Sunday, December 27, 2009

Year in Review: Smart phones - with apps - rule

Led by the iPhone and the BlackBerry family of devices, the smart phone market expanded beyond its roots as a corporate tool or early-adopter plaything.

A ChangeWave Research survey of consumers in September found that 39 percent owned a smart phone and 11 percent were planning to buy one in the next 90 days. Another study by the NPD Group found that smart phones represented 28 percent of all cell phone purchases in the second quarter, up from 12 percent at the end of 2007.

For many cell phone users now, the issue is not if they will upgrade to a smart phone but when.

"Smart phones were just a gee-whiz gadget a few years ago, but now you have a herding situation where people are asking each other, 'What kind of smart phone do you have?' " said J. Gerry Purdy, chief mobile analyst for research firm Frost & Sullivan.

This shift has touched off a frenzy among mobile software developers, hardware manufacturers and cellular carriers, all eager to cash in.

Computer manufacturers such as Dell and Acer joined the fray, releasing smart phones in 2009. U.S. market leader Research in Motion Ltd. cranked out even more BlackBerry devices, including its second touch-screen model, the Storm 2.

Established players made aggressive bids to turn around their businesses using flashy handsets sporting new operating systems. Palm released its webOS operating system with the Palm Pre in June. Motorola produced the Cliq and the Droid, which both run on Google's Android operating system.

Google on board

Android had one of the largest growth spurts this year, going from one device in 2008 to eight handsets available in the United States this year. A Google-branded device, the Nexus One, is reportedly set to hit the market in early January. Google's Matt Waddell, chief of staff for mobile and developer products, said Google developed Android because the smart phone has become a key access point for Web information.

But he said smart phones - with their array of sensors and tools like GPS, a compass, a camera and Internet connections - enable a new way of interacting with and searching your environment.

"The smart phone is the most personal of computers," Waddell said. "When you combine that with a rich set of sensors on the device, you can do things that you couldn't do on the phone before."

Cell phone operators also are on board with smart phones, expanding the number of devices they carry. Verizon Wireless joined T-Mobile and Sprint in supporting Android, which is fast becoming a contender in the smart phone race.

AT&T, which boasts the most smart phones of any carrier, said about 42 percent of its subscribers in the third quarter owned smart phones, up from 13 percent at the end of 2007 and 27 percent at the end of last year.

Terry Stenzel, AT&T vice president and general manager for Northern California/Reno, said users have embraced the ease of use and utility of smart phones. He credits Apple for leading users into the smart phone market and convincing them they have the power of a computer in their pocket.

"Apple took the fear away from the device, and when you take the fear away, people want to use it and they will use it," Stenzel said.

Stenzel said AT&T's network has experienced a 5,000 percent increase in data usage in the past two years. And as of the third quarter, 60 percent of connections to AT&T's Wi-Fi network are made via smart phones instead of laptops as they traditionally have been.

New hardware was only part of the equation for smart phones in 2009. A key factor was also the rise of mobile applications, made popular through Apple's App Store.

Though the App Store opened in July of last year, it was in 2009 when the store - and the whole notion of buying apps for phones - gained critical momentum, fueled by Apple's ubiquitous "There's an app for that" advertising campaign.

By mid-January, there were 15,000 apps with 500 million downloads recorded. In September, Apple posted its 2 billionth download, and by November, there were more than 100,000 apps in the store.

"The iPhone was a great device, but it was the store and the software development kit that really changed things," said Cassidy Lackey, vice president of mobile app developer Handmark. "Now everyone is playing catch-up with the store experience, and they're all fighting for developers."

Most competing platforms rolled out their answer to the App Store in 2009. BlackBerry created App World, while Microsoft introduced Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Nokia opened its Ovi store, joining the Android Market, which started in October 2008.

Huge market

The stores have united hardware and software in a way that's never been done before, giving customers easy access to a wealth of programs for their phones. It's also helped softwaremakers boost their revenue. Gamemaker Tapulous of Palo Alto reported recently that it's making nearly $1 million a month from sales of its iPhone applications.

Smart phones also got a boost from the rise of social networking. According to Forrester Research, 65 million people now access Facebook via a mobile device, compared with 8 million a year ago.

"Social media and texting require a smart phone," said Jack Gold, an analyst with J. Gold Associates. "You can't do that on dumb phone. And because people are so dependent on those things, that's why people have moved to these smart devices."

Stenzel, the AT&T executive, said it will be only a matter of time before people stop calling them smart phones altogether.

"There won't be anything else, because it will be what everyone wants and needs," he said. "If you don't have a smart phone, you won't be in the mainstream."

E-mail Ryan Kim at

This article appeared on page DC - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

I feel I should sub-title this post "Ben Got An iPhone for Xmas"

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Bankruptcy | Why Does My Attorney Want The Bankruptcy Judge To Reject The Car Reaffirmation That I Want? (And Why Won’t My Attorney Sign It?) | Bankruptcy Law Network

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Why Does My Attorney Want The Bankruptcy Judge To Reject The Car Reaffirmation That I Want? (And Why Won’t My Attorney Sign It?)

By Karen Oakes, Southern Oregon Bankruptcy Attorney on Dec 27, 2009 in Bankruptcy Cases & Legislation, Bankruptcy Practice and Procedure, Benefits of Bankruptcy, Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, General Bankruptcy Information, Your Bankruptcy Attorney & You

Most clients get a displeased shocked look when I tell them that I won’t sign a reaffirmation agreement for their car during their Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.  A reaffirmation agreement is, in effect, a new contract where the debtor (my client) agrees with the creditor (not my c lient) that the debtor will be financially responsible for the debt after their bankruptcy case is over.   My colleague Wayne Novick of Ohio recent explained reaffirmations in a series of blogs – including one entitled, “Reaffirmations: Cars Trucks Things with Wheels”.   If there is no reaffirmation agreement, the personal liability is gone but the vehicle still secures the debt. Before 2005,  if the debtor continued to pay the debt, the creditor just took the money.   Post-2005 and the adoption of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, most of the time, car creditors have threatened to come and get the vehicle if there is no reaffirmation agreement, even if the debtor continues to make timely payments.   However, if the debtor signs the reaffirmation and it is approved by the bankruptcy judge, if the debtor stops paying the debt, months or years later, the creditor can then sue the debtor.   This is why most attorneys do not sign reaffirmations–it puts our clients back into personal liability for debt and creates a risk of being sued.

