Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Snowden and Liberty

I find it a little bit eerie that the Edward Snowden story broke as I was writing something completely unrelated, but having everything to do with each other. I ended with a statement imploring people to recognize that everything they do is important. We all have to make decisions, some more momentous than others. I read a managerial-type book called Crucial Conversations not that long ago. In it, the authors derive that there are a specific set of criteria that make a conversation "crucial". Essentially, it's the fact that the decision one has to make is forced, immediate and irreversible. I keep thinking about Mr. Snowden and what drove him to release that information. Did he have an "it's now or never" moment? Was his character such that he immediately reacted when he found out that our government was tracking private citizens' information; or did it gnaw at him over the months he was contracted with the NSA and finally he chose to answer his conscience? I guess what I'm getting at is when does a momentous decision become a crucial one? I think it has a lot to do with our perception. I think this really gets to the heart of the disparity to people's reactions to this.
Hero of freedom, or security threat with a savior-complex?
- If you believe that there is a certain altruism to the government, that the government is us, then I imagine that you are pretty pissed at Snowden. You're the one commenting on the news articles that he just made America a little less safe, or who is he to decide what we should know?
- If you think we should have a limited government, because by nature all systems that are powerful are inherently dangerous, then I'm assuming you are the personal ringing the church bells and hailing Snowden as a hero.
- Then there's the third person, who see this as a small glimpse into the shadowy world that exists apart from our daily lives and what we are allowed to see. The "security" side of government that has placed itself above the laws and Constitution of the United States. This is the person who wouldn't be commenting on a news piece because he's too busy fortifying their underground bunker.

All joking aside, I think we should have a little of all these people inside of us. In fact, I was reading an article where a gentleman said he was glad for Libertarians, even though he doesn't support their ideology of how a government can be run. He likes that there are liberty watchdogs, ready to raise the warning siren when someone tries to impinge on that freedom.

Last night, I was watching the deeply philosophical work Kung-Fu Panda. The school master and master emeritus (?) were having a discussion under a peach tree about control. How true control is an illusion, that there are rules to the universe and that we exist within this setting of which we have no control over. While that particular discussion was very "Eastern", the same problem is addressed in Western philosophy as the free will vs. determinism argument. This argument finds it's way back to Scholastic Philosophy, that if God is all knowing and all powerful how can we pretend that we have any choice in things, but at the same time, it is centrally held in Christianity, that God gave us free will. This argument is still alive and well today, even if academic philosophy has moved out of the realm of priests and theologians. We can look at an ordered and predetermined universe and ask the same question. Short story long, is what we have in this country freedom, or the illusion of it? My answer is yes we do, as long as it fits within a prescribed, agreed upon, notion of liberty. It's as if someone is telling you, "You can do whatever you want, as long as you choose it from this menu." I think that choice and the menu has always been there. I think that the angst that Americans are feeling is that the menu is getting smaller, and the prices are getting larger. Worse, there are others who still know how to order off-menu items and for the right price. I think if we stick with the restaurant analogy, most of us would be happy every day, going to the same sandwich shop, getting our ham and swiss on rye with a side of chips for what we consider a reasonable price for a sandwich. We only become indignant the day that someone walks in and gets a prime sirloin on a sourdough roll with a side of steak fries. "They have steak fries?" "Wait, they have a fryer?!!" "Why wasn't I told about the delicious sliced sirloin?" And the last question is what gets us every time: Why wasn't I told...

 Why was the Patriot Act necessary? Why was the Affordable Healthcare Act 9,000 pages long and congressman were essentially being told they had to vote for it to find out what was in it? Why do we need a prison in Guantanamo Bay? I find that it's usually when people have something to hide that they become secretive. I think most of our bullshit meters go off when the government's response to something that was secret is uncovered and their response is, "We weren't doing anything illegal or immoral, and we definitely weren't infringing on your rights. Trust us, it was in your best interest." I think our response will always instinctively be 1) If you weren't doing something shady, why were you hiding it from me? and 2) Why don't you let me be the judge of what's in my best interest.

Remember, Remember...

Thursday, June 6, 2013


There is a bill about to be passed by congress that subsidizes big growers to make huge swaths of the stuff we've heard others complaining about for the past decade or so: high fructose corn syrup, soy additives, and doing so using pesticides and genetically engineered crops. It's creatively called the Farm Bill. I assume that it was originally created with good purpose to keep farmers from going belly up in bad seasons and ensure an ample amount of sustenance for the American population. It gets renewed every 5 years or so and has, over the years, mutated into something that has been tailor made to benefit big agro and those that can afford lobbyists and friends in Washington. This kind of subsidy is, first, a huge waste of taxpayers' money and, more importantly, all but removes the ability of the small farmer to remain competitive and self-sustaining due to the government's artificial steering of the market. I hope you had two reactions to that, "Damn, that makes me mad!" and "I wish I could do something about that!"

        You can. Here's what I did. It's not overly political. I didn't write my congressman. He wouldn't care anyway, since this is such a minor issue that he knows that he'll never get elected or unelected on farm subsidies. He might if I lived in, say, Nebraska. But I live in a Philadelphia suburb, so I doubt it's a big ticket issue. Not when we have things like gay marriage and illegal immigration to distract us. Sorry... here's what I did.

       I'm telling you about it. I am sharing my concern in the hopes that you will read this and agree and tell somebody else. The next thing is that I joined a CSA. That's Community Supported Agriculture. Yup, right here in Lower Bucks County, mere minutes from Levittown, there is a farm that is supported by members who get to reap the benefits of locally grown, pesticide free food. The CSA is mostly vegetables, they have a small assortment of fruits that do well in our growing zone (apples, strawberries, blackberries), they also sell eggs and have a pig share too. The first pick up is today and I will have fresh vegetables available every week until November. If you want to check it out in more detail, click here: Snipes Farm

      It's a small thing I know, but it's a start. We have to start believing that what we do makes a difference. Even the really small things. Buying things locally made supports your community and reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in transporting it. We have local breweries here too!! Neshaminy Creek Brewing There are wineries, and other local farms where you can buy direct, and don't have to join a CSA. I haven't done my research as to how environmentally friendly they are, but again, buying local is already a benefit, even if not organic.

      To come back to a final thought. I hate government involvement in almost everything. Protect my life, liberty and property, and I'll take care of the rest. I believe that we can truly use the free market to build the world we want, but we have to put our money where it will make a difference. We have to be moral consumers. I'm not saying you have to buy everything made in America, but let's stop buying from countries that are human rights violators. I'm thinking gasoline might be one of those things, when you consider where a lot of it comes from. Obviously, anything made in China would fit the bill. I don't think that we can legislate morality. Laws will never make men good. Ultimately, humanity will get the world that it deserves, by the choices its individuals make. You can change reality, by changing the world in your immediate grasp, you'll never change it by forcing people you don't know to obey statutes. The first part of that statement is the most important though. Never stop believing that what you do is important, and that it will have a positive or negative impact.

Friday, May 31, 2013


I tripped over this article in my Google feed today. This is one of the most misinformed and rhetoric lined pieces of nonsense I have ever read. I don't claim to be an expert on European politics or the Irish economy, but I thought I smelled something funny the minute I started reading the article. I sped my rate of reading, growing more and more flabbergasted, to quickly get to the comments. Thanks to the good citizens of Fermanagh, I learned that there isn't one piece of factual information in the article. I would go so far to call it yellow journalism. Here is a person who is so hell-bent on demonizing austerity that he will grab any small fact and expound on it and twist until it fits hits socialist agenda. One small example of his jingoism, he used a photo from Disney World as the leading illustration! Last I checked, there was no Disney in Northern Ireland. He even conflates the Celtic Tiger phenomenon with this town (or county, that seems to be something else he can't keep straight), which is in Northern Ireland, not the Republic of Ireland. At first, I wrote this off as the fact that this guy is just a jackass and decided to write an article without any fact checking. The more I started to think about it, the more I felt that he is culpable of much more. I can't help but suspect that he purposefully misconstrued the facts in order to rally the more left-leaning troops or confuse the fence sitters to lean a little more left. I can't prove that though. Let's assume that he did just make some honest geographical mistakes and he didn't realize that Ireland and Northern Ireland are two different countries with two different economies. Even though this is a completely embarrassing article if he is in fact a real journalist, I guess I can see someone making a mistake. But it is certainly not an honest mistake. This is the mistake of the believer, so wrapped up in his own world view that he believes that his story must be the true one, facts be damned! This is an extreme example of what happens in journalism when one tweaks the facts and spins the story to give a desired outcomes. It's articles like this that reminds those of us that are conscious of the attempts to skew our paradigm, that we must remain ever vigilant. You aren't always given a "gift" article like this that shows its true colors. The dangerous ones are those that look and smell authentic.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Giant Sequoia

Not the Levittown redwoods, but this is taken in Pennsylvania

I love a good urban legend. I was just recently informed that there are rumored redwood trees growing in Levittown. My best lead so far is that they are the Snowball Gate section right off rte 413. I drove through there over the holiday weekend, with my intrepid wife, and we swore we saw them. According to my source though, the exact location we reported them from is not where the sequoia are located. These are very elusive trees! Which you wouldn't think would be an adjective you'd use to describe a giant redwood. Part of the story that fuels the urban legend is that the owners of the properties which the trees inhabit do not want people to know that there are redwoods growing on the property. I have been able to hunt down several explanations as to why, the most plausible is that they do not want their yard to become a tourist attraction.

