Friday, July 22, 2016

The Trump Trolley

There is a problem in morality commonly called "The Trolley Problem." It goes like this:

There is a runaway trolley going down the tracks and it is going to run down five children playing on the tracks. There is a lever you can pull that will switch the trolley to an alternate track. There is one child playing on that track, who will die if you pull the lever. Should you pull it?

At first glance the answer would seem to be "yes" but on the other hand if you pull the lever you are killing a child, whereas if you do not 5 children die, but not by your action. So maybe yes maybe no - but let's analyze the problem.
Time to talk about double effect. The principle of double effect was worked out by St. Thomas Aquinas, and goes something like this.  If an action has two effects, one which is good and desirable (like saving the five children) the other evil (like the death of the other child), how do you decide the ultimate morality of your action?
While one should never do evil even intending that good will come out of it, one can do morally neutral actions even knowing that evil may come from it, provided 4 conditions are met:
  1. that the action in itself from its very object be good or at least indifferent;
  2. that the good effect and not the evil effect be intended;
  3. that the good effect be not produced by means of the evil effect;
  4. that there be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect
By the principle of double effect you could pull the lever because.
  1. pulling a lever is morally neutral
  2. You intend saving 5 lives, not the death of a child
  3. The five children are not saved by the death of the one child, they are saved by the trolley not hitting them.
  4. The proportional reason is saving multiple lives
On the other hand, you are not OBLIGATED to pull the lever. If you do not, five children die, but it is not your fault. In other words, either choice is permissible, and it is a prudential decision as to what action to take.

Now change is up slightly. There is no lever, but you are standing next to a fat man, and if you push him onto the tracks, he is so fat that the trolley will derail when it hits him and the children will be saved. Should you push him? Some would say yes because it is the same result. However, the result is not always what matters. According to double effect
  1. pushing a man in front of a train is morally wrong
End of story. The action is morally wrong even if the other three criteria are met.

What does this have to do with Trump?

There are people who are saying "In order to stop Hillary you are OBLIGATED to vote for Trump - otherwise you know all the Bad Things™ that will happen." On the other hand some are saying "the lesser of two evils is still evil - you CANNOT vote for Trump, even if the alternative is Hillary."

But the truth is, this is a trolley problem. Yes, perhaps five children will get hit by a trolley (or be dismembered by an abortionist) if I don't vote for Trump and Hillary wins, but if I vote for Trump, the other child will die (in the ensuing wars). Morally speaking I CAN vote for Trump intending to stop Hillary, but I am not OBLIGATED to.

So get over it people and stop bullying others with your political views. In other words, vote your conscience, people!

[N.B. I am not advocating staying home - VOTE your conscience, don't sit home and do nothing. I am talking about when I do vote, do I have to vote for Trump, or can I vote for a candidate I believe in who is NOT Trump, even knowing that I am not voting "against" Clinton.]

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dallas Blame

There has been a lot of rhetoric surrounding the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the assassination of five Dallas police officers. On the one hand some people are blaming BLM (and the president, and others) for the attack. Others are saying it was a mentally disturbed veteran and we should blame the government for making him a soldier and sending him to war. But are either of them (or is anyone, really) to blame, other than the gunman himself? Let's consider a couple of scenarios.

Scenario 1. Alice hates Bob. She secretly wishes he were dead. Bob is shot dead. Alice feels guilty. But is Alice really responsible for Bob's death? Of course not. While she willed his death, she has not done anything to influence whether or not Bob lived or died. The gunman is solely responsible.

Scenario 2. Alice hates Bob. She hires a hit man to kill Bob. Bob is shot dead. Is Alice responsible for Bob's death? Of course. While the gunman is ultimately the cause of his death, Alice influenced him to kill Bob by giving him money to do it.

Scenario 3. Alice hates Bob. Alice takes out ads saying that Bob does not deserve to live. She appears on national television speaking about how terrible Bob is and how he deserves death. Bob is shot dead. Is Alice responsible for Bob's death? Of course. While the gunman is ultimately the cause of his death, Alice influenced him to kill Bob by calling for Bob;s death in a way that was compelling (obviously) to the gunman.

BLM has put itself in a position of authority by claiming to speak for blacks. In that position, they have tremendous influence on the actions of many people (witness the number of people who come out to march with the movement). Inasmuch as they have that authority, they also have responsibility for the actions they call for. When they call for justice against white police officers, is that not a call for them to have the same penalty on them that BLM says they imposed on the black victims they "murdered?"

