rare is the person who cooperates with God's grace so perfectly that the rush accompanying some mountain-top or road-to-Damascus experience is not followed by a lull before achieving a healthy balance of disposition or attitude--hence the big deal we make about saints as examples for us to follow.

I mean no disrespect to the enthusiastic.  I only mean that great spiritual experiences often come with great spiritual joys or consolations that are meant to buoy us through particular times and not to be permanent in this life, and it is part of human nature to adapt to these things when they come and to adapt to their absence when they go.

Beyond that, it is this faithfulness through the dry times and future trials that the Enemy wants to attack, so that later attacks will be more effective.

So, without turning around and defending lethargy and lukewarmness, we shouldn't be too critical of people who seem to show a lack of zeal.  Much of their energies may be taken up elsewhere.  It is the greater prayer that is said in the absence of a strong, easy feeling of prayerfulness.  Certainly, God will replenish so we should run to Him, but God is more forgiving of our absence than, say, our employers or others who depend on us might be, out in the world which we are called to be light and salt for in the first place.

Even people who followed Jesus, who saw him work miracles beyond what most of us ever experience (with our worldly senses, at least), sometimes fell away.  The righteous wealthy man was dismayed and turned away when Jesus told him to give what he had to the poor; many were scandalized during the Bread of Life discourse; even Judas turned on him and nearly all the Apostles fled after His arrest.  But we're supposed to be perfectly faithful because we've seen the end of the story?  I don't think that's a fair expectation for humans in this life.  There are sacraments in the first place so we can have tangible reminders of what God does for us, tangible channels for the most important graces we can receive.  If we didn't need to have the Eucharist and confession regularly in our constant struggle against concupiscence and the devil, we wouldn't need anything, except maybe baptism and maybe a single reading of the Bible.  But that's more suitable as a religion for angels than a religion for embodied, tempted, men.

It's not always easy to believe.  It helps being around believers so you can build each other up; it helps getting spiritually fed at church a lot (not dismissing the call we have to go out and evangelize); it doesn't help being under attack by demonic forces to discredit the Sacrament.  Without the Sacrament, there's nothing to attack or cause scandal over.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Some time ago I was following a discussion about gay marriage over at ISCA. There's a lot of material ripe for dissection that I read, but instead of attacking the whole issue, I want to relay a few comments that were made along the way in order to capture the state of the debate.  Quotes are from the pro-gay-marriage side; my comments follow.

"Gay people need marriage because their power of attorney for their partners can be challenged by blood relatives."
It  can anyway.

"The child argument has nothing to do with the issue of marriage."
It has everything to do with marriage, as anyone with a lick of historical sense can tell you.

"A marriage is a committment of two people to each other. Why does it matter what their relative genders are?"
Because there are other kinds of commitments between people where their gender has nothing to do with what the commitment is about.  If two men or two women--or a woman and a man--open a business, it's irrelevant.  If two people want to get married, if it's a man and a woman they can have kids, and that's an important difference.

"I haven't seen any logical, non-moral, non-religious arguments against homosexual marriage."
You're defining anything relying on natural law or absolute truth and morals as religious, which is a cop-out.  John C. Wright used to get that kind of criticism even when he was an atheist arguing for traditional marriage, which says to me that critics who make such arguments rather won't see logical, non-moral, non-religious arguments...although I'm not sure why I should be persuaded by someone who would be willing to say "Okay, so maybe X is immoral, but I want to do it anyway."  If your argument for sodomy isn't inapplicable to murder, then maybe you'd best go back to the drawing board.

"Repealing sodomy laws hasn't led to gay marriage..."
 It's leading there now; hence this debate.

"How does letting two faggots marry infringe on your right to bang your wife at night? Does it suddenly invalidate your marriage? Of course not."
Watch the language, pal.  I know it's kind of personal, but if you're the only one throwing around inflammatory language, it's not everyone except you who is going to look like a bigot.  That aside, it's not just about who gets to have sex with whom; that's not all there is to a marriage, and if two gay men wanted to get married, I would have thought they would be interested in the other aspects of being wedded as well.  If not, why are we having this conversation?

