In the wake of the Alabama Heartbeat bill social media has been awash with the abortion debate. With other states moving to limit, or poised to follow suit with Alabama, the entire political and legal structure of the nation seems gearing up for some sort of legal death match on the abortion issue. It seems that the people on the ground are noticing this trend, and the debates in the public forum (a.k.a. the internet) are heating up accordingly.

I have been a largely passive bystander for the abortion debate most of my life. This is not due to lack of conviction on the topic. I am firmly pro-life, and anti-abortion (not the same thing). It has been more due to the experience that minds are not changed online, or at least very rarely. Add to that the level of vituperation in the current round of culture war, and it’s small wonder that I see no advantage, and much disadvantage, in letting myself get sucked into that melee.

That being said, there is one specific argument current in this debate that I do want to address, one that has always been around, but which seems to be getting thrown out more frequently and more fiercely these days than I remember it. These are the variations on the theme of “No Uterus, No Opinion.”

This argument takes a few forms, the most popular that I have seen being, “Why should a bunch of old white men tell women what to do with their bodies?” and “restriction of abortion is all about subjugation of women to men.” In its essence it rebrands abortion as a strictly women’s only issue about which men have no right to have an opinion, since the only possible motivation a man can have for caring about the subject at all is to take rights away from women and keep them oppressed under the patriarchy.

There are a few problems with this argument, however.

  1. It ignores the fact that women are almost exactly as likely to be prolife as they are to be pro-abortion.
  2. Specifically, Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama, expressed her opinion when she signed the bill into law. Is it valid simply because she meets the uterus requirement.
  3. “No Uterus, No Opinion” mischaracterizes the pro-life argument by trying to make it a bodily autonomy issue. It is not, and never has been, a bodily autonomy issue. There are many women’s issues that are, the prime example being contraception. I believe artificial contraception is both wrong and unhealthy. However, I do not campaign against it, because it is a bodily autonomy issue. The prolife position, never (to my mind) adequately answered by pro-abortion people, is that because the human fetus is a separate human life form, it is a human rights issue. That is, bodily autonomy ends the moment you start infringe on another person’s rights.
  4. For the fourth reason I would like to quote in full a comment I read on facebook:

I mean, are you even remotely aware of how difficult it is to be pregnant? Your talking about how the wo lives, mother and child, are completely separate…but they arent, are they? They are attached. And one of feeding off the other. While the baby grows and changes, so does the mother. The mothers body physically changes, and im not talking stretch marks. After each pregnancy, i had to learn my own body all over again. My hair changed. My skin. The food i like to eat. I have seasonal allergies that i never had before. I have 50 lbs PER KID that will simply not come off no matter what i do. I have PERMANENT hemmorroids. Ill stop there, because it gets worse.

Carrying my children felt like i had a tape worm or some other foreign body sucking every ounce of energy i had. I was sick for months, and never felt healthy or “right” the whole time.

Anonymous.

I appreciate the author’s honesty, and acknowledge the truth of what she says. Indeed, she understated her case. Let’s not forget the risk of death, small though real, the risk of eclampsia, and the fact that a woman’s risk of experience domestic violence goes up when she is pregnant.

All of these boil down to saying, “As a man, you don’t understand just how much sacrifice and suffering is involved in being a mother. Therefore, you have nothing to say if I choose to opt out of motherhood.”

This sounds well enough, until you look at the corollary, which is that no woman can ever truly understand how hard it is to be a father.

It is not my purpose to compare who has it harder. The question is both meaningless and irrelevant. My point is that fatherhood and motherhood are reciprocal but separate realities each with their own sacrifices which are not the same as those of the other. A man may, in a sense, enter into his wife’s sufferings as a mother, only if he loves her very deeply, and even then there will still be some aspect of them that he will never fully share. In the same way a woman may enter into a man’s sufferings as a father, if at all, only by loving and respecting him, but they will always remain a little separate.

What does this have to do with abortion? Well, what if a man were to get a woman pregnant and then say, “But it’s easy for you as a woman, you have biology to help. You have no idea how hard it is to be a father, what I would have to sacrifice. Therefore you have nothing to say if I choose to opt out of fatherhood.” Do you think he could say, “No penis, no opinion?” Do you really think that the fact that she cannot fully appreciate his subjective experience renders her “Man the f— up!” less valid?

It is no more valid for a woman to opt out of motherhood than it is for a man to opt out of fatherhood. To be clear, I am well aware that I am equating absentee fatherhood with killing children in the womb, and I stand by that comparison. In fact, I believe a priority for pro-life men should focus, not specifically on anti-abortion legislation, but on pro-fatherhood cultural change. It has been a very long time since we have seen a world full of fathers. I wonder if it ever does happen, will we suddenly find that it is spontaneously also a world without abortion.

In one of Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s recent posts he explores the problem of rage that is currently dividing and consuming our nation. This is an excerpt (which I originally read in his book on Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing) that has given me pause many times before this.

