Monthly Archives: September 2011
The image that war oftentimes conjures up is a bloody one. It also is an image that is said to permanently change a person who has witnessed its horrors.
But, the age of digital warfare has arrived and the image of war increasingly is becoming a much more impersonal image as “drones” and “lethal autonomy” become normative.
Drones are undoubtedly changing the face of war. They lessen the need for “boots on the ground.” They take war directly to the enemy. They reduce collateral damage. And, they also may be legal under international law because they arguably are a form of self-defense.
It sounds good…almost too good.
Almost silent and invisible, predators in the sky offer the promise of ridding the world of the lawless who would like to inject chaos into it. Intelligence officials in Langely, VA, can pinpoint an enemy and armed services personnel located thousands of miles away from the battlefield can then direct joy sticks and press buttons that obliterate the “target,” filming the sortie for later analysis.
The Washington Post has also reported new robotic technologies that may very well transform the image of war. For example, “autonomous robotics” may one day allow drones to search for human targets and then make identifications based upon facial-recognition or other software. Once a match is confirmed, a drone could launch a missile to kill the target. It’s called “lethal autonomy.”
Even if international law sanctions lethal autonomy, is its use moral and ethical?
Yes, lethal autonomy takes war directly to the enemy. Yes, it lessens the need for standing armies and assists in keeping troops out of harm’s way. Yes, it can be effective in ridding the world of heinous criminals.
According to the Washington Post article:
In the future, micro-drones will reconnoiter tunnels and buildings, robotic mules will haul equipment and mobile systems will retrieve the wounded while under fire. Technology will save lives.
However, the most troubling aspect of lethal autonomy is that it also has the potential to remove human beings and personal responsibility from the decision-making calculus. Even if the tools of lethal autonomy were directly linked to their human operators, these machines process so much more data than human beings can process at any given moment in time that it may be near to impossible for armed forces personnel to manage more than one drone and autonomous robot at one time. Then, too, as an enemy become increasingly sophisticated about how to do battle with drones and autonomous robots, there is no doubt that the amount of time available to make decisions will be reduced and the new technologies will have to be allowed to operate on their own.
The author of Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots, Ronald C. Arkin, told the Washington Post that ethical military drones and robots—capable of using deadly force while programmed to adhere to international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement—can be built. Software would instruct them machines to return fire with proportionality, to minimize collateral damage, to recognize surrender, and, in the case of uncertainty, to maneuver to reassess or wait for humans to assess the situation. In other words, Arkin believes that the rules of warfare that humans understand can be converted into mathematical algorithms for machines to follow on the battlefield.
Who’s to know with certitude?
What is for sure is that making determinations about the legal, moral, and ethical, and legal implications of digital warfare, in general, and this technology, in particular, require a careful and sober assessment.
To read the Washington Post article, click on the following link:
Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.
Pope Leo XIII
American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented. Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:
General Stephen Moylan a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.
Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.
Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.
Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign. Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy. After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787
Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.
Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue reading
Sometimes I get the feeling I haven’t caused enough controversy lately, so here it goes…
1) It strikes me that in many ways the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia underscores a lot of the points that opponents of capital punishment which make cause even supporters to feel a bit uncomfortable: The execution occurred 20 years after the trail, and only after numerous appeals that cost the state more than life in prison would have. Several witnesses recanted their testimony after the fact and alleged police coercion (though other witnesses continued to maintain they had seen him commit the crime). Claims were made about poor defense representation. Claims were made about the race composition of the jury being an issue (though I’m unclear how this works, and Davis is black and the majority of the jury was as well.) Etc. All of this does not necessarily serve to clear Davis, but it is the sort of thing that could make many people wonder if it would be easier all around to simply lock such cases up and not deal with trying to use the death penalty.
