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Monday, June 30, 2014

Hobby Lobby decision

Hobby Lobby won its anti-contraception case. Depressing. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given the conservative Catholic majority on the court. An article about the decision from The New Yorker ...

A Very Bad Ruling on Hobby Lobby

[...] What other companies can ignore which other laws on what real or dreamed-up religious grounds? That is something the majority decision in Hobby Lobby leaves shockingly undefined. Ginsburg called it “a decision of startling breadth,” one that could allow for-profit corporations to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Alito, in his opinion, denies this; so does Anthony Kennedy, in a concurrence. But neither does so persuasively: their reassurance about the protections against what Ginsburg calls “the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce” come down to, in Alito’s case, shrugs about how nothing alarming has shown up on the Court’s docket yet and, in Kennedy’s, the belief that everyone will be sensible about this. But if there hasn’t been a wave of cases there also hasn’t been a precedent like this—and now there is. And good sense has never been much of a reliable restraint. This suggests that the majority is either being disingenuous about how broad its ruling is or is blind to its own logic. As Ginsburg notes, religious objections to, say, vaccines are neither as theoretical nor as easily put aside as the majority pretends.

Nor is science much of a constraint. Hobby Lobby is really asserting two religious beliefs: that abortion is immoral and that the kinds of contraception it doesn’t want to pay for are, in fact, a form of abortion, even though the scientific evidence says they are not. The majority defers to both of these beliefs ...

And from Marci A. Hamilton, the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University .... What’s Really Wrong With the Decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Burwell?

And the editorial in The New York Times ... Limiting Rights: Imposing Religion on Workers

And from Brian McLaren: Q: What Did Hobby Lobby Win? A: Many More Abortions

And from the LA Times: Hobby Lobby and the Court conglate contraception with abortion ... The craziest thing about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision

And at NCR ... Hobby Lobby: Political Hypocrisy

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How not to inspire confidence

Jozef Wesolowski, former Vatican nuncio to the Dominican Republic and Archbisop of of Kraków, has been defrocked ....

[...] he former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic, accused of having sexually abused boys in Santo Domingo, has been defrocked by a Vatican tribunal, Catholic Church officials here said Friday .... The move follows accusations that the Vatican, which recalled him to Rome last year, was protecting an abuser from arrest by civil authorities. In its statement Friday the Vatican said that Wesolowski had two months to appeal and that a criminal trial would follow the confirmation of his defrocking. News reports in Italy said that Wesolowski had been seen visiting Rome restaurants for lunch recently and the Vatican said his movements had not been restricted while his case was being heard. Now, it said, “all measures appropriate to the seriousness of the case will be adopted.” ....

“It's encouraging when child molesting clerics are disciplined, but we are troubled by the Vatican's continued insistence on handling child sex crimes internally,” the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said Friday in a statement. “Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski should face a criminal trial, not a church proceeding. And he should be in a secular jail. And he might have been in one for months, had Vatican officials cooperated with law enforcement,” the group said. Police in the Dominican Republic have opened a investigation of the allegations, as have Polish authorities.

Perhaps the Vatican finally took action in part because in January the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and in May the UN Torture Committee exhorted the Vatican to prosecute Wesolowski. In 2013, the Vatican denied Wesolowski was recalled due to sex abuse allegations. He was wanted by the civil authorities in Poland for crimes possibly committed there but last January the Vatican refused to cooperate ... ... Vatican to Polish prosecutor: we don't extradite.

Disingenuous that the Vatican averred to the UN that the Holy See has no jurisdiction over priests in other countries and that those priests should be prosecuted by local authorities, and yet the Vatican recalled Wesolowski, a Polish national with a post in the Dominican Republic, to investigate and prosecute him in Vatican City. And strange too the Vatican assertion that Wesolowski has full diplomatic immunity from prosecution in both the Dominican Republic and Poland .... he wasn't a diplomat to Poland. Also the Vatican failed to note that it could waive immunity and the ban on extradition if it wanted to. If the Vatican is trying to inspire confidence in its response to clergy sex abuse, it had better try harder.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The sacred heart of Jesus and The X-Files

- from La basilique du Sacré-Cœur

I saw this article today about the devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus at Thinking Faith - Matters of the Heart - and it reminded me of The X-Files. There was an episode, Milagro, in which Mulder and Scully investigate murders where people's hearts have been removed though the writing of a story, and in one scene Scully, a Catholic, inadvertently meets the writer in church when they're both viewing a painting of the sacred heart of Jesus.

