Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the first day

Wednesday began the fall 2011 40 Days for Life campaign. As I drove up to the clinic I go to every Wednesday, I saw a new face, Patti. She saw me walking up and greeted me with a big smile and a hug. There was almost a constant stream of cars beeping and waving and cheering us on. Despite the rain sprinkling on and off it was a fun day.

I held my sign, said my rosary and spoke to the other people there. But the best part of all was the lack of an abortionist. The clinic had been open for hours before I even got there, and by the time I left, the fourteen or so people inside were still waiting for someone to show up!

Now, it is often the case that the abortionist shows up late, making the women inside wait for hours (and we thank him for his contempt of his "patients"), but to miss more than half a day we took as a hopeful sign. I don't have any illusions that he has changed his mind about his "career", but I am hopeful that somehow he has a conscience and that our presence makes him uncomfortable.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Last week I was told I was a hateful bigot. That remark came from a friend, no less. What can motivate someone to say that about a person whom they otherwise like? Given the title of this article I bet you can imagine what the conversation was about that led to the accusation.

This accusation affected me deeply. The hateful part is easy to shrug off, because it is patently untrue. While I might not be a model Christian (by far), I can honestly say that I don't hate any group, or even any individual, even those that I feel have done me serious wrong. You may think that's a big feat, or you may think that I'm lying, but I assure you it is no big thing not to hate. I believe hating takes as much effort as loving, and if you aren't taught to hate ad don't practice it, it is no big deal to avoid it. That's not to say I love everybody, either. There are people I find distasteful, that I'd rather have nothing to do with. That is far from hate (actively seeking what's bad for the other person).

The title of "bigot" bothered me though. I don't think of myself as a bigot, but I suppose neither did Archie Bunker, or for that matter George Jefferson (for those who are not as ancient as I am, these are two notoriously prejudiced characters from the 1970s sitcoms "All in the Family" and its spinoff "The Jeffersons"). I decided it was time to reexamine my actions.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines bigot as follows:
big·ot noun \ˈbi-gət\
Definition of BIGOT
: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
and further defines intolerant as:
in·tol·er·ant adj \-rənt\
2 a : unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters
b : unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights : bigoted
Well, I'm off the hook, because to be a bigot I'd have to treat people with hatred and intolerance, and I don't treat people with hatred. However, my friend equates intolerance and hate as being the same thing. Am I intolerant?

Obviously, the primary definition of intolerant is not what my friend was alluding to. If that were the case, and since she is unwilling to grant me freedom of expression of my religious views, the term bigot would apply to her, not to me. I don't think she intended to be a bigot by calling me one. So she must mean that I'm unwilling to grant social, political, or professional rights to homosexuals.

That's a serious accusation, but is it true? What rights are homosexuals denied that changing the definition of marriage would grant them? Are they being denied the right to life? No, last I looked nobody was killing them. Are they being denied their liberty? No, last I looked they weren't being put in prison. Are they being denied the right to participate in economic activities, own property, and enjoy the fruits of their labor? No. Right to bear arms? No. Right to Assemble? No. Right to free speech? No.

I continued down through the Bill of Rights and other aspects of law, and I can't find a single right which is not granted them. OK, let's talk about "rights" in a looser sense, and look at lifestyle choices. Are they forbidden from practicing sexual acts in privacy? No. Are they forbidden from living together as a couple? No.

So what rights do they claim they are being denied (other than being able to change the definition of institutions like marriage, and I dictating changes to society is not a "right" in any sense of the word)? The things that I have heard brought up in conversation are:

They can't get family health benefits from their employer for their partner. That's a fair point. Shouldn't I be able to purchase benefits for anyone I want? Oh wait! There's a thing called an insurance company, and I can pay them to purchase health insurance for anybody, not just my family. The problem is that insurance companies have made it expensive to do so. So, no right has been denied.

Still one can make the argument that if insurance companies are going to give a discount for a family policy, shouldn't that include all the people who live in my household whom I support? Suppose my elderly mother lives with me, or my aunt, or cousin who's our of work? Insurance companies now have ways to address some of these issues (like elder care and same sex partners). Here in NJ, same sex partners are by law treated equally with married couples for insurance purposes. I think if anything that should be expanded to include the other cases (e.g. anybody I support). If I'm willing to pay for it, there's a market.

So there's an argument that falls flat on its face, both as a reason to say they are being denied rights and as a reason to say I'm a bigot.

