Friday, January 29, 2010

New Comments Policy

I'm really sorry to have to do this, folks. I've appreciated being able to have an open-comments policy for a long time, and to have relatively few occasions when I had to delete anybody for foul language, abusive comments, trolling or the like.

But as some of you may have noticed, ever since I posted recently about torture and announced the formation of the Coalition for Clarity blog, this blog has been stalked by a rather tiresome one-note wonder sort of troll, a person who has apparently decided that anybody who is against torture must also be a) for abortion and b) a Democrat. Why this person thinks this despite evidence to the contrary I can only wonder; suffice it to say that nobody who actually reads this blog would ever suspect me of being in favor of abortion or a Democrat.

In point of fact, I've written posts against abortion over one hundred times since this blog began, and that's just the ones I remembered to tag (I'm terrible about tagging posts). My present focus on the torture issue does not mean in any way that I have forgotten that abortion is the gravest moral evil that threatens our generation. What I do think is that our focus on abortion does not absolve us from considering the moral implications of other evils. As a Catholic, I am against abortion, artificial contraception, ESCR, IVF, and similar evils which reduce human life to a commodity; I am also against unjust war, torture, the indiscriminate use of the death penalty, and other evils which deprive human beings of their dignity. It is not a contradiction for someone convinced of the evils of both to oppose both abortion and torture; it is, in fact, Catholic to do so.

I could just keep deleting posts from my stalker-troll, but my problem with that is that he/she is shutting down conversation and comment from more reasonable people on this and other issues. Nothing is more tiresome than to be reading the comment thread on a blog and realize that a troll is having a field day unchecked by the blog owner, and yet the realities of my life mean that I can't sit in front of the computer for hours at a time to make sure nothing like that is going on here.

Still, I was hesitant to switch over to a comment system where you have to have a Google account or Open ID etc. to comment; I know that some of my regular commenters don't use such systems, and I don't want to deprive anybody of the ability to comment permanently. So perhaps when the troll has moved on to something more interesting I'll be able to open comments back up.

In the meantime, if you really have no way to comment other than anonymously and you'd like to participate in a post thread, simply email me your comment and tell me what thread you'd like your comment to appear in. I'll be happy to post your comment for you.

Your patience during what I hope will be a temporary revision of the comment policy is greatly appreciated!

It took torture to get me on Facebook...

Long time readers will recall that I haven't exactly been a cheerleader for social networking sites. I even had an article published at MercatorNet on the topic.

I like blogging. I like writing down thoughts and opinions on the news and events of the day, or ideas about life in general. I enjoy the fact that others (more than I deserve) enjoy reading what I write and are so kind as to say so. I like the leisurely pace a blog sets, with plenty of time to explore nuances.

I like reading other people's blogs, too, and seeing how they think about things. Often times I'll be moved to consider a position or issue I have not made a priority just because of someone else's passion for or insights about that position or issue.

Both Facebook and Twitter don't have those things to offer, to me. I'm not that interested in tiny, quick snapshots of what someone is doing or pondering; I'm not much inclined to read a 140-character remark about standing in a grocery store line, but would be fascinated by a longer post about the corruption of checkout magazines or the reality that for so many women feminism has translated to a job behind the counter while the kids are in daycare and dad is...long gone. The tiny, quick insights we all have are more interesting to me when they've led somewhere, been fleshed out, and are presented as a coherent series of thoughts or ideas.

I've always supposed that social networking sites could be extremely useful for some people or for some reasons. Twitter, for instance, would have been nice back when I was in college and lucky enough to go to the March for Life in D.C., because someone was always getting lost or buses would be moved at the last minute or, on one memorable occasion, a group of kids was ushered straight off the bus into a monastery with the assurance that the facilities would be available before Mass--only to discover that by "facilities" the dear monks meant two tiny single-use restrooms. Facebook would be less useful for that sort of occasion, but it is nice for far-flung family members to share information quickly and easily and make sure that everyone is up to speed during times of crisis, planned gatherings, and similar occasions.

And Facebook is also nice for group pages. Say, like, when an impetuous redhead sets up a "Coalition for Clarity" blog and two gentlemen have the idea to set up a group with the same title on Facebook, and one of the gentlemen e-mails the redhead to invite her to be an admin, and she has to explain that she doesn't, in fact, have a Facebook account...

So I set up an account.

The Coalition page is great. I didn't build it, but I've added some links here and there. It has been wonderful to see people join the group, and to realize that there are lots of Catholics who are firmly against torture in all its forms.

But the personal stuff? I'm no good at it. I've accidentally hit "ignore" once or twice to a friend request I didn't mean to ignore, I can't figure out the whole "wall" thing, and I still see no need to post a tiny half-sentence every hour or so to say what I'm doing, or whatever people ordinarily do with this thing.

I did figure out my personal "friend" policy, which is this:
Accept friend requests from:
1.Anybody I know in real life.
2. Anybody I "know" from the Catholic blogging world, or who has a Catholic blog, or who comments a lot on Catholic blogs, etc.
3. All clergy or religious who take the time to send a request.
4.People who don't meet 1-3, unless I get a message from them (or an email here) which clears up for me who they are.

At first I felt guilty about "4." But I've already had some odd requests from people whom I can't place, and after I read some pointers about Facebook security which cautioned against accepting requests from people you don't know in some way or other I decided to stick with the way I've been doing things. However, if you've sent me a request and I ignored it, please feel free to send another one; I might have ignored you by accident, or I might need a quick email from you (e.g., "My real name on Facebook is Jane Doe, but I comment on your blog as Peggysue12..."). That will clear things up and I'll accept your request right away.

If you use Facebook, I hope you'll check out the Coalition for Clarity group page, even if you skip over my bland and boring personal page. Since I've been such a vocal holdout against social media, I'm taking some small comfort in the fact that it is completely true for me to say that it took torture to get me on Facebook.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bookgirl!

Today is Bookgirl's 13th birthday! I now have two teenagers in the house, as my sister--the one who is a professed religious at Casa Maria--took the time to point out in her birthday card to our girl. :)

Bookgirl's nickname comes from her great love of books. A particular favorite has been the Ranger's Apprentice series, which she devours avidly, but she likes just about any book that features magical kingdoms and worlds full of adventure.

A particular talent of Bookgirl's is her ability to draw and create. She enjoys drawing "manga" style characters and making pictures of book characters, both the ones she's read about and the ones she's made up on her own. She's started to do some computer drawing, too, and created a design which a local songwriter/singer used as a header on her January e-newsletter to fans, much to Bookgirl's delight.

As we celebrate her special day with her, I'm continuing the tradition of allowing my teenagers to speak for themselves in their birthday blog posts. So--here's Bookgirl!

Hi! This is Bookgirl! Thanks for letting me talk to you on my birthday.

I'm excited about finally being a teenager, and am having fun today on my birthday. It's different having our cat around on birthdays, and today he has been especially curious about all the decorations. He keeps trying to eat them.

As my mom already said, I love to read (hence the name, "Bookgirl"). I'm especially fond of adventure and fantasy books. Right now I'm re-reading an old favorite. We're having a quiet birthday at home today, and I'm looking forward to all of it!

Thanks again, and bye! ☺

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Create your own Zombietopia

From Rod Dreher's new blog: what would your Zombietopia (e.g., your personal zombie-laden Apocalypse, or near-Apocalypse if we have to be technical about it) be like? Here are a few of Rod's ideas:

1. Zombies will prove especially vulnerable to the savage mystical powers of Shun Ken Onion knives, turning those who possess them into Insta-Jedis.

2. By executive decree, the president will declare that all saloons have to give free beer to Insta-Jedis who whip out their Shun Ken Onion knives. [...]

4. Zombies will be terrified of small yappy dogs, and when startled by the canine klaxon, will exude an odorless pheromone that will instantly de-constipate the hound. If he's constipated. Which he probably is.

