Thursday, December 8, 2016

Complicated Dreams

Today I watched this video, where, in the words of the media Rick Santorum told a DREAMer "Get out of my country, and blame your parents."

Of course, if you actually listen to Santorum's words, that's not exactly what he said (but of course that doesn't matter to the media). His response was more nuanced than that, but before he had time to explain more he was cut off. I would like to have heard his whole response, as this is not a situation that can be handled by a sound bite.

I feel sorry for Rick Santorum, because he actually tries to have conversations where he dialogues with detractors and honestly tries not to impose one "side" of the issue. This was one of the reasons why I thought he would have made a good president. Sadly, the media, and the nation at large, seem to have little patience for this, but wants to pigeon hole public figures into some simple good/bad position they can tweet. The result of this are candidates like President Obama and president elect Trump.

DREAMer refers to a certain demographic of illegal aliens - those who were taken to the US as children and have grown up or are growing up in this country. They represent an interesting moral problem, which has reared its head throughout history, without satisfactory solutions.

As children, the DREAMers themselves are not responsible for committing any crime. Yet their presence here is illegal. They make the case that this is "their country" because they have known no other, and because they are members of American society. On the other hand, it doesn't change the fact that as illegals they have not been contributing income taxes, jury duties, military service, voting, etc.

So do we enforce the law as written, and deport them, or do we ignore the law and show clemency. Either decision creates a situation of injustice, because of the injustice originally committed upon them. Let's look at some similar moral issues and how they have been resolved.

When slavery was ended there was discussion about whether the ex-slaves should be sent back to Africa. In a sense, this would rectify the situation of them having been forcibly removed from their native lands in Africa. Yet, by the time of the Civil War most of those enslaved had been born on and grown up on American soil. Many had bloodlines, intermingled with that of white Americans, and for most there was no record of where they should go back to anyway. It not only was an unworkable solution, it would create a further injustice on a people so badly used.

We have the reverse situation today, where some people think that whites in America should pay reparation to the blacks because of the injustice of slavery. But again, nobody alive today is responsible for those acts, so extracting payments would be a further injustice.

Consider the case of Israel. The Palestinians point out that their land was taken from them after World War II and given to Jews unjustly. But the Palestinians of today are not the ones who had their land taken, and it would be impossible to determine who should get what land. Conversely, the citizens of Israel are not the ones who did the taking, and also wold have nowhere to go should their land now be seized. Israelis point out that they have contributed to their country and made it the only free state in the area. Once again, evicting the Israelis would not solve the original problem.

Or consider the case of the "snowflake babies" - embryos created via IVF and frozen. They are now not wanted, or in some cases have nowhere to justly go to be born. If they are thawed most of them will die, and if they remain frozen the situation is simply deferred. And if they are thawed and implanted, that creates additional injustices, such as the violation of a couple's marriage vows, and the denial of the right of these children to their parents. Pope John Paul II remarked "there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of "frozen" embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons."

I can think of dozens more situations that fit this same pattern. An injustice has been done, and there is no way to "undo" it without further injustice. So what do we do with DREAMers? I think it's important that we recognize that they are, in fact, law breakers, but also realize that they are not responsible for their current situation. I think it's good that they are speaking up, and putting their position in the lime light. The problem indeed has no "perfect" solution, but like every such issue we must find some measure of justice tempered with mercy.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Is Trump Your President?

Of course he is. He won the election to be president of your country, an election in which you voted. You don't like the current president? Welcome to the club. I did not like Obama, either Bush, Clinton, and a few others. I don't like Trump either. The media is stunned at how Trump could have been elected. The left says it's because most Americans are racist, misogynistic deplorables. The right says it's because Trump listens to the voice of the people.

Both are deluded by their own propaganda. This is anecdotal, but most of the people I know who voted for Trump didn't like him, and still don't. They merely found Clinton's criminal activity and her complete arrogance and disdain for the American people to be so distasteful they voted to stop her. The real winner of the election is "not Hillary." But Mike, you say, didn't Trump win the primary? Doesn't that mean that Republicans wanted Trump? In my opinion, Republicans voted for Trump for one of two reasons. 1) He was rude or 2) The media published stories about him daily. Let me explain.

1) The other candidates tried to play nice. Trump was the bully in the room. A lot of people I know thought a bully was the only way to push back at the bullying of conservatives that had been going on for the past 8+ years.

