Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's not too late to stand up to the White House! (edited)

Please, go there and sign the petition, if you haven't signed one already.  It's morally bad for disregarding conscientious objection, it's legally bad for presuming that "to regulate commerce...among the several States" means "to mandate commerce between as well as wholly within each of the States," and it's ethically bad for perpetuating the myth that "Christian values" are best served by appointing Caesar the power to care for the poor and feed the lambs on our behalf.

I received a response from the White House on Friday, which I will be quoting liberally here.
Thank you for using We the People to make your voice heard about the Obama Administration's decision to ensure that women have access to free preventive care with no co-pays
"Free" and "no co-pays" are two different things.  This distinction is not consistently preserved, either throughout the rest of this form letter or in the debate at large.
[T]he Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to  cover preventive services, including preventive care for women, without charging a co-pay, starting on August 1, 2012
This part was interesting.  Until now, legal entities that objected were given a one year grace period in which to discover some sophistry for accepting what was still going to be inevitable.  Now that's off the table.

This part is important.  Jimmy Akin goes into a little more detail on this point.  In some ways it appears we lost ground by the USCCB using accommodating diplomatic language, but I don't think so.  Evil will do this when it is threatened in order to intimidate and distract you from casting it out.
As the President said: "Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives"
I'm highly skeptical.  Until last week, I used to hear numbers that were much lower, and the claims were merely that Catholics contracepted at the same rates (over half, but no supermajority) as other Americans.  Suddenly it's all but a handful?  It's not impossible, but I'd be looking askance at such reports even if they weren't sourced by the Gutmacher Institute.
Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health
And every free citizen should be in control of the decisions that affect his or her own soul.  Let's not conflate "some people struggle to afford medical care" with "you must agree that fertility is a disease," let alone the other moral problems with arguments framed in terms of self-determination.
And I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could
I appreciate your...appreciation...but so what?  A screwdriver is great for driving screws, but you can't port that over to driving nails just because there's a compelling need for hammers.  There are reasons it just doesn't work like that.
If a woman's employer is a religious non-profit organization, such as a charity hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, her insurance company -- not the hospital or charity -- will be required to reach out and provide her contraceptive care free of charge if she chooses to use it.
Here's where we're supposed to remember that "free of charge" is, well, impossible in this world.  Who's paying the insurance company?  You and I. Why do people even think that the government can impose fines or fees on some corporate entity without said entity passing it straight along to the customer?  They don't even pretend to pass "you may not raise your prices to cover these costs" legislation to make any punitive damages more painful than the administrative hassle it would be to maintain profit levels.
There are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception. Contraception is a safe and effective way of ....
No, it's not.  It can reduce the risk of some types of cancers, which is good, but prescription and OTC hormones range from "too weak to work on more fecund women" to "you'll literally bleed for the rest of your life."  I'm being dramatic, granted, but when the mere side effects are as bad as hemorrhaging and stroke, is prescribing it for something as prosaic as acne really the best way to go?  They prescribe the pill to alleviate irregular periods because it's easier than recommending an endocrinologist to actually cure irregular periods; does the side effect of good skin rise to the level of a "tremendous health benefit" that is proportional to the disregard of our consciences that make clear that certain things, while convenient, are still evil?  Because they still haven't established the point that pregnancy is itself is a disease which should be prevented (which is odd, since they're so happy about treating other "reproductive complications" and unrelated conditions with the pill).

I think I need to make that point clearer.  We hear things like "pregnancy would kill me," but it's a possibility of death for the mother versus, when it comes to the point of abortion, certain death for the child.  I don't want to get sidetracked, but the choice between "possible tragedy" and "definite evil" should not be a hard one.

Importantly, we also usually hear that pregnancy can cause things like peripartum cardiomyopathy, but the way it's usually billed is that pregnancy is the disease and PC is a symptom.  I sympathize that many of these complications are difficult to predict and only get discovered during pregnancy when only symptoms can be treated, but the problem with PC isn't the pregnancy, the problem is the heart.

