Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Souls' Day

God is the God of the living. With confidence, we pray:
For all the dead whom we have loved in life: Raise them up, O Lord.
For all the dead of our parish: Raise them up, O Lord.
For all the dead among those who have harmed us: Raise them up, O Lord.
For all the dead whom no one remembers in prayer: Raise them up, O Lord.

Purgatory strips off from one person what is unbearable and from another the inability to bear certain things, so that in each of them a pure heart is revealed, and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.  - Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Not Just the Paradox of Choice but the Tyranny of Freedom Wrongly Understood

I little while ago I read Barry Schwartz's book "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less".
Schwartz provides a nice summary of his work at one of the TED Conferences which can be watched here.
It is certainly worth your 20 minutes. Schwartz very well may rattle you a bit because he takes some  basic assumptions of our society out for re-examination. In fact, Schwartz doesn't rest at calling them assumptions he calls them dogmas and as he explains, the official dogma of all Western Industrial societies runs like this:
"If we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom. The reason for this is that freedom is both, in and of itself good, valuable, worthwhile, essential to being human AND because if people have freedom than each of us can act on our own to do the things that will maximize our welfare and no one has to decide on our behalf. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. The more choice people have, the more freedom they have; and the more freedom they have, the more welfare they have."
A main theme of Schwartz's work is in making observations that our overwhelming options for choice, (particularly in, but not limited to, the area of consumer goods), are making us less happy not more happy. Schwartz is a psychologist so he looks at this from a psychological point of view and discovers that people's brains just are equipped to deal with all of the options and endless possibilities. In other words, we are finite, and when marketeers offer us what is seemingly infinite or limitless, our brains simply cannot cope. In fact, this constant barrage of choice leads to what is often called analysis paralysis and when we do make choices we end up less satisfied with the choices we have made. A more troubling side effect of all of this choice however is the heightened anxiety that is always buzzing in our heads, internally. In summary, Schwartz prescribes low expectations and reduction, (but not elimination), of options for choice.

But that can't be all there is to it, can it?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I'm not religious...I just love the Lord.

This is a line that I've seen floating around Evangelical circles in some way, shape or form since I was a kid. I think it basically means: "We love Jesus but we acknowledge that sometimes religious people have done things that are an embarrassment to our um...their religion." Anyway, that line has been floating around at least since the 70's but the Emergent Evangelicals are having their own go at is if it's something they just discovered.

I always feel bad for the Emergents, (you know Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and that guy who wrote "Blue Like Jazz").  I mean I get what they're reacting to. Somewhere in the last couple of decades American Evangelicalism seems to have reached it's zenith. Of course, this is debatable but certainly there has been a surge of Evangelical influence in the near recent past and the Emergents were not impressed. Or, if they were impressed, they also experienced a let-down. Some of their criticisms are well placed. It's just that they're wrong about what they propose as far as how to fix things.

Another Emergent, Jim Palmer, prescribes 25 Reasons Why It Is Time For A Religion-Free Bible.
However, I really think Palmer's take really begs a few questions, (which I responded with in red).
1. The Bible is not a religious book.
Question: What sort of book is it then?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Intellectual Hubris

From Purgatorio, Canto 3:

"Insane is he who hopeth that our reason
Can traverse the illimitable way,
Which the one Substance in three Persons follows!
Be ye content oh human race with the queer;
For if ye had been able to see the whole,
No need there were for Mary to give birth;
And ye have seen such sages desiring without fruit,
Whose desire had else been satisfied,
Is given them for eternal grief.
I speak of Aristotle and of Plato,
And many others;"
There's an impulse sometimes try to reason our way into salvation - to find the specific clue to our particular brokenness as it shows up in our time and place and present the key to everyone.
Salvation as a simple syllogism.

There's an arrogant frustration that comes in not being able to peer into the depths of infinity and turn the key, as if mere knowledge can save us.
If we just get our theology right, if we just squint our eyes and strain to see the clues it will all click.
This is probably a flavor of Gnosticism -  a mystical knowledge the originates from within.
Otherwise known as plain old worship of the intellect.