The back story to the legend maintains that the houses in Levittown were all built using redwood trees forested from the same area in northern California. As a gift to William Levitt upon the completion of Levittown, PA, the owners of the lumber company presented him with three Giant Sequoias and they were placed on what was originally one of the Levitt Estates sites. The site was eventually converted into more homes, but the sequoias remained.

Luckily, I live within walking distance of Snowball Gate. I am waiting for my dog to fully recover from his "procedure", and then we will be off to find visual evidence of the existence of these elusive Levittown redwoods. I have received what I believe to be a more exact location. The problem with smaller redwoods is that they look a heck of a lot like cedars. I have my suspicions that this may be origin of the legend. I may have to enlist the services of a botanist to determine the proper genus and species of the tree in question. This may also involve collecting physical specimens from the tree and not just photo evidence. From what I've been told, two of the three are located in back yards, which may make the specimen collecting tricky, perhaps illegal; particularly if the stories are true that the home owners are very shy about sharing their awesome flora. I'm willing to risk it. Science!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Ethics of Fairness

A little girl with cystic fibrosis is waiting for a donor so she can have a life-saving lung transplant. Her parents are upset for what they perceive as an unfairness in the wait-listing system for people who receive these donor lungs. I find these cases infinitely interesting. While, yes, it is sad that it is a small child and it pulls at our heart strings; this is one of those things that ethicists, particular biomedical ethicists deal with all the time. The crux of the argument is that children and adults are on different wait lists. Each list ranks patients on a "severity scale" and according to the points, they're ranked in order. Children have much different cardiopulmonary needs than adults, so it was decided when the point system was created that being under or over the age of 12 would put you on different lists. For children, only after all adults have been offered an adult lung would they be considered. The parents, understandably desperate for their child to live, are shouting from the rooftops that this practice is unfair. Let's dissect the ethical issues at play.

The first thing that sticks out is that people are calling for an "exception to the rule". I put that in quotes since it's not really what we're talking about. This isn't an exception to a rule, but a blatant disregard for a system put into place to ensure fairness. The whole point of an external decision-making system is to remove the onus from the decision maker on an individual basis. The decision was previously made that candidates awaiting lung transplants would be ranked according to a certain set of criteria. To make an exception is to set a precedent to that rule. One would then have to make a set of rules that govern when someone can circumvent the process. Agreed upon rules or processes are a covenant signed by our society that ensure that equality exists no matter the situation. If you allow for exceptions, why have a rule in the first place? We should then just make the rule that we'll decide on a case-by-case basis.

Alright, so an exception doesn't seem ethically feasible. Another suggestion was that the rule needs to be changed due to its "unfairness". It does at first blush seem unfair that a little girl should die waiting for available lungs. But we have to be careful how we use this word. I think that sentiment expresses a meaning emoted in the phrase, "The world is unfair." The world obviously cannot be fair or unfair, since it is not a rational agent. The world just is. In that case, I think we need to substitute the word and say, "Things that happen in the world make us sad." It is then sad that a little girl might die because she has a horrible disease that can only be treated with an organ transplant that is hard to come by. It is not, however, unfair or unjust just because it makes us feel sad. Fairness and justice are concepts reflecting a very cold and calculated outcome. There's a reason that the statue representing justice has its eyes covered. Justice should be blind to the plight of the individual, if that means special privileges based on something other than the criteria put forth to judge that situation.

The toughest thing in ethics is to be the person to say, "I'm sorry, but the answer is no." I'm sure everyone feels for this girl and feels for the parents and feels for the physicians who want to help. The biggest problem with rules is that people like them until they're the ones who are negatively effected by the rules. I'm perfectly OK that the Navy has a cut-off for height for submariners and fighter pilots. I am, however, not in the Navy. Is it unfair that since I am over 6 feet tall that I can never serve in one of those capacities? I don't really care, as I don't desire to fly in an F-22 or be 20,000 leagues under the sea. Most would even think it was silly for anyone to even fight that regulation, since you cannot physically fit in either of those roles if you are over 5'10" (full disclosure: I have no idea any of that is true, but it sounds reasonable enough to use as my example). This goes all the way back to the foundations of philosophy. I won't go into the Trial and Death of Socrates, but he essentially supports the same thing. Even though it sucked that he was sentenced to death by a kangaroo court, that was the system he lived under and enjoyed the society it supported, so if that system decided he should die then he had to abide by the rules.

Finally, the list is built on medical feasibility. They could use adult lungs on this little girl, but the chance of her body accepting them is much less than if they were given to an adult. That's the reason the rule exists. If I were to be the next person in line to get a set of lungs and someone got to butt in front of me because of public outcry, let's just say I'd be a little upset. I'd be a lot upset if I found out they gave it to a candidate that had a much less better chance of surviving than I did. In sum, rules are rules, ethics is hard, I feel bad for everyone in the situation, but I don't agree with them. 

Monday, May 20, 2013


I have sometimes referred to the necktie as the yoke my masters have placed around my neck to remind me of my voluntary servitude. It truly is one of the last vestiges left over from the Victorian era. I guess technically, cuff links apply too, but no one expects you to wear cuff links to work. Particularly since the invention of the button. I bring this up because there has been, over the last couple years, a sort of revolt against the tie. I suppose in different sectors of our society, people have tried to find the alternative to the neck tie: the ascot, bow tie, bolo tie, that really big tuxedo button. We have never been able to truly move away from the old Windsor knot hanging from your neck style though. There are many reasons I can think for eliminating the tie from men's wardrobe. They're silly. Every other piece of men's clothing is functional, the tie serves no purpose and therefore stands out as something completely out of step in a person's wardrobe. Did someone decide that it's inappropriate to show your buttons? Because that's the only thing i can think of, it's a button cover. It's hazardous. I work in a hospital. I am issued a badge holder with a break away loop. If they are worried about a crazed patient choking me to death with my badge, why am I even allowed to wear a tie to work, let alone expected? I know that in other professions that require ties as part of their uniform (police, security) they have fake ties only held on by velcro. Why don't you just get rid of the ties, instead of MAKING SAFETY TIES?!!!!

I know some of you might be thinking, "But Bob, it's a standard for business dress, and a conventional part of the wardrobe, like women wearing earrings." Fine, I'll accept that, but I think conventions are changing rather quickly. In the brave new world of internet companies and small entrepreneurial businesses, people are questioning what the appropriate level of expectation is in the work place, this not only applies to wardrobe, but to interior design, location, work hours. I also work in a setting where people are wearing the uniform equivalent of pajamas. That's right, scrubs. I miss scrubs. Ask anyone who works in a medical setting. They LOVE scrubs. Scrubs are awesome. I used to get to wear scrubs and work 3 days (ok, nights) a week. Suddenly, I'm in charge of something and my wardrobe is restrictive. Shouldn't this be the other way around? The other thing about hospitals being one of the most casual work-clothing environments in the world (particularly for how serious the actual work is. next time you're having a bad day, ask yourself if anybody died at your workplace today), is that women who have ascended above the rank of scrub-wearer are almost always business casual. I rarely see a female leader in a suit, and if they are, they certainly are not expected to wear some find of neck-decoration. Don't say jewelry. If I wore a chain, it would certainly not be accepted as a tie-substitute. And why are women allowed to be less and less formal every year? Remember pantyhose? Yeah, nobody has to wear that anymore! Which makes sense, because they would look weird with your dressy flip-flops. This is clearly reverse sexism. How in the hell can fashion have devolved enough that flip flops are perfectly acceptable as formal wear, yet men still have to wear ties? And a very specific type of tie at that. It's not like I'm attending a coronation or president's ball. I understand specific costuming for particular events. I even appreciate it.

Some brave souls here have taken to appearing sans tie a couple of times since it got warmer. I can't believe how uncomfortably comfortable they look. The attention for a man not wearing a tie is the woman equivalent of getting a new haircut, "Oh my God, you're not wearing a tie! Good for you, man! Did you give your two weeks notice?"
"What? Bobby wasn't wearing a tie last week!"
"Whoa, that was on Friday. No tie-day Friday is a given. Don't drag me into this. You're sporting tweed and chinos on a Tuesday, bro."
"Well, it was nice working with you all. I'm going to wander out into the traffic on 413 and pray someone hits me."

"Shame about Bill, I really liked him."
"Yeah, he had a lot of promise, but seriously, no tie, midweek, and it's not even after Memorial Day? What did he think was going to happen?"

