Friday, March 16, 2012

Litter on the Lawn

Four times a day, five days a week, I drive past an industrial plant that specializes in corrugated cardboard packaging. Just north of the plant is a field that, for the last several weeks at least, has been littered with scattered pieces of plastic. I don’t know that it came from the packaging plant, but it’s a reasonable conclusion. If it did come from the plant, then don’t you think they would send somebody out to collect it?

This same plant, for the last week has had a deflated mylar balloon on their front lawn. Nobody could be bothered to pick it up. Today, they had the lawn rolled. Yep, the lawn care workers (they looked like young local men), moving along at a walking pace, drove their rollers right past the balloon as if it weren’t even there. I’m tempted to pull over my car as I drive past this evening, just to pick up the damn balloon!

The culture here is changing, and not for the better. Our communities have long been noted for their cleanliness, which was a product of our civic pride and work ethic. Persistent litter on the lawn, it seems to me, indicates that we are in the process of losing something that we failed to appreciate.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Consecrating the Self-Sanctified

My lovely bride will accuse me of getting lost in the details, but I will counter that I'm just seeking a better understanding of God's revelation to us.

In the 19th chapter of the Book of Exodus (featured in the Office of Readings for Friday of the Second Week of Lent), God announced to Moses that he was going to appear in a dense cloud before Israel. In the New American Bible (NAB) translation used by the Catholic Church in her liturgies, God instructs Moses, "Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow." (Exodus 19:10, NAB) A few verses later, "Moses came down from the mountain to the people and had them sanctify themselves and wash their garments." (Exodus 19:14, NAB)

I was a little confused about the meaning of the verb "sanctify" and how the Israelites would do it to themselves, so I looked up the passage in my Revised Standard Version (RSV). The translation is different, and it seems to me that the meaning changes. "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow" (Exodus 19:10, NAB) and "Moses went down from the mountain to the people, and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments." (Exodus 19:14, RSV)

In the NAB, the people sanctify themselves. In the RSV, Moses consecrates the people. Sanctify means to make holy, or dedicated to the service of God. Consecrate means much the same thing, although I've always thought that there was a subtle difference, based on the second or third definitions of holy. My confusion remains, however, between whether the Israelites did it to themselves or had it done to them by Moses.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Preparing a Disaster

You do know that our country is headed for a fiscal cliff, right? Not only is our Treasury Secretary trying to convince us that our serial trillion dollar deficits are sustainable, he is, at the same time, refusing to acknowledge that the growth of entitlement spending (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) is projected to accelerate in the next few years. Most of the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington know this, but choose to ignore it. After all, somebody else will be in the driver’s seat when the car of state speeds over the edge.

There are exceptions, of course. One thinks of Paul Ryan, primarily, but my own Congressman, Jim Jordan, also comes to mind. Jordan, as head of the Republican Study Committee, actually submitted to the House of Representatives a budget that was (gasp!) balanced.

Still, I couldn’t help but think of our “leaders” in the marbled halls along the Potomac when I read this passage from Jeremiah.

“Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” (Jer 18:11-12)

Festivities of Body and Mind

I regret having to admit that my attention often wanders during mass, even though I know the majesty of the event in which I am participating. This is especially true when I am attending with one or more of my younger children. Occasionally, however, my attention deficit is penetrated, and a word or phrase or prayer snaps me to a more alert state.

That was the case this past weekend, the Second Sunday of Lent, when the celebrant recited the Prayer over the Offerings:

May this sacrifice, O Lord, we pray,
cleanse us of our faults,
and sanctify your faithful in body and mind
for the celebration of the paschal festivities.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is a prayer in the Sunday liturgy of the Church, so I think that I’m pretty safe in assuming that it’s been fully vetted. It’s going to take me some time to wrap my mind about what it’s saying.

I typically think of sanctification as something that happens on a spiritual level. Here, though, we’re praying for the sanctification of our body and mind. We can sin through what we do, and when we do something sinful, we use our bodies. But isn’t the soul the motivating force of the body? Our thoughts are products of the mind, but don’t they originate in the soul?

Yes and no. Our bodies are just as much a part of who we are as are our souls. When we worship, we involve our bodies. The sacraments have physical components (water, oil, laying on of hands, etc.). Furthermore, there are instances where the body acts directly upon the will. At some point, an addict might no longer have any choice in the matter – he can no longer help himself. Some have suggested that this is what St. Paul was getting at in Romans 7:17: “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

The mind is similar. We like to think that we control all of our thoughts, but it is not always so. Suicide was long regarded a sin, but the Church has recognized that it can be the result of mental illness, and that suicidal thoughts are not necessarily freely chosen or fully willed. Recent studies have suggested that viewing pornography results in physical changes in the brain that make it difficult for men or women to freely choose what is good and healthy in their relationships with others.

It is appropriate, therefore, to pray that our body and mind be sanctified, for the soul cannot be sanctified while it is held in slavery to sin.

The second striking phrase in that prayer was the reference to the paschal festivities. I’m familiar with the Paschal Mystery – the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I’ve never heard it referred to with the term “festivities,” though. I’ve heard the mass described not only as a sacrifice, but also as a celebration, but “festivities” seems to imply a much lighter atmosphere. Could it be that a nuance was lost in the translation?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Middle-Aged Husband Syndrome

From yesterday’s Bleat, in reference to a new Lileks family hamster:

The old hamster cage is out, replaced by a nice airy wire model, and he’s already explored every part of it. The Previous Hamster, or TPH, never wanted to go anywhere. Maybe he was a reincarnated middle-aged husband.

I note this only for the benefit of my dear one, who complains that I never want to go anywhere. It’s not just me, honey, it’s the middle-aged husband syndrome.

