Sunday, February 28, 2010

Curling

People seem almost shocked at the amount of attention which has been heaped upon curling at the 2010 Winter Olympics from Vancouver. But why should they?

It's a great sport. It's challenging, but not so much that it's too difficult to play. The game is fairly easy to understand (who really understands stunts and pulling guards?). It has a great blend of the individual and the team: everyone throws two rocks, while the others do their best to help insure that each shot works out well for the squad. It has strategy which does not depend on at least potentially hurting people. But the best thing about it by far is the simple sportsmanship of the game.

No trash talking.

No 'not in our house' arrogant garbage. Curlers welcome everyone to the game, and congratulate good shots by the other team without hesitation. During the game.

No whining about the officials. Curlers essentially police themselves.

It's a great game because it is a true sport. We should not be shocked at the interest it generates.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Cost of Entertainment

Yesterday, in an event still under investigation, a trainer was killed in an incident at a Sea World amusement park. There is reason to think that an orca, a killer whale, is at fault. This particular whale has been involved in at least two other incidents which also resulted in a death. Yet people still seem to think that regular interaction between humans and huge wild animals a good idea.

Are we arrogant enough to believe that we can tame anything? Is it responsible stewardship to assume that we can always rid any given animal of any and all traits which come natural to it? But perhaps the most important question of all us, why do we feel that we need entertainment from a source so obviously dangerous to someone's well being?

That people will pay and watch begs the question. That other folks are willing to perform in such risky ventures ignores the true threat involved as well. So the fact that no one makes these trainers work with potentially savage beasts cannot be an issue either: the issue is whether such jobs are really the type of jobs which ought to be sought.

Especially when you are dealing with an animal with a deadly history, caution ought to hold a high priority when dealing with these questions. Yet the real shame is that someone had to die before they are even considered. We are a decadent, selfish lot, we Americans.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Teaching Authority

I find myself frequenting more and more blogs, and participating in their discussions so much as I can. On one of the more recent chats, on a Protestant board, we were talking about how obvious the truths of the Bible are, and how therefore no one had the authority to call another wrong on a theological issue.

I don't know, my friends. If everything is so plain why are there so many denominations? It seems to me that much declaring of right and wrong has to be done by the learned, provided there is evidence that they are driven by the Holy Spirit. Because I do of course agree, as several good Christians at that site pointed out, that degrees and citations by themselves cannot make a point of view right. Still, if things were so plain and simple, why are churches even necessary? Why bother our pastors about issues and events in our lives or in the general society if scripture is so clear? Indeed why even discuss things religious with others at all?

While we may not be able to divine the will of the Spirit in all things at all times (we are human, of course, and subject to error) we can make useful judgments about whether the Spirit is speaking to so and so. For starters, if I say that in the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ and you say no, one of us is wrong even if we both claim that the Holy Spirit is guiding us. Unless, that is, the Holy Spirit lies, which is an unacceptable position. If you say divorce is okay yet I read in Scripture where Christ Himself says that he who divorces one to marry another commits adultery, I think I can harbor a reasonable doubt about whether the Spirit is speaking to you or not.

Further, if there is effectively no teaching authority within the fathers of a historical Church, nay even no teaching authority in the hands of the theologically learned, how can we resolve the issues which we must face in creating a closer relationship to God? How can we even lean on the teachings of the Apostles, who would then theoretically be no more than individuals judging the will of the Spirit themselves? Don't forget for a moment that even they could be cautious about what they preached: St. Peter, in an obvious expectation that the early Church was subject to his authority, points out that we must treat St. Paul's words with great respect. They could be difficult to understand, and the 'unstable and ignorant' might misinterpret them to their peril. The Apostles themselves, it seems, expected obedience from their flock. What other reason is there for writing pastoral letters?

I'm really not trying to lambaste my Protestant brethren; I simply believe we have to understand that there are those who have more right than we to call certain parts of theology and Scripture right or wrong.

