Sunday, January 25, 2015

Moderation and a Pythagorean Dribble Glass

Today's second reading reminded me of Harold Camping's high-profile End Times predictions, a few years back:
"12 I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,

"those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning,

"those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away."
(1 Corinthians 7:29-31)
About "... the world ... is passing away...." — I do not think the end of the world is at hand: not any more so than usual, at least.

It's been a few years since Harold Camping became momentarily famous for yet another failed 'Bible prophecy.'

This post is not about the Last Judgment — but I'd better clear the air about my take on apocalyptic predictions.

I'm a Christian, a Catholic, so I take the Last Judgment and Mark 13:32 seriously.

That's why, the next time an 'End Times Bible prophecy' hits national news, I may write about it — but I won't believe it.

Our Lord didn't know the timetable — so I won't assume that someone who follows, consciously or not, the traditions of Monatus, Hippolytus of Rome, and Edward Irving does. That doesn't make sense. Not to me.

My guess is that we've got a long wait ahead of us.

"Wait" isn't the right word. Just before leaving, our Lord gave us standing orders. For anyone else, we'd have given up long ago. But Jesus is — unique — and that's another topic. Topics.

A False Alarm, and Points for Originality

Hyppolytus of Rome is Saint Hippolytus of Rome now. The last I heard, his feast day's in August.

Saint Hyppolytus of Rome said the Second Coming would happen in the year 500. He died a martyr more than two centuries shy of another spurious Parousia.

A messy death doesn't guarantee Sainthood, many Saints died of natural causes, and that's another bunch of topics. (February 14, 2010)

'End of the world' false alarms aren't unique to Christianity. Wikipedia lists apocalyptic predictions from the last two-dozen-plus centuries. I'll grant that most items listed are by Christians.

I give Emanuel Swedenborg points for originality. He suggested, in 1758, that the Last Judgment had occurred in the previous year. (February 28, 2014)

This post was going to be about something, and it wasn't wannabe prophets. Let's see: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; "the world in its present form is passing away." Right.

Pythagorean Cups: The Thinking Person's Dribble Glass

I've read that Hero of Alexandria used Pythagorean cups in his robotic systems. That's probably a reference to Heron's fountain, Heron is another version of Hero's name, and I am not going to wander off-topic again. Not for another paragraph or two, anyway.

Pythagoras of Samos didn't invent the Pythagorean theorem, but he's the first chap to show why it works - - -

Let's try this again. It's one of those days.

A Pythagorean cup is a thinking person's dribble glass, sort of.

It looks like the result of a cup and bundt pan committing crimes against nature. The cup's central column is hollow, with a little pipe inside, and a hole near its base.

The cup works fine, as long as you don't fill it past the top of that inside pipe. If you do, Pascal's principle of communicating vessels kicks in, and you've got the cup's contents pouring out the bottom.

Pascal's principle of c. v. is also called Pascal's law, which is not to be confused with Pascal's rule about binomial coefficients. Blaise Pascal didn't draft Pascal's law the way Robert A. Taft and Fred A. Hartley, Jr., sponsored the Taft-Hartley Act: and that's yet more topics. (January 2, 2015)

The cup, pan, and ladle in the photo are in Ashikaga District in the Tochigi Prefecture, but it's not there any more. 足利郡, that is. I'm pretty sure the cup's still there.

Anyway, it's a learning tool. Empty, it's tilted. Pour a little water into it, it goes upright. Pour in more, and it tilts again.

That, finally, gets me to the point of this post. Moderation is a good idea.

Love, Money, and Not Going Crazy

Money isn't the root of all evil. It's love of money that gets us in trouble:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

"Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.'"
(Hebrews 13:5)

Some Saints have been poor as the proverbial churchmouse. Others, like Louis IX of France and Sir Thomas More, were anything but.

A trait they share with Francis of Assisi is that they had their priorities straight: God first, everything else second. (Luke 10:27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2083)

It's like humility: the idea isn't going crazy in one direction or another, but having a firm grip on reality. (September 1, 2013)

Speaking of St. Francis of Assisi, he took vows of poverty: but that's not what he focused on:
"Saint Francis of Assisi's concern with poverty was secondary in his life and stemmed from his utter reliance on and love for God, a priest familiar with the saint said.