I heard a BLM spokesman on the radio the other day, and his speech upset me enough to write this blog post. Even after the murders of the officers in Dallas he not only had no regrets, but reiterated his support for the killer. In his words "Nobody wants to see innocent people killed" but he then went into a diatribe on police, the gist of which was that none of them are innocent.

St James understood the responsibility of those who claim authority when he wrote, in James 3:1-8 (emphasis mine):
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.  Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
While we're on the topic of police brutality, let me say that there are good cops and bad cops, just like all of us, and like all of us, most cops are good but some are bad. Despite a NYC study that shows cops treat blacks more harshly than whites, a wider study showed cops are more likely to shoot whites than blacks. But all of this rhetoric only serves to obfuscate the problem. By claiming they know the motive for cops shooting blacks (racism) the BLM stifles any real research into systemic problems with excessive police force. They also, ironically, justify the militarization of police and harsh treatment of blacks by encouraging blacks to be aggressive and non-compliant when interacting with police officers.

As an American I agree with the issue being addressed by BLM, the over-militarization of police, in terms of armament, equipment and training, and the apparent increase in use of overwhelming deadly force. However, we need to look for the real cause of the matter and address that rather than calling it racism in certain cases and ignoring the rest. We cannot become blindly "anti-cop" and expect laws to be enforced and the public to remain safe.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Do you love your enemies?

There is an Irish "blessing" that goes like this:
May those who love us love us.
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping.
A lot of times our prayers are like that. People hurt us, or hurt others, and we either pray for the victims, or we pray for justice, that the perpetrators get their comeuppance. Now, there is not necessarily anything wrong with praying for justice - many of the Psalms are like that. From Psalm 109:
May his days be few;
    may another seize his goods!
May his children be fatherless,
    and his wife a widow! 
May his children wander about and beg;
    may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit! 
May the creditor seize all that he has;
    may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! 
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
    nor any to pity his fatherless children! 
May his posterity be cut off;
    may his name be blotted out in the second generation! 
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord,
    and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! 
Let them be before the Lord continually;
    and may his memory be cut off from the earth! 
For he did not remember to show kindness,
    but pursued the poor and needy
    and the brokenhearted to their death. 
He loved to curse; let curses come on him!
    He did not like blessing; may it be far from him!
We are hurt - we are outraged. We want justice without mercy.

But God has a better way. Jesus said, in Luke 6:27-36:
“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
In this year of mercy I've been cognizant of our duty to extend mercy to those who wrong us. I've read (by solid Catholic catechists) that we have to forgive everyone (since we are commanded to), and also that we don't have to forgive the unrepentant (since God does not). Who is right? We pray every day (you do pray this every day, don't you?) in the Our Father "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." So, do we want God to forgive us when we are unrepentant, or perhaps not as repentant as we should be?

There is a principle in computer science called the robustness principle (aka Postel's law) that goes like this "be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others." It is a good principle to use in life. Be conservative in treating others - be as harmless as possible. On the other hand, be willing to accept poor treatment, and forgive.

Note - I'm not saying that those who break the law should not be tried and punished, nor am I saying that we should ignore evil or be doormats for anyone who would abuse us. On the contrary, we should always protect ourselves and others, and part of that is, as a society we should enforce laws. I'm talking about our inward attitude or forgiveness, not some "get out of jail free" card - truly loving those who have done evil.

An easy principle to state, but a hard one to implement. Consider the recent shootings in Dallas. As someone who is not directly involved you may think it relatively easy to forgive Micah Johnson, and whoever else was possibly involved. Yet, do you truly wish to bless him? Do you pray that he is burning (justly) in hell, or that he turned to Jesus as he saw that explosive coming at him, and is now awaiting entry into heaven? Not that easy to bless those who curse you is it?

But let's make it personal. Consider the person who belittled you on Facebook, and made you feel horrible. The person who cut you off in traffic, who took away your job, who betrayed you. Will you pray that they repent? Will you pray that God makes them become nice people? Or will you truly pray that they be blessed, even as they curse you. Will you pray that good things come to them and that they receive a reward in heaven? Would you volunteer to do their time in purgatory? Because if you wouldn't you might be doing your own time in purgatory because of them.

Is it just that they go unpunished, and maybe even rewarded, for having done evil? No, but we should trust God to balance mercy and justice. This is a very hard concept, and one I will continue to meditate on in this year of mercy.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Prayer of the Archdiocese for the Military Services


On this Independence Day let's remember the men and women who help keep us independent.

Prayer of the Archdiocese for the Military Services

Almighty God and Father, look with love upon our men and women in uniform and protect them in their time of need. Give them health and stability and allow them to return to their loved ones whole and unshaken. Be with their families and sustain them in these uncertain times.