"Folks who oppose gay marriage just say 'it goes against tradition' or 'it goes against nature' when really government should not be involved in it to begin with."
Then we have nothing to talk about.  Just throw that baseball over the fence so no one can play with it, and stop wasting our time.

"You are aware that there has been absolutely no interest expressed in inter-species marriage anywhere in Massachusetts, right?"
Keep in mind that one woman had "married" a dolphin in 2006, before this debate took place, so I wonder about the incredulity of the person who made this criticism.  Then again, the dolphin wasn't from Massachusetts.

"Actually, we're not talking about changing the basic foundation of marriage.  We're talking about dumping marriage as something that the state can regulate, and going only with civil unions for all."
So will civil unions be regulated by the state?   If so, that would be a distinction without a difference.  If not, it's still defining away the problem--something is being created that is supposed to be just the same as marriage, with all the benefits, but lacking the thing for which the privileges of marriage were afforded to couples in the first place.

"I do not believe that government should legislate morality beyond any which deprives others of their basic civil rights. E.g., if what I choose to do does not harm you, deprive you of your property, or kill
you, then what I choose to do should not be regulated by law."
Your only standards are theft and assault?  Bravo!  Still, it won't hold up if abortion is going to get a pass--anyone you don't like will just get recategorized as an entity that lacks the right not to be harmed or deprived of anything.
But don't get snared by this argument.  The deprivation or providence of civil rights is the matter at hand itself.  This critic is assuming the conclusion in establishing the jurisdiction of government.  Marriage isn't a basic civil right, anyway, or else we could rightfully sue anyone or anything that kept us from marrying whom or what we wanted--not just a minister or justice of the peace that didn't want to play house with us, but the would-be paramour who turned us down, a jealous spouse, a parent, a coroner.

"Pedophilia and bestiality are a straw man. They're illegal."
No, they're warnings against the slippery slope.  I refer skeptics to NAMBLA and the woman who "married" the aforementioned dolphin.  Polygamists are also waiting in the wings.  Oh, didn't you notice that "Big Love" show?  Don't you think it's an attempt to desensitize us to that kind of thing?    If you're still skeptical, I refer you to the Internet.  Start by looking up Rule 34; if it's out there, there are people who would rather not risk going to jail for what they're viewing or doing.

"The religious types should start with atheist-atheist marriage."
Why?  Atheists are capable of conceiving children, provided one is a man and the other is a woman.  This has been the whole point of the argument.  Stay on topic.

"It's taken decades for the establishment to get as far as it has in accepting homosexuality as just the fairly minor natural variation that it is, and to get beyond the moral stigma of it."
Predispositions to sociopathy and diabetes are also "minor natural variations," but they have far-reaching consequences.   Further, I submit that much of the "acceptance" you claim is actually mere tolerance (remember when that word meant something?), heavily seasoned with fatigue and then subsumed by the fear of being branded a cross-burning-caliber bigot.
Honestly, the normal reaction to a campaign that consists of things like the Folsom Street Fair (beware:  a even a Google image search with the Strict setting isn't work-safe), punctuated by rhetoric about wanting to be treated normally, is not "Huh, I guess it was silly of me to entertain any anxiety about their lifestyle--I mean, orientation."

"If we want gays to be less promiscuous, then legalizing their relationships would seem like a logical way of doing that."
That would be a thoughtless and insane kind of logic.  "Open" heterosexual marriages and adultery already exist and the trend in the past century has been to destigmatize promiscuity.  I take it back--it wouldn't be thoughtless and insane logic, it would just be logic unburdened by the evidence.

"Damn right straights are not more promiscuous. In fact that is why heterosexuals never get AIDS, there is no teen pregnancy problem, and there is a 0% divorce rate for adultery."
Straw man.  Okay, hyperbole, but AIDS is still more common in the gay community--when was the last time you heard of an "AIDS roulette" frat party?  More or less often than a gay AIDS roulette party?  More or less often than a swingers party?