- Scully at the painting

There he explains the history of the devotion to Scully ...

I often come here to look at this painting. It's called "My Divine Heart" after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart... and so he did placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.

It's difficult to find good video clips of The X-Files for some reason, but here's what I could find for this episode ...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Preparatory document for the upcoming Synod

I was really hopeful about the Vatican requesting the opinions of we lay people on church teaching about sex, marriage, and the family but it all appears to have been just a waste of our time. As this article on the document states, The document doesn't recommend changing church teaching on key hot-button issues.

Here's the beginning of an article by Thomas Reese SJ on the document ...

Synod working paper is boring and joyless

A document "intended to provide an initial reference point" for the October Synod of Bishops on the family was released Thursday at the Vatican. The document acknowledges that "the primary task of the church is to proclaim the beauty of the vocation to love," but there is little beautiful or inspiring in this document. If married life is as boring and joyless as this document, I am glad I am celibate ...

One of the creepier things about the document is its reference to JPII's Theology of the Body, and one kind of fun thing about the document is that in it the Vatican acknowledges natural law makes no sense today. Actually it hasn't really ever made sense, and the church's preference for a medieval scholastic's Catholic version of an ancient Greek philosopher's beliefs about the natural world over the gospels has always seemed weird to me.

Ultimately, I find this all depressing - it appears the point of the survey and the coming synod was not to discuss the merits of teachings that have so badly failed among Catholics world-wide, but instead to double down on that failure. The church has decided that the lived experience of its members is worthless.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Some music from Defiance

Theodicy: the suffering God defense

Here's another excerpt from Karen Kilby's paper on theodicy. This bit is about Jürgen Moltmann. I don't myself believe the idea of God suffering answers the problem of evil, and it reminds me of a past discussion on suffering between David Bentley Hart and some others. But back to Kilby ....

[...] Does the introduction of the notion of God’s suffering in fact help to justify God? .... it is hard to see how the suffering of God can in fact help when it comes to dealing with evil. Most fundamentally, if God does stand in need of justification, then to say that God suffers cannot provide it. If I mistreat my children, then the fact that I mistreat myself as well does nothing to make it acceptable. If one wants to say that there is any level on which God is responsible for evil or suffering, whether that be by causing it or by permitting it or by creating a world in which it occurs, it is hard to see how God participating in the suffering would diminish the responsibility.

Furthermore, there is at least some danger of the proponents of a suffering God falling into the same trap as theodicists, in diminishing the scandal of evil, offering a perspective from which all is, on some level, already acceptable. At the very least they seem, like the theodicists, to be trying to bring God and evil into a kind of intellectual resolution, so that the dissonance between our conception of God and our awareness of the evil in the world around us is done away with, the two reconciled in the notion that the suffering is all already there within God. Something like this seems to be going on in Jürgen Moltmann’s references to Auschwitz. Indeed, Moltmann speaks not only of God suffering in Auschwitz but of God in his suffering as a source of comfort to those in Auschwitz. On reflection, this is a rather interesting claim. Moltmann was not himself in Auschwitz. He does not appeal to any specific testimonies that anyone did find this notion a comfort in Auschwitz. He wants to take Auschwitz with full seriousness; and yet in effect he diminishes our vision of the suffering there by asserting that those in Auschwitz were comforted. To put God into the middle of evil and suffering, then, somehow starts to make things acceptable, makes Auschwitz something that can be integrated into and dealt with in our Christian theology; the Christian has put his God in the midst of it and now it is a little tamed, no longer threatening to stop the theological enterprise.

In various ways the insistence that God suffers, especially when presented as something new and important, is in danger of being a cheap move. What Moltmann does might be taken as an illegitimate Christian takeover of Jewish suffering. But it is not only in Christian-Jewish relations that something may be going wrong here: it is also in Christian atheist relations. Asserting the suffering of God offers the theologian too easy a way to wrong-foot the protest atheist: God is made invulnerable to blame since God is now suffering more than anyone. It does not of course cost the theologian anything to attribute any level of suffering to God that she pleases, but it does give her an easy way to be taking suffering seriously and even perhaps to feel that she herself is siding with the victim ...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Theodicy and free will

Reading a 2003 paper by Karen Kilby - Evil and the limits of theology. In the very beginning she states something with which I agree ...

Christian theology ought neither construct theodicies, nor ignore the kinds of problem theodicies try to address. It ought instead to acknowledge itself to be faced with questions it cannot answer, and to be committed to affirming things it cannot make sense of.