There is comfort in Solomon here:
"Vanity, vanities. All is vanity...
All things are wearisome;
Man is not able to tell it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor is the ear filled with hearing."
Ecclesiastes Chapter 1

Or St. Paul:
"Where there is knowledge, it will pass away.   
For we know in part and we prophesy in part;  but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away."
1 Cor 13: 8

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fun With Statistics

So apparently 21% of Atheists believe in God...
And only 97% of Catholics

Big Data and the Stubborn Human Person

I've really been looking forward to getting to this topic, but it could almost be a book. I don't have time or the skills to do it justice. There is some really curious stuff amuck.
Sorry for the cliche. If you can think of a better image for this post please comment

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Poor Man with Money

"A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money"
- W. C. Fields

Where are we going?
Why are going there? 
How will we get there?
Will we be happy when we’re there?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Defending Bill Maher

I like Mark Shea. He is usually correct. However, he seems to go off half cocked a bit more often these days. My guess is that it comes from being spread pretty thin - he does quite a bit of writing and blogging is probably not priority number one for him. So that is my guess as to why his posts tend towards the Twitter/FB side of things and less towards the blog and contemplate side of things these days.

Today he throws out a silly chart on the assumed before and verified after of life with vaccinations.
Not his best work...Lazy thinking and sloppy connection to Maher to rile up the tribe.

I posted a response but it seems to have been deleted, (Patheos seems to do that often so I'm sure it was by accident as I don't think I said anything rude). 

Anyway, here are my thoughts...
Certainly, vaccinations have had a positive impact. I’m not contesting that, (and neither does Maher btw). However, I think it is fair to scrutinize any over application or mis-application. It’s like anything else, from antibiotics to alcohol. Everything in its right place.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t line up with Maher, point for point but I agree with him here in any his opening take: “Vaccination is a nuanced subject, and I’ve never said all vaccines in all situations are bad. The point I am representing is: Is getting frequent vaccinations for any and all viruses consequence-free?” 
"Blather, blather, blather. Blah, Blah...Actually I'm making sense if you can get over my rudeness."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Press on

A few years ago, I reconnected with an old friend who had hit on some hard times. 
Actually, this guy is one of those people who seem to have been born in bad times and has pretty much resided there his whole life. I lived with him and his wife when they split up, (for the first time). I was engaged myself while this was going on. His wife got pregnant with some other guy's baby. I went on to marry the woman of my dreams. They got back together to give it another shot for another few years but they were just both too messed up. But I owe this dude and his now, ex-wife a ton. Even while their souls were pretty much bleeding out all over the place they were extremely open and generous with me. I learned a lot about what to do...and what not to do in life from them both.

My wife and I were talking over breakfast one morning about which people we knew that could serve as a good inspiration if either one of us ever gets to write the next "great American novel." Two people came to mind. This guy and and an old boss, (a wannabe thug from Southie Boston area with a big heart, foul mouth and phoney, or not so phoney, IRA connections, who can't say "no" to anyone or anything and subscribes to Military Times AND Mother Jones). Either of them could likely inspire a great story that would be sure to cover all the big things of life. Robert Duval covered some of the ground for this guy's life in his movie, The Apostle. Maybe Johnny Cash did too. Probably the Hold Steady too. OK, so maybe his story is pretty well played out in American rock-n-roll. Anyway, this dude is hilarious and has a perpetually youthful optimism when he's living clean. When he's not, well... the guy is an inexorable narcissist. I don't know anyone that has "hit bottom" more times than this guy. He's only a cliche when he's down. Every time he gets back up he is an original. It's heroic. Every damn time.
"Lord, have mercy on me a poor sinner."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You understand...I am unable to despair of humanity

"My dear friend, I am starting from a different point of view. I am persuaded that evil and suffering will never completely desert our poor earth, but I am also convinced that it is everyone's task to work to reduce evil and suffering as much as possible, in our own sphere, humbly, simply, without concern for our precious personality, through dedication, love, the gift of ourselves to that which is our duty. I believe that to accomplish this mission, the first thing to do is to try to become our best selves, even perhaps without knowing it. And God will do the rest. Our effort, our sacrifices, our actions, even the most hidden, will not be lost. This is my absolute conviction; everything has a long-lasting and profound repercussion. This thought leaves little room for discouragement, but it does not permit laziness. We are poor day-laborers of life; we sow and God gives the harvest. You understand...I am unable to despair of humanity." - Elisabeth Leseur

We cannot despair of humanity because God does not despair of humanity.

I've been making my way through Vannevar Bush's memoir's. Bush's chief accomplishments include:
  • Functioning as the primary point man and orchestrator of the Manhattan Project
  • Founder of Raytheon
  • Established government dollars as the become the primary source for funding university research
  • Championed Memex, which went on to become what we now know as the world wide web 
"No, I invented the internet!!!"