5. Chickens, when tapped on the poultry equivalent of the shoulder by Insta-Jedis, will instantly turn into chicken versions of those cool flying dragon birds from Avatar, and will prove staggeringly effective in helping Insta-Jedis who ride them pick off zombies from on high.

Pretty funny stuff.

What would my Zombietopia be like? I've got a few ideas:

1. People who either played Resident Evil (tm) for hours and hours or dutifully watched their spouses play Resident Evil (tm) for hours and hours would have a significant advantage in fighting off real zombies, and would be able to do so with cheap kitchen knives, not fancy several-hundred-dollar foodie tools. ;)

2. Zombies would decide early on that redheads' brains taste bitter and would refuse to eat any, even if they managed to capture some redheads.

3. Zombies would not be at all afraid of dogs, but would, instead, greatly fear cats for their calm ability to start snacking on zombie limbs even while the zombie was still using them.

4. Several new zombie tracking websites, tools and apps would spring into existence, though there would be some friendly competition among such groups as DeadFace Book, Mutter, Cem City, and the popular and cool Zombie Positioning System which, alas, only works on the iPad.

5. Zombie-fighting regulations would grind to a complete halt in Congress, leading to the appalling discovery that zombies have been running most Senate committees for the last several decades.

6. The Catholic blogosphere would erupt in a bitter controversy about whether the zombies in question were merely dead flesh animated by some demonic power, and thus perfectly legitimate to destroy indiscriminately (as they couldn't be "killed," being already dead) or living people under the control of some parasite, poison, virus, or other agent, and thus still people whose human dignity precludes indiscriminate killing. The blog-war would rage without an end in site, until an intrepid Catholic blogger infiltrates the zombie-leader-group and films the zombie leaders engaging in a secret meeting featuring liturgical dance, workshops about incorporating the four elements into the liturgy, Sophia-goddess worship, and the Feng Shui of felt banner creation. All doubt is thus removed and the indiscriminate destruction of the zombies commences.

7. Though kitchen knives wielded by Resident Evil (tm) afficianados would be effective against the zombies, it's pretty slow dealing with them this way. Several other weapons are tried, but conventional weapons don't work that well either (as shooting something that isn't alive isn't, in reality, all that helpful). Finally, though, someone realizes that zombies can be destroyed quickly and easily by a device made of a detonator, a telepromtper, several liters of Botox, and a carton of CFL light bulbs. The demand for these items will leave lasting post-Zombietopia effects on the nation's military, politicians, entertainment industry, and green energy plans (not to mention Al Gore, possibly the only human to be effected by the shortage of three out of four of these items), but everyone agrees the sacrifice must be made.

Okay, your turn! What would your Zombietopia look like?

State of the Union roundup

No, I didn't watch the President's State of the Union address. I often try to watch or listen regardless of who is in the White House, but with Bookgirl's birthday tomorrow and some gift-wrapping left to do, the evening got away from me rather quickly.

But I've gotten spoiled in the past couple of years by the availability of the whole speech online. So much of what a politician does is in his delivery, and even mundane words can sound inspiring if a good speaker pronounces them. It's much easier to see beyond the hype when you just read.

This Associated Press fact check was extremely useful, too. Examples:

OBAMA: Discussing his health care initiative, he said: "Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan."

THE FACTS: The Democratic legislation now hanging in limbo on Capitol Hill aims to keep people with employer-sponsored coverage - the majority of Americans under age 65 - in the plans they already have. But Obama can't guarantee people won't see higher rates or fewer benefits in their existing plans. Because of elements such as new taxes on insurance companies, insurers could change what they offer or how much it costs. Moreover, Democrats have proposed a series of changes to the Medicare program for people 65 and older that would certainly pinch benefits enjoyed by some seniors. The Congressional Budget Office has predicted cuts for those enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans.[...]

OBAMA: He called for action by the White House and Congress "to do our work openly, and to give our people the government they deserve."

THE FACTS: Obama skipped past a broken promise from his campaign - to have the negotiations for health care legislation broadcast on C-SPAN "so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies." Instead, Democrats in the White House and Congress have conducted the usual private negotiations, making multibillion-dollar deals with hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and other stakeholders behind closed doors. Nor has Obama lived up consistently to his pledge to ensure that legislation is posted online for five days before it's acted upon.

And here's an interesting viewpoint from the UK Telegraph's Nile Gardiner:

As expected, Barack Obama’s 70 minute State of the Union address focused heavily on the economy and the domestic political agenda. This was hardly surprising in the aftermath of last week’s catastrophic defeat for his party in the Massachusetts special Senate election, where the Republicans scored an historic victory. American voters are turning strongly against the president’s health care reform package as well as his big government vision for the economy, which has contributed to spiraling public debt and mounting unemployment, now standing at over 10 percent.

But the scant attention paid in the State of the Union speech to US leadership was pitiful and frankly rather pathetic. The war in Afghanistan, which will soon involve a hundred thousand American troops, merited barely a paragraph. There was no mention of victory over the enemy, just a reiteration of the president’s pledge to begin a withdrawal in July 2011. Needless to say there was nothing in the speech about the importance of international alliances, and no recognition whatsoever of the sacrifices made by Great Britain and other NATO allies alongside the United States on the battlefields of Afghanistan. For Barack Obama the Special Relationship means nothing, and tonight’s address further confirmed this.

So Obama didn't say too much about foreign affairs. What he did mention were jobs. Quite a lot, actually:

What Americans want is the simple security of knowing that tomorrow will be better than today, said the President, who cast himself as a fierce defender of the middle class.

Mentioning the word "jobs" 29 times, he asked Congress to join him and make 2010 all about putting people back to work.

"They are hurting. They need our help," he said. "And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A strange and troubling story

Should a Florida woman have been ordered by a court to remain in a hospital because her unborn child was in danger? This story is extremely strange:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Samantha Burton wanted to leave the hospital. Her doctor strongly disagreed, enough to go to court to keep her there.

She smoked cigarettes during the first six months of her pregnancy and was admitted on a false alarm of premature labor. Her doctor argued she was risking a miscarriage if she didn't quit smoking immediately and stay on bed rest in the hospital, and a judge agreed.

Three days after the judge ordered her not to leave the hospital, Burton delivered a stillborn fetus by cesarian-section.

And six months after the pregnancy ended, the dispute over the legal move to keep her in the hospital continues, raising questions about where a mother's right to decide her own medical treatment ends and where the priority of protecting a fetus begins.

"The entire experience was horrible and I am still very upset about it," Burton said through her lawyer. "I hope nobody else has to go through what I went through."

Burton, who declined to be interviewed, is appealing the judge's order. She isn't asking for money but hopes to keep her case from setting a precedent for legal control over women with problem pregnancies. She also worries it could prevent women from seeking prenatal care.

State Attorney Willie Meggs stands by his decision to seek the court order after being contacted by the hospital. "This is good people trying to do things in a right fashion to save lives," he said, "whether some people want them saved or not."

There are a lot of questions raised by this story, not the least of which is the odd conflict between a state trying to save an unborn child and that same state aiding women in the killing of their unborn children. Sooner or later we're going to have to start dealing with the fact that at the very least, it should not be legal to abort a viable unborn human, precisely because of the double standard created when a state intervenes in a case like this one.

But though I read the whole article, and would encourage you to do the same, I still have a lot of questions. Burton is arguing that she should have been allowed to leave the hospital and go home--yet within three days her child had died in utero and was delivered stillborn. Was her medical condition, then, admittedly too fragile for her to leave?

Burton also thinks she wasn't given the proper standard of care and should have been allowed to seek a second opinion or go to a different hospital--but the article never says why this didn't happen. A different article suggests a possibility:

After examining Burton, Dr. Jana Bures-Forsthoefel found the 29-year-old mother of two had a ruptured membrane, had started contractions and was at risk of infection or premature birth, jeopardizing her health and the life of her unborn child.