I'm all for prevention, but let's not fall into "we wouldn't have these problems if we didn't know about them" thinking.
This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been grappling to find a solution that works for everyone, and the policy announced today has done that.
The first half is right, unless it means "the policy announced today will further our ends, and will give you an opportunity to embrace white martyrdom," in which case I agree.
The right to religious liberty will be fully protected
If it were, there wouldn't be such an uproar.  I'm glad you're not my lawyer or neighborhood cop.
Here are a few statements from groups involved in the issue
Never mind.  Quotes from Catholics United, Catholic Health Association, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL.  They all make the reasonable point that this is supposed to help them help people who really need it, but PP and NARAL don't even throw a bone to folks who don't think that working evil is a safe and reliable way to achieve good.  Thanks, but no thanks for that dose of alleged perspective.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My belated two cents plus interest on Missal 3.0

My church hadn't done much to prepare for the new liturgy, so I expected things to be rocky, but I found myself on the first Sunday of Advent out of town.  I thought to post this sooner but most of my traveling during the year happens around the holidays, so it seemed worthwhile to wait and watch how things were going at five different churches in four dioceses.  Also, I forgot to finish writing this up until now.

It was the middle of January before the changes seemed to feel more or less natural to everyone.  A few people still say "and also with you"--at random times I also forget--and I still have to refer to that tri-fold handbill for parts of the Creed, the Gloria, and the Holy Holy Holy.  I think "consubstantial" stuck out enough that everyone learned that first.

I like the changes, overall.  I'd been looking forward to them for a while, since Jimmy Akin started posting excerpts back whenever it was.  Some I wasn't too fond of for aesthetic reasons; "seen and unseen" seems to roll off the tongue a little more smoothly than "visible and invisible," and to my ears it understates the idea with a little poetic flair that I always thought served well as emphasis.  What's the opposite of hyperbole?  Hypobole?  Parabole?  Anyway, the meaning of "seen and unseen" was never unclear to me, it just sounded like an archaic yet compact way of saying "everything there is to see and everything not permitted to mortal eyes," but on the other hand, it's less precise in modern language.  "Unseen" could mean "visible but out of sight."  "Invisible" means "unseeable."  One might say it's a more technical term, like "consubstantial;" it forces a more accurate depiction of the concept, and I'm all for precision and accuracy, at least short of becoming pedantic.  Plus, I'm a child of Vatican II so I have no memory of the Tridentine mass.

As well as being more precise, it helps to elevate the language; there's poetic language, but there's crappy verse and then there's elegant verse, and I can't really argue that the places in the old translation that sounded nicer than the new translation were really worth the risk of misinterpretation, like "for all" at the consecration of the Precious Blood being taken as conclusive proof of universal salvation.

I think it's just going to take a little getting used to.  The old translation was only fifty years old but it was defended for its antiquity and pedigree like one might have thought more appropriate for the Liturgy of Saint James.  The new translation has its own rhythms and we'll get used to them, the new music written to fit the new words will become familiar, although it seems like a majority of the sung responses I've experienced so far have been in minor keys or obscure modes that don't flow with the rest of the mass.  It's almost like some of the composers trying to bring the hymnody up to speed occasionally forgot the difference between solemn and somber.  Personally I'm going to miss the Gloria from mass setting 3 the most; it was elegant and I think comes from a place where familiarity made it easy to compose something beautiful.  Even though liturgists have been working on the new translation longer than we've been seeing it, it's still chafes in a few places, like a new pair of shoes might, and like new shoes will have to endure a breaking-in period.  Or maybe we're the shoes, really.

I haven't heard a lot of complaints, myself.  One other person commenting on how the changes don't flow as well as the old translation.  A secondhand or thirdhand reference to someone claiming oppression at the sixty-year-old novel translation that was more easily abused and less carefully protected (indeed, I sometimes wonder if part of the motivation to promulgate this new translation is to cut off hangers-on of liturgical abuses cleanly, instead of letting them think this is one more thing they can corrupt according to their own preference) being replaced by this one.  An admitted cynic wondering if the publisher of the missals managed to bend an ear of the secretariat of the Congregation for Divine Worship and hatch a very profitable conspiracy.  Another wondering why Rome is bothering with all this when there's a sex abuse scandal to deal with.  Another from a priest saying "stick with 'and also with you'--I'm more than just a spirit!"  One occurrence of not liking how the centurion's prayer now goes "my soul shall be healed" instead of "I shall be healed."  Another thinking "consubstantial" is pretentious.  Another feeling that the communal feel of saying "We believe" in the Creed is more important than whatever is achieved by saying "I believe."

