Why Am I Catholic?

On this, the first of the year’s most holy days, Elizabeth Scalia gives her answer. Other Patheos bloggers are likewise answering. While nobody asked me, and I’m not one of those *real* bloggers over at Patheos, here goes:

I am Catholic because the Almighty and Eternal God created me to be Catholic, to be a member of the one Mystical Body with His Son as the Head.

I am Catholic because Jesus, in his infinite mercy, died to save me from my self and from the enemy.

I am Catholic because, in a moment of despair in a life of despair, I cried out, and God rescued me. His Spirit granted me a miracle, wholly unmerited and unexpected,  the truth of which I can no more deny than my very life.

I am Catholic because Catholicism is true, and God has given to me, in His mercy, a thirst for truth that only He can slake.

The Last Supper (1498) Leonardo Da Vinci

Praise the Lord, who has blessed a wretch like me.

Rock On, Archbishop Cordileone

Have had the honor of meeting and exchanging a few pleasantries with this fine man on a couple of occasions. Here, he defends marriage in a gracious, articulate and logical fashion.


Q: What is the greatest threat posed by allowing gays and lesbians to marry?

A:The better question is: What is the great good in protecting the public understanding that to make a marriage you need a husband and a wife?

Key step: do not accept false premises.

(Of course, it’s USA Today, which, in its dedication to keeping America informed by means of pictures, and, when unavoidable, words, posted the Archbishop’s remarks above a link to the urgent news that Gwyneth Paltrow has acknowledged that it would have been better had she worn appropriate undergarments. The less generous might assert that this calls into question this newspaper’s grasp of what constitutes news, or even impugn the purity of its motivation.  But at least they did publish the interview.)

If You’re a Practicing Catholic, You’ve Been There:

Elisabeth Scalia reports on attending a dumbed-down Palm Sunday liturgy.

One comment: If one assumes that the effectiveness of liturgy is to be measured in terms of ‘active participation’, and that ‘active participation’ is defined as vocal, physical and mental involvement in the liturgy, then – surprise! – it is possible to objectively measure ‘success’. When people are not praying, not singing, not moving, and not paying attention – YOU HAVE FAILED by YOUR OWN STANDARDS.

These standards are wrong, of course, but this wrongness is perhaps best illustrated by trying to apply them and seeing what happens. Ironically, the standards for good liturgy that were rejected – that, first and foremost, our communal prayer is meant to acknowledge, praise and thank God, and beg His mercy – are not objectively measurable by simple observation of the congregation. Yet the perpetrators of modern liturgy have continued the previous practice of not measuring,  pretending that the (in)effectiveness of their efforts cannot be easily seen in the attitudes (and, often, the absence) of the people in the pews.

It’s the same argument used with the ugly LA Cathedral: we’ve got a theory why this is better, we’ve explained it, and so the resulting concrete physical reality is irrelevant. (This is the standard Progressive/Pragmatic view – but that’s another story.)

Religion Meets Economics

A friend recently darkly hinted that the Church has the ability (and desire!) to silence people on Facebook. I pointed out that that whole albino monk assassin stuff is *fiction*.  Not sure I had any effect.

Similarly, all kinds of crazy stuff gets written on church finances that, typically, studiously avoid any perspective or economic reality check.  Let’s run through a few examples:

– The Vatican is rich, rich, rich! Untold billions!

Turns out the Vatican has an operating budget of around 300 million dollars, and an endowment of about $1B. While not chump change by any means, this is in the range of a middling American college or hospital. Harvard has an operating budget of $3.7B and an endowment of $30B.  (And here’s a link to – Gulp! – the National Catholic Reporter. At least, we can safely say the source isn’t *too* pro-Vatican…)

– But what about all that artwork?

Right. Imagine the outrage of the Italian people and government – masterpieces that are a sources of pride and devotion and billions of tourist dollars are now in some rich dude’s living room in LA? Non capisco! I’ve heard that the Vatican is legally the custodian, not the owner, of its art, and that the Italian government has laws against anybody selling Italian masterpieces. which all makes perfect sense upon a moment’s reflection.

But even if the Vatican were to ignore the law, here’s a question: How big is the market for art? In other words, how much money is out there in the world to be spent on art? About $60B. Assume two things that are unlikely to be true, but paint the most optimistic picture of the value of the Vatican’s art collection: that 100% of the available money would be spent on Vatican art if it were available; and that maybe another $60B might come out of the woodwork if Michelangelos and Rafaels hit the market.  So, wildly optimistically  there’s $120B per year that might be spent on Vatican artwork, that could theoretically then get spent on the poor.