In my book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing I explore the roots of our emotions and suggest that our adult emotions are rooted in the earliest experiences of our lives. Here’s an example: I was once asked to help a fifteen year old boy who had suddenly become irrationally angry and rebellious. He had been a sweet looking kid, sang in the church choir and had been delightful. At fifteen he became a “Goth”. Black hair, black leathers, eye make up…the works. He also started stealing cars. We asked him why he did so. He didn’t know. We asked if he knew that he would go to jail. He did, but didn’t care. He was in a tailspin, and there was no rational explanation. He said he was mad at his Mom and Dad and found external reasons, but they were all groundless.

In an attempt to discover the roots of his rage we asked him mother about his early years. She said he was adopted, and that he was conceived in the back seat of a car when his mother was fifteen. She carried him for nine months in an attitude of rage, frustration, rebellion and hatred. The other priest I was working with realized that in some strange way the boy was acting out not just his own rage, but the rage and rebellion of his mother. He was working through and acting out (according to the priest’s theory) the disturbing circumstances that lay at the very foundation of his personality

The first experiences of life take place while we are still in a sub-linguistic and sub-rational existence. For the infant, and certainly for the unborn child, life is nothing but a stream of emotional and instinctive stimuli and reactions. We exist in those pre-rational and pre-linguistic years in an emotional and instinctive soup, and the reason this is important is that just as in these early years our mind and body is forming, so our emotional life and emotional resources are forming.

This is why God ordains that we are conceived in a moment of self giving and beautiful love between a man and a woman, and that this conception takes place within the sacrament of marriage so it is also blessed and inspired by God. Likewise, the first nine months in the womb are to be a time of peace, health, love and happiness for mother and child. As the child receives nourishment from the mother, so he also receives love, confidence and peace. These contribute to a healthy and confident child. If the atmosphere is also one of spiritual nurture, prayer and worship, then the child’s spiritual life also receives a healthy and confident foundation.

I happen to agree that the pre-conscious and pre-linguistic period of formation in the life of a child is of incredible importance in the shaping of that child’s later emotional resources. I know, for instance, from my studies in neuroscience, that metagenetic mechanisms preferentially select more or less functional stress reaction pathways (cortisol and its related enzymes, to name one specific mechanism).

Now, I want to avoid the appearance that I am suggesting anything remotely deterministic. I am positing that the pre-conscious and pre-linguistic experience of every human influences their subsequent development in profound ways. Nor do I wish to suggest that these alterations are necessarily unmanageable or cannot be overcome by better later life environment, training and decisions (c.f “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” as well as numerous more scholarly researches on the role of neuroplasticity in overcoming negative behavioral and cognitive patterns.)

I also want it to be understood that a stress-free environment for a child, even if such a thing were possible in this world, would most likely be just as bad as, if not worse than, an environment filled with fear and neglect. Stress in the right types and amounts provides an adaptive function in nature, especially in human nature. Just as bones that are not stressed in childhood are weak and brittle, so are personalities that are never stressed. Problem solving is developed as a response to stress, and is absolutely essential to functional existence in society.

Nor, finally, do I want to suggest that these modern insights into some (likely only a fraction) of the possible mechanisms for this reality represent any real increase in knowledge. We have ALWAYS know that it was bad for children and babies to be in fear for their lives, to be treated with neglect, contempt or abuse, or even to be simply unwanted, unloved or uncared for. We have always known that the role of the family is to provide a stable, nurturing, and challenging environment for children to develop stable, nurturing and challenging selves. These three qualities are prerequisites for learning to love, and love is the only goal worthy of a human person.

It does, however, cause us to think and to re-evaluate what is most important in our lives. The only thing that matters is teaching children how to love, or providing a space for other people to teach their children how to love. It puts my own profession into perspective, at any rate, or rather professions (i.e. warfare and medicine). My warfare is pointless self-aggrandizement and thrill seeking if it does not help someone, in America or Afghanistan or wherever, live at peace and raise their children free of warfare. My medicine is meaningless unless the people I treat are real people instead of Medical Record Numbers or lists of signs, symptoms and diagnoses. My task is not to make them live longer but to help them live well.

And of course, both of those professions are meaningless if I am not there for my own family, within the limitations of doing my duty to others. It means that my ability to protect another man family’s right to raise their children in peace flows directly from my family’s sacrifice of peaceful time with me at home. Whether it is crippled or empowered by that sacrifice remains to be seen.

Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis, with which I will close:

The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. (Mere Christianity)

 

I do not follow politics very closely. In fact, I did not follow the Brett Kavanaugh controversy at all until I decided to write this post. Therefore, what follows is not an opinion on Mr. Kavanaugh himself, his guilt or innocence, his suitability for the office of Supreme Court, or about his accusers. As far as I have read about his politics I tend to agree more with him than I did with his future predecessor, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg. At the same time I believe that if he is guilty of sexual assault he is not qualified for that office, no matter how good his politics are.

You may ask, then, if I am so indifferent to the outcome of this contest, why am I writing it at all? The answer is that it has dominated my internet welcome screen for weeks. Whenever I open a new tab in Microsoft edge I see a page of headlines, usually something about “Trump does new incredibly stupid thing that will destroy the world” juxtaposed with “You won’t believe how cute this animal is.”

I almost never click on any of them, so the algorithm has nothing to go off of in selecting what headlines to show me, so I get a pretty good sampling of what you might call the “natural bias” of Microsoft edge, i.e. of its programmers. I do, however, look pretty critically at the wording of the headlines and the picture that heads it. Here are some examples of what I mean.

