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Archive for October 2012

Oct/12

30

October Surprise

The election’s over.  My bets were on President Obama in any case, but the rightful suspension of campaigning in the aftermath of the hurricane catastrophe seals Romney’s fate.  Obama gets to look presidential, while Romney disappears.  Even if that suspension lasts just a few days, it breaks any momentum Romney may have been building up.  Perhaps he could recover it, but the chances are against him, I would think.  Things may look differently outside the Eastern seaboard, where normal life still continues.  But in the case of a disaster of this magnitude, people’s instincts are to preserve what they can of the status quo, my guess is.

In the meantime, many local officials in the tri-state area have been showing impressive leadership, above all the head of New York City’s crushed transit system, Joe Lhotta, a protege of former mayor Rudolph Guiliani.  With any luck, Lhotta will ride his display of organizational skills and crisis management into City Hall as a dark horse candidate in the 2013 mayoral election.  That field currently features one more disastrous tool of the welfare-industrial complex after another.   And N.J. governor Chris Christie has again demonstrated his take-no-prisoners executive style.  Our greatest thanks, however, go out to the anonymous members of the uniformed services who have been working without sleep to help the stricken and to restore the fruits of civilization to the storm path.

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Oct/12

29

Connecticut Governor: Go pray!

Connecticut Governor Dannel Molloy this morning advised his state’s residents to prepare for Hurricane Sandy and then go “pray.”  What exactly would those prayers look like? 

“Dear God: Even though you’ve sent this hurricane (because nothing happens on earth that is contrary to the Will of the Omnipotent One), do you think you could maybe mitigate its effects just a little bit?  (Such a last minute modification in the predestined unfurling of your simultaneous, omnipresent Will would be theologically problematic, but at this point, who’s counting?)  Just to remind you, human beings don’t like getting mowed down with natural disasters.  Of course, you were content to allow thousands to be wiped out in the big publicity items—the Japanese and Indonesian tsunamis, say—as well as in the unnoticed fires, tree branch fallings, electrocutions, slip and falls, and incurable diseases that take human beings down every day.  But those victims maybe weren’t as deserving as us, who knows, it’s a real puzzle, or maybe they didn’t get a chance to pray before they were killed.  We, however, are still very much alive, and here we are with a VERY big prayer and a VERY big claim on your attention, cuz’ we know WE’RE deserving as all get out. 

We also can’t help observing that it would have been a whole lot easier had you simply averted Hurricane Sandy in the first place, rather than allowing it to proceed, and THEN fiddling with its course—would’ve saved us a whole lot of trouble preparing and would not have disrupted commerce and millions of lives.  But maybe you were distracted with other things, and forgot how inconvenient a hurricane can be.  So we won’t hold it against you, but now that we’ve brought this problem to your attention, do you think that you could maybe call back the winds? 

Rest assured, however, that if you decide not to call the whole thing off and lives are lost, we will still troop to church and thank you for your Divine Mercy  and will pray for you to take care of the still living victims, even though dozens or hundreds of other human beings didn’t get your Mercy BEFORE they lost their lives.  (Though we’re sure that now that they’re dead, you are laying a whole lot of Mercy on them, and we thank you for that.)

In the meantime, however, thousands of selfless emergency workers are preparing to help their fellow humans survive this hurricane, putting their own well-being at risk.  And we are grateful for the millions of engineering geniuses whose labors on behalf of humanity mean that we will weather your storm a million times better than those less fortunate people who lived hundreds of years earlier.  But of course, in working to better their fellow humans, these emergency workers, scientists, entrepreneurs, tinkerers, and builders are merely reflecting YOUR Divine Love, and it is to you, ultimately, that we owe our greatest thanks.

P.S. Could you please make sure that [Obama] [Romney] wins the election?”

 

 

Oct/12

26

Ridiculous

Locked-inAnti-euthanasia zealot Rebecca Hamilton writes in Patheos:

Doctors are rapidly becoming the new executioner class of our society.

Oh, good grief.

Executioner Class? Rapidly? Really?

And then there’s this:

Every single human being has an intrinsic value and right to life and we may not tamper with it. That is the order of things. The first premise. We must, as Christians, reason our actions from there.

Well, Rebecca, that’s a familiar argument, but it does not address the issue of the individual who wishes to end his or her life, but, through incapacity, is unable to do so. Your insistence that doctors may not grant that person his or her wish is about as bad an example of “tampering” with a life as I can imagine.

And, oh yes, it’s cruel too…

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Oct/12

26

Silencing Timbuktu

Cross-posted on the Corner.

I cannot say that I know that much about Mali, but my ipod knows its music.

Enter the Islamists.

The Guardian reports:

The pickup halted in Kidal, the far-flung Malian desert town that is home to members of the Grammy award-winning band Tinariwen. Seven AK47-toting militiamen got out and marched to the family home of a local musician. He wasn’t home, but the message delivered to his sister was chilling: “If you speak to him, tell him that if he ever shows his face in this town again, we’ll cut off all the fingers he uses to play his guitar with.”