In short, I don't mind hierarchy, so long as it passes the test of the Spirit. What we must be careful about is the tyranny of the individual. That is a particularly dangerous threat when our souls are at risk.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bickering, Schmickering

We hear an incessant cry for nonpartisanship at virtually every political corner. The GOP needs to be be nonpartisan in its dealings with the Democrats and the Obama Administration. But why is partisanship so bad?

Is it wrong per se for people to have differing opinions? No; it is the content of the opinions which determine right and wrong rather than whatever mere differences exist between what one party or the other says. But more, don't we want partisanship when there are meaningful issues which need to be worked out? Harry Reid isn't slammed for being partisan when he forces things through the Senate. His liberal allies appear to have no problem with his strong arm tactics.

Which demonstrates the problem perfectly. It is only those who are against the current status quo that demand nonpartisanship. In short, agree with us, conservatives, or you're just obstructing business. Give up everything you believe in, while we pursue all that we like, and we'll get along just fine.

Hypocrites.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Slow Down on your Carbon Fast

California Catholic bishops, in their own laid back and chill out fashion, have suggested that Catholics do a carbon fast for Lent. Among their suggestions for each day of the season of penance: remove a light bulb and don't use it for the 40 days. Turn your thermostat down by one degree. Check the pressure on your car tires. Come on, Dad, let's hike to Mass rather than drive.

Wow. Those hungry children in Haiti are sure going to benefit from that. To all you AIDS sufferers in Africa: we feel you. We'll turn down the heat. The Catholic Climate Covenant is coming to your rescue with an entire, ahem, litany of how Catholics can make this world a better place for you. That's right, and action for each day of Lent which will reduce your ghastly carbon footprint.

What an absolute absurdity. With all the real trouble in the world, not to mention all the truly serious sins committed day in and day out, in this season of becoming more Christ-like all we have to do is gauge the air in our tires and we're one with the Lord. Incredible.

Have we become so complacent and jaded that we really think carbon fasts are the best we can do for the sake of the human condition? Here's a note to all you California prelates: it is better to save one soul than all of inanimate Earth. How much of that have you done in recent times?

The Church, which stands for all which is eternal and important, should not be in league with passing fads. Do we really believe that we cannot benefit the greater human family more significantly than by turning off a bulb? Can Church representatives become any more shallow?

It is actions such as this which marginalize the Church to a greater degree than opposition to condoms to fight AIDS or fighting gay marriage initiatives. If you want to become a historical footnote, maintain this course. But if you truly want to make people better people, get your head out of the California sand and talk about the things which really matter. Like salvation.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Barack Obama: Anti-Catholic?

Harry Knox, who serves on President Barack Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has made and stands by several anti-Catholic statements. The Church, indeed Pope Benedict XVI himself, is 'hurting people in the name of Jesus' by not allowing condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS, telling active homosexuals that they should not receive the Eucharist, and refusing to sign on with a United Nations resolution calling for greater civil rights for active homosexuals. So says Harry Knox, a man who presumably has the President's ear on moral questions.

There is a lesson in this for the President, should he decide to hear it. Having a big tent does not and cannot mean tolerating anyone on anything. Indeed, it ignores the question of the kinds and types of moral decisions which we as a nation must address. But most critically on the subject of Mr. Knox, how are Catholics supposed to interpret the President's toleration of shameless and unrepentant anti-Catholic rhetoric coming from a source he put in place? Are we to presume the Barack Obama is merely adding to his big tent by embracing Knox's attitudes, or should we begin to think that the President is anti-Catholic?

Tolerance is a creed preached by the intolerant. Oh yes, we ought to tolerate them, but as to them tolerating us, well, that's another issue entirely. And therein is the trouble with any attempt to be all inclusive, Mr. President: some folks simply will not tolerate other folks.

Nor should they be expected to, as a matter of course. It is an insult to Catholics that such a bigoted mind should have your ear at all, Mr. President. Rome is much more rational, objective, and charitable that Mr. Knox. She understands human frailty on a level far more profound than those who merely accept the diversity of human action as justifiable on its own selfish merit.