Judges across the country, faced with the dilemna of folks needing their cars–which generally have no equity–and these reaffirmation agreements–which are generally bad for the debtors, but very good for the creditors, have refused to approve the reaffirmation agreements.   In Missouri, one of the judges outlined what he felt were the requirements for him to sign a reaffirmation agreement, according to my colleague, Rachel Foley.   In Oregon, there is the case of  In re Bower, 07-60126-fra7 (Bankr.Or. 7/26/2007) (Bankr.Or., 2007), where the judge refused to approve the reaffirmation because it did not help the debtor’s fresh start.   Recently, another district court judge in Delaware ruled that when the bankruptcy judge rejected the reaffirmation agreement that if the creditor repossessed the car when there had been timely payments, that the repossession was unlawful (Ford Motor Credit v. Baker, 400 B.R. 136 (2009)).

The attorney does not want the judge to approve the reaffirmation–having it rejected is a good thing, as explained further by California consumer bankruptcy attorney, Cathy Moran.   The debtor gets to keep the car as long as they pay for it and the creditor gets paid.   When the creditor stops getting paid, the creditor has the right to repossess the car, but NOT sue the debtor.

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Excellent article on why keeping your car in bantuptcy might not be the smart thing to do

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Madonna of Sorrows, pray for us!

In memory of Darrell Goddard, husband and father. RIP

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Robert P. George, Slaying Dragons and Defeating Invincible Ignorance

Robert P. George, the Conservative-Christian Big Thinker -

On a September afternoon, about 60 prominent Christians assembled in the library of the Metropolitan Club on the east side of Central Park. It was a gathering of unusual diversity and power. Many in attendance were conservative evangelicals like the born-again Watergate felon Chuck Colson, who helped initiate the meeting. Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, was there as well. And so were more than half a dozen of this country’s most influential Roman Catholic bishops, including Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop John Myers of Newark and Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia.

At the center of the event was Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic who is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker. Dressed in his usual uniform of three-piece suit, New College, Oxford cuff links and rimless glasses­, George convened the meeting with a note of thanks and a reminder of its purpose. Alarmed at the liberal takeover of Washington and an apparent leadership vacuum among the Christian right, the group had come together to warn the country’s secular powers that the culture wars had not ended. As a starting point, George had drafted a 4,700-word manifesto that promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage.

Two months later, at a Washington press conference to present the group’s “Manhattan Declaration,” George stepped aside to let Cardinal Rigali sum up just what made the statement, and much of George’s work, distinctive. These principles did not belong to the Christian faith alone, the cardinal declared; they rested on a foundation of universal reason. “They are principles that can be known and honored by men and women of good will even apart from divine revelation,” Rigali said. “They are principles of right reason and natural law.”

Even marriage between a man and a woman, Rigali continued, was grounded not just in religion and tradition but in logic. “The true great goods of marriage — the unitive and the procreative goods — are inextricably bound together such that the complementarity of husband and wife is of the very essence of marital communion,” the cardinal continued, ascending into philosophical abstractions surely lost on most in the room. “Sexual relations outside the marital bond are contrary not only to the will of God but to the good of man. Indeed, they are contrary to the will of God precisely because they are against the good of man.”

George looked on with arms crossed and lips sealed. But he was obviously pleased. To anyone who knew George’s work, the cardinal’s words sounded very much as if George had written them, and when I asked him about it later, he acknowledged providing assistance. Rigali’s remarks were a summation of the distinctive moral philosophy that is the foundation of George’s power.

He has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as “one of the biggest brains in America,” or, on one broadcast, “Superman of the Earth.” Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told me he numbers George among the most-talked-about thinkers in conservative legal circles. And Newt Gingrich called him “an important and growing influence” on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage.

“If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy,” the conservative Catholic journal Crisis concluded a few years ago, “its leaders probably meet in George’s kitchen.”

FOR 20 YEARS, George has operated largely out of public view at the intersection of academia, religion and politics. In the past 12 months, however, he has stepped into a more prominent role. With the death of the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister turned Roman Catholic priest who helped bring evangelicals and Catholics together into a political movement, George has assumed his mantle as the reigning brain of the Christian right. And he is in many ways the public face of the conservative side in the most urgent culture-war battle of the day. The National Organization for Marriage, the advocacy group fighting same-sex marriage in Albany and Trenton, Maine and California, has made him its chairman. Before the 2004 election, he helped a coalition of Christian conservative groups write their proposed amendment to the federal Constitution defining marriage as heterosexual. More than any other scholar, George has staked his reputation on the claim that same-sex marriage violates not only tradition but also human reason.

It’s part of a philosophy that has found support among a group of Catholic bishops who have become some of the most persistent critics of President Obama and the Congressional Democrats. George serves as their intellectual point man. In the past few years, many of the evangelical Protestants who once defined the religious right have turned inward after their disappointment with President George W. Bush. In their place, George’s friends among the Catholic bishops have stepped to the fore, hammering Obama for his pro-choice Catholic cabinet nominees, for being invited to speak at Notre Dame’s commencement, for his stem-cell research policies and most recently for his health care proposals.

As Democrats have stepped up their explicitly religious appeals to Catholic voters, these bishops have pushed back against the intrusion on their turf. While Democrats talked of finding common ground on abortion, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, the informal leader of this side of the American church, gave a much-publicized speech denouncing Obama as “the most committed abortion rights candidate in history.” Chaput chose to publish his remarks on the Web site of a think tank co-founded by George — the man who had himself argued in an essay disseminated widely last fall through conservative circles, Fox News and Christian radio that Barack Obama was “the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek” the presidency.

George’s role as an adviser to these bishops began more than 20 years ago, when he was a young professor and recent Ph.D. A mutual friend introduced him to the Rev. John Myers, then a bishop in Peoria, Ill., who was working on a pastoral letter about the moral obligations of Catholic voters and politicians. With George’s assistance, Myers wrote a letter laying out the case that abortion, as the taking of a life, was a crime against the natural law of human reason, not merely a violation of Catholic theology. Therefore, Myers and George argued, Catholic politicians and voters were wrong to write off the church’s teachings as a matter of personal faith. What’s more, the letter warned, voting for a candidate or a law upholding abortion rights would almost invariably put a Catholic so far outside church teachings that he should not receive communion. As the first systematic rebuttal to Mario Cuomo and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, the letter kicked off a now-familiar debate inside the church. “Whenever I venture out into the public square, I would almost invariably check it out with Robby first,” Myers, now the archbishop of Newark, told me. Many of the bishops, Myers says, rely on George as “a touchstone” and “the pre-eminent Catholic intellectual.”

Last spring, George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as George put it.

A few months later, in a July 17 letter to Congress, the bishops did something close to that in the health care debate. Setting aside decades of calls for universal coverage, the bishops pledged to fight any bill that failed to block the use of federal subsidies for insurance covering abortion. “Stalin famously asked, ‘How many divisions has the pope?’ ” George wrote to me in an e-mail message after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed a vote on an amendment that satisfied the bishops’ demands. “I guess Pelosi now knows.”