2) On the other hand, the execution on the same day of Lawrence Brewer in Texas underscores why most Americans support capital punishment in at least some situations. There was absolutely no question as to Brewer’s guilt in the sadistic and racist murder of James Byrd, Jr., and the day before Brewer’s execution he told a reporter, “As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.” For all the claims that society can be kept safe from such people without the use of capital punishment, most people, I think, naturally feel both that someone like Brewer (who had been in prison and released twice before he participated in Byrd’s murder) needs to be executed for the safety of society and also that there is a two mile stretch of bloody highway which “cries out to heaven” for justice.
Ah, if only “talkies” had existed during Theodore Roosevelt’s life. Here we see a silent film of the Fourth of July speech in 1903 given by Roosevelt in Huntington, New York, during the 250th anniversary year of that town. We cannot hear him speak, but the energy and passion which he poured into every speech he gave is clear from the film.
A few weeks later, Colonel Roosevelt (That is the title by which he liked to be addressed, being proud of his service with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. He despised being called Teddy.) addressed the Holy Name Society on August 16, 1903. Note his appeal to men and boys to lead good and moral lives and to give full expression to the masculine virtues of courage and fortitude. Today of course the speech would be denounced as sexist, moralistic, Christianist and you can write the remainder of the list for yourself. Such complaints would be the sheerest rubbish. Men and boys need precisely this type of message if they are going to be a positive force in society and to be good husbands, fathers and sons. Too many churches, and the Church, tend to ignore giving this type of message and society has suffered greatly as a result. Here is the text of the speech: Continue reading
As a cradle Catholic I have always stood somewhat in awe of converts. I was born into the Faith. For me, I could no more cease to be Catholic than I could cease to be a male. It is an essential part of me. Take my Catholicism from me, and what would be left would not be me. Converts, on the other hand, often raised up either to ignore Catholicism or to regard Catholicism as odd or evil, have taken the big step to embrace the Faith of their own volition. They have done something that I have never had to do, and that excites my admiration.
Frequently I have noted that Catholic converts make better Catholics than many cradle Catholics. Certainly my wife, who converted a few years after our marriage from Methodism to Catholicism, is a far, far better Catholic than I am. The list of Catholic converts is endless and here are a few more to consider: Continue reading
In 1864 the Reverend Elias Brewster Hilliard, a minister from Connecticut, at the request of a Hartford publisher, set out on the task of interviewing the seven surviving veterans of the American Revolution in the North, writing down their memories of the American Revolution and obtaining their views of the Civil War. In 1958 American Heritage published a fascinating story on the results of these interviews, and the story may be read here.
The American Revolution is not normally associated with photography, but some elderly veterans of that conflict lived long enough to have their pictures taken by the then cutting edge technology of photography. Some of the photographs were taken for the 1864 interviews. Among the veterans pictured above is John Gray, the last surviving veteran of the Revolution. He was born fittingly enough near Mount Vernon. His father was killed at the battle of White Plains in 1776. John joined up at 16 in 1780 and was present at Yorktown when Cornwallis’ army marched by in surrender. He died on March 29, 1868, age 104. He was not among the veterans interviewed in 1864, and I assume he was overlooked.
How brief our history as an independent nation truly is! Men who fought to give this nation birth lived to see the Civil War and the ultimate preservation of the nation. The last surviving veteran of the Civil War, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 just six months before I was born in 1957. We are still a very young nation. Continue reading
Several days ago, Creative Minority Report posted a video interview with comedian Steven Crowder on the state of marriage in our country. Before I get on with my own comments, I should say that Crowder makes several good points, and overall his spiel is very pro-marriage. Give it a watch if you haven’t already seen it.
The “myth” that caught my attention is the one about a 50% divorce rate. If it is indeed a myth, then I have certainly been taken in by it. For, not only have I believed it for several decades, but I have found myself irresponsibly quoting it without having an actual source. (Such is the case with myths, yes?) I suppose the purpose of this post is not much better, because still don’t have a source. However, the mathematician in me go to thinking about how one might go about “measuring” the rate of success in marriage at a given point in time. Rarely do numbers lie, but people (and people’s lack of basic statistical understanding) often lie with numbers. I made a similar point a while back with the the myth of the “99% effectiveness” of Natural Family Planning.