Still, the President tolerates Harry Knox. That is commentary enough by itself.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent for Christianity in general, and Catholics in particular. It is a time of penance, something we all need. We all need to atone for our failures, for our sins.

Humanity is fallen; the world around us is fallen. That's why people do wrong, and genes mutate. Nothing in our universe is perfect, but there is a difference between we humans and dumb animals and the inanimate things nearby. We can choose. We can decide whether to do well or ill. It is what makes us special, and separates us from all else.

Try to become a better person this Lenten season. You might be pleasantly surprised as the good habits formed become a part of you. The folks around you may be downright shocked.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The dark side of the Vancouver Games?

We Americans have always thought Canadians to be self effacing and deferential. They are, on the whole. Yet there have been events in Vancouver which demonstrate that even the most genial of nations has an underbelly of discontent.

There have been protests in the city since the Winter Olympics began, concerned, it seems, with issues of poverty and globalization. But they have turned mildly violent. A recent group marching through downtown overturned mailboxes and smashed a few windows, scuffled with pedestrians, and chanted anti-capitalist slogans. Thus far, they have not interfered with the games.

Vancouver authorities say that the protest have been infiltrated by criminal elements, and that's not surprising in the least. Especially as many of the protesters came from far from Vancouver, it is clear that the police there are facing more than locals upset with local issues. They are dealing with a semi-organized minority intent on the simple disruption of the Olympics.

Fortunately there are far more tourists and winter sport enthusiasts than card carrying, mailbox threatening thugs. In that light, what these few folks are attempting is simply laughable. Their actions are sure to die out over the next two weeks, so that we can enjoy the rest of the Games without outside fanfare. As we should.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ritual: the Essence of Religion

One of the things which causes religion to stand out are the rituals which surround them. This has more to do than merely attending worship on whatever your holy day of the week may be or the timing of your prayers. Ritual gives us comfort, understanding, and acceptance of what we believe.

Many people may argue against it staid, or mere repetition. Yet it is repetition by which we learn most anything. Schools do not teach math once and leave it at that. They make us repeat the basics until we understand them, then do the same thing at the next level, and so forth. Religious practice does much the same thing, only that it is much more important than simple academics.

That's why so much of religion is the repetition of the same things. These are things so important to our lives and our personal and spiritual well being that we must keep them always at the front of our minds. That's why, in Catholic practice, the Nicene Creed is said at every Mass. It is the encapsulated form of the Church's essential beliefs, and said constantly to remind Catholics of Her basic teachings.

The lesson is that we should not be bored by ritual. We should embrace it, pray it, and live it. It is how we become better people.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Canada vs. China

The Winter Olympic Games began yesterday, and the differences between the opening ceremonies in Vancouver and those in Beijing at the start of the 2008 Summer Olympics were telling. It was a stark contrast of East vs. West, and the way of the west offered a compelling story of how much better off we are here.

The Beijing event, though impressive, was one of precision. It was mechanical; it was a display of what can be done when an authority holds absolute power over a people. Further, it was done a point: to show the world what a marvel Red China has become.

Vancouver's ceremonies on the other hand contained a sense of awe. They were an attempt to display the human experience of wonder at those things greater than ourselves. It was as though Canada was not trying to bring attention to herself, but rather offering us, through unique symbolism, a perspective on what was really important: friends and friendly competition, but most of all, a glimpse at what unites everyone on Earth. It was compelling because it spoke to the soul. Beijing, on the other hand, spoke to power.

Canada addressed celebration; China addressed order. It is well and fitting that we have such good neighbors to the north.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bor-ring

We're beyond the Super Bowl and before spring training. There's no playoff games anywhere, but the Winter Olympics beckon.

Oh well. At least it's something to do on a Friday.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Nuclear Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran is now a nuclear state. The nation, he says, has produced its first batch of enriched uranium and will not be bullied by the West into abandoning its nuclear program. President Obama, are you listening?

There can be little doubt that this is to a degree mere posturing. Ahmadinejad needs to show a brave face, especially in the light of the growing protests against his regime within his own borders. He also had the foresight to assert that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. The Iranian leader is clearly trying to play to the pacifists of the world; the enriched uranium is for electricity only, and although Iran could enrich it to weapons grade they will, he tells us.