2) They say the only press is to be ignored. Trump was in the news day after day. Some say that Hillary coordinated some of that because she thought she could beat him the easiest. Maybe so, maybe not. But seeing his name in the news every day sure helped to make the public aware of him.

So, what can we expect from Trump as president? I know what he's promised to do, and what the right says he will do, and what the left says he will do. The truth is... not much. Here's why.

Although the Republicans have majorities in both the house and senate, they have a slim majority (54% in the house, 51% in the senate). It takes more than that to get things done (by design). For instance, Trump will nominate constitutional-minded Justices to the Supreme Court. It only takes 41 senators to block that. If past performance is any indicator, not more than maybe one or two democrats will ever break from what their party tells them to do. Republicans, on the other hand, will easily jump the fence. We've seen this on every major vote in the past 8 years. With Trump in the white house you can bet the Democrats will dig in their heels even more.

So, no SCOTUS justices - we'll live with a reduced court. Same with the budget. It takes more than a simple majority to do almost anything, and that's not going to work. The only way congress will get bills passed is to compromise with the Democrats, and as I've said, the Democrats are not a compromising bunch at the best of times.

So we're going to see two years of not getting things done, followed by the senate, and maybe the house, going to the Democrats because the idiots who voted for Trump don't understand how government works. Then 2 years of Trump vetoing every bill and then a Democratic party sweep in 2020.

That's how I see it at this time. I pray that I am wrong, because I'd like to see this nation heal after the divisiveness of the past eight years, but I think the haters are gonna continue to hate.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

But are they innocent?

Source: New Brunswick Patch
No charges will be filed in the Oct. 29 punching attack of Emily Rand. Rand, a 19-year-old, was punched by a man at a party at Rutgers. She sustained brain bleeding, a skull fracture and a concussion. As of Wednesday night, Rand's breathing tube has been removed, but she remains on an oxygen drip and a feeding tube. Rand is still having trouble speaking but will begin therapy on Thursday.

No charges will be filed in the Hillary Clinton email scandal.  The investigation looked into whether Clinton violated the Espionage Act of 1913 by allowing national defense information to be “lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed” through “gross negligence.” Clinton team emails have now ended up in the hands of Julian Assange — a man who lives sequestered in an Ecuadorian embassy — and in the hands of detectives in the Anthony Weiner sexting case.

Dear Rioters

So I'm reading all sorts of stories about people rioting. Even in my son's high school there are people who were so devastated they had to stay home, or were crying, or cursing at people. This is an election, people. I don't like the outcome either, but the proper way to deal with it is to work with people, not hate them.

Remember the election of 2008? Democrats controlled all three branches of government. Remember all the vandalism, massive protests, people leaving the country, setting fire to things in the streets after president Obama won? No? That's because it didn't happen. Our nation was not the mess it is now. But president Obama wasn't horrible, like Trump, and so why should there have been riots? Let's take a look.

You're rioting why? Because Trump is a misogynist? If it is true, what difference, at this point, does it make (to coin a phrase). Do you honestly think the president has the power to force women into slavery? No. The worst that this means is that he is an embarrassment to the office. And we've had misogynistic presidents before (think bill Clinton). I don't recall riots when Clinton was elected.

Are you rioting because Trump is anti-LGBTQ? Look again. If it is true, what difference, at this point, does it make? We have three branches of government, and the president is only one. And we've had anti-LGBTQ presidents in the past (think Barack Obama in 2008). I don't recall riots when president Obama was elected.

Are you rioting because Trump is racist? Didn't we just get through eight years of a racist, divisive presidency, and weren't you voting for a woman who talked about those needy Latinos, and those blacks who will never succeed, who are "super predators"?

Are you rioting because Trump is anti-Obamacare? It's one single bill out of literally tens of thousands. Wake up and realize that this is a democratic republic and most of your fellow voters are against it too. As an experiment it has been found wanting. Like all government programs written by corporations it funnels money effectively from the taxpayers to those corporations. But what if Obamacare went away today?  Yes, some people would lose coverage, but others would get coverage who don't have it now. Of the people Obamacare promised to save, millions are still uninsured. We can do better, and at a lower cost than $8,000/head. Instead of rioting, why don't you think about solutions? Before Obamacare we had the highest level of health care in the world. And I don't recall you rioting about it.