"What this all boils down to, and forgive me for the crassness of the whole thing, is that when these people think of gays marrying, they are thinking of two sweaty gay men pounding the hell out of each other, and they can't get the thought out of their minds. (not to mention that some of them have gay tendencies themselves, or watching lesbian porn gets them off, or whatever.)"
Wishful thinking--the most vocal opponents must be those closest to conversion.  That's a real enough phenomenon, but it just smacks of "You're going to be so humiliated when you discover the depths of your own hypocrisy, and I'm going to get a big laugh at your grief."  Classic example of assuming everything is about sex and power.  Do we need to get out of people's bedrooms, or do you need to get out of people's heads?

"Gay couples want to and do raise children, just like you."
Maybe so, but they never tell me that, only their concerned friends do, and then only rarely. All they tell me is they want power of attorney and less harrassment. Even obnoxious activists deserve less harassment than they get, but that ain't the same thing.  But even if two men have a kid, who and where is the mother?  If two women have a kid, who and where is the father?  Did you have a kid so you could bring some joy into the world, or to satisfy your own desires?  Not that that's a problem exclusive to gay parents--who hasn't seen Hollywood celebrities with trophy children?--but we may not be able to convey the meaning of marriage until we can remind people that children are not pets.

"I didn't choose to marry because of the exclusivity of the marriage institution, and I don't know anyone else who did either."
A straight answer from a married straight man.  That's the danger of playing the victim card:  it's not always All About You.

"Gay marriage won't lead to dolphin marriage. One woman does not a slippery slope make. There are no human-dolphin families or human-dog families in need of legal protection. It's a red herring."
What led us to dolphin marriage is what's leading us to gay marriage, is what led us to the guy who "married" the Eiffel Tower. It would be more of a red herring if the dolphin so-called marriage hadn't actually, you know, happened; or if there were actual human-dolphin or human-dog "families."

"Clearly, many heterosexual people engage in unsavory activities as well. And yet, because they already 'have' marriage, it is acceptable to dismiss those activities among heterosexuals, while using them as a reason for denying marriage to homosexuals."
Unsavory behavior is no more support for gay marriage than it is evidence against straight marriage.  What are they trying to make us think happens?  A guy gets caught by the police in the act of statutory rape, and he says "Hey, I'm a married man; my wife lives next door."  "Oh, all right," says the cop, "off ya go?"

"'Unequal treatment is a red herring' is a red herring. No gay person would want to marry someone of the opposite sex, just as a straight person wouldn't want to marry one of the same sex."
I'm a straight man, but there are plenty of women I wouldn't want to marry, not even counting girls and wives of other men.  Even if I did, there are reasons for the rules against it.  Same as there are reasons for keeping me from marrying some dude.
Regardless, historically, and still in many places, weddings are arranged with little concern for the druthers of the husband and wife. Was it ideal? No. Was it legitimate? Yes.

"And when did society have to "approve" on my ability to have sex with wife or anyone else for that matter? I didn't realize that the rest of the world had to say yes or no to my actions or my marriage."
Marriage is a social institution, not a private one.  Don't confuse it with sex, which is supposed to be a private act (cf. Folsom Street Fair).  Don't you remember having a public ceremony followed by signing a contract with witnesses?  Don't you remember demanding approval?  Don't you remember demanding rights, not just privacy? It used to be about privacy, though--that's why we're still making slippery slope arguments.

"We just want to be able to protect our families, relationships and property - y'know: the original basis for the social construct of marriage."
Wow, great--'cept that relationships and property can exist outside of marriage, and property can be regulated independently, but families come from marriage, which some want, but from who's occupying all the bandwidth, it doesn't seem like a lot.

"I say do away with marriage as a civil/legal construct."
So you are against marriage, after all.

"You say marriage is about procreation and an adequate nurturing environment. I say it's a ritual contract declared in a public space; it's like a notary in that it gives more value to your commitment because it had been witnessed by a third party."
What does it accomplish that cohabitation and power of attorney don't get you, if you're not interested in kids?  If you want it notarized, get a notary for yourself.  Plenty of other public rituals, some that can even get you tax breaks if you want to make a job of it.

"Being gay is not wrong, and since its not wrong, gay couples should have the option to marry if they want. It's not something that heterosexual individuals have a right to deny them."
Being diabetic is not wrong, so people with diabetes should have the option to eat all the sugar they want, and non-diabetics shouldn't be party poopers about it.
Do I need to point out the difference between doing and being, here?