" 'The usual image of Francis and poverty is skewed...poverty is important, but it is secondary to something else for Francis, which is absolute dependence on God,' Dominican priest Father Augustine Thompson told CNA March 21.

"While many associate the 13th century saint with poverty, he wrote little about it and when he did, he was pointing to the humility of the Incarnation and the death of Christ...."
"St. Francis' poverty often misunderstood, priest explains," Carl Bunderson, Catholic News Agency (March 24, 2013)

"Pleasant Valley Sunday" and Psalms 49:6-8

Gerry Goffin and Carole King were in their '20s when they wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday." I was in my teens at the time, still in high school, and trying to make sense out of a none-too-steady world.

Many folks around my age realized that there was, or should be, more to life than buying stuff we didn't need, to impress people we didn't like, with money we didn't have.

That upset some of our elders, particularly when songs like this caught on:
"...Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery...
("Pleasant Valley Sunday," written by by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, performed by The Monkees in 1967; via A-Z Lyrics)
Again, the problem isn't money. It's loving the stuff.

Then there's this snarky bit from the Bible:
"Why should I fear in evil days, when my wicked pursuers ring me round,

"Those who trust in their wealth and boast of their abundant riches?

"4 One cannot redeem oneself, pay to God a ransom."
(Psalms 49:6-8)
It's okay for Catholics to be rich or poor, healthy or sick, sharp as a tack or dull as dishwater. Wait — that's not quite right. Never mind. The point is that what matters is what we do with what we've got. (November 16, 2014)

Detachment from riches doesn't mean being poverty-stricken. It's not depending on wealth for happiness. (Catechism, 2544-2547)

The idea is living in moderation. (Catechism, 2264, 2405, 2496, 2522)

I suppose moderation could be carried to extremes, too — or used as an excuse for sloth: which doesn't mean being lazy, quite. (August 10, 2014)

Ecclesiastes, Kansas, and Beyond

I like rock 'n' roll: also bluegrass; jazz; and Bach, J. S. and P. D. Q. — and I am not going to wander off on another tangent. Some rock is about as profound as a rain puddle, some isn't. (August 26, 2012)
"...There's a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who stand looking....
"Stairway to Heaven" (1971)
Led Zeppelin, via

"...All my dreams, pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind...

"...Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, all your money won't another minute buy...
"Dust in the Wind" (1977)
Kansas, via

I'd be astounded if those songs are remembered in, say, the 44th century. But I'm confident that this will:
"3 What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun?

"One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays.

"The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises.

"Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north, the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.

"All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going."
(Ecclesiastes 1:3-7)

"13 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.

"But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.

"For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. "
(Matthew 6:19-21)
I could quibble about "the world forever stays" in Ecclesiastes, but that'd be applying 21st-century standards prose poetry from more than two millennia back: and I've been over that before. (February 26, 2012)

Anyway, verses like Isaiah 38:12 and 2 Corinthians 4:18 talk about life and the universe; what doesn't last, and what does.

There's wisdom in enjoying the beauties and pleasures of this world: in moderation.

There's also wisdom in remembering that this universe won't last forever: and that, for good or ill, we will. (November 2, 2014)

More about taking the long view:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Mutant Malaria, Designer Babies, and Ethics

Malaria that's resistant to a very successful anti-malaria drug is spreading. The good news is that scientists know where this particular strain's immunity came from.

Other scientists say that "society needs to be prepared" for designer babies, and that "it is time for a serious public debate on the issue."
  1. Malaria: Keeping Ahead of the Microbes
  2. Getting a Grip About Designer Babies

Technology and Using Our Brains

Maybe liking technology runs in the family. I've Arba Zeri Campbell, the first person in his part of the country to have a telephone, before. (April 27, 2014)

My first impulse is not fearing that we'll offend God by making lightning rods, or using the Internet. (January 25, 2014; April 27, 2014)

We've got brains, and are expected to use them. Part of our job is learning about the universe, and using that knowledge. Thinking is not a sin. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 154-159, 2292-2296)

Sometimes our curiosity gets us killed. Georg Wilhelm Richmann, for example, found out how an insulated rod reacts to a nearby thunderstorm. More accurately, other scientists did.

Professor Richmann is probably the first person to die while conducting electrical experiments.

