Friday, October 31, 2014

A sad night for the kids

About a half hour before sunset a cold steady rain, the first in ages, started to fall. It has been gaining in intensity and I have not had a single trick or treater come to the door. As badly as we need the rain, its timing really is pretty crappy. I am not so old that I can't recall the joy of what I now refer to as national juvenile diabetes day. And Halloween on a Friday night, with no school the next day to limit how late you can roam in search of free candy, was the best.

Alas this night is not fit for man nor beast nor spook.

Quote of the day...

"At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder.”

-Archbishop Raymond Card. Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura


Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Liberal Catholic Ponders the Possibility of a Conservative Schism

Until this weekend, I had largely believed in the liberal narrative which holds that Pope Francis’s reforms of the Catholic church are unstoppable. But the conservative backlash has been so fierce and so far-reaching that for the first time a split looks a real, if distant, possibility.

One leading conservative, the Australian Cardinal George Pell, published over the weekend a homily he had prepared for the traditional Latin mass at which he started ruminating on papal authority. Pope Francis, he said, was the 266th pope, “and history has seen 37 false or antipopes”.

Why mention them, except to raise the possibility that Francis might turn out to be the 38th false pope, rather than the 266th real one?

This is a fascinating nudge in the direction of an established strain of conservative fringe belief: that liberalising popes are not in fact real popes, but imposters, sent by the devil. The explanation has an attractively deranged logic: if the pope is always right, as traditionalists would like to believe, and if this particular pope is clearly wrong, as traditionalists also believe, then obviously this pope is not the real pope. Splinter groups have held this view ever since the liberalising papacy of Pope John XXIII at the start of the 1960s. I don’t think that’s what Pell meant, but it was odd and threatening to bring the subject up at all.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Survey Shows Poor Grasp of Doctrine by Evangelicals

My guess is that similar rather embarrassing results would be returned by a survey of Catholic or Orthodox laity. In any case you can read it here.

HT: Dr. Tighe

US Navy Bows to Political Correctness

The Navy said it will deploy enlisted female sailors in 2016 aboard submarines with female officers already assigned to them. 

In July, the Navy announced that enlisted female sailors will begin deploying on submarines in 2016. The enlisted women will be placed on ships with female officers where those naval officers can function as role-models and mentors, Connor said. 

"We will build upon the ships that have women officers to lead and bring in senior women at the chief petty officer level just like we did with the women supply officers," he explained.

Read the rest here.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Oil Slump and Sanctions Are Hitting Russian Economy Hard

"...Russia is already in a perfect storm," said Lubomir Mitov, Moscow chief for the Institute of International Finance. "Rich Russians are converting as many roubles as they can into foreign currencies and storing the money in vaults. There is chronic capital flight of 4pc to 5pc of GDP each year but this is no longer covered by the current account surplus, and now sanctions have caused foreign capital to turn negative, too."

"The financing gap has reached 3pc of GDP, and they have to repay $150bn in principal to foreign creditors over the next 12 months. It will be very dangerous if reserves fall below $330bn," he said.

"The benign outcome is a return to the stagnation of the Brezhnev era [Застой in Russian] in the early 1980s, without a financial collapse. The bad outcome could be a lot worse," he said.

Read the rest here.

Big Banks Warned to Clean Up Their Act

Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley delivered a stern warning to the largest banks in a speech earlier this week. Either clean up your illegal and unethical behavior through "cultural change" from within, he said, or be broken into smaller, more manageable pieces. 

In his conclusion, the warning was direct and explicit:

Read the rest here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sweden Hunts Foreign Submarine

In an echo from the Cold War, Swedish military forces are reported to be hunting for an unidentified submarine in their territorial waters. The Russians, everyone's first suspect, heatedly denied that any of their vessels are involved. On a side note, there also no Russian troops in Ukraine.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Met. Hilarion Addresses Catholic Synod on the Family

As one would expect when we are talking about Met. Hilarion, his address was both direct and charitable.

Byzantine Texas has the full text

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Second Ebola Case Reported (and a little perspective)

The United States now has its second confirmed case of Ebola contracted here and the alarm among government officials and the general population is clearly rising.