In other words, studies are often perfectly clear on their methodology, but most people have no idea what the studies actually measure, and they misapply the end results.
Let’s think about two different methods one might use to measure the current “divorce” rate.
The first method is the obvious one. It is entirely accurate, but altogether impractical. If we want to know the divorce rate for marriage that occurred in the year 2011, we take all those who were married and wait until one of two things happen: the couple divorces or one of the spouses passes away. The marriage in which a couple passes away are deemed “successful”, whereas the ones that divorce are not. With a simple division, we have our divorce rate. Unfortunately, this means we have to wait until at least a half a decade in order to report on the success of marriage in any one given year. For, although it is unlikely that a couple who is married past fifty years will end up divorcing, we cannot be sure – so we must wait it out. (Of course, at any given moment, we could count the number of divorces and say, “The divorce rate for 2011 is at least x%.”) This method seems to assume that divorce is a product of cultural attitude at the time of marriage. In other words, we blame the failure of marriage on the year in which the marriage occurred.
The second method is the flip side of the first method. It is quite easy to do, but perhaps not all that accurate. We count the number of marriages that occurred in 2011, and we count the number of divorces that occurred in 2011, and we divide. The upside is that all the information is available at the close of the year. The down side is that we are comparing apples to oranges. (Additionally, in theory very strange results could occurs, such as divorce rates above 100% .. unlikely, of course, but in this scheme, theoretically possible). This method assumes that marriages fall apart based on current cultural attitudes, not on the attitudes in the year in which the couple was married. Perhaps that is better, yet there still seems something wrong with counting divorces and marriages with an entirely different set of couples and then attributing the result to that particular year.
To illustrate how these calculations might differ, let’s come up with some hypothetical data. I admit that I am over-simplifying the situation, but the goal is to point out the difference that results between the two calculations, not to give an accurate description of divorce in our country. Because it is easier to begin with method one, we will assume that we have a 40% divorce rate that never changes. Further, we will assume that 10% of the marriages end within the first year, 10% in the second year, 10% in the third year, and then 5% per year in years 4 and 5. After year 7, no more divorces occur for that cohort. (We attempt here to model the phenomenon that marriages that last tend to last!) We will also assume for the sake of simplicity, that the number of marriages climbs by 10% every year. Finally, we have a hypothetical starting data for the year 2000. In order to compare results, we will need to wait through at least one cohort length, but we will extend it to two cohorts, or ten years. Thus, our data looks like this
(My apologies for the small image. Open it in a new window to see the full calculations and results.)
I have only totaled the years after 2004 because this is the first year we have all the divorce information (due to our assumption that no divorce takes place after five years of successful marriage).
Let’s look at the year 2005. We know from our assumption that Method One yields a 40% divorce rate. What does Method Two yield? Method two suggests that we divide the number of divorces by the number of marriage in that year. This gives us 505,510/1,610,510 = 31.4%. There is quite a difference, yes? (An 8.6% difference to be precise.)
Let’s see what happens as we progress through 2010. Remember, we decided to keep a constant “Method One” divorce rate of 40%. It turns out, and I’ll leave the reader to check this, that the 31.39% rate continues into the subsequent years. (As a challenge, can you prove that a constant “Method One” rate yields a constant “Method Two” rate?) Why is Method Two lower? Because it is counting divorces with a higher cohort than might be appropriate – a number that ends up in the demoninator. Of course, this is because the number of marriages is increasing throughout the years. (Again, as a challenge, can you prove that if the number of marriages stays constant, there is no difference between the Method One rate and the Method Two rate?) If the number of marriages decreases, then the Method One rate is less than the Method Two rate. As an example, suppose that the number of marriages decreases by 10% rather than increases. The Method One rate is still 40%, but the Method Two rate comes out to be 53.2%.