Have we ever been able, in all of human history, to trust a despot? That is the question which we must not shy away from answering in our dealings with Terhan. Put definitively, can we trust Ahmadinejad? Said in even more precise terms, can we trust our own President to face the threat of a dictator?

All we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan will fail if we cannot contain Iran. Time, as always, will tell.

Let's hope that it does tell as it did in the 1940's.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Education Fun

Authors note: this is a retread of an older post, but I like it. CMC


Teaching adult education for twenty odd years now has been fun, and occasionally rewarding. Yet certain moments are bound to stand out; two of the funniest have only just happened.

While grading a short essay for an Economics course, the student was asked the difference between stocks and bonds. In an obvious yet hilarious cut and paste off the Internet (a practice we frown upon and grade accordingly), the answer began: "Stocks were medieval devices of public humiliation and torture." It went on to explain, in some detail, the exact nature of certain forms of torture. Reading this challenged my attempts to stay calm and professional, to not laugh out loud at my desk in a room full of students. I was under control until the last sentence: "Bonds are government issued interest bearing securities."

Well, the student was half right in his answer.

But the funniest to date was last night. In picking out an English assignment to grade I went on to completely lose my composure in peals of laughter. I had to leave the room for ten minutes initially, leaving the other teacher (there are two of us at all times in our teaching arrangement) to lament my difficulty. Lucky it was a slow night.

The assignment was to make comparisons in the form of analogies. The first prompt read: "Tom's car was old." Expected responses were along the lines of, 'Tom's car was older than baseball.' Instead I read, "Tom's car was older than a dead frog."

I was okay; I stifled my giggles, although it took it a few seconds of tongue biting to maintain myself. But I was good.

The next prompt was, 'Abby was hungry.' Harmless enough. Until I read the student's offering.

"Abby was very hungry, like a sad clown who had fell off his bike."

I immediately roared uncontrollably. Shawn, the other teacher asked what was wrong. Giving him the paper I replied, "Read the first two sentences and I'll be back in a few minutes."

On my return, finally beyond any wild laughter, the first thing Shawn said was, "I can see why you didn't give credit for the first answer. The frog may not have been dead that long."

I returned after another twenty minutes. Good times.

Monday, February 8, 2010

When the Saints Go Marching In

Congratulations are in order this morning for the New Orleans Saints in wake of their upset win in the Super Bowl over Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts. If ever a city deserves such a treat, it's the Big Easy.

Mr. Manning himself merits praise for his courteous deference to the Saints in his post game comments. If more football players were as gracious and unassuming as he is, the game itself would profit. It is the class acts which make sports palatable, not the self-aggrandizing oafs signaling first down on meaningless plays in meaningless games.

And what is talk about the big game without reference to the commercials? It seems that the pro-abortion folks are in a bit of a tiff about Tim Tebow 'tackling' his mother in the Focus on the Family ad. It encourages violence against women, apparently. But do they think Betty White and Abe Vigoda being tackled encourages violence against seniors? It shows the shallowness of their thought when that's the best retort they have to an honest and heartfelt pro-life moment.

As Super Bowls go, yesterday's was a good one. Surely, from a dramatic perspective, the right team won.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Football: not America's Game

Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings

- The Wall Street Journal

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, that day not really a holiday yet feels like it just the same. It should be a fun day, and that's all well and good. But for those of you who think that all the hoopla makes football America's game, here's a bit of medicine for you.

It's not.

There is no denying that football games in general and today's match in particular carry with them a lot more drama than a June baseball game or a November hockey square-off. Yet there's need to jump to conclusions: if there were only 16 to 19 baseball or hockey games per season per team, you would get a tremendous amount more hype for every one of those too. It's the numbers, or, rather, the lack of them, which appear to make football more appealing to the sporting masses than the other games. To borrow an idea from the economists, simple supply and demand tell us that the fewer there is of something the greater the interest.