But what really happens when the Pieta hits the auction block? It’s priceless, but if this is worth $120M, then I’d say a billion for the Pieta is a bargain. Let’s try to understand the buyers:

– it is very unlikely more than a tiny handful of buyers, either private or institutional, has a billion dollars to drop on a single artwork;

– while there are some buyers who would be eager to drop a $1B  because their egos would be fed by having the Pieta in their living room, others are going to wonder: if a whole bunch of Vatican art hits the market, what’s that going to do to the value of my other stuff? Note that this isn’t an artistic judgement, but an economic one: if you can buy a first-rate Bernini at price X, what does that do to the value of my Rodin? I’m guessing that any auction featuring Vatican masterpieces would have very few bidders and leave most of the art market very unhappy;

– Once buyers become convinced that yet *another* timeless masterpiece is being sold, excitement – and prices – start to drop even more.

So, the reality is that the Vatican could sell maybe a few billion (and probably much less) in art per year for possibly a few years before the market gets saturated and prices fall. Similar arguments can be made over lesser works – there’s no way the Vatican could sell many of its lesser works without overwhelming or suppressing the market.

Same goes for real estate. Besides, what are you going to do, open a Walmart off the Piazza St. Peter?

But what about all the other real estate? All those Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, retreat centers, bishop’s houses, monasteries  convents and so on? The church, in all its decentralized members, does sell and buy property all the time. But there’s something like 1.3 billion Catholics *using* this property – isn’t arguing that the property be sold pretty much arguing that the church should be disbanded? At least, let’s be honest about what we’re suggesting, and recognize with that same honesty that the church can hardly be blamed for choosing not to dissolve itself.

Also, recognize that those buildings and land are usually both the collection and distribution points for the charity that the Church does supply (more than any other organization in the world) to the poor and needy.

Are there things that could be sold? Is there money that could be better spent? Of course. But now we’re in the realm of good management and prudential judgement. No one would ever dispute the suggestion that better management and judgement is needed in Church affairs – as it is needed everywhere in human affairs.

Albino ninja assassin monks and a wacky conspiracy theory are not required to explain the Church’s behavior here.

Seven Quick Hits


You know, I love Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog, partly because it is so different than my blog, but mostly for the scorpion stories. But here, at least, is something that sounds like it sorta kinda could be more or less related to the sort of things she writes about: what I learned from my father.


Another difference is that Mrs. Fulwiler is careful not to needlessly offend people.  I, on the other hand, have a gift for cluelessly writing offensive stuff, offensive to people I really don’t intend to offend. Only much later does it dawn on me how it will be taken. Such is this post on Higher Education.

The discussion in the middle on how Science comports with distinctively Catholic versus distinctively Protestant metaphysics is very much based on actual history and on somewhat technical philosophical points. What I’m not saying: that modern Protestants and Evangelicals have rejected the scientific method, or consider the truth of Scripture to preclude certain findings of science. What I am saying is that there is an historical tension present between science and uniquely Protestant theology such as Sola Scriptura that is not present between science and Thomism, and that this situation is reflected in the Church essentially shrugging at scientific claims that have – historically – caused much consternation and conflict in Protestant circles.  This conflict smolders in some circles even today. But this requires a book, or perhaps a book case, to explore.

What we all can agree on and unite behind, I hope, is that it is a bad thing when colleges and universities no longer believe in truth.


As the Caboose’s corn snake gets bigger, so do the mice we feed it. The snake is now around 2′ long, so we fed it older pinkies – mice a few days old, starting to get a little bit of fuzz, and starting to move around a little. This triggered a tiny amount of sympathy, even though I’m of the ‘Die, vermin! Die!’ school of nature lover. (Vermin include mice, rats, uppity squirrels, and suburban deer. Among other things.)  But that whole Circle of Life thing kicked in – that’s what I’m calling our bloodthirsty fascination with Death when it happens to vermin. For the first time, the snake didn’t just swallow the prey live – it constricted it. Seems the snake can constrict a young mouse to death in a minute or two. But mouse #2 – the snake gets 2 at this point – got the suck it down live head first treatment.

Should I be mortified that I find this stuff fascinating?

On the plus side, our son now handles the snake like a pro, and the snake has grown used to it. I was worried for a time because the snake seemed calm enough when I picked it up, but tended to freak our a bit when the Caboose held it. Now, it’s pretty mellow – as long as you’re not a little mouse.


William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, is doing a series of posts on arguments against redefining marriage. While these are typically brilliant, the kicker is his instructions to his commentators:

Warning Tolerance is a hallmark of those supporting same-sex marriage. Never will you find proponents employing abuse, vituperation, appeals to emotion, or angry senseless shouting. They do not label their opponents enemies, nor accuse them of being hate-filled. They instead use calm, logical, well-reasoned argument; they understand rational and sincere people may disagree on certain points. I therefore expect supporters of traditional marriage to act similarly. Comments which do not accord with ladylike or gentlemanly behavior will be ruthlessly expurgated.