It's this kind of stuff that makes me roll my eyes when secprogs talk about conservatives being the ones living in a fantasy land and reality having a liberal bias. Secular progressives--post-moderns, anyway--don't even have as strong a concept of reality or truth as conservatives (although there is some doubt about the relationship Science has with Truth--but that's a separate matter). Concrete evidence for historical understandings of marriage?  Religious claptrap.  Statistical evidence that it's more expedient to raise children with a father and a mother than with some other combination?  Words that shouldn't be spoken because they have power to hurt their cause, not because they have the power of fact behind them.  Sure, invent your own explanation, and of course someone who disagrees will seem hallucinatory.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cell phones (and more etiquette)

All cell phones nowadays have a silent ring mode--you can set them so they only flash, or do nothing, or vibrate, or whatever, so the people around you aren't disturbed when the phone rings. You might want to consider setting your phone to a ring mode that isn't disruptive and then putting it in, say, your pocket so only you'll know when it goes off. I won't begrudge you the right to remain available in case you're an emergency physician or a parent of young children, but if something happens that you need to deal with, it's none of our business, and it should stay that way unless you really need to tell us that you have to go deal with someone bleeding to death. Leaving your phone in a purse or velise and then turning it up so you can hear it through the bag at arm's reach (and please keep track of your ringtone--even if a ringing phone doesn't sound like yours, assume it is anyway and check; don't let it keep ringing while you wonder how long that jerk is going to let his phone go) may seem convenient to you, but it's quite the opposite for everyone around you while you rummage through your personal effects trying to find it and then decide to answer it or not.

We are sympathetic to your emergencies. We are less so to your casual call screening.

I'm not sure, but I suspect all phones also have a feature where you can hit one of the buttons that are for use when the phone's closed, and the ringing will terminate, without immediately shunting the call to your voice mail. If you're the kind of person who has to ruminate on call screening, ruminate on finding that button before you take the phone out of the house again. You can stare at that phone all you want, after digging it out of your bag, and not bother anyone else--in fact, it might even help you ruminate more quickly, since there won't be that jarring noise coming from the device in your hand or angry-looking people all around making you nervous.

Am I still the only person who understands that the ice makers in freezers will automatically stop when the tray is full?

The yellow traffic light means "slow down and prepare to stop." It does not mean "hurry up; it will be red soon." The early part of the red light is not an ambiguous safety margin. While it is not necessarily a ticketable offense not to have completely cleared an intersection by the time the light turned red, if you can remember doing it more than once in any given week, you're probably being a little reckless. The standard is "If the light will be red before I can make it past the intersection, I should stop before reaching it," not "I can keep going unless I have the time and distance to stop before reaching a red light." In the interest of safety, assume that the cross traffic is going to underestimate the time between their light turning red and yours turning green, since it's going to vary depending on location and time of day. Also assume that the guy in front of you is going to stop whenever the light turns yellow; probably more than 99% of rear-end accidents are the fault of the driver of the rear car.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Come on, time to get up and go to church!"
"Mmm...naw, you go."
"You're crying off on me? This is good for you."
"I worship God in my own way."
"What, by sleeping in? I sleep in too and I love it; doesn't make it a spiritual experience."
"No, not just now--"
"Then what, praying by yourself somewhere, sometime during the week? I do that too; it doesn't earn me an excuse from doing what we're supposed to do--unless you have some sort of private mass in your head, as well."
"I don't need to sit there for an hour and have someone read the Bible to me. I can do that just fine for myself."
"People say that, but do they ever get around to to doing it?"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"There’s nothing reasonable about faith based beliefs," the anonymous trendy atheist said. "Faith is the antithesis to reason...."

No, it is not.  Irrationality is the antithesis to reason.  Faith is not the lack of capacity for logic or the willful rejection of rational thought and behavior.  That is not only not the whole of faith, it has nothing to with faith at all, and not even the most science-paranoid fundamentalist would insist that good Christians should always act contrary to natural thought.

Faith can be described as believing in something without having proof--and it need not be anything so thoughtless as insisting on invisible pink unicorns being the cause of rain or wind, but just something as simple as not exercising positive skepticism in the face of something that, while you may not have hard empirical data to support it, the means by which you have acquired the evidence you do have, have already demonstrated themselves to be reliable and consistent.