In the American culture wars, George wants to redraw the lines. It is the liberals, he argues, who are slaves to a faith-based “secularist orthodoxy” of “feminism, multiculturalism, gay liberationism and lifestyle liberalism.” Conservatives, in contrast, speak from the high ground of nonsectarian public reason. George is the leading voice for a group of Catholic scholars known as the new natural lawyers. He argues for the enforcement of a moral code as strictly traditional as that of a religious fundamentalist. What makes his natural law “new” is that it disavows dependence on divine revelation or biblical Scripture — or even history and anthropology. Instead, George rests his ethics on a foundation of “practical reason”: “invoking no authority beyond the authority of reason itself,” as he put it in one essay.

George’s admirers say he is revitalizing a strain of Catholic natural-law thinking that goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas. His scholarship has earned him accolades from religious and secular institutions alike. In one notable week two years ago, he received invitations to deliver prestigious lectures at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Harvard Law School. His critics, including many of his fellow Catholic scholars, argue that he is turning the church into a tool of Republican Party. They say he is too focused on the mechanics of sex and morality, neglecting the other sides of the Christian message: the corruption of human reason through original sin, the need for forgiveness and charity and the chance for redemption. Citing George’s comparison of Catholic scholars who support abortion rights to defenders of chattel slavery, Cathleen Kaveny of the Notre Dame Law School, another scholar of law and theology in the Thomistic tradition, has called George and his allies “Rambo Catholics” and “ecclesiastical bullies.”

I met George 20 years ago, when I was a Prince­ton student and he was praying for tenure. The next time I saw him was in 2005, when he invited me back for a postelection conference on the future of the conservative movement. Rove spoke at lunch. To a movement still stinging from decades of condescension, George brings gleaming Ivory Tower credentials: degrees in law and theology from Harvard; a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford; a Supreme Court fellowship; and the endowed chair at Princeton that Woodrow Wilson once held.

In late August I returned to Princeton, where George was striding around a seminar room at the Princeton Theological Seminary — “John Paul II style,” as he put it, a reference to the pontiff’s habit of strolling as he spoke. At 54, George has thick gray-brown hair, bright blue eyes and a certain boyishness. Seemingly everyone from Rove to Cardinal Rigali calls him, simply, Robby. A few dozen graduate and star-undergraduate students had traveled from as far away as Cambridge and Poland for a seminar on the new natural law. He is by all accounts a terrific teacher. (“Awesome,” several undergraduates said in a stack of glowing evaluations he showed me.) Part of the reason may be that he brings almost every philosophical question back to a central debate about the nature of the self, a battle between reason and the passions. Moral philosophy, as George describes it, is a contest between the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the Scottish enlightenment thinker David Hume.

Aristotelians, like St. Thomas Aquinas, hold that there is an objective moral order. Human reason can see it. And we have the free will to follow or not. “In a well-ordered soul, reason’s got the whip hand over emotion,” George told the seminar, in a favorite formulation borrowed from Plato. Humeans — and in George’s view, modern liberals are usually Humeans — disagree. Against Aristotle, Hume argued that the universe includes facts but not values. You cannot derive moral conclusions from studying the world, an “ought” from an “is.” There is no built-in, objective reason for me to choose one goal over another — the goals of Mother Teresa over the goals of Adolf Hitler, in George’s hypothetical. Reason, then, is merely a tool of whatever desire strikes my fancy. “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions and may pretend to no office other than to serve and obey them,” George said, paraphrasing Hume, just as he does in seemingly every essay or lecture he writes.

In George's view, if I have no rational basis for picking one goal over another, then I have no free choice, only predetermined “passions” — the result of genetics, a blow to the head, whatever made me prefer either curing the sick or killing the Jews. We have reason and free choice, he teaches, or we have amorality and determinism.

George’s thinking draws on a system of ethics first developed against the backdrop of the 1960s debate inside the Catholic Church over contraception. In the tradition of Aquinas, Catholic thinkers had for centuries tried to establish moral laws of nature by studying biology, anthropology and history. When it came to sex, the church taught the idea of a “perverted faculty.” Sex was intended for the dual purpose of procreation and marital unity, so deliberate ejaculation in any other context — oral or anal sex, artificial contraception, masturbation, premarital sex, adultery — demeaned sex and contravened the natural law. (Female orgasms, incidental to conception, were not an issue.)

But by the late 1960s, most secular philosophers had abandoned the project of finding moral norms in nature. Amid the openness of the Second Vatican Council, some of their Catholic counterparts began to wonder if they should give up, too. Then came the pill. Some Catholic scholars, all the way up to the level of papal advisers, questioned whether a form of birth control that did not put a physical barrier between the partners might be permissible. Some began to suggest that the church should shift its focus from the act of sex to the totality of marriage, as Protestants did, and stop worrying as much about ejaculation and contraception. Wasn’t it marital love that was meant to be fruitful and that gave sex its meaning?

An orthodox-minded Georgetown University philosopher named Germain Grisez mounted a novel defense of the birth-control ban. Instead of beginning with science or history, he started by listing certain basic human goods that he believed anyone could see were “integral to human flourishing,” like friendship, knowledge, excellence in work and play, religion, life and procreation. Each was an end in itself, not a means to anything else. You could never prove each’s value by referring to other values — only assert and defend each one on its own.

Grisez argued that contraception violated the “basic good” of “the handing on of new life.” For George and the new natural lawyers, Grisez’s tactic of starting from self-evident human goods gave “the whip hand” back to reason.

In practice, George and his allies have usually found the rules of sexuality quite absolute, while the church’s teachings about social justice come out more contingent. That may be why he is almost uniformly popular among evangelicals but controversial among many of his fellow Catholics, particularly those who prefer the church's peace-and-justice liberalism to its conservative bioethics.

On the question of capital punishment, George says he is against it but he considers it a matter of interpretation about which Catholics can disagree. The intentional killing of innocent civilians in war is as grave a moral crime as abortion, George says, but what constitutes a “just war” is a more complicated judgment call. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal arguing that the attack was not necessarily unjust and might even be a moral obligation. “On the evidence that Hillary Clinton voted for the war on and George Bush went to war on, I thought it was justified,” he told me.

The “rights” to education and health care are another matter, George told his seminar. “Who is supposed to provide education or health care to whom?” George asked. “Health care and education are things that you have to pay for. Resources are always finite,” he went on. “Is it better for education and health care to be provided by governments under socialized systems or by private providers in markets or by some combination?” Those questions, George said, “go beyond the application of moral principles. You can get all the moral principles dead right and not have an answer to any of those questions.”