Friday, May 17, 2013


As if the Gosnell trial isn't muddying the waters of alive vs. unalive enough, a new player has entered the arena. John Andrew Welden. This guy gave his girlfriend an abortion-causing drug, telling her it was an antibiotic because his OB father had diagnosed her with an infection. He is being charged with first degree murder and felony pharmaceutical fraud charges. You all know the point here. I'm not going to belabor the argument anymore. I just don't understand how abortion can be murder and not-murder at the same time. It doesn't make sense. The only reason I keep coming up with is we're dealing with a convenient truth. The myth of abortion not being the taking of another human life cannot be rationalized when the law says differently in every other circumstance. Do you want it to be legal? Fine. Just call it what it is, justified murder.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Gosnell Trial

This is going to get heavy. Sorry in advance.

For those living under a rock, Dr. Gosnell, an abortionist from South Philly was found guilty of first degree murder of three infants. He was just sentenced to life in prison, which probably won't be that long, since he's in his late 70s. There are so many ethical and moral issues surrounding this case that I don't even know where to begin, taking advantage of the poor and underpriveleged, the lawyer trying to say this is about race, the lack of regulation of abortion clinics in the name of "unrestricted healthcare", the lack of coverage in the national news...

I read a wonderful opinion article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (and I must commend the Inquirer for it's unflagging coverage of this event, eventually shaming the bigger news outlets to cover this case). It was written by a Philadelphia lawyer named Christine Flowers. You can read it here. The part that struck me was her comment on how we've changed the language of what is happening when an abortion takes place. By using terms like abortion, or D&X, or termination, referring to the procedure and not the action, which is the intentional ending of a human life. I have spent too much time thinking about this, reading about this, truly questioning the origins of religious belief, western views, even non-western views on human life in the womb. I won't say that I cannot be convinced that it is not a human life, but I can't think of any arguments that would sway me. I will openly consider an argument that abortion is necessary, or that a woman's choice trumps the life of the unborn, or that making it illegal will only put more lives at risk. Those are fine examples as to why it should be allowed, but I will no longer accept that a fetus is a bunch of cells akin to a tumor or an organ.There are certain times when we allow killing another human in our society: war, self-defense, capital punishment, but we have never made the argument that we are not ending a human life, we argue that the end justifies the mean. Make that argument all you want, but please stop trying to convince the world that abortion is not murder. When the world reacts to Gosnell's actions with such vehemence, such revulsion, you know that something is very wrong with what is going on. One of my favorite quotes from this was that if you made this into a movie, you'd never be able to release it because the screening audience would be running for the doors and vomiting in the aisles. The descriptions of what went on sound like the makings for a horror movie; parts of human fetuses preserved in formaldehyde, children being born into toilet basins to then have their spinal cords severed, some being dismembered. The most disturbing thing is that we are so outraged because these things happened outside of the womb. If he had performed these repulsive acts inside the womb, they would be considered legal. As the Flower's article said, the language of Roe v. Wade has lulled us into a sense of okayness with the ending of human lives in the name of equal rights and reproductive freedom.

I'd like to explore the psychology at work here. I strongly feel that Gosnell was able to perform these heinous acts, because underneath all of the medical jargon and rationalizing was the awareness that what he was doing was ending human lives. The line between murder and abortion becomes very thin then. I can almost understand how after seeing thousands of aborted fetuses (trust me, they look like tiny babies, not a cluster of cells), one would become desensitized to killing. The leap from ending a pregnancy before 26 weeks (the law in Pennsylvania), to in the second trimester, to a late-term abortion, to partial birth abortion, to infanticide are pretty short ones. There is a slippery slope at work here. This falls right into the trap of euthanasia, human trafficking, capital punishment, slavery, sexual objectification... once human life is trivialized in any form, it is not long before a society stops regarding human life as anything important at all. St Theresa of Calcutta knew this. She has a very famous quote equating abortion to the rising violence in our society. It is illogical for the same person to shake their heads and say they can't understand how young men will kill each other over sneakers, and then say that another has a right to take a life because that is their right. In both cases, the ends justify the means. If human life is not held sacrosanct and the right that is protected above all others, we will find these acts that make humanity less human happening more and more often.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Goings on

Over the weekend, I volunteered to help with the time keeping table at a 5K set up to raise awareness about pedestrian safety and fund raise to put sidewalks in on New Falls Rd. Before the raise started, I noticed a gentleman wearing a shirt that said Levittown Now. I initially though, "Sweet Levittown t-shirt, bro." Then I realized he was interviewing different event organizers and that LevittownNow is a news website specifically for the Levittown Area! I checked it out. I assumed it would be a website that would collect other articles and links, but it is actually full of originally written articles from their own staff. I was quite impressed. I've thought for a long time that good ol' L-town should have something like this that gives you insight into things like community happenings and local politics. I mean, every town should have this, but I always thought Levittownians would benefit particularly, due to the odd configuration of townships and boroughs and school districts and parishes and park systems and civic organizations that tend to overlap and obfuscate the goings on of our little burg. Even if your not from around here, check it out, it's a nifty little website.

This also got me thinking about those same civic organizations in Levittown. The more I'm around this stuff, the more I realize that these organizations are the backbone of the American community. I'm completely using my own experience as the evidence for this, so maybe I'm wrong, but... It seems that every time something is going on to improve the community, or benefit those less fortunate, or increase the amount of local fun to be had, there is always either a club behind it or heavily supporting it. Personally, I belong to the Knights of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The former is a Catholic men's organization, the latter is for Irish-Catholics (both born and descended). Both are international organizations, but made up local chapters that tend to support things locally. These two groups are obviously pretty specific on their membership requirements, but their are plenty more non-sectarian groups that I see helping out: VFW and Legion, Rotary, Eagles, Elks, Lions. I know a lot of people think these are just drinking clubs, or professional networking societies. I'm not saying that doesn't go on. What I am saying is that these social clubs tend to be the "standing committee" for all the things the community relies on. Looking for a donation to pay for something? Send a letter to the Hibos. Need an event staffed for free? See if the Knights are free that weekend. The issue I'm raising is that I don't think that it is in the forefront of people's consciousness that these clubs are an essential part of the sense of community that exists in our area. Again, I'm not speaking for everywhere, maybe the town council or the fire companies or boy scouts provide all of this where you live. (This feels a bit like when I was in college in a Greek letter organization. Everyone enjoys the benefits of having a reserve force of volunteers and a standard bearer for campus social life, but tend to quail when asked to join or get involved.) The problem is that there seems to be less interest in these clubs every year. Not only the interest in joining, but staying involved. People tend to show up to a lot of the events that are sponsored, but aren't willing to become one of those behind the scene supporters that enables these events to happen or to ensure their continuation. So, take some time this summer, while you're at a parish carnival, a walk&run fundraiser, beef&beer, or parade and notice the polo shirts or signs at the event. Take a minute to think about how much your community would be missing out on if it weren't for these organizations and their mission to support those endeavors. Ask yourself if this may be the thing that is missing in places that don't have a sense of community. Ask yourself if those things are worth your time and effort to make sure that they continue to happen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

writing to write

I'm going to take a friends advice and just write, even when I think I don't have anything to write about. Lately, it hasn't been inspiration, but a lack of motivation and a perceived lack of time. I write "perceived", because I think it's a bullshit excuse when people say they don't have the time. You make time for things you give a shit about. Just say you don't want to do it, because that's essentially what you're saying by your inaction.

Today is Ascension Thursday (how did I not know how to spell that until I ran the spell checker?). That's when Jesus went to heaven after he rose from the dead. It's also a holy day of obligation. I went to mass on my lunch break. I began to wonder what it looked like. I mean, we've seen the paintings of him rising majestically above the apostles, but what was his rate of ascent? Did he kind of pause and then shoot off Neo-style? Did it look like an alien abduction, like he was in a tractor beam? I tried to think about him ascending slowly and gracefully, but it just looks awkward in my mind. Like he would keep looking up, and looking down again and waving and then the apostles would all look at each other like, "Should we go... I don't really have anything else planned, buuutttt..." and then they would look up and wave with a half smile. "Bye, Jesus. See you soon! Wait, see you soon? Am I...?" It would be weird right? After a while, Thomas would be saying, "I think I can still see him! oh wait, no I don't. Wait! Yes I do, that little dot next to the cloud. No, the cloud that looks like a dragon. No, left of that. Yeah, where his wing would be if it was half folded back. Oh, now he's gone, never mind."

I ran into two friends from high school today. They are sisters and they aren't on Facebook. It truly made me appreciate my last post and Facebook too. I felt like I had lost a sense. Like I was suddenly thrown into a pitch black room. Usually, I'm all up to speed when I run into someone that I know: Kids, marital status, employment, etc. I have no idea what either of them have been doing for the last 10 years! Turns out one works here at the same hospital I do. The other one reported that she has kidney stones. I was on my way to the aforementioned lunchtime mass and they were dealing with calcium deposits, so that's all I know! I felt so empty! I wanted to ask them a million questions. Facebook always lets you think you have more time. I'll drop them a quick note later, or at least stalk their pics to figure out what they've been up to! Not this time! They just faded right back into the abyss of my memory. Real life is officially more surreal than FB! Now I haven't seen or talked to them in over a decade and all of a sudden I miss them. I hope they are doing well and happy. I hope sister #2's kidney stones pass soon. I hope they were as excited to see me as I them. I've started to hear myself writing in Morgan Freeman's voice, so I'm going to stop.