Are you rioting because Trump wants to enforce immigration laws? I don't recall you rioting when those immigration laws were being enforced by any other president (think Reagan). And if you don't like the immigration laws, you are free to lobby or vote to have them changed. Unless you are in the country illegally, this does not affect you. And if you are, again, realize that you are breaking the law NOW - you just haven't been caught and convicted. That's like rioting because you were speeding and a cop says he wants to enforce the speed limit.

As I see it, you are rioting because you didn't get what you wanted. You have not had any rights taken away. On the other hand, had Clinton, not Trump, won, you could not have said the same. Clinton vowed to force taxpayers to fund unlimited abortion (including partial birth abortion) in violation of their religion, the consciences, and the first amendment. She vowed to remove second amendment protections. Her vice presidential pick wants to change senate rules so that checks and balances would be removed to give Clinton the power to overhauls the supreme court by a single vote. Clinton and Kaine both told Christians their religion had to change, and Kaine went so far as saying Catholics would be banned form the US if they didn't change their beliefs. Note that these are not positions conservatives fear she might have had, these are articulated points of her campaign.

That loss of basic human rights and freedoms would have been something to riot about. And yet, had Clinton won, I don't think there would have been rioting, because the people who would lose those rights would fight for them in congress and in the courts. Of course, we'll never know, so what difference, at this point, does it make?

We won't even get into the massive corruption, fraud, and crime that Clinton is involved in. As I have said, I don't second guess investigators, prosecutors and grand juries, because they have access to evidence and we don't. But in this case, the evidence is all public, and has not been denied or debunked. In fact, the emails are digitally signed and are authentic.

And yes, you can Snopes a lot of these stories and be told they are wrong, but go back and listen to the words in context, look at the original emails - they are not wrong - they fit a pattern of contempt for , well, just about everyoe. Stop relying only on sources that believe what you believe and start looking at primary sources.

The fact is, this country has existed for 240 years, through all different kinds of presidents. It has checks and balances, and the voice of the people. One man does not (and should not) have the power to destroy it. As I see it, history has a way of correcting things, and if the pendulum is swinging one way it's because it was pushed too far the other way.

So calm down, and make peace with your neighbor. Instead of cursing your representatives, sit down and dialogue with them. Let's make American great again (sincerely spoken).

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

State of the Kingdom

On this election day I thought I'd look not at the state of the nation, but on the state of the kingdom, aka the Catholic Church. With Pope Francis appointing some "left leaning" cardinals, a lot of people are worried about the shepherds and the flock. So I decided to look into the matter.

Frankly folks, the Catholic Church is in bad shape.

I've been doing research into the policies and history of the leadership (aka bishops). By my reckoning less than ten percent of its them (more like eight percent, but I'm rounding) are actually faithfully standing by Jesus Christ. The vast majority profess to be Catholic, but under duress they bow to the laws of the state over following Jesus Christ. Another ten percent of bishops openly deny the faith and are more concerned about public opinion and their own popularity than God's law. In fact, the Pope himself is in this category!

And worst of all, another roughly eight percent of bishops have completely betrayed the faith, openly speaking out against Christ in exchange for government money. Yep, it's the end of the church. With things like this going on, I'm not sure I can even remain Catholic.

Oh wait, I got my dates a little mixed up. Those figures are from 33 AD. Jesus I trust in you.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Red Fish, Blue Fish

This is a wake up call to those voters holding their noses and voting for either Clinton or Trump to "block" the other candidate. No, I'm not going to call you names. I'm not even going to think you're a bad person - even if you're going to vote for Clinton. Everyone is entitled to vote their conscience.

But this is my blog, and I am entitled to a political rant every now and then, and today is "now." I'd like to talk to you about how to get out of the mess that we are in now, where we feel we have to "hold our noses" just to vote.

I'll start things off with a quote:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
-- Elmer T. Peterson
Peterson was thinking merely in economic terms, but let's think about it in terms of the republic our founding fathers founded.

We have an embarrassing wealth of candidates to vote for who promise to uphold the values we cherish - life, liberty, property. There are (at least, and in no particular order):
Feel free to comment with others if you have a favorite I missed.

Any one of those candidates would be a better choice, in terms of our nation's values, than either Clinton or Trump. But we will not vote for them. Some will not vote because none of these candidates is "proven" in terms of holding a high office in the federal government. Others will find problems with some minor aspect of their platform - economics, or foreign policy. Still others will not vote for them because they don't know enough about them - that's your fault, by the way - the information is out there - if you wait for the main stream media to feed you data you are a pawn.