But the argument for banning abortion and embryo-destructive research is “straightforward,” George told me several times. In his most recent book, “Embryo,” written with Christopher Tollefsen, George tells the story of Noah Benton Markham, rescued from Hurricane Katrina by a team of policemen in boats. Noah was an embryo frozen in liquid nitrogen on a hospital shelf. Later implanted in the womb of his biological mother, he will turn 3 next month. Science shows that you remain the same human with the same DNA as a teenager, a toddler and an embryo, George argues. The only moral debate, he says, is whether you deserve legal protection at each stage of your life.

George grew up in Morgantown, W.Va., the oldest of five brothers. All served as altar boys. Four attended Oxford and became lawyers. His father was a liquor broker, and George is a wine connoisseur. His mother, the daughter of Italian immigrants, taught her children “some pretty firm ideas about sexual morality,” George told me, and then he begged me not to repeat some of his more recent arguments on the subject. “Mom, I have got to explain!” George said, raising his voice to imitate first himself and then his mother: “ ‘George’s opposition to sodomy! What are you doing talking about sodomy? You shouldn’t even know what that is! Why do people have to know your views about that?’

“The Roman Stoic Musonius Rufus said, Look, there are some things you just shouldn’t have to talk about, and I think sex is one,” George said. “But in the circumstances we are in, what can you do? I can’t possibly make the case — to people on my own side or on the other side — about what I think marriage is and why it is so important unless we get into the earthy stuff.”

The same-sex marriage debate, George argues, illuminates an error in our understanding that he blames for most of the ills afflicting modern marriage — infidelity, divorce, out-of-wedlock births. Marriage is not just for procreation, love or sexual pleasure. “People have lost their grip on the true reasons for marrying, so they are unwilling to make all the sacrifices real marriage requires,” he said.

He admits the argument for marriage between a man and a woman can require “somewhat technical philosophical analysis.” It is a two-step case that starts with marriage and works its way back to sex. First, he contends that marriage is a uniquely “comprehensive” union, meaning that it is shared at several different levels at once — emotional, spiritual and bodily. “And the really interesting evidence that it is comprehensive is that it is anchored in bodily sharing,” he says.

“Ordinary friendships wouldn’t be friendships anymore if they involved bodily sharing,” he explained to me. “If I, despite being a married man, had this female friend of mine and I said, ‘Well, gosh, why don’t we do some bodily sharing,’ and we had straightforward sexual intercourse, well, that wouldn’t be friendship or marriage. It is bodily, O.K., but it is not part of a comprehensive sharing of life. My comprehensive sharing of life is with my wife, which I just now violated.” But just as friendships with sex are not friendships, marriage without sex is not marriage. Sex, George said, is the key to this “comprehensive unity.” He then imagined himself as a man with no interest in sex who proposed to seal a romance by committing to play tennis only with his beloved. Breaking that promise, he said, would not be adultery.

The second step is more complicated, and more graphic. George argues that only vaginal intercourse — “procreative-type” sex acts, as George puts it — can consummate this “multilevel” mind-body union. Only in reproduction, unlike digestion, circulation, respiration or any other bodily function, do two individuals perform a single function and thus become, in effect, “one organism.” Each opposite-sex partner is incomplete for the task; yet together they create a “one-flesh union,” in the language of Scripture. “Their bodies become one (they are biologically united, and do not merely rub together) in coitus (and only in coitus), similarly to the way in which one’s heart, lungs and other organs form a unity by coordinating for the biological good of the whole,” George writes in a draft of his latest essay on the subject. Unloving sex between married partners does not perform the same multilevel function, he argues, nor does oral or anal sex — even between loving spouses.

Infertile couples, too, are performing this uniquely shared reproductive function, George says, even if they know their sperm and ovum cannot complete it. Marriage is designed in part for procreation in the way a baseball team is designed for winning games, he says, but “people who can practice baseball can be teammates without victories on the field.”

George argues that reason alone shows that heterosexual sodomy and homosexual sex are morally wrong, just as the Catholic Church, classical philosophers and other religious traditions have historically taught. Unlike marital union in his special sense, he contends, such acts treat the body as an instrument of the mind’s pleasure. As both a practical and a philosophical matter, he argues, the law should not necessarily police such things. But the need for the state to establish a proper definition of marriage is a different matter, he says, because the law has always regulated it in the interest of parenthood and community. “Marriage in principle is a public institution,” he said. “I don’t think it can be like bar mitzvahs or baptisms or the Elks Club.”

It is safe to say that not many contemporary philosophers — whether secular or Catholic — agree with George’s marriage argument. Many balk at the mystical “unitive and procreative” qualities George ascribes to sexual intercourse. The idea of “one flesh” union seems far less obviously intelligible than other “basic goods” like friendship, knowledge or religion. Even fellow Catholic Thomists who oppose same-sex marriage question the esoteric quality of George’s argument. Why not just begin with the fact that humans are sexual and ask how best to channel that sexuality? Liberals, on the other hand, generally argue that the meaning of marriage is in the partners’ love, not their loins. (To which George counters that they offer no definition that would exclude polygamy.)

GEORGE ONCE WON two terms as governor of the West Virginia Democratic Youth Conference in high school and even served as an alternate delegate to the 1976 Democratic convention. He moved right in the 1980s, initially over the issue of abortion, which eventually took him back to politics. On the day of the Pennsylvania primary in the 1992 presidential campaign, Bob Casey, then the state’s governor (and the father of the current Senator Casey) surprised George with a phone call to talk about George’s criticisms of Mario Cuomo. Later that year, when Bill Clinton denied Casey a chance to speak about abortion at the 1992 Democratic convention, it was George who had helped to write Casey’s speech. Two years later, George represented Mother Teresa before the Supreme Court in an amicus brief seeking the overturning of Roe v. Wade. When George W. Bush became president in 2001, George was an active player in weekly White House conference calls for Catholic allies. Bush later awarded George a Presidential Citizens Medal. During the 2008 campaign, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain each sought George’s counsel.

At Princeton, George founded an independently financed center, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. Conservatives celebrate it for bringing conservative thinking to the campus and for adding “Princeton” to the résumés of young scholars. In the decade since its founding, George has helped scholars and foundations use it as a template for similar outfits at Georgetown, New York University and Williams College. Last spring, he joined a group of undergraduates in their call for a new university Center for Chastity and Abstinence. (He suggested they might have better luck with the name “Center for Love and Fidelity.”)

George’s left-leaning colleagues say he is unfailingly polite and even helpful. He co-teaches­ a great-books seminar with the African-American scholar Cornel West, who told me he thinks of George as “just a nice brother.” George and his wife, Cindy, who is Jewish, socialize with liberal professors. But his relationships with other Catholic scholars are sometimes more contentious, especially about politics.

