Ryan Harkins

To Further Divide Us

President Obama has signed an executive order lifting restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, as he promised in his campaign speeches.  For anyone who doesn’t see this as yet one more blow in a long string of anti-life policies, consider the chilling words at the end of the article that people are using to justify the research:

“This was already life that was going to be destroyed… The choice is throw them away or use them for research.”

I wonder how long it would take before we use such arguments on, say, criminals sentenced to life in prison (or who are on death row, even). Or the elderly. Or the sick. Or the mentally deficient. Or…

Childish Mentalities

Here’s a question.  If, when you were a teenager, your parents had taken you aside and explained that sex before marriage is wrong, sinful, against the Catholic faith, carries the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and might end in a pregnancy, but if you intend to do so, please protect yourself, what would your interpretation of that lecture be?  Let’s keep in mind that the intent behind this discussion is not to focus on the contraceptive aspect, but the (limited) protection that some contraceptives (namely condoms) afford against sexually transmitted diseases.

My wife had the fortune of having this lecture and, being the obedient child she was, she understood that to mean, “Okay, no sex before marriage.  No problem.”  Listening to her explain this, though, I realized that as a teenager, I would have interpreted the lecture much differently.  Maybe because I’m male, or because I was already fascinated by sex, I would have translated the lecture into saying, “We disapprove, but it’s okay to have sex as long as you use a condom.”

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Partisanship and Empty Rhetoric

It seems in recent week that an ever-increasing focus has fallen on Rush Limbaugh and his radio show.  Not only have the usual suspects worked themselves into a frenzy over him, but we’ve even had President Obama command Congressional Republicans to ignore him.  And the White House has yet to let up on speaking against him.  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has even taken a few stabs at Limbaugh.  Even more amazingly, Republican Chairman Michael Steele has voiced disapproval of Limbaugh’s talks.

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Don't Make It Hurt

So here’s an argument against irreducible complexity.  Take a family that works hard for a living, saves a large chunk of its earnings for old age, emergencies, sending kids through college, and so on.  Then create (through some combination of amino acids and other proteins) an institute that offers insurance against disaster.  The family, being prudent, realizes that the insurance, while it costs them a little more each month, could potentially save them thousands of dollars in the long run, and so it buys into the insurance company.  Now introduce a mutation: the family decides that since disasters are covered, they can divert a little more money into luxuries. Repeat this process with a health care institute that helps cover the soaring prices of medication; a loan agency to cover college tuition (which is steadily outpacing what the normal family can afford); a loan agency to cover the cost of a business; a house; a car; anything at all with the swipe of a plastic card with a magnetic strip.  With that final mutation, we now have a system in which the removal one component causes the whole organism to fail, and yet was built up by increments.

Nearly half a year after the great crash that marked our current recession as one of the worst in decades, we are still bleeding.  Our economy continues to shed jobs; the stock market wavers, falls, stabilizes, wavers, and falls again; big businesses, like the insurance titan AIG, continue to need billions of dollars of bailout money just to survive; and the government continues to scramble to pass legislation that supposedly will fix all our problems, but in reality will simply make matters worse.  The gigantic stimulus package was laughable (in more a mad, gibbering, hysterical laughter than a ha-ha laughter) in that hundreds of pet projects suddenly found funding, but precious little in the bill actually targeted economic stimulus, and much of the spending won’t happen immediately.

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Some Pseudo-Random Thoughts

A decrease in solidarity means people have fewer resources to turn to in time of crisis.

With a decrease in solidarity, a man either makes it on his own or fails on his own.

If a man is struggling to make it on his own, a child becomes an unwelcome hindrance.  A child is an economic drain, and if a man has no other resources, a child might destroy his chances of success.

Thus it should come as no surprise that programs to provide economic aid to poor soon-to-be-parents would decrease abortion rates to some extent.

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Am I My Brother's Keeper?