Unless it is logical to absolutely reject out of hand everything you personally lack compelling empirical evidence for then our friend will have to admit a closer familiarity with faith than his criticism would lead us to believe. But it's not logical to do so; we can't afford to verify everything for ourselves, and despite assertions that anyone who wanted to could teach himself quantum chromodynamics or cellular biology or Urdu or medieval law (the line implicitly being drawn at Aquinas's Summa), for some people a lot of that stuff remains every bit as impenetrable as metaphysical topics do to people who people who have no interest in studying them.

Paul said faith is proof of things unseen--the faithful act on evidence they have that is not outwardly apparent.  This is, understandably, hard to swallow for empiricists and skeptics, but what one should consider is whether this faith in the supernatural or comfortable self-delusion or psychosis, whichever it may be, what kind of effect does it have on their lives?

"Is your god supposedly omnipresent? Yes. Therefore, your god must be part of everything, else he would not be present everywhere."

Not at all.  For someone interested in logic, I'm not impressed with this one's grasp of definitions and meaning.  God being present everywhere and in all things is panentheism.  God being part of all things is pantheism.  The distinction between occupying space (all or none of it) and having mass (a little or none of it)?  Not that obscure.  It would be less inaccurate to say creation was a part of God, but it's still got a lot to be desired.

"As to choosing between animal and spiritual, there is no evidence for the spiritual. By what basis do you determine what is spiritual? Thru [sic] blind faith, beliefs without evidence. It is that kind of thinking that has led people to fly planes into buildings.
On the other hand, there have been atheists who have worked for the betterment of humanity."

Whoa, slow down.  Spirituality and faith are not the same thing, and it's a long way from "There's more to life than what I can directly sense and measure" or "I'm willing to accept some things I haven't personally verified" to "Those other guys are the enemy and we need to teach them a lesson written in their own blood."  I wouldn't even call having faith or a spiritual life to be a "kind of thinking" at all--category error.  Maybe it's too fine a point to be criticizing for sloppy thinking.

A philosopher might say that your ability to reason abstractly makes you metaphysically superior to animals, defines a chasm between you and them that they cannot cross. A Christian would say this is because you have a rational soul rather than an animal soul (which you can take for whatever natural phenomenon it is that makes something not-dead as opposed to inanimate, for the sake of the argument).  A historian would say that it wasn't theists who set off humanity's worst genocides all in the last eighty years.

But by all means, remind us that "there have been atheists who have worked for the betterment of humanity."  I don't doubt it, but that's mighty faint praise, that can be applied to unchurched charity workers and dictatorial mass murderers alike.

When you say "blind faith," you seem to mean "arbitrary and random designation."  That's not the same thing as having no interior experience to guide or motivate us to do or believe something, and it certainly isn't the same thing as having evidence that does not meet your standards for veracity.  I'm not saying you shouldn't have standards--holding evidence up to standards is part of peer review--but they help discern what data are evidence for, as well as whether data are reliable or not.  Anecdotal evidence may have vanishing utility for a physical application, but that should not lead to dismissing anecdotal evidence out of hand for all cases.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Unfortunately," said the progressive I crossed paths with who thinks the Church has to learn from the world as much as modern parents apparently need to learn from their modern children, "Latin America was too brainwashed by JP2 to realize his true mission:  to stamp out liberation theology."

I didn't realize JP2 made a secret out of it.  Communism didn't work well in Europe and it wouldn't really work well in the New World, either.  Priests are not bourgeois, salvation history is supernatural and not simply political, and individuals still possess culpability for their own sins.  What's not in need of correction?

This kind of condescending behalfism against easy, high-profile targets rather irks me.  I say it's condescending because it materially accuses the whole of Latin America of being too stupid to see what's actually going on around them.  Boy, good thing we have these socialists to aid the proletariat out of contempt, instead of some other kind of demographic or philosophical school that allegedly only wants to keep them down out of spite.

