Wednesday, April 19, 2017

TENSION IN THE AIR Russian bombers buzz Alaskan shoreline for second day in a row

So screams the headline from Fox News.  (Yeah, I know:  What grounds did I have to expect good reporting?)  I wonder if anyone there remembers the "Line of Death" in the Gulf of Sidra?  From the L.A. Times, March 27, 1986
The battle over the right to navigate freely in Libya's Gulf of Sidra officially ended today with a Defense Department announcement of a halt to ship and flight operations in and over the disputed waters. 
President Reagan sent the 6th Fleet a "well done" message, saying it has been the "spear and shield of American policy in a troubled and volatile region."
Back in 1986, the US contention was that international waters (and airspace) remain, well, international, and that Libya has no right to declare part of these international waters off limits.  This is  the same principle that the US invokes when performing exercises off the coast of North Korea or in the Black Sea; it is also the principle to which the US appeals when protesting when China creates and arms artificial islands in the South China Sea.

As for "buzzing" the Alaskan shore, the text of the article specifies that the planes came "within 36 miles of the mainland" and that "U.S. territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from shore."  In other words, they "buzzed" Alaska by staying two dozen miles out in international waters.

Of course, I am overlooking the key factor in the Fox worldview:  Rules are for everyone else.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Refuse to Play the Game

Not long ago, I posted a comment on the Martin Scorsese film Silence, and quite some time before that (and likely on many different occasions) I commented on the problem with voting for the lesser evil.  These share the theme in which there are two evil alternatives, at least one of which is actually a freely chosen action by another person, but we must choose which evil will happen, and in so doing give our consent to it.  This was also an important part of the plot of Sophie's Choice.  "Will you trample on an image of Christ, or will you let these other people be tortured to death?"  "I and others like me refuse to consider a candidate who advocates a morally sane position, but our candidate is less evil than the other one.  Will you support our evil candidate, who has a chance of winning, or will you refuse to and give the more evil candidate a better chance of winning?"  "Who is to be sent to the gas chambers -- your son Jan or your daughter Eva?"  It is argued that it is not only permissible to consent to a "lesser evil", but in fact it is obligatory to do so.

This is, of course, the fallacy of the false dilemma.  It assumes we must play that game and give our full consent to one evil option or the other.  The reason for doing this is usually a desire (at some level at least) to choose an option which we already know to be evil.  Sometimes it is the equivalent of the adolescent male fantasy of being captured by a group of beautiful women and "forced" to have sex with them (as happens in the book Logan's Run, which is much more risqué than the 1970's TV show); in other cases it is a desire to "disprove" the existence of actual right and wrong in general, so that it is possible to do as one pleases without the pangs of conscience.  The correct choice, though, is to refuse to play the game, however passionately it is thrust upon us.  If a samurai chooses to torture to death prisoners, that is his choice, not ours; if millions of others choose to support an evil campaign platform, that is their choice, not ours; if the Nazis send the whole family to the gas chambers, that is their choice, not ours; and everyone will be made to account for his own choices at the end of his life.

All this was brought back to mind by the very correct answer of Fr. Murray to some statements by Cardinal Coccopalmerio, and by Fr. Z's approving response to Fr. Murray's analysis.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Christian Hope and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

We all learn early on -- maybe in 4th grade? -- that the conservation of energy is a LAW OF SCIENCE, and we are told that a LAW OF SCIENCE is something that has been very, very thoroughly tested, with no exceptions being found.  Later on, if we stick to studying science, we discover not only that the word "law" is not really used that way in science (many "laws" are just robust and very useful approximations), but that energy isn't conserved quite the way we had thought.  Specifically, the deviation ΔE is required by quantum mechanics to satisfy the following relation, called the time-energy Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, with the time ΔT over which the deviation might exist: 
 (ΔE)(ΔT) ≥ ħ / 2, 
where ħ is Plank's constant divided by 2π -- about 10-34 J s (a value so small that classical mechanics, which would make that value zero, is perfectly adequate for most engineering purposes).  Crudely, one might say that the Law of the Conservation of Energy holds well over the long term, less well over the medium term, and is wildly violated over the short term.

How is this related to Christian hope?  There is an analogy linking the two, in which the deviations from law may be large in the short term but are negligible in the long term.  We know that over the longest term, good triumphs over evil completely.  Over the medium term -- which is certainly one of several generations, probably several centuries -- we might expect nature (including human nature), which was created good by God, to assert itself so that evil, which is contrary to the nature God created, is frustrated and fails.  For example, a totalitarian regime might come to an end because its power allows its bad decisions to remain unchecked until they have borne their full fruit, or confidence in its power may lead its leaders to become overconfident and lazy.  In the short term, though, evils can become widespread and powerful, and they can seemingly triumph over good.  That is why Christian hope is really a confidence in the long term, not a wish for the short term.  The analogous statement to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle would be, 
In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.