Look at the facts: for all the talk about all the excitement in each game, there's barely ten minutes of actual play. There again, the point can be made that, as there is a lot less going on than in most games, each play means more. We see that the rare numbers are what manufactures importance rather than actual play.

Still, go ahead, have your party and eat too much and hoist a cold one. But remember that it is the high atmosphere which creates the excitement, and not the game itself.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Keeping it on Ice

There are times when it is hard to think of what is and is not important in the world. With the discovery of whiskey left in a cabin in the Antarctic from explorer Ernest Shackleton's failed attempt to reach the South Pole in 1909, we can see exactly how mixed reactions can be when a curious blend (cough) of history and modern thought come about.

A New Zealand team, restoring a hut left by Shackleton in the wake of his endeavors, found a few crates of the alcohol under the floorboards as they worked. It is expected that the whiskey has survived well, and whiskey historians (whiskey historians?) believe the find dramatic, as the original recipe for that particular formula has been lost. But all this fails to answer a few interesting questions.

First of all, why on Earth are we rehabilitating a post from a trek to the wilds of Antarctica? Who is going to see it? What's the point? It's a shack on a glacier, for crying out loud. Though it is interesting that such a hovel has even stood the test of time, given the extreme conditions it presumably survived, what else is important about it?

On a further note, the clash of eras brings up what is surely a significant cultural difference. Alcohol was thought important enough to be taken along on a trip into the void a hundred years ago. Who would ever think it necessary to take spirits on a major expedition today? One has to somehow admire the Shackleton folks for their dedication to a true human value, while at the same time scratching their heads at why those folks felt it critical to carry along whiskey when they certainly had more critical needs at the time.

Then we have the question of international law. There are treaties in place which make it impossible to remove anything from the wilderness of the seventh continent. They can't bring the stuff home. Yet it isn't as though the whiskey is native to Antarctica. It was brought in from the outside, but cannot be taken out. How schizophrenic have we become that we can't remove what wasn't supposed to be there in the first place?

These are just a few things to ponder as we sip on our two fingers of Jameson's tonight. Neat, just as God intended. At least Irish know what to do with whiskey.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What a Tangled Web We Weave, Again

The Presidency of Barack Obama has, perhaps, veered to the right. At the least, the environmental left (is that a redundancy?) thinks so, and there may be something to that.

In his State of the Union address, the President called for offshore drilling and increased subsidies to the nuclear industry. He has recently moved to support the ethanol and carbon energy fields. In short, he's trying to appeal to areas of traditional energy sources and agricultural political strength. This is not a bad idea politically, one supposes, yet it certainly does not paint him as a green-eyed idealist to the fringe left.

It is a response, surely, to the wake up calls the White House and the Democrats has heard jingling in their ears since November. They went too far, and now they have to move back if they hope to avert disaster in the coming elections. But is it too little, too late.

Let's hope so. The Spirit of 94: pass it on!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell. If I Can't See it, it's Not There

Former General and Secretary of State Colin Powell has come out (huh?) in favor of reviewing the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy of gays in the military. He says this is due to 'changing attitudes and circumstances' which require a review of the idea. This comes closely after President Barack Obama has pledged to repeal the policy altogether.

He's a thought: not only review it, but renew the original ban.

Our military exists to protect us as a nation. This also means that it represents our way of life. Consequently, who can serve and in what capacity is a reflection on what we ought to support as a people. Gays rights should not be a part of that.

No one has the right to act in manners not in league with the way things ought to be. It is so clear, as a matter of common sense, that couples are meant to be male and female that we weaken ourselves as a nation to think otherwise. In all aspects of a strong society, perhaps even especially in the military, this axiom must be accepted and put into force through our policies. Every part of our nation must reflect true and proper ideals or we will, in the long run, fall.

'Changing attitudes and circumstances' are not an automatic signal that our old attitudes and circumstances were wrong. It could mean that we are in fact going wrong; that is the great question so often left unanswered. That things have changed does not necessarily mean they have changed for the better. It could mean we are sinking into the quagmire of subjectivism, where all attitudes are the equal. Equally right, or equally wrong, is the issue ignored then.