NY Times Capture
Pay attention to the facial expressions.

Looks rather a dolt in that one, almost as if he is disappointed he got his hand caught in the cookie jar.

Support GOP Women
As my Mom used to say, “Not your most intelligent look, Judge.”

Judge Kavanaugh is a fairly prominent public official, I venture to guess he has had his picture taken more than a few times. I am sure he knows how to look his best in front of a camera, and I am sure the photographers taking these photos, (to say nothing of the writers and editors choosing these photos) also know how to make their subject look their best. Instead, for some reason they chose to head their stories with pictures that seem calculated to make their subject appear in a less than favorable light. Contrast that with this picture of Kavanaugh’s latest accuser.

New accuser
Hair, makeup, expression, everything perfect for a photo shoot.

This picture makes her look friendly, confident, brilliant, trustworthy… the opposite of the pictures of Kavanaugh above.

But it gets even better. Check out this gem of a cover picture:

Choir Boy
“Really, Brett?”

This picture looks like his wife is looking askance at him, as if to say, “Really? You were a choir boy in high school and college? If you were a choir boy then I am a nun.”

It also looks like someone went through the video frame by frame and found the split second his wife turned her head to look at him and was caught in this exact expression, similar to how people look ridiculous when you take a picture of them with a fork halfway in their mouth, or in the middle of speaking.

As it turns out, the headline was even a bit misleading, as it suggests that he claimed to be something of a holy roller. However the article simply explained that two of his former classmates did not believe his claim that he had never blacked out from drinking. One could not remember any instance in which he had suffered memory loss, but was sure he had. The other remembered drunken antics and was certain that he must have not been able to remember the events of that night. The crowning irony is that an equal number of classmates corroborated his statement in the same article!

This, however, has to be my favorite:

What boy hasn't
This headline is so full of insinuation and outright misrepresentation that it isn’t even subtle.

This article leads with a headline that suggests Kavanaugh is replying with a variation of “but everybody does this!” That is not the case. The quote actually comes from someone else entirely. Kavanaugh never said it, and has maintained since the beginning that he did not do the things of which he is accused. The headline, coupled with the picture paint a picture in your head. The picture is probably taken from one of his interviews when he was gesturing with both hands to make a point. In the context in which it is used, it conjures up an image of Kavanaugh groping a woman and saying, “But all boys do that.”

I find it hard to believe that these pictures and their headlines were chosen by accident. My most charitable interpretation is that they are clickbait, designed to get people to tune in to the latest political-drama from Washington. However, I also can’t help suspect a bias in these media sources against Kavanaugh, and a subtle (or not so subtle) choice of unflattering pictures and misleading pictures meant to bias people who are scrolling by and not reading carefully against this Supreme Court nominee.

Bear in mind that none of this has any bearing on whether or not he is guilty or innocent. I certainly don’t know the facts of the case, and I do not think any of us ever will. At this remove the best that we can look for in terms of evidence is circumstantial, alcohol fogged memories at thirty-years remove.

I do not know whether Brett Kavanaugh is guilty or innocent. I don’t really care. If he is, he should be punished appropriately. If he is not he should be exonerated. Neither is likely to happen in any event.

I am, however, quite certain that the purveyors of “news” chosen by the maker of my internet browser want me to think or at least feel that he is guilty. Or maybe he’s just creepy. It doesn’t really matter because we need to “stand with victims.”

I certainly agree on standing with victims. However, to support his accusers against him is to tacitly state not just that they are victims, but specifically that they are victims of him. It is no justice to either the women or to the man in this case to assume that he is guilty in the name of solidarity with victims.

But what really turns my stomach about the whole affair is just how obviously it is not about justice, or standing with victims, or prosecuting sexual offenders. It is about one thing and one thing only.

Senate Demands
Incidentally, compare the style of this photo to the ones above. Observe the restrained, dignified body language of the figures on left and right, framing the powerful stance and gesture of the one in the middle. This picture, like the ones above, is calculated to rouse a specific audience response.

This is, and has only ever been about power. Observe the headline above about the GOP losing points with women, compared to the headline about Democrats calling for Kavanaugh to withdraw. The message is clear: “Republicans hate women and want to repress them. Only Democrats are willing to stand up for them.”

Despite the factual problems with that claim (i.e. Democrats care no more about women than anyone else does), it has entered the cultural imagination. It has been pushed there. The women in this case are being used as COGs.

COG is a technical term from U. S. Army Psyops doctrine. It stands for Center of Gravity and refers to anything within a population that can be used as leverage to sway the rest of the population one way or the other. In this case, the presence of a rumor of sexual misconduct in the context of the MeToo movement is enough to be a COG that democrats can use it as a COG to sway public opinion against their political enemy. They do not need a conviction. In fact, I think they are well aware that they will never be able to get one based on such scanty evidence. They have pushed this issue far enough that they now feel they can call on the court of public opinion to make him withdraw his candidacy.

