Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Prayer

Although our office closed at 5PM on Fri 21 Dec, my Christmas break didn't really start until today, because from Dec 21 to Dec 23 I was ill. My fever subsided this morning, and I was able to get a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping done. I noticed that during my illness, I tried to pray more for other people instead of myself. In particular, I thought about Sarah Burchnall, who is battling cancer. What began seven months ago as a lump in her breast has pierced her chest wall and is now a tumour in her aorta. If you are reading this, please say a prayer for my friend Sarah. This might be her last Christmas Eve. She's not quite twenty years old.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


In earlier posts, I had written about the problems some people have experienced with Windows Vista, shortly after it became widely available, more than six months ago. A lot of folks discovered that their hardware became unusable after upgrading to Microsoft's latest and greatest OS. Have things changed much since then? Apparently not. Chris Pirillo writes:
From the beginning, Vista has had issues. In many instances, we’re not talking minor problems. Driver incompatibility, hardware incompatibility, software not running, programs or the computer itself randomly crashing… all just the tip of the iceberg. For many people, the software incompatibility issue was a nightmare. They installed Vista, only to find a very long list of programs that simply would not work.
Still thinking of upgrading to Vista? Think again. Since when has an upgrade allowed you to do less with your computer than before? The Baltimore Sun's David Zeiler sums it up well:
Earlier this year some PC manufacturers, most notably Dell, started offering XP as an option on many of its new PCs, also because of customer demand. That so many people would prefer a six-year-old operating system over Microsoft’s latest and greatest speaks volumes about how badly the folks at Redmond botched Vista.
The 'Wow' continues — as in, wow, six months later, Vista still sucks.

Pachelbel Bedtime :-)

Priceless. Of course, one wonders if some of his parenting angst is also avoidable. Some of the childish behaviour he describes in his song reminds me of Dudley Dursley.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

God Keep Our Land...

Glorious and free? For now, only in dreams. It is now unacceptable to express one's most deeply held moral convictions in the public square — the politically correct totalitarianism in the water supply has led to a curious reversal of logic that Orwell would have understood only too well. The Mayor of Truro, Nova Scotia, refused to fly a gay pride rainbow flag because of his moral convictions, and he was predictably pilloried in the mainstream media as a homophobe. Now, let's imagine that the local Aryan Nations chapter had asked the good Mayor to fly a Nazi flag to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday — would his refusal have raised a similar outcry from the chattering classes? Not likely, you say, because the Aryan Nations and National Socialism are morally disordered, whereas homosexuality is not. Oh, really? On what basis can we make this, ahem, fine distinction? That the Nazis persecuted and murdered homosexuals? (They did.) Not so fast.

The backstory may seem a tad more complex than it appears, but it's not, really.

Where to begin?

Let's start with Biology 101 — our species propagates through sexual reproduction. Therefore, long-term human survival depends on adequate numbers of healthy offspring, in the proper gender ratio. But in our time, children (in general, and in many cases girls) have come to be regarded as an unwelcome inconvenience, such that some men are even willing to undergo vasectomies so they can buy mobile phones, and others express (misguided) sympathy and understanding for those who strike such Faustian bargains (read the comments on the linked vasectomy article to see how much children are disliked in contemporary Western culture). Do the math: Labour shortages would not be as severe if 100,000+ Canadians weren't being aborted each year.

I blame this sad state of affairs (pun intended) on the contraceptive mentality of the West.

Most everyone here assumes that if a woman wants to have a baby, all she has to do is stop taking the Pill (why did she start in the first place?) And if she doesn't want to have a baby and gets pregnant anyway, what then?

She kills her unborn child and then asks her partner to get his tubes tied?

Is this what's meant by "glorious and free"?

So, with the intrinsic connection between sexual intercourse and procreation so thoroughly sundered in the popular mind, it becomes much easier to justify not only contraception and abortion (two branches of the same evil tree), but even the oh-so euphemistically-named practice of "selective reduction" based on, among other things, gender preference. Of course, it then also becomes easy to justify non-procreative sexual relationships, such as (by definition) between same-sex partners — who then loudly insist on being accorded the same social and legal status as a traditional family with husband, wife, and child(ren) — despite the glaringly obvious fact that their aberrant orientation more or less consigns them to genetic oblivion.

There was a time when homosexuality was (correctly) classified as a mental disorder. Now it is flaunted as merely another lifestyle choice — what's next, bestiality or coprophilia? Things are indeed getting much worse, and much more rapidly. But there is hope yet.

This brings us back to the embattled mayor of Truro. If you'd like to express support for his courageous stance, write him. The really sad part of the story is that he's just being true to his (morally sensible but increasingly unpopular) convictions — which, by the way, are ultimately informed by the very same ethos enshrined in the words of our national anthem, O Canada.