But many will not vote for them because they "can't win." Think about that...

If you won't vote for the candidate you feel is best, how can you expect to ever get that candidate in office?

We have kicked the ball so far down the road that our "hope" is to elect a single leader who will appoint unelected officials who will then fix the laws made by the people we voted for. Think about that. This is the real fruit of our iniquity, of years of voting for prosperity instead of freedom, of compromise with evil instead of opposition. It's been said, and rightly so, that abortion exists in this country with the approval of Christians. Think about it - if all of the 260 million Americans who say they are Christian voted only for pro-life candidates we would not have one Planned Parenthood in the nation.

But instead we say "well, he kills babies, but look at what he'll do for the economy!" or "he's pro-life but what if he gets us into another Gulf war?" Certain things should be non-negotiable, but we are willing to negotiate if it means higher prices at the pump or maybe the chance to live another 10 years.

This is why we will soon have a dictator. Maybe not Clinton or Trump, but soon. I don't know if it'll be a Red dictator or a Blue dictator, but a dictator he or she will be. Let's hope we get Cincinatus instead of Hitler. I'm not optimistic.

What Would Hillary Do?

Source: Wikipedia
In his interview on EWTN last night Donald Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for her high-level staff members who mocked Catholics and evangelical Christians. “She should apologize. I think she has to do more than apologize. You know, that’s her thinking. That’s her staff.”

Around the Catholic interwebs there are various reactions, with a fair amount of people saying that Trump is lying about the emails or about Clinton's opinion of Catholics and evangelicals. Trump is not "lying" about the emails. You can claim WikiLeaks is lying about them, but I don't see Podesta or the others implicated coming up with evidence to the contrary, and they would be the ones to do so.

As for Clinton's opinion being different from those of her staff, what do you think would happen to a staff member who said disparaging things about blacks, or gays? Yes, it's speculative, but I bet they'd be fired on the spot and Clinton would be quick to distance herself from their position. In this case, her silence (and the lame defense by Tim Kaine) indicate that she doe not disapprove of their remarks.

And perhaps Podesta is right, in an ironic fashion, when he says Catholics "throw around 'Thomistic' thought and subsidiarity' and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they're talking about" - Clinton's views are the antithesis of subsidiarity (emphasis mine):
1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.
But Clinton and her staff can show open disdain for Catholics and evangelicals (and "needy Latinos") with impunity, because she knows they will vote for her no matter what she says about them, no matter what crimes they think she has committed, no matter what abominations she supports, as long as she promises to "help the poor."

As I've said before, there is no grace in forcing other people to do "good works" (assuming you consider the kind of works Clinton would force people to do as "good"). Or, in the words of Penn Jillette:
"Helping poor and suffering people yourself is compassion.  Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness."
Trump famously said "I could shoot somebody and still not lose voters" - and maybe that would be true hypothetically, but it's pretty much literally true that Clinton can kill and not lose voters (think Benghazi and abortion, to name just two instances where her hands are bloodied with the deaths of others).

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Cross in the Old Testament

If you ask someone where to find the Crucifixion mentioned in the Old testament, they'll probably go to Zechariah 12:10:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born.
or maybe Psalm  22, which Jesus quotes from the cross, where it says:
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
or maybe Isaiah 53. But what about the cross itself? The cross has been the symbol of Christians for about as long as there have been Christians. Tertullian, in the second century, wrote "We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross" - and the practice goes back to long before that.

Which got me wondering - is the sign of the cross in the Old Testament too? If so, it would be a cool foreshadowing of Jesus' Crucifixion - almost as if God knew what was going to happen and gave out hints...

In Genesis, God puts a sign on Cain to mark him as His own, to protect him from being killed.
And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
The Bible does not mention what that mark was, but it is speculated it might be the same mark that God puts on His people in Revelation and in Ezekiel. The word used for "mark," in the Old Testament is "Tav", the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the letter corresponding to the Greek letter Tau "T" or Roman letter Tee "T". Tav in Hebrew today looks like this:
but of course alphabets evolve over time. At the time, a "Tav" would have looked like "X" or

Interesting, isn't it? Then we have, not a cross shape, but Abraham's son Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice up Mount Moriah, which just happens to be the same location where Jesus would carry the wood of the cross for His sacrifice.