You never really know who your friends are until you accidentally set them on fire and then knock out several of their teeth trying to put it out with an hors d’oeuvre tray before inadvertently pushing them into the champagne fountain, bringing down the entire wedding pavilion and getting their pictures on the front page of the society section as they’re carted off to the emergency room in their smoldering formal wear.  But, once that happens, it all becomes very clear, the lying weasels!


Next time, I’ll tell you about our psychotic dog. For now, just know that the teenagers in the household have decided it would be cool to get a parrot and train it to say: “Jimmy (that’s the dog’s name), nobody likes you.” So, you know, they can stop having to say it all the time.


Northern California suburbia is largely free of scorpions, so we must make do when the situation calls for either large poisonous inveterates or terror and/or humor based on same. Deer ticks, as disgusting as they are, just aren’t in the same league. Therefore, I must direct you, again, back to the epic Jennifer Fulwiler: Scorpion Slayer‘s blog. Oh, and there’s more Quick Takes there as well.



Education: The Example of Our Fathers

Through no virtue of my own and entirely as a result of either luck or divine intervention,* I have had for years a very nice, well compensated job.  Strangely enough, I am also the embodiment of exactly the feature set most loathed in today’s youth: lazy, undisciplined, unfocused, hedonistic. 

So, how does that work? Shouldn’t I be stocking shelves somewhere, or out of work entirely? Aren’t focus, drive, and hard work the formula for success?

Here’s a story about my father. I believe such stories are common among successful people, however success is counted. Such stories are also common among tragically sad people. This particular story is shared among me and my brothers and sisters, each of whom can be successful and tragically sad, often at the same time.

My father grew up on a huge farm in Oklahoma as one of the younger of 14 children. When he was 13, the Great Depression bankrupted his father, they lost almost all the farm, keeping only a few acres around the family home.

My grandfather had a mean streak which, in his despair, was unleashed against his wife my grandmother. My father, who at the time was probably the oldest son still at home, was able to throw his father out of the house for the sake (and physical safety) of his mother.  This story was told only once in my dad’s old age to one of my older brothers.

So, here was young man with shattered dreams and more sadness than a kid ought to have. Before the Great Depression, he would ride a horse out on the several thousand acres of his father’s farm. Some of his older brothers and sisters went to college – in the 1920’s!  He dreamed how he was going to do the same and escape the farm.

Then, after all was lost, he found himself digging coal to make a few bucks – some of which was used to pay down debts rung up by older siblings. He did finally manage to escape home and farm via the CCC. He toured the West over the next few years as a camp clerk – he had somehow managed to learn office skill in his desperation to escape farming.

So, he meets my mom in California, gets married, converts to Catholicism (mom was a cradle Catholic of East Texas Czech stock – that’s another story) and raises a family of 5 boys and 4 girls.

At the age of 45, after 25 years of experience in the sheet metal fabrication field, he started his own company – and here’s where I enter the story. I was 5 at the time. Dad was a maniac worker by all accounts. 70 or 80 hour weeks were the norm. He early on established his marketing strategy: we’re not the cheapest, just the best. It’s right the first time, and delivered on schedule.  This requires a high level of planning, discipline and focus. These were my dad’s strengths.

Working for my dad was no fun. My older brothers both had to work for him. In his mind, he wasn’t asking much – it’s not like they had dig coal in an Oklahoma winter or anything. In my brothers’ minds, dad had these incredible expectations, while at the same time showing very little appreciation of their efforts. And dad’s bitterness and yes, violence, sometimes boiled over on his sons.  Great damage was done.

By the time I’d gotten old enough to help out – at 12, I started sweeping floors and cleaning up on weekends – dad had mellowed considerably. But he was still not much fun to work for.

And here’s the point of all this: from my father, I learned a few things about work:

– the amount of time you spend cleaning up is trivial compared to the time you’ll spend looking for stuff and climbing over stuff if you don’t. Not cleaning up is not an option.

– Whenever you put something down, put it where it will next be needed. Making someone else move something because you were too lazy or clueless to put it where the next guy would need it is unacceptable.

– you’ll always make more money thinking than with physical labor, but don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

– the guy doing work always has the right of way – get out of his way.

– when the horn sounds, you are at your station ready to work, or you are late. You’re done with your cup of coffee.  Late is unacceptable.

– measure twice, cut once.

– From the customer’s point of view, having what they need when they need it is worth a lot of money. Do that, and charge for it.