Burton was ordered to immediately quit smoking and stay in the hospital on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy, but Burton didn't like that idea. She wasn't happy with care she was getting and wanted to go to another hospital and get a second opinion. She wanted to be able to go home.

So here we learn that Burton's health was also at risk--an important consideration, given that many news sources are spinning this story as "Court treats woman like incubator" in their coverage of it. Not only was Burton at risk of a miscarriage, but she herself, according to the doctor, was risking infection and possibly dangerous health consequences. Had she insisted on leaving the hospital and suffered these consequences in addition to the loss of her baby, would she have sued the hospital for letting her leave? It would certainly have been possible for her to do so.

And a little more searching uncovers some more details:

Burton was in her 25th week of pregnancy in March 2009 when she started showing signs of miscarrying. Her doctor advised her to go on bed rest, possibly for as long as 15 weeks, but she told him that she had two toddlers to care for and a job to keep. She planned on getting a second opinion, but the doctor alerted the state, which then asked the Circuit Court of Leon County to step in. [Emphasis added--E.M.]

Was the doctor's action in getting the court to back up the bed-rest orders justified from a medical perspective? Samantha Burton was essentially informing the doctor that she had no intention of resting. She was going to continue working at her blue-collar job (though none of the articles I've seen so far mention what that job was) and taking care of two small children, despite serious dangers to her own health and to the life and health of her unborn child. What, given that knowledge, was the doctor supposed to do?

Most of what I've read seems to think that the doctor was supposed to respect Burton's wishes and let her leave regardless of the consequences. If the doctor had done this, though, and Burton had perished along with her unborn baby, would we be reading headlines instead that say "Doctor allowed gravely ill maternity patient to leave hospital," with accompanying cries for the revocation of the doctor's license and sanctions against the hospital?

I acknowledge the danger of letting doctors have this much control over a patient's autonomy. There are many circumstances in which a patient is pressured or all but coerced into following doctors' orders, only to learn later that the doctor was wrong. I do think it should have been possible for Samantha Burton to call in an extra doctor to examine her, even if she had to remain in the same hospital for the examination--provided the doctor in question was also an ob-gyn with some experience in cases like Burton's.

But given the details revealed in this story, I have to think that any respectable ob-gyn would have confirmed the original doctor's diagnosis: the mother was risking infection, the baby was at risk of premature birth, and Burton should stay put. Since her child did, in fact, most sadly die in utero, it seems that this was not an erroneous diagnosis or misplaced concern.

And that brings us back to the central question: an adult is free to leave a hospital even if he or she is dying; he/she is allowed to refuse even lifesaving treatment. But a parent can't remove a gravely ill child from that sort of care without the intervention of the state--so into what category does a pregnant woman fall? Can she, in a post-Roe world, refuse to let a doctor try to save her unborn child? Is the unborn child hers to kill through neglect just as he/she is hers to kill through direct abortion?

That, essentially, is what Samantha Burton's lawyers are arguing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hitting the overload button

Things haven't been going all that well for President Obama lately. Health care reform, his focus for much of the first year, has hit a few unforeseen roadblocks: Church opposition to the abortion parts of the bill, the wild unpopularity of what's been discussed so far, and the election of a Republican to replace the late Senator Kennedy; in addition, the economy is beginning to make some people long for Jimmy Carter-style "malaise," and there's been a growing realization that applauding President Obama just for showing up (as the Nobel Prize Committee did) might have been a bit of a miscalculation.

But not to worry, say Obama aides:

But in an indication Obama was absorbing lessons from the upset Republican victory for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, he turned to a trusted outside adviser for help in guiding the party's strategy in congressional elections in November.

David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, was known for keeping the political operation on an even keel by admonishing aides and supporters against "bed-wetting," or panicking in times of trouble.

Plouffe will work with both the White House and congressional Democrats, who worry more losses could be in store for them in November.

Obama, who is taking a populist turn that includes a vow to crack down on Wall Street excesses, is to deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on Wednesday. Analysts will be looking closely at that speech for any sign of a reframing of his agenda.

"He is going to fight for what he's always been fighting for," White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "We're not hitting a reset button at all."

Really? A reset button? It's a good thing they're not hitting a reset button, considering that the last time that was tried, it got a little embarrassing--remember?

"I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: 'We want to reset our relationship and so we will do it together,'" Clinton said, presenting Lavrov with the red button.

What the foreign minister got, however, was a button that said "peregruzka," which translates into Russian as "overcharge" or "overload" (depending on the context). Oops...

"You got it wrong," Lavrov teased Clinton, but said he would put it on his desk anyway.

So now I've got to wonder--is it the reset button or the overload button that the Obama administration is determined not to hit? I wish I could believe that they don't intend to hit the "overcharge" button, but that, unfortunately, has been the party's game plan from the get-go, so it would be foolish to suppose that suddenly that particular button is off-limits.

But seriously, the task before the Democrats in upcoming days is to insist that everything is going to continue exactly as planned, and that everything is fine and there's no need for resetting or re-framing or re-anything, while feverishly working behind the scenes to throw out all of their ideas that have thus far proved to be unsuccessful, unpopular, or both (mainly both). All of this is geared toward keeping the 2010 mid-term elections from being a complete bloodbath--because if that happens, the preferred 2012 campaign message about not changing horses in midstream is suddenly going to seem ridiculous--and "Vote for Us, because We're Nothing Like--um, Ourselves, for the Past Four Years, But We're Hoping Nobody Notices" is not, historically, the most effective campaign strategy. Just ask John McCain.

Priests and blogging

Okay, so the Pope didn't actually tell Catholic priests to get out there and start blogging--but this article is still pretty neat:

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI has a new commandment for priests struggling to get their message across: Go forth and blog.

The pope, whose own presence on the Web has heavily grown in recent years, urged priests on Saturday to use all multimedia tools at their disposal to preach the Gospel and engage in dialogue with people of other religions and cultures.

And just using e-mail or surfing the Web is often not enough: Priests should use cutting-edge technologies to express themselves and lead their communities, Benedict said in a message released by the Vatican.

"The spread of multimedia communications and its rich 'menu of options' might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web," but priests are "challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources," he said.

The message, prepared for the World Day of Communications, suggests such possibilities as images, videos, animated features, blogs, and Web sites.

Now, there are already quite a few excellent blogs being written by Catholic priests and deacons (not to mention a few of higher ecclesiastical rank). And my own diocese makes use of Twitter to share important news (such as the swine flu restrictions last year when no one was sure how bad swine flu might be). I think that this is a trend that ought to continue to spread, not only because it's a great way for priests to spread the Gospel, but also because it's a great way for lay Catholics to communicate with their priests without having to schedule an appointment to talk, or grabbing Father after Sunday Mass when he's really, really busy.

Think of the possibilities! Suppose a fictional priest--we'll call him Father Brown, because I like Chesterton--sets up a blog and a Facebook page for himself, and shares his email address. On any given Sunday evening, Father might get on the Internet and find out the following:
--a parishioner who reads his blog is slowly coming to understand the Church's teaching on contraception
--parishioners on Facebook mostly liked his homily, but a couple were confused and need clarification on a few points
--more parishioners have joined the Facebook Group Catholics for the Abolition of Liturgical Dance, which makes them outnumber (finally) the parishioners in Catholics for Creative Liturgies
--a new parishioner sends an email to offer his services as a classicist with mastery of ancient Greek and Latin for Father's bible study group and for Father's series of talks to get people used to the idea of some Latin chant
--the choir director has copied Father on her Tweet to all members informing them of an extended practice to learn some of that chant

and so on.

Blogging, emailing, and the like aren't any substitute for face-to-face communication, of course. But the reality for our priests is that with fewer priests and bigger areas of responsibility, parish priests don't have the time to connect individually with each parishioner or family on more than an occasional basis. Making use of these efficient means of communication makes sense.

Of course, I did like this reminder from Pope Benedict XVI, quoted in the article:

Benedict said young priests should become familiar with new media while still in seminary, though he stressed that the use of new technologies must reflect theological and spiritual principles.

"Priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ," he said.

So I'm guessing this sort of thing ought to keep coming mainly from lay people:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Who is Ellie Light?

Drudge has a link to a pretty funny story:

Ellie Light sure gets around.

In recent weeks, Light has published virtually identical “Letters to the Editor” in support of President Barack Obama in more than a dozen newspapers.Every letter claimed a different residence for Light that happened to be in the newspaper’s circulation area.

“It’s time for Americans to realize that governing is hard work, and that a president can’t just wave a magic wand and fix everything,” said a letter from alleged Philadelphian Ellie Light, that was published in the Jan. 19 edition of The Philadelphia Daily News.

A letter from Light in the Jan. 20 edition of the San Francisco Examiner concluded with an identical sentence, but with an address for Light all the way across the country in Daly City, California.

Variations of Light’s letter ran in Ohio’s Mansfield News Journal on Jan. 13, with Light claiming an address in Mansfield; in New Mexico’s Ruidoso News on Jan. 12, claiming an address in Three Rivers; in South Carolina’s The Sun News on Jan. 18, claiming an address in Myrtle Beach; and in the Daily News Leader of Staunton, Virginia on Jan. 15, claiming an address in Waynesboro. Her publications list includes other papers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and California, all claiming separate addresses.

Read the whole thing, and be sure to see the links to Plain Dealer reporter Sabrina Eaton's further discussions of the Ellie Light story.

Now, is it surprising that some person acting either on her own initiative or at the behest of some group or organization would submit dozens of letters to the editor praising Barack Obama? No, and it wouldn't be any more surprising if some person supporting a Republican did the same thing.

What is surprising is that in this Internet age so many papers were apparently fooled into publishing these letters without noticing that surprisingly similar ones were appearing in other towns and cities by someone who shared the writer's name, but purported to come from different locations.

And if reporter Sabrina Eaton hadn't wondered if "Ellie Light" were a former co-worker of hers and done a little Internet digging to try to find out, perhaps nobody would ever have noticed.

UPDATE: Here's some more Light sightings.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pro "choice" is a lie

Do you still believe people when they say they are "pro-choice" on abortion?

For the kind of American who hasn't given much thought to the issue (or to anything except what fast food they're going to scarf in front of the TV tonight), that moniker might still be somewhat believable. But for anyone who understands the reality of abortion, it's morally incoherent to say that abortion does mean killing a very early human--and then saying with conviction that this is a "right" every woman ought to have.

And for the so-called pro-"choice" leadership--well, pro-choice is a blatant lie.


Washington, DC ( -- Abortion advocacy groups had little good to say on the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that has produced more than 52 million abortions. They complained about how pro-life advocates have spent three decades doing everything possible to water down abortion until it can be ended.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards led the griping and moaning about pro-life advocates and their feverish efforts to protect as many women and children as possible.

"Thirty-seven years ago today, the Roe v. Wade decision solidified the right to choose for American women," she said in a statement obtained.

"However, a women's right to make personal health care decisions is under continuous assault by anti-choice organizations and individuals."

She called pro-life educational and legislative efforts to reduce abortions "harassment and intimidation tactics" that "deter women from seeking health care and doctors from providing it."

Examples of those? Richards cited efforts to help women get abortion counseling, "mandatory waiting periods and targeted restrictions on abortion." [Emphasis added--E.M.] [...]

And Nancy Keenan over at NARAL called her supporters to do more to fund abortions in healthcare.

She said "anti-choice activists are rallying around Rep. Bart Stupak who has said that he will stop at nothing to block the final health-reform package if it doesn't include his ban on abortion coverage. We must triumph over divisive anti-choice politics and protect women's health."

"As this crucial fight goes down to the wire, don't let anti-choice extremists get away with using this historic legislation to roll back" abortion funding, she said.

If the pro-abortion zealots consider such mild measures as waiting periods, counseling efforts, and restrictions usually aimed at minors to be "harassment and intimidation tactics," then clearly the whole idea of choice crumbles into ruin. What person who really favored "choice" would oppose the idea that a woman seeking an abortion ought to be counseled first? You can't "un-kill" your baby, you know; wouldn't it be a good idea to make sure women aren't being coerced by immense psychological pressure into making this so-called "choice" in the first place?

And what person who really favored "choice" would mind a waiting period? The pro-aborts go on and on about what an agonizing decision this is, this decision to pay an abortionist to stop the beating heart of the child in one's womb via his usual methods of poison or dismemberment (well, okay, they don't actually admit to that last part). Shouldn't an agonizing decision take a little time to make? There are states that have "cooling off period" laws governing such things as home sales and auto sales--isn't abortion worth a "cooling off period"? I think so, especially since, again, a house or car contract can be walked away from and the house or car sold to someone else, but a dead baby is kind of an irrevocable "choice."

As for restrictions (again, mostly aimed at minors), what responsible person who really favored choice would be against laws requiring a parent or a judge to step in when the abortion involves a minor child who may already be a victim of sexual abuse, for all anyone knows? Is a scared fourteen-year-old really making a "choice" when her coach or teacher or other adult male drives her to the clinic and tells her this is the only option, possibly threatening her if she doesn't comply?

The leadership of the movement that likes to call itself "pro-choice" has torn off the mask to reveal the ugly face beneath. The only choice they favor is the one that involves a dead baby. To that end they're willing to take the rights of pro-life Americans away and force them to pay for the butchery via our tax dollars. There's no longer any reason to doubt it: "pro-choice" is a lie.

My pro-life hero

Today is, of course, the 37th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision which, along with the companion decision Doe v. Bolton, legalized abortion in American through all nine months of pregnancy. Few people realize that because of the Supreme Court's action, our abortion laws are far more liberal than most of Europe's laws; further, any restrictions on abortion that might enjoy widespread popularity (though Catholics should always make it clear that our goal is the eradication of abortion and all direct attacks on innocent human life from conception to natural death), such as absolute bans on abortion beyond certain points in a pregnancy, are not legally possible in the light of Roe.

Today is also the birthday of my own personal pro-life hero.

This woman raised her family at a time when the feminist movement was in its heyday. A woman who stayed home to raise her own children was a traitor to the cause, in their eyes. There was no more worthless woman than what the feminists sneeringly called a "housewife," lampooning her efforts in the popular culture and making sure that girls in school learned that having a mom who "didn't work" was a disgrace.

My pro-life hero didn't care about that. An independent-minded and intelligent woman, she tackled the business of raising her growing family with courage, determination, and plenty of energy. She made many sacrifices so that her nine children could attend Catholic schools--but then when she realized how much heresy and how little Catholicism they were learning, especially (sadly) when it came to issues like contraception, she became a homeschooling mother instead, at a time when homeschooling was in a much more legally nebulous state, and when there was relatively little support for it.

My pro-life hero set a good example for her children, too, by attending various marches and protests, doing some sidewalk counseling, and always modeling a pro-life ethic to her children. All nine of them have remained practicing Catholics who accept the Church's teaching about the sanctity of life and the evil of abortion and artificial contraception. My hero has seen five of her children marry (so far) and start families of their own; she has nineteen grandchildren, one of whom shares her birthday! Another child has just taken her final vows and is a Sister Servant at Casa Maria.

My pro-life hero is my mother. Won't you join me today in wishing her a very happy and blessed birthday?

If you're not at the March...

If you can't make it to the March for Life in D.C. today, have you thought about signing up for the Virtual March for Life? Go here to sign up. More than 70,000 people have done so already!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Under construction

Sorry it's been so quiet here today; I've been trying to get the new Coalition for Clarity blog up and running, and then had to duck out for an extended choir practice this evening.

I've already been contacted by someone about being a contributor, and I really hope that others will be encouraged to contribute there as well. If you like to talk about the Church's teachings on torture, war, and related topics including our moral decisions in voting, political involvement, and the like, and would like the ability to add your posts on these subjects to the Coalition for Clarity blog, please email me at redcardigan (at) gmail (dot) com, and I'll set things up so you can post there.