Oh, one more thing! The greatest blog ever has returned. I mean its always been there, it just hasn't been updated in a long time. Hyperbole and a Half! If you enjoy reading this blog, prepare to have your face melt off. I'm warning you, DO NOT READ IT AT WORK! Your colleagues will think you are having some kind of laughing seizure. If you don't heed my warning, at least promise you won't read anything about her dogs until you are home. alone. with the windows shut.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Facebook Friends

So, I know I usually rail against all things inauthentic, but I'm becoming aware of a weird phenomenon. The Facebook friend. I'm not talking about those people that you already have an in-person relationship with, but those that are pretty much only your friend on Facebook and would only be considered an acquaintance in real life. I find myself constantly liking their comments, sharing in threads, and find them being the first people to "like" something that I write or share. I didn't really find it odd, until I noticed that these interactions take place more frequently than my interactions with my "physical world" friends. Am I nurturing "virtual relationships"? I certainly feel a kinship to those that share pictures or memes that I like. I feel like I know them in a more personal way than before I knew them as a Facebook personality.

I think that word "personality" sums up my nagging feeling. I have a hard time figuring out if this is the "real" person or the person they want to project to the internet community. Can you develop an authentic relationship with someone based on liking the same pictures, and finding the same type of jokes witty? Can you really experience a person in an already predetermined way that is set by the rules of the programmers? Then I started really thinking... (that ellipsis is trying to show the time I spent pondering) Aren't all of our interactions like this? Don't we relate to most people in a set of rules preordained by our societal norms and mores? An even deeper question is, "Who do we really know?" I assume that everyone is like me, and that the things I see on the outside correlate to the things I am feeling on the inside. I have no way of knowing that is true. I also know that I have an internal, or a first person, me that exists that no one else gets to see except in the third person. Our physical state sets up a duality with our mental state. Even if unintentional, who we think we are can often differ greatly from what others perceive us to be. Is their much difference between the body that shields us from others or the computer screen? Oddly enough, sometimes i think there are moments when people put things on Facebook that gives me much more insight into who they are, than any in-person interaction ever has. We tend to be more polite in social settings. We care more about listening to the other person's argument, because we see them as a flesh and blood person, who has feelings, and who also has the power to ruin your nice evening if provoked. In Facebookland, what's the worse that can happen, you get defriended, or someone zings you on a comment? You move on. That doesn't happen in real life. My point is, when people acquiesce to someone else's preference in order to preserve the social order, they must hide or hold back a bit of themselves. That "bit of themselves" we rarely get to see. I don't know if there's a lesson to be learned here, or if this is just an observation, but I think that there are so many interesting things that we're learning every day from watching and also participating in social media. Particularly interesting are the things we are learning about ourselves.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Eucharist and Transubstantiation

I promised to write this post in another posting to hold me to it. I'm not an expert on Catholic dogma and I fear I will misspeak, but I'm going to give it a shot.

First off, I love converts to Catholicism. I'm not trying to put down "cradle Catholics", and I don't think we take everything for granted, but we're so milktoast about our faith, particularly the celebration of it. That's right, I said celebration. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The biggest reason I've heard from other Catholics as to why they don't attend mass is that they find it boring. I think a lot of the blame is on our approach. I've been to those masses where the majority of the congregation mumbles their way through the responses, absolutely refuses to be involved with anything resembling a tune, and makes a b-line for the door right after they receive communion. Now I will admit, I have been to mass and "clock-watched". There are many reasons to count the minutes on Sunday morning. Mine are kick-off times, boring homilies, and hangovers.

OK, so I love, LOVE, converts. There is a show on EWTN that makes me feel good every time I catch it on. I don't even know the name of it. It's just a simple interview format, with a host and a guest. The guest is always someone who not only converted to Catholicism, but had to make huge sacrifices in their lives to do so. We're talking protestant ministers or ministers' wives or people who's faith practice was so ingrained into who they were as a person that it seemed that only an act of God could separate them from their current situation. To hear them talk is to truly see the Holy Spirit at work in the world. They sound like a little kid explaining Christmas morning, "And then Jesus loved us so much, that he gave us his own body and blood, to sustain us until we can be with him in person." or "How could Jesus leave us alone after he ascended into heaven? Of course there has to be a Pope!" These things that used to be anathema to them, for some even defining their faith, now are proclaiming it on a level unknown to most lifetime Catholics.

It was such a person that said something so beautiful that I can't get the image out of my mind. And it wasn't just what he said, but how he said it. It's completely inconsequential to the story, but he's the son of "Night Train" Lane, the running back for the Rams. It's not so inconsequential that he was a Baptist minister, before his conversion. He said that the best criticism he ever heard about Catholics was from an atheist author, who said that 76% of Catholics don't believe in the transubstantiation (that's the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Jesus Christ). You're probably thinking the same thing I was, "What the crap is this? Are you serious?!" It was right then that he dropped the bomb on me, "only 24% of all Catholics attend mass every Sunday!" And that's when he threw himself on the ground, and began pulling himself across the stage, "If Catholics really believed that their God was making himself present to them in the sacrifice of the mass, they would be dragging themselves on their hands and knees every day, let alone once a week, to see Him!" It was such a powerful image. And it was an image that I think only someone who has viewed Catholicism from both sides could bring to us. For us cradle Catholics, it's always been that way, "Yup, I go up and get the little wafer. Uhuh, it's Jesus. That's what they told me in third grade." His take was completely different. He couldn't help but look up at the tabernacle, at the priest in front of the altar, at the re-creation of the last supper, and think, "That's God! Right here in front of me! Not someone who lived 2000 years ago, or that is light years away, or in some other dimension that only exists in thought or some spirit-world. He's right here, in a physical presence! In our corporeal world!" What must that have felt like, when he first came to that realization? Here's my lame allegory: I grew up always knowing that Vader was Luke's father. I don't know when I learned it, but it was just part of the Star Wars story. I wasn't old enough to have seen Empire in the theater. I've always wondered what it would feel like, the shock that someone felt, sitting in the theater hearing, "Luke, I am your father!" That's the best I've got, sorry. But that doesn't mean that his explanation hasn't opened my eyes to the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. I've always believed that the bread and wine really become the body and blood, but I never reflected on the enormity of that fact. I find myself moved to tears now after I return to the pew after receiving communion.

Look, I know not everyone that reads this is Catholic, or even Christian, or even believes in a higher power. But my hope is that you discover something in your life that is "sacred". That makes you feel that sensation of pure joy, that you hold up as supremely special and that it gives you a deep and profound sense of being. If you don't know what I'm speaking about, read a book called Racing in the Rain. It may be one of the most poignant and touching books I've ever had the privilege of reading, and I think it demonstrates the idea of sacred in a very sincere way. It overwhelmed me the way that I think true believers should be overwhelmed by those holy moments that give our lives meaning and purpose.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Game of Thrones

Newsflash: George R.R. Martin is not the American J.R.R. Tolkien. If he is, I feel sorry for America. I suppose there is some skill in keeping a story going for so long without resolving a single plot line. How much longer can this go on? I just finished A Dance With Dragons. It's torture. It's the kind of disappointment I felt after reading a third Dan Brown novel. You know, when you discover that all of his books are the same exact plot with different character names and locations?

George, you can't just keep introducing new characters and story lines that have nothing to do with the original story lines!! Really, Robert the Strong?! Is that necessary? Was Davos Seaworth's whole freaking life story necessary to advance the story of Stannis Baratheon's campaign? Is he a foil to Melisandre? I consider myself to be a fairly astute reader, but I just don't get it. The only way I can wrap my brain around it is that this is just a soap opera with dragons and ghosts. The problem is that you can't take on something this large in scale and not have a game plan. It just slowly boils down and falls apart. It's like he has three dartboards, one with character names, location and event. Let's see... toss... thud! Bran Stark. toss... thud! at Winterfell. toss... thud! pushed out window. At first I liked the random killing off of characters, but even that has gotten old. Killing characters and adding new ones, and bringing some of the dead ones back, is not a device for transitioning to the next stage of the story. If there is a next stage to the story! C'mon, Georgie, you wrote a whole book just to fill in all the blanks that you left out of the last two books? You hack! I feel like I just ended a bad relationship and have only myself to be mad at. I knew you were trouble from the start, but I was enticed because you looked like someone I used to know that I really liked. Even though you kept disappointing me, I kept making excuses and telling myself that I could forgive your little dalliances, because underneath, that wasn't really you. There was a genius to your writing that I just hadn't come to appreciate yet, that as the story unfolded, you would reward your reader with some closure and tie up some loose ends. Nope, you just go on killing people and creating new story lines that don't contribute anything to the main story. My guess is that even if you have some plan to pull this all together in some tenth novel, you will have died before then, and left us all to wonder whatever happened to the Stark children, and the million other characters you have floating around in this book.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reality Television revisited

Whew, there's a lot of craziness going on today. I know I promised a dissertation on the finer points of bread and wine being transformed into flesh and blood. But I thought I'd keep it a little lighter, due to the overall heaviness of the last few days.