Religious people create explanations, excuses, really, for why a good God lets bad stuff happen to us ... one of those excuses I especially despise is CS Lewis' assertion, contradicting scripture, that God doesn't send people to hell but that they freely choose to go there themselves. His idea is based on the belief that God's highest priority is non-interference with our free will. I think the free will defense of suffering is incoherent, not to mention unbiblical, and here's just a bit from Kilby on free will ...

Almost all contemporary theodicies are closely bound up with a widespread but unfortunate theological assumption about the implications of human free will. This concept is in one way or another central to almost all contemporary theodicies, whether directly or clothed in broader notions of soul-making and character development. God cannot bring about a world in which a good exercize of human freedom, correct moral choices, loving actions and relationships, a positive turning towards God, are possible, without giving human beings (and perhaps other moral agents) a freedom which inevitably they can use to do ill.

Lying behind this almost universal feature of contemporary theodicies is the assumption that divine and created agency are and must be in a kind of competitive relationship. The more God does, the less we are able to do. The more God acts, the less free we are. If we are to be genuinely free to do good things, to relate to each other, to respond to God, then at some level, at some point, God must back off. Human freedom requires God’s non-involvement, at least at the moment of choice, and this great good of human freedom is also where one major source of evil comes in.

All this is for the most part taken as self-evident in much of modern thought. An action cannot be free and determined at the same time; it is either free,or it is caused, but not both. Such a contrastive approach is not in fact, however, the only option when it comes to thinking about how God relates to God’s creatures. One might alternatively say that the more God, as creator, acts, the more fully we come into being, and that the more God is involved with us the freer we are. It may be true that to the extent that my actions are determined by created causes, they are not free, but it does not follow that God’s role in my action plays the same part. Again, it may be true that as a parent I have to back off to give my children appropriate freedom, but it does not necessarily mean that God must move away from us in order to allow our freedom. On the view that I am sketching, to think that this is the case is to confuse God with a created being, to suppose that God is acting on the same plane as us and that God’s action inevitably competes and interferes with the actions of created beings. On the view that I am sketching, although my mother may need to keep her distance in order to allow me as an adult to develop fully into myself, God rather needs to keep as close as possible to allow this same development.

It would go beyond the scope of this paper to examine the premodern theological sources of this kind of thinking, in St. Thomas and others, or look at its contemporary exponents such as Herbert McCabe or Kathryn Tanner, or to explore whether a non-Pelagian understanding of grace is possible without such a view. It is possible, however, briefly to point to two reasons for preferring this view to the alternative.. First, it usefully helps to preserve a distinction between creator and creature, between God and humanity, not by making God distant and alien to us, but by insisting that God is more intimate than we can even conceive. And secondly, it avoids the danger which the contrasting view can very easily fall into of distancing God from much that we in fact deem most valuable and hold in greatest respect in our world. This is something that Nicholas Lash points to in a series of questions in Believing Three Ways in One God: ‘Does not God make cities as well as stars? Is God’s self-gift, the Spirit’s presence, less intimately and immediately constitutive of promises and symphonies than of plutonium and silt?’ If we assume that what is most freely human must be done somehow away from and independently of God, then we will have to say that whereas the natural world is clearly God’s creation, all that civilization produces has to do with the creator in only a very distant and derived way.

What we have seen, then, is that the role of human and possibly other created beings’ freedom is central in almost all contemporary theodicies, and this freedom can only play such a role, for the most part, because it has an assumed independence from God’s control — God limits God’s intervention in order to allow us our freedom. If one assumed that when we act most freely God is in fact also most fully bringing about our actions, then the introduction of our freedom into the theodicy discussion cannot help — it only makes matters worse. Why, if God can bring about our free actions, and in particular our good actions, does God ever allow our freedom to go wrong?

The argument here could of course be played in reverse. Many a modern thinker might respond to the noncompetitive understanding of divine and human agency just outlined as follows: that is all very well — if it makes any sense at all. But what then about evil? How can you possibly explain where sin comes from if you say that God is so intimately involved in free human action? Where I have pointed to a problem with theodicies in that they must presuppose a competitive understanding of divine and created action, others will see the fatal weak point of the proposed non-competitive view of God’s agency precisely in the fact that it cannot contribute to a theodicy, in that it can only fall silent when confronted with how things have gone wrong ...

In the UK ...

Now that marriage equality is the law in the UK, and given that the Church if England has come out against it, the issue of gay clergy themselves marrying and the question of blacklisting of said clergy has come up ...