One of the great principles that tends to be ignored in our debates about economics, social justice, and governmental involvement in the lives of the people is solidarity.  We argue about how involved the government should be in our lives, what kinds of safety nets it should provide, and to what extent it should mandate and appropriate in order to provide for the most needy of society.  We argue about how well certain economic theories–capitalism, Keynesian economics, socialism, etc.–work in providing justice, or even providing just shelter and food.  We argue about subsidiarity, and how it should be practiced, and while that touches on solidarity, it doesn’t fully overlap.

One of the arguments about governmental involvement is how the aid provided is cold and distant.  By the time  the welfare check is spat out of the massive, convulsing, bureaucratic mess that is the government, any principle of charity has been rendered flat.  The recipient is a name on the list, judged worthy to receive a handout based upon an entry in a database.  At first this seems like an argument of aesthetics.  If a man receives a welfare check from the government rather than from friends in the community or local charities, he still receives the money he needs to survive.  Yet there is a deeper problem here than merely looking at from whom the money comes, or how much charity exists in the entity delivering assistance.  The continual reliance on the federal government to solve our problems aids in the breakdown of solidarity.

Is it any wonder that we have become so polarized, so factious, so estranged?

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Luke Live, Days Three and Four

I continue once again with my shameless promotion of Paulist Father James DiLuzio and his Luke Live performace, part 3, covering Luke chapters 17-24.

Over the last two days, the conversation we had (Father DiLuzio continually encouraged us to have a dialogue on the text, to reach deeper meanings) focused on two fairly notorious characters: Judas Iscariot, and Pontius Pilate.  Now, in general terms, these two have been condemned since the inception of the Church.  Judas, the betrayer, has classically been believed to be in Hell, and every week we recite in our creed:  He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

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Luke Live, Day Two

I continue now with my shameless promotion of Father DiLuzio’s Luke Live performance.  Again, we were treated to a wonderful exchange of ideas, marked by a charismatic leader who helped enliven St. Luke’s Gospel and knit the narrative together.  Father DiLuzio offered us to begin with the choice of hearing entire chapters at once, or breaking it down into slightly smaller pieces.  Having seen yesterday the amazing continunity of a text that, for many of us, originally seemed a disjointed collection of brief non-sequitors, we voted roughly 55-45 to continue being inundated by large chunks of text.  And so he began his recitation starting from chapter 18, and the parable of the persistent widow.

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Luke Live, Day One

This week, at St. Paul’s Newman Center in Laramie, we have Father James DiLuzio visiting to perform his Luke Live, essentially a performance of the Gospel of St. Luke.  We are on the final run of the gospel, covering chapters 17-24.  I have to say, Father DiLuzio is quite an engaging, energetic fellow, and last night’s session was a blast.  I’m looking forward to the next three, and I hope to report on them each day, with what we discussed and what observations we made.  (And if anyone else has had the pleasure of joining Father DiLuzio for Luke Live, please feel free to share your observations!)

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Just An Observation

Wyoming recently has passed legislation that “bans” smoking in public places (except for a list of particular establishments where smoking is still permitted, and except for any county or municipality that doesn’t want to participate in the ban).  There once was hope of increasing the “sin tax” on chewing tobacco.  Elsewhere in the nation, we have had strong campaigns to reduce smoking for sake of health and public expenditure.  Now the campaigns are shifting gears and targeting refined sugars, transfats, and calorie-laden meals.

I understand, to an extent, why people are so concerned about how many times we vist McDonald’s, or much fat is in that bag of potato chips, or whether or not we buy “Biggie”-sized soft drinks.  As we continue to pay for insurance, either private or governmental, the effects are clear.  Bad health practices lead to increase in expenses.  Yet what I find odd is how the whole matter is couched almost as a moral dilemma, a moral crusade.  Isn’t just unhealthy to partake of deep-fat-fried potatoes–it is an abomination that should be punished.

Now, I seem to remember a certain gentlemen who came around saying something like: “Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?”

Is it just me, or is our society unwittingly attempting a reversion back to the Old Covenant (though we’ll pick different foods to declare “unclean”)?