Picking a Candidate

Today is Super Tuesday, and Ohio is allegedly the big prize this year. It’s been a long time since my vote in the Presidential primary has meant anything, so I certainly didn’t want to waste my chance to help pick the Republican candidate. On my ballot, I got to cast votes for two delegates, so I cast one vote for Rick Perry and one vote for John Huntsman, the two men most likely to be able to defeat Barack Obama in November.

No, not really.

I have refrained from commenting on the race. Way back in 2010, I noted my preference for three governors, one of whom never got in, the other two bowed out early. Now the selections on the platter are down to four, and I had to pick one to vote for this morning.

I was never going to vote for Ron Paul. I like some of his libertarian message (stop spending and get the government out of areas where it doesn’t belong), but I can’t sign on to some of the other things (end the Fed, return to the gold standard, non-engagement foreign policy). He might be consistent, but his list of legislative accomplishments is extremely thin and there’s the whole matter of his newsletters, into which he claims to have had no input.

Newt Gingrich is certainly fun to listen to when he’s deconstructing the bias behind the questions asked by mainstream media interviewers (such as he recently did to David Gregory on Meet the Press). But he also sometimes reveals a lack of discipline that leads him to say that we’ll have a permanent moon base by the end of his second term. You simply never know when he’s going to say something cringe-inducing. Legislatively, he did some great things as Speaker of the House, but those who worked most closely with him described his leadership as mercurial. He has talent and ideas that need to be harnessed, but I don’t think he should be at the head of the Executive Branch. The President needs to have a stable personality, and Newt doesn’t.

Rick Santorum was involved in passing some signature bills during his time in Congress. He is an evangelical Catholic, and I happen to agree with most of what he says, even when the secular media gasp in astonishment. He has a way of saying it, though, that makes him sound like a fringe kook. He whined his way through most of the debates. He has no executive experience. He didn’t even try to get on the Virginia ballot, and he failed to get on the Ohio ballot in some of his strongest areas of the state. I don’t think that he’s up to the job of running the federal government.

That leaves us with Mitt Romney, who ran for office in Massachusetts as a progressive Republican. He claims to have come to embrace conservative principles as a state executive. Those who don’t like Romney doubt his veracity in this respect. I don’t know, but I accept that, as Governor of Massachusetts, he was as pro-life in practice as he could be. The similarity between Romneycare and Obamacare is focused on the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. The Supreme Court might or might not declare this provision unconstitutional. The mandate, however, was initially supported by conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, and, in its absence, there still has to be a resolution of the balance between insurance companies that can deny coverage to those with preexisting conditions and those who choose not to purchase insurance until they need it. More importantly to me, though, is that Romney currently says all the right things and has demonstrated an ability to successfully organize and run things at an executive level.

Policy-wise, I don’t see much difference between Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum. Where I see a big difference is in executive demeanor. Romney, I think, has it; Gingrich and Santorum do not.

Friday, March 2, 2012

It Gave It Everything It Had

Travelling back to my office after a morning meeting, I heard this report on the local news radio station. It seems that law enforcement officials spotted a stolen vehicle north of Tipp City. A high-speed pursuit ensued, lasting 35 minutes and topping speeds of 100 mph. The chase ended, it was reported, when the engine in the minivan blew up.

Imagine a 100 mph chase in a minivan, and a stolen one at that!

On returning to the office, I had to share the story with a co-worker, who remarked, “That minivan gave all that it had.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Preexisting Condition

In the March 5 issue of National Review, James Lileks perfectly captures the absurdity of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate as only Mr. Lileks can, and he doesn’t even go anywhere near the denial of religious freedom that is at the heart of Catholic objections.

Let’s imagine a dockworker in 1948. He’s got a hot date with a fast chippy, but y’know, like they told him in the Army, the last thing a fella needs is a dose of the drip. So he goes to his boss, who’s in the office talking on the phone. “Give me a dollar out of petty cash,” the worker says. “I need to buy some French letters.”

The employer might have regarded the employee with confusion: I must have misunderstood. For what purpose do you require the loan?

“I need some rubbers. And it’s not a loan.”

This would have been unthinkable. But we’ve moved forward. We’ve grown! Now it’s assumed that your employer will defer the cost of zygote determent, because fertility is a preexisting condition. What’s more, free birth control protects women from the adverse impact of a strange, mysterious situation that affects millions every year: sudden-sex syndrome. We don’t fully understand how it works, or what the causes might be, but apparently there’s nothing you can do about it. All of a sudden you’re just having sex! There’s not a moment to exercise free will or consider the consequences; it’s just like being struck by lightning and lightning doesn’t call you afterwards for days either.

Hence the panic over letting employer decline to provide tools to cope with sudden-sex syndrome. They have to! Mommy, make the mean man give me my pills. All the people who wanted government out of their bedroom insist not only that it take a seat in the corner, but that it bring in business and compel it to leave its wallet on the nightstand.

The Ethics of Infanticide

I approach with a default skepticism any statement by a figure who calls himself an “ethicist.” Morality divorced from theology is bad enough. Ethics seems to be a field that seeks to define not what is right, but rather what is permissible, and in so doing, avoids any exploration of morality.

The latest ethicist effrontery comes from Oxford University in an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. A group of Oxford ethicists argue that an infant is morally equivalent to a fetus, therefore infanticide should be legal. Jonah Goldberg, writing in the Corner, reflects my thoughts on the matter and expresses them far better than I could.

The Culture of Death starts from the acceptability of abortion and extends that to infanticide. The Culture of Life starts from the unacceptability of infanticide (and murder, in general) and extends the wrongness of it to aborting a fetus. Both sides accept that the fetus and the infant are morally equivalent.

The pro-life argument would work backwards to conception. Where would the line be drawn by the other side? Is there any moral difference between an ethicist who argues for infanticide and an infant?