[Sticky] WIN a Logos Catholic Scholar’s Library Worth $790

Logos Bible Software has graciously offered to provide a Complete Logos Catholic Scholar’s Library to one lucky reader of God and the Machine. The package is worth $790, and you can read more about it here. I’ve written an overview of the software, and an update on some recent additions.

Click on this link to enter the contest via the Punchtab app. The link takes you to the bottom of this page, where you can type in your name and email address in order to enter the contest. This information will NOT be made public.

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Some People Call It a “Choice” …

…which is a nice euphemism for homicide by mutilation. Don’t take my word for it: here’s how a former abortionist describes what he did.

If you support abortion, you’re not allowed to look away. Sorry. You don’t get that privilege. You don’t get to wrap yourself in nice little slogans about “women’s rights” and “my body, my choice,” or the most nauseating one of all: “well, no one likes it, but…” If your oh-so-enlightened views are predicated upon the existence of horrible things happening in tiny rooms to people you don’t know, you should at least have the moral courage to understand what happens in those rooms. This applies as much to those on the right who support torture as it does to those on the left who support abortion.

In her fable “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin offers her idea of a utopia. Her perfect world of perfect happiness can only be sustained by one child living in a locked, damp, darkened closet and subjected to constant abuse. The citizens all know this, and most accept this horror as the price for the world they live in.

But some cannot:

At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or a woman much older falls silent for a day or two, then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight outof the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman.

Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

I’ve always felt that the point of LeGuin’s fable was this: the only people worthy of all that Omelas had to offer were the ones who could never have it, because they found the cost too high.

What Dr. Levatino describes does not happen to one child: it happens to over 3,000 human beings every day in the United States alone. Too many people accept this as a price of the world they live, or perhaps just the cost of their own moral and political views. Maybe they just haven’t looked hard enough. Maybe they don’t care, or have convinced themselves that this isn’t really a life, or at least not an important life, and certainly not one that feels pain: well, not much pain (probably), and certainly that pain is nothing measured against the inconvenience faced by the mother. Hard choices, you know. No one is “pro-abortion,” it’s a private matter, safe-legal-and-rare … well, you know all the lies. People can convince themselves of all kinds of things. People used to convince themselves that Jews and blacks weren’t actually human. They’ve progressed beyond that. Now they’ve convinced themselves that humans aren’t even human.

It’s hard to change a deeply-held conviction, and abortion is a hard subject to change your mind about. In her story, LeGuin emphasizes that the people who walk away, do so alone. She uses the word “alone” three times in two paragraphs, and emphases the darkness, fear, and unknown elements of what they face by making their choice. So much of our self-identity and politics and relationships are bound up in our beliefs on subjects just like this. It’s a frightening thing to change your views so radically on such a volatile subject. It certainly wasn’t easy for me.

Yes, I used to be one of those loathsome “well, no one likes it, but …” people, and that was the worst possible position to take, because I was admitting that it was a horrifying thing but saying it should continue anyway. I acknowledged injustice and brutality, and said, “I’m okay with that.” I gazed upon the child in the basement closet of Omelas and decided his misery is a fair price to pay for the world I lived in. It took time–years, in fact–but I finally looked a little harder in that closet, and I became one of the ones who walked away.

“No one has a right by baptism to ordination”

In April, a group of excommunicated former Catholics pretended to ordain a former nun (also now excommunicated latae sententiae) to the Catholic priesthood. These theatrical performances happen from time to time, and the religiously illiterate mainstream media always covers the event with headlines like “Indiana Nun Ordained a Catholic Priest.” This weekend, I plan to have a ceremony with some friends declaring myself the Grand Poobah of the Loyal Order of the Water Buffaloes (Lodge 26). The media are invited to attend.

Explaining the rationale behind the male-only priesthood is simple:

  1. The priest is functioning in persona Christi, and Jesus was male.
  2. Christ called only men to be apostles, and the priesthood is an extension of the apostolic role.
  3. From the very beginning, the Church understood this to mean that, although women were among the first, and often most important, witnesses to the ministry of Christ, they were never counted among the twelve. They have a different role. No less important, but different.
  4. The Church has no authority to ordain women, because doing so would overturn 2000 years of consistent teaching that was never in any doubt whatsoever.
  5. Since ordaining women would undermine those 2000 years of consistent tradition, it would strike at the heart of the Church’s teaching authority and throw the Church into schism as factions line up on different sides.