Does It Really Stimulate?

It seems a bipartisan effort to ensure that there is some sort of stimulus bill, and only a few politicians think there should be no package at all.  Many economists have warned in the past, and continue to do so now, that stimulus packages like the one currently waiting final approval, do not work.  Let’s take a moment and examine the arguments as to why they don’t work.

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Obama and the Stimulus Package

Has anyone ever wondered if it is possible that one can land in a financial crisis when one has a steady income, no debts, and a large reserve of money in case of emergencies?  Certainly, I suppose, if something devastating comes around, like an accident that requires weeks in the ICU, surgeries, and a long rehabilitation, that could bankrupt a person.  Yet such accidents, on a whole, are rare, and most people who live a financially responsible life never have to plead for a bailout.

When we look at our current financial crisis nationwide, I can’t help but wonder what people are thinking.  President Obama has promised us trillion dollar deficits for years to come in an effort to restore our economy.  Like most right-leaning folk, I’m under the impression that our current crisis has come from overspending, living beyond our means, and not being prepared for when we hit bumpy times in the economy (like $4/gallon gas, which drives prices up all around).  Perhaps, if this view is incorrect, someone will be willing to explain to me why it is so.  But my impression has been that first, people individually are consumed with buying, buying, buying, even when they don’t have the money to buy.   I have friends who, though they grossed over $60,000 a year, were still living paycheck to paycheck because of their deficit spending.  I’ve seen people who, upon receiving their government money, have gone and blown it on new cell phones (that are shut down after two delinquent months), on fancy steack dinners, and so on, instead of buying necessities or saving up what they can.  I’ve seen people struggling with hundreds of thousands of dollars of accumulated debt that came from student loans, house loans, car loans, credit cards, and so on.  This is just what I’ve seen.  What I’ve heard–word of mouth, or in the news, or on blogs–is even worse.

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Viewing the Stimulus Package, Part A

I decided to find out for myself what is in the Stimulus Package being debated. The version I’ve looked at is the version the House passed, and I can’t image the Senate version looks much better. Here is the results of Division A (the first 250 pages or so).

Things this package will not be used for: casinos and other gambling establishments, aquariums, zoos, golf courses, or swimming pools; any public work (airports, bridges, canals, dams, dikes, pipelines, railroads, mass transit, roads, etc) that does not purchase all iron and steel from within the U.S. (unless there simply isn’t enough iron available, or buying locally increases cost by 25% or more, or it is “in the best interest of the public” to buy abroad).

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So… Was it a Fumble?

I enjoyed watching Super Bowl XLIII for the most part.  As a football fan, I tend to favor teams with quarterbacks that I like, and I like Big Ben, so I was more or less routing for the Steelers to win.  However, for the drama and story, I was also routing for Arizona, who was making its first appearance at the Super Bowl.  All in all, I was looking for a clean, exciting game.

To some extent, I got that.  Things were a little dull in the first quarter as Pittsburgh dominated, but the Cardinals got their game together to engineer a touchdown drive to make it 10 – 7, and to also shut down the Pittsburgh offense twice, the second time with an interception that seemed to guarantee at least a halftime tie.  But then Harrison managed a goal line interception when it seemed Arizona was going in for the touchdown, and he took the ball 100 yards (with time expiring) to put the Steelers up 17-7 at half.

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And They Accuse Us of Brainless Sloganisms

So there’s a new You-Tube video  spreading around meant to be the final word in exposing the hypocrisy of anti-abortion advocates. In what many seem to believe is highly telling, an interviewer asks a group of demonstrating pro-lifers that, should abortion be declared illegal, if they would punish women who had abortions. Apparently the confused looks, murmured “I don’t know, I don’t think they should be punished,” and the otherwise general indication that they hadn’t thought much on the issue, somehow shows that pro-lifers do not believe that abortion is murder, or even the taking of human life. There is a huge amount of self-congratulatory straining of shoulders, clapping themselves on the back for having discovered this one-shot knockdown argument.

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