Then there was the time scientists learned why "tickling the dragon's tail" is a bad idea. It wasn't a real dragon, survivors learned quite a bit about what extreme radiation levels do to humans, and that's another topic. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (October 17, 2014))

Thinking, Curiosity, and Ulysses

(From Google Maps, used w/o permission.)
(Casinal Pio IV, currently home of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, and the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas.)

I've run into the notion that religion, Christianity in particular, is against science — and pretty much any tech invented in the last few centuries. Some of my fellow-Christians seem dedicated to maintaining this stereotype. (April 4, 2014)

Folks who express concern about thinking 'too much' are, I'm sure, sincere.

We can use our brains to rationalize acts which are not good, like slavery or genocide. The problem isn't thinking. It's part of the mess we call "original sin." (Catechism, 396-412, 2313, 2414)

Curiosity isn't a sin, either. Yes, Dante's Inferno shows Ulysses in Hell: but Dante's Malebolge is where "simple" fraud is punished. That's fraud committed without particularly malicious intent.

Ulysses shows up in the eighth trench, reserved for deceivers. He's not there because he 'tampered with things man was not supposed to know.' (January 9, 2015; August 1, 2014)

Reasoning — thinking — is part of being human. We can use our ability to reason for good or ill. It's out decisions that make a difference. (Catechism, 35-39, 1704-1707, 1950-1960)

I didn't become a Catholic because there's a science academy at the Vatican. But I don't have to check my brain at the door when I go to church. (April 27, 2012)

Mad Scientists and Ethics

Mad scientists in the movies can be entertaining.

Their real-life counterparts, like Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov: not so much.

Medical experiments at Auschwitz and Dachau, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and Willowbrook State School's Hepatitis studies don't show that science is evil.

They are, however, reminders that ethics apply to science: or should. (Catechism, 2292-2295, 2415-2418)

Since I'm a Catholic, I must believe that human life is sacred: all human life. (Ceatechism, 2258, 2270, 2273, 2276-2279)

A big problem with in vitro fertilization, for example, is that usually only one of the people conceived live. The 'extras' — don't. (Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the dignity of procreation — Replies to Certain Questions of the Day, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1987))

Wanting a child and not being able to conceive is distressing. Wanting to raise children is a good thing: but "the end does not justify the means." (Catechism, 1753, 2201-2203)

Expecting knowledge, or anything else, to take God's place would be daft: and against the rules. That doesn't make seeking knowledge bad. Being curious and developing new tools is part of being human. (Catechism, 2113, 2292-2295)

We're made in the image of God, rational creatures whose job description includes stewardship of the physical world. (Genesis 1:27-28, Psalms 19:2; Wisdom 7:17; Catechism, 282-289, 341, 373, 17302375)

The trick is remembering that ethics matter: no matter how curious we are, or how much we want something.
"...if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God...."
("Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word-Gaudium et Spes," 36 (December 7, 1965))

1. Malaria: Keeping Ahead of the Microbes

(From Science Photo Library, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Malaria parasites - seen tightly packed in this red blood cell - have evolved resistance to artemisinin"
(BBC News))
"Genetics of malaria drug resistance revealed"
Rebecca Morelle (January 19, 2015)

"The genetics underpinning resistance to a frontline malaria drug, artemisinin, have been revealed, scientists say.

"In South East Asia, malaria parasites have developed tolerance to the treatment, and there are fears that this will spread.

"Now, in the largest genetic study to date, scientists have identified mutations in the parasite genome that are linked to resistance.

"The study is published in Nature Genetics.

"The researchers say the findings will help them to identify areas where artemisinin resistance could spread.

"Lead author Dr Olivo Miotto from the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Research Unit (MORU), in Thailand, said: 'Artemisinin is the best drug we have had for a very long time, and we want to continue this success story.

"'And for that its effectiveness has to be protected and sustained.'

"When the first malaria drug, chloroquine, was developed, researchers thought that the disease would be eradicated within years.

"But the malaria parasite has proved far tougher than they ever imagined. Drug after drug has been rendered useless as the parasite has evolved to evade treatment...."
"Evolved?" I've been told that evolution is the "religion of the antichrist," some folks think the Pope is the Antichrist, and that's another yet topic. (January 2, 2014; July 17, 2011)

I'm a Catholic, so I believe that God created a good world: one that's getting better, changing. Scientists use the word "evolution" when discussing one facet of this "state of journeying." (Genesis 1:31; Catechism, 282-308)

That gets me back to malaria, almost.