In Exodus, we have the instruction to smear the blood of the lamb on both the wooden upright door posts and the wooden cross beam, or lintel - another cross reference (pun intended).

Later on in Exodus, Moses has to hold up his hands for Israel to defeat Amelek (who represents sin and death). We're not told exactly how he held his hands, but Aaron and Hur stand on either side of him to help him hold them up. This suggests his posture was one of hands held up to either side, like Jesus on the cross.

In Leviticus, we have the offering of First Fruits, which comes right after Passover, and includes the wave sheaf offering:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, When you come into the land which I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the Lord. And the cereal offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, to be offered by fire to the Lord, a pleasing odor; and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
This is an offering of a lamb, but also of bread and wine, and the sheaf of wheat is to be "waved." From other texts, it seems that this wave was up and down and side to side, so... you guessed it, the sign of the cross!

I'm sure there are other instances that I'm not aware of, but I thought it was pretty amazing to see the hints of the New Testament hidden in the Old Testament.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Abbott and Constello meet Bishop Barron

A friend pointed me to Bishop Robert Barron's "Word of Fire" podcast entitled "Why Young People are Leaving the Church." I enjoy listening to Bishop Barron. He is an extremely intelligent man, who is well educated and a great speaker. However, I think he encounters a more erudite group of lapsed Catholics than I do.

In his podcast he says that one of the reasons people give for leaving the church is that science had proved God doesn't exist. He says that when he asks them for an example, they have none to give. That may be true for him, but when I ask the same questions I get answers. Wrong answers, but answers.

Here are some ways people have claimed to me that science has disproved the existence of God.

1) Evolution is true. Most people today, thanks to popular science explanations, have no idea that there is a difference between evolution (the notion that species change over time) and Darwinism (the unprovable claim that the reason behind the change is "random"). This is coupled with the false notion that belief in God depends on the Bible being interpreted as literalistically as possible, so that if there is evidence of the Earth being more than 5,000 years old, God's existence has been "proven." That has never been the position of the Catholic church.

Evidence does point to the Earth being several billion years old, and species changing over time. However, the mechanism for evolution is unknown, and even if it were known, science cannot address the question of "intent" as that is not a scientific question. Darwin's claim was that there was no intent behind the rules and mechanisms governing evolution (in other words, everything is "random"). That is not a claim science can prove or disprove by any means at its disposal.

However, even if Darwinism were true, it would not prove that God does not exist. It would merely mean that the mechanism for evolution was not being actively directed by God. And even if the only possible reading of the Bible were literalistic, an old Earth would not prove that God didn't exist, but merely that the Bible was wrong. Which brings me to point 2.

2) The Bible is wrong. Genesis is the book most often pointed too, but there are other books that have historical or scientific inaccuracies, either real or apparent. I find it ironic that the same people who argue that archaeology disproves the Bible because "X" does not fit current archaeological theories ignore the hundreds of times archaeology winds up confirming a Biblical account.

But even if we take these archaeological discrepancies as gospel (pun intended) the Catholic church doesn't claim that the Bible a science text or a history book. it is a book about the relationship between God and man. Everything else is merely an affirmation that it is not a mere myth, but describes events that actually happened. And even if the Bible were false, it says nothing about whether God exists. There are plenty of people who believe in God but not the Bible. Which brings me to point 3.

3) There are other religions, that make different claims. This is true, but it says nothing about whether the Catholic church's claims are true, or whether God exists. There was a time when light was "proven" to be a wave, and by some big names and very careful experiments. Other, equally careful experiments, by equally big names "proved" light was a particle. Nobody made the claim that because different people claimed different things about light that therefore light did not exist. The existence of light was taken as a given, and it was understood that any discrepancy between experiments meant one or both theories of light were false. Today we have a dualistic theory of light, which may still be wrong, but that doesn't shake our belief in light itself.

Likewise, if different religions make different claims about God it could be that one or both of them are wrong, or that God fulfills even seemingly contradictory claims (as was the case with light).

4) The church is full of sinners. This is also true, but says nothing about whether it's claims are true or whether you should belong to it, or whether God exists. The Catholic church has never claimed that all of its members are sinless (not even the Pope is sinless). In fact, the reason for being in the church and for having a relationship with God is, in part, forgiveness of sins. Would you really want to join a church where you were the only sinner? That would be incredibly awkward. Or, as the old joke goes:
Man: "The reason I don't go to church is that it's full of hypocrites!"
Priest: "Don't let that keep you away, we have room for one more."
The church is full of sinners, as Alcoholics Anonymous is full of alcoholics. But that's not a reason to not join AA, and it's not a reason to not join the church.