Again, all of this is incidental to the question of whether or not he did it. The fact that that is a real issue does not change the fact that this whole affair is a strongarm play for political power. At best, if it punishes a sexual offender, that will be a happy accident. At worst it may do incalculable harm to the reputation and career of someone who, for all I know may be a good man, and quite innocent.

In the final analysis, there is nothing I can do about it either way, except to pray and fast for all concerned and encourage all of you to do the same.

 

 

 

920x920In the wake of yet another shooting of dozens of innocent people, we are once again surrounded by shrill, desperate, angry questions:

“What can be done to save lives? What is wrong with our lawmakers in Washington? Why won’t they take action to stop the violence? Why is it so easy for deranged people to get guns? Why is there no political will to limit the death toll? Why is mental health service so hard to come by in America? Why did no one arrive to stop the murder until it was too late?”

These are important questions, but not the most important one. They are tactical questions, with tactical answers, and they don’t keep me up at night.

During my last mission in Afghanistan an  Afghani man blew up a car loaded with >300 lbs of explosives, with himself in the driver’s seat, in an attempt to kill American soldiers. I remember picking up one of his shoulder blades with part of the arm still attached, a few hundred yards from the crater, and wondering what drives a man to hate so deeply that he will spread himself out across the landscape just on the slightest chance that it might kill an enemy.

That was seven years ago, and I still ask the same question: what drives a man to hate so much that he will go to his death for no higher purpose than to kill as many innocent people as he can before the police or someone else catch him?

Where does such reckless hate come from?

image-adapt-960-high-auschwitz_13a
I did this.

 

Only now I know the answer.

It comes from me.

I am the sinner responsible for that man’s hatred and despair.

This world is all connected on a mystical level, and it is a battlefield. The fortunes of each tiny hidden battle here may influence the outcome of a physical battle separated by all of time and space but united in the mind of God. As Dostoevsky put it, “All are responsible to all for all,” and I have failed in that responsibility.

To put it more explicitly, every act of virtue opens this sorry world up to a little more grace. Every act of vice closes it a little bit more to grace. When I wash dishes, or change a diaper, or get up at the crack of dawn to say my prayers, I am cooperating with the grace of God, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, with the Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I fulfil the hopes of all the Saints and Angels in Heaven, and I form a little spiritual gateway to allow them access to the battlefield.

But I have not often done this. I have spent years of my life living mainly in lust and sloth. I have spent time and energy on filth and vanity in the forms of pornography and video games. I have neglected prayers, and I have prayed neglectfully. I have turned away from people who loved me because I didn’t want to be bothered and been proud of it. I have turned my back on people in need. I have used my words to hurt people with sarcasm and contempt. I have done so many evil things, and worse, I have left so many good things undone, and every one of those sins of commission or omission was a door closed to grace.

In the darkness behind the doors I have slammed shut or refused to open, evil has festered, and it has spread silently through the mystical pathways of our spiritual battlefield, weakening, sapping and corrupting other human souls in ways I will never understand until I see them revealed in purgatory.

That is why I must heed the command of Our Lord, and the constant warning of Our Blessed Mother, and of all the Saints of all our history: I must repent, pray, and do penance.

And it is not enough to do penance for my own sins only. I may not “offer up” some “sacrifice” for the sins of other people far away and think that I have done something quite fine. I have not. Doing penance for the sins of others is not an extra, it is just being honest about my part in those sins. I have not even broken even. I have not even begun to make amends for my own sins.

Only the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and His Mercy poured out upon me can ever do that.

When I heed the call to repentance, to prayer, to penance, I am opening myself up to the Divine Mercy, and allowing it to flow into me and begin the long, painful work of cleansing me and making me whole. It can also overflow me, for I am a very small vessel and the stream of Mercy is infinite, and again flow silently and secretly out through the mystical pathways of this spiritual battlefield, strengthening, healing and making whole other human souls, in ways I will never know until they are revealed in Heaven.

The first step to peace in my heart and in the world is to know myself a sinner, and to fall upon my knees and beg forgiveness. After that comes Mercy.Divine+Mercy+Jesus

 

st-john-the-baptist-icon

The Prophet

My conscience wears a loincloth of camel hair.
His stomach, drumskin taut from hip to gaunt
Protruding ribs, bloats and ripples beneath
The harsh and swelling cry. Through busy streets
The press of unwashed bodies, mingling, shoving,
Sweating over their various sundry trades,
Commerce and compromise, muffle the voice, deaden
The shrill, piercing, long-accustomed cry:
“Repent!”

                             Within the academic towers
The scholars pause their insufficient trade
In formulations inadequate to truth
Or grace, to parse and analyze his words,
Extrapolate his childhood memories,
Apply the latest theories, check his sources,
Influences, background, syntax and every shade
Of meaning inherent beneath the truth he says,
Or does not say.

                             Poets hold easy commerce
With his “artistic vision.” His naked plea
Draws knowing professional courtesy, they nod and snap
Their fingers and murmur “Mmmmmm…”
“Yes!”
“Oh yeah!”
They clap him on the shoulder and call him, “Brother.
We too are misunderstood, we understand.”
But they will never believe. Belief requires
Relinquishment of doubt, acceptance of joy,
And joy and faith are just not “in” these days
And so they casually wear artistic angst,
Artfully draped across the shoulder and back,
At a jaunty angle like the capes of musketeers,
And neither believe, nor even understand. 