Shortly after the last presidential election, John Haldane, an eminent Thomist who is a friend of George’s and an adviser to the Vatican, sent an open “Letter to America” to a Web site of the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank that George helped found. Citing issues like the Iraq war and the Wall Street debacle, Haldane argued that Obama won in part because American voters “took moral exception to some of the policies pursued by the Bush administration, and I believe that in this their judgment was correct.”

Haldane, an orthodox Catholic opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, argued that his fellow “moral conservatives” like George risked their own credibility if they continued attacking Obama as morally inferior. When I reached him by phone in Scotland, where he lives, Haldane told me that he could not have recommended voting for either candidate in America’s 2008 election. “If you were going to vote for John McCain, how are you going to square that with these discussions about social justice — about the running sore of structural deprivation running through American society, or the prosecution of an unjust war?” he asked. “There has been a tendency of social conservatives to either hold their noses because they are more concerned about abortion, or just not to notice the smell.”

When I asked George about the letter, he was derisive. “John, thanks for the advice!” he said sarcastically. “Gosh, I wish we would have taken it. We would have the strong and vibrant social conservative movement that you guys have in Great Britain!”

George instead is plunging deeper into partisan politics. Alarmed at signs that the Republican Party was moving away from cultural issues, he recently founded a new group called the American Principles Project, which aims to build a grass-roots movement around his ideas. “His new venture will make him a major political player,” the conservative writer Fred Barnes predicted in The Weekly Standard. Among the group’s first endeavors has been to call for the ouster of Kevin Jennings, an Obama education official who previously founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Jennings, George says, wants to “use our elementary schools in defiance of the wishes of parents, to use our elementary schools to teach pro-sexual-liberationist, pro-homosexualist propaganda.”

I asked George several times if he was really hoping to ground a mass movement in abstract principles of reason so at odds with the prevailing culture. It was a bet, he said, on his conviction about the innate human gift for reason. Still, he said, if there was one critique of his work that worried him, it was the charge that he puts too much faith in the power of reason, overlooking what Christians describe as original sin and what secular pessimists call history.

It is a debate at least as old as the Reformation, when Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church and insisted that reason was so corrupted that faith in the divine was humanity’s only hope of salvation. (Until relatively recently, contemporary evangelicals routinely leveled the same charge at modern Catholics.) “This is a serious issue, and if I am wrong, this is where I am wrong,” George acknowledges.

Over lunch last month at the Princeton faculty club, George noted that many evangelicals had signed the Manhattan Declaration despite the traditional Protestant skepticism about the corruption of human reason. “I sold my view about reason!” he declared. He was especially pleased that, by signing onto the text, so many Catholic bishops had endorsed his new natural-law argument about marriage. “It really is the top leadership of the American church,” he said.

“Obviously, I am gratified that view appears to have attracted a very strong following among the bishops,” he went on. “I just hope I am right. If they are going to buy my arguments, I don’t want to mislead the whole church.”

David D. Kirkpatrick is a correspondent in the Washington bureau of The New York Times.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Google Voice: the coolest thing ever!

I've been using Google Voice for several months now, and I love it even more than I love Gmail -- Google's internet email system.

What is Google Voice, you ask?

Watch the video attached here for more explanations, but in short its a free internet telephone service that allows you to use one phone number for all your numbers.

For example, you can choose a phone number, then give it out to everyone to use. It replaces your home, business and cell numbers, by ringing all those (and more if you want) when the caller dials your Google Voice number.

Now, I hear what you're thinking: "Good grief! The last thing I need is people able to reach all those numbers! I get too many phone calls as it is, Ben!"

Well, Boopsie, I've got great news for you. You get to control who reaches those numbers and when they ring. Have an annoying pest who calls you all the time? No problem, set their number to always go to voicemail.

Want to keep your home phone from ringing during dinner? Again, no problem -- you can set it to never ring during the evening dinner hour and automatically go to voicemail instead.

Pretty cool huh?

But as the TV pitchmen say, "That's not all!" Remember how it was back in the days of yore when we first had physical answering machines? Remember how you could screen your calls by listening to the call as it came in and deciding whether to pick up or not?

Yep, Google Voice will do that too.

Another cool feature: have you ever wanted to record a call while you were on it? With Google Voice, you can. Just hit the asterisk (IIRC) key on your phone and you can instantly record those long-winded directions your country friend is giving you.

There are tons of features like these, but I'll give you just one more and then you can go watch the video. Have you ever started a call in your office, but really needed to leave and start making your way home? With Google Voice you can seamlessly transfer a call while in progress to one of your other phones -- from your office to your cell, for instance, and then transfer it again from your cell to your home phone when you get there.

Neat, huh?

Unfortunately, here's the bad part. You can't have it right now. Google Voice is only in limited release and only by invitation. If you want an invite, let me know and I'll send you one when I get more to hand out.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Brennan Manning on the Signature of Jesus

I've been reading and discussing Brennan Manning's wonderful sequel to The Ragamuffin Gospel, The Signature of Jesus. 

If you don't know Manning, he is a former Franciscan priest who witnesses for Jesus. I love Manning, but I will often introduce him to others with the statement that "Manning is a drunk and a liar."  But as he points out, Jesus does not choose perfect disciples. Those of us whom He calls are often anything but perfect.

He makes the point that Jesus lived for others. "He was not simply called but actually was a friend of publicans and sinners. He befriended the rabble, the riffraff of his own culture. 'One of the mysteries ... is this strange attraction of Jesus to the unattractive ... his strange love for the unlovely.'" 

I think of this often when I encounter the poor, who are usually not as photogenic as even a sympathetic Hollywood makes them out to be. No, they are smelly and they have horrible habits, and they are decidedly "unlovely." 

But Jesus loves them and loved them and spent time with them and I think he enjoyed Himself.

Speaking of Jesus' Maundy Thursday role as the washer of the feet of the disciples (in which Christ takes on the role and function of a slave), Manning observes

"What a shocking reversal of our culture's priorities and values! To prefer to be the servant rather than the lord of the household; to merrily taunt the gods of power, prestige, honor, and recognition; to refuse to take oneself seriously; to live without gloom the lackey's agenda -- these are the attitudes and actions that bear the stamp of authentic discipleship."
(Manning, TSOJ p. 96)

He continues, 

"Jesus' ministry of service is rooted in his compassion for the lost, lonely, and broken. Why does he love losers, failures, those on the margin of social respectability? Because the Father does."

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Cam & Maddie at Turkey Mountain - October 2009

One of my favorite urban wilderness hikes, with two of my favorite people: my "Irish twins" Cam and Maddie. Late on a Saturday afternoon after my 47th birthday, we went for a Fall hike, where we found a raft made of two plastic barrels.

Being intrepid explorers, we immediately put the raft to good use and videoed the results with my cellphone.