All these criticisms are interesting, if not altogether valid.  I try not to criticize the liturgy too much, because it's just too easy for me to start seeing all the things done badly (and so many of them would be so easy to do correctly) and too easy to compound the ways I'm not paying attention to what I should, but perhaps this is the least bad time to make an exception, if not actually a good time to do so.  I will say a few things and then comment on the criticism I have heard, and that will be all for, I hope, a good long time.  It's not altogether relevant, but as long as we're changing the mass, I may as well point out a few bothersome things, some of which I have mentioned before, and then I shall hold my tongue until and unless I witness some flagrant abuses that need to be brought to the attention of the local ordinary and the CDW; rest assured, you'll hear about it too.

To liturgical ministers or whomever, whose decision it was to have people in the back of the church come forth for communion first, drop the attempt to shoehorn in some "last shall be first" symbolism.  The best symbolic acts arise naturally, with meaning ascribed to them after they manifest, rather than being deliberately constructed by man; or they have already been put in place hundreds or thousands of years ago.  The people sitting in the front do so not because they're proud, nor those in the back because they're humble.  It's like insisting, contrary to the allowances of canon law, that we all "stand together" during communion in some long standing local tradition that may not go back even as far as my childhood, as if uniformity of posture could somehow contribute to or surpass the communion we all share in those moments through the Eucharist; or worse yet, in some look-at-me-not-God moment, suggesting that we should have married priestesses because when they're pregnant "this is my body given for you" takes on added dimensions.  No; all starting communion from the back of the church does is divert everyone's attention away from the sanctuary and the Sacrament and toward the row behind them so they know when they can exit the pew.  Those ushers who try to do the crowd control thing, tell us when to go and when to wait?  Useless.  They sneak up, effectively if not deliberately, through the cloud of people who missed their cue to get in line in the aisle, maybe make a gesture supposed to indicate it's your turn to go but you can't see it if you're not already watching closely enough to pick them out of the crowd, and blow past you if you're not on top of things.  I doubt it's just me because as I said it's a cloud more than a stream of people and I see it in every church that has this practice.  Maybe if there were some way of identifying them as ushers we could tell they weren't just confused and trying to get to communion themselves--except, no, that hasn't been working.  If they started with people from the front, the congregation could start filing out as soon as the Eucharistic ministers came down from the altar, and we only need to keep a small fraction of our awareness on the people around us so we know when to go, instead of turning around to watch the pews behind us empty out.

To the music ministers, please abandon attempts to inject music, in whole or in part, to the petitions; it always ends up as "We pray, to the, Lord hear our prayer."  It's weird, it's a run-on sentence.  Make it stop.

To whomever who came up with the idea of turning everyone into a minister of hospitality, can we dispense with the de facto sign of peace before mass?  We have one in the middle of mass already, and that one's in the rubrics.  If I want to socialize, I'll meet you in the narthex after mass; I'm not going to respond effectively to "Rise and greet those around you!" or "Get to know each other a little bit" five seconds before the processional.  Either I already know those around me or I've no hope of instantly befriending them simply by your command.  Want me to feel welcome?  Do something that may actually make me feel welcome.  If you have to tell people to welcome me, it's already failed.

To the fans of mutating a mutable and recent liturgy, I say you brought it on yourselves and should not be shocked that a decades-old rite can be replaced despite any familiarity, habituation, or preference after a centuries-old rite has been replaced.  I'm sorry, but of all the arguments, that isn't a good one.  You'll just have to get used to it, like you did e-mail and DVDs.

To the cynic, I say even if there is a conspiracy to sell more books, those books would have to be replaced someday anyway and all the reasons given to justify the changes, such as weeding out some of the loopier "hymns," are legitimate anyway.