As I said: simple in theory. And yet … not so simple in practical reality. People can listen to all that, which is perfectly rational, and have a fundamentally emotional–but no less valid–response: it’s still not fair. It’s a valid response because it seems to speak to our everyday experience of the modern world, in which absolute equality must govern all relations and all institutions. Everything is recast as a power relationship. The priesthood is simply another authority role that needs to be split evenly between men and women, or else it’s an offense to justice.

Never mind that the priesthood is a role of service, and that we are called to different kinds of service. And never mind the consistent teaching stretching all the way back to Christ himself, who certainly could have numbered the Marys, Martha, Salome, and others among the twelve. He witnessed to them repeatedly, and their integral role in the Gospels and in supporting the early Church provided ample opportunity to confer priesthood upon them. Jesus overturned other social conventions of the time, so what was one more? The ancient world was full of priestesses. In fact, there were probably more priestesses than priests, and they often had greater authority in pagan cultures.

And yet, from the very beginning, in the New Testament and the early Church, it never happened. That should tell us something. We should learn from it, rather than thinking, “Well, He made a mistake on this one. He was a first century Jewish guy bound by the conventions of his time and place. We know better now.”

We’ve been thinking variations of that thought since about Genesis 3:5. So how’s that working out for us?

When these imaginary “ordinations” happen, Bishops have to respond in order to make sure their flock isn’t confused or led astray. In Indianapolis, Bishop Coyne sent out a letter that strikes an excellent balance between charity and discipline. Here’s part of what he had to say (emphasis added):

The Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear on this issue. As it states in the catechism: “Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination. The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve Apostles, and the Apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason, the ordination of women is not possible” (#1577).

The ordination of men to the priesthood is not merely a matter of practice or discipline with the Catholic Church, but rather, it is part of the deposit of faith handed down by Christ through his Apostles. The Catholic Church has always followed Jesus’ example, and does not believe it has the authority to change what Jesus instituted. The will of Christ is not arbitrary.

The woman who attempted ordination this past weekend may have chosen to be a priest in some other “catholic” church, but it is not the one headed by Pope Benedict XVI. She cannot be a priest in a church that has not called her to that priesthood.

She herself states that by attempting ordination and denying the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching in a public act, she has placed herself outside of the Church’s communion. This offers further argument against her “ordination” since to be ordained to the sacred priesthood is to be ordained to obedience in mind and soul to the Church’s magisterium. One cannot serve in obedience if one was ordained in an act of disobedience.

The Catholic Church’s teaching on the ordination of women does not mean that the Church values women less than men. The Catholic Church is sustained by the important contributions of women each and every day. The Catholic Church has always taught that men and women have the same dignity, but they have different duties or gifts. All these gifts are central to the faith and the life of the Catholic Church.

In secular society today, we talk about equal rights and equal protection under the law. That means many different things to different people. In the Church, we believe in an equality of dignity between men and women that is bestowed on each of us by the Holy Spirit in our equal call to holiness. The only universal call is the call to holiness.

No one has a right by baptism to ordination. Ordination to the ministerial priesthood is a distinct gift. It is a gift that exists for the service of God and the Church. In accepting and handing on this gift, the Church is bound by fidelity to the example of Christ to reserve ordination to males who have legitimately received this call from God, and who are accepted by the Church as having received this call.

If you’re remaining in the Catholic Church in the hope that women’s ordination will get here some day, or that it can be nudged along by stunts like this, then you’re deceiving yourself. The Church may well ordain married men one day, since that is a discipline and not dogmatic, but it will never ordain women for very simple reason: it can’t. The Church exists to pass on the faith as received.  It’s perfectly possible to make up a whole new Christian faith and set your own rules. It happens every day. It’s called Protestantism, and there are churches in every town where women preach and minister.

But are they not, and never can be, the one true Church founded by Christ. Sorry if that seems unjust, but we don’t make the rules. We just try to follow them as best we can, and if the “women priests” and their supporters want to be Catholic, they should try to do the same thing.