– always ask: is there money in it? This isn’t a charity, here.

I have discovered that even the semi-random and intermittent application of these principles by a lazy smart guy yields fabulous results in the world of business.  If I were not a philosophically inclined introvert and had a little ambition, I’d be running something by now.

My older brothers, who in the normal course of things could have inherited and run the business, both fled at their earliest opportunity. In my senior year of high school, dad had a massive heart attack, underwent quadruple bypass surgery and was told by the doctor to sell his company and retire – at age 59 – or die. It took him a couple years, but he complied.

The doctor was right. The heart attack was all but inevitable. The day before, some welder had (incompetently) warped an expensive electrical cabinet – if you’re not careful, the welding process will heat the entire piece and twist it and ruin it. My father knew all the tricks – in a fury, he worked late into the evening with a blow torch, a bucket of water and a sledge hammer, artfully straightening the cabinet back out, salvaging thousands of dollars of work.

He then went home and almost died.

I went away to college. My older brothers moved far away, as did my 4 sisters and one younger brother. (score: one brother, the youngest, never moved far away.) A coupe eventually moved back to Southern California. All but a couple eventually made peace/called a truce with mom and dad, who lived into their late 80s.

So, I balance gratitude with an abiding sense of deep sadness, mostly for the sake of my siblings, who each have their own sad and even tragic tales to tell.  I got it easy, and got a wonderful spouse and beautiful children. Most didn’t get that.

A couple more things I learned that dad probably didn’t even know he was teaching: do not fear doing things yourself. Fix something? Build something? Dad always assumed we could just do it. He built a house and ran a grocery store and learned meat cutting – and that seemed normal to us. He always let us use his tools so long as we put them back when finished. He showed us how to use them. I started using hammers and saws when I was 5.

These lessons dwarf anything I learned in school. I suspect this is true of most people.

(This post is the current leader in the ‘start one place, end up someplace completely different’ sweepstakes. But hey, it’s just a blog.)

* I choose the latter – God gave me wonderful children, saw that I would most likely stress myself into a permanent state of clinical depression if I had to scramble for money my whole life, and so He found me a job where my talents can shine and my many flaws can be hidden. There are miracles involved, here.

The Higher Education Mish-Mash

One of the central threads followed in The Metaphysical Club is the bifurcation over the 19th century of American college education into Science and Not Science.  Menand describes how Harvard moved over a couple generations from the embodiment of Puritan ideas of education to the the embodiment of Unitarian ideas. From there, it is a short logical hop to complete secularism. Harvard’s presidency went from a Puritan theologian, to a Unitarian theologian, to a scientist with no theological claims in about 50 years (don’t have the book in front of me, pardon me if the details are wrong – I think the sweep is right.)Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Meanwhile, you have statistical analysis, Darwin, and the Civil War leading educated Americans to call everything they believe into question. Part of this – a huge part of this – is that Protestant theology, especially as expressed in Puritanism and Unitarianism, doesn’t really have the solid philosophical and logical foundation to support a view of reality that includes and harmonizes Revelation and experience. The proof of this: the logic and metaphysical assumptions required for scientific investigation are a subset of Thomism, and not a subset of the metaphysics of Kant, Fichte or Hegel,* and most definitely not a subset of the thinking of Luther.

File:Holmes with signature cropped.jpgIn practical terms, a believing Harvard man in 1820 would expect the natural world to conform to Divine Revelation as clearly stated in Scripture. Up to around 1800, there really wasn’t a ton of overwhelming evidence that the natural world *didn’t* conform to Scripture, at least not evidence that couldn’t be comfortably explained away. The four corners of the earth is just a poetical image, not a statement of geophysics. But that the world and everything in it was created out of nothing about 6,000 years ago – that was harder to explain away if one is to cling to Scripture as the Protestant of the time typically did: as a bulwark against all that Jesuitical hair-splitting and Thomistic angels-on-pins-dancing characteristic of the Catholic Church. That path – taking the literal sense of Scripture as but one way to understand it – lead away from Sola Scriptura, lead to introducing external, non-spiritual elements into understanding. So, just as Catholics were unperturbed by having the Church define the Cannon of Scripture while Protestants were (and are) absolutely insistent on some other more acceptably spiritual mechanism, Thomists and Catholics in general are not upset by the thought that the world might be ancient, that Scripture might sometimes be more truthfully understood as poetry and theology than geophysics and biology, and, that in any event, the Truth is One, whether discovered through Revelation or revealed through study of the natural world, Protestants seemed compelled to either cling to Scripture and dispute the physical evidence, or acknowledge that Scripture is ‘wrong’. This battle, with a thousand degrees of nuance, is still being fought today.

