Friday, August 17, 2012

Principles, Politics, Parkas, and a Robot on Mars

I am not looking forward to the next two and a half months.

America's presidential election is coming up. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, chose a Catholic, Paul Ryan, as his running mate: with all-to-predictable results.

Micromanaging 'the Masses?'

"Power to the people" was a popular slogan in my youth. I still haven't figured out how having government agencies tell us what to do and how to do it gives power to the people.

  1. I'm missing something
  2. Uncle Sam knows best
  3. 'The masses' are stupid
  4. Top-down micromanagement really doesn't make sense
I'm inclined to go with "D."

Rules, Obedience, and Me

I'm a practicing Catholic, and a convert. Among other things, that means that I've decided to let Rome decide what I believe. Sort of.

The Church doesn't, really, have all that many rules. For the most part, they all boil down to 'love God, love your neighbor: and everyone's your neighbor.' (June 18, 2010) It's really not complicated.

From what I've read through so far, I suspect that a lot of the Vatican's 85-plus kilometers of shelving are explanations of simple rules. (September 26, 2011)

I'm not allowed to pretend that I can hate my neighbor and love my neighbor at the same time, but the Church lets folks make up our own minds about quite a bit.

Puletasi, Parkas, and Getting a Grip

For example, the Church tells me that I have to practice modesty. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2524) There's more to modesty than clothing, but I'll focus on that.

About one in five Samoans are Catholic, which is pretty close to Minnesota's 28%. We're all supposed to dress modestly: but dressing 'properly' by Samoan standards simply won't work here during Minnesota winters. Not for anyone planning to step outside.

I think that helps explain why we don't have a 'universal dress code' for the Church. There are too many of us, living in too many cultures, all over the world, for that sort of micromanagement.

Individual Initiative: Catholic Style

"Subsidiarity" is what the Catholic Church calls the principle that:
  • Individual initiative
    • Is a good idea
    • Should not be
      • Punished
      • Taken away
  • Decisions should be made at the lowest possible point in the social order
  • Powerful institutions and societies
    • Should not
      • Tell the less powerful what to decide
      • Inhibit individual initiative
    • Should
      • Help those who are less powerful
That doesn't sound like unqualified approval of 'good old fashioned' American conservatism, or 'progressive' American liberalism: not to me. And it's certainly not 'moderate' in the 'anything to get elected' sense of the word.

Dealing with the 'Now,' Listening to the 'Forever'

The Catholic Church has been telling folks about loving God and loving our neighbor for two millennia. How we can love God and love our neighbor changes, a little, as the centuries roll by. The basic message, though: that hasn't changed, and won't. ("November 3, 2008)

Remember, I've got the authority of "some guy with a blog." The Church keeps putting more documents online: many in my native language. These days, ignorance is an option, not a necessity. Here's a pretty good place to start reading about subsidiarity, Catholic style. My opinion:

1. A Candidate: Who's Catholic?!

What we've got with Paul Ryan is someone running for Vice-President who is a Catholic, uses words like "solidarity," and talks about "economic freedom and ... an end to special-interest favoritism and corporate welfare."

I think he and Romney may win in November, anyway.

I also see why so many folks are so upset about Paul Ryan.
"U.S. Rep. Ryan says 'we're going to respond with solidarity' to shooting "
Craig Gilbert, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (August 8, 2012), via Representative Ryan's pages on

"...'What's happening is the community's coming together, and … there's an outpouring of support of the Sikh community to show how much we view them as our community. We're showing our love, our close support, our compassion'... '...This is just a horrendous act by a tormented individual and we're not going to let it get our community down. We're not going to let evil triumph. We're going to respond with solidarity.'..."

'Beware the Lizard-Men'

I haven't seen an 'ELVIS SEEN!' in headlines at the grocery checkout in years, but that was part of American culture for many years. Some folks are apparently convinced that:
  • The CIA blew up New York City's World Trade Center
  • Space aliens are spying on the U. S. Air Force
  • Shape-shifting, space-alien lizard-men secretly rule Earth
The 'lizard-men' one is my personal favorite. I don't believe it: but it's such a nifty idea.

Dubiously-plausible assumptions aren't limited to tabloids and the stereotype crackpot with an aluminum-foil-lined hat.

Professors, a Bishop, and Catholic Teaching

Quite a few Americans seem to assume that what a bunch of professors say the Church says trumps what a bishop says.

Yes, we've had bishops with odd ideas: but this time I'm quite sure that the professors got it wrong:
"Paul Ryan's Bishop Defends Him Amid Attacks on His Application of Church Teaching"
"Madison, Wis., Bishop Robert Morlino says he's not endorsing Ryan, but upholds the candidate's reputation as a serious Catholic committed to applying Church social doctrine."
Joan Frawley Desmond, Daily News, National Catholic Register (August 16, 2012)

"Earlier this year, when Georgetown University announced that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, would defend his budget in a public address, almost 90 faculty members at the Jesuit institution publicly denounced his interpretation of Church doctrine...."
I don't think this is an 'academic freedom' issue. Georgetown professors can say pretty much what they like. What I would like to see is reporters who realize that a bunch of professors in some American university aren't the folks who determine what Catholic teaching is.