(H/T Michelle Arnold of Catholic Answers, who posted the Bishop’s letter on Facebook)

Benedict’s Remarks on the “Vatileaks” Story

“Events in recent days regarding the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness to my heart, though the firm conviction, that despite human weakness, despite difficulties and trials, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Lord will never fail to give His aid in sustaining the Church on her journey. Nevertheless, some entirely gratuitous rumors have multiplied, amplified by some media, which went well beyond the facts, offering a picture of the Holy See that does not correspond to reality. I would like therefore to reiterate my confidence and my encouragement to my staff and to all those who, day in and day out, faithfully and with a spirit of sacrifice, quietly help me in fulfilling my ministry.”

Pope Benedict XVI

It’s hard to find a good overview of this story which doesn’t include a lot of wild speculation, but this one is adequate. Speculations about power struggles are misguided and informed more by gossip than fact, so read with care.

Jewish Gene Found in Indian Tribe

Israeli researchers have found the so-called “Ashkenazi mutation,” a genetic marker unique to European Jews, in a tribe of Indians in Colorado. They believe the gene was introduced into the tribe by a single Jewish male descended from Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.

A number of these Spanish Jews settled in the new world. As this 2008 article from Smithsonian points out, genetic markers have been found in the Spanish Catholic population of Colorado and New Mexico before, but never in a tribe of Native Americans.

The gene, BRCA1, is problematic because its mutation is linked to an aggressive form of breast cancer.

When normal and healthy, BRCA1 helps to protect breast and ovarian cells from cancer. An extremely long gene, it has thousands of DNA letters, each corresponding to one of four chemical compounds that make up the genetic code and run down either strand of the DNA double helix; a “misspelling”—a mutation—can occur at virtually any letter. Some are of no consequence, but the deletion of the chemicals adenine (A) and guanine (G) at a site 185 rungs into the DNA ladder—hence the name 185delAG—will prevent the gene from functioning. Then the cell becomes vulnerable to a malignancy. To be sure, most breast and ovarian cancers do not run in families. The cases owing to BRCA1 and a similar gene, BRCA2, make up less than 10 percent of cases overall.

By comparing DNA samples from Jews around the world, scientists have pieced together the origins of the 185delAG mutation. It is ancient. More than 2,000 years ago, among the Hebrew tribes of Palestine, someone’s DNA dropped the AG letters at the 185 site. The glitch spread and multiplied in succeeding generations, even as Jews migrated from Palestine to Europe. Ethnic groups tend to have their own distinctive genetic disorders, such as harmful variations of the BRCA1 gene, but because Jews throughout history have often married within their religion, the 185delAG mutation gained a strong foothold in that population. Today, roughly one in 100 Jews carries the harmful form of the gene variant.

ToneMatrix: Your Time Waster of the Day

Posting will be a bit light this week as I work on the October (yes, October) issue of Games. While you’re pining away for want of G&TM content, you can wile away the hours with ToneMatrix. The developer describes it as a “simple sinewave synthesizer triggered by an ordinary 16step sequencer. Each triggered step causes a force on the underlaying wave-map, which makes it more cute.” It’s the work of Andre Michelle, and it’s flat-out amazing in its addictive simplicity. If he converts this to a mobile app, he’ll make a pot of money.


Doc Watson, RIP

As I mentioned on Saturday, the great guitarist and singer Doc Watson was in the hospital for colon surgery. He required a second procedure, and his condition was listed as critical over the weekend. Earlier today, he passed away.

From the obituary:

Doc Watson was born March 3, 1923 in what is now Deep Gap, N.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He lost his eyesight by the age of 1 when he developed an eye infection that was worsened by a congenital vascular disorder, according to a website for Merlefest, the annual musical gathering named after his late son Merle.

Doc Watson’s father, who was active in the family’s church choir, gave him a harmonica as a young child, and by 5 he was playing the banjo. He learned a few guitar chords while attending the North Carolina Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, and then his father helped him buy a guitar for $12, the website says.

“My real interest in music was the old 78 records and the sound of the music,” Doc Watson is quoted as saying on the website. “I loved it and began to realize that one of the main sounds on those old records I loved was the guitar.”