I was having one of those shower moments. You know the one. You're standing there shampooing your hair, taking inventory of all the things you have going on that day. Then you have that moment where your consciousness completely leaves your control and takes on any direction it wants. I don't know why, but for me this happens in the shower. I guess probably because it would be dangerous if it happened while operating heavy machinery. Anyway, I came to the realization that there are three different levels of reality TV. There are three different formats also. I would call one format the "follow people around doing their everyday life": Deadliest Catch, Jersey Shore, Honey Boo Boo or whatever the hell that abomination is. The next would be the "celebrity judge format": Dancing with the Stars, America's Got Talent. Finally, there is the "cloak and dagger show" where members vote each other off, Big Brother, Survivor, etc. Those are only the format settings, however. I believe there are levels of quality of each show. I will now attempt to tell you your value as a human being based on the levels I have ascertained.

Level I: Swamp Water
-This is the show that shows the very worst of humanity. This will cover any show that has the word "Jersey" in it, has more cast members than teeth, or cameras located in bathrooms and bedrooms. If you get enjoyment from this type of program, I pray to God you don't reproduce.

Level II: Reptile Brain
-This is the show that brings you people judging a competition that they know nothing about, or that the criteria for winning is never specified, and the judges are usually D-list celebrities or has-beens. (I am looking at you, Steven Tyler. You replaced Paula Abdul. Kill yourself.) These shows usually attract those people who don't need enjoy activating any part of their brain dealing with higher processes. "I wonder who Howie is going to make fun of tonight?" is not, nor will ever be, an acceptable conversation topic.

Level III: Pets you have that aren't as smart as dogs: gerbils, hermit crabs, etc.
-This is the show where you watch other people do work. Seriously? Have Americans become so lazy and become so far removed from actually doing labor, that we have to watch other people do it for entertainment? I will admit, some of these shows are interesting for the first three maybe four episodes. Then it becomes the same show over and over again. I wonder what they're doing on the Cornelia Marie today? Oh! Their going to catch some crabs! How novel!

Level IV: Primates
-This I feel is the show that actually showcases people with talent, that practice said talent, and do things that are culturally acceptable as entertainment, or where you might actually learn something. I will use So You Think You Can DanceThe Sing-Off, or something with Tony Bordain in it as my prime examples. I'm sure their are others that fit the category, but as you can probably tell, I don't watch a lot of this stuff. Now don't go patting yourself on the back that you've reached level four. You're still a big monkey.

Level V: Variety and Cooking shows
-I mean c'mon, we've had reality TV long before we coined the phrase. But seriously, I can't knock Lawrence Welk or Julia Child. They were the epitome of awesome.

Level VI: Reality
-No, not the show, actual reality. Try this. Spend some extra time trying out a new recipe... not throwing a frozen pizza in the oven. Actually have a conversation with your loved one(s). Take a walk. Go to a minor league ball game and teach yourself how to keep score. Go to Conwell-Egan's spirit nights this weekend. There is so much cool stuff out there. So Much! Stop watching other people do it.

OK, let's bring it in. Take a knee. Let's talk about the hierarchy of goods. This is the idea that pleasure can't be measured in volume or quantitatively. There are some good things that are just better than others. I've had students argue with me that they prefer McDonald's to Peter Luger's. I think that is perverse. Somewhere along the way, they broke their enjoyment-meter. Being in a loving relationship with one person is better than a terabyte of porn on your hard drive. The endorphin release from exercise is better than the artificial one from Paxil. And ultimately, a hand-selected, perfectly aged, cooked, and rested, medium-rare porterhouse cannot be trumped by a million Big Macs. Do you see what I'm getting at? I hope you do. I hope that there are people out there still who think it better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Christianity and Humanism

I've been promising myself that I would put Christianity through its paces, since I did give atheism a bit of a hard time a while back. It's only fair, right? The question was raised by a friend around Easter time, could Christianity exist without the resurrection? After pondering it for a while, I arrived at a resounding no. It's also one of the reasons that I don't think that secular humanism works. I always think of David Hume when I think about the possibility of separating morality from religion, "I should prefer the destruction of half the world than to risk pricking my little finger." This takes a harshly different look at a Godless world that those like Sartre and Nietzsche propose is the first step to a secular self-directed Utopia. The next obvious turn in this conversation would seem to be to now show the disparity between the moral behaviors of those that claim to believe in Christ's resurrection. I think that point has been a bit belabored and I am reticent to bore you with something that you can read to your heart's desire in the comment sections of the Huffington Post. Instead, I'd like to point out that modern Christians fail, not in their morality, but in their belief in Christ as God. I think that many people try to sit the fence between being a "believer" and a modern, enlightened thinker. I also think this leads them to not necessarily deny the divinity of Jesus, but to down play it. The common Christian attempting to exist in modern society tends to present himself as embarrassed to believe in the mystical or metaphysical parts of his religion. I feel that most "intellectual Christians" (The quotes are because I just made that up. It's not a real category of Christianity) would prefer to think of Jesus as this great teacher that set up a code of ethics for us to follow, like some Jewish Confucius. If you think the term "Jewish Confucius" is absurd, well good, that's what I was going for. I find a resurrection-less Jesus rings just as peculiar.

So let's go back to Hume. He obviously wrote volumes on why morality can't be separated from belief. Interestingly enough, he was a deist. He believed in God, as much as he is a higher power, but didn't feel he was knowable in the personal sense. This is also pretty close to the beliefs of many of America's founding fathers. I think this has seasoned the way that American Christians approach Christianity. They want it to be very clean and pragmatic; something reserved for Sunday worship and the occasional alms giving, perhaps giving up something for Lent and watching the kids in a Christmas pageant. The problem is Christianity didn't start with a proscribed set of rules and rituals. Look at the Acts of the Apostles. The founding of Christianity is a messy affair. There's a lot of martyrs, schisms, heretics, and plain turmoil. I know it shocks a lot of Bible-based Christian sects, but the Church existed before the Bible! These were people that lived the teachings every day. They expected Jesus to return tomorrow, not in 2012 or some day way off in the future. Can you really imagine that the Apostles, who were hunkered down hiding from the Romans and the Sanhedrin, all the sudden decided to bust out of hiding and travel all over the world guaranteeing that they will put to death in horrible, nasty ways without being visited by the resurrected Jesus? That they decided to record stories that made them look like doubters, and traitors, and deniers, and fools? If I was going to be the founder of a made up religion, I don't think I would've painted myself in such a poor light. What I'm trying to say is that Christianity doesn't even get off the ground without the resurrection. It's miraculous and it's necessary. People will die to defend a cause, or a way of life, or their loved ones, they don't roam the world seeking death to purport an idea. You can't find it anywhere else. I dare anyone to find someone who would walk into the middle of Northern Korea and start preaching the saving power of Capitalism. Only with that glimpse into the happiness that resides in full communion with God does commitment on that level exist. Jesus taught his followers how to feel that way through his teachings. So there it is, it's not a set of morals for morality's sake, as the humanist wants you to believe, it's a prescription for feeling the ultimate joy, a way to live your life that aligns you with the life force that powers the universe. It opens one's heart to feel the fullness of love in its purest state. Speaking of communion with God, that brings me to my next post: the Eucharist and Transubstantiation... (I know, a cliff hanger. Silly right?)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I wanted to use this space today to give props to one of the greatest wordsmiths of all time, G.K. Chesterton
I bet if I had a study like that, I could write prolific stuff too!
There are so many links to this man and to so many of the things that I find intellectually interesting, it is scary. I was first introduced to Chesterton when I was reading Bill Bryson (who incidentally is a phenomenal writer too). Chesterton converted from High Anglican to Roman Catholicism, was a fan of Aquinas, wrote exhaustively about Nietzsche, and has one of the best quotes ever:

"The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."

Even if you have no interest in the topic on which Chesterton is writing, he does it in such a way that you are entertained beyond belief. I am actually quite perturbed that it took me until my late twenties to discover him. It should be mandatory reading in every high school in America. Seriously. His approach is so delicate, so elegant, you can't but help see his side of the story. His humor is so subtle that it dances off the pages, as opposed to smacking you in the face as we have become accustomed to with our contemporary humorists.

Just pick any random essay or article or book that he has written. It doesn't matter which one. Your life will be enriched and you will drive to my house to thank me in person for enriching your life.

Friday, April 5, 2013


I have decided that blogs are weird. I have began to pay more attention to, and reading, other people's blogs. I find there are two types of blogs. Those written by people considered to be experts in their blogging field, and then the people who tend to treat a blog like an online diary, basically chronicling their own experiences and reflecting on them. After coming to that conclusion, I decided that I must be in the latter category, as I am not recognized as a person who has expert experience in pretty much anything. Here's the rub though... My blog isn't really set up as a "share my experiences" blog either. I'm proud to say that I fit into a whole other category: blogs by people who pretend they know stuff. I can only speak from my own personal feeling as to my own blog, but everyone once in a while, paranoia creeps in. I have found myself on occasion asking those closest to me, "Do you actually read my blog? Do you actually enjoy it?" 

The problem with writing a blog of this nature is that you know you're making shit up. Don't get me wrong. I really do feel strongly about what I am writing about and I really am trying to convey a message that I think is important. My paranoia lies in the fact that I absolutely have no right to say anything to anyone about any particular topic. And it leads me to ponder if people equate reading my blog to watching the first week of American Idol. I'm not a philosopher, or a psychiatrist, or a physicist, or a theologian, or a politician, or a teacher. I don't even watch Dr. Phil. So where do I get off writing about authenticity and criticizing people for what I judge to be "bad faith" behavior? 

I always think of Nietzsche's words (and I'll paraphrase, because what kind of a sicko memorizes Nietzsche?), "Too many people will tell you to take their word as authority, I say be like me and think for yourself." I lost two weeks of my life trying to wrap my head around that aphorism. *Focus, Robert* So after some soul searching, I decided that the importance of this blog is not as a place to find advice or for me to critique the current state of the world. It is a place where I can point out the inconsistencies in life, and raise awareness. Essentially, I can live with being a faker, since I'm not claiming to have any answers, just questions to make people want to know if there is an answer.

Besides, we all know the answer is 42 anyway.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Generation Y

Throughout Lent, I really tried to work on humility. I reflected a lot on making sure that I wasn't being overly willful or taking too much pride in my accomplishments (few as they may be). And then a devoted purveyor of my blog writes in a request topic. Suddenly, I feel like a real blogger.

So, thanks for the ego boost, Scoon. Here is your requested post topic!

To begin, I was directed to this article. 3-mistakes-we-make-leading-kids. It's from a blog by a chap named Tim Elmore, who writes about development and stuff. If you're lazy like me, you probably didn't even take the time to click the link; so I'll summarize, you lazy poop. Elmore points out that society is raising an entire generation of humans that can't do anything for themselves. His first insight gives a fresh look into risk-taking versus risk-aversion, measured as a psychological impediment to development. The rest of the the article falls into the same anecdotal theme that I'm sure we've all heard: Helicopter parent syndrome leading to inept young adults. My essay today, however, is not to criticize modern upbringing techniques, or a nostalgic look at the days that children could play all day unsupervised. Although I do agree wholeheartedly with those notions. I want to speak to those that have been developmentally stunted by the shortcoming of their parents.

Namely, Everyone.

Nobody's parents did a perfect job. Even my mom, from time to time, will admit that she may have had a few missteps along the way. I, of course, wholeheartedly disagree with her every time. I digress. I began to think about another author, Thomas Moore. He wrote a wonderful book called Care of the Soul. Please don't think I'm pointing you to a new-age self help book. This read is a truly introspective journey pulling thought from some of the greatest thinkers in history. And Moore writes beautifully. Enough plugging, back to the point. To take a lesson from Moore's book, the damage has already been done. The people who have been screwed up by the "everyone gets a trophy" school of parenting are now adults. There's no fixing this by looking backwards. The real snare here is that it is so hard to break out of a reality that one has been conditioned to see. To go back to Elmore, these particular people don't just have a set of bad habits, they are psychologically and (dare I say it?!) spiritually damaged. This, however, isn't the territory of the psychologist. In my humble unprofessional opinion, psychologists real power is to help people who are sick, as a doctor would. To further this analogy, I don't need to see a cardiologist if I am out of breath after walking up a flight of steps. I need to get me ass to the gym, or hire a trainer. In this way, a psychologist can't help shift someone's worldview, particularly someone who is perfectly psychologically healthy. This is the realm of the philosopher or theologist. When you boil down pure ethical philosophy, it distills into the question, "What does it mean to be a complete person?" People will always struggle to be happy and find purpose until they ask that question. 

So what is the answer? The most popular answer is to get people to start raising their kids differently. Good luck with that. People receive parenting tips about as well as I receive a balloon from a clown. (Have I blogged about clowns yet? This seems a grievous oversight on my part.) Particularly when you tell people that they should take less care of their kids. And, as I used Moore to demonstrate earlier, we all have something that is a little messed up inside based on our childhood experiences. The answer then is to remove the plank from our own eye, before worrying about the splinter in our neighbor's. Let's ask the question, "Am I enabling others to grow and become their own full person, or am I enabling others to continue down the road of dependency and self-doubt?" or, "Am I myself avoiding the challenges in life, because mediocrity is safer?" or even, "Am I allowing someone else or something else to dictate who I am; or am I blaming that for keeping me from achieving happiness or fulfillment?" We are now coming into spring, a time of renewal and fresh beginnings. I don't know about you, but I am going to be setting some time aside this week to look into those questions.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I received an email chain asking everyone to pray the Rosary on Good Friday between 12 and 3pm. And I though I'd include some helpful instructions and ask you to pray too:

Or you can say it interactively on-line.

Have a great Holy Week and Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Authenticity and St Patrick's Day

I had to do a little reflecting before I felt I could speak clearly about this. I truly feel that after Valentine's Day, St Paddy's Day may be one of the most contrived of all the holidays. The term I was introduced to many years ago was "plastic Irish". This refers to all the cheesiness that accompanies those that express their "Irishness" once a year. The obvious allusion is to the cheap, New Years Eve or Mardi Gras style, throw away, gear that people are so quick to don: tiny green bowler hats, Kiss me I'm Irish shirts (or some offensive derivative), green beer, orange beards, rub-on Notre Dame mascot tattoos... in the same sense, it refers to the Irish-American music from the 40s and 50s. You know them: When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Toora Loora, pretty much anything by Bing Crosby.

Don't get me wrong. I freaking love Saint Patrick's Day. And I love being of Irish decent. My problem is that the commercialized treatment of the holiday does get a little old. I'm not even talking about the stereotypes of the holiday, like over-drinking and general debauchery. I'm talking about turning a real people into comic strip characters. There is a thin line between laughing with someone and laughing at them. The Irish have never been a people who were afraid to poke fun at themselves. The problem lies in the struggle of the Irish in America for acceptance. The cartoon-like images of the Irish people as leprechauns or drunken brawlers or Papist sheep tend to dehumanize the popular view of them. There is a danger in taking away even a bit of another person's humanity. These type of jokes have a dark history in America. Our modern images are not as funny when we look at their origins.

Needless to say, these portrayals weren't meant to be whimsical or good natured. Imagine these images planted firmly underneath a "No Irish Need Apply" sign. When you've truly educated yourself on what it means to understand a people, or the background behind a "tradition", you start to see them in a different light. Sadly, most of these insensitivities are perpetuated by Irish-Americans themselves. I think if any were to dig deep and see the simmering hate, hidden in jokes and comics, that this country felt for Irish immigrants, they would soon feel like they are Al Jolson in black face.

Ireland is a place with a rich and extremely interesting history. Irish-American history is even more fascinating. The culture, music, literature and (dare I say?) cuisine are distinct and deep and rewarding. So what is left if we take away all the inauthentic Irishness of the day? I would reflect on my St Patrick's Day weekend to answer that. A special Irish Mass, marching in a Parade with proud Irish-Americans (particularly a congressman and a lieutenant governor), eating traditional Irish food, and listening to music that would be recognizable to someone actually from Ireland (some of it even in Gaelic!), was how I felt I was authentically celebrating being Irish and celebrating the feast day of the man that has so much to do with making Ireland so distinctly Irish.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam

I am a big enough man to admit that my prediction was wrong. Malachy did predict that this pope would come in during turbulent times for the church - I don't think I need to go into detail here. He also said that this pope will "pasture his sheep". Cardinal Bergoglio has been a huge proponent of the care of the poor and I'm sure will continue to be, as he took the name Francis. But sorry, Malachy, I can't find anything that makes me think he could be "Peter the Roman", although I'm sure there are already conspiracy theory types and apologists hatching explanations to explain how this still fits into the papal prophecy. But back to the more important item. Habemus Papam! We have a Pope! I think the popular assumption has been that this pope's name is reflective of St Francis of Assisi. It has also been said that the pope's chosen name has shaped his papacy. I would like to take a minute to explore the possibilities of what the name Francis could inspire.

Oh boy, that's a lot of sheep.
Francis began an order that was inherently tied to poverty; not only helping the poor, but eschewing any type of comfort or physical goods. There is not an unattachment to the physical world, in the Buddhist sense. Francis loved the world and everything in it, and saw it as God present in everything. This is the rejection of ownership or possession. I pray that this will guide Pope Francis to delivering a message of returning to what is important. To start viewing the world as a place full of people and life and experiences and not full of things and conquests. I almost feel I don't need to say it, but this Pope will obviously be very involved with increasing awareness of the poor and workers' rights, also.

St Francis was also given the task by God to rebuild his Church. Francis was a great reformer and attacked much of the opulence and corruption that was rampant in the Church at that time. This is also a time where the hierarchy has started to believe that they are higher than God's law. The responsibility of protecting the Church is a heavy one and it is understandable how one can get misled to into thinking that protecting it from liability and scandal can outweigh protecting its individual members. Pope Francis will be called to refocus the leadership to care for the faithful and return those who have fallen to the path of righteousness.

St Francis was also a great lover of nature. I don't think it is too much of a stretch to think that Pope Francis will press a message of conservation and respect for the environment.