Back to college education. Because of this more sophisticated understanding of reality and Revelation, Thomists, the founders of Europe’s great and ancient universities, were and are not unduly perturbed by evolution, natural selection or statistical uncertainty. In fact, they see these ‘problems’ as just more fascinating aspects of creation, and try to understand them both in themselves and as revealing of the nature of God. In practical terms, in a Thomistic university, natural science, philosophy and theology could live under the same roof, so to speak, and communicate with each other based on a shared understanding of the nature of reality and truth. But in 19th century America, the shared understanding, insofar as it existed, was far less robust – any understanding of the natural world was seen as having, as it were, a dependent existence – it must be understood within an already delineated understanding of Scripture. As more and more discoveries pushed and strained at this limitation, the unity of the college could not hold. Add in the horror of the Civil War, which destroyed many people’s faith in God, or at least in the God of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the unity broke down entirely: by the 2nd half of the 19th century, American universities have almost always consisted of two independent institutions sharing, with growing unease, buildings and a bureaucracy.

That this truce is ignored doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. I’ve mentioned before the whole Science Kicks the Creationist Dog aspect of academia: a hard scientist can’t complain (out loud) about the stupidity exhibited, for example, in the Women’s Studies  department, where students and teachers turn on the lights and fire up their laptops prior to discussing how Science has no valid claim to truth, it is in fact nothing more than a tool of oppression wielded by patriarchal misogynistic elites to keep women in line. So, instead of screaming to high heaven over the traitors to truth in the adjoining buildings, traitors who have a lot of influence with the administration and don’t shy away from publicly destroying the careers of people who challenge them, science fans bravely go after Creationists, who don’t do any of that stuff and have no pull and often no presence in their institution.

So, now, this situation prevails: in one and the same institution, an 18 year old can spend 4 or 5 years and 100 grand plus getting trained in:

a. the scientific method as applied to a particular hard science, such as chemistry or physics. In the course of these studies, the student will learn a lot of math and perform experiments and projects where the difference between correct and incorrect, or success and failure, will often be easily apparent o both the student and the professor. A degree is awarded if the student proves to be satisfactorily competent in producing objectively correct or successful results in his field;

b. the conventional and completely self-referential thinking du jour of whatever Humanity or soft ‘science’ they have chosen. In this context, there is no objective measure of correct or successful completion of projects. Success depends entirely on the ability to regurgitate a certain theories and ideas on command. Degrees are awarded to students who display sufficient conformity to the thinking of the student’s academic specialty.

Of course, these are purified extremes – there are grey areas, occasional overlapping, and cross-politicization, such as Skinnerians playing at science, and scientists playing at philosophy. And it is quite possible to teach fields such as History and Philosophy with a high degree of rigor. Doesn’t seem to happen much, but still.

The impression I got at the universities and colleges I’ve hung out at over the last 40 years: the hard science people tend to hold the non-science folks in contempt; the non-science folks seem to be hide their well deserved defensiveness behind a wall of condescending arrogance. In general, academics seem to be about as thin-skinned and needy as any group I’ve ever run into.

On top of all this are the professional schools – MBA, CPE, etc. – which are cash cows and tend to exist in an alternate universe separate from the rest of the school.  They are a frauds of a different kind, but that’s off topic.

One supposes this can’t go on. Why would the customers – the people who pay the college bills – put up with this? especially now, when a college degree is hardly a meal ticket? Two solutions loom:

Financial ruin. So far, our fine colleges and universities have managed to push the ‘financial ruin’ part of the equation onto the students and parents. Eventually – I suspect soon – the music will stop. A college price war is already brewing over the net, it seems to me. When a degree won’t get you a job that can pay off what the degree cost, market forces demand that costs come down – or else. Academic inertia being what it is, my money is on ‘or else’ for many schools.

Reconsolidation. Hey, what if we started with the idea that the Truth exists, and is One? Some religious schools, especially Catholic schools, are trying this – Thomas Aquinas College springs to mind. This has the huge, incalculable benefit – science *needs* philosophy to refine its logic and check its arrogance – and visa versa. The worst tendencies towards philosophical flightiness can often be checked, it seems to me, by seriously looking at the natural world.

As usual, I’ve left out several times as much as I’ve put in here. Time is short!

* Science and Thomism share the assumption that I, the inquirer, exist, as do other people and scientists; the world exists independent of me and my investigations; that thoughts and ideas can be communicated between men via language and mathematics; that, while men possess an intellectual nature commensurate on some level with the natural world, the world can prove my thoughts and ideas wrong. Further, the law of non-contradiction holds,  and, more subtly, the world is worth investigating scientifically.  This set of ideas is not shared by the Big Boys of Philosophy who came out of (and, in the case of Kant and Hegel, explicitly acknowledge their acceptance of) Protestant theology, nor is it shared by any of the other great schools of thought – Buddhist, Muslim, etc.