A lot of people yesterday, when I said we needed a Coalition for Clarity, responded by saying either on this blog, via my email, or on other blogs, "Sign me up!" I'd like to, and have created a "Members" section where I'd be very happy to add the names of anyone who really would like to be signed up, so to speak. There aren't any membership dues or responsibilities aside from the willingness to follow Church teaching regarding torture. My goal in having a "Members" section is so that we can combat the lie that Catholics are willing to condone or at least tolerate torture as the price of voting for our favorite candidates--and it's worth pointing out that neither party has a clear record on the issue.

So, if you said yesterday, "Sign me up," and you mean it, please email me at the address I gave above, and let me know the following: that you would like to be added to the Members section, the name you would like to have added (nicknames and blog identities are fine for this), and whether you'd like your name/blog identity to include a link to your own blog if you have one.

We have a chance here to stand up for Catholic teaching long before someone creates a "personally opposed, but..." dodge on torture. Right now, many of our politicians and pundits aren't even doing that. They're unapologetically pro-torture, and they expect us to be, too. To the extent that Catholics try to create the impression that the Church is fine with the inhumane torture and mistreatment of prisoners under American or anybody else's authority, I don't think it's too much to say that such an impression risks causing scandal.

I look forward to continuing to hear from those of you who wish to join me in this effort!

Announcing a home for the Coalition for Clarity

I've been overwhelmed by the positive response to yesterday's post calling for a Coalition for Clarity. Because I think it would be better if this group had an actual, rather than a theoretical existence, I've taken the liberty of setting up a blog titled Coalition for Clarity.

I envision this as a group blog, comprised of any faithful Catholic who would like to post about torture and torture-related topics in the light of Church teachings. It would primarily exist as a way for bloggers who already write about torture to share their posts on a blog dedicated to the topic, but original content would be great, too.

I explain a lot more here; if you are a Catholic blogger who writes (or who would like to write) about torture from a truly Catholic perspective, please send me an email to the address on my sidebar so I can invite you to be a contributor on the Coalition for Clarity blog.

If you had asked me yesterday, I would have told you honestly that I had no plans whatsoever to create a formal "Coalition for Clarity" group blog. But there's clearly a need, and the positive response from so many bloggers whom I really respect makes it seem like setting up at least a temporary home for the group is a good idea.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We need a coalition for clarity

A long while ago, a reader of this blog asked what my "Member, Coalition for Clarity/Because Torture is Intrinsically Evil" item on my sidebar meant. Was there a group called "Coalition for Clarity?" Who were its members?

Truth is, the group is (thus far) fictional. I put the sidebar item (and the picture that I hope is okay to use, but will remove if it's not) up as a statement of my principles on torture, which are as follows:

1. Torture is intrinsically evil. Period. We're not entitled to do it, not under "ticking time bomb" or any other scenarios, just as we're not permitted to engage in acts of rape, murder, etc. under "ticking time bomb" scenarios. What is intrinsically evil may not be done.

2. Catholics especially have a moral obligation to stand against torture. Whatever may have been done or excused or tolerated in the past, Catholics today are not in a position where they may pretend to ignorance about the Church's teachings on torture. The Church's teachings include this, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.91

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

3. The enumeration of the following in the definition of torture above: " extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred..." in no way implies that torture may be used for other reasons, including interrogation; there is also no "good guys exception" which permits torture by the "good guys" in order to prevent worse acts of terror or war by the "bad guys." Though this seems blindingly obvious to me, I never cease to be amazed at the number of Catholics who would swear to both an "enhanced interrogation exception" or a "good guys exception" in the Church's discussion of torture.

4. Most of what is called "enhanced interrogation" is, in fact, torture. Waterboarding, cold cells, sleep deprivation, and the like are torture tactics. In one of the late Fulton Sheen's books, he includes a picture of a Soviet "torture cell" which is a small room in which every surface is made impossible to sit or lie down on (including the floor) in various ways (e.g., covered in spikes, slanted at a steep angle, etc.) so that the prisoner had to stand, hour after weary hour, in the tiny bit of clear floor space. We had no problem seeing this for what it was--torture--when the former U.S.S.R. was the entity responsible for it--but now, all of a sudden, that sort of thing's just dandy so long as the Stars and Stripes are flying overhead?

5. I owe most of my understanding of the torture issue to this man, and I'm grateful for his persistent and (mostly) patient explanations as to why Catholics can't support torture, full stop. Any Catholic who is wrestling with the issue in good conscience would do well to search Mark's blog for his many posts on the subject. I do believe it is possible for Catholics to wrestle with this issue in good conscience. Certainly we believe in the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty. The problem with torture is that it does not really involve either; the person being tortured has generally been deprived of his legal rights, has not had a trial, has not been judged guilty; the innocent are quite likely not to be protected at all by the torture of a prisoner, and the prisoner himself may turn out to be innocent of terror activities or ties. We can't morally decide that torture is a solution to any problem.

Should there be a Coalition for Clarity? I think there should be, and that Catholic bloggers who, regardless of their political leanings, are firm in the conviction that torture is intrinsically evil and may not be condoned under any circumstances should be vocal about saying so. It's especially necessary given Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts' views on torture, and the way those views are already being spun by what Mark Shea likes to call the "Rubber-hose Right." As someone who often votes for Republicans, it is absolutely unconscionable to me that the Republican Party or any observer of it would decide that my vote was a vote for torture, and I would rather see Republicans lose every election from here to kingdom come than have there be the slightest bit of confusion as to the utter moral repugnance of torture to many of us who have reluctantly supported the GOP for their stance on other issues.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An opportunity for pro-life prayers

It's nice to see some good news for a change:
BOSTON - The loss by the once-favored Democrat Martha Coakley in the Democratic stronghold was a stunning embarrassment for the White House after Obama rushed to Boston on Sunday to try to save the foundering candidate. Her defeat signaled big political problems for the president's party this fall when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot nationwide.

"I have no interest in sugarcoating what happened in Massachusetts," said Sen. Robert Menendez, the head of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee. "There is a lot of anxiety in the country right now. Americans are understandably impatient."

Brown will become the 41st Republican in the 100-member Senate, which could allow the GOP to block the president's health care legislation and the rest of his agenda. Democrats needed Coakley to win for a 60th vote to thwart Republican filibusters.

One day shy of the first anniversary of Obama's swearing-in, the election played out amid a backdrop of animosity and resentment from voters over persistently high unemployment, Wall Street bailouts, exploding federal budget deficits and partisan wrangling over health care.

I get that Brown's far from perfect, of course. But consider for a moment that in one of the most liberal states in America, a state that was the first to legalize gay marriage and which then ran the Catholic Church out of the adoption business rather than permit a religious exemption to the law, a state that went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, a Republican has just been elected to hold the office formerly hold by a Democratic party icon, the late Senator Kennedy.

However the Democrats try to spin this victory, Scott Brown's Senate win has to be sending shockwaves through the party. If they could lose a "legacy" seat in one of the bluest of the blue states on the eve of a crucial health care vote even after President Obama himself campaigned on Martha Coakley's behalf, then nothing's a sure thing as we head into this year's elections.

There will be spin, of course. Coakley herself will be blamed for running a lackluster campaign--a truth, but not the whole truth. The soft economy will be blamed, too, and the election spun not as a referendum on health care, but on, as Senator Menendez is quoted as saying above, the fact that Americans are "impatient" for the change Obama promised. But I'm also fairly certain that some in the Democratic party will be insisting that the Brown victory means nothing in terms of the rest of the nation--this was an isolated incident, Americans are anxious for the health care reform bill to be passed, and this year's elections will prove that Coakley's loss is Coakley's fault, and hers alone.