Look:  a clergyman wants to do charity work?  Great.  But a clergyman he is first.  If you feel you missed your calling, address your concerns and weigh your options against the commitments you already made.  You can't take it in halves; it's up to the Church to administrate itself. JP2 didn't chasten  Ernesto Cardenal behind closed doors, and didn't do it for some obscure reason.  If someone didn't take a hint from that event at his 1983 visit to Nicaragua, then someone's listening to the wrong rhetoric.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mitch Daniels helped defund PP in his state. Protests included sob stories about victims of rape and incest.

I sympathize with them as much as with their unborn children. Let's not get sidetracked; abortions for such reasons are the exception rather than the norm.

Can't afford to give abortions to poor victims, Planned Parenthood?  Are you a business or a charity?  You really want to help your poor clientele?  Give them abortions for free and raise the price on cosmetic abortions by a dollar. You should still break even.

Still can't make money?  Are you a charity or a business?  Take a note from GM and Chrysler:  they got one-time bailouts in exchange for federal meddling in what theyre expected to do in return.  Are you willing to accept a little regulation like every other industry in the country?  Everybody's doing it these days!  Don't be the last one to fascist up!

On the other hand....

The Indiana state government giveth, and the Indiana state government taketh away.
On the one hand:  PP is no longer funded there--great.  A company that performs ethically dubious medical procedures doesn't need to be rewarded for pretending to be a sort of charity that needs government support on top of donations, investment returns, and service fees to provide a necessary service.  Plenty of worthwhile charities get by without charging for services because they get donations and volunteers; I would never volunteer for or donate to any for-profit entity (the way for-profit and nonprofit entities are currently defined in the tax code) except as a college intern.  The Roe decision even says states can regulate abortion, so people shouldn't be taking it personally.  Detroit may as well complain about Lansing regulating speed limits but not giving kickbacks to the automakers.

On the other hand:  IN supreme court ruled that Indiana residents are not allowed to defend themselves against unlawful entry by police because there can be justifiable reasons for officers to enter a domicile without a warrant.  This is a non sequitir.  It has always been the case that officers of the law have been empowered to act without a court order when there is probable cause.  Would it have been appropriate to remind people of this fact?  Would it have been commendable to clarify for residents and for police departments what some of the more poorly defined criteria are that delineate unlawful entry from justifiable forced entry in pursuit of police business?  Yes to both.  Is that what happened?  Doesn't sound like it.

I await a happy correction.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Slightly belated, a more whimsical topic than the heavy one permeating the blogosphere this week....

...although I will point out that Osama bin Laden died on Divine Mercy Sunday (depending on your time zone, anyway).

But anyway, Thursday being the day it has been, I got to talking with some coworkers about a certain creamy condiment, and about a certain similar creamy condiment that claims to be a different food product.

Surprisingly, my coworkers were strident in Miracle Whip's defense.  "It's got a certain...tang to it."

Really?  Put me in a taste test and I think I could tell the difference, maybe even see the difference, but I don't know that I could tell you which one was which.

Maybe I've just never had particularly bland mayonnaise, or despite breathing in corrosive fumes all day long I'm still sensitive enough to spices that the allegedly tamer of the two does not strike me as decisively milder.

Yeah, yeah, maybe it's possible my nose is so burned out I can't taste Miracle Whip either, but it's always been this way for me, before going into industry, before leaving the home of my childhood that was entirely populated by nonsmokers, so I'm shunting that to the bottom of the list of excuses.

I'm thinking maybe it's just a brand loyalty thing, the way some people prefer Pepsi or Coke or RC, but at least none of those brands has the pretense to say "we're not some mere cola!"  They're all colas that merely differ by secondary ingredients, just like how Cherry Coke is still a Coca-Cola and Pepsi Blue is still a Pepsi-Cola.

I've seen and experienced so much variation in mayonnaise that it's really going to take more than branding to tell me a spade ain't a spade.  Ever try aioli?  Farther out than Miracle Whip.

Not that I have anything against Miracle Whip.  I've yet to meet an egg emulsion I haven't liked.