Second priest defies Church of England to marry his same sex partner - Andrew Brown

[...] What will be hard for both men – and for any other clergy whose same sex marriages become public – will be to find another job. The archbishops have asked the bishop of Norwich, Graham James, to be available to diocesan bishops seeking advice on individual cases.

Priests in training or vicars who hold their jobs on time-limited contracts – as opposed to the older system of freehold which protects Andrew Cain – are much more vulnerable. They can be dismissed or their contracts dropped without obvious redress. Clergy are free to enter into civil partnerships, with the official justification that these need not involve sexual relations, which the church officially condemns outside of heterosexual marriage.

The wrangling over homosexuality has continued without progress for 30 years ...

You can read more about this at Thinking Anglicans - Bishop of Norwich's "blacklist" - which has comments to the post by Andrew Brown and Giles Fraser.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Suffering: should it be seen as positive?

My short answer is "no!" ;) But for the long answer, here's a talk by Karen Kilby, the Bede Chair of Catholic Theology at Durham University, about the idea of suffering in Christian theology (with reference to Hans Urs von Balthasar) ...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

In the health news ...

- bring on the ice cream :)

Is Fat Our Friend?

[A] decade after that conversation, the science is swinging back to a reconsideration of what fat does—and more important, what it doesn’t do. How that happened turns out to be a fascinating story of the limitations of science and the influence of agribusiness, and of how hard it can be to change public policy on health.

The emerging understanding of fat’s influence, and in where the science went wrong, is captured in “Ending the War on Fat,” a new Time magazine cover story by Bryan Walsh that announces itself with an arresting close-up of an appetizing curl of butter. The story is behind a subscription paywall, but here’s what it says:

* …the experiment was a failure. We cut the fat, but by almost every measure, Americans are sicker than ever. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes increased 166% from 1980 to 2012. Nearly 1 in 10 American adults has the disease, costing the health care system $245 billion a year, and an estimated 86 million people are pre-diabetic. Deaths from heart disease have fallen — a fact that many experts attribute to better emergency care, less smoking and widespread use of cholesterol-controlling drugs like statins — but cardiovascular disease remains the country’s No. 1 killer. Even the increasing rates of exercise haven’t been able to keep us healthy. More than a third of the country is now obese, making the U.S. one of the fattest countries in an increasingly fat world. “Americans were told to cut back on fat to lose weight and prevent heart disease,” says Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. “There’s an overwhelmingly strong case to be made for the opposite.” *

This paradox—that eating something we have been persuaded is unhealthful might, in fact, have been healthier for us—is also explored in a new book, The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz. And it’s been the professional life’s work of Gary Taubes, whose 2004 New York Times article “What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?” led to two books and the founding of a research nonprofit. Taubes’ work is arguably responsible for igniting enthusiasm for low-carb (now “paleo” and “primal”) diets, whose popularity had foundered with the 2003 death of low-carb pioneer Dr. Robert Coleman Atkins ......

Friday, June 20, 2014

Johnny Cash and Defiance

- the post-apocalyptic Gateway Arch

In my latest effort to find a fun science fiction tv series to rent, I've come upon Defiance ...

The show takes place in the future on a radically transformed Earth containing new species, some having arrived from space, many others the result of contamination by terraforming technology which has transformed native flora and fauna in unforeseen ways. Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) works as the lawman for the town of Defiance, a community where humans and intelligent extraterrestrial species coexist. The show follows Nolan, his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), and the town's new mayor, Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz).

Here's a review - 'Defiance' Review: New Syfy Drama Comes Out With Guns Blazing

I've only watched the pilot episode so far, but I like the actors (Graham Greene is in it) and I was weirdly captivated by this scene at the beginning in which the main character tries to cheer up his adopted alien daughter by singing along to the Johnny Cash song, Jackson .) ...

Thursday, June 19, 2014


- From the British Jesuit site, Thinking Faith: In Memoriam: Roger Ebert (1942-2013) by the British Provincial, Dermot Preston SJ

- Presbyterian Church Votes To Allow Gay Marriage and The Pew Forum has a new article on Where Christian churches, other religions stand on gay marriage

- :) From the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Kings College, London, a podcast, Jesus and Brian: What have the Pythons done for us?, about the upcoming conference, Jesus and Brian: A Conference on the Historical Jesus and his Times

- McAleese: Pope plan to ask priests about family life 'bonkers'