One of the great consolations of being in your forties is the enjoyment and sense of the bittersweet. Life moves on.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma - A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

As we put the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to bed, I'm finishing up my latest blog post -- and by late, I mean very late: I haven't posted to this blog in a long, long time. It is fitting, though, that the subject is one that involves food and being thankful for the gift of life and creation -- both of which are provided to us by a loving God.

Finished reading Michael Pollan's great food book some time ago -- with a little help from the Holy Spirit.* Was talking to my friend Erick Bell about it just this past weekend as we were helping him move. 

Pollan's book is a fascinating exercise in tracing four typified meals from their very beginnings to their consumption by the author and his family. Pollan -- a professor at the University of California, Berkley -- looks at three (one of which has a variant which becomes the second meal type) different types of meals: the Industrial, the Pastoral, and the Personal.

The Industrial Meal

The first, Industrial, begins with the realization that over the last 40 years, Corn has been in ascendancy in terms of the percentage of our calories which are derived in some part from it. Corn now exists in an astonishing percentage of the industrial food products we Americans consume. When it is not in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) -- a mass-produced, industrialized and cheap form of sweetener now present in practically everything in the supermarket -- it is being fed to the industrially mass-produced protein sources (beef, pork, poultry and now, unbelievably, industrially-raised fish). This is apparently a very bad thing.

For example, Pollan points out that cattle are not naturally equipped to digest corn meal. In fact, it makes them sick. Nonetheless, a diet of corn also very quickly adds mass to the beef cattle that are fed in concentrated industrial Commercial Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOs) where they are packed into lots and fed a diet of corn and antibiotics.

The antibiotics are in part to keep the cattle alive long enough to be slaughtered, as the corn that they're fed literally makes them sick.

Pollan's industrial meal follows the mutation and asexual reproduction of corn plants from the central highlands of Mexico (some 6,000 years ago) to an Iowa farm where corn is big (agri)-business and finally (where else?) to a fast-food meal of McDonald's chicken nuggets consumed in a convertible rolling down the highway.

Pastoral - Big Organic Meal

Next up is the Supermarket Pastoral meal where big organic and natural foods chains market "Organic" with a capital "O". Make that a "capital-ist 'O'", because far from the vision of some hippies hanging out in a commune in Northern California or Vermont or someplace, Organic has indeed become big-business. A look inside my refrigerator betrays the truth of this observation, where my milk comes from Horizon dairy and my eggs from Eggland's Free-Range eggs. (Otherwise, I'm not all that devoted to organic food. I'd like to be, but with four kids to feed, clothe and educate,  my own "capital" leaves something to be desired.)

Pollan investigates the $11 Billion-dollar (2002 figures, probably more now) Organic Food business and what he finds is a mixed bag: yes, the food is mostly well-grown and produced in healthy operations. But corporate food interests being what they are, there is a certain amount of advertising mythos that must needs be applied to prevent the reality that this too is an industrial process. Pollan remarks,
"Organic" on the label conjures up a rich narrative, even if it is the consumer who fills in most of the details, supplying the hero (American Family Farmer), the villain (Agribusinessman), and the literary genre, which I've come to think of as Supermarket Pastoral. By now we know better than to believe this too simple story, but not much better, and the grocery store poets do everything they can to encourage us in our willing suspension of disbelief." (OD, p. 137)

One of the best things that this book did for me, was to remove the Madison Avenue marketing curtain of pastoral mythos from the food sales business in supermarkets. By that I mean that Pollan points out that there is an active effort on the part of the supermarkets to pretend that the food they sell is from the archetypal "American Farm". You see this in the decorations in the supermarket and the packaging of the industrially-produced food that they sell -- the images of red barns and hay bales, as if the food comes from some bucolic paradise where a farmer in a straw hat and his happy cows frolic and gambol across green pastures. 

Pollan made me realize for the first time that these pastoral images by which we're sold the food are complete bunk. The food doesn't come from farms, it comes from factories. There are no bucolic farmers or happy cows. No cartoonish roosters or even any iconic red barns. Instead our food comes from factories, where the animals that become the food are often abused in hellish conditions and live their sorry, short and pain-filled lives deprived of sunlight and even air.  There's no "Farmer John", there's no red barn. There are metal buildings stretching to the horizon. There are stench-emanating CAFO feedlots where the beef or pork constantly stand in seas of their own liquified filth. 

The Organic food business may have slightly improved on this nightmare, but probably not as much as you might think (or hope). Pollan notes the organic slight of hand marketing where organic dairies may claim that their dairy stock "have access to the outdoors", but in reality that may mean there is simply an opening in their concrete and metal warehouse where they might catch a glimpse or earth and sky. Or, they might have actual access to grass free patch of hardscape that is nothing like the idyllic pasture that you and I imagine when we think of farming.

Certainly makes one wonder what they're really buying at Whole Foods, doesn't it? Could be that what you're really purchasing is not much more than an illusion, in the form of a really sophisticated version of the supermarket's pastoral myth.

The Grass-fed Meal: Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm
Joel Salatin is a farmer of a different breed. His operation, far from the mono-culture of the industrial farm factory, resembles nothing so much as the myth that the supermarkets try to sell us with their images of smiling cows and red barns and hay bales.

Salatin, of whom I first read about in Smithsonian Magazine about a decade ago, eschews the industrial model of farming and is famous for his battling of federal regulations and regulators. He wrote a book a few years ago entitled "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal". Salatin has spent his life perfecting his Virginia farm operation and it's beyond-organic natural system.

For example, Salatin has a system of holistic farming that utilizes the inputs and outputs of all of his varied stock of cattle and chickens and so forth. He knows exactly how long to allow the cattle to graze the pastures filled with clover and grass, and how long to delay introducing his chickens to those same fields to harvest the larvae before they hatch and become flies. Here's Pollan on Salatin and his fellow "grass farmers":

"Grass farmers grow animals -- for meat, eggs, milk, and wool -- but regard them as part of a food chain in which grass is the keystone species, the nexus between the solar energy that powers every food chain and the animals we eat. 'To be even more accurate,' Joel has said, 'we should call ourselves sun farmers. The grass is just the way we capture the solar energy.'" (OD, p. 188)
Here's another point that I hadn't really realized until reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: that our food chain and the environment is really a system for the conversion of solar energy into organic matter and, ultimately, human beings. All of the energy we consume on earth -- yes, even the food energy -- is a storage system that is designed to store energy from the Sun. The sun's rays deliver energy which plants synthesize through photo-synthesis and animals eat to convert to flesh, and we then harvest to build our own selves.