I'd also like to see courteous, reasoned, discussions during election years: and that's another topic.

No 'Tenure' for Catholic Universities?

Georgetown U. is "the oldest Jesuit and Catholic university in the United States." (Wikipedia) I can see why American journalists might assume that what some professors at Georgetown say about Catholic teaching must be right. Georgetown is an old university, and it's supposed to be 'Catholic'

I see at least two problems with that assumption:
  • American universities don't run the Church
    • The Vatican does
  • "Catholic" in the name is a privilege
    • Which can be revoked
The last I heard, American academia had a custom of tenuring a faculty member who'd managed to stay hired for a set number of years. My understanding is that it's supposed to guarantee academic freedom for folks who don't agree with their boss. A degree of immunity from consequences may be a good idea for individual professors - but it apparently doesn't apply to institutions like allegedly-Catholic universities.

For example, there's a university in Peru that's been around since 1917, and got "Pontifical" added to its name in 1942. That's changed:
"Elite Peruvian university stripped of Catholic credentials"
David Kerr, CNA/EWTN News (July 21, 2012)

"The Vatican has announced it is stripping the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru of its Catholic identity after the elite university repeatedly refused to comply with the Church's requirements for colleges.

" 'The Holy See, with Decree of His Eminence the Secretary of State, under a specific Pontifical mandate, has decided to remove from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru the right to use in its name the titles "Pontifical" and "Catholic" in accordance with canon law,' reads a Vatican statement issued in Spanish and Italian on July 21...."
The U. of Peru had 22 years to decide whether being called "Catholic" was important. Now they're free to keep up with academic fads and all the latest intellectual fashions: but without calling themselves "Catholic."

I see it as a sort of 'truth in labeling' issue.

Georgetown has been around longer, but my guess is that having been called "Catholic" for a long time isn't as important as acting "Catholic" now.

That university in Peru probably should have given the Archdiocese of Lima a seat on their board of directors. That's what Peruvian civil courts said, anyway, and that's another topic.

The Gospel According to Georgetown, and Lots of Silence

"...While the media generally presented the harsh judgment as a sign that Ryan's budget proposals violated core beliefs of his Church, most news stories failed to examine why the subsequent appearance of Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at a Georgetown graduation event did not provoke a comparable furor. Sebelius is widely viewed as the architect of a federal contraception mandate denounced by the U.S. bishops as an 'unprecedented' threat to the free exercise of Catholic institutions, but the same group of Georgetown faculty apparently saw no need to register their disapproval.

"During the final bruising months of a presidential election that could hinge on the shifting views of Catholic 'swing' voters, Americans can expect to witness further disputes that showcase legitimate questions about the practical impact of Ryan's policies and partisan hit jobs that fail to provide a holistic treatment of Catholic teaching...."
(Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register)
Again, I'd like to see 'religion' reporters who know a little about religion. I've been over this before. (June 15, 2012)

The bishop in Mr. Ryan's diocese says that he knows about Paul Ryan's beliefs on subsidiarity, and that they're consistent with what the Church teaches:
Just to be sure that what Bishop Morlino wrote stays available, I took the liberty of copying the text of that column, and put it at the end of this post.1 Sometimes pages disappear from websites, or get moved. I don't think it's some kind of conspiracy: caffeinated interns seem like a more likely explanation.

Bishops, Professors,and Faith

There's more in that National Catholic Register article, about Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand: he read what she wrote, and liked it. So have I, for that matter; which doesn't make me a Randian, or whatever a 'follower of Rand' should be called.

Before moving on to a robot on Mars, here's a quick summary of Georgetown U., religious freedom, Catholic Bishops in America, and who said what:
  • America's national government decides how Americans may practice our faith
    (March 16, 2012)
    • All Catholic Bishops in America
      • No!
    • Georgetown University faculty
      • [no comment]

2. Messages from Mars

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, via, used w/o permission)
"This color full-resolution image showing the heat shield of NASA's Curiosity rover was obtained during descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The 15-foot heat shield was photographed by Curiosity's MARDI descent camera. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)"
"Mars Rover's 'voice' captured during nail-biting landing", via Foxnews (August 16, 2012)

"NASA's Mars rover Curiosity may seem like the strong, silent type, but the 1-ton robot was making a lot of noise during its harrowing Red Planet touchdown on Aug. 5.

"Curiosity phoned home throughout its daring and unprecedented landing sequence that night, giving its nervous handlers step-by-step status and health updates. The European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter recorded some of this chatter, and now we can hear what Curiosity had to say.

"Sort of. ESA scientists have processed Curiosity's radio signals, shifting them to frequencies the human ear can hear.

" 'This provides a faithful reproduction of the "sound" of the NASA mission's arrival at Mars and its seven-minute plunge to the Red Planet's surface,' Mars Express researchers wrote in a blog post shortly after Curiosity's successful touchdown. [How Mars Rover's Landing 'Sounded' (Video)]..."
There's a speeded-up CGI animation of Curiosity's descent and landing that plays with the radio 'sounds' the robot was making on its way down. I think Star Wars' R2D2 sounds cuter: but this is real, so the comparison is a little silly.