As we approach the Congressional elections this coming November, we'll know for sure whether the "isolated incident" theory holds water. In the meantime, this single election may end up meaning that unborn Americans may not end up having their deaths by living dismemberment, poison, and other grisly methods paid for by United States taxpayers after all.

To that end, I'd like to suggest that all of my pro-life readers add to their prayer intentions the intention that God will strengthen the conviction of all of the pro-life members of the House and Senate, so that any health care reform bill which might be passed would not contain the grave evil of abortion funding, but would instead provide adequate and compassionate care for pregnant women in need and their unborn children. The election of Scott Brown to the Senate might give unborn Americans the chance they need to be remembered as human beings deserving of respect, not dismissed as disposable human waste and preyed upon by the powers of darkness.

Fun with conversation hearts

You have to go to Acts of the Apostasy to read Larry D's "Saints Conversation Hearts." They're so clever and funny!

And he even provides the link where you can go and make your own.

Odd Google Searches of the Week

It's time again for that intermittent blog feature in which I share some of the stranger, weirder, or more unusual search terms people have combined that have somehow led them to this blog. As always, they are in no particular order:

1. "I embrace you" translated into German. Sorry, don't know German. My talented sister-in-law studied it in high school. But a word of advice: if you're having to look up online how to translate terms of endearment, you're probably in a relationship that's far too complicated already.

2. Prayers about money. In the Bible, the love of money is called the root of all evil; that said, during tough times it's not at all a bad thing to place our worries and fears about finances in the hands of the Lord. My favorite prayer for doing so? The Lord's prayer, especially the line, "Give us this day our daily bread." A not-so-good (if funny) prayer? "Lord, let me prove to You that winning the lottery won't spoil me." :)

3. Is "I'm sorry you were offended" a sincere apology? No. Next question?

4. Being waited on. Okay, this one's not all that odd. But it gives me an opportunity to put on my Annoying Grammar Hat, and insist upon the following: When you are standing at the entrance to a restaurant because a friend will be joining you for dinner, you are waiting for your friend. When your friend arrives, and you go in, and order food, you are being waited on by a waiter. When your cell phone rings, annoying other diners, and you are trying to convey to the person on the other end of the line that you can't leave because you haven't yet received your check, which is correct? a) "We're waiting for our check, so we can pay and leave," or b) "We're waiting on our check, so we can pay and leave." If you answered "b," you are not correct. If you said, "Neither a) nor b); the correct phrase is, "We're fixin' to pay and leave, but we're waiting on our check," then--oh, never mind.

5. Senator Kennedy funeral priest when he thought none (sic) was listening. I have no idea. But it sounds interesting. Did a priest at the Senator's funeral forget himself for a moment, and express his true nature of the political circus masquerading as a Catholic funeral Mass? I'd like to think it possible, anyway.

6. Einstein, said about his potty training. Again, no clue. If it weren't for the comma (which my original searcher did include) I would be tempted to think that the great man himself had had some pithy comment recorded on the subject of toilet training, which had perhaps been lost to history. But the comma means that someone else said something about Einstein relating to his potty training, which suggests that some desperate mother is hoping to find that perhaps the genius was a late bloomer and thus find some ray of hope in her desperate struggles to train a similarly recalcitrant child. Sadly, I can find no mention of Einstein and potty training except a kit sold by the enterprising hucksters behind the Baby Einstein videos which purports to teach the art of toilet training.

That's it for the present! Check back for more odd Google searches, to be posted whenever I remember to write enough of them down to make a blog post!

Monday, January 18, 2010

What femininity is not

I should have blogged earlier today. I had time. In fact, I sat down at the computer with every intention of writing a blog post or two, and went to check some news headlines to see if there was anything I wanted to add to my "bloggable" folder.

And I got caught up looking at the dresses worn by the stars at last night's Golden Globes Awards.

I know, I know. But I can't help it. Between the graceful and glamorous and the tragically mistaken, the relatively demure or modest and the downright immodest, the dresses--and the comments left by readers--seem to be a fascinating look at our culture's idea of formal dressing. One thing I found interesting, for instance, was that the lower cut gowns, some of which were praised by the professional critics, tended to be panned by the commenters. One commenter said something to the effect that no matter how lovely or curvaceous a woman is, allowing too much cleavage to be exposed is akin to (and about as attractive as) dangling the mammary organ of a certain ruminant mammal, and about as attractive--a rather startling thing to read on a purely secular website, though I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment.

What I think the commenter was getting at was this: to be truly feminine, a woman has to have a certain amount of modesty in her dress. A dress which exposes far too much just isn't attractive, except, perhaps, to young men of a particularly susceptible age. There is more allure in a gown which exposes little than in one which puts too much on display.

And that got me thinking about the words feminine and femininity. What do we mean by these words? What qualities do we mean to express?

Plenty of people have written about what it means to be feminine, and what it means to cultivate femininity. In reading around here and there, it struck me that what I've always found troublesome about the concept is not what it really is, but how many things get equated with femininity which to me are not essentially feminine qualities at all. So rather than try to hash out my own definition of what femininity is, I'd like to discuss, in no particular order, the things I think femininity is not:

1. Femininity is not girlishness. Girls are, of course, on a path to becoming women, and they are undeniably female; but too often, I think, femininity gets equated with girlishness in a way that does neither of these concepts justice. The adjective girlish is seldom applied to actual girls (except by frustrated brothers, perhaps), just as we seldom speak of a little boy as boyish. Instead, we speak of the boyish grin or boyish charm of a grown man; we mean that there is about him something which has retained that youthfulness and those characteristics associated not with men, but with boys.

So when we speak of a woman as being girlish in some way, we mean that there is some quality about her that is more like a girl than like a grown woman. A woman's unexpected giggle may be girlish; her love for pink satin or tulle may be girlish; her mannerisms may display a sort of girlish appeal--and any of these things might be charming, tolerable, or downright annoying, depending. But true femininity is, I think, a quality of womanhood. It is neither necessary nor desirable for a woman to keep part of herself frozen in time, so to speak, in her Disney princess or ballerina years; it is not required of a feminine woman that she prefer pastels to strong colors, speak in a cutesy-baby voice, or otherwise retain child-like behaviors.

2. Femininity is not stupidity, not even faux stupidity. On one website I was perusing, the writer, who claims to wish to resurrect femininity, gave an example of the kind of thing I mean here: the notion that women's brains just aren't wired for any taxing thoughts, and that while a woman may pursue the developing of her intellect, she always loses some of her essential femininity when she resorts to too much bookishness. Men appreciate her better, we are assured, if she stays within the sphere of her true genius, such as the ability to decorate a home or to pull together a really charming outfit.

A different approach to this same idea is the encouragement women are given by various writers to seem stupid at times. Sure, you might know more than your husband about some particular topic, say the well-meaning writers. But it's absolutely fatal to let him know it! A clever woman will pretend to ignorance or an imperfect understanding rather than damage her husband's self-esteem, and will declare him to be perfectly well-informed on all matters.

Such a view of femininity truly puzzles me. Was St. Catherine of Sienna not feminine? Were other highly intelligent female saints lacking in femininity on the basis of their intelligence? Such a view of women, that to be feminine they must be or seem less intelligent than men, is lampooned here:

3. Femininity is not timidity or weakness. Are men stronger than women, physically? For the most part, yes, though a female Olympic athlete may be stronger than an out-of-shape male office worker without that generality being much diminished. But it is one thing to speak generally of men's greater physical strength, and another thing to think that there is something unfeminine or unbecoming about a woman who is strong, whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, or all three.

But there are some who find strength to be so unfeminine a quality that the phrase "a strong woman" isn't meant to be a compliment. The idea persists here and there that a woman, to be feminine, must cultivate the appearance at least of fragility. This is not merely an appreciation of the fact that the female body on occasion does require a bit of extra care (such as during pregnancy, after childbirth, etc.), but rather a desire to create a certain illusion of helplessness, so that the men in her life will see it as their duty to shield and protect her.