If you are savvy with a spreadsheet or a programming language, you can play around with the Method One rate and the way in which it is broken down (I broke 40% into 10%, 10%, 10%, 5%, and 5%) to see just how far apart the two method can get. For instance, when I broke down the 40% into 10%, 10%, 5%, 5%, 5%, 1%, 1%, 1%, 1%, and 1%, the Method One 40% rate came out to a Method 2 rate of 30.1%. The farther into a marriage that divorce is allowed to go in our model, the farther apart the two calculations get. (Incidentally, that was with a 10% growth in marriages every year. With a 10% decline, the 40% rate led to a 57.4% Method Two calculation.)
There are, of course, all sorts of auxiliary points. For instance, the comedian seemed to suggest that people were afraid to get into marriage at all, in which case the rate we are really interested in is the divorce rate for first time marriages. This will clearly be different than when we take into account all marriages. Further, while it might be true that divorce numbers (in any calculation) might be dropping, let us not conclude that this means that marriage itself is becoming more successful. It could mean that the number of marriages itself it dropping (or at least not growing as much as it once was). With an increase in cohabitation, I would have to imagine that we are experiencing less marriage than perhaps would have been predicted given the rate of growth of population. More to the point, those who chose not to get married are also those that would have been more susceptible to divorce. (This is my intuition, not the result of actual data.)
Completely tangental, perhaps a more interesting number, especially as an educator, would be to look at the percent of the population who are the children of either a divorce or an out of wedlock relationship. Conversely, this would mean looking at the percent of the population whose parents are either still together or have suffered the loss of a spouse. If we are talking about the impact of divorce on future society, this seems like a valuable number to know, and the calculation is much more straightforward the the divorce rate.
I can’t say that I have read the research in front of me that proposes a near 50% divorce rate. Likewise, I haven’t seen the research that backs up the numbers quoted by Steven Crowder. What I can say is that it is not altogether unthinkable that both numbers were arrived at in scientific papers, each calculating the rate of divorce differently. What this means for our casual conversation is this: try to understand what a statistic means before quoting it, and I include myself in this docile chastisement.
After 29 years at the Bar I only have one word to say to pirates: Amateurs. Oh well, since it is Talk Like a Pirate Day I will have to belay that and wish all pirates in Davy Jones Locker full sails, plenty of grog and vegetarian sharks! Aaargh!
There are few things sadder than a one trick pony whose trick fails to work. Obama, with a faith whose fervency cannot be doubted, believes with all his soul that vast government spending is the mechanism to lift the country out of this never ending bad slump. That his policies have failed to do anything other than to increase our massive public debt, sways him not at all. For a true ideologue, and that is what Obama clearly is, a collision between reality and beliefs merely means that reality is wrong since the beliefs are beyond question. Thus in economic policy this administration is one endless Groundhog Day where the nation is stuck in a loop of high unemployment, minimal economic growth and ever expanding public debt. Continue reading
In his book Futurecast, George Barna details a two-decade-long downward spiral in religious belief and behavior on the part of U.S. adults.
Barna’s most important finding?
Although more U.S. adults today claim to have accepted Jesus as their Savior and expect to go to Heaven, they continue to drift away in large numbers from active membership in institutional churches. This finding demonstrates itself in specific behavior:
- In 1991, 24% of U.S. adults did not attend church. In 2011, it’s 37%.
- In 2011, more U.S. adults in 2011 than in 1991 reported that they haven’t attended church in the past six months, except for special occasions like funerals or weddings.
This weakening of institutional affiliation is true for every U.S. subgroup: religion, race, gender, age, and region.
Nowhere is this weakening more true than when it comes to doctrine. For example, Barna reports that only 7% of the adults surveyed believe in the 7 essential doctrines of Christian faith, as these have been defined by the National Association of Evangelicals’ Statement of Faith.