Microbes evolve quickly, partly because their generations are very short. On top of that, bacteria can swap genes with quite a few other critters. It's called conjugation, transformation, and transduction: so bacteria evolve really fast.

About a century back, antibiotics looked like the ultimate answer to disease: then we found out about viruses, and microbes developed resistance to the drugs. Informed speculation about viruses started around 1880s, and that's yet again another topic.

Ancient Romans thought malaria was caused by noxious fumes form swamps. Folks in the Renaissance apparently figured the same thing. "Malaria" means "bad air," "mal aria" in Medieval Italian.

The Romans were right, sort of. Most mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water, and Anopheles mosquitoes spread malaria. Malaria was around long before we were. Scientists found malaria microbes in 30,000,000-year-old mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes With a New Kelch13 Gene

Mosquitoes have been around a lot longer: about 260,000,000 years. Anopheles mosquitoes branched off upwards of 120,000,000 years ago. Anopheles is the type that carries Plasmodium microbes that cause malaria. (June 13, 2014)

The four or five species of Plasmodium that cause malaria in humans aren't bacteria. They're parasitic Protozoans: unicellular eukaryotic critters.

In other words, one Protozoa is a single cell with a membrane around its nucleus. There will not be test on this. I'm a recovering English teacher — emphasis on 'recovering.'

Malaria starts out feeling like the flu. Some folks who get malaria recover, some die. The disease messes with the brain, spleen, liver, lungs - - - among other major systems.

The BBC article focuses on efforts to understand an artemisinin-resistant sort of malaria microbe. It looks like mutations on a gene called kelch13 give microbes this resistance.

So far, these resistant microbes have reached Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar/Burma. The BBC article says that resistant malaria parasites show up in the same place: the Cambodia-Thailand border.

Preventing, or at least slowing down, the spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria seems like a good idea.

So, I think, is finding a way so eradicate malaria entirely. We've done that before, with smallpox: and I'm pretty sure that life on Earth will continue, even if we kill off one more disease microbe, or the five species of mosquito that infect humans with it. (February 12, 2014)

Was eradicating smallpox the right thing to do? After all, Edmund Massey, an English preacher, said that God wants us to be scared of getting sick. I am not making this up:
"...The fear of disease is a happy restraint to men. If men were more healthy, 'tis a great chance they would be less righteous. Let the Atheist and the Scoffer inoculate. Their hope is in and for only this life. Let us bless God for the Afflictions He sends upon us, and grant us patience under them...."
("Against the Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation," Edmund Massey (1722))
Then there was Pope Pius VII, who said vaccination is "a precious discovery which ought to be a new motive for human gratitude to Omnipotence." That was in 1814. (February 12, 2014)

Life and health are "precious gifts." We're expected to keep ourselves healthy: within reason. Healing folks who are ill is a good idea, too. So is caring for folks who are dying. (Catechism, 2278-2279, 2288-2289)

That reminds me of Father Damien of Molokai. He's Saint Damien now, and that's still another topic. (May 11, 2010)

2. Getting a Grip About Designer Babies

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"'Designer babies' debate should start, scientists say"
James Gallagher, BBC News (January 18, 2015)

"Rapid progress in genetics is making 'designer babies' more likely and society needs to be prepared, leading scientists have told the BBC.

"Dr Tony Perry, a pioneer in cloning, has announced precise DNA editing at the moment of conception in mice.

"He said huge advances in the past two years meant 'designer babies' were no longer HG Wells territory.

"Other leading scientists and bioethicists argue it is time for a serious public debate on the issue.

"Designer babies - genetically modified for beauty, intelligence or to be free of disease - have long been a topic of science fiction.

"Dr Perry, who was part of the teams to clone the first mice and pigs, said the prospect was still fiction, but science was rapidly catching up to make elements of it possible.

"In the journal Scientific Reports, he details precisely editing the genome of mice at the point DNA from the sperm and egg come together...."
At first glance, 'designer babies' sounds like a wonderful idea. Someone would go to a doctor, specify hair and eye color, intelligence, level of attractiveness, athletic prowess, and other traits: and get a 'perfect child.'

Maybe the kids would even come with a guarantee: so if they didn't meet expectations, they could be returned. Another, more expensive, option might be to order twins: take one home, and have the health service keep the other one as a source of spare parts, in case the 'real' child had a serious accident or disease.

Either way, that approach would treat people as commodities: property. That's unacceptable. Humans, no matter how old we are, are people. (Catechism, 357, 1929, 2258, 2270-2279)

Wanting to raise a child is a good thing. But children are people, not property. Nobody has a 'right to a child.' (Catechism, 2207-2208, 2378)

So, do I see research aimed at changing human genetic code as evil? It's not that simple.

'Curing' Creativity?

I see problems — and opportunities — with 'designer babies.'

Some genetic disorders like haemophilia and Tay-Sachs disease, are often fatal. Others, like Muenke and Williams are more like disorders or disabilities.

ADD, Asperger syndrome, or whatever it is I've got, may be a genetic glitch, too. So may be whatever went wrong with my hips. From some viewpoints, I'm a mess. (February 12, 2011)

I don't think I'd mind having lived with two normal hip sockets: but I'd have missed many learning experiences along the way.

At first glance, being 'cured' of ADD/Asperger's/whatever seems like a good idea. Maybe it would be. My attitude toward major depression is much less ambivalent. I'm certainly not going to stop taking the powerful antidepressant and other drugs that help me control my brain. (December 14, 2014; August 17, 2014)

But I wouldn't want to be "normal" if it meant losing the way I see the world.

I'm not in the same league as Paddy Considine, Johnny Dean, and Luke Jackson, but I suspect that some quirky neurological kits have an 'up' side. (September 1, 2013; December 9, 2012)

Then there's what Aristotle said: "There is no great genius without a mixture of madness," except my language wouldn't exist for a couple thousand years in his day. I don't think he'd have used Latin, either, although it sounds cool in that language: "Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementia."

Wrenching myself back on-topic: Since I'm Catholic, I must see humans as equal; and diverse. Each of us is a person, made in the image of God, creatures with rational souls. We're not all alike, though: and that's how it's supposed to be. (Catechism, 1934-1938-1937)

I agree with Dr. Tony Perry: " is time for a serious public debate on the issue" of 'designer babies.'

I suppose discussion of genetics and bioethics among Catholics isn't 'public.' It's certainly not the sort of thing you're likely to hear on talk radio, and that's — what else? — another topic.

As far as I can tell, none of what I'll quote near the end of this post is definitive: but I think it makes sense.

Basically, learning more about how our genes work is a good idea. We're getting to the point where people conceived with disorders like Tay-Sachs disease can live past childhood. This is a good thing.

We're also close to being able to purge unwanted traits from humanity. This looks good on paper. In practice, applied eugenics has a bad track record. Really bad. (December 5, 2014; November 5, 2012)

Finally, here's part of what I found on the Vatican's website:
"...In theory, it is possible to use gene therapy on two levels: somatic cell gene therapy and germ line cell therapy. Somatic cell gene therapy seeks to eliminate or reduce genetic defects on the level of somatic cells, that is, cells other than the reproductive cells, but which make up the tissue and organs of the body. It involves procedures aimed at certain individual cells with effects that are limited to a single person. Germ line cell therapy aims instead at correcting genetic defects present in germ line cells with the purpose of transmitting the therapeutic effects to the offspring of the individual....

"...For a moral evaluation the following distinctions need to be kept in mind. Procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposes are in principle morally licit. Such actions seek to restore the normal genetic configuration of the patient or to counter damage caused by genetic anomalies or those related to other pathologies....

"...The moral evaluation of germ line cell therapy is different. Whatever genetic modifications are effected on the germ cells of a person will be transmitted to any potential offspring. Because the risks connected to any genetic manipulation are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny....

"...The question of using genetic engineering for purposes other than medical treatment also calls for consideration. Some have imagined the possibility of using techniques of genetic engineering to introduce alterations with the presumed aim of improving and strengthening the gene pool. ... Apart from technical difficulties and the real and potential risks involved, such manipulation would promote a eugenic mentality and would lead to indirect social stigma with regard to people who lack certain qualities, while privileging qualities that happen to be appreciated by a certain culture or society...."
("Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions," William Cardinal Levada, Prefect; Luis F. Ladaria, S.I., Titular Archbishop of Thibica, Secretary; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (September 8, 2008))

"...The uniqueness of each human person, in part constituted by his biogenetic characteristics and developed through nurture and growth, belongs intrinsically to him and cannot be instrumentalized in order to improve some of these characteristics...."

"...Therapeutic interventions serve to restore the physical, mental and spiritual functions, placing the person at the center and fully respecting the finality of the various levels in man in relation to those of the person. Possessing a therapeutic character, medicine that serves man and his body as ends in themselves respects the image of God in both...."
("Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, International Theological Commission (July 23, 2004))
Cloning, gene therapy, and being human; Catholic viewpoints:
My take on what we can do, and what we're learning to do:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Boko Haram: Slavery, Death, and Love

Muslims are still upset about those 'Mohammed' cartoons in Charlie Hebdo.

That, I think, is understandable. Being upset is not an excuse for killing folks, though. (January 11, 2015)

I'm upset when my faith gets described as 'worshiping a cookie.' I was angry about a college professor's photo of a consecrated Host, a page from the Quran, and another book's page: treated as garbage. For that matter, I felt disgust when a preacher burned the Quran. (July 20, 2012; April 1, 2011; March 5, 2010)

Some of that comes from spending my youth in the '60s. When I became a Catholic, however, seeing humanity as one big family was no longer an option: it's a requirement. (Genesis 10:1-32; Catechism, 360, 396-409)

It's easy to demonize those who believe, act, or simply look, different. That doesn't make it right.

Charlie Hebdo, 20 Dead: Northeastern Nigeria, Thousands Dead

(From AP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Baga, seen here in April 2013, has been the scene of previous clashes between Boko Haram and the army"
(BBC News))

(From Digital Globe, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Satellite images of Baga, a town in northeastern Nigeria, before and after a Boko Haram attack.)

The last time I counted, 20 folks died in the Charlie Hebdo offices, or as a result of that attack.

That's a tragic loss of life.

So, I think, are the recent deaths of 2,000 or so folks: killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria. (The Independent (UK) (January 11, 2015))

A key phrase there is "or so." Officials and others in Nigeria have earned a reputation for being — inaccurate, at best. (BBC News (January 13, 2015))

Boko Haram is an Islamic outfit: by their standards, anyway.

"Boko haram" means "Western education is forbidden" in Hausa. Boko Hamam opposed Western education, started military operations to create an Islamic state in 2009, and has killed thousands. The United States started calling Boko Haram a terrorist group in 2013. About 3,000,000 folks are affected by this lot. (BBC News)

Boko Haram achieved international fame last year, when they kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from a Chibok boarding school.

Boko Haram's assertion that the girls were "war booty," and would be sold as slaves, may be a mistranslation. Even so, what happened was not good.

A Wikipedia page says that some of the girls were married to Boko Haram members — for a 'bride price' of 2,000 Nigerian niara a head. That's about $12.50 USD, or £7.50. (BBC News (November 14, 2014; May 20, 2014; May 12, 2014; May 15, 2013))

I'm angry about what Boko Haram does, and think what they are doing is very wrong. But I try to not hate them: and will not make claims about their souls. I really don't need that kind of trouble.

Love and Conscience

My faith's basics are simple: love God, love my neighbors, see everyone as my neighbor, and treat others as I'd like to be treated. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789)

I don't have to like my neighbor: but hating a neighbor is not an option. (August 26, 2014; December 9, 2010)

Judging whether an act is good or bad is part of using my conscience: it's a basic requirement for being human. We're even expected to think about the actions of others. (Catechism, 1778, 2401-2449)

Maybe that sounds 'judgmental:' but I'm not loving my neighbor, if I see nothing wrong with someone stealing my neighbor's lawn mower: or selling my neighbor's child.

This isn't the 'my way or the highway' sort of self-righteous I occasionally run into. It's a matter hating the sin, loving the sinner: and leaving the judging of persons to God. (Catechism, 1861)

Laws and customs are always changing. What doesn't change are the underlying ethical principles they reflect: or fail to follow. I've talked about law, positive and natural, before. (August 31, 2014; August 29, 2014)

'Loving my neighbor' has to matter. I'm expected to:
  • Support religious freedom
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
  • Take an active part in public life
    (Catechism, 1915)
  • Contribute to the good of society
    • In a spirit of
      • Truth
      • Justice
      • Solidarity
      • Freedom
    (Catechism, 2239)
  • Submit to legitimate authorities
    • Refuse obedience to civil authorities
      • When their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience
      (Catechism, 2242)
    (Catechism, 2239)
    (November 4, 2012)
I could be overwhelmed by guilt at the thought that I haven't ended poverty, cured cancer, and achieved a lasting peace in the Middle East.

I could also believe that I can "...leap tall buildings in a single bound..." — but that would be crazy.

Humility, Catholic style, is having a balanced view of my abilities: or lack of them, and that's another topic. (August 10, 2014)

Happily, I'm expected to do what I can: not what I can't.
"As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. The manner of this participation may vary from one country or culture to another...."
(Catechism, 1915) [emphasis mine]

Making Sense

(From From Buz lightning, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
("Branford Clarke illustration in The Ku Klux Klan In Prophecy 1925 by Bishop Alma White published by the Pillar of Fire Church in Zarephath, NJ"
(Wikimedia Commons))

Seeing folks who are different as a threat isn't unique to the Pillar of Fire Church in the 1920s.

I think it's involved in the "God Hates You" church's beliefs, the 2011 Norwegian mass murders, and folks who call Muslims "towelheads" — or blame Western civilization for the world's problems.

I'm also pretty sure that those folks aren't typical examples of Protestants, Norwegians, Americans, or whatever. (July 23, 2011; June 14, 2011)

I also think these folks make sense:
"...The birth of South Sudan was welcomed with high jubilations: mainly the years of slavery, persecution of Christians and oppression has gone, but also hopes of new beginning, of development and provision of essential services. In fact, the two Sudans and rest of the African nations are faced by enormous challenges such as nation building, healing wounds of our painful pasts and present, managing the expectations of our people, withstanding international investors who do not care about the safety and wellbeing of the local people...."
(Monsignor Edward Hilboro Kussala, Bishop of Tombura-Yambio (Sudan))

"...Despite the impression often given by the world media, I want to stress that Christians in Nigeria do not see themselves as being under any massive persecution by Muslims. Our population of about 160 million is made up of Christians and Muslims in equal number and influence. We have not done too badly in living peacefully together in the same nation. We believe we have learnt some lessons which may be useful for the rest of the world on Christian-Muslim relations...."
Monsignor John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan; Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria

"...A more Nuanced perspective on the Boko Haram phenomenon in Nigeria:

"Interesting to note is the fact that not only Christians have lost their lives from the bombs and bullets unleashed by Boko Haram. But even a good number of Muslims too, as some statistical data show.

"It is not every Muslim who cherishes what Boko Haram is seeking to perpetuate in Nigerian.[!] Many admire the Christian virtues of Love and peace, which they claim are equally enshrined in the Koran.

"Many of our Muslim brothers and sisters long to convert to the Christian faith but cannot achieve this, for fear of losing their lives...."
Monsignor John Ebebe Ayah, Bishop of Ogoja (Nigeria)
("XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops" (October7-28, 2012))

More recently, the Vatican's representative in Geneva talked about recent high-profile examples of slavery: and some that aren't so obvious. (September 9, 2014)

Things Take Time

Slavery, treating others as if they're property, is a bad idea: and we shouldn't do it. (Catechism, 2414)

Expecting slavery to disappear overnight isn't reasonable.

After 19 centuries of passing along 'love God, love your neighbor, everyone's your neighbor: quite a few folks in some countries decided that owning other people was wrong. I'd be surprised — astounded — if everybody suddenly followed suit. (October 26, 2014; May 6, 2012)

Remarkably, western Africa's national leaders seem to be giving serious thought to working together to remove Boko Haram from their territories. And that's yet another topic.

Meanwhile, we'll keep passing along the best news humanity's ever had: that God loves us, and wants to adopt us: all of us. (John 3:17; Catechism, 52, 1825)

And that's yet again another topic. (November 16, 2014; August 5, 2011)

More about living in a big world:


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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.