The gang then removed guitars, amplifiers, speakers, microphones and a drum kit from the house, doused them with petrol, and set them ablaze. In northern Mali, religious war has been declared on music.

The savagery is shocking, as is the peculiarly grotesque vandalism of an ancient cultural heritage. But there is also crushing inhumanity of it, the merciless expression of an arid religious monomania with no room, it seems, for so many of the pleasures of this world. It’s not so much an assertion of the idea that there is no God but Allah, but the insistence that there is nothing but Allah…

Naturally, xenophobia is thrown into the mix:

An official decree banning all western music was issued on 22 August by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao. “We don’t want the music of Satan. Qur’anic verses must take its place. Sharia demands it,” the decree says.

No sympathy for the devil then.

The Guardian continues:

The ban comes in the context of a horrifically literal and gratuitous application of Sharia law in all aspects of daily life. Militiamen are cutting off the hands and feet of thieves or stoning adulterers. Smokers, alcohol drinkers and women who are not properly attired are being publicly whipped. As one well-known Touareg musician from Kidal says: “There’s a lack of joy. No one is dancing. There are no parties. Everybody’s under this kind of spell. It’s strange.”

Ansar adds: “People think that the problem is new. But the menace of al-Qaida started to have an effect on us in 2007. That’s when al-Qaida people started to appear in the desert. They came to the nomad camps near Essakane [the beautiful dunes to the west of Timbuktu where the Festival in the Desert used to be held] and at first they were pleasant and said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re Muslims like you.’ Then they began to say, ‘We have a common enemy, which is the west.’ That’s when I understood that things were going to get difficult.”

Read the whole—terrible—thing.

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Oct/12

24

Richard Mourdock, the consistent Christian

“I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Ummm . . . what’s not theologically accurate about that statement?  Whether we construe Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s statement generously and limit it to his obvious intentions—that the life that results from a rape is a gift that God intends to happen—or construe it less favorably to what Mourdock meant to say but faithfully to Christian theology—that God intended the rape that impregnates the victim—either interpretation is required by the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent God.  Given the nonstop stream of prayers that believers send God’s way every second, seeking favorable dispositions of, inter alia, their home foreclosure, their bypass operation, the election, the aftermath of an earthquake and every other natural disaster (belatedly),  it’s clear that believers rightly reason that there is not a single aspect of life invisible to the all-powerful God and over which he fails to exercise utter control (even if he sometimes seems to get a little distracted).  I mean, if he can perform such Iron Age miracles as ventriloquizing through a burning bush , he can sure as heck prevent a rape if he chose to do so.  His will has no option but to be done. 

 

Non-believers are supposed to respect belief as something deeply thought-out.  But it turns out that Christians are actually closet Manicheans, unable to live with the unpalatable consequences of their theology:

 

“As a pro-life Catholic, I’m stunned and ashamed that Richard Mourdock believes God intended rape,” said Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.

“Victims of rape are victims of an extremely violent act, and mine is not a violent God.”

So if there are aspects of life that God does not control, he is not omnipotent, but just one magical force among many. 

The Mourdock faux pas in airing the ineluctable implications of Christian belief will cost the Republican party.  That belief itself, of course, will escape unscathed.    

 

Oct/12

22

Keeping terror apocalypticism alive

Ueberhawk U.S. Representative Peter King, speaking about the Benghazi attack on WABC radio today, announced that the threat from Al Qaeda was “if anything, greater than before,” now that its central leadership has been dismantled.   Why did I see that coming?

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Oct/12

20

Britons Abroad

Cross-posted on The Corner

Via The Daily Telegraph:

An influential British-based preacher is leading an armed gang of more than a hundred Islamist fighters in Syria, it can be disclosed. In a video posted on the internet in the last few days, Abu Basir al-Tartusi can be seen on a balcony surrounded by Kalashnikov waving rebels after apparently capturing a hilltop village in the war-torn country.

Security sources believe that dozens of British extremists, possibly as many as 50, have travelled to Syria to join the fighting and some may have been recruited by Basir. This week a junior doctor of Bangladeshi origin from, East London was charged with kidnapping two photographers in Syria, where he was said to be part of a 15-strong group of Britons.

The security services are concerned that the brutal conflict in Syria could become a “new Afghanistan” drawing in young men who return to Britain radicalised and keen to continue a fight to spread Islam.A source said the numbers were “small but increasing” and there were concerns about “who they meet and the knowledge they could gain.”

Basir, whose real name is Abdal Munem Mustafa Halima, was running classes at the al-Ansar Institute in Poplar, East London just months ago. He has his own website and his sermons are readily available on the internet. The preacher has been based in Britain since fleeing the Assad regime following an uprising in the early 1980s.

He has been compared with fellow preacher Abu Qatada and was described by one academic as one of the “most influential and most prolific radical scholars in the world right now” and by another as one of the “primary Salafi [fundamentalist] opinion-makers guiding the jihadi movement…”

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Oct/12

20

Not So Slippery A Slope

Locked inCould the availability of assisted suicide actually prolong life in some cases?