But ultimately I think that all these things are an excuse for the real reason most people leave the church, and the reason why none of these reasonable arguments convince them. Sin. If they put in the effort to follow the arguments and research the question, they would have to address the problem of sin in their lives. It is way easier to remain in ignorance and enjoy the way they live now.

It reminds me of an old Abbott and Costello routine about paying the rent. If you can stick with your mathematical ignorance and pay $28 in rent, why would you spend time learning how you were wrong about math just so next time you would have to pay $91?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Count Down

I am blessed with three healthy children, but one of them was (incorrectly) diagnosed with down syndrome. We declined to abort him (of course) and are so glad he is part of our life. In our case it was both a blood test and an ultrasound that "confirmed" the blood test. We did not go for the more accurate (and more expensive, and invasive, and dangerous to the baby) amniocentesis test, mostly because we would not have changed our decision to keep our baby no matter what the results were. And while I have your attention, please check out Reese's Rainbow.

Today I was reading this article that mentioned that 92% of all babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. I know, it's horrible, but I want to talk about something a bit different.

I wondered how many mothers went through all the extra tests, and the accompanying cost and pain and worry and stress of not knowing, and how many said "blood and ultrasound are good enough" and aborted right then. Which got me thinking about false positives.

It's hard to find numbers on false positives (unless maybe you have access to medical documents I don't have). But I did find this article in the Seattle Times which talks about how much more accurate the more extensive, late trimester tests are as compared to the standard first trimester tests (like we had).
cfDNA, tests have a detection rate of 99 percent for Down syndrome, with a false-positive rate of as low as 0.1 percent...That compares with a detection rate of about 79 percent through standard first-trimester screening, and a false-positive rate of 5.4 percent, the study found.
According to the CDC, one in 700 babies is born with Down Syndrome. Taking into account that 92% are aborted that means the rate of Down Syndrome is about 12/700 or 1.7%. That means if you are pregnant and the test comes back positive for Down Syndrome, the chance of the baby actually having Down Syndrome is 20%.**

Here's the math. There are 2 cases where the test will result in a positive:

1. The baby has DS (1.7%) and the test detected it (79%) = 1.7 x 79% = 1.35%

2. The baby does not have DS (98.7%) and the test had a false positive (5.4%) = 5.31%

So a positive will occur 1.35 + 5.31 = 6.66% of the time (I know, right?) but the baby will only actually have DS 1.35% of the time. 1.35 / 6.66 = 20% That means 80% of the time the baby is perfectly healthy and it's the test that's wrong.

This is reassuring if you are a mathematician, but if you are an expectant mother... I wonder how many mothers are frightened or bullied into aborting their "normal" children because of these tests? I would hope that every doctor would counsel a mother to wait for further testing, and even then help her to accept that all babies are imperfect and hers is just as worthy of love as any other baby, regardless of her baby's health or abilities. Sadly, I doubt many doctors do. Ours did not.

But let's say a mother rides out the fear and has the cfDNA test done. Things must be pretty definite then, right? Let's make sure:

1. The baby has DS (1.7%) and the test detects it (99%) = 1.7 x 99% = 1.68%

2. The baby does not have DS (98.7%) and the test has a false positive (0.1%) = 98.7 x 0.1% = 0.1%

A positive will occur 1.69% but the baby will have DS 1.68% of the time. The chance of the baby actually having DS is 99%. Pretty accurate.

Prenatal testing is one of those morally questionable technologies. On the one hand, it's good to allow parents to be prepared for health issues they may have to deal with down the line, and in some cases prenatal testing detects problems which can be treated. However, it tempts parents to treat the problem by eliminating the child rather than the disease.

[** Note to mathematicians out there. I realize that if you take into account the false positives then that 12/700 number is more like 2.4/700, which also affects the final probability, etc. Since I don't have any information on how many mothers abort after the first test and how many have a more accurate test down before aborting, I stuck with the most conservative numbers I could.]

Friday, September 30, 2016

Resurrection in the Old Testament

Jesus (and St. Paul) both speak of the Jews' belief in the Resurrection of the body, but when was that revealed to the Jews? I read an article which claimed that the Resurrection was a relatively "new" concept at the time of Jesus, probably "stolen" from the Babylonians during the captivity. Does the Bible have any references to resurrection from before the captivity?