Seers drown their visions in cups of tea
Brewed from scraps of re-constructed past
Steeped in self-pity, savoring the taste
Of stagnant pain, and swirl the bitter leaves.
They read the posthumous reviews of their own tales,
Of all the ways things could have turned out well
If the other guy had only heard the call
To repent. 

                             Outside the city walls the farmland
Groans. Ignorant farmers work the earth
Producing grain, and grapes, and olive oil
For shipment to the City, there to furnish
Bread for the masses, and wine to cheer their hearts,
The necessary but insufficient cause
Of life. The workers live their lives
Such as they are, with a minimum of fuss
Taking in stride the semi-occasional raid
Upon the farms, by scaly, stupid beasts,
Monsters from the ancient outer wilds.
These things do happen.

                                                While in the cosmopolitan,
Refined and cultured burg, the very name
“Barbarian,” or rumor of beasts, is enough to send
The citizens into orgies of delicious panic.

 Meanwhile, the ground beneath our feet shakes,
Rumbling with inexorable, oncoming
Redemption like a volcano beneath the earth.

 

After my last post about guns, I received a comment from an old Special Forces buddy of mine. It was succinct: “I disagree.”

Of course I invited him over to the house to disagree over some beer, but he is currently out Special Forcing somewhere and wasn’t able to stop by. However, we did exchange some texts in which he shared some of his thoughts, and they were enlightening enough that I thought I would address them in a second blog.

Without quoting our conversation in its entirety, his main points were:

  1. He disagreed with my statistic, pointing out that I used the word “accidental” to refer to all gun and vehicle fatalities that were not intentional. In response he screenshotted an insurance manual (yes, he really did) the relevant passage being: “The common term for crashes, wrecks, and collisions is ‘accidents.’ However, the word ‘accident’ is misleading. If you crash because you were distracted, tired, or not driving defensively, it is a preventable crash, not an accident.”
    1. I accept point one in its entirety. Indeed, the distinction is captured in the firearms world by the terms Negligent Discharge (ND), which is an unintentional discharge of a weapon due to unsafe handling or other operator error; and Accidental Discharge (AD), which is an unintentional discharge due to mechanical malfunction of the weapon. I have seen many unintentional discharges in my more than a decade career in the military. Only one was an AD. It was a machinegun that spontaneously went off while the operator was clearing it and we determined that it might have been caused by a worn out sear pin. Of note, no one was hurt because the operator was doing everything right. The two unintentional discharges I have seen hurt people were both negligent, and directly resulted from the operator violating basic safety rules.
      You might make the argument that the majority of MVC’s are negligent rather than accidental, and without doing the research I suspect you would be right. That being said, the distinction between intentional vs. unintentional stands, and the fact that the majority of gun deaths are intentional, while the majority of MVC’s are unintentional.
  2. “I would completely agree with what you wrote if having firearms was a privilege like driving… [but] since your suggested rules would apply to a constitutional right, then they could easily be applied to free speech (wouldn’t be a bad idea!) I think words are more powerful than any amount of weapons.”
    1. This is the issue we find surrounding gun laws in America, is that all of them have to contend with the 2nd Amendment. Some support it saying that it is as necessary now as it was when the ink was wet (with the blood of patriots, no less). Others abhor it as a barbaric remnant of a bygone era, happily forgotten by us enlightened moderns; better angels of our nature and all that. This debate is big enough to warrant its own blog, and I may revisit it in a later post, but for now suffice it to say that I think that those who support increasing gun laws have the burden of proof to show that those laws do not violate the 2nd Amendment. And for those who say “F*** the 2nd Amendment” I say, be careful of that logic. The rule of law is not a thing to be cast aside lightly. The same document that contains the 2nd Amendment also contains the 1st Amendment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUqytjlHNIM
  3. The power of speech (via social media and the internet) and the power of guns (via analogous advances in technology) have both increased since the enactment of the Bill of Rights. “If retards [sic] should be restricted from having a gun, then shouldn’t a retard [sic] be restricted from speaking?”
    1. The comparison between restriction of weapons and censorship of speech is a good one, if only because both are complicated issues. In reality, he is right, words are powerful. Both words and weapons are guaranteed to us as a means of defending ourselves against neighbors, and against the power of those particular neighbors who get themselves put in charge of things (since that is all “The Government” really is). I find it interesting that the same forces that seek to limit guns in America also tend towards seeking to stifle “hate speech” and “racist language” and “white supremacist rhetoric.” They are right to resist these things, but I am not so sure they are right to restrict these things. If they are it can only be on the assumption that violent words have power to lead to violent actions. (It is also worth pointing out that many of the forces that push for more and more guns as the answer to The Problem often tend to be the same forces that push for the right to be, in common parlance, whatever kind of @88hole they want to be in the public sphere).
  4. He agrees with universal carry permit, but thinks gun laws should be diverse and regional. If you don’t like the laws in your area, then move.
    1. I can’t really argue with that without accepting that the Federal Government should trump State rights, which I do not accept. Looks like we are left with a conundrum here.
  5. “Guns are a sense of security for people, just like doors on their home. It’s a false sense, but they deserve the comfort.”
    1. This is 100% true that it is a false security, but I disagree that people deserve that false comfort. The reality is there are very few people I would trust to watch my back in a shootout. Of those, for many of them their ability to shoot is not what sets them apart, so much as their ability to not shoot when it is not appropriate. But more importantly, a gun is not a magic bullet (no pun intend… wait, yes it was) and it can easily become a security blanket. There are very, very few situations in which a gun is the right tool for the job. However, those situations tend to loom large and powerful in our minds. When someone has a gun, they may get a false sense of security from it and begin to think that it covers them for other, much more common situations. It may lead to unnecessary risks. It may lead to a person neglecting other skills, such as people reading, diplomacy, situational awareness, humility, etc. which can prevent the need for a gun from arising in the first place. Finally, it can cause people grossly to overestimate their own combat effectiveness, based on a few rounds on a static paper target in an air conditioned range on a relaxing Saturday afternoon.
      This is not an argument to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to have guns. It is just a reiteration that the power of having a gun demands maturity. The majority of gun owners are at least rudimentarily aware of this and work towards it. In the same way, the power of having a blog, or a twitter feed, or a facebook page, demands maturity, but I should say, by and large, with far less satisfactory results.
  6. People with mental illness should not be allowed to own a gun, but who gets to decide what constitutes mental illness?
    1. This, of course, is far too big a question for the tale end of an already-too-long post that is running past my bedtime. This one gets really thorny, people. For instance, some people consider the lifetime prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. to be a staggering 50%! (I did not make that up. I don’t agree with it, but some people do think that.) Anyone with depression, anxiety, bipolar, seasonal affective mood disorder, OCD, (to name a few of the more common), no matter how stable or well-medicated they may be, technically is considered to have a mental disorder. Lest you say glibly, “Well they shouldn’t have guns then,” the rates may actually be higher in the military… where we have the really big guns.
      Chew on that for a while.