Being glorious and free is not about being gay and proud of it.

It's about seeking (and upholding) the truth — because only the truth will make us free.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Once Upon a Cell

Many of the arguments advanced by "pro-choice" people and those who support embryonic stem cell research are based on the idea that embryos (or fetuses) are not human beings, with the rights that human beings enjoy under the law (including the right to life).

In a way, it's easy to see why the preborn child, especially in the earliest stage of development, is not commonly regarded as a human person (with the rights accorded to persons). When we utter the word "person" most people would immediately conjure up a mental image of a bipedal example of Homo sapiens — probably an adult. But clearly, teenagers, children, toddlers, and babies are also persons. They're just at different stages of development. And so we have to ask: what about the preborn, at any stage of development?

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk writes:
Embryos, of course, are remarkably unfamiliar to us. They lack hands and feet. They don't have faces or eyes for us to look into. Even their brains are lacking. They look nothing like what we are used to seeing when we imagine a human being. But they are as human as you and me. When we look at a scanning electron micrograph of a human embryo, a small cluster of cells, sitting on the point of a sewing pin, we need to ask ourselves a very simple question: "Isn't that exactly what a young human is supposed to look like?" The correct answer to that question doesn't depend on religion or theology, but on embryology. Embryos seem unfamiliar to us on first glance, and we have to make an explicit mental effort to avoid the critical mistake of disconnecting from who we once were as embryos.

Isn't it interesting that everyone who advocates the destruction of embryos, whether through abortion or embryonic stem cell research, was once an embryo? This reminds me of the T-shirt with the two embryos on it, with one saying to the other: "It may be hard to believe right now, but we'll be pro-choice someday."

Friday, June 01, 2007


The issue of whether the public display of graphic abortion images is morally licit is not simply a matter of individual taste, nor is it merely an instance of disrespect for the remains of human persons. The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC has plenty of graphic images of dead people. Is the public display of these images a sign of disrespect towards the deceased? I think not. Does it cause some people viewing the images to become emotionally distraught? Likely. That is by design — the displays are meant to afflict the comfortable. And those who choose to view the displays have a further choice: how they will take their knowledge and use it to try to reduce the incidence of this kind of injustice. It need hardly be said that some choices have profoundly evil results. Abortion is clearly one of those choices, because it is the deliberate, willful destruction of an innocent human person.

So why are we so reluctant to publicly acknowledge the truth of what abortion does? Why do we recoil from the idea of displaying images of abortion's ghastly results? If we object to the public display of such images, we should logically object to the display of other images that also portray grave injustice, whether it is the torture and murder of Jews, blacks, or any group that has been stripped of personhood, of human dignity.

Fr. Frank Pavone, the current national director of Priests for Life, would be well aware of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about giving human remains due respect, and yet he also asserts that in order for people to be galvanized into opposing abortion, they have to see what it does to the unborn child. We have had in utero images of fetal development since the Swedish medical photographer Lennart Nilsson published his pathbreaking book A Child is Born, more than 40 years ago, but that did not stop the U.S. Supreme Court from effectively declaring unborn children to be non-persons (i.e. Roe vs. Wade) in 1973. Now, more than 46 million slaughtered Americans later, can we say that showing beautiful photos of unborn children has been effective in stemming the tide of this present-day holocaust? The data suggests otherwise.

One definition of insanity is: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. It's time to "Think Different" about exposing the truth about abortion. The current "soft" approach of showing beautiful babies in utero hasn't worked for the last 34 years.

You can read more about Fr. Pavone and his work at Priests for Life.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Lucifer Effect?

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, much has been said about the mental illness of the shooter — about his medical condition. Curiously, very few have commented about his moral condition. Or, more germane perhaps, his spiritual condition. It is as though intelligent public discourse no longer dares speak of such things — after all, quaint notions about good and evil belong in the realm of the supernatural — which is another, more polite way of saying: the world of (ahem) religious superstition. The God delusion, to borrow Richard Dawkins' phrasing.

Alas, distraction from essentials is found everywhere. For example:

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who in 1971 conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, asserts in a blog interview about his new book that
People are not born evil, but rather with survival talents, and remarkable mental templates to be anything imaginable — just as infants readily learn to speak and understand any of a thousand languages in an instant in their development. We get a push from nature in various directions, such as being more inhibited or bold, but who we become is ultimately a complex process of cultural, historical, religious, economic and political experiences in familial and other institutional settings.

Most of us fail to appreciate the extent to which our behavior is under situational control, because we prefer to believe that is all is internally generated. We wander around cloaked in an illusion of vulnerability, mis-armed with an arrogance of free will and rationality.

Human free will and rationality are never perfected in this life — but they are no less real for being imperfect, and their reality makes us accountable for our actions.

Now, if I understