Ben Franklin Urges Us to Pray

On this date 230 years ago—June 28, 1787—Benjamin Franklin rose to address the Constitutional Convention, which had been fruitlessly wrestling toward a compromise so we could finally form a functioning government to serve the United States of America. For weeks, they had been stuck at an impasse. But Dr. Franklin, now 81 years old, rose at his place with difficulty and addressed the convention with his diagnosis of the problem and his prescription for the cure.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own wont of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their  Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.

My final note: In 2017, our country is more divided than ever, divided by our partial interests, and threatening to make the Tower of Babel look like a knitting circle. Maybe we’ve forgotten something that our Founding Fathers knew about becoming a United States of America.

That All May Not Be Lost: Considering The Benedict Option

For a number of years now, I’ve been hearing about the Benedict Option—an idea, a movement, a prescription, a diagnosis, and now a book—put forward by the writer Rod Dreher to mark out how he believes traditional and conservative people should deal with what society has become.

I met Rod and his wife more than a decade ago after we’d corresponded a bit online. I was in Dallas with Melanie when we were still dating and Rod was living there with his family. He and his wife graciously invited us to their home and we had a great evening. He’d not yet published his earlier book Crunchy Cons, about the different kinds of political and social conservatives than we usually saw portrayed in the media, but I know he’d already begun exploring the ideas that would result in the Benedict Option.

Around the same time, Dreher had been struggling as a Catholic with the sex-abuse scandal in the Church and how to reconcile the attitudes and behavior of even those bishops we consider the “good” ones in dealing with the crisis with the divine nature of the Church. It’s a struggle that would eventually lead Rod out of the Catholic Church into Eastern Orthodoxy. In some ways, that struggle is also at the root of the Benedict Option.

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Losing My Old Parish, But Can Something Be Saved?

From the “You should have listened to me before” file: The Archdiocese of Boston parish collaborative that includes my former parish in Salem where Melanie and I were married is in deep financial trouble, so now they’re going to turn one parish into a Polish shrine to St. John Paul II and merge my old parish and another one.

Three years ago, Salem was one of the first collaboratives under the Disciples in Mission pastoral plan and had Salem’s four parishes included. They quickly determined that four was too many and St. Anne’s was split off, leaving Immaculate Conception (my old parish), St. James, and St. John the Baptist, which was previously a Polish national parish. The pastor of the collaborative was unable to get the finances of the collaborative under control and ended up resigning last year.

Now the temporary administrator and the parish leaders have come up with this new plan to turn St. John the Baptist into a Polish shrine dedicated to St. John Paul II and merge Immaculate Conception and St. James into one parish while keeping the two churches open, which will let them sell off redundant property.
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Asking Pope Francis to Canonize Pier Giorgio Frassati

I’ve had a devotion to Bl. Giorgio Frassati for over two decades and built the first web site dedicated to him (which now exists as part of this site).

This past May 20 marked the 27th anniversary of the beatification of Pier Giorgio and in that time, devotion to this remarkable young man has spread throughout the world.

Now, the Spirit has moved those closest to Frassati to ask the Holy Father to move to the next step, to canonize PGF, perhaps at the upcoming Synod on Young People in October 2018. This is part of the cause for canonization, showing evidence that devotion to the blessed has spread throughout the Church, which it most certainly has.

To that end, they have asked everyone to go to PierGiorgioLetter.org to sign the letter to the Holy Father and then to spread the word to let everyone know to do so. I hope you’ll join me in this effort.

Without Dale, Does NASCAR Go On?

I’ve been a NASCAR fan for two decades, but was a casual watcher for a decade beyond that. I remember the good old days of Southern boys beating and banging on each others’ cars and occasionally each other. I also remember the bad old days of drivers dying in accidents. I’m so old that Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., retiring comes as a shock because those are the young guys, or so I thought.

NASCAR has grown up a lot in the past 30 years, moving away from its backwoods-racing, moonshining Southern roots to its sleek, international, highly technological form that it has today. Mary Katharine Ham writes about her history around NASCAR that began with covering the sport as a cub reporter in Rockingham, North Carolina and how it has changed over the years.