- I saw that Cardinal Kasper was ‘hurt’ by German Protestant Church’s failure to mention historic Joint Declaration. Not feeling I could take this at face value (he's not what I would call ecumenical), I looked around and found an article on the Joint Declaration from The Way (haven't yet read myself) ... Without Justification? The Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration and its Protestant Critics

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

- inside the huge Cathedral of Christ the Saviour? Nope ;)

This week's movie rental was Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ...

a 2014 American action thriller film, directed by and co-starring Kenneth Branagh. Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley star in leading roles. The film features the fictional Jack Ryan character created by author Tom Clancy. It is the fifth film in the Jack Ryan series but is presented as a reboot that departs from the previous installments. Unlike its predecessors, it is not an adaptation of a particular Clancy novel, but rather an original story. Pine stars in the title role, becoming the fourth actor to play Ryan, following Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck .... The film is dedicated to Clancy, who died on October 1, 2013.

I've seen three of the past four Jack Ryan movies (see my post on The Hunt for Red October) but I didn't like this version quite as much as the others .... though I do like Chris Pine (Captain Kirk! :) and Kevin Costner, I don't especially like Keira Knightley .... when I see her I can't help thinking of her creepy role in the movie about Freud/Jung ... and when I see Kenneth Branagh, I think about his pretty bad Dead Again ;)

One interesting bit in the film has the Russian bad guy played by Branagh visiting (supposedly) the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour ...

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior rose before him, its five golden onion domes dull against the heavy gray sky. The original cathedral had been dynamited by Kaganovich in 1931 on orders from Stalin, supposedly because it blocked the view from the window of his Kremlin apartment. In its place the Bolsheviks had attempted to erect a massive government skyscraper called the Palace of Soviets, but the riverside soil proved unsuitable for such a building and the construction site flooded repeatedly. Eventually, Stalin and his engineers surrendered to the inevitable and turned the land into a public swimming pool -- the world's largest, of course. Rebuilt after the fall of communism at enormous public expense, the cathedral was now one of Moscow's most popular tourist attractions.
- Moscow Rule by Daniel Silva, p. 331

Here's Richard Roper's review of the movie ...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Government contracts and the Church

Obama's Antigay Discrimination Order Revives a Familar Religious Freedom Fight

After five years of hedging and rebuffing, the White House announced this week it would make good on a campaign promise with an executive order banning discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But now lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual advocates who have long agitated for just such a move are warning the president not to undermine it by exempting religious groups ..... the focus is holding the line against any move to allow “federally funded, taxpayer-supported hiring discrimination against LGBT people,” says Ian Thompson, a legal representative with the ACLU. “And to include an exemption in this executive order, that is exactly what you’d be doing.”

Thomas Reese SJ wrote about the executive order too ....

Obama to forbid LGBT discrimination by federal contractors

[...] The timing of the Obama announcement could not have been worse, just before the U.S. bishops' Fortnight of Freedom, which begins June 21. Up until now, the fortnight focused on the bishops' opposition to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The Obama announcement will undoubtedly spur Catholic bishops to redouble their efforts to rouse public opinion to see this as another threat to religious liberty.

While the White House says it wants to hear from interested parties, based on the experience with the Affordable Care Act, it is doubtful that the administration and the bishops will come up with mutually acceptable exemptions for religious institutions. But the stakes are too high for both sides and for the poor who are served by Catholic institutions not to try to find a workable solution. Defunding of Catholic organizations that served the poor is unthinkable.

And in a later post ...

So far, the executive order deals only with contracts, not grants. This is important because most of the money going to Catholic charities to help the poor comes in the form of grants, not contracts. But there is little doubt that if the administration is successful dealing with contracts, grants will soon be on the firing line.

This subject of a clash between the government, which is trying to protect its citizens from discrimination, and the Catholic Church, which wants to be able to discriminate while at the same time still using government money, has come up often lately in the areas of adoption, employment, health care, marriage, sex trafficking, and even hate crime legislation. The church *could* discriminate against people to its heart's content if only it would let go of the government's money, but the church really wants those government contracts and grants. This article in The New York Times states ...

Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion. Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations).

And as this past article in The Economist notes ...

The Economist estimates that annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 .... national charitable activities [comprise] just 2.7% .... Catholic Charities USA, its main charity, and its subsidiaries employ over 65,000 paid staff and serve over 10m people. These organisations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies.

And this from an article at Mother Jones ...