Now, perhaps this something that is radically obvious to others. But it wasn't to me. Far from being (merely?) the source of heat and light, our sun is in fact the primary source for all energy and the plants and animals we consume (and thus convert to our own energy-burning bodies) and for us as well. For me as a Catholic, there's a certain symmetrical beauty to this system to extends beyond the electro-chemical mechanics of it all and points us to God and His providence. 

Pollan actually spends some days or weeks living and working with Salatin on his farm, and ultimately even helps to slaughter a chicken. (Salatin is a big believer in the necessity of pulling back the curtains of the abattoir which are purposely hidden from us by the food industry, and letting individuals see and even participate in the slaughter of the food we consume.) 

Salatin (and Pollan, his erstwhile student) bemoan the waste that follows from our current industrial food production system, arguing that Salatin's holistic practices are actually more productive and less wasteful than the industrial systems which rely on hydrocarbons to create, package and ship food across the globe to the point of their ultimate consumption. This, Salatin argues, is the true inefficiency and cannot be sustained except in a system where oil is artifically cheap and plentiful. In a world where energy is no longer is no longer cheap or plentiful, the ultimate considerations are obvious and scary.

"Why did we ever turn away from this free lunch (a' la Salatin's closed cycle of sustainable farming) in favor of a biologically ruinous meal based on corn? Why in the world did Americans every take ruminants (grass eating livestock) off the grass? And how could it come to pass that a fast-food burger produced from corn and fossil fuel actually cost less than burger produced from grass and sunlight?" (OD, p. 199)

You might think -- but would be wrong -- that Joel Salatin's beyond-organic 100-acre farm is less productive than its industrial competition. But that conclusion is not borne out by the facts. According to Pollan, Polyface Farm's 100 acres produce the following astonishing output each year:
  • 30,000 dozen eggs
  • 12,000 broiler chickens
  • 800 stewing hens
  • 25,000 pounds of beef
  • 50,000 pounds of pork
  • 800 turkeys
  • 500 rabbits
 As you might suspect, the quality of the food produced is extremely high. Polyface Farms markets their produce and eggs to high-end gourmet restaurants on the Eastern seaboard. Their eggs, for example, are particularly prized by gourmet chefs for their unusually robust flavor and color.  Salatin's unusual yield and beyond-organic practices might have anyone asking, why indeed have we abandoned this form of multi-culture farming for the mono-cultures based on petroleum and factory farming?

The Hunter-Gatherer Meal

I've managed to get this far without explaining the title of Michael Pollan's book. The "omnivore's dilemma" is this: what shall we eat? It's based on the realization that as omnivore's we can eat practically anything and everything. 

Think of it this way: the sparrow doesn't have to decide whether he'd like a nice salad or a big steak for dinner. His dinner is the same one he ate yesterday, and the day before yesterday and every day. Similarly, the cow doesn't have to decide what to eat today (although once she's sent to the CAFO that feed may change radically). She's eating grass. Today, yesterday and tomorrow.

We're not like that, obviously. Tonight at my house we're having Tyson chicken. Last night we ate tacos with ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and onions and topped with cheddar cheese. Tomorrow it may be left-over turkey and dressing.

The fourth and final meal in Pollan's book is one that is probably the oldest, culturally-speaking: a meal that he hunts and gathers himself. After all, for nearly all of human history man has relied on his own wiles and tools to kill and eat animals, the development of agriculture coming relatively late in human anthropology. In this case it turns out to be roasted wild-boar and mushrooms -- both of which are gathered near his Northern California home. But as you might guess, a Berkeley college professor is not necessarily a big hunter. 

But Pollan figures that it's a classic cop out to object to hunting just because he doesn't want to kill. After all, if you eat meat you're participating in killing for food. Moreover, the killing of your own food is very likely to involve much less pain and cruelty to be inflicted on the animal than causing a given hog to endure the factory farming and CAFO process.  Pollan's experience in learning to hunt and kill his own food is thought provoking and interesting. 

Pollan also delves into the world of mushroom hunters -- a secretive sub-culture that regards mushrooms and their hunting grounds as jealously as any bass fisherman or deer hunter protects his hunting grounds. 

To finish out his hunter-gatherer meal, Pollan dives for abalone, gathers fava beans and arugula from his own garden, and picks cherries from a local cherry tree. He bakes bread made from wild yeast captured from the breeze (who knew the air contains yeast?) and provided chamomile tea gathered from Beverly Hills and wine from a friend with a vineyard.

The end result is a delicious-sounding perfect meal full of warmth and friendship, and leaves the reader wishing he'd been invited. And, as he notes,"Scarcely an ingredient in it had ever worn a label or bar code or price tag...."

*POSTSCRIPT: One of the reasons that I've taken so long to review this book is that in the midst of reading it, I lost the damn thing. There was therefore an unintentional interregnum of several weeks or maybe even months in which I wasn't reading due to its being lost. 

Friends of mine know that I am involved in our local Perpetual Adoration program at the chapel located in St. John Medical Center in Tulsa, where the Blessed Sacrament (Jesus' real presence and body, blood, soul and divinity are contained within a consecrated host) is continually exposed for worship 24/7/364 days a year. 

I mention this because at one point I had nearly despaired of ever finding again my copy of Pollan's book, and late one night I was doing my weekly adoration shift at the chapel when my mind wandered to my lost book and its fate. I found myself thinking, "What if the book were back there on the shelf in the chapel? Wouldn't that be a great thing? What if I cast a glance back there to the bookshelf, and my eyes came to rest on the book? Wouldn't that be cool?"

So, while thinking those thoughts I looked back to the shelf. Unfortunately, my eyesight is not what it used to be, and in the dimly-lit chapel, I really couldn't make out the titles on the spines of the books that were there. 

That's when the thought occurred to me: "Maybe I should wander back there and just look to see what's on the shelf." "Wouldn't it be cool, if I could just wander back there and spot my missing book?" "How neat would that be?"

You can guess what happened next. Yep; believe it or not, that's exactly how and where I found my missing book. You can't tell me that the Holy Spirit wasn't operating there in that chapel that night -- right there in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. 

(Thanks, Lord!)


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The World is Too Much With Us; Late and Soon

William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
Came across this Wordsworth poem -- actually a friend mentioned it to me as we were driving down the street and I Googled it on my smart-phone. (How's that for irony?)

But as so often happens, the thing perfectly described my situation -- and the situation that I've found myself operating in for the past several months now. So that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

As we leave
behind bright October and enter grey November, my thoughts are directed toward the changing of the seasons in both the geographical sense and the allegorical. I observed my forty-seventh birthday last weekend with a hike in the woods. Now don't get me wrong -- I love the woods and I love hiking. (I even have some pretty cool videos I took with my cellphone of Cam and Maddie and Abby playing in a mountain-top pond.) See here:

But there's a certain attenuated sadness -- not depression, not even really unhappiness -- that wreathes my thoughts as we head down into the bottom of the year. There's a sweetness to my sorrow, a sort of melancholy that I find myself not running from but embracing instead and occasionally even stealing glances at from my mind's eye.