As NASCAR prepares to say goodbye to Dale Jr. at the end of this year, it is the acknowledged end of an era. Everyone is taking stock (no pun intended) and wondering where the sport—which has begun to struggle to find viewers and attendees lately—will go from here. Have attention spans shortened to the point where viewers won’t watch a whole 3-hour race?1 Is the end of the shade-tree mechanic car culture in the US a harbinger of the end of car racing fascination?
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Better Dead Than Disabled?

Laws legalizing physician-assisted suicide send the message to both the disabled and to those around them that being dead is preferable to being disabled and that we shouldn’t respect those who choose to live.

Zachary Schmoll is disabled and writes a great essay in Public Discourse about this phenomenon. He contrasts the effect of laws banning assisted suicide with those that legalize it.

Laws that prohibit physician-assisted suicide encourage a worldview that says there is value to life and it ought not to be thrown away based on an individual’s subjective perception of his or her situation. Such laws teach us that our lives are objectively valuable, even if we do not recognize our own value. And they teach everyone else to help us in finding value and enjoyment in our lives.

But by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, we make a different statement. Such laws communicate the idea that suicide can be a reasonable, moral, and socially acceptable choice, because some lives are no longer valuable. Suicide is prohibited in all other circumstances, sending the message that most lives have value that ought to be protected by law, even when the person in question does not see that value. In certain circumstances, however—specifically, when an individual is losing his or her own independence—such protections need not apply. Society is affirming, by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, that it is better to be dead than disabled. It is better to be in the grave than to live with reduced independence. This message is sent both to people with disabilities like me and everyone else who interacts with us.

This is what is meant by “creating a culture of death.” When we fail to affirm the value of every life in our laws, then we create a condition and a context where some lives are not only less valuable, but that are expendable. And the expectation is created that such lives should be ended.

We’re already seeing this in practice. In the Netherlands and Belgium, they’ve already extended assisted suicide for the terminally ill to now include those who are mentally ill or merely tired of living. Rather than extend treatment and help, such people are killed.

Even worse, the killing is now sometimes involuntary, i.e. doctors are taking it upon themselves to kill the elderly, the infirm, the mentally ill, the disabled without being asked for it, but because in the doctors’ estimation, those lives aren’t worth living.

We already see it starting in this country. In Oregon, patients seeking coverage for cancer treatment are being refused chemotherapy, but are told that assisted suicide would be covered by insurance. We know where this story ends: in furnaces and gas chambers. Does that seem hyperbolic? People are already dying.

Why is Nudity at the Children’s Theatre Okay?

Sometimes you see a news story and you realize that the people involved have their heads so buried in the own worldview that they can’t see how asinine the situation is.

The Boston Children’s Theater–an organization dedicated to putting on plays for children–is doing a performance of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

That’s the first point at which someone should have questioned the artistic director’s judgment.

They included in the play a scene in which an adult man gets naked in front of the audience … of children. Is this not indecent exposure in front of children? This is the second moment someone should have stepped in. Of course, when some board members objected, it wasn’t because of the nudity per se, but because they weren’t consulted first. It’s really about turf, not appropriateness.

Now the artistic director is screaming censorship because he wasn’t allowed to parade a naked adult male in front of children, he’s been laid off (maybe temporarily, maybe not), a board member has resigned, and the cast and staff are on strike.

And those of us who are actual parents are aghast at the whole thing. What kind of parent would take a child to one of Boston Children’s Theatre performances now given their display of an appalling lack of judgement?

Meanwhile the director is defending his decision to include the nudity.

“We do have shows that are much more traditional children’s fare, and we also do shows that challenge the boundaries of children’s theater,’’ he said.

Why? Why do you need to challenge the boundaries? The boundaries are there for a reason, to protect children and their innocence. This part of the wider trend in society to further sexualize children at younger and younger ages. After all, they want to start sex education in kindergarten. I wouldn’t doubt someone is already doing it. By high school, we just assume that they’re having hookup sex and there’s no use expecting them to do otherwise.

Judge a society by how it protects its children. In our society, if they survive legalized abortion, they can expect have their innocence and childhood assaulted well into their extended adolescence in their 20s.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Or, why you should be opposed to this attempt in New York to get at Trump’s tax returns, whether you think he should release them or not.