Don't get me wrong: chivalry in men is a very attractive quality. But a woman appreciates it most, so to speak, when it isn't required. The recently postpartum woman with the stroller and the toddler in hand will be grateful to the man who opens a door for her; the young single woman ought to be charmed by such an action (though these days, when a woman is quite likely to be offended instead, you really can't blame the men too much for being afraid to try it). It oughtn't be necessary for the second woman to pretend she just can't manage the big old heavy door on her own--and it's not especially feminine for her to try it.

4. Femininity is not coquettishness. This is one I've run into recently and found rather disturbing: the idea that femininity requires a certain amount of flirtatious appeal in one's way of dressing, behavior, etc. There is very little difference, to me, between dressing and acting with open immodesty and dressing and acting in a sort of pseudo-demure way which is calculated to inflame the passions or desire level of the opposite sex in general. That word--calculated--is important here; there's an idea that to be really feminine a woman must know how to use her sex appeal (often described as "feminine charms" or "feminine wiles") to get what she wants.

There is, of course, a difference between this sort of idea, the idea that a woman ought to make herself attractive to the opposite sex so she can then manipulate them into the sort of behavior she wants from them, and merely wanting to dress or look nice. But I've seen the blurring of the line from time to time, when women will describe, say, a vintage-inspired look as "sassy" or "flirty," or sigh over a time when "feminine" women got what they wanted with a careful batting of the eyelashes and a slowly-curving, red-lipsticked smile. To be fair, I'm not sure there ever really was such a time; the woman in that pleasant daydream was just as likely to be told, curtly, by her other half to quit wasting his time with her tricks and get dinner on the table--but it's the idea that it's both acceptable and essentially feminine to be a flirt that I find disturbing.

So what, then, is femininity, especially for a Christian woman? I think the best answer is simply the model of the truly feminine: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though her appearances in the Bible don't answer all of our questions about how she lived and how she conducted herself during the hidden years of Christ's childhood, I think we can go here, to Proverbs 31: 10-31, and read the description of the worthy wife:

When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.
She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with skillful hands.
Like merchant ships, she secures her provisions from afar.
She rises while it is still night, and distributes food to her household.
She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She is girt about with strength, and sturdy are her arms.
She enjoys the success of her dealings; at night her lamp is undimmed.
She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.
She fears not the snow for her household; all her charges are doubly clothed.
She makes her own coverlets; fine linen and purple are her clothing.
Her husband is prominent at the city gates as he sits with the elders of the land.
She makes garments and sells them, and stocks the merchants with belts.
She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come.
She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel.
She watches the conduct of her household, and eats not her food in idleness.
Her children rise up and praise her; her husband, too, extols her:
"Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all."
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.
These are the truly feminine qualities: industry, attention to duties, strength, care for her husband and family and the whole household, charity toward the poor, wisdom and good counsel, dignity and diligent labor. I think that this is the best description of true femininity available to us, and I have no doubt that our Lady was a model of it all.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Altared" States

Courtesy of DMac at CMR, here's a look at yet another cathedral renovation that strains the meaning of the word.

Here, for easy comparison, is the old altar at the old cathedral:

And here's the new:

Now, the old altar is clearly an altar. There's no doubt that the church exists for the greater glory of God. The whole orientation of the church makes that clear.

The new altar--well, it looks like a 1970s coffee table, an example of which can be found here; I've put its picture below:
The 1970s influence is even greater when the altar in the new church has its lights on. Yes, lights. They emanate from the frosted glass (!) base. You can look at it here; I'm too fainthearted to post any more examples of the horror, neither the lights (which could have been worse--they could have gone all out with the 70s coffee-table theme and done disco lighting) nor what DMac succinctly describes as the "day-glo" panels behind the Coffee Table of Sacrifice. I'm also not showing the pictures of the "in-the-round" seating, which alas is no longer rare, but which still combines the charming ability to see full-on one's neighbor snoozing or the lady with the neckline that looks like it might plunge over the cliff or the kid with the obscene t-shirt etc., with the complete inability to ignore the showy cantor at center stage--er, sanctuary? Dais? What do we even call, anymore, that nebulous part of the "worship space" where podiums erupt like unfortunate stalagmites from the glistening floor?

The two cathedral buildings seem to have a different purpose altogether. The old cathedral says, simply, "Come and worship the Almighty God; participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and partake of the Eucharist." The new building says, "Are there any visitors here today? Oh, yes, and where are you from? Let's give them a round of applause. Now, what about birthdays? Anniversaries? Good, good. Well, here we are again, gathered around the Lord's (Coffee) Table, to become bread for each other. And to be good bread we need--what? Anybody? Elizabeth? Jim? Nice to see you're back from your vacation, Jim. Oh, Sally? Yes, that's right, we need God's special leaven to make us bread. We can't be bread for each other without God's leaven in our hearts, right? So for all those times when we've failed to be bread, let us ask God to add more leaven into our hearts..."

Meanwhile the congregation, having tuned out at "visitors," looks at the altar and thinks--if I slip out before the closing Song O' Our Specialness, I can hit the coffee and donuts before all the chocolate glazed are gone...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Protect Isabella

I'd like to thank reader Scott (aka "romishgraffiti") for his link to this website, which has been created to help protect Isabella Miller from a court decision giving full custody to her mother's lesbian ex-partner, who only lived with Isabella and her mother, Lisa Miller, for the first 17 months of the child's life.

Whatever you think of gay marriage, it is an absolute travesty for a court to declare that a biologically unrelated adult who never adopted this child or forged any other form of legal relationship with her should be handed full custody of her, while her biological mother is left out in the cold. And why this is happening in a state which does not even recognize "gay marriages" or gay civil unions is puzzling, as this ad from the website shows:

Little Isabella Miller deserves to stay with her own real biological mother. However much or however absurdly we want to pretend that a child can have "two mommies," there is no doubt in this case who Isabella's mother is--and for a court to push its activist agenda by handing the little girl over to a complete stranger is something horrific and frightening for any parent to contemplate.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Don't underestimate

If you think, as I do, that the push to legalize gay marriage is going to result in the curtailing of religious freedom in America, you're not alone. Mark Shea shares this from the Baptist Press website, regarding the gay marriage trial in California:

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)--Southern Baptist Convention and Catholic belief statements on homosexuality and "gay marriage" were read Wednesday during the California Prop 8 trial as examples of prejudice and bias against homosexuals -- a courtroom moment conservative attorneys say underscores that religious liberty is at stake.

The exchange on day three of the federal trial occurred when San Francisco attorney Therese Stewart asked Yale University Professor George Chauncey -- both of whom support "gay marriage" -- to read the respective religious denomination documents. She then asked him if they derived from stereotypical and prejudice views of homosexuals, and he replied "yes." At Stewart's prodding, Chauncey then said views on racial segregation also were built upon deeply held religious views.

Alliance Defense Fund attorney Jordan Lorence, who was in the courtroom, called the exchange "chilling."

"This is further proof that this case, and the very definition of marriage, is about much more than the personal relationships and the inner feelings of people who choose same-sex relationships," he wrote on a blog. "It is about imposing a different and intolerant 'morality' on America and eradicating opposing ideas."

Lorence further wrote, "It's not hard to figure out what is so frightening about an attempt in federal court to attack and delegitimize the views of the two largest Christian denominations in America."
Some of my regular readers may wonder why I don't limit discussion on this blog to those of us of like minds about this or other moral issues. Here's why: I don't think anything reveals the agenda of those who support abortion or gay marriage quite like reading what the supporters of these issues have to say. We can bury our heads in the sand all we want to, but the truth is that a post gay marriage America would be an America that is even more hostile to people of faith than we already see. The new way of framing the religious liberty issue, among both abortion and gay marriage supporters, has been this: You are perfectly free to go to your (hateful bigoted) churches and worship. You are perfectly free to keep your (hateful bigoted) beliefs. But you are not free to expect to live like a believer in society. If you can't, in good conscience, kill babies on the job or throw a wedding shower for your lesbian co-worker, you should expect to be treated like the hateful bigot you are. It would be extremely unwise to ignore the danger we face, those of us who refuse to throw out 2,000 years of Christian moral teaching to satisfy the whims of the latest challengers to it.