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pappy's Big Adventure

I've made a few mentions of my affinity for Pappy VanWinkle Bourbon's before...uh, actually there's a quite a lot of Pappy on this blog. Anyway, it can be difficult to get this stuff. How difficult? Well, this year I noticed that the UK retailers seemed to have plenty, (in contrast to US retailers it seemed), so I ordered a few bottles and had them shipped to a colleague who lives there. Then, my US based boss kindly offered to bring my shipment back from his next European trip for me. This turned into a bit of a "Flat Stanley" of  Pappy travels...

First pick up at the hotel. Uh...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Sane Economy

I've been looking forward to delving into this subject because it's a favorite of mine.
I did touch on it a little bit in the  "Civilization Death Spiral, AAAAAAAACK!!!" post but that was mostly a focus on the insanity of our economy and the language the Druids of Econ use to cloak that insanity. I closed that post out with a proposal that people like Dave Ramsey are on to something with his emphasis on actual home ownership and debt free living. I also think he doesn't go deep enough and that he has some errors in his general faith in the "market" but he at least provides a really good start for millions of Americans who are living on the edge. Debt is slavery.

However, I've realized I'm not going to be able to knock this one out in one post or even a few posts so I'm just going to make some bullet points as mental markers that I'm working to develop. Here goes...

What is a sane economy?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lance + Oprah

I’m a cyclist, (or in less self-important terms, I ride a bicycle pretty regularly).
I race a few times a year and do ok for my age group. All in all, I'm pretty much sufficiently average when it comes to competition, relatively speaking.
But it's just fun to pedal.
Dirt or road, there is simply nothing like going fast on a bike.

I got into cycling because mountain bikes are cool. Then I started getting more miles in on the road to train for long mountain bike events. Then I noticed that the Spring Classic races, (particularly the ones in Belgium and France), are just spectacular. 
Gent Wevelgem
Tour of Flanders
Paris Roubaix
Yeah, this guy was a doper too, but still, it's Paris Roubaix, "Hell of the North"!
From there I started paying closer attention to the personalities and particulars of the highest competitive levels of the sport. This was mostly post Lance though so I never really was much into Armstrong. So the personal Lance let down for me was pretty minimal. In fact, I was pretty happy for the poop to hit the fan. The idea of Lance always seemed like a big sales gimmick to me, (having the benefit of mostly hindsight). Nike, Livestrong, Oakley. etc. If you paid attention to cycling you pretty much assumed that everyone doped. Personally, my take was that the big sponsored teams doped a little less and with more discretion and restraint. So yeah, I thought Lance probably had doped but just not to the full scale, systematic way in which it turned out that he did.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Efficiency - The First and Last Remaining American Virtue

My brother is a small independent farmer. He feels the pressure of agri-business harping about the pressing need for carte-blanche acceptance of GMOs all day long. He says it works like this: If a scientist writes about ethics he is bio-ethicist. If anyone else writes about science he is just an idiot.

In the days of 21st Century high insanity we have real debates on whether or not "scientists" can claim human parts, (and parts from other living things) as their own intellectual property.  Scientists quibble and claim that they only want to patent the extraction method, ("you see Your Honor, I used a knife while my competitor must use a saw, which allowed me to extract the brain first, which makes it mine. Finders keepers you know.") Yet, they haven't invented or created anything to patent. They only want a legal exclusive on profiting from these particularly parts of living organisms. The extraction argument is a mere technical point on which they hope to win. The body parts from other people and other organisms are what they must use to secure profits. Is this good?

The new druids of Europe, (they call themselves bio-ethicists and award themselves certificates as experts of medicine AND morality), do much hand-wringing that backwards Luddites are doing irreparable damage to this odd and mysterious force they call "progress." Progress is quite fragile apparently, almost a vapor of a deity. Easily scared off and quick to sucomb to the titan "Stagnation."

The ACLU will argue that you cannot patent a gene. 

Greenpeace, gets downright pro-life on us.

Igor and other agents of progress argue that they are only working to advance science for the good of mankind, and therefore must be allowed to objectify...mankind.

Human embryos are a viable commodity for these people.
It is a pressing matter that the law be interpreted such that any restrictions be removed on the trend of taking credit for naturally occurring living beings. Science is entitled to extract any living thing as patentable, harvestable and profitable.

The question of whether or not this is "good" will not stand up to the question of legal precedent and the urgent need for perpetually sunny quarterly earnings forecasts.
Profit and legalism are the only things that can be measured for efficiency.
Goodness is to messy.
"I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses.
And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure"-  Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Harvard 1978