Grant strength and peace of mind to the Veterans who have given their best for the country they love. Support them in infirmity and in the fragility of old age. Teach us to remember their sacrifices and to express our gratitude.

Manifest your tender care to those in the Military Academies who prepare for future service and to those who serve our Nation far from home. Teach us to remember the sacrifices of those whose efforts contribute to ensuring our way of life.

Bless and multiply the priests who minister to the faithful of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. Reward their generosity and keep them faithful.

Hear us as we present our prayers to You through Christ our Lord

Amen

Friday, July 1, 2016

Californication

So California passed six (count 'em six) new gun laws today! They are ridiculous. For example, take a look at the picture on the right. In 48 states this is an image of two hunters practicing safe hunting procedure (having your hunting buddy hold your gun while you cross a barrier). In California this is a picture of two people committing a crime (unless they are members of the same family).

Here on the left we see a man who has been (successfully) hunting with America's most popular rifle. In California we see a criminal awaiting arrest and prison. His (already crippled by previous California laws) rifle is now suddenly illegal.

Over here on the right we see a plastic box with a spring inside. In California... you guessed it! In fact people who have owned these for decades are now criminals in the eyes of the law. What have they done differently from yesterday when they were law abiding citizens? Nothing.

Here we see shelves in a sporting goods store (or maybe a Walmart) - oh wait, California? Here we see hundreds of felony counts. 

Let's not kid ourselves - none of these laws have anything to do with public safety.

Yes, you can't lend your gun to a criminal, but that was already illegal - what is new is that you can't lend your gun to your non-criminal hunting buddy or friend.

Yes, you can't own a modern sporting rifle, but criminals don't use them anyway. Terrorists do, but can you imagine a terrorist saying "guess we can't kill them, we might get in trouble for having an illegal weapon." No, this is an attempt to take away all of the popular modern rifles.

Yes, you can't have a standard capacity magazine, but as we saw in numerous mass shootings, that just doesn't matter. Changing a magazine take less than a second if you are trained to do it, whereas this will inconvenience or endanger the law abiding citizen who doesn't spend all his time training for tactical battles but merely wants to engage in a sport.

Finally ammunition background checks. If firearm background checks don't work, then ammunition background checks won't work. And if firearm background checks work, then you don't need ammunition background checks. What this really is, is an attempt to put gun stores out of business. Like the proverbial razor and blades, most stores make their money from sales of ammo and accessories, rather than guns (think about it, you buy a gun once in a lifetime, but you have to buy ammo every time you go to the range). Do you think a law abiding citizen wants to provide paperwork and documentation, be treated like a criminal, and wait up to three days just to buy a box of ammo? No, they will all o to neighboring states, and the California gun stores will lose the sales.

That's not to say all gun laws are bad. Even some California gun laws are good, but these are clearly designed not to increase public safety, but merely to harass law abiding citizens and discourage or prevent people from exercising their constitutional rights.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Wake Up Call for Second Amendment Activists

This post is a wake up call for the second amendment activists in the state of New Jersey. You are doing it wrong. All your indignation at your rights being denied. Nobody cares. All your examples of successful self defense in other states - after all, if there were no guns, both criminal and victim would be fine.

All your rants about corrupt government not listening to "the voice of the people." You have it all wrong.

I discovered that when I visited my mother and was glancing through the local newsletter of her senior community. I came across this:


Think about it. This group, not associated with guns in any way, manages to get 387 signatures on a petition to expand background checks, ban assault weapons, and limit magazines. How many signatures can you get to fix background checks, remove the assault weapons ban and allow standard capacity magazines? How many people don't even want to talk to you because you are "those gun people?"

Your liberal representatives aren't ignoring "the voice of the people" - they are listening. When you have the same 50 names over and over protesting each new gun law, there are thousands coming in to preserve or tighten NJ gun laws. You can show up at hearings all you want, but nobody cares when there are piles of people happy with the laws they are enacting.

You've lost every legislative battle head to head. You fizzled out on the Sweeney campaign. You are getting nowhere with the public on right to carry. Maybe it's time to look at what works instead of beating your head against the same wall. Here's a modest proposal.

1) No gun groups - you have no credibility trying to get Joe and Jane NJ to sign any petition that says NRA, NJ2AS, NJ2AR, ANJRPC, You-name-it-RPC, CNJFO or anything associated with "gun". Stick with things like "Citizens for a safer New Jersey" or the mysterious "Justifiable Need."

2) No guns - almost everyone knows at least one person who should not have access to a firearm. Most people know someone who has committed or attempted suicide. Suggesting that we need more guns or more access to guns or better guns, etc. does not work for these people.

