Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's a Living


A report from a few years back describes a joint University of Hertfordshire and British Council study that measured the average rate of speed for pedestrians in 32 cities around the world.

Here are the Top 10 results of this Pedestrian Olympiad, which measured how long on average it took people to cover 60 feet:
(1) Singapore; 10.55s
(2) Copenhagen (Denmark); 10.82s
(3) Madrid (Spain); 10.89s
(4) Guangzhou (China): 10.94s
(5) Dublin (Ireland); 11.03s
(6) Curitiba (Brazil); 11.13s
(7) Berlin (Germany); 11.16s
(8) New York (USA); 12.00s
(9) Utrecht (Holland); 12.04s
(10) Vienna (Austria); 12.06s

Who would have thought that Dubliners would outpace New Yorkers? The Middle East tended to have the slowest pace of life.

The line of the article that got a chuckle from me was, "Researchers who secretly studied pedestrians in 32 cities..." (italics mine).

How would you like that job: get paid to travel the world to sit around and discreetly use a stop-watch to facilitate people-watching?

I'm reminded of research I did in college for a linguistic neologist. One of my tasks was cataloging thousands of hand-written 3x5 index cards with notes on them like "From the New York Times" and "Overheard in a bar." It turns out that there were quite a few of the latter; apparently eaves-dropping on bar-room banter is standard fare for the compilers of dictionaries. Who knew?

Friday, March 27, 2009

UK's Brown: End Ban on Royal Catholics


Today the British government endorsed the idea of lifting the ban on Catholic royals.

The Act of Settlement bars any non-Protestant from succeeding to the throne.

The bill introducing the measure to repeal the Act of Settlement won't be voted on at least for another year, however.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This Date in History

Feast of the Annunciation

On this date in T.A. 3019, Frodo Baggins cast the One Ring into the Cracks of Mount Doom. This act precipitated the ruin of Barad-dûr and the fall of the Dark Lord Sauron, and the world was made brighter thereby.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Quem Quaeritis?

"Why are men so reluctant to marry?" the question was coyly posed.

"Why are women so reluctant to stay married?" I answered teasingly.

"Huh?" was the startled reply.

In the U.S. 70% of divorces are initiated by the wife. Certainly middle-aged men still trade in the mother of their children for trophy wives; definitely there are cases of infidelity and abuse and criminal activity that warrant a permanent split. But at the end of the day the overwhelming majority of breakups are not because of these factors -- rather, selfishness and boredom are the major culprits.

I recognize full well that societal norms are far different today than they were even a generation ago, when the phrase "irreconcilable differences" started to catch on in a big way.

This in my view makes it abundantly clear that societal norms need to subjected to serious overhaul. With that thought in mind, here's a checklist to help correct the worst marital excesses stemming from today's societal norms.

* Marriage is for life. This is not merely sentiment -- that is, when the words "For as long as we both shall live" are uttered, it is a binding obligation. The spouses can separate (even permanently) when the physical or moral well-being of one or both is gravely jeopardized, but the man and woman remain bound in matrimony as husband and wife until one of them dies. And if your spouse leaves, you do not remarry.

* Marriage is for family. I will never, under any circumstance, no matter who is involved, attend the wedding of a couple who has declared that they refuse to have children. When done properly raising children is a great remedy to selfishness -- you have to be generous and selfless until it hurts to be a good parent. And "family planning" is a misnomer; "family prevention for selfish reasons" is the correct phrasing. I will never show support for someone else formally committing themselves to a selfish lifestyle.

* Marriage is a religious act. Humans did not create marriage, God did. Governments can add some conditions like obliging couples to complete paperwork, but they do not have final say in the matter. For that reason, governments are entirely incompetent to declare marriages ended; the state can oversee division of property and assets, but they cannot declare a married couple to no longer be wedded.

Quem Quaeritis?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Maireann croí éadrom i bhfad

Maireann croí éadrom i bhfad =
A light heart lives longest (in Gaelic)

Erin go bragh

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coming to Your Grocery Store Soon


A German frozen food company tried to cash in on the American obsession with trendy fads and introduced into the market a new line of frozen chicken packaged with a curry dip.

The product is called "Obama Fingers."

See a photo of the new product here

The choice of name has produced plenty of squawking around the globe.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Politics of Giving

"I'm afraid you've got it wrong. Clough Williams-Ellis and I are socialists. We don't pretend to be Christians."
- Bertand Russell, quoted in Bertrand Russell: A Case of Logical Fiddlesticks, p. 223

"The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."
- attributed to Margaret Thatcher

"[No society can survive the socialist] fallacy that there is an absolutely unlimited number of inspired officials and an absolutely unlimited amount of money to pay them." - G.K. Chesterton, in The Debate with Bertrand Russell, BBC Magazine, 11/27/35

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Riddling God

Back when I was going to A.A. meetings -- honest, it was to support a relative, not for me; I'm 40 years old and have never been drunk in my life -- there was an popular story doing the rounds.

Once there was a drunken sluggard who had a court appointment. A trio of A.A. members got wind of the event and showed up in court alongside the inebriate. As the judge was about to pronounce sentence for some drinking misdeed, the three men stood up and asked that the judge suspend sentence until they had a chance to work with the chap.

