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.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Do you love your enemies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Prayer of the Archdiocese for the Military Services

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

Prayer of the Archdiocese for the Military Services

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, July 1, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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