But anyway, just for the record, here's a basic list of the ingredients that mayonnaise and Miracle Whip have in common:

  • water
  • sugar
  • eggs (whole and/or processed yolks>
  • soybean oil
  • vinegar

Dude, that's mayonnaise.  The recipe I use doesn't call for added water, and I leave out the sugar, and I've been using predominantly or exclusively olive oil since before it was hot, but that's your baseline:  egg, oil, vinegar.  The proportions I use are generally 2 eggs to 1 cup of oil to 1 tablespoon of vinegar, plus whatever else I feel like.  Maybe mustard or sesame oil, maybe balsamic or malt vinegar.

Okay, what kind of vinegar do they use?  Probably white, if it's not specified, but whatever.

Here's where list of ingredients starts to diverge.  First, the "unique" ingredients to Miracle Whip, sans some irrelevant processing items:

  • mustard flour
  • paprika
  • dried garlic
  • spice
  • natural flavor

Keep in mind those last two.

Now, the differing (cough) ingredients in an official mayonnaise--I looked up Hellmann's because it's well known:

  • salt
  • lemon juice
  • natural flavors

"Natural flavors?"  "Spice?"   Okay, lemon juice--it's still a fairly strong acid for a food, but it'll be fruitier than most vinegars.  Garlic?  Maybe, but I wouldn't call it tangier than lemon juice.  Everything else?  It's all sausage to me.  Paprika, mustard (powdered or the condiment that also contains vinegar and turmeric), chile paste, garlic (dried or oil), it's all good.

But to me, it's all mayo.  All different kinds, but it's mayo.

Oh, before I go, a cooking tip:  instead of using butter on the outside of grilled cheese sandwiches or cooking spray for panini, spread a little mayo on the bread.  The oil will keep it from sticking and the egg will crust up nicely, and it can add a little zing to the flavor (or tang, if you choose Miracle Whip instead).

Seriously, it works.  It'll come out looking almost like French toast but you won't regret it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Social studies curricula soon to attempt explaining the relevance of alternative sexual preferences to the development of California and America

Mark Shea and others can be visited for a more substantial discussion of the subject itself.  Personally, moral objections aside, it seems an exceptionally trivial matter and a case of misprioritized attention, like Jefferson and Franklin arguing about the font in which the Declaration of Independence would be printed but not getting around to nailing down how King George's abuses justified secession.  Maybe supporters of the movement look at it as an issue whose time has come, that we've finally progressed enough to seriously entertain notions in the classroom of tying sexual preference to political accomplishments.  Maybe somebody from an alphabet-soup orientation didn't feel that having whole programs of study at various universities was enough to make them feel like and to show everyone else they were a part of something bigger and unignorable, and that classroom time should be taken away from geology or fractions to satisfy this need.

Whatever.  The one thing I can focus on in this debacle right now is how a whole slew of bored, ADHD, and nonconformist students are now going to get nailed for not being politically correct in the classroom, instead of merely being bored, having trouble focusing, or being nonconformist.

Sure as kindergartners get charged with sexual harassment, this is the direction classroom discipline is going to take.  I never thought a one-size-fits-all approach to discipline was appropriate once I was old enough to know the difference between a student who just needed structure in his life and a student with a neurological problem, but neither do I think it is appropriate to treat children like well-informed (or ignorant but responsible for being well-informed--they're students, by definition they're uninformed) free moral agents.  Really, save the "scared straight" routine for the kids who are too hard to reach by normal pedagogical means.

Has it been in the headlines yet?  Not to my knowledge; but it will be.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Just got home from work.  Stayed late trying to wrap some things up before I take some vacation and then stopped to talk to our second shift chemist for a little while.

Just for the record, I currently (and God willing, not much longer--your prayers are greatly appreciated and fervently requested) work for a third-party lab.  In the broadest strokes, companies that manufacture things send some to us and say "tell us what's in it" or "certify that this will meet whatever requirements our customer has," so they can go to their customer and say "Hey, here's proof from an objective third party that we've got what you need."

In the days before my tenure here, the technical people handled almost every aspect of the job:  not just testing and sending reports, but interacting with the customer to make sure they were sending us what we'd need to give them the answers they needed, quoting prices for complex jobs, even doing troubleshooting.