"We know something about this kind of man," the trio said. "Give him to us for a month. If we can't keep him sober for four weeks, we'll bring him back and then you can sentence him."

Though skeptical, the judge relented for the requested time.

During the next month the three men tag-teamed to keep the tippler from falling off the wagon. Day and night they took turns keeping him company, telling him stories to distract him, making him shave, feeding him healthy food, getting him to bed on time, and in general holding his hand and doing whatever it took to keep him sober.

On the appointed day the three exhausted men showed up in court with their well-groomed, cleaned-up trophy and presented him to the judge.

"That's the most amazing thing I ever saw," the judge declared. "One man kept three drunks sober for a month."

God can have us build the altar in one spot so that the fire from Heaven can come down in another place. And Job reminds us that the mysteries of Heaven are more satisfying than the answers of men. Our task is to keep to the duty God has called us to, which is first to see that we save our own souls; the outcome for the rest is in our Lord and our Lady's gracious hands

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Standing up to Bullies


Australia's Cardinal Pell told an audience at Oxford University that there is a growing culture of suppression among secularist governments that is using the doctrine of "tolerance and diversity" to ostracize Christians from public life.

This goal has been widely achieved through anti-discrimination legislation, His Eminence said. The most morally permissive groups have become politically repressive of opposition, despite their rhetoric of "diversity and tolerance."

Cardinal Pell warned that modern secularist liberalism, far from its origins in classical political liberalism, now "has strong totalitarian tendencies" and is oriented towards a heavy-handed statism.

One of the "crucial tasks" of Christians in the 21st century, the cardinal said, is to confront the "secular and religious intolerance of our day...regularly and publicly."

The cardinal's politically incorrect address can be read here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pastoral, Not Dogmatic

That the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was a pastoral rather than a dogmatic council is a point of significance primarily to Catholics. What is of interest to me tonight is that there is often disagreement about this signal fact: curiously, I've come across apologists for the modernizing reforms of the past four decades who insist the council was dogmatic.

This is more than a quaint distinction; there are profound implications involved (e.g. a dogmatic council is divinely protected from teaching error; not so a pastoral one). To treat the matter properly is beyond the scope of this little blog, however. What I can do is provide a few authoritative sources who can dispel the notion that Vatican II was a council like any of the other 20 or so in the history of the Church. In fact, Vatican II was a novelty, one unlike any of the others.

But don't just take my word for it -- consider these examples, who make clear that Vatican II was pastoral and not dogmatic.* The sources are two Popes, a Cardinal, and an official Vatican commission. I've listed the quotations in chronological order; note that the final one is from then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI.

"There will be no infallible definitions. All that was done by former Councils. That is enough."
- Pope John XXIII, "Gaudet Mater Ecclesia," October 11, 1962

"The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church."
- Pope John XXIII, Opening speech to the Council, October 11, 1962

"In view of the conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present council, this sacred Synod defines matters of faith or morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so."
- The Notificatio of March 6, 1964, of the Theological Commission of the Council concerning the authority of the Council

"The magisterium of the Church did not wish to pronounce itself under the form of extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements..."
- Pope Paul VI, discourse closing Vatican II, December 7, 1965

"There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church's infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner any dogmata carrying the mark of infallibility."
- Pope Paul VI, General Audience of January 12, 1966

"The rite [of the New Mass] by itself is not a dogmatic definition."
- Pope Paul VI, November 19, 1969, Apostolic Constitution, "Missale Romanum"

"Differing from other Councils, this one was not directly dogmatic, but disciplinary and pastoral."
- Pope Paul VI, August 6, 1975, General Audience

"The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council."
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, El Mercurio, July 17, 1988

* An important distinction to keep in mind is that when Vatican II quoted dogmatic statements from previous councils, those statements were of course dogmatic. By saying that Vatican II was pastoral what is meant is that the new or novel statements and teachings of the council were not dogmatic.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Boston Massacre

Today is the 239th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. I found it interesting to learn that the event started with a snowball fight.

For about a dozen years after the shooting Bostonians celebrated the holiday of Massacre Day. The Bostonian Society reenacts the event every year in front of the Old State House, which was the seat of British colonial government from 1713 to 1776.

Boston Massacre
Engraving courtesy Paul Revere

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Aurea Mediocritas

Aurea Mediocritas = the golden mean

It is not the same thing as being in the middle. Rather, it is the point between excess and deficiency.

It's one of the benefits of a liberal education that I have some inkling about this. More significantly, a liberal education is one that incorporates a healthy sampling of all necessary domains of knowledge -- e.g. literature, mathematics, history, science. To specialize in one to the point of excluding another creates an imbalance in the excess/deficiency schema.

The rule holds in the moral domain as well. For instance, it is possible to fail morally by an excess of anger, and it is possible to fail morally by a deficiency of anger -- e.g. to be a witness to a criminal or perverse act and shrug it off as "none of my business." One can also fall short in the matter of obedience due a superior -- by deficiency, such as an employee failing to do what his boss directs, or by excess, which is the sin of servility (i.e. an order is not an order after all).

To recognize the golden mean between an excess and deficiency of anger or an excess and deficiency of obedience requires acknowledgment of an objective standard.

Lack of objective standards = extremism