Barna theorizes this weakening of institutional affiliation mirrors American society writ large. He notes:
We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs—our clothing, our food, our education. Now it’s our religion…America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions.
So, it should not prove surprising that increasing numbers of U.S. adults are matching their religious faith with personal preferences. According to Barna:
People say, “I believe in God. I believe the Bible is a good book. And then I believe whatever I want.”
Who’s to blame?
In so far Barna is concerned, pastors deserve some of the blame. He writes:
Everyone hears, “Jesus is the answer. Embrace him. Say this little Sinners Prayer and keep coming back.” It doesn’t work. People end up bored, burned out and empty. They look at church and wonder, “Jesus died for this?”
Agree or not with Barna’s methodology, data, or interpretations, his findings depict much of what has transpired in the U.S. Catholic Church since the 1960s.
In his new book, Maximum Faith, Barna details new research describing four barriers U.S. adults have identified that keep them from developing deeper faith. These include:
- commitment (only 18% of those surveyed describe themselves as totally committed to their spiritual development);
- repentance (only 12% reported feeling “devastated” by their sinfulness and need for God);
- activity (spiritual disciplines are not practiced with sufficient frequency to make much if any difference); and,
- spiritual community (only 21% of self-identified Christians say it’s necessary to be part of a community of faith to grow spiritually).
To assist adults to overcome these barriers, Barna presents three challenges to pastors.
The first challenge: don’t confuse tools with expectations.
While laudable, preaching about the tools—-to worship and evangelize, to be disciples, to practice stewardship and service, and to form community—misses the goal of deepening faith. As Barna rightly notes, faith development requires being motivated to meet high expectations. Focus upon high expectations—the purpose of faith—to provide the foundation for deeper faith, not vice versa.
The second challenge: assist adults to embrace suffering and sacrifice with the goal of surrendering and submitting to God.
Barna argues that spiritual growth occurs when adults embrace their brokenness—to be broken people—not by concealing it. But, they need exemplars. Barna suggests that pastors identify the experiences of members of the faith community who have suffered for their faith, that is, the pain they endured through personal crises, their prolonged commitment to spiritual growth, and their increasing practice of spiritual discipline. For example, preaching about these exemplars teaches selflessness and inspires hope in adults that they can also experience victory in deepening faith.
Barna’s third challenge: get adults to perceive and experience the faith community as a vital support system in the pursuit of deepening one’s faith.
Slightly more than 25% of self-described Christians meet during the week for Bible study, prayer, or life sharing; however, many of these meetings are primarily a means for creating community and a sense of connection to the larger church, the product of which oftentimes is a combination of knowledge and comfort, not commitment and the application of faith to real-life. These meetings, while helpful for personal and perhaps spiritual growth, oftentimes do not get translated into the “fruit” of deeper faith: personal, congregational, and cultural transformation.
Barna believes that pastors should redefine “success” when it comes to motivating adults to overcome the four barriers to deepening their faith. He notes that typical measures—attendance at church and program attendance/completion—demonstrate little correlation with deeper faith. What pastors should focus upon is “plowing the ground”—the stuff of deeper faith—rather than “pruning the vines”—providing programs—if the pastoral goal is to effect the transformation of all things in Christ.
Adult Catholics who are serious about deepening their faith and strengthening their affiliation to the Church might consider discussing Barna’s findings and challenges with their pastors. Think about it: Were Sunday homilies to integrate each of Barna’s three challenges effectively, it is likely the adults in the congregation would perk up, listen, and consider the stuff of a deeper Catholic faith: character change, lifestyle shifts, and attitudinal transitions. They might even practice spiritual discipline more frequently and make a greater commitment to the life of the Catholic faith by developing parish-based programs to assist their peers to deepen their faith.