Maybe it's just middle-age. Maybe it's regret for the things I haven't accomplished yet. Maybe it's the season. Hell, maybe it's just plain old exhaustion. I don't know.

Anyone have a cure for the malaise of middle age?


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ron Paul Inteview with Time Magazine

Saw this 9/17/2009 interview with Congressman Ron Paul -- the unsuccessful 2008 Republican presidential candidate. In it, Rep. Paul gives his usual light-hearted but eminently reasonable responses to current events and our current situation, fielding questions ranging from his treatment at the hands of the major media to his views on the Federal Reserve. I supported Dr. Paul in his presidential bid, and still do. In fact, I think he's one of the very few government officials who really and truly understand the national predicament we find ourselves in today. For example, Paul's libertarian views against the income tax cut to the heart of the question: income taxes are incompatible with a free society because they derrogate a right to our incomes -- a principle which effectively makes us slaves and cedes our property rights to government. Once we do so, it is no longer a question of whether we own the fruits of labor -- we do not. We are left only to beg for whatever scraps the government decides to allow us to keep. This is slavery. I heard this principle illustrated just the other day while listening to the radio. A caller to some late night radio program was railing against churches paying no taxes. According to him, this was a government "hand-out" to the churches. In other words, letting the churches *keep* all of their donations was a "government giveaway" which removed the churches ability to criticize government policies! So the donations which you and I give to the church are not their property -- but in reality belong to the government which arrogates the power to decide how much of the donations they may keep. Unbelievable, but this is the logical principle to which an income tax must necessarily lead. Anyway, Rep. Paul is one of the very few who seem to understand the crux of this and so many other problems that face this government. Go watch the interview and see how different a course we could have chosen in the last election. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- how far these ideals seem from us today.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Nightmares about the Coming Facist State

Wichita Kansas: early Sunday morning, August 8, 2009 -- I woke up in our hotel room this morning a little before 5:30 a.m. and couldn't make it back to sleep. We've been attending the Midwest Catholic Family Conference -- an annual event in Wichita that draws Catholic speakers and families from all over the world. Great event, very positive. It's exciting to hear these apologists and speakers whose names and stories I've only read about up to now. But one speaker's story has particularly affected me: Immaculee Ilibigaza -- a survivor of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Immaculee hid in a bathroom with 7 other women for weeks, while another tribe was hunting for people like her to hack them to death with machetes. At one point, a mob of 300 people entered the house where she was hidden, and despite searching the small house for 2 hours, Immaculee and the others were miraculously preserved through prayer God and spared the machete-wielding crowd. Immaculee wrote about the harrowing experience in a book entitled "Left to Tell". Although her story is an uplifting one -- full of the power of grace and forgiveness -- it has kicked off the realization within me that what happened in Rwanda *could* happen here. For westerners, the horrors that occurred in 1994 -- when Rwanda was suddenly cast into a maelstrom of violent killing and tribal genocide is nearly inexplicable. We cannot imagine that anything could cause people to suddenly rise up and begin hacking their neighbors to death as quickly as if someone threw a light switch turning otherwise normal people into raging savages bent on an orgy of murder. Actually, I guess we can imagine that -- we hear of violent murders on a daily basis, now that I think of it. No -- it's not that some people went berserk; it's that half of an entire nation did so at a moment's notice. That's the unbelievable part of this tragic story. Part of the impact of Immaculee's story on me personally has to do with the setting. It was here in Wichita several years ago that some black men abducted two couples at gunpoint and forced them to commit various sexually degrading acts, before murdering them all. I can't help but think of this horrible incident whenever I think about Wichita. Man's capacity for atrocity apparently knows no limit. (Another troubling aspect of this horrific event was the fact that the mainstream national media gave this -- like so many other black-on-white crimes -- almost no coverage, so those who do not live in the area are very likely never to have heard of this shocking crime, unlike the Rwandan genocide of course.) Anyway, so Immaculee's story has got me thinking about the ease and the quickness with which this country could descend into the same kind of ethnic and political violence. As the national debate - to the extent there even is one - continues over President Obama's alleged "healthcare reform" (read: "slide into Facism") we move ever deeper into a national morass in which the rabidly anti-life U.S. government will be able to decide who gets medical treatment and when. I recently gave an interview (really just a soundbite) to a local news station in opposition to the healthcare reform proposals, arguing that it is extremely scary to contemplate giving the U.S. government the power over who lives and dies. This will amount to the government deciding who gets catastrophic medical care, and alternatively who is instead merely giving palliative care to ease their slide into death. Healthcare administered by the same "warm and fuzzy" bureaucrats that run the IRS, if you will. Fortunately, there is a sizeable group of Americans who see the implications of handing over the routine power of life and death to this anti-Life government of radical 60's leftists. These people have been turning out to give their congressman and senators an earful in their districts -- where they are allowed to speak to their Capitol Hill masters, that is. (Some congressional office holders have moved to prevent public speaking at their appearances back home in their districts.) In other places, groups of thuggish union members and community organizations like the corrupt to the core SEIU and ACORN have actually threatened and intimidated people from speaking out at these meetings. Elsewhere, others have likened these people to the Brownshirts -- Nazi-orchestrated civilians which were used to silence dissent in pre-war Germany. Seems to me that ACORN and the SEIU fit the brownshirt description nicely. Being here in Wichita brings up better memories as well, though. Wichita was for a long time the home of Rich Mullins -- one of a very short list of men who have had a profound impact on my life and faith. Last evening after the family conference shut down, we drove over to Friends University where Rich attended and got his music degree, and nearby Newman University, whose St. Joseph Square is featured in Mullins' song, "Peace: A Communion Song from St. Joseph's Square." One of the many things that Rich said that has stuck with me, was that governments are inherently anti-life, and we should not be surprised to realize this. At one point, Rich thanked God for Richard Nixon, because he said, Nixon made it impossible for us to think that governments would ever be anything but anti-Christian and anti-life. "Democracy is not bad politics," Rich further explained. "It's just bad math." "It's the mistake that believing that a thousand corrupt minds are better than one corrupt mind." I don't think there are very many if any people out there in America today who imagine that this country could descend into the same bloody violence as what occurred in Rwanda in 1994. Surely, I must be nearly alone in fearing this. Some conservatives recognize the dangers that the Obama administration poses to our very lives, but overall the American people remain fat and happy. (I'm reminded of the line from the movie Animal House in which the dean tells the college student "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.") If that's not a perfect description for Americans in general, it's close, nonetheless. But still -- this is the stuff of nightmares that keep me from sleep, these days. God help us.