On a side note; statistics suggest that somewhere between 85-90 people died yesterday in motor-vehicle crashes... and a similar number are likely to be killed by the end of today. Going by the most recent available numbers; around 32,000 will be killed in car wrecks in 2014.

I know I know... who cares about that! TWO PEOPLE HAVE EBOLA!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An update and slow posting for a while

At long last dad has recovered to the point where he is mostly able to take care of himself, and so, after six months(!) I packed up yesterday and went down to see mom for a couple weeks before I head back to the west coast. The internet connection at mom's is pretty poor and I expect to be busy with other things, so please bear with me if there are gaps in posting.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Roman Catholic Family Synod: Early report called a "pastoral earthquake"

A document summing up the synod so far has been described as a “pastoral earthquake” by a leading Vatican commentator.

The document, called the relatio post disceptationem, was read aloud in the synod hall this morning. It has been drafted by synod fathers selected by Pope Francis and can be read in full here.

The document calls on the Church to build on the “positive aspects” of relationships that are deemed irregular – such as between remarried couples or same-sex partners – and keep the “doors always wide open” to people in those relationships.

Read the rest here.

Everything I have read about this synod from Roman Catholic sources and blogs has been deeply disturbing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Going Dutch: How to run a functional pension system

Imagine a place where pensions were not an ever-deepening quagmire, where the numbers told the whole story and where workers could count on a decent retirement.

Imagine a place where regulators existed to make sure everyone followed the rules.

That place might just be the Netherlands. And it could provide an example for America’s troubled cities, or for states like Illinois and New Jersey that have promised more in pension benefits than they can deliver.

“The rest of the world sort of laughs at the United States — how can a great country like the United States get so many things wrong?” said Keith Ambachtsheer, a Dutch pension specialist who works at the University of Toronto — specifically at its Rotman International Center for Pension Management, a global clearinghouse of information on how successful retirement systems work.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fred Reed on Cops

Two very good posts by brother Fred on police and the problems of policing.

Here  and... Here

I sometimes wish that people knew more about cops, who they are, and the world they live in. There are pretty good cops (most) and very bad ones (few) but accounts in the press usually bear little relation to the truth. What happens on the streets is not as clear, not nearly as clear, as the immaculately coifed indignations of the flickering screen would have you think. Permit me a few examples of routine ambiguity.

First, though, a journalistically unwelcome reality: Almost everyone charged by the police is guitly, no matter what Jesse Jackson thinks. There are two reasons. First, the perps are almost all caught in the act: They are swerving all over the road and blow museum-pickled on the Alka-Sensor, or caught coming out the window with the TV set, or the car is reported stolen and they are driving it, or caught slinging rock and it’s in their possession. Second, the case load is so great in the cities that the DA won’t paper a case unless he is sure he will win. The cops know this, and know the DA will raise hell with them if they send him iffy-maybe-could-be cases, so they don’t.

Cops engage in, and have to engage in, a lot of Not Quite by the Rules policing (NQBTR). Sometimes the rules just don’t quite work. For example, the aging widow in DC who didn’t sell in time when the neighborhood went bad and drug dealers started hanging on her corner. Property values died and she can’t sell for enough to buy elsewhere, and she is afraid to leave to walk to the grocery store past a cloud of dirtballs. The cops tell the dealers, “Get your sorry butts off this corner, now, and don’t come back.”

It isn’t legal, but the druggies don’t know it. Or maybe they do, but know better than to push their luck. They move to another corner, the old woman gets her groceries, and everybody is happy. Got a better answer? I don't...

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Potentially major advance reported in treating type 1 Diabetes

Some good news for a change...

Scientists are closer to a potential stem cell treatment for type 1 diabetes.

In a new article in the journal Cell, Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (and one of the 2009 TIME 100) and his colleagues describe how they made the first set of pancreatic cells that can sense and respond to changing levels of sugar in the blood and churn out the proper amounts of insulin.

It’s a critical first step toward a more permanent therapy for type 1 diabetics, who currently have to rely on insulin pumps that infuse insulin when needed or repeated injections of the hormone in order to keep their blood sugar levels under control. Because these patients have pancreatic beta cells that don’t make enough insulin, they need outside sources of the hormone to break down the sugars they eat.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Heading West

I am finally going home at the end of the month and I know how I want to travel....