All of this to say that the issue is a thorny one, and forming a clear position on it requires hard looking from a multitude of angles. I will continue to come back to it periodically, always revising my position, trying to accommodate the greatest good. However, I want to bear in mind that this is a matter of prudential judgment, and as such, there may be no definitive, objectively right answer. This can be frustrating for those who demand black-and-white; or it can be viewed with a sigh of relief, since it means that two people of good sense and better will may legitimately hold opposing views, without necessitating either one to consign the other to perdition.

 

I have written before about guns and the gun control debate. I have never actually come out and stated what I think gun control should look like in America, mostly because I was not sure where I stood. After thinking about it for a few years, here is what I have come up with.

concealed-pistol
Carrying a pistol entails absolute responsibility for everything that happens with that pistol, with no exceptions.

There is merit to the argument that we license people to drive cars, but not all states require licenses to purchase firearms. Of course the number of deaths per capita caused by cars is roughly equal to the number of deaths caused by firearms (see the CDC’s 2014 report here, the most recent year for which the report has been published.) There are some discrepancies, however, that make the comparison less apt than you might think. Most notably, while the CDC report does not give a number, we may assume that the vast majority of motor vehicle deaths were accidental (that is, only a very small minority were the result of intentional homicide or suicide), while 96.5% of the gun deaths were either suicide or homicide, leaving only 3.5% accidental. Thus, when talking about car deaths, we can talk about safety features, driver education and other public health measures, while with gun deaths we must discuss all of those, plus one other factor: namely, the intent to cause harm.

A gun is a weapon. They are designed to kill living creatures. Some are designed to kill living creatures that are trying to kill you, by being optimized for speed of acquisition and rapid follow-on shots. However, even your grand-daddy’s old smooth bore breech loader is designed to kill something, and can easily kill a human. I suspect it is precisely because of this knowledge of guns as dangerous things, explicitly designed to kill, that they are so much less prone to being the means of accidental death than motor vehicles.

We do not think of a motor vehicle as a dangerous weapon. It is a means of transportation, an extension of the office, a place that we spend too much time in, or even a hobby. We can talk while we drive, eat while we drive, drink (non-alcoholic beverages) while we drive, talk on the phone, listen to music or books, etc.

You cannot do any of these things while operating a firearm. Any self-respecting range master will kick you off the range in a heartbeat. Inherent in the use and ownership of firearms is the understanding that they are lethal.

Hence, gun safety and car safety are not exactly identical. When you talk about the public health measures that would reduce gun deaths you must deal with the fact that in 96% of those deaths, the death was intentional.

This does not mean that the measures that have been successful with cars won’t be successful with guns. I think that if you wish to be a gun owner you must have, at a bare minimum, a knowledge of the relevant laws in your state (which would be a lot easier if they were not such a hodgepodge) and the physical and mental capacity to load, unload, aim and fire the weapon in a safe and accurate manner. I would have no problem with the government mandating such a system, with a few caveats, mostly that it should no more be a means of disarming citizens than the DMV is a means of taking away their licenses.