Who Do You Say You Are?

This post at the Statistician to the Stars’s blog reminded me of a conversation I had with a brother-in-law a while back. He could not get his head around how it was possible that the Founding Fathers, and the country as a whole for the next 100+ years, did not allow women to vote. He used the dominant mode of understanding employed these days: that one’s place in the world is most fundamentally determined by one’s place in political society. In other words, a woman’s role as a daughter, sister, wife, mother in whatever combination pales to insignificance next to her role – or lack of one – as a voter.

I tried to explain that, while I support women having the vote, it seemed simple enough to me to imagine a world where the value of one’s family and community ties far outstrip the value of any one family member’s duty to vote. I can imagine putting the duty to vote only on property-owning adult males, on the assumption that politics is a dirty business that should never be allowed to insert itself into the sanctity of family life, and, if someone has to do it, best it be the patriarch.

The preceding doesn’t require imagining that women are somehow less able to vote, even if some people made that assertion at the time.  I, for one, would have been fairly happy to leave the voting, or even the presidency, to Abigail Adams. But it is easy to imagine a society that believes that her contributions as a wife and mother were greater than any contributions she may have made in politics. In all cases, getting to vote or not would be seen as relatively trivial compared to one’s duties to God and family.

I also imagine that this view is incomprehensible to most Americans, especially the well-educated. Their imaginations are filled with oppressive men and oppressed women. They imagine that, prior to women getting the vote, the world was peopled by men who were free and women who were not. I assert that, to the contrary, the difference in freedom between an honorable working man and his wife has never been more than an illusion: that a husband, in times past, was bound by great social and family expectations to honor and support his wife. To do otherwise would be to cast himself out from his family and society. A husband surrendered a great deal of what is now called freedom in order to have and hold his wife – just as his wife surrendered her self to him. The glaring disproportion just isn’t there.

A potential husband typically had little of what we would call freedom. His duty – and, most likely, his heart – we committed to making enough of a life for himself so that some father of a daughter would see fit to ‘give’ him his daughter. What the new husband ‘got’ was the duty to care for his new wife – so that she could fulfill her duties. Love, sex and children are among the duties the couple owe to each other – and are the principle joys of married life.

Duty and joy are not opposites.  We live in a time where lust is mistaken for love. In such a world, the idea of love as an act of will, as a fulfillment of duty, and thereby a source of joy is incomprehensible.

Now, of course, all this is wide open to abuse. But it is important to see that Bad Things that happen in marriage are, in fact, abuse – they are a bug, not a feature. The flip side of Paul’s equation also holds: where grace abounds, sin also abounds. (The unequal part: in the long run, grace abounds more.)

So I have spent the last 25 years working to support a family – a wife and 5 kids. My beloved wife has spent the last 21 years raising children. If ‘freedom’ is taken to mean ‘ability to stop supporting and raising a family’ then we were and remain un-free.  And it has nothing to do with political laws or the right to vote or equality. We both recognize a duty not just to the family, but to each other. We try, imperfectly for sure, to help the other be happy. This is also a source of great joy.

And what we get out of it is love. We have children who love us and love each other. We love our children and each other.  To put the right to vote on the same plane – let alone a higher plane – than this family love is worse than insane.

That Climate History Study: To Sum Up the Issues Raised

Blathered a little last week about the study reported on here, and the stunning dishonesty with which it was reported. In the process, I don’t think I stated clearly enough what the issues are – this is a very damning study to the way Climate Science! has been conducted over the last 30 years. My remarks are based on what the articles said, not on the study itself – the 3 articles I read did not provide a link – don’t know if it’s even available on line yet.

Recap: for the first time, researchers did a study of temperatures which uniquely combined the following:

  • Estimate world-wide annual temperatures from the last Ice Age until now – last 11,500 years. Before, that level of detail was, at most, attempted either over the last 2000 or so years or over some comparatively small geographical areas;
  • Included various locations around the world, not just one area;
  • Involved comparing and correlating a number of different ways of estimating ancient temperatures. In other words, instead of just using tree rings or ice cores or fossil shell growth, weighed several methods against each other to better iron out non-temperature related variations.


  • apart from a few ‘spikes’ (no definition or explanation given as to what constitutes or causes a spike), temperature changes are characterized by very gradual movements;
  • for much of the last 500 years, global temperatures had been slowly cooling, possibly heading for a ‘mild’ ice age*;
  • for the last hundred years, they have risen at a much faster rate of 1.3 degrees C per century;
  • still, over 25% of the period studied, global temperatures were as warm or warmer than they are today.