There is a huge temptation to forget this, and to think that what happens in the short term controls what happens in the long term.  This makes us both fearful and prideful, because we think we (and our contemporary opponents) are the masters of destiny.  We are also tempted to make compromises by choosing "lesser evils" for the short term.

"Put not your trust in princes:  in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.  His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish."  His thoughts will perish, whether they are in your favor or against you, whether they are right are wrong.  Put not your trust in princes, even though you yourself are, in a sense, a prince, in that you make plans and take actions.

Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Picks

In the SOUTH Regional 

In the 2nd Round:
16 Texas Southern  @  1 N. Carolina  -->  1 N. Carolina
15 North. Kentucky  @  2 Kentucky  -->  2 Kentucky
14 Kent St.  @  3 UCLA  -->  3 UCLA
13 Winthrop  @  4 Butler  -->  4 Butler
12 Middle Tenn. St.  @  5 Minnesota  -->  5 Minnesota
11 KSSt/Wake  @  6 Cincinnati  -->  11 KSSt/Wake
10 Wichita St.  @  7 Dayton  -->  7 Dayton
9 Seton Hall  @  8 Arkansas  -->  8 Arkansas

In the 3rd Round:
8 Arkansas  @  1 N. Carolina  -->  8 Arkansas
7 Dayton  @  2 Kentucky  -->  2 Kentucky
11 KSSt/Wake  @  3 UCLA  -->  3 UCLA
5 Minnesota  @  4 Butler  -->  4 Butler

In the Sweet 16:
4 Butler  @  8 Arkansas  -->  4 Butler
3 UCLA  @  2 Kentucky  -->  3 UCLA

In the Elite 8:
3 UCLA  @  4 Butler  -->  4 Butler

In the WEST Regional 

In the 2nd Round:
16 S. Dakota St.  @  1 Gonzaga  -->  1 Gonzaga
15 North Dakota  @  2 Arizona  -->  2 Arizona
14 Fla. Gulf Coast  @  3 Florida St.  -->  3 Florida St.
13 Bucknell  @  4 West Virginia  -->  4 West Virginia
12 Princeton  @  5 Notre Dame  -->  12 Princeton
11 Xavier  @  6 Maryland  -->  11 Xavier
10 VCU  @  7 St. Mary's  -->  10 VCU
9 Vanderbilt  @  8 Northwestern  -->  9 Vanderbilt

In the 3rd Round:
9 Vanderbilt  @  1 Gonzaga  -->  1 Gonzaga
10 VCU  @  2 Arizona  -->  2 Arizona
11 Xavier  @  3 Florida St.  -->  3 Florida St.
12 Princeton  @  4 West Virginia  -->  4 West Virginia

In the Sweet 16:
4 West Virginia  @  1 Gonzaga  -->  1 Gonzaga
3 Florida St.  @  2 Arizona  -->  2 Arizona

In the Elite 8:
2 Arizona  @  1 Gonzaga  -->  1 Gonzaga

In the EAST Regional

In the 2nd Round:
16 MSMC/UNO  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova
15 Troy  @  2 Duke  -->  2 Duke
14 N. Mex. St.  @  3 Baylor  -->  3 Baylor
13 E. Tennessee  @  4 Florida  -->  4 Florida
12 N.C. Wilmington  @  5 Virginia  -->  12 N.C. Wilmington
11 Prov / USC  @  6 SMU  -->  6 SMU
10 Marquette  @  7 South Carolina  -->  7 South Carolina
9 Virginia Tech  @  8 Wisconsin  -->  9 Virginia Tech

In the 3rd Round:
9 Virginia Tech  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova
7 South Carolina  @  2 Duke  -->  7 South Carolina
6 SMU  @  3 Baylor  -->  3 Baylor
12 N.C. Wilmington  @  4 Florida  -->  4 Florida

In the Sweet 16:
4 Florida  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova
3 Baylor  @  7 South Carolina  -->  7 South Carolina

In the Elite 8:
7 South Carolina  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova

In the MIDWEST Regional 

In the 2nd Round:
16 NCCENT/UCD  @  1 Kansas  -->  1 Kansas
15 Jacksonville St.  @  2 Louisville  -->  2 Louisville
14 Iona  @  3 Oregon  -->  3 Oregon
13 Vermont  @  4 Purdue  -->  13 Vermont
12 Nevada  @  5 Iowa St.  -->  12 Nevada
11 Rhode Island  @  6 Creighton  -->  6 Creighton
10 Oklahoma St.  @  7 Michigan  -->  7 Michigan
9 Michigan St.  @  8 Miami (FL)  -->  8 Miami (FL)