Under Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, according to a spokeswoman from the US Department of Health and Human Services, where much of the funding comes from. The USCCB, which has been such a vocal critic of the Obama administration, has seen its share of federal grants from HHS jump from $71.8 million in the last three years of the Bush administration to $81.2 million during the first three years of Obama. In fiscal 2011 alone, the group received a record $31.4 million from the administration it believes is virulently anti-Catholic, according to HHS data.

What the church doesn't seem to understand is that the government, and I'd think everyone else too, has an investment in seeing that all citizens are treated fairly. I hope there will be *no* religious exemptions granted .... I'm so tired of belonging to a church that seems to define itself more and more as the last redoubt for discrimination.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Yay! :)

Leonardo DiCaprio Pledges to Help Save World’s Oceans

He contributed $7 million! For those interested, a great movie - Oceans ...

Our data doppelgängers

- Bruce Willis 'uncanny valley' android in Surrogates

Reading Data Doppelgängers and the Uncanny Valley of Personalization

You know those targeted ads that seem to follow you everywhere you go on the internet ... I get the weirdest ones for which I cannot imagine the causal link, like those asking me to peruse photos of single Asian women (WHAT?). The uncanny valley description (I posted about the uncanny valley here - The Other and the Same) so nails this phenomena. Here's just a bit from the Atlantic article mentioned above ...

[...] Google thinks I’m interested in parenting, superhero movies, and shooter games. The data broker Acxiom thinks I like driving trucks. My data doppelgänger is made up of my browsing history, my status updates, my GPS locations, my responses to marketing mail, my credit card transactions, and my public records. Still, it constantly gets me wrong, often to hilarious effect. I take some comfort that the system doesn’t know me too well, yet it is unnerving when something is misdirected at me. Why do I take it so personally when personalization gets it wrong?

Right now we don’t have many tools for understanding the causal relationship between our data and how third parties use it. When we try to figure out why creepy ads follow us around the Internet, or why certain friends show up in our newsfeeds more than others, it’s difficult to discern coarse algorithms from hyper-targeted machine learning that may be generating the information we see. We don’t often get to ask our machines, "What makes you think that about me?"

Personalization appeals to a Western, egocentric belief in individualism. Yet it is based on the generalizing statistical distributions and normalized curves methods used to classify and categorize large populations. Personalization purports to be uniquely meaningful, yet it alienates us in its mass application. Data tracking and personalized advertising is often described as “creepy.” Personalized ads and experiences are supposed to reflect individuals, so when these systems miss their mark, they can interfere with a person’s sense of self. It’s hard to tell whether the algorithm doesn’t know us at all, or if it actually knows us better than we know ourselves. And it's disconcerting to think that there might be a glimmer of truth in what otherwise seems unfamiliar. This goes beyond creepy, and even beyond the sense of being watched.

We’ve wandered into the uncanny valley ......

Apparently, you can tell Google not to follow you around.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Zombie George Washington

When life is going badly and I feel down, watching a rerun of Sleepy Hollow will often cheer me up: how could the idea of a still existing Ichabod Crane ...

using a resurrected George Washington's bible's hidden messages ...

to find a map of purgatory ...

hidden in Washington's secret tomb ...

not cheer anyone up? :)


- More oleanders ...

- Standing under the pecan tree ...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In the Middle East

On the heels of a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the Vatican to pray for peace, three Israeli teens are kidnapped. Hope this resolves soon and peacefully.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Some links

- NT Wright has given an interview - N. T. Wright on Gay Marriage - and Tobias Haller BSG responds - NT Wright: Wrong Again

- The other day I mentioned the news averring that a computer has passed the Turing test (We need a new test). But wait ... Sorry Internet, a Machine Didn't Actually 'Pass' the Turing Test

- Yes, Humans Are Animals -- So Just Get Over Yourselves, Homo sapiens

- At ABC Religion & Ethics: Refusing Resignation: Moral Heroes in an Age of Victims by Susan Neiman. I posted about her before here. She discusses the need for heroes and contrasts the examples of Odysseus and Achilles in the Trojan War, and that made me smile, remembering my favorite philosophy teacher from college who had a real disgust for Odysseus and his "success via stealth and guile" modus operandi :) But I didn't like Achilles either ... I was on the side of the Trojans (see my past post Stellan Skarsgård is Theseus).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Keith Ward lecture

"Morality and the Philosophy of Science" A talk given by Prof Keith Ward, the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge University, April 2014 ... here

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Upside Down

This week's movie rental was Upside Down ...

a 2012 Canadian-French romantic science fiction film written and directed by Juan Diego Solanas, starring Jim Sturgess [Across the Universe] and Kirsten Dunst. he film starts with Adam telling the story of his two-planet home world, unique from other planets or planetary systems as it is the only one that has "dual gravity". This phenomenon of dual gravity allows the two planets to orbit each other in what would otherwise be impossibly close proximity .... The societies of the two worlds are segregated by law. While the upper world (Up Above) is rich and prosperous, the lower (Down Below) is poor.