To the jaded person with different priorities, I say there's no reason why Rome can't address the Scandal in the news papers and liturgical scandal at the same time.  It would be like complaining that malfeasance on the part of the public defender in Asheville should be tolerated until the animal control unit in Bismarck can get that coyote problem under control.  Most of the sizzle these days in the Scandal is the media breaking twenty year old cases--not all, God help us, but most--and it's too late to try rechanneling efforts (I'm also no fan of the "your first priority should be your only priority or you welcome judgment upon your apathy" school of thought, either, if it hadn't already become obvious).  There's always going to be a scandal of some sort, anyway; comes with the territory of a Church and a world populated by sinners.

To whoever thinks "consubstantial" is pretentious or a sign of overthinking things, I say you'll get used to it; it's an appropriate formal term, and one that shouldn't continue to bother you if you can tolerate occasional long Greek expressions like Eucharist and Kyrie Eleison; and "overthinking things" is what enables us to ask intelligent questions about complicated matters instead of just picking the tidiest answer and sticking with it despite new information; it's what makes available answers to questions pondered for centuries, so you don't have to rely on your own research skills or the flaky memory of a local pastor (see also G.K. Chesteron's "never mind nutrition and medicine; why can't we just all enjoy Health?" bit).  Don't like it?  Don't worry about it.  We have highly sophisticated and nuanced canon law, too, but that's more something for canon lawyers to worry about than we rank and file.

To the priest who insists he's not just a spirit, I say it's not about him at all, but about the Spirit working within him that effects the sacraments at his hands, and we're not there to glorify a man in the cloth.

To the one preferring to hear about all healing over only spiritual healing, I sympathize, but please remember that we're all going to ail and die from this life and ultimately our spiritual health is all that will matter.

But I have to say, although "born of the Father before all ages" doesn't bring the same connotation to my ears as "eternally begotten of the Father," sounding more like a temporal kind of event that just happened to take place outside of time, I do like the ring of it.  "Eternity" means something closer to "equally present to all points of time at once" and is usually mistaken to mean "time progressing infinitely into the future," but "born before all ages," never mind how someone can be born of a father in the first place, better communicates that the Second Person of the Trinity really is "older" than time; "eternally begotten" is such a peculiar phrase it's easy to forget it has any particular meaning, but "born" is still a common word, so that "born of a father" really conveys a mysterious idea, and "before all ages" may do better to indicate that the Son is not just outside of common time but predates all Creation.

And I have to add, I'm glad the last item in the handbill they published that summarizes the changes is headed "Concluding Rites" and "Dismissal."  So often I hear the recessional announced as "our sending-forth song,"  and I get that it's supposed to emphasize us being sent out into the world rather than saying "Okay, you don't have to be here after this song's done, or sneak out before we get to the refrain if you can't wait;" a reminder of the Great Commission, but it just sounds flat, almost Newspeakwise; like the other changes and abused I griped about, it's like a human attempt to pump emphasis into something that ultimately was given to us by God.  "Sending-forth" would work in German, and corresponds somewhat better than badly with the "Gathering hymn" at the beginning of mass, but in English...well, if "Ite, missa est,"  whence may come "sent" (the root for "mission") as much as "dismissed," is good enough to get the word "mass" from, then "recessional" is as good a way to end the mass and bookend the "processional" as anything.

I still hear "sending-forth" sometimes, but hopefully we're at the dawn of an era of liturgy more careful in meaning as well as in construction. I've already rambled and griped about things I've been seeing at church but I've witnessed similar phenomena in technical writing, where inexperienced or unskilled authors feel the key to writing in a professional style involves not just heavy use of jargon but stilted, dry sentence construction, as if it will sound appropriately high-level because it sounds so unnatural.  Perhaps I am a good example of that phenomenon.  Either way, this may be a good opportunity to correct such misconceptions.

And hopefully clear out some of the other liturgical detritus.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

I haven't written yet about the Wall Street occupation...

...and I hope to make just a few comments and let it drop, since the movement seems to be in low gear for the winter, at least, or having gone into semipermanent or worse hibernation after devolving into another Zombietime photoessay opportunity.