The media and the Left1 are pretty much the only ones who really want to see Trump’s tax returns. Ostensibly, they want to ensure that he has no conflicts of interest, but let’s be honest, they wouldn’t mind finding some dirt. But Trump isn’t budging on them.

So New York Democrats have crafted a law that would reveal five years of state tax returns for any President, Vice President, governor, attorney general or senator who filed in New York. Not “require the person to release”, but require the state Department of Taxation and Finance to release the returns without needing the permission of the people who filed them.

Apart from the obvious constitutional problem that this is essentially a Bill of Attainder2 and thus a violation of Article I, it wipes out current protections in the law against the disclosure of anyone’s tax returns.

The Tax Law prohibits the disclosure of information obtained from a tax return or during the course of an audit to any unauthorized person. The Tax Law, however, does permit us to share your tax information with the IRS and other government agencies, within defined standards of secrecy and reciprocity.

And once those protections are gone, then everything is up for grabs. Can you imagine how much data-mining companies would love to buy your tax returns from the government, even in anonymized and aggregated bulk?

In their zeal to get Trump, these lawmakers are putting everyone’s privacy at risk. People need to calm down and move on. It isn’t worth it.

  1. But I repeat myself, hey-o! I’m here all week, try the veal.
  2. A law aimed at the behavior of an individual or group of persons, making them guilty of a crime or imposing a penalty without benefit of a trial.

Backfire on The Oatmeal

I’ve long been a fan of The Oatmeal, the often irreverent web comic drawn and written by Matthew Inman. Once upon a time, the comics were wry discussions of common points of friction in life, like bad grammar or exercising or packing for a trip, or happy excursions on interesting tidbits of wonder or joy, like the love of a pet or the amazing mantis shrimp or the incredible life of Nikolai Tesla. The comic has become so popular that Inman is a veritable one-man viral campaign. His merest suggestion of support for a cause can raise millions of dollars in days.

Sadly, the comic has declined in recent years, in my opinion, because it has succumbed to that disease that has run amok today, namely that everything is political. So now the comics tend toward rants, mostly liberal, against the dangerous others, primarily Donald Trump and his voters.

In the last day or so, another Oatmeal comic has gone viral, this one on the psychological phenomenon of the “backfire effect.”1 It’s a series of panels that are supposed to show that we are evolutionarily hardwired to believe new information that supports our core beliefs and reject new information that challenges them. His conclusion is that it’s okay to let our emotional selves react, but then we should engage our logic and change our minds so we can all be happy agreeing with one another.

I have a few problems with this.2 First, just because you can make a citation doesn’t make new information true. Yes, sometimes we are actually wrong about a basic fact of reality, e.g. That event occurred in 1945, not 1946. But even as Inman points out, those sorts of facts rarely impinge upon core beliefs. Instead core beliefs—those at the very core of self-identity and understanding—are complex. So a citation can never be simple. It’s often an interpretation or hypothesis or a claim that can admit no easy proofs.
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Groucho Was Right; The Club That Wanted Me As a Member

I received a LinkedIn connection request followed by an email from a young woman recently. She works for a “social university” as a city community manager, she said, and would I be interested in becoming a member? She told me that she’d looked at my background and based on it she thought I’d get a lot out of it and would be a good addition.

I’m not a credulous person. I know what a spammer and a scam look like, and this didn’t seem to fit that bill. And while I’m not easily flattered, I decided to look into it out of curiosity. The organization is called Ivy, and it describes itself as a sort of salon of the internet age. Located in 7 cities so far with tens of thousands of members, it’s an elite club that offers intellectual and cultural experiences, an opportunity to network with movers and shakers, and a chance at bonding and friendship through social experiences. Their list of associated “thought leaders” is a who’s who of business, academia, culture, and entertainment. It also feels like a real world response to social networking by those who grew up in the social media age, offering amazing experiences to people in person, and not mediated through devices.

But I don’t understand why anyone would think I’d be a good fit. Granted, the idea of an opportunity to engage in regular intellectual activities with top scientists and academics and artists and business leaders and authors sounds fascinating. Meeting the actor who played Harry Potter sounds like fun. Going to art galleries and plays and operas and concerts, too. But one look at the way they describe themselves on their website and what they show in their photos and videos leads me to an inescapable conclusion: This isn’t for me or people like me. Read More and Comment

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