I liked it: the movie had neat visuals, good acting, and was sweet in a fairy tale kind of way. Here's a review from Wired - Review: Upside Down Soars Visually, But Lacks Gravity - and here's a trailer ...

US Bishops meeting

At the meeting of the US Bishops in New Orleans, one of the things they discussed was the response of US Catholics to the Vatican's survey on sexual and family issues ...

Kurtz presented what he called a "general review" of responses by U.S. Catholics to a questionnaire sent by the Vatican's office of the Synod to Bishops globally. The questionnaire asked how Catholics perceive the church's family pastoral practices on issues like contraception and marriage. "Unsurprisingly, we still have much ground to cover in sharing the good news of marriage and the family with our Catholic faithful," Kurtz said. "We know there is a need for greater, effective teaching on key tenets of the faith, such as the indissolubility of marriage, the importance of sexual difference for marriage, the natural law, and the married couple's call to be open to life," he said.

Reading this makes me think nothing will ever change for the better ... the bishops appear to believe that the reason US Catholic (like Catholics in Ireland, Japan, Germany and Switzerland, the UK, Belgium) disagree with church teaching on sex, contraception, marriage/divorce, marriage equality, etc., is because we're too dim to have understood the teaching, instead of the fact that we think the teaching is *wrong*.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Tablet: the Irish Church

At about the same times that the news story about the Irish Catholic grave site containing the bodies of 800 children (and now it gets worse) appeared, I also saw a video talk by the papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, in which he spoke of how great things were now for the Catholic Church in Ireland. I guess I'm not the only one who thought what he was saying was bizarre - this from The Tablet ... The rosy picture painted by the nuncio to Ireland is an illusion by Fr Sean MacDonagh. Here's just a bit of the article ...

On the day that the papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, told the US-based Catholic News Service that he saw “that Irish Catholicism had entered a new springtime,” representatives of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) were trying to convince a group of Irish bishops that the Irish Catholic Church was facing, among other things, a vocational crisis of enormous magnitude .....

The nuncio called for women to play a more visible role in the Church, but he doesn’t say what these roles might be. If he were to spent a half an hour in a class of 17-year-old girls, he would get an earful about what young Irish women think of the way they are treated by the Church. These girls and their older sisters are walking away from the Church and it will take action, not words, to convince them that the Church cherishes their gifts .....

The ACP, which has more than 1,000 members, asked for a meeting with Archbishop Brown two years ago. He refused, and said that “it would be more appropriate if we meet with the Irish bishops”. Maybe if he had met with the ACP he would have a much more realistic understanding of the state of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the challenges it faces.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Moon over the oaks

We need a new test

What Comes After the Turing Test?

Over the weekend, the news broke that a “supercomputer” program called “Eugene Goostman”—an impersonation of a wisecracking, thirteen-year-old Ukranian boy—had become the first machine to pass the Turing Test. Kevin Warwick, a professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, who administered the test, wrote, “In the field of Artificial Intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test, when a computer convinces a sufficient number of interrogators into believing that it is not a machine but rather is a human.” Warwick went on to call Goostman’s victory “ a milestone” that “would go down in history as one of the most exciting” moments in the field of artificial intelligence ...

The Turing test, as we've discussed before (The Turing test and the Chinese Room), is a method of discriminating between machines and people. The article linked to above opines that given the complexity of today's and tomorrow's computers, it's probably time for a successor to the Turing test ... I vote for the Voight-Kampff test, the one used in Blade Runner, which was based on empathy and distinguished between people and replicants :) ....

Sunday, June 08, 2014


- Hanging Gardens of Babylon with the Tower of Babel in the background

I like John's version of the Pentecost better than the Acts version, which seems constructed as a "save" for the Tower of Babel story. James Alison writes in Knowing Jesus ...

At the beginning of Acts, Luke tells the story of Pentecost. The story of the tongues of fire which came down and permitted the apostles to preach in all languages is not simply a description of what happened, it is at the same time the un-telling of another story, the story of Babel. That story, which occurs in Genesis 11, is about the human attempt to construct unity, and about how it led to chaos, separation, and breakdown of communication ...... The arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the arrival of the crucified and risen Lord and the undoing of Babel .....