While I think it is safe to say that Francis of Assisi is the most famous Francis, there is another one tied very closely to our new pope. St Francis Borgia was the second most important Jesuit after St Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the order. One of the most interesting facts about this Francis is that he was a Duke and gave up all his rights to royal title in Spain to serve God. He is almost single handedly responsible for growing the Society of Jesus all over Spain and Portugal. It is a fitting name for the new pope, since he is a Jesuit and entering a time when the church needs to be defended. The Jesuits have always been known as the great defenders of the faith.

The most powerful image appears when you combine both of these saints and see the common theme. Both men gave up money, power and prestige to follow Christ. I think this name reflects the humility and dedication that Pope Francis will bring to his office. The very instant I heard his name for the first time, my heart was in my throat. This was a purely spontaneous reaction before I even considered the ramifications of what that name would entail. It is a name that inspires hope and reminds us of the best parts of the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


As probably everyone knows, the Cardinals are currently in the Vatican trying to decide which one of them will be the new Pope. Despite a concerted effort from friends and family to have me considered for the position, I was not invited. That aside, I have only been concentrating on one thing.

This guy: St. Malachy

Made this prediction:

In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.”

Which is making me a little nervous, because one of the contenders is this guy: Cardinal Peter Erdo

File:IMG 4094s2.JPG
Go ahead, back sass me again!
I was doing a little light reading and found out that this is the very same guy that wrote exhaustively about how the Catholic Church should evangelize and spiritually relate to the "Gypsies" in Hungary. Calling them gypsies is a sort of nickname and not politically correct. They are actually called Roma. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to see the end-around St. Malachy is running here. The man who advocated for the Romani could certainly be seen as representing them, thus... Peter the Roman!! So I am making my Papal prediction right here. I am basing it solely on a thousand year old prophecy by an Irish saint. 

Peter Erdo For Pope
Let the Prophecy Be Fulfilled!

Too melodramatic?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


So I had a migraine yesterday. I've had them before, but never on this scale. Seriously, if I could've gotten out of bed, I would have killed myself. If you've never had one before, here's my best description: Try to remember the worst hangover you've ever had, like you should've gone to the hospital for alcohol poisoning hangover. Now combine that with a 7-11 super-size slurpy brain freeze. Now multiply that by 3000. Now add the visual field you get right before you pass out, basically blurry and no peripheral vision, like looking through a dirty telescope. Now subtract your will to live. I'm pretty sure that if that is a glimpse into hell, everyone that has ever had a migraine would be making sure right now that they are right with the Lord.

Speaking of, I had the pleasure of attending a Catholic men's conference over the weekend, called Man Up Philly. The speakers were incredible. While it was obviously geared toward Catholic men, the underlying message would have inspired everyone, from protestants to secular humanists. The part I wanted to distill and share with you was that these men were so passionate, so involved with their lives. So many of us care so much about what is going on around us that we forget to look inside. I think you can get that kind of introspection from many sources. This conference obviously referred to the Bible a lot. They also talked about Augustine and Aquinas and John Paul II, who were not just great theologians, but great philosophers in their own right. And there are other places too, like Plato and Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, the list goes on and on. Some people refer to this group of thinkers as moral philosophers. They tended to care about human beings more than where the world came from, or the meaning of words. They specifically cared about what it meant to be a good person. I italicized that to show that I wasn't talking about good as a person who follows rules or stays out of trouble. I mean good in the way we have a good car or a good power tool. Essentially, it does what it's supposed to. But isn't that the big question... what are we supposed to do? Aristotle said that the definition of a human is an animal that is rational, so the more we think logically, the more we come to the purest definition of a human. The Bible says we were created in the image and likeness of God, so we should be as much like God as possible. Sartre says that every action that we undertake is our example for how we think everyone else in the world should act. Kant says that we should treat everyone as an end in themselves and not as a mean, and that we should allow everyone to be their own rational agent. 

The common theme here? You first have to give a rat's ass about being a good person. I firmly believe that it takes effort and practice to be good at anything. I know, because there are a bunch of things I'm not good at, because I never practice: guitar, a second language, dancing, running long distances, the list goes on and on and on. I never understood how people think they can be good at life if they never practice the basics. No one would ever think they could just walk onto a football field, strap on a helmet and think they would be the next Walter Payton. Perhaps the difference is that we're thrown onto the field and not given a choice whether we want to play or not. Sadly, life also does not come with helmets and shoulder pads. There also isn't a single football player out there who would dare to show up to the first day of camp without having the entire playbook memorized. To continue the analogy, each team has its own play book and each play book has just as much chance of being the successful one at the beginning of the season. It all depends on how the plays are implemented and how the team responds to the plays and coaching. We have playbooks all around us. The Bible, Nicomachean Ethics, the Categorical Imperative, Existentialism is a Humanism, the Suttas of the Buddha. Ignoring these is what has lead us to a place where marriages don't work, people need prescription drugs to be happy, the environment is being destroyed, and where self-victimization is the new self-actualization. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Squashed Philosophers

I wanted to give a shout out to one of my favorite websites of all time, Squashed Philosophers. A professor by the name of Glyn Hughes has spent time "squashing" down gigantic piles of text into something that can be read in under an hour usually. I was at first skeptical, until I started reading them. Now there are some philosophical texts that I have enjoyed reading due to the style of the author or the beauty of the mastery of the topic. As for the rest, I'm mad that I wasted my time reading the whole thing, when you can pretty much get everything important out of them in these abbreviated versions. Seriously, you can have the knowledge equivalent of a masters in philosophy after a month of diligent reading. I imagine that most people who are logicians or actual practitioners of philosophy would need to read the "unabridged" version. Seriously though, if are not an academic, you can't go wrong. I haven't visited in a while, and I'm shocked at the breadth of the work he has captured on there. My only warning is that it may be a gateway that could lead to hardcore philosophy use, and you may sound particularly douchey at your next party. I think it's worth the risk.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Literal vs. Interpretation

Two separate conversations, one with an Atheist, one with a born-again Christian, led me back to an old place in my journey of understanding that I thought I had come to grips with.

When I was just a lad in Catholic school, I was shocked to find out from my teacher that Catholics were "interpretational" readers of the Bible. (Some are more shocked by the "reader" part of that statement.) I was taken aback by the fact that everything in the Bible wasn't viewed as historically accurate. You'll have to forgive my naivete, but I was in third grade. Being that I still believe in Santa Claus, you can understand my proclivity for buying into Genesis hook, line and sinker. Maybe this early revelation helped to weather later challenges to my belief where others, that spend as much time as I do thinking about this stuff, fell off. But my initial reaction was something akin to, "Whaaaaa?!! We don't believe in the Bible word for word? Isn't this stuff supposed to be written by God?" (I was obviously losing more sleep than your typical third grader.) As I got older, and delved more deeply into the Bible's actual contents, I realized that there were no dinosaurs in the creation story and that unicorns are only in the Noah story according to the Irish Rovers. In places, the Bible even contradicts itself! 

The conversations that keeps bringing me back to this are the Biblical proscriptions on homosexuality. I always like to challenge literalists with the ol' "so you don't eat animals with split hooves?" or "you've never worked on a Saturday?" I know it's not a fair way to argue, but there are few things that I derive as much pleasure from than getting someone fired up. I was having one such discussion a couple of weeks back and the answer to my question was that the Old Testament was based on the law. The law was God's covenant with the Jews and both parties followed the rules in order to fulfill the covenant, just like any other agreement back in the day. This is one of the reasons there is so much emphasis placed on the ritual of these agreements with God. These were how contractual agreements were entered into, i.e. cutting up livestock, blood oaths. When Jesus enters the picture, all the old covenants were null and void; because Jesus opened the gates of heaven with his sacrifice. He covered our debt to God, if I can use that base of an analogy. So, in essence, the law of Moses no longer applies, but the moral lessons still hold firm. I thought that's not a bad argument, and can demonstrate how one can still believe in the moral aspects of the OT without following the letter of the law in, say, the Book of Numbers. It also sets up Paul to be logically consistent in telling people they didn't have to be Jewish to follow Christ.

The other conversation was much less theological, as one would assume. I was challenged on how I can believe in a document written thousands of years ago that has obvious inconsistencies, if I believed in scientific truths. We parried back and forth about the validity of ontological arguments, etc. The important thing here is that I was left with a feeling of doubt that I hadn't felt in a while. I was hard pressed to find a reason to believe what I believe in the Bible versus what I don't believe.