Doc Watson got his musical start in 1953, playing electric lead guitar in a country-and-western swing band. His road to fame began in 1960 when Ralph Rinzler, a musician who also managed Bill Monroe, discovered Watson in North Carolina. That led Watson to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and his first recording contract a year later. He went on to record 60 albums.

According to the Encyclopedia of Country Music, Watson took his nickname at age 19 when someone couldn’t pronounce his name and a girl in the audience shouted “Call him Doc!”

Seven of his albums won Grammy awards; his eighth Grammy was a lifetime achievement award in 2004. He also received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1997.


The Essential Doc Watson

On Praying Ground


The Best of Doc Watson 1964-1968

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
And may perpetual light shine upon him.

The Coming Global Cyber War

Stuxnet was the Manhattan Project of the 21st century. This complex, subtle computer worm–detected in 2010–was designed to make the Iranian nuclear centrifuges malfunction ever so slightly, delaying Iran’s march towards a nuclear bomb without the Iranians even knowing why. It revealed the serious vulnerability of every automated industrial control system, and they’re almost all automated to some degree.

This is the computer virus as weapon. It did real, physical damage to equipment. It opened a new front in cyber warfare, and nothing will ever be the same again. Unleashing it–even on an enemy–was an incredibly irresponsible, perhaps even immoral, thing to do. There’s little doubt that it was created by the United States, working in collaboration with Israel.

We’re wasting our time with the TSA kabuki security theater. The next 9/11 won’t require any airplanes. A sophisticated virus can do more damage and claim more lives. Imagine a program that can knock out power grids, crash economies, wreak havoc on transportation network, and worse.

We’re already seeing the Sons of Stuxnet. Last year it was Duqu, which was almost certainly created by the same people behind Stuxnet. Like Stuxnet, it targets industrial control systems, but appears to only be collecting information. For now.

News is just emerging from the Middle East about a third major virus that appears to have been operating for about two years, also collecting information in ways reminiscent of Stuxnet and Duqu. The virus is called Flame, and it’s already appeared in Iran, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Sudan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Here’s what the New York Times is reporting:

[Flame] has been grabbing images of users’ computer screens, recording their instant messaging chats, remotely turning on their microphones to record their audio conversations and monitoring their keystrokes and network traffic, according to a report by Kaspersky Labs, a Moscow-based security research firm.

The researchers said Flame appeared to have been developed by a different group of programmers [than Stuxnet]. It contains 20 times more code than Stuxnet and is much more widespread than Duqu. Researchers believe Duqu hit fewer than 50 targets worldwide. Kaspersky’s researchers said they had detected Flame on thousands of computers belonging to individuals, private companies and universities across the Middle East.

“Flame can easily be described as one of the most complex threats ever discovered,” Alexander Gostev, the head of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis team, wrote in a blog post on Monday. “It’s big and incredibly sophisticated. It pretty much redefines the notion of cyberwar and cyberespionage.”

Governments are doing this, not rogue hackers. They are playing with fire, and we’re the ones who are going to be burned. I have no doubt at all that America would unleash a weapon like this if it felt like it could achieve some geopolitical ends that would otherwise require military action.

That may seem like a fair tradeoff, but it’s short sighted. The potential for collateral damage is vast, with viruses migrating across systems throughout the world. Stuxnet was extremely sophisticated and precise: it targeted specific systems of specific hardware. (The German manufacturers of that centrifuge hardware had to collaborate with the virus programmers to make this possible.) Now that it’s being studied by our enemies, we can count on the next version being less picky about what industrial operations it targets. Perhaps our refineries? Or even our nuclear power plants?

Did the people who authorized the operation really believe there would be no blowback? It’s not like making a nuclear weapon, which requires sophisticated equipment, large physical plants, and rare elements. A team of talented programmers could create a devastating cyberweapon without ever even meeting each other. It wouldn’t even take that much anymore, now that people can study and copy Stuxnet. A Stuxnet-like virus can be created with only four lines of code, by anyone, and made to freeze an industrial control system, causing damage and even catastrophic failure. Governments have programs to counter cyber warfare threats, but will these be enough?