I though I'd take a look at the Old Testament. Armed with nothing but a search engine and a love of Scripture I found the following:

Of course the most obvious example in 2 Maccabees 7 [emphasis mine]:

The Martyrdom of Seven Brothers

It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”
The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and caldrons be heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying,  “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song which bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’”
After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?”  He replied in the language of his fathers, and said to them, “No.” Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done.  And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”
After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.
When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. And when he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!
Next they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him. But he looked at the king, and said, “Because you have authority among men, mortal though you are, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken our people.  Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants!”
After him they brought forward the sixth. And when he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself in vain. For we are suffering these things on our own account, because of our sins against our own God. Therefore astounding things have happened.  But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!”
The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”
More on the Moses reference highlighted above as we go backwards in time.

There's the story of Elijah, who was assumed bodily into heaven (2 Kings 2:11-12), but that doesn't quite count as a resurrection. There is also the story of Elisha's bones bringing a man back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21) but although the man is raised from the dead it is an "exceptional" case, not indicative that all will be resurrected. But several of the prophets speak of the resurrection.

Daniel 12:2
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
and Daniel 12:13
But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.”
Isaiah 26:19 announces of the resurrection of the Jews:
Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
    O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
    and the earth will give birth to those long dead.
Hosea 6:1-2 speaks of resurrection as well.
Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
    he has struck down, and he will bind us up. 
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
The Psalms deal with at least implied resurrection, such as Psalm 16:9-10:
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also dwells secure. 
For thou dost not give me up to Sheol,
    or let thy godly one see the Pit.
That's a little obscure to me, as it's not clear if it means David (the author) will not die, or will die but be resurrected. However, St. Peter (to whom Jesus explained all of Scripture) clearly saw it as referring to the Resurrection and says so at Pentecost in Acts 2:25-32:
For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
    nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
So I have to agree on that one.  This one is much clearer - in 1 Samuel 2:6 Hannah prays:
The Lord kills and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
Job clearly believes that at least he can be resurrected:
O that you would hide me in Sheol,
    that you would conceal me until your wrath is past,
    that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! 
If mortals die, will they live again?
    All the days of my service I would wait
    until my release should come.
Then there is Jonah. Yes, good old Jonah. I remember that story from my childhood, but as far as I knew, and as all the kids' stories (like VeggieTales) Jonah just spent 3 days living in the belly of the whale. Sure, when Jesus says (Matthew 16:1-4)
And the Pharisees and Sad′ducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them,  “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
He was referring to His death and Resurrection, but Jonah was just a symbol of that, right? I mean three days in the tomb was like Jonah spending three days in the belly of the whale? Well kids, the actual story is darker. Jonah was dead, and was resurrected. (Jonah 1:17-2:9):
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and thou didst hear my voice.
For thou didst cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood was round about me;
all thy waves and thy billows
    passed over me. 
Then I said, ‘I am cast out
    from thy presence;
how shall I again look
    upon thy holy temple?’ 
The waters closed in over me,
    the deep was round about me;
weeds were wrapped about my head 
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me for ever;
yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit,
    O Lord my God. 
When my soul fainted within me,
    I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to thee,
    into thy holy temple. 
Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their true loyalty. 
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to thee;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
The Maccabees passage at the beginning references Moses. The reference is to Deuteronomy 32:36, which says:
Indeed the Lord will vindicate his people,
    have compassion on his servants,

when he sees that their power is gone,
    neither bond nor free remaining.
Not a very obvious reference to resurrection, but it gets better. If we continue another few verses we see that God is referring to resurrection (Deuteronomy 32:39):
See now that I, even I, am he;
    there is no god besides me.
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and no one can deliver from my hand.
And finally, there is Abraham, all the way back in Genesis 22:9-10:
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
"But Mike," you say, "that doesn't say anything about resurrection." I know, but remember Abraham had been promised descendants through Isaac explicitly. So if Isaac is to die, the only way he could expect God to fulfill God's covenant would be through the resurrection of Isaac. It may not seem obvious to you, but it was to the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:17-19):
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
When I started this  post I really only knew about two references to resurrection in the Old Testament. It took me quite a while, but I was surprised (and pleased) to find as many as I did (eleven). Do you ever wonder about things in the Bible? It may be time to dust off the old search engine and go digging.

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.]