Reason number two is that same sex partners aren't treated as spouses when hospitals grant visiting privileges. Again fair point, but that's a hospital policy, not anything to do with the institution of marriage. I can understand that hospitals have to limit visitors for the patients' benefit and that without the patient's ability to designate who should visit they have to come up with a rule. On the other hand, a patient should have people who love and care for him able to visit. This is something that I think needs to be addressed by modifying hospital policies, not marriage.

Reason number three is adoption. Same sex couples need to be married to legally adopt children. Without getting into the moral issues of whether this is good, let me cut off the argument right here by saying that they can. This argument is false. While Catholic adoption agencies do not place children with same sex couples, there are other agencies that do. A simple web search comes up with sites like Adoption Open, which lists "gay friendly" adoption agencies.

When you go through the list of all the justifications for changing the institution of marriage, there is none that is an actual justification. The last resort argument that I have been given is that it makes them feel like their relationship isn't accepted by everyone. That's true in a way. Their relationship probably isn't accepted by everyone. But is that what marriage is about? Is it merely a title, a piece of paper, a popularity contest? I've been told by so many, and I believe it to be true as well, if your relationship is based only on a piece of paper, it's not worth the piece of paper it's written on.

I was going to talk about the other side, but this post is getting long so I'll continue this discussion in another post about reasons not to change marriage. I think I've debunked the reasons given for wanting to change it, though if you know of any reasonable arguments that aren't covered please comment below.

Next, see Bigot Part 2.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

St Michael

For obvious reasons I have always been partial to St. Michael the Archangel. Each night I pray
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

So I of course will be participating in Joe's big event. Won't you join us in the Novena to St. Michael the Archangel?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The price of everything

In Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windemere's Fan Lord Darlington describes a cynic as "a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

Recently, our house was damaged by hurricane Irene, and we've been doing a lot of triage of the things we have accumulated over the years. This is not small task, as my wife and I are both pack rats. Still, there are things to get rid of. Some books that got wet, for instance, are easily replaceable. Other things, like family photos, I will spend time and money drying out and restoring. They may be worth less in terms of dollars, but could never be replaced. They are valuable.

Such is the irony of couples that abort children who may have a health problem. They know the price of the abortion, but not the value of the child they discard. "We can always have another one" is frequently heard, but can they replace that child?

There are 23 pairs of chromosomes in a human cell. One couple could have 70,368,744,177,664 (70 trillion) children without repeating the child they conceived. And that's just genetically. There will never be another point in their lives like this. That child is literally irreplaceable.

Even more than just physically, that child is a human being, made in the image of God (and its parents). When we decide to "throw out" a human being we are demonstrating that that a human life, even the life of our own child, is worth less to us than the car we repair, the dog we take to the vet, or even the flowers in our scrapbook.

“It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” Using Wilde's definition of a cynic, Mother Teresa was a great optimist.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A screw loose

WASHINGTON, DC - Whether you're building a deck on your house or buying a new refrigerator, be prepared for big changes in the way they are constructed. In an unprecedented move lawmakers today introduced legislation to eliminate the phillips-head screw from all products sold in the USA. Because of the unique design of the screw, when the screw head is viewed face-on it appears to form a cross. In fact, the likeness is so striking that many call the fastener a "cross-head" screw.

Some have never noticed the design that adorns almost all the screws used in modern appliances and electronic devices.

Others say the design clearly resembles a Christian cross.

The photo above, taken of an actual phillips-head screw, appears to have this characteristic.

A. C. Lu, Chairman of the board of the National Screw Design University, or Screw U., told The Washington Free Explorer during a telephone interview that the cross design was not part of the original plans, and that the design was to have been what could be described as a plus sign.

"As soon as we found out there were issues we got a copy of the plan design and talked to the designer about it, it was not the intent of the plan at all."

Lu added, "I appreciate the concern that was brought up and it does look that way and we need to be careful about that process of what we're doing. It's a legitimate concern, and it was not the intended design."

If the proposed law goes into effect, all mechanical designs in the US will have to change the alleged cross designs sometime in the spring at no cost to consumers, Lu said.

But some say, what's the big deal?

"As far as I'm concerned this country was brought about on Christian principles and I love that," said Mr. A. Bishop.

"This country's founding principles require separation of church and state," countered Mr. A. Theist. "This is an offensive product that must be removed from the market to protect our citizens."