3) No violence - don't make the issue "my rights" or even "self defense." Make the issue "justice" and "safety - things people can all agree they want.

4) Lie - look at the notice above. "This survey was conducted because of the markedly increased gun violence occurring in the United States." That's a bald-faced lie, with gun violence at an all time low in the United States. And yet, it was what people wanted to hear, and what they believe. Pick something that's subjective, and not easily quantifiable or verifiable and run with it.

5) Get sympathy. The only gun issues that the public has supported you on were the case of Shaneen Allen and Brian Fletcher. Why? Not because they cared about them having gun rights, but because they were "unjustly" imprisoned. Nobody wants to see children go without a parent, even if they don't like that the parent had a gun. And in each case, it seemed that the gun was needed (Allen because she had been mugged, Fletcher because he worked nights in dangerous neighborhoods).

So here's my modest proposal. If you want an issue that will actually get you traction (and signatures), how about presenting all the cases of people "wrongly persecuted" for guns, like Allen, Fletcher, Brian Aitken, Gordon Van Gilder, etc. and using them (and the thousands of cases like theirs) to push for a bill to add the words "for the commission of a violent crime" to every New Jersey gun restriction.

Think about it - nobody wants to see good people in jail for no good reason. Nobody wants to spend millions in taxpayer money arresting, prosecuting, and housing and feeding these people. Nobody want to see families and careers destroyed when no crime was ever intended or committed. Furthermore, not even the leftiest leftie can claim that this weakens laws to prosecute criminals in the slightest.

So find a legislator who will introduce the bill if you get support. Then get the support. Go hit the streets, run media campaigns, do all the things you need to do to get the signatures. This is actually something that will succeed because it is 100% non-controversial.

Or you can sit on your butts and whine about how you want to leave New Jersey because you can't have any rights. Up to you.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando Blame

First off, please join me in prayer for the victims, and the perpetrator...
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord. Let Your perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen
...and for all those who reject God's love, that they may find Him
Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful Savior of the world, we humbly beseech You, by Your most Sacred Heart, that all the sheep who stray out of Your fold may in one days be converted to You, the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end.
Amen.
...and for those affected by this tragedy
Heavenly father, we come before you today in need of hope.
Hope for a better future, hope for a better life, hope for love and kindness.
We need your light, Lord, in every way. To bask in your glory.
To know that all is right in the world, as you have planned, and as you want it to be.
Help us to walk in your light, and live our lives in faith and glory.
In your name we pray,
Amen.
Now onto the subject at hand, the blame game. Liberals were quick to blame the NRA for what happened. However, it's hard to see that the NRA had anything to do with it. The NRA actually worked hard to give this country a background check process for gun purchases. That this failed in this case is not their fault. The murderer not only passed FBI background checks for buying a firearm, but passed background checks to work for a DHS contractor. You can say the system failed, but truly there is no way for a background check to predict who will do something if they haven't done anything in their past.

The ACLU is blaming Christians, but it's hard to see that Christians had anything to do with it. No Christian group has called for violence against gays, not even the Westboro Baptist Church. The only religious group that calls for violence against gays is Islam. So I guess in a way you could blame religion, but you can't blame Christians.

In my view, one hundred percent of the blame belongs to the murderer. Yes, you can also blame the Islamic fundamental ideology that encouraged him, but that ideology has not moved me to violence against gays, nor will it ever. The murderer chose to follow it.

So, was there anything that could be done to stop it from happening? The FBI says they couldn't have done anything differently, and I agree. The system did what it was supposed to do - it is foolish to believe that any such system will stop every act of violence unless we take away all human rights and live in a police state (oh wait, that's been done and it didn't work then).

The nightclub, on the other hand, could have done something differently, which would have stopped, or at least minimized, the violence. Florida is a "gun friendly" state, yet nobody in the nightclub fought back. Why? Because the nightclub was a "no guns" zone. I am not against a private business having a "no guns" policy, and in a place where alcohol is served and people are likely to be in conflict it might be a good policy to have.

However, if you are going to deny people their natural right to protect themselves, it is really your responsibility to provide protection for them. If the club had armed guards on the premises (presumably in plain clothes) the body count might have been much smaller (or maybe zero, if the murderer knew he would meet armed resistance and didn't carry out his plan at all).

If you are a business owner with a "no guns" policy, you should consider your moral (and perhaps legal) responsibility to protect the people in your establishment.

[N.B. The state of Florida does allow guns in an establishment which serves alcohol, just not in the bar area proper. So the gun ban was the business owner's decision.]