At that point, what would we really stand for anyway? Certainly nothing worth fighting for.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Abstinence is the Safest Sex

A recent federal study, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, suggests very heavily that abstinence only sex education programs actually work. They decrease the likelihood of teens become sexually active before they should. This is contrary to the liberal assumption that young people must be treated like rabbits, with no penchant for self-discipline at all.

It is interesting that such studies are even necessary. Like the study a few years back by educationists which concluded that students who study more learn more (gasp!), the common sense of the matter is so obvious that it is hard to believe anyone would think about the questions in a contrary or contradictory manner.

The fact is, anybody who accepts that there are such things as common sense and reason see things more clearly than those who need studies with various data tables normalized to certain base lines. When we have folks who do not believe in rationality, we get folks who ultimately have an agenda. In the case of sex education, we get liberals whose presumptions muddy their objectivity, like the environmentalists whose views are skewed by the thought that mere earth and animals and plants are superior to people, or the evolutionists whose scientific findings are clouded by their presumptions. With sex ed, we have folks who want promiscuity. Consequently, they presume it will happen, rather than afford others the dignity that they may actually be able to control themselves.

Such an approach insults our children in particular and our society in general. At the risk of overusing the term, common sense tells us that a structured, disciplined environment will, by and large (for we do recognize that simple human freedom will lead to errant behavior) give us a structured and disciplined society. People can be taught to behave in appropriate manners. If we are willing to concede that such personal control is possible.

It is an easy point to accept if you believe in the dignity of the individual. If you do not believe in that, then nothing is possible.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Budget Woes

Nothing stirs up the crowd like budget talk. All right, that's facetious, but it's something which ought to draw more attention than it does. Especially as we are facing troubling deficits on the federal level for well into the future.

President Barack Obama has proposed many and varied cuts in areas one would wonder why there should be any government involvement at all. He has proposed cuts of $5 million in grants which would have gone to worsted wool manufacturers; why were they supported by Washington in the first place? Monies which would have paid for a 'water musical festival' are on the block; such things should never be considered by government. And these are surely only the tips of the icebergs.

It is as though the feds are trying to surgically refine the budget. That may or may not be possible; entrenched bureaucracies may be the hardest to dethrone even if they are mundane, repetitive, or outdated. For example, a bigger ticket budget item slated for a cut is the C-17 cargo plane. Even the Department of Defense, not exactly known for its spending acumen, said in 2007 that it didn't want any more them. It had enough. But due to political pressures Congress still insisted it order more and kept in budget money for them. The President is suggesting to cut them from the 2011 budget and beyond to the tune of a $2.5 billion savings over ten years. But will the lawmakers actually do it?

There's really only way to cut spending efficiently: across the board and at every level. Go to each and every agency and say: you lose ten percent next year. Period. Find a way to do it. Will it be tough? Tough. Do it. Everyone has inefficiencies, redundancies, and outmoded practices which if eliminated ought to save a bit of cash.

Like that will happen. There's no reason that, after more than 200 years, Congress will begin acting wisely anytime soon.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Figure Skating and Animal Rights

The world of figure skating is a troubled world; why, American skater Johnny Weir has felt it necessary to alter his costume for the Olympics in the wake of death threats. It seems he wore fox fur on an outfit, and now has to don fake fur lest his performance in Vancouver be affected by a sideshow of animal rights activists protesting his use of animal fur.

Not all animal rights activists have gone so far as to threaten him, but the fact that it happens at all is a reflection of the absurd lengths some folks will go to in defense of presumed rights. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing animal pelts, even for relatively unimportant and mundane events such as figure skating. It should not be an issue at all.

Yet it is. One wonders what those in favor of animal rights think of, oh, abortion and other human needs and issues. Surely the life of even one human being is far superior to that of a fox, or cow or horse or dog. But a figure skater gets death threats for his choice of costume.

It is craziness to believe animals have rights. It is insanity to threaten someone over the use of fur. That in itself tells us all we need to know about certain folks, and shows us the true absurdity behind the animal rights movement.