[N.B. My inspiration for this was The TPS Elementary School cross indcident plus the 9-11 "cross" lawsuit, plus the Mohave desert cross lawsuit, plus the Mount Soledad cross lawsuit, plus Utah's American Atheists v. Duncan, plus too many others to list.]

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ten years later

Pictured above is Frigate FFG 29 the USS Steven W. Groves. It is leaving New York harbor on a shakedown cruise of the Mk92 FCS. This picture was taken in the 1980s and hung in my parents' kitchen for years. It now hangs in my house. I remember looking at it soon after the 9-11 attacks ten years ago, and thinking of the brave Americans, both first responders and military, who have given and still give their lives to keep ours safe. Please join me in prayers for them on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of mercy,
who through your Son gave us a marvelous example of charity
and the great commandment of love for one another.
Send down your blessings on these your servants,
who so generously devote themselves to helping others,
and protect them always as they work to protect us all.
Grant them courage when they are afraid,
wisdom when they must make quick decisions,
strength when they are weary,
and compassion in all their work.
When they are called to aid both friend and stranger,
let them faithfully serve you in their neighbor.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Prince of peace, we humbly ask your protection for all our men and women in military service. Give them unflinching courage to defend with honor, dignity and devotion, the rights of all who are imperiled by injustice and evil. Be their rock, their shield, and their stronghold and let them draw their strength from you.

For you are God, for ever and ever. Amen

Monday, September 5, 2011

Good night Irene

OK, the "storm of the century" has passed (but hey, the century is young). Perhaps some bloggers have come out of the experience with witty life lessons learned that they can impart to all their many readers. I'm just tired. It's been a long and short week. I have no deep thoughts, just an account of where I've been for the past 168 hours or so.

Saturday we were supposed to drive to my sister's for my niece's daughter's first birthday party. However, we canceled the trip due to the impending storm. Now, it may be coincidence, but the last time we were panning to go out there, there was a blizzard. Our track record is not good.

Sunday I was supposed to lector, and we were supposed to cook Sunday dinner for a group of homeless people who were staying at our church for the week. Saturday evening we went to mass just in case, and it was a good thing, because the parish announced that all Sunday masses would be canceled and the homeless people were staying at the shelter they were at until Monday.

We always have non-perishable food in the house, even if it means living on tuna and chunky soup for days, and since we camp with out scout troop a lot we have plenty of flashlights and batteries on hand.

We had already stocked up on drinking water (one gallon/person/day, and we had twelve gallons, which is a three day supply for the four of us). Since we have a well, no power means no water. Period. Now, there are clear guidelines for how much drinking water to have on hand, but none about flushing. I was on my own. They say fill up a bathtub, but our bathtub drain leaks, and while it's OK for a 1/2 hour bath it will not hold water for days. I filled some five gallon pails and rubbermaid containers with about 45 gallons of flushing water, which I estimated was 15 flushes, or a four day supply if we each flushed once/day.

Of course all this was a lark, since we didn't really expect to lose power for that long. In fact, I have a generator, but we've only had to use it once, when we were without power for two days. Usually a power outage is a matter of a couple of hours, and we can ride that out. We were watching storm coverage on TV, and actually enjoying being in our cozy house while the wind whistled and the rain pelted outside.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of Iron Man danced in their heads. [Yes, we had stayed up and watched Iron Man as our family movie™.] And dear wife in her slippers and I went to creep, up to our room for a long summer's sleep. When out in the yard came a FLASH! and a BOOM! The lights were all gone and the night filled the room!

OK, enough poetry. The kitchen was filled with the smell of burning plastic insulation. We grabbed flashlights and went searching about the house for something that might be on fire. Yes, wisdom might say "get out" rather than "search about", but unless the house is actually aflame it's probably safer to be inside than outside in the hurricane. We shut off the main breaker, in case there was some short that might be causing the burning smell.

After we issued the "all clear" the kids had to immediately go to the bathroom, and while they remembered not to flush they washed their hands (amazing!), using the last of the pressurized house water. Nobody wanted to go to sleep, or even up ti their rooms. I took my flashlight up to find the first book I could lay my hands on that might be entertaining, and came down with "The Little World of Don Camillo".

For those who've never heard of him, Don Camillo is a fictional priest in Italy, who regularly has conversations with Christ, usually involving his nemesis, the mayor and head of the communist party, Peppone. Each short story has a lesson, about friendship and love and redemption. The stories are beautifully simple and entertaining. If you want to hear some of them, Fr. Z. has a series of podcasts in which he reads the stories.