In the 3rd Round:
8 Miami (FL)  @  1 Kansas  -->  1 Kansas
7 Michigan  @  2 Louisville  -->  2 Louisville
6 Creighton  @  3 Oregon  -->  3 Oregon
12 Nevada  @  13 Vermont  -->  13 Vermont

In the Sweet 16:
13 Vermont  @  1 Kansas  -->  1 Kansas
3 Oregon  @  2 Louisville  -->  2 Louisville

In the Elite 8:
2 Louisville  @  1 Kansas  -->  2 Louisville

1 Villanova  @  4 Butler  -->  1 Villanova
2 Louisville  @  1 Gonzaga  -->  2 Louisville

2 Louisville  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova



In the South Regional, (8) Arkansas defeats (1) N. Carolina.  That would be a huge upset.

In the East Regional, (7) South Carolina has a brief run as Cinderella, beating (2) Duke and (3) Baylor.  They're looking really hot!!! Can they pull it off???  No; they get clobbered by (1) Villanova.  There is always some sort of Cinderella story, and it usually turns into a pumpkin.

In the Midwest Regional, (13) Vermont defeats (4) Purdue and (12) Nevada defeats (5) Iowa State, insuring that a 10+ team makes it to the Sweet 16 (where (13) Vermont is crushed by (1) Kansas).

In 3 of the 4 regionals, the 12-seed beats the 5-seed. 

(4) Butler advancing to the Final Four would not really be much of a surprise, nor would (1) Villanova -- the overall #1 seed -- winning it all.

Update March 18:  Wow, it did not take long for that bracket to be utterly busted!

Update March 29:  Interestingly enough, I kind of got South Carolina right; not only did they beat Duke and Baylor, they actually made it to the Final Four.  Remember, all I am doing with this program is trying to produce a bracket with the right amount of flukiness.  On those terms, the bracket is doing pretty well.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Unelected Businessmen

On my way in to work this morning, I heard an ad on the radio for some kind of political campaign.  The speaker was complaining that key decisions about the kind of power plants supplying electricity in my state are made by "unelected bureaucrats" who live out-of-state.  I'll take for granted that this is correct.  The real alternative, though, is that those decisions will be made by unelected businessmen -- and they may also live out-of-state.  Something tells me, though, that in the speaker's mind, "unelected" is offensive only when the "unelected" person is a government employee, and that he would have vigorously defended the rights of unelected businessmen to make decisions that impact everyone else.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday 2017

As a prayer in the Eastern Orthodox churches says, 
Let us, sinful and humbled, now earnestly run to the Mother of God, and let us fall down in repentance, crying from the depths of our soul: O Lady, help, have compassion on us. Make haste, for we perish from the multitude of our sins. Turn not thy servants empty away, for we have thee as our only hope.
Since Protestants will inevitably take offense at that, read Acts chapter 9.  Of course it was Jesus Who healed Saul of his blindness, but He did not do so alone; Ananias was also involved.  This is actually a consistent pattern throughout Scripture, and it continues to this day.  The Blessed Virgin is not, of course, the ultimate source of our hope, just as Ananias was not the ultimate source of Saul's hope; yet she has a role in bringing healing to us from Jesus, just as Ananias brought healing to Saul from Jesus.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Not My President?

That's a slogan that has been popping up recently, though not for the first time with Trump.  The slogan seems to be greatly irking some Republicans today, but it really should not -- not if they were "true Conservatives", or at least not if they really believed in the strict and literal interpretation of the Constitution.  That's because the Constitution defines the position of "President of the United States of America", but it does not define a position of "President of Each and Every Person in the United States of America."

And yes, there is a difference.  The president's role is to preside, within narrow Constitutional constraints, over the central government of the United States; he is not some king or Führer to demand the personal loyalty of each person.
Sadly, Americans have long made a habit of regarding presidents (particularly those of their own party) as secular messiahs.  For instance, many years ago, I took a course in classical philosophy, and at some point the professor mentioned that he remembered his feeling of shock when FDR died, because he had had the vague notion that FDR was sort of "the fourth Person of the Holy Trinity."

Before I proceed any further, I should acknowledge that yes, there are legitimate forms of government that demand loyalty to an emperor or monarch without making the emperor or monarch into a secular messiah; obviously, though, the United States is not supposed to have either an emperor or a monarch.  Yes, the president should receive some measure of honor from citizens, but the honor he receives from a citizen should not exceed that that Pharaoh gave to Joseph in Genesis 41:40 (RSVCE):

... you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.
The president is supposed to be a public servant, so Luke 17:7-10 (RSVCE) has to be held in tension against the appropriate honor due to a president:

Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, "Come at once and sit down at table"? Will he not rather say to him, "Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink"? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty."
In other words, #heismyemployee is more accurate than #heismypresident.