Then, stuck on the end for no logical reason, are the projections based on a model based on *other data*. In other words, after presenting what at first glance appears to be very interesting and relevant data hitherto unavailable to any modelers, they invoke predictions *not based on the results of their study*! That model is the one that produced the famous (and famously inaccurate**) ‘hockey stick’ graph.  So, as a matter of science, it would seem that basic thrust of  the study would be to call all existing models into question, not to the cause anyone to revert to those same models. The study provides the data one would base a model on. Models not based on that data would be by that fact alone called into question.

Here is my stab at the questions this study raises that any coherent explanation of climate and climate change would have to address:

1. If temperatures were as warm or warmer over almost 3,000 years out of the last 11,500 than they are now, what happened to the ice caps during those warm or warmer times? Did they melt? If not, why not? Because the greatest single threat to human life posed by warmer temperatures is routinely presented to be the ice caps melting, which is supposedly going on now, at current temperatures. But, putting 2 and 2 together: it’s only been as warm as it is now for a few decades, while the general gradual change in temperature characteristic of the previous 11,500 years indicates that those periods of warm or warmer temperatures lasted a long time. It does not appear that the ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica have melted during the last 11,500 year, even though they were evidently exposed to as warm or warmer temperatures as we have today over centuries at a stretch. If the ice caps are melting now, we’d need a reason other than simple temperature, as they did not melt in the past exposed to those temperatures.

2. What caused temperature changes in the past? Basic Science  101: You’d need to rule out or at least account for any causes other than carbon dioxide as part of determining how much of an effect carbon dioxide levels have.  Since geologically recent global temperatures have now been shown to move up and down and experience ‘spikes’, we’d want to know what made all that happen before appealing to yet another cause. Occam’s razor, and all that.

3. With those two issues in mind, wouldn’t the climate models necessarily need to be discarded? Wouldn’t one need to start from scratch  using the new data?  The current models seem to put extraordinary emphasis on matching the temperature curve of the years from the 1980s through 1998.  Given the presence of long-term temperature movements and occasional spikes revealed in this new study, it would be necessary to match the previous 11,000 years as well. Including the spikes. That would be the bare minimum needed for a model anyone could take seriously.***

In conclusion, it’s flabbergasting to me that this study is being reported as backing up the current model and conclusions, rather than calling them into serious question.

My position: Is it getting warmer? Seems to be, just not over the last 15 year. Should we be concerned? Yes, but we should be more concerned, it seems to me, by how little we know about the oceans we dump millions of gallons of waste and millions of tons of garbage into every day. For example. I don’t know what people really mean by ‘saving the planet’, but I’m certainly interested in leaving a beautiful world to my children. I’m not so crazy about rushing down a path that weds science and politics in such a way that we end up with the global totalitarian government needed to enforce the steps proposed by alarmists.  It would be much more in keeping with the ‘can-do’ spirit of American cowboy science to propose technological solutions and eschew political ones.

* no definition of what constitutes a ‘mild’ ice age is given. Sounds a little like a mild skull fracture to me.

** temperatures have remained flat for the last 15 years. The model predicted they would rise significantly.

*** This would be where Mike Flynn or Wm Briggs would chime in and explain how a model with X number of variable (or coefficients?) can be made to model any data set without recourse to any statistically valid analysis at all. But I only minored in math, so I’m staying out of that one.

Here’s Why I Canceled My Subscription to SciAm After 30 Years

The second magazine subscription I ever had was to Scientific American. I think I was still in high school at the time. For the first 20 or so years, I read most issues cover to cover within a week of getting them. Gradually, my interest tapered off, as the articles became less scientific and more American. Finally, the articles, tucked between ads for Range Rovers and jewelry, became, at the same time, so dumbed down and so in complete harmony with Big Government politics I couldn’t take it. I canceled my subscription.

Now comes this masterpiece from Michael Shermer with the promising title. But, alas! he’s just taking pot-shots at people he doesn’t like (just like he used to in his Skeptic magazine – which I also subscribed to for a year or two, until I realized the ratio of actual information to smug and condescending BS was approaching zero.

He starts out throwing around percentages, because that’s all scientifilicious:

58 percent of Republicans believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years,” compared with 41 percent of Democrats. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 81 percent of Democrats but only 49 percent of Republicans believe that Earth is getting warmer.

Now, while I don’t dispute there’s a high degree of ignorance of science out there*, I do have to wonder about a couple things. It seems the survey is asking what people “believe”. If someone asked me if I believed in science and my options were Yes/No/Not Sure, I’d have to say No. I accept science as the correct and privileged method to understanding the material world. I provisionally accept the conclusions of validly conducted scientific inquiry. But I don’t *believe* in science.