It would also be a mistake to underestimate the danger.

No Catholics Need Apply

This is everywhere, of course, as it should be (but a Hat Tip to the reader who emailed me the link!):

One of the most troubling things about modern medicine is that, despite all the good it can do, it embraces some things which are patently, horrifically, ugly and evil. Abortion, ESCR, IVF, and physician-assisted suicide are just a few of those things--yet in Martha Coakley's type of view, anyone who has a problem with these things probably shouldn't be a doctor or nurse.

For Catholics, though, a particular worry is that modern medicine has also embraced the great evil of contraception, declaring it good and normal and necessary for human society. What a horrific lie it is, to convince millions upon millions of healthy woman that their bodies' natural fertility is a terrible disease for which a decades-long prescription to a drug engineered to fight against it is not only necessary, but imperative! Society has bought this lie, hook, line and sinker--there is scarcely even within the Church in America much conversation about the terrible moral evil of contraception, let alone outside of it. I think the uneasy truth for the majority of Americans is that contraception is the Great Enabler--it lets men stay selfish little boys, it lets women pursue the mirage of simultaneous career fulfillment/marriage fulfillment/motherhood fulfillment, and it lets the hawkers and pushers of a thousand useless trinkets relax, secure in the knowledge that more Americans would choose to default on their mortgages than cancel their television subscription services.

But as terrible a lie as contraception is, it is not the worst thing about the emergency contraception Coakley refers to. Emergency contraception, like all other hormone-based contraception, is potentially abortifiacient--if it is taken after conception has occurred, it can interfere with implantation, dooming the developing human to death inside her mother's suddenly inhospitable womb. Modern medicine has dealt with this reality mainly by redefining pregnancy as beginning with implantation--even though there is no innate difference whatsoever between the embryo before implantation and the same embryo later--she is still the same unique individual human being, genetically distinct from her mother and her father though genetically connected to them both.

So the liars who push emergency contraception onto (mainly) young women can say, "Oh, no! This drug won't end a pregnancy if one has started!" because they're defining "pregnancy" and "started" in a radical way that departs from sound biology and sound common sense. And then, using this definition, the anti-life liars can act as though it's only a rather quaint theological objection that keeps Catholic nurses or Catholic doctors from wanting to hand abortifacient drugs to patients who come to the E.R. demanding them. (Oh, and though the scenario of rape is the one invoked in all these moral dilemmas, does anyone doubt that the goal is to force Catholic doctors and nurses to give out emergency and all other contraception and to perform and assist at abortions as part of the necessary qualifications to being a doctor or nurse?)

In Martha Coakley's view, it would be better all around if Catholics just didn't even try to be medical professionals. Better to decimate the ranks of doctors and nurses than to budge an inch on the anti-life agenda; better to put up "No Catholics Need Apply" signs on all the hospital doors in Massachusetts. Those signs are already up in Massachusetts when it comes to adoption services organizations and Justice of the Peace offices anyway, so it's not like adding a few hundred more will make a difference to a state that is slowly being engulfed by its own wicked stupidity.


Pearls Before Swine

Is this the same as a Doomed Quixotic Third-Party Voter, or Dq3? Because I think I see a resemblance...


Thursday, January 14, 2010

It has been almost a year

I know I'm late to this, but I was encouraged to read about Father Richard Gill's decision to leave the Legion of Christ. Patrick Madrid posts here, and the Life-after-RC blog has Father Gill's letter announcing his decision.

I especially liked this part of Father Gill's letter:

The news of the various scandals regarding Fr. Maciel was truly shocking and horrendous for us and the whole the Church. In dealing with them I have tried my best to be honest and candid whenever I have spoken to you all about them and never knowingly misled anyone. I have believed that a rigorously honest approach to this terrible series of events was the only way to proceed. Furthermore, I felt that if done so, and counting on the help of the Holy See, it could even lead to true healing and renewal for the Legion and the Movement, even in spite of the truly serious questions it raises about the charism of the congregation.

I’m leaving more because the manner in which the Legion has handled the revelations since the Vatican took action against Fr. Maciel in 2006 has left me often frustrated and totally distracted. I’ve tried my best to communicate with the superiors over this past year, and they have been gracious and generous taking the time to listen. I believe I have had the opportunity to get my point of view across to them.

I have participated extensively in the Apostolic Visitation and gave my best input to Abp. Chaput on multiple occasions. He has been gracious, fair and objective. I feel I have done all I can in that regard.

My conclusion is that the reforms needed in the Legion (which the scandals have made clear) simply won’t happen in the foreseeable future with the current leadership’s approach to the matter.

It's an amazing thing for a man who has been a Legion of Christ priest for so many years to write, and I think Father Gill shows courage in writing it. I'm sure God will be with him.

That said, it is depressing to realize that it has been almost a year since the first allegations that Fr. Maciel had fathered at least one child and had used Legion money and resources to cover up a sinful and duplicitous lifestyle were breaking. What has changed since then, aside from the names of those who have left the Legion, or Regnum Christi, or any of the numerous apostolates/businesses the Legion owns or operates? Very little, that I can see. The Legion still recruits young men to be priests; the Legion still encourages young woman to become consecrated lay members (not religious, as they have no canonical status as such from what I understand); the Legion seems to think that business as usual ought to and will continue now and forever. Certainly they didn't appear to hesitate to buy a college when they were in the middle of an apostolic visitation. They still own many media outlets, including the popular Faith and Family magazine/blog and the National Catholic Register, among others.

What is worse than the "business as usual" attitude is another one I've encountered, often from Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi members who post online. There are some variations of it, but in general it goes like this:

  • Father Maciel was a flawed vessel. Like all of us, he was subject to temptation, and he sinned. So did many saints. (Some go further, and say that Fr. Maciel may yet be canonized, despite all, because if he sincerely repented and lived out the end of his life in a state of holy penance...etc. But this opinion is rarely voiced when outsiders might hear it, except by the rash but zealous member.)
  • Despite Fr. Maciel's flawed vessel status, the Holy Spirit chose him and worked within him to create this great new work of holiness, the Movement (e.g., Legion of Christ). The work remains one of great holiness, and the Movement must still be fostered, encouraged, and spread exactly as if Fr. Maciel were beatified, instead of proving to be a flawed vessel.
  • The proof that the Legion is a work of great holiness is its charism. That charism is described variously as Love, Charity, bringing Christ's Love/Charity to the world, etc. (However, since all Christians may properly be said to have the vocation to present Christ's charity to the world, the Legion still doesn't seem to articulate well exactly what the charism is--that is, how are they to bring Christ's love to the world. The Sisters for Life do this in pro-life ministry, for example, and the Benedictine Monks at Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma do this by embracing the monastic life.)
  • Those who leave the Legion, attack it, criticize it, or otherwise denigrate it have shown themselves unworthy of Fr. Maciel (though a flawed vessel) and his great gift to the Church and the world. They need many prayers, as the state of their souls must be dark indeed to cause them to set themselves up against God's great work of holiness in the world, the Movement.
  • The greatest victims of Fr. Maciel's imprudent and sinful (objectively) actions are those in the Legion who must now bear up under the weight of unjust suspicion and renewed attacks by the Devil against the great work of holiness that is the Legion, and who must also explain over and over that Fr. Maciel was a flawed vessel, but the Legion is not flawed in any way, as how could it be? since it is such a great work of holiness, etc. ad infinitum.
This is not the sort of attitude that would foster any real reform, is it? Sadly, I suspect--though I do not know for sure--that among the rank and file of ordinary Legion priests and ordinary Legion consecrated women and ordinary Regnum Christi members, it is an attitude that is all too prevalent.