Anyone got a spare time machine I can borrow?

Thank You Mr. President

Walmart to End Health Coverage for 30,000

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

More criminal charges for big banks

The Justice Department is preparing a fresh round of attacks on the world’s biggest banks, again questioning Wall Street’s role in a broad array of financial markets.

With evidence mounting that a number of foreign and American banks colluded to alter the price of foreign currencies, the largest and least regulated financial market, prosecutors are aiming to file charges against at least one bank by the end of the year, according to interviews with lawyers briefed on the matter. Ultimately, several banks are expected to plead guilty.

Read the rest here.

I am willing to bet a steak dinner that no one will go to jail. Any takers?

Monday, October 06, 2014

The writing on the wall

The fight is not over, but the end is no longer in much doubt. The Supreme Court's surprising decision to let stand five pro-gay marriage decisions from the appellate courts effectively signals the top court's lack of interest in slowing or halting the advance of homosexual marriage. And since those decisions are based at least in part on the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling, this is going to be seen as a green light by the lower courts in every state to overturn laws protecting natural marriage.

Basically it's all over except for the actual court cases which will still have to be done on a mostly state by state basis. But those cases have pretty much been reduced to a legal formality.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

In Defense of World War I

Now here is something one does not often see. Noted historian Max Hastings offers a defense of the necessity, and even the moral imperative of the First World War from the British perspective. While I remain unconvinced, I will concede that Hastings makes some cogent points. Had Britain stayed out and the Kaiser's army triumphed by the end of 1914 (a very real possibility), it is difficult to imagine Great Britain not falling under the shadow of a German dominated Europe. But of course, Hasting's arguments carry little weight in the debate over American intervention in the war.

If California doesn't get rain this winter ...

Each year from October to the following September, California measures its rainfall and snow accumulation.

This past season didn't take much figuring. It turned out to be the fourth driest year ever for the state, as it only got around 60 percent of the average precipitation.

As California starts a new water measurement cycle—and faces a fourth year of severe drought—another dry winter could be a tipping point for the country's top agricultural producer.

"This year is crucial," said Michael Hanemann, professor and environmental economist at the W.P Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

"A third winter of low rain would be extremely painful," he said. "If we have one or two dry winters we can get through that. But the lack of water this winter would have a significant economic impact on agriculture that hasn't been felt before."

Read the rest here.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Saudi Arabia and the Wreckovation of Mecca

WHEN Malcolm X visited Mecca in 1964, he was enchanted. He found the city “as ancient as time itself,” and wrote that the partly constructed extension to the Sacred Mosque “will surpass the architectural beauty of India’s Taj Mahal.”

Fifty years on, no one could possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.

The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.

Read the rest here.

Russian Constitutional Court Upholds Ban on Promoting Homosexuality To Minors, Interpreting It Narrowly

"...The Russian Constitutional Court has found that the contested provision does not contradict the Constitution. It also gave a constitutional law interpretation, which shows all law enforcers that a broad interpretation of the ban is unacceptable and it is compulsory for everyone, including courts. Such an approach is comparable to the approach used by the Russian Constitutional Court to recognize the unconstitutionality of some part of some provision," Constitutional Court Judge Nikolay Bondar said, commenting on the court decision.

Bondar reiterated that the Russian Constitutional Court's decision on the debated article is based on the fact that it does not envision interference in the sphere of individual autonomy, including people's sexual self-determination.

"Secondly, the court ruled that this provision is not aimed at banning or officially condemning non-traditional sexual relations. Thirdly, this article does not prevent impartial public debate of the legal status of sexual minorities, including by holding public events according to the procedures established by law. However, minors should not be involved in the relevant events, no matter whether it's rallies or debates, and the disseminated information should not be targeted at them," Bondar said.

"We not only fully recognize, but also consistently observe the main acts of international law dealing with personal rights and freedoms, including people's sexual self-determination. As to the practices used by some European countries, which, among other things, involve the deformation of traditional socio-cultural values in the sphere of family and marriage, they cannot be an example to us. Every country has a sovereign right to decide on these issues in its own way. That, naturally, is also true for Russia, and we also have the absolute right to make such decisions in accordance with our Constitution, and the moral, ethical and socio-cultural values of our society," Bondar said.

Read the rest here.