And I’d also like to see the exact questions and possible answers to the survey, and maybe see an explanation of the methodology. For example, were the surveys done on college campuses? On Sundays at the door of the 4-Square Bible-Thumping True Gospel Church? On Ashby Street in Berkeley? Are the questions unambiguous and not leading? It does matter. In any event, surveys are not science, so we’re now defending science with non-science. And Shermer is a smart guy, and his knows this. He just doesn’t care to be skeptical when what he ought to be skeptical of bolsters his position.

Next, it gets egregious:

Many conservatives seem to grant early-stage embryos a moral standing that is higher than that of adults suffering from debilitating diseases potentially curable through stem cells.

Whoa, there! What is the scientific basis for challenging whatever moral standing anyone else cares to give anything? That’s your Philosophy 101 question right there. So, the lab coat parts, and we see – a willfully ignorant partisan bigot. Shocking, I know. And note the by now traditional refusal to acknowledge that almost all medical progress has been made using non-embryonic stems cells – to which virtually no one objects – rather than the highly objectionable embryonic stem cells. ‘Potentially curable’ is a broad claim – so broad as to be meaningless except as propoganda. Diseases are potentially curable by bloodletting and trepanation – or by sacrificing virgins to the gods. Yes, there are some ‘cures’ that we refuse to try – it’s that pesky moral value again.

And most recently, Missouri Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin gaffed on the ability of women’s bodies to avoid pregnancy in the event of a “legitimate rape.” It gets worse.

Without downplaying the magnitude or offensiveness of Akin’s gaffe, it’s a gaffe. Perhaps it would have illustrated his point better, keeping with the promise of the title, if he’d have quoted any number of liberal politicians saying stupid things about fracking or nuclear power or SETI. Or, even better, talk about all the New Age liberals. (I live in NoCal, where shakra-adjusting crystal waving Obama devotees are as common as – something really common.)  I’d agree it’s scientific ignorance to believe sex, even ‘legitimate rape’, doesn’t cause babies. If that’s what he’s getting at.

And I seriously doubt it gets worse – because if there were worse, I am confident Shermer would have told us all about it.

In addition, consider “cognitive creationists”—whom I define as those who accept the theory of evolution for the human body but not the brain. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker documents in his 2002 book The Blank Slate (Viking), belief in the mind as a tabula rasa shaped almost entirely by culture has been mostly the mantra of liberal intellectuals, who in the 1980s and 1990s led an all-out assault against evolutionary psychology via such Orwellian-named far-left groups as Science for the People, for proffering the now uncontroversial idea that human thought and behavior are at least partially the result of our evolutionary past.

While he may have a point here, I suspect (from having read a bit of Shermer’s other writings) that there is here an assumed equivalence between brain and mind. It seems likely to me that many people do not understand this distinction and are instinctively rejecting the idea that the human brain/mind is just quantitatively different from a rat’s brain – we’re just bigger and smarter than rats, but essentially the same. I think we suspect that human being are qualitatively different, the concept captured in the idea of a rational soul. But it’s also possible that some people are just much more philosophically advanced than Shermer, and know his assumptions about brain/mind equivalence are wrong. And it seems clear Shermer would not be interested in entertaining this distinction.

Shermer does get points here for taking on, however furtively, the educational establishment. Yes, dogmatic Lockeans (and, more virulently, Marxists and their spawn) rule academia, and they will have none of this ‘evolution’ voodoo if it challenges their claims that it’s all in the power dynamic, man. But he devotes a sentence to tangentially attack those people – who are, after all, *his* people, for the most part, under the enemy of my enemy is my friend rubric.

Finally, the mandatory passage required by some journalistic law:

Whereas conservatives obsess over the purity and sanctity of sex, the left’s sacred values seem fixated on the environment, leading to an almost religious fervor over the purity and sanctity of air, water and especially food.

Not pretending that sex is no big thing (contrary to all observation and Darwin, too!) is obsessing. While your typical environmentalist holds his beliefs with almost religious fervor. Almost? Religious people should be so fervent!

As an educated layman, this sort of self-serving crap doesn’t affect my reliance on science.  But what about all those people who have effectively no science education? They’re not going to make the distinctions I make, because they reasonably enough think that what scientists say *is* science. And so the sloppy thinking, thinly-veiled bigotry and partisan fervor displayed by Shermer – and by Sagan before him – is seen as science. And properly rejected.

Shermer, Sagan and Co are largely responsible for the very situation they descry.

(Corrected 3/12 for a stupid misreading of a sentence. My bad.)