We are on a very dangerous path, and there is no turning back now. Cyber wars will affect non-military targets and civilians to a far greater degree than modern conventional warfare, which means they are morally regressive. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the major powers made an effort to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage. Cyber warfare has the potential to reverse that trend, as civilians enter the line of fire. Knock out the power in large city or region for long enough, and we’ll lose clean water, refrigeration, hospital equipment, heating in winter or air conditioning in summer, communication, and all the other “little” things that make modern civilization possible. Add in widespread social unrest and looting, and the question isn’t whether or not people will die, but how many.

We always felt safe and secure in America, certain no foreign power could set foot on our soil in order to harm us or damage our homeland. Well, they don’t need to set foot on our soil any more. They can do it with from a distance, with a virus. Think of all the places our daily lives intersect with computers. Sure, they have their own security, but no protection is foolproof. Cyber warfare can hit civilian targets with astonishing ease. Our communication, transportation, power, and information infrastructure could be knocked offline without a missile ever being fired. All our military power and hardware can do nothing to protect us from a threat like this.

I’m writing this post on a laptop with a microphone and camera built into it. Flame can turn both of those on, record everything being said in this room, track all my keystrokes, capture all my email and messages, and I’d never even know. Do you think if an enemy government was given that power it wouldn’t use it?

Do you think if our own government was given that power, it wouldn’t use it?

Are you sure they’re not using it already?

Flame has been out there for two years. We only just found out about it. In all likelihood, we created it. We did: the country that reserves the right to drone kills and indefinite detention and torture of “enemy combatants” and roving warrantless wiretaps. Conservatives under Bush felt secure that these powers would only be used against “terrorists”. And then Janet Napolitano toddled into power and included pro-life activists in a report on domestic security threats. And then Obama declared the entire world, including the United States, a potential battlefield.

Cyber wars will be waged by foreign enemies on American civilians. They will also be waged by the American government upon its own citizens. It will happen. It’s already happening. Stuxnet let the genie out of the bottle. Duqu let it run free throughout the world. Flame gave it the key to virtually unlimited surveillance. Who knows what other viruses have been operating and will continue to operate without us even knowing? America let that genie out, and by the time the people in power realize their mistake and try to stuff it back in, it will be far too late.

Remembering the Fallen

My family has been blessed. My father, uncles, cousins, and friends all returned home from their wars. Make no mistake: each of them left something on those battlefields of Europe and the Pacific and Korea and Vietnam and Iraq. My father only tells three or four stories about World War II, all of them fairly tame and mostly humorous. Stories of brawling and mixing it up with officers. The rest–the worst of it–is left unsaid. “We lost a lot of good men,” is as detailed as he gets.

My uncle–all bluster and macho bravado and obscene tattoos–liked to tell those “safe” war stories, too: all of them entertaining and honed by years of retelling. But when the subject turned to a kamikaze attack on his ship, he burst into tears and walked away. For a man of his character and generation, that wordless act conveyed more horror and despair than any story ever could.  After that, you don’t need to hear the details. You don’t want to hear the details.

My closest friend was a well-known author who refused to speak to interviewers about his time in Vietnam, where he was shot twice by snipers. I asked him why he never talked about it. He simply said, “It sucked. There’s nothing else to say.” A couple of his stories contained images from the war: horrifying images which had the vivid character of memories. I once asked him if they were real. They were. I never asked about the war again.

Everyone who goes into battle is changed. Today we remember the men who paid the ultimate price, and their families. We need to recall the final words–a prayer, really–of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The best we can do is to make sure the widows and orphans of the fallen are cared for, to pray for them and all who have borne the burden for the rest of us, paying the final and greatest price. And, most of all, we must pray for a lasting peace.

“New life in God”: Irenaeus on Pentecost

“When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God. He had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy. So when the Son of God became the Son of Man, the Spirit also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ.

“Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first fruits of all the nations.

“This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul.

“The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the devil too had been cast down like lightning. If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an Advocate as well. And so the Lord in his pity for man, who had fallen into the hands of brigands, having himself bound up his wounds and left for his care two coins bearing the royal image, entrusted him to the Holy Spirit. Now, through the Spirit, the image and inscription of the Father and the Son have been given to us, and it is our duty to use the coin committed to our charge and make it yield a rich profit for the Lord.”

from the treatise Against Heresies by Saint Irenaeus