The chemist was telling me about a strand of manager-types who are prone to making business decisions based largely on their uninformed gut instincts.  He once was given a project that involved some relatively complex testing; he managed to get it done in two days and wanted to charge the customer about $1k for labor and materials.  One of these seat-of-the-pants managers (I can't call them all managers; one currently supervises a single room and a single employee when he's not dealing with his non-leadership responsibilities) with no background in chemistry came through, looked at the chemist's paperwork, and said "That price seems too high."  She wanted to ask the customer just for a few c-notes.  Instead, the chemist suggested she ask for quotes for similar work from some of our competitors.  The one she called offered to do it for twice what our chemist figured and said it would take 2-4 weeks.  Two or three hundred bucks weren't going to cover our expenses, but it "seemed" more in line with...with what, I don't know; obviously not reality.

So that's heinous but it brings me to my main point.  You can't be a loss leader on everything.  Sam Walton knew he couldn't make Wal*Mart have the lowest prices on every item in the store, but he also knew that he'd make more money in the long run if he'd have enough inventory cheap enough to bring shoppers in who would decide to buy other things while they were there.

So, what motivates a shopper to go to store A instead of store B?  Let's keep things simple and say A and B are competitors in the same niche and the stores are next door neighbors, so except for shoppers with preexisting loyalty, there's no preference for one over the other.

Then B says "That hundred dollar item A sells?  We'll sell it to you for $90."  Okay, sounds good, right?
But then A says "That special-order item B sells that takes a week to deliver?  We'll overnight it to you for the same price."  Now things are getting interesting--both are attempting to provide more value for the dollar, one by reducing cost and the other by improving service.  To keep things from getting complicated again I'm going to treat all "improve value for the dollar" efforts as just lowering prices.

So B's got that one item at $90.  People tend to shop there to save ten bucks.  What if B had lowered its price to $80?  Would it bring even more shoppers?  Probably; most goods do have at least a little elasticity in their prices.  What if B cut the price in half?  It would probably bring in still more shoppers, but if the managers of B weren't asking economic questions before, they now had better start asking if they're bringing in enough customers to make up the difference.

The average customer knows he would be a fool to pass on such ridiculous prices, all things being equal.  The average customer may also wonder how long B was planning on running this half-price promotion or how much the prices of everything else were going to go up to compensate, or how long B's managers expected to stay in business if they continued to pursue business volume at the expense of profitability.  The average customer may wonder, if the heavily discounted item in question were perishable or not inherently valuable enough to come with a warranty, what was wrong with it that B's managers were trying so hard to unload their inventory.

You see it at grocery stores; a few months ago I even got half a gallon of milk at a "manager's special" sale price of $0.69 that was going to expire the next day.  Usually the price is somewhere well north of a dollar for that volume, but for that price I didn't care if it was going to go sour before I got halfway through it.  Ended up lasting nearly a week; go figure.  Another bottle was undrinkable a day before its expiration date.  Guess that's just one more thing that makes this universe an interesting place to live.

For things that aren't liable to going bad before being purchased, though, how does the customer respond to attempts to make a product or service more attractive?

At what price point, then, do patrons of store B start stepping back and saying "this looks too good to be true"?  After that, when business growth starts tapering off, where is the point where customers start saying "There's no way they can do the job right that inexpensively," and label B as merely a cheap store, inexpensive with quality to match, and start shopping elsewhere because they need a better product than B appears to sell?  Where is that point where lowering prices causes you to lose business because you are no longer competing in the market you had been in--in the market you think you're still in?

These questions are not purely rhetorical.  I'm sure some economist has done studies on this topic and I'd be interested in a treatment by a mind that was better informed, more well-versed, and clearer in these matters.  I'm actually wondering if there are usable rules of thumb or some more concrete formulations for roughing out a stable range of prices for goods or services offered; finding the range between where the marginal growth in business volume starts dropping and where it actually becomes negative.  Every situation is going to be different, but if someone asked me if a 70% discount "seemed" right, or if a 45% discount from the quoted price on top of a 40% discount from the quoted price (and that one I've seen happen) seemed like a smart way to draw business, it would I think be more diplomatic to say "Well, that seems like it wouldn't quite meet a first-order rendition of Markhov's 80-20 criterion; can you elaborate on your reasoning a little?" than it would be to apply a boot to the head and then ask how many boots to the head they received before they were able to demonstrate a toddler's level of business acumen like I had just witnessed