If you take nothing else away, if I make no other comprehensible or worthwhile point, I want you to remember one thing that may have been the bane and doom of the Occupy movement since its conception:

Envy is not the answer to greed.

They talk about the 1% and the 99%, about the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer--cliches that have not been true since before modern times.

It may be true that the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase, but what isn't talked about much is the fact that on average the rich and the poor are both getting more wealthy, but the rich merely at a higher rate.  This is a sign that the problem is not what people say it is.

Certainly, the abjectly destitute continue to have next to nothing, as they always have--or only so much as nearby charitable organizations have been able to supply--but they are also not the ones turning out in droves to heckle the white collar desk slaves in major cities all across the country.

The tycoons who really make up the 1% do not waste their time working mundane jobs like the middle class does.  I'm not saying they do or don't work hard, but let's not get distracted and harass the guys who also need to show up every day to support their families, okay?

From the National Taxpayer Union, and the Tax Foundation, some tax statistics:

  • The top 1% of earners by adjusted gross income, about $343k or higher, paid almost 37% of all taxes in 2009, but made 17% of all income.
  • The top 5% made 32% of all income and paid 59% of all federal taxes.
  • The top 50% (AGI about $32k) paid almost 98% of income taxes in 2009.
  • the bottom 50% paid a little over 2% in 2009, and that rate has been dropping steadily since at least 1999.
You can look these stats up or go digging through the data at if you need to disprove the usual cliches for yourself.

The tax proportions do change with income level, because dividends and capital gains are taxed at different rates from regular income, but richer people tend to have investments and other income sources that are taxable as dividends and capital gains more than the less wealthy, so they're still shouldering the burden.

If you're getting irate now, allow me to remind you that I have said nothing about sticking it to the poor, who have very little left to glean, anyway.  My point is that the people who still have decent jobs these days are not the real enemy, and for the most part the richest didn't get that way by substantial theft of the poorest.

The forgotten crux of the economic argument is the middle class.  As a rough gauge, we can put the ceiling on upper middle class at the $250k/year mark (also, I was able to find numbers for this income level).  About 3% of Americans make more than that.  A tenth of a percent make over a million dollars. The poorer half of all American income earners, who pay 2%, are made up of 70 million people.

In case anyone's getting lost in the numbers, it's a median-mean thing; don't worry about it.

3% of Americans, assuming we've got 350 million people, comes to 10.5 million people.  350 million total, minus 10.5 million upper class, minus 70 million lower class, yields a middle class of approximately 269,500,000 people who pay about 40% of all income tax (neglecting the difference between this 3% and the 5% listed above--I'm not trying to teach a math lesson here).

Tax debates usually hit the middle class the hardest because there are just so damn many of us that small changes in tax rates yield large variations in the budgets.  Under a progressive tax schedule like we have in this country, maybe the rates in the top brackets are also important variable.

Look:  maybe Warren Buffet's right and he needs to pay higher taxes, on top of the charitable giving he does, in quantities surpassing what most of us will ever see in our lives, to organizations benificent and shady alike; and certainly we need to take care of the poor, even if there is some truth behind the presumption that we need the government's help to do it and not just our own personal and willing contributions of time and material resources to places like St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill or the efforts of religious orders.  But a worker is worth his wages.  He is not a villain for achieving some success in providing for his own family--and it does us all well to remember that we do not know how much the average Wall Street drone is socking away for his kids, nor how many kids he is trying to support, nor what other expenses he may have like a home in disrepair or massive student loan debt or medical costs, nor how much he already gives to charity.

If you're poor, you have the right to demand help.  If you're not, you can provide help and try to attract the help of others.  If you need a job and you want a new car and your student loans forgiven too, well, that's silly but I applaud your honesty.  If you have made money on the backs of de facto slave labor, shame on you.  But if you need help, it is not just to paint a worker who is guilty of nothing but having received his just wages with the same brush as the shameful exploiter.

In your rush to fight poverty, whether your own or a stranger's, do not be eager to embrace jealousy, for it too is a vice.

Well, so much for "just a few comments," but I think I'm done with the situation for now.