After a few Don Camillo stories we all slept in the living room. Sunday was a bit of a disaster. Fortunately, the storm petered out early. I woke to light rain and strong gusty winds and looked out upon the lake that used to be my back yard. I walked out the garage into the stream that used to be my driveway and surveyed the place where wires used to go from my house to the pole. They were laying on the front yard. Not good. My next door neighbor had power and was frantically pumping water out of my basement. Their basement often floods. Ours never, but I went down to check anyway. Splash! An inch or so of water greeted my foot.

I started the generator, ran an extension cord down stairs and the rest of the day was a blur of shop-vacuuming water, carrying it up and out in buckets, and moving stuff that might be damaged by the water. That was a big task. There are nine book cases that all had to have bottom shelves emptied. Some of these are things that can't be replaced, like my complete set of Telescope Making Magazine, which has been out of print for many years, but is a gold mine for anyone in the hobby. The basement became a scene of chaos in the dark, punctuated by unusual commands like of "put the interferometer next to the tents, on top of the catechism" and "Don't let the cerium oxide get wet." Dinner was steaks on the grill - our goal was to eat the most expensive food before it went bad.

Monday very little got done. The power company visited us twice; once to verify that the wires on the front lawn were not "live" and once to cut up the tree that was blocking the road (and access to the power lines). Both crews assured us the power would be fixed "soon". On the phone they told us they would be there "as soon as possible". AT&T came and put up a new phone line to the house (yay). Verizon would not talk to us until we had commercial power restored. Water was still coming in the basement, so there was more vacuuming, but it wasn't as bad and didn't require continuous vacuuming like Sunday.

We had planned a nice Sunday meal for the people at church, and I had purchased $100 worth of rib roast. Rather than watch it rot in the fridge we went down to cook in the church kitchen (our oven is electric). I ran out and bought an extra 100 feet of hose and an adapter to connect our neighbor's garden hose to ours to run water into our house. This was important because we were already low on flushing water. It seems 3 gallons is not enough to effectively flush a toilet that has not been flushed all day.

We quickly discovered that the neighbor's untreated well water is incredibly rusty! The toilets looked like someone had bled into them, but at least they flushed! Of course the generator broke, which involved a trip to the hardware store and some tinkering.

Tuesday was more water vacuuming. We borrowed a carpet cleaner from a neighbor, which was much more effective than the shop vac, but still it was a losing battle. We lost the carpet. In the evening, the power company came with two trucks and said they were going to fix our power, but they had to turn off the power to do it. They drove off and did so, and the all the neighbors were annoyed. An hour later the neighbors' power came back on, and the trucks never came back.

Another neighbor suggested that maybe we needed to call an electrician. We did, on Wednesday, and found out that unlike what we had been told by the power company on the phone, and by their work crews, the power company does not fix the stuff "on the house" and it needs to be replaced and inspected before they will fix it. Thursday the electrician came and replaced the stuff, and also installed a switch so we could run more stuff off the generator. We had lights and a well pump again!

The basement was still wet, and smelled horrible. Coincidentally, the dehumidifier bucket didn't seem to be filling. More disassembly and tinkering, and it was determined that it could not be fixed. The local home center store was out of them.

Friday the inspector came. The garbage truck came and picked up the neighbor's carpet but not ours. The garbage company told us they don't pick that stuff up and it will cost $80 to have them do it. The neighbor told us they will pick up anything he puts out because he tips them well at Christmas, and sure enough they picked up our carpet when we put it with the his garbage.

We found a Home Depot that had a truckload of dehumidifiers, and even though I don't like to patronize them we had to buy one. Saturday evening the power company shows up with three trucks, and put the wires back up. The power cable now crosses the phone cable (and actually lifts up the phone cable, which makes me worry they will rub together and short something out some day), but we had power (yay). We called Verizon.

Sunday morning Verizon shows up just as we're going to 11 AM mass (where I am lectoring and my son is serving). We went while the rest of family stayed home and went to Sunday evening mass. At last we had cable and internet (yay).

My youngest said "when the tree fell I was in the middle of praying that nothing bad would happen to our family." "Nothing bad did happen," I replied, and I meant it. Despite the annoyances, nobody was hurt, and we actually became closer to each other and our neighbors as a result. I'm not saying I want to go through it again, but in retrospect we got what we needed, even if it wasn't what we wanted.