This is what I arrived at. The Bible isn't a story about God, or about history, or even the people in it. It is a love story. It is a story about God's patience with the human race. In the old testament, things had to be explained to people in contexts that they knew. Think about how difficult it would be for you to explain space travel or even a 747 to a Medieval mind in a way that they would truly understand. The best you could hope for was to speak in analogies and hope they got the gist. This is my concept of how an infinite being has to reveal itself to a finite mind: in little pieces, and on their terms. This led me to look at our understanding in a way that actually mirrors a fact in biology. Ontogeny recapitulates philogeny. Simply put, the growth of a fetus in the womb, resembles the processes that animals went through in evolution. They start as a single-celled organism to a multi-celled organism with organelles, to something that resembles a fish, bird, mammal, etc. until in the later stages they finally look like a human baby. In this way, our own individual spiritual development mimics the development of our spirituality as a society. In the Old Testament, humanity is in its infancy. The New Testament are those magic years when children start discovering the world and everything is new and exciting and the parent has a real effect on the kind of person they are (enter God as Jesus). The medieval period is obviously our teenage years, full of rebellion and dark thoughts and self-abuse and self doubt. Everything from the enlightenment to the beginning of the industrial age I compare to college life. People are striving to find who they are and are questioning the world around them in a very deliberate way. We are currently in our mid-twenties by my count. The time where we feel a certain ennui towards life, where nothing is cool and it's all been done. We're waiting for our real life to start. My prediction is that we, as a society, are about to go through a drastic change. There is a collective consciousness that is growing and people are going to begin to see the world in a way that wasn't possible at our old level of understanding. We are finally coming into the maturity, or adulthood, of our society, and more importantly our understanding of our relationship to that which is greater than us. I don't know exactly what that will entail. Like I said, we can't know a thing at the next step until we get to that level, but I'm really excited to see what that will look like.

Friday, February 22, 2013

taking on Ann Coulter

Read this first.

OK. Here is my big problem with what has become of the modern "conservative". This probably goes for liberals too, but I'm responding to Ann Coulter's comments. You can't understand Libertarianism if you are working off the old paradigms of "left" and "right". It just doesn't work. It's like trying to explain quantum mechanics using Newton's Law of Gravity. The paradigm has shifted. You can't look left and right anymore, because we've added a new dimension. Libertarians don't care about conservatism vs. liberalism or left vs. right, they care about liberty vs. authoritarianism. Coulter criticized Libertarians for wanted to legalize marijuana as pandering to the left. She also adds that they should be more critical of the welfare state. First of all, every Libertarian I have ever read or heard is very vocal about the problems of the welfare state. Secondly, and most importantly, LIBERTARIANS ARE NOT REPUBLICAN LITE. Viewed through the new lens, it is nonsensical to frame your argument using "stop being like the Democrats and be more like the Republicans". The appeal that the Libertarian Party has is that it is logically consistent. Viewed from the litmus test of liberty, conservatism and liberalism fall short. You can't have your cake and eat it too. One party wants to control your money and free up your social liberties, the other wants free up the market and clamp down on deviance. And if we look at individual politicians, most just want to push through the things that will make the people who paid for their campaigns the happiest.

I could argue the definition of liberty all day, and I'm sure some of you are mentally rebutting me right now. This is not a persuasive argument. I am demonstrating that libertarians (I'm using the small "l" here, to represent those that think this way. I've been using the big "L" to denote political Libertarians. I'm doing that to show that people often confuse libertarian Republicans [which I think is an oxymoron] and Tea Partiers with actual Libertarians.) view the world differently than either party, just as much and possibly more so than the two major parties differ in world view. So to answer Ms. Coulter, Libertarians would just as soon drop 2nd amendment support as they would their campaign for the legalization of marijuana. All are issues of liberty and rights, despite whether it fits into the predetermined category of right or left. It's a simple concept. I understand that there are implications and consequences of these beliefs, and that many disagree with them or want to talk about "what works". I will appeal to people that are smarter than me like Karl Popper, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill, and paraphrase them that the greatest chance for an individual's happiness and society's success is to ensure and open and free society.

She also used a very not-nice word.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Just had one of those moments. I realized that I've been going on and on about "authenticity" and the whole time I've been assuming that everyone reads Sartre and Kierkegaard in their free time. Anyway, here's what wikipedia has to say about it: authenticity. Not the greatest explanation I've ever seen, but it's a nice primer.

I prefer to take my lead from Jean Paul Sartre. In Being and Nothingness, and also more concisely in Existentialism is a Humanism, he essentially says that human beings are condemned to be free. We exist. And we exist in the world. Those are the only rules. Everything else is up to us. We have ultimate free will. Being authentic, in this sense and the sense that I am working with, means fully accepting one's own responsibility for their life. It means being a real person. This is where central point of what I've railing against for the past 3 months or so. We fill up our lives with so much other stuff. We constantly attempt to label ourselves or observe ourselves through the mirror that is the other person. This leaves us with the most liberating and the most terrifying conclusions possible. First, we are free to be whatever we want, and we are free to do whatever we went. That isn't to say there aren't consequences to our actions, but that we choose to avoid those consequences. I don't want to end up a pancake, but there is nothing keeping me from jumping off the building, except my will to continue existing. It actually takes life and turns it into an active, rather than a passive choice. Every moment, I am choosing to continue existing, than rather ending my existence. Now the terrifying part. The problem with free will is that we are responsible for everything we do. All of our actions, and essentially who we are, is because of us. Society didn't make me do it. My parents didn't make me do it. Obama didn't make me do it. Bush didn't make me do it. I did it. I'm the only one that could have done it, because I did it. It sounds redundant, but it is a significantly powerful statement. Sartre even goes on to say that when we seek advice, we seek from the person who we think will give us the answer we are already looking for. Choosing to not choose is also a choice. You can't win. You always have to make a decision and it is always up to you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

real education

I'm cheating today and not writing my own blog. I'm posting an article written by a high school student that attends a Catholic school. It's not the Catholic part that impressed me, but how she valued the part of her education that taught her to question and defend her beliefs. If only everything thought of education this way...

It is often assumed in today's largely secular society that attending a parochial school will lead to a parochial mind. I think I thought this too, when I entered a Catholic high school. Having only ever known the public school system, I knew only stereotypes and generalizations. There were the same harmless ones -- kids with guitars sitting in prayer circles singing Kumbayah -- and then there were harsher, more dangerous, characterizations of narrow-mindedness that fostered intolerance. I don't know what I believed by the time I started my freshman year. But what I experienced was far from any archetype I may have expected.
In public school, we were thrown in together with all of the same kids from kindergarten to eighth grade. We were all virtually indistinguishable: Irish, Italian, Catholic, upper middle class. Kids from other schools were foreign, rumors, not one of us.
In Catholic school, however, I was among the kids from other towns, which was unusual. Amid the odd first-time experience of having to introduce and teach everyone around me about myself like I was selling a presentation (in public school you had always been there, everyone had always known you, and there was no room for you to change), I was fascinated to see what it was like to live in a far away (45 minutes) town, to have grown up in a tiny parochial school, and even more interested to realize that beyond our different backgrounds, there were common threads and traits that bound us together. Seeing all of the new and different people around me caused me to incorporate them into my rapidly broadening schema of what a vast variety of people existed in the world.
During my public school years, I went to church every Sunday and my family said grace before dinner every night. This, which was more than most others in my school could say for themselves, seemed enough to me to say I was religious. I thought that not actually understanding what was said at Mass, hollowly reciting prayers, and having a sense of detachment and formal impersonalness toward God was what organized conviction was supposed to be like. I was worshiping a greater, distant and too-holy-to-reach power while living an entirely separate daily life. I had blindly accepted and foundationlessly defended my beliefs because I had no education. I knew no difference between "Catholic church" and "God" and if asked could not explain the basis for any of the practices I unquestioningly followed -- yet somehow found myself justifying any and every action of the church that was challenged.
There is a large difference between "theology class" and "CCD," which is what I expected it to be like the first time I walked into my period G course on "Who is Jesus?" But I did not find church mothers volunteering their Monday nights, which is what I had expected. Instead, educated theologians who took their subject very seriously. They offered us in-depth analyses of Scripture, Christ, traditions and what was more, encouraged us to challenge them. Debates were common place. In fact, in parochial school there were more vocal skeptics and cross-examiners than I had encountered in secular education. I never realized that one could not simply accept all or none of Catholicism, but handpick personal aspects with which to agree or deviate. Being taught through the lens of a Catholic education has actually caused me to disagree with many facets of the Church and disregard some of my former beliefs, but simultaneously strengthened that which I do attune with.
Challenging my beliefs is the only thing that taught me what I truly believe in. Being educated in the foundation for each doctrine I had previously accepted, I was able to affirm my true beliefs and disregard others. What I don't believe in, I can justify for, and what I do, I can defend. I have discovered what true open-mindedness is, and of the need to listen to and consider what others have to say, because there is always room to learn.
One of the early weeks of freshman year, we were allowed to abandon our uniforms and wear normal clothes to school. It was the first time we had seen what each other dressed like, and to our shallow minds it was a moment of truth revealing who we all really were. I remember walking toward our lockers, modeling my painstainkingly picked Hollister shirt and jeans, and seeing a friend of mine dressed in splatter painted skinny jeans, a neon jacket and Converse. As I approached her I thought, "Wow. If I had seen her on the first day of school wearing that I probably never would've introduced myself."
It was true. I would have assumed based on her appearance the type of person she was, though not necessarily a bad person, and decided that we wouldn't be compatible. I would never have become friends with her. I would've missed out on a new and broadening experience, and, just as if I hadn't been exposed to the new viewpoints I had learned, I would be a little less open-minded because of not attending Catholic school.