Or maybe not so much. When the first Star Wars film came out, robots were mostly science fiction. Today - I went over that last month. (July 20, 2012)

There hasn't been much news from Mars this week, apart from a few more photos. I'm looking forward to a NASA press conference later today, 1:30 p.m. EDT / 1730 GMT:
I didn't find an announcement on the mission home page (Mars Science Laboratory) Maybe they'll have a link posted later today. Or, not.

Looks like Curiosity has been busy, 'forgetting' its landing skills, and 'learning' how to drive on Mars. In other words, folks at Mission Control have been swapping out Curiosity's software:

"Curiosity on Mars: August 10, 2012"

NASA/JPL - Cal Tech (August 10, 2012)
via Brian Gill, YouTube (August 16, 2012)
video, 2:04
(Original video: "Curiosity Rover Update - Surface Operations Begin")

I corrected some bad links in an earlier post's resource list, and added an item:
Like I've said before, I see no problem with being Catholic and having a lively interest in God's creation.

Related posts:

1 Bishop Robert Morlino's opinion of Paul Ryan's views, being Catholic, and all that:
"Subsidiarity, solidarity, and the lay mission"
Bishop Robert Morlino, Bishop's Column, Madison Catholic Herald, Diocese of Madison (August 16, 2012)

"It was no shock at all for me to learn that our diocesan native son, Paul Ryan, had been chosen to be a candidate for the Vice Presidency of the United States. I am proud of his accomplishments as a native son, and a brother in the faith, and my prayers go with him and especially with his family as they endure the unbelievable demands of a presidential campaign here in the United States. It is not for the bishop or priests to endorse particular candidates or political parties. Any efforts on the part of any bishop or priest to do so should be set aside. And you can be assured that no priest who promotes a partisan agenda is acting in union with me or with the Universal Church.

"It is the role of bishops and priests to teach principles of our faith, such that those who seek elected offices, if they are Catholics, are to form their consciences according to these principles about particular policy issues.

"However, the formation of conscience regarding particular policy issues is different depending on how fundamental to the ecology of human nature or the Catholic faith a particular issue is. Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property.

"Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil — that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned as such by human reason alone. Thus, all people of good will who wish to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.

"Where intrinsic evil is not involved

"In these most fundamental matters, a well-formed Catholic conscience, or the well-formed conscience of a person of good will, simply follows the conclusions demanded by the ecology of human nature and the reasoning process. A Catholic conscience can never take exception to the prohibition of actions which are intrinsically evil. Nor may a conscience well-formed by reason or the Catholic faith ever choose to vote for someone who clearly, consistently, persistently promotes that which is intrinsically evil.

"However, a conscience well-formed according to reason or the Catholic faith, must also make choices where intrinsic evil is not involved. How best to care for the poor is probably the finest current example of this, though another would be how best to create jobs at a time when so many are suffering from the ravages of unemployment. In matters such as these, where intrinsic evil is not involved, the rational principles of solidarity and subsidiarity come into play. The principle of solidarity, simply stated, means that every human being on the face of the earth is my brother and my sister, my 'neighbor' in the biblical sense. At the same time, the time-tested best way for assisting our neighbors throughout the world should follow the principle of subsidiarity. That means the problem at hand should be addressed at the lowest level possible — that is, the level closest to the people in need. That again, is simply the law of human reason.

"We can disagree on application
"As one looks at issues such as the two mentioned above and seeks to apply the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, Catholics and others of good will can arrive at different conclusions. These are conclusions about the best means to promote the preferential option for the poor, or the best means to reach a lower percentage of unemployment throughout our country. No one is contesting here anyone's right to the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Nor is anyone contesting someone's right to work and so provide for self and family. However there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the Church offers.

"Making decisions as to the best political strategies, the best policy means, to achieve a goal, is the mission of lay people, not bishops or priests. As Pope Benedict himself has said, a just society and a just state is the achievement of politics, not the Church. And therefore Catholic laymen and women who are familiar with the principles dictated by human reason and the ecology of human nature, or non-Catholics who are also bound by these same principles, are in a position to arrive at differing conclusions as to what the best means are for the implementation of these principles — that is, 'lay mission' for Catholics.

"Thus, it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan's specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission. But, as I've said, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one's right to a good reputation.)

"Peace and reconciliation in coming months
"I obviously didn't choose the date for the announcement of Paul Ryan's Vice Presidential Candidacy and as I express my pride in him and in what he has accomplished, I thought it best to move to discussion of the above matters sooner rather than later. No doubt it will be necessary to comment again on these principles in the days ahead for the sake of further clarification, and be assured that I will be eager to do so.

"Above all, let us beg the Lord that divisions in our electorate will not be deepened so as to have a negative impact on pre-existing divisions within the Church during this electoral season. Let there be the peace and reconciliation that flow from charity on the part of all. Thank you for reading this. God Bless each one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!"

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

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.