The Economist notes:

The prospect of the loss of autonomy, of dignity and of the ability to enjoy life are the main reasons cited by those wanting assisted suicide. Having the option of assisted suicide means that terminally ill people can wait before choosing to end their lives. That may have been what happened to Gloria Taylor, a Canadian assisted-suicide campaigner with Lou Gehrig’s disease (a degenerative illness). After winning a landmark court case four months ago that gave her a “personal exemption” to seek a doctor’s help to commit suicide at the time of her choosing, she died earlier this month—from natural causes.

Intuitively this makes sense.

And as for that slippery slope that the scaremongers are always brandishing, protections can be built in that ought to fence it off:

[F]or the limited measures introduced so far, safeguards abound and evidence of abuse is scant. Oregon’s legislation, introduced in 1998, is widely admired. Under it, an eligible applicant must be a mentally competent adult, suffering from a terminal illness and with less than six months left to live. His decision must be “informed”, meaning he must have been told about alternatives such as hospice care and pain control, and he must have asked his doctor at least three times to be allowed to die. A second doctor must review the case both for the accuracy of the prognosis and to certify that no pressure (from inheritance-hungry relatives, say) has been exerted.

That is too restrictive in some respects (it wouldn’t help those with locked-in syndrome, who can live on for decades), but the other protections make good sense.

And how steep is that slope? Not very.

Almost all existing or proposed assisted-suicide laws contain similar safeguards. Some also require the applicant to be suffering “unbearable” physical or mental pain. Only in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, where assisted suicide has been permitted since 1942, are the non-terminally ill eligible. Yet even that liberality has not stoked the numbers. The annual total of assisted deaths among Swiss residents is still around 300, or 0.5% of all deaths. Dignitas, the only organisation in the world willing to help foreigners die, had 160 clients in 2011. In Oregon assisted suicides represent 0.2% of all deaths. In Belgium, where voluntary euthanasia is also legal, assisted dying accounts for less than 1% of the total. Even in the Netherlands, which takes a notably relaxed approach to both forms, it represents less than 3%.

Oct/12

16

Conservatism for seculars

My piece for Free Inquiry is up.

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Oct/12

14

Must Try Harder (2)

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, a Roman Catholic priest, Tadeusz Pacholczyk, tries to throw in (I think) a little irony in support of his church’s campaign against assisted suicide:

In the November elections, voters in Massachusetts will decide on “Question 2,” a ballot initiative to allow physicians to prescribe (but not administer) a lethal dose of a toxic drug to assist their patients in committing suicide. Advocates of physician-assisted suicide assure us that this can be a good choice for someone who is dying, or who wants to die.

If physician-assisted suicide really represents a good choice, we need to ask: Why should only physicians be able to participate? Why should only physicians be allowed to undermine public trust in their profession through these kinds of death-dealing activities?

Why not include police? If a sick person expresses a wish to die, the police could be notified, and an officer would arrive bearing a suitable firearm. He would load it with ammunition, cock the gun and place it on the bedside stand of the sick patient. After giving instruction on the best way to angle the barrel, the officer would depart, and the patient could then pick up the device and take it from there—police-assisted suicide.

Oh good grief. Please try harder, Father. You surely can do better than that. Mercifully, Pacholczyk then changes tack. He offers up a couple of true life stories that allegedly make the case against assisted suicide:

I remember reading a letter to the editor in the local paper of a small town many years ago. A woman wrote in about the death of her grandparents—well-educated, intelligent and seemingly in control of their faculties—who had tragically committed suicide together by drinking a deadly substance. They were elderly and struggling with various ailments.

Her firsthand perspective was unflinching: It took her years to forgive her grandparents. She was angry at what they had done to her and her family. She felt betrayed and nauseated. She could hardly believe it had really happened.

The woman was still upset that they hadn’t reached out to the rest of the family for assistance. She dismissed the idea that suicide could ever be a good thing as a “total crock and a lie…”

Because, you see, it was all about her. What her grandparents wanted for their own lives counted, apparently, for nothing. She cannot have loved them very much. Not really. Not truly.

And then we have this:

A friend of mine in Canada has struggled with multiple sclerosis for many years. He often speaks out against assisted suicide.

Recently, he sent me a picture of himself taken with his smiling grandchildren, one sitting on each arm of his wheelchair. Below the picture he wrote, “If I had opted for assisted suicide back in the mid-1980s when I first developed MS, and it seemed life as I knew it was over, look what I would have missed. I had no idea that one day I would be head over heels in love with grandchildren! Never give up on life.

Eh?

In the early stages of his disease (and perhaps even now) this man could have opted for suicide by his own hand. He has chosen not to, and he continues to lead an apparently rich and fulfilled life. Good for him. He made the right choice, but what is right for him is not right for everyone, and is no argument at all for depriving (in particular) the helpless of their chance for release.

By the weakness of this almost insultingly feeble article, Father Pacholczyk reveals yet again how little intellectual force there is to the argument against assisted suicide once those who make it stray from the religious ideology on which their case is, in reality, based, a religious ideology that should not be enforced on those who disagree with it.

The answer to Massachusetts’s Question Two should be yes.

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