For information about Futurecast, click on the following link:
For information about Maximum Faith, click on the following link:
Something for the weekend. There’ll Always Be An England. This was always a favorite of my sainted mother. It was played frequently during World War II in Newfoundland when she was a child. Newfoundland sent off a very high percentage of its military age male population to fight, about 10% of the entire population served in the British armed services and Merchant Marine during the War, and some 900 Newfies died in service. (On a per capita basis that is roughly the equivalent of the US war deaths in World War II.) Mom always remembered how many Newfoundland fathers, sons, brothers and uncles never came back from that War, and taught her sons to remember this sacrifice by a small nation.
This sacrifice was typified by the stories she would tell about Uncle Bill Barry, her uncle, my great uncle. Uncle Bill was a fun loving Irishman and a boxer. He joined the Royal Army in 1939, saying that “Someone has to teach the Limies how to fight!” He served throughout the War, and was in combat from D-Day to the fall of Germany. Uncle Bill was a fighter indeed, and his courage earned him promotion to sergeant after his platoon took a village. He was placed in charge of the village. He told his men to do as he did and led them on a raid of a local wine cellar. The Lieutenant in charge of the platoon found Uncle Bill and his men dancing in the village square, all blind drunk, when he got back. The first thing he did was to bust Uncle Bill back to private, which did not upset Uncle Bill nearly as much as the hangover he had in the brig the next day. Continue reading
Today is Constitution Day, the 224th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Since 1788 our nation has been governed under a document, the Constitution, produced by a group of the wisest men ever to arise in our nation, collectively known as the Founding Fathers. The video above from the magnificent John Adams series depicts the first inaugural of George Washington. Washington for me is the standard by which all our other presidents are judged. Without him of course, in all likelihood, there would be no United States as the American Revolution would have been lost without him to lead the starving, ragged Continentals to an against the odds victory. In turbulent times he then led the nation for the first eight years under the new Constitution, setting the nation firmly on a course of prosperity, growth and expanding liberty. A statesman like Washington comes to a people once every few centuries if they are fortunate, and we had him precisely when we needed a leader of his calibre most.
Would that our other presidents, with the exception of Lincoln, had possessed half of his ability to lead and his wisdom to chart a sound course. I also wish that our other presidents had one of his minor traits: brevity. Here is his second inaugural address in its entirety. His fidelity to our Constitution shines through its few words: Continue reading
Hattip to Bookworm Room. We are heading to debt repudiation both nationally and internationally, although I am sure that some euphemism will be used. What this does to the global economy is anyone’s guess, but I think at best we are looking at a prolonged recession\depression lasting at least a decade. Long range however, I share the fundamental optimism expressed by Milton Friedman in the video below, if we are capable of understanding how we got into this mess and make the necessary changes to radically alter our course. Continue reading
One question that pro-lifers often pose to pro-choicers is how can they reconcile permitting abortion while still prohibiting the murder of newborns? To put it differently, what is the substantive difference between a newborn child and a child in the latter stages of pregnancy? For that matter, what is the difference between an unborn child at any stage of development and a born child? Evidently this logic hit a Canadian judge pretty hard and she recognized the contradiction in distinguishing the born from the unborn. Continue reading
You know, sometimes I suspect there are forces within the Obama administration attempting to throw the upcoming presidential election race. The most recent evidence of this is a truly Orwellian website, Attack Watch, at which Obama supporters can report unfair attacks on Fearless Empty Suit. Go here to view the Attack Watch webite. Sheesh, I hope the Obama campaign didn’t waste much money on the design of this snitch site. I guess they aimed for foreboding and hit silly. I practically expect to hear the Imperial March theme from Star Wars. Actually, I will supply that for your listening pleasure as you are perusing the site:
There is an effort underfoot in the Pennsylvania legislature to change the way the state awards its electoral votes.
PA Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi wants to allot Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes on a congressional district by district basis, rather than the current system of winner take all.
In a state like Pennsylvania, where Democratic candidates for President have won every election since 1988, it could be a way for Republicans to avoid a total loss.
For a number of reasons, I think this is a bad move.