So I think:

  1. There should be a universal standard concealed carry permit across all states, just like there is a universal driver’s license.
  2. Anyone wanting to own a firearm should have to pass a written test about the rules of carrying a gun (a.k.a. the rules of the road).
  3. They should then pass a shooting test. There might even be several tests, such as tests for standard rifles and shotguns, a test for semi-auto rifles and shotguns, and a test for handguns. This would be similar to having a license for cars, and a separate rating for a motorcycle, or heavy machinery or a tractor trailer.
  4. After that they get their license and can own as many guns as they want.

However, as I have said before, owning a gun and taking it to the range or hunting is one thing, carrying it every day in crowded areas with the expectation of being able to use it in a violent encounter is something else entirely. It is, of course, your right to defend yourself. However, it isn’t as easy as it looks in the movies, and in the real world it always ends badly for someone. If you have not educated yourself on the legal aspects of lethal force encounters, and then gone out and gotten training which included more than simply hitting a paper bullseye from a static position at 7 yards, you should not be carrying a gun.

Deliver us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Or, (I think more eloquently) from the Tridentine rite:

P: Libera nos, quaesumus Domine, ab omnibus malis praeteritis, praesentibus, et futuris: et intercedente beata et gloriosa semper Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cum beatis Apostolis tuis Petro at Paulo, atque Andrea, et omnibus sanctis, da propitius pacem in diebus nostris: ut ope misericordiae tuae adjuti, et a peccato simus semper liberi, et ab omni perturbatione securi. P: Deliver us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, from all evils, past, present, and to come: and by the intercession of the blessed and glorious Mary, ever a virgin, Mother of God, and of Thy holy apostles Peter and Paul, of Andrew, and of all the saints, graciously grant peace in our days, that through the help of Thy bountiful mercy we may always be free from sin and secure from all disturbance.

We live in an age of anxiety. It is tempting to look at the news coming out of North Korea, the news coming out of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the news coming out of Las Vegas, and to be afraid.

But our God commands us, “Be not afraid.” “Fear not, I have overcome the world.”

This requires great discipline of mind, an awareness of fear as the real enemy, and trust in God as our only hope. It requires (for me at least) the continuous, grueling, repetitive decision to embrace hope rather than fear.

This is not to deny the real danger. Nor does it mean a refusal to take prudent measures. Indeed it requires me to look the danger in the eye, unflinchingly, and name it. I must accept that my children may grow up in a post nuclear waste land, or in a world of racial violence, or in a world in which Christians may not be allowed to work. These are real, if remote, possibilities.

None of them are worthy of fear. Fear is the temptation to look at the waves and not at Christ, to become so focused on the evil that we want to fight that we forget the God who calls us to praise Him and to rejoice always. Then, eventually, we lose our strength and no longer even want to fight, or we fight fire with fire.

Think about the words from Jeremiah 30:15. “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”

Pray for faith, pray for hope, pray for love. These and all the rest are in the hands of God.

rosary

Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above,   like gentle rain let the skies drop it down.

Let the earth open and salvation bud forth;

let justice also spring up!

Isaiah 45:8

I had an interesting insight this morning during morning prayer as I read this passage. One of the occupational hazards of being human, I suppose, is being distracted in prayer. One of the occupational hazards of being a military man is being distracted by a preoccupation with combat. So I had to pull myself back from mentally designing a rifle and pistol training event that I want to set up, to get back to the Divine Office. And when I came back in to read it, it was this passage from Isaiah.

When I read that, I had the image of myself standing outside of a very large burning building. I had a tin can full of water in my hand and I wanted to put the fire out but all I had was a tiny little tin cup of water. I was ready to throw that little bit of water on the fire solely as a gesture knowing that it wouldn’t accomplish anything. And then water came down from the sky, as a dew, or is a gentle drizzle, and slowly begin soaking the burning timbers until eventually, after a couple of hours the fire was extinguished.

It is an image, and like all images it is a way of suggesting the truth too complex to be apprehended logically, but graspable intuitively.

world_in_fire
Source http://parody.wikia.com/wiki/File:World_in_fire.jpg

Sometimes it seems to me that the world is on fire. Recent events in Berlin, Turkey, and Syria have reminded me, as if I needed any reminding, but the world is a dangerous place, full of hatred and violence. My response to the reality of violence has always been on the one hand to seek peace in my own life, but on the other hand to pursue what I call the Way of Training. By this I mean disciplined, consistent, long-term pursuit of the skills and abilities necessary to confront violence directly. These include, of course, combat skills, but also medical skills. In the simplest terms, not much is changed since I was a little boy and all of my games revolved around stopping the bad guys and healing the good guys. Life is not that simple, but that’s not a bad place to start.

The problem is that it’s so overwhelming sometimes, and we risk being like the me in the image, roaming around burning building, or even a burning city with my little cup of water, unwilling to keep that water to myself and not do my bit, but also not knowing how to spend that water in a way that will actually do some good, and not just be a waste of gesture.

I suppose my tin cup of water is my history of, and familiarity with, the use of force. Perhaps in a broader sense that represents all of the decent, honest, hard-working warriors in the world: military folks and police officers mainly, but a few private citizens in their own right. We all want to stop the burning, and just make the world a safe place for the innocent people, but no matter how many times and how many places we put the bad guys down, more just pop up somewhere else.