You can watch the Johannine version in this clip from the film, The Gospel of John (start watching at about 3:32 minutes in) ...

Friday, June 06, 2014

The power of the church in Ireland

Reading today about the almost 800 bodies of children buried in a septic tank at a mother and baby home under the care of the Bon Secours nuns in Ireland ... Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway's mass graves

The power of the church in Ireland now makes me think only of badness: of things like the Magdalene laundries, the death of Savita Halappanavar, the creepiness of Cardinal Brady, the Cloyne report and the Taoiseach's speech about it ...

The stray cat saga, ctd

By now, the two female stray cats have become more friendly and one of them, Vicky, has come inside the house a few times ... the other, Olive, is too afraid. So I thought that it wouldn't be too hard to catch them and take them to the vet for an exam and possible future spaying, but not so. I've tried twice, but they are too wild to catch, hold on to (my sister ended up with some bad scratches last time), and meanwhile Vicky looks very pregnant :( I so much wish there was a place that would take them and find homes for them but the one no-kill shelter won't have any openings for at least a year and the other places would mean a few weeks in a cage and then euthanizing. I'm stymied.

All this makes the difference between these cats and my four cats from the past come to mind. A stray cat back then, Grendel, had kittens in the garage, and then, with my mom's help, I ended up keeping them all (despite trying hard to find them other homes) and they were all, including Grendel, sweet and gentle. Miss them. Here's Grendel ...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Primeval: New World

This week's DVD rental was Primeval: New World ...

a Canadian-British science fiction television program, set in Vancouver, British Columbia, created by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens .... the show is a spin-off of the British series Primeval .... As with Primeval, the premise of Primeval: New World involves a team who have to deal with animals from the past and future that travel through time to the present day through anomalies .... the series had been cancelled after a single season.

I thought I'd give it a try, seeing as I'd read some of the novels by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens . It turned out to be very light entertainment but it grew on me enough to watch the whole series of 13 episodes. Here's a trailer ...

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A photo and some links

- the blue jay and his peanut :) ...

- Remember when it came out that in 2007 Cardinal Dolan had hidden $57 million from sex abuse victims with Vatican approval in a cemetery trust fund? The New York Times wrote an editorial about it ... Cardinal Dolan and the Sexual Abuse Scandal. A further scandal was that a judge decided that what Dolan had done was ok, though if it had been one of us hiding assets in this way, it probably would have been seen as federal bankruptcy fraud. Today I saw that the judge who made that bizarre ruling is being investigated for religious bias in that case ... Judge's Catholic faith under scrutiny in Milwaukee archdiocese case. Good.

- Hey, is it only me who's concerned that food companies are putting nano-sized bits of metal in our food? I knew products like sunscreen and toothpaste contained stuff like zinc and titanium, but I didn't know some metals were also used in foods like Hershey's chocolates, Best Foods mayonnaise, and Kraft cheeses ...eek!

- An interesting website ... The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Grandma and grandpa's house

A photo on Dina's blog reminded me of where my grandparents lived ... on a street named after the Palm trees that lined either side. Loved that street :) Many of the palm trees are now gone, but I looked on Google maps and managed to snap a couple of not so great screen captures of the street now ...

Monday, June 02, 2014

"Yes, the Church is dying"

From Dirty Sexy Ministry: What Needs to Die in the Church . What is written in the post about the C of E goes for the Catholic Church as well. Just a snip from the post ...

[A] few things that have lived w-a-y beyond their expiration dates in the Church .... pathologically unhealthy clergy. The Church will not heal your wounds or be your bff. I say this frequently - I do not fully trust clergy who don't regularly see a therapist or spiritual director. If you aren't willing to do the hard work of self-examination and soul work, don't offer yourself for ordination. If you are ordained, do the hard work. Richard Rohr has it so very right - what wounds we don't offer for transformation, we transmit to those around us .... Yes, the Church is dying. It has and will continue to do so. We as Christians accept and understand as best we can that death is part of life, that death is part of this thing called faith ...

What Jesus doesn't like

From the pope's Monday homily ... "there are things that Jesus doesn't like," he said, such as married couples "who don't want children ....

Meanwhile, on the planet where I live .....

[...] A 2009 study of the relationship between population growth and global warming determined that the “carbon legacy” of just one child can produce 20 times more greenhouse gas than a person will save by driving a high-mileage car, recycling, using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, etc. Each child born in the United States will add about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent. The study concludes, “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle.”