Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Words Made Flesh

I wish I could read ancient Greek and Hebrew. It's not a skill I think I will ever possess, but it would be nice. In just the minuscule amount of Scripture I have studied, it seems almost every verse has some nuance that is lost in translation.

For instance, I was listening to a talk by Tim Staples about the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He pointed out that in Luke's narrative of the Annunciation there in an interesting word play going on. Mary asks "How can this be, since I do not know man?" Every translation I am aware of (including "literal" translations) has the angel's reply in Luke 1:37 as:
37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
or very similar wording. But according to Tim, and I looked it up in a Greek interlinear Bible, the actual words written were
37   ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ πᾶν εἶπεν
37   for not will be impossible with God every word said.
37  for every word of God's is possible.
Similar meaning, but it gives quite a different emphasis to Mary's reply "Let it be done to me according to your word."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Death and Taxes

There is a saying "Nothing is certain except death and taxes." But what about the "death tax" (aka estate tax)? That seems to be a perfect storm. I saw some posts yesterday about the candidates' positions on estate taxes. As expected, Clinton wants to increase the estate tax and Trump wants to repeal it. As you know, I loathe both of these candidates, so I am not taking sides based on loyalty to one vs. the other.

So let's consider the estate tax objectively. The USA was founded on the principles of life, liberty and property. Respect for private property, therefore, should be a cornerstone of American politics. And yet the estate tax effectively destroys the notion of private property. Let me explain.

For the purpose of this discussion let's assume an estate tax of 50%. Whether it's higher or lower doesn't change the principle, it only makes the math different. Now, let's say I own a house worth $100,000. It is mine. Period. I have no mortgage, but own it outright. I want my child to have this house when I die.

However, when I die, my child has to pay the government $50,000 for this house. So effectively the house was only half mine, and half the government's. Now my child wants to give it to his child when he dies. That child (my grandchild) will have to pay the government $50,000 for this house (for the purpose of discussion I am ignoring any increase or decrease in the value of the house - it doesn't change the principle).

Over time my family never owns the house free and clear - they always will have to pay the government in order to keep living in it. That is called "renting." The government owns the house de facto and charge my family $50,000 for a lifetime lease. I know on paper it say we own the house, but if we really did we could do with it what we pleased without having to pay the government for permission to continue to live there.

You could say the same thing about property tax, but at least in the case of property tax your property is receiving services (water, sewer, garbage pick up, snow removal, etc.) in exchange for the tax. In this case the government is just taking the money with no guarantee of any services provided in exchange.

So that covers the principles of why estate taxes are wrong, but what about the economic value? Isn't it good to make people pay "their fair share?" Clinton points out that the 1% don't pay "their fair share" in inome tax, and so we have to take their property to make up for it. Isn't that how we can make the rich give back and get money to the poor? Back to our example.

I die and leave my $100,000 house to my child. He has to pay $50,000 in taxes to keep living in it. But, like most people, he doesn't have $50,000 in cash. What can he do? He can sell the house. Of course, he has to sell it pretty quick, and so can't wait for the housing market to recover, or even for a good buyer to come along. So some rich guy buys it just to flip it and the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Alternatively, if he has the credit rating, and the house is worth it, he can get a mortgage. That means for the next 30 years he pays a bank to live in his own house, and the rich bank gets richer and the poor get poorer.

Worse, say this is a family owned business rather than a house. No business has 50% of it's value in cash assets (except maybe Apple). So again we have to either take a loan, and the bank gets richer, or sell the business (at a loss) to a big company with lots of cash on hand (and the rich get richer). Seeing the pattern yet?

So, no, we haven't taken money from the rich with our estate tax, we've taken money from the average person and given it to the rich.

But surely when the very rich die they will be hit by this tax and billions will go to the government (yay). Um, no. Have you ever noticed that all these billionaires and millionaires are Democratic supporters? They know that these kinds of taxes will put money in their pockets and will never affect them directly.

Consider the Clintons. They can effectively avoid this tax by donating as much as they want to the Clinton Foundation (tax exempt), where it will be paid as a salary to their daughter for her "work" running this "charity" (which spends less than 6% of its donations on actual charitable work and the rest on salaries and fundraising).

Likewise, other rich fat cats can set up corporations and trusts where they can play games with ownership to avoid having to pay the estate tax. Again, it's the little guy who gets hit and the rich gt richer.

I haven't even included the way the tax affects people's economic behavior - for instance the elderly shedding their property in order to avoid the tax, and subsequently becoming dependent on government assistance. This is similar to what Jesus talks about in Matthew 15 - people ridding themselves of wealth to avoid having to support their families.

So the estate tax is bad bot in principle and in practice.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

And I will ask the Father and He will send you another parasite...

One of the most misunderstood aspects of Catholicism, even for (maybe especially for) Catholics is veneration of and devotion to Mary. I know for much of my life I have had an aversion to Marian devotion that I am still overcoming.

Many people see honoring Mary as taking glory and honor away from Jesus, but it is a false dichotomy to say that a mother and child are in opposition to one another.

Then again, we live in a society where we put mothers and their children in opposition to one another, and the result is abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Pro "choice" advocates claim that a child is at best a burden to a mother, one whose interests are contrary to those of the mother, and therefore she has no compelling reason in protecting its life. Some even claim that the child is a "parasite" which should rightfully be destroyed. Likewise, our parents should be killed lest they become a burden to us.

This is a false dichotomy and a gross distortion, used to justify abortion and infanticide, just as it was in pagan Rome and Greece. The Judeo-Christian view of motherhood is that there is a sacred bond between parents and children. "The two become one" is not only a metaphor for sexual union, it is a scientific description of conception.

In the Davidic kingdom of Israel the second highest position was that of "Giberah," or "Queen Mother." This underscores the understanding that the king's mother had his best interest at heart, and vice versa. In the Ten Commandments, we are told "honor your father and your mother" and the word used for "honor" (כַּבֵּ֥ד) can be interpreted to mean "give glory to" as well.

As the mother of Jesus, Mary is not opposed to Jesus or taking away from Jesus in any way. Conversely Jesus, as a good child who follows the commandments perfectly, gives honor and glory to his mother. As imitators of Christ should we not do the same? It has always been understood that on the cross Jesus entrusted his mother not only to St. John but by extension to all Christians. And so we should rightfully honor our mother, Mary.

This is not the blog post I set out to write, but the Spirit moved me and this is it. I will hopefully blog soon on the original topic...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Never Forget

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Thin Blue Flag

What do you think of the "blue line" flag, promoted by the "Blue Lives Matter" movement? As much as I do support our police officers, I can't help disliking distortions of the American flag for political ends. To me it is disrespectful of the American flag, even if the intentions are good. Consider the following flags. All of them are using the American flag to make a political point about what America "should" be.

That is not the purpose of the American flag. I don't have a problem with people making flags to support police, or peace, or any other issue they wish, and I don't have a problem with people associating that with Americanism, or patriotism, or anything, but to "mutilate" the American flag into a political statement bugs me.

And don't even get me started about American flags in church!

What are your thoughts on the matter?


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.