It’s important to remember that the use of force, and in fact all human effort but most especially effort centered around military options in the force of arms, are not and never can be final solutions. They are stopgaps. Only and ever stopgaps.

I am not sure that I want to call The grace of God a “final solution,” since that phrase tends to reduce complexity of the fallen world to some sort of Advanced math problem. However, the image of dew, or gentle rain fall, is a hopeful one. The water forms in the air in a million tiny little droplets. Unlike water splashed on from the outside, the rain forms within the heart of the fire. At first it seems like it has no effect because the heat just vaporizers it as it falls. But even the vaporized water goes back up into the clouds, cools again, and falls again. Each time the waterfalls and his vaporized it absorbs a little bit of the heat from the fire, and it burns that much cooler. Eventually, slowly and after an agonizingly long time, The fire is reduced to smoldering ruins. Then eventually even the smoldering embers are reduced to ashes, and the ashes become fertile soil, and something new grows in their place.

How is that hopeful? Am I basically saying not this world is lost and there’s nothing we can do but wait for God to come in and magically make everything all right? No.

I think it is about having a realistic, by which I mean humble, understanding of my own place in this fight. Putting out the fire is not my job. My job is to salvage what I can. Perhaps that means just keeping the walls of one little house damp, so that it doesn’t go up in flames. Perhaps it means putting out one little fire in one little back alley so that somebody can escape to safety. It means that I must be active and resisting the fire but not settle myself but the expectation of putting out the whole burning city myself.

There is one other thing that may be drawn from this image, if I’m not stretching the analogy too far. I only have a little bit of water, and if I splash it on the first conflagration  I come across, it will not put it out and I will be left dry. I don’t think that I need to use it sparingly, but I do need to have a good resupply plan. That is I need to maintain contact with the source of that water.

Nietzsche had a quote to the effect that, “He who fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster himself. If you stare too long into the abyss the abyss stares back into you.” It is too easy to get sucked into the pattern of the violence that you’re trying to resist, especially if you lose contact with the source of the water. This is why the heart of all apostolate, is contemplation. The temptation for well-meaning Catholics is often to focus on social justice and charitable action so feverishly that we lose, or let go of, the time for prayer. This may achieve some short-term gain but it never last long, because once you stop praying you are cut off from the source of all water. Being too busy for prayer is like a firefighter being too busy to hook the hose up to the fire hydrant.

Anyway, that’s what came to me during prayer this morning.

Family Friday 52  20Yay!

We have been doing Family Friday for one whole year!

Yay!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want, you can check out the very first Family Friday here. Family Friday 1!

Family Friday 52  13
Oswald the Otter wears a diaper. Because why not.

Honestly, it’s been a bit of work to put these together every Thursday night, give or take a day, but our moms and aunts and folks like it, so it’s worthwhile.

What have we been up to this week?

Well, Saturday morning, bright and early, Ryan went to Adoration at Saint Andrew’s in Sumner. It was just before sunrise when he got there and he was able to take this picture of the church and its avian guardians.

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I call this photo, “Holy Honk-a-doodle-doo, eh!”

Then we went out to Sunnyside park to hang out with Auntie Jen and her two nephews.

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Evie Played with the boys on the playground,

and ate lots of hot dogs, and even got to play in the ocean!

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Only Kathleen says it isn’t really the ocean, it’s just Hood Canal. But it’s all connected, and the water was nice.

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And a random stranger walked by and gave Evie a balloon. Because she’s Evie.

Sunday was Mother’s day, but we were not able to do much, because Mommy was on call the whole day, 24 hours.

I know, right?

Daddy and Evie went to Mass, and then had a delicious, nutritious breakfast of salad and olives. Family Friday 52  10

Evie likes olives. Family Friday 52  11

She ate all but two of the can by herself.

Mommy had to stay around the house because she was on call, so we didn’t go anywhere, but Evie and Mommy made meatloaf, which was tasty and delicious and manly. Family Friday 52  12

Daddy has been eating it all week for lunch and getting stronger by the day. Gains!

And we called back Mommy’s Mommy, and then facetimed to NY to talk to Daddy’s Mommy. Such is the perverseness of childhood, that Evie was not the least bit interested in any of Grandma’s articulate conversation or baby-loving antics. She ignored her completely.IMG_0042 But she was endlessly entertained by live footage of Papa sleeping in the armchair.

Go figure.

On Monday she got to visit Grandma and Grandpa W, who had roses in bloom!

Family Friday 52  24
They smell delicious!

We have been working in the yard a little bit, clearing up the gravel pit that Daddy used to kettlebell in last year. It has become a bit overgrown with the lack of time we have had this spring to work on it.

Family Friday 52  1

So Evie helps.

Family Friday 52  2

Helping is hard work, so she has to take breaks sometimes,

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But she is a good little helper.

Mommy had to get a rental car while her car is in the shop. Evie approves of the new wheels.

And a package arrived on Thursday containing Mommy’s new clothesline.

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It kind of looks like a rocket.

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It’s kind of an obstacle course.

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But it is up now and now we can have fresh, clean, outdoorsy smelling clothes. At least until it starts raining again.

And that’s all for this week. We hope you enjoyed it, and we hope you are enjoying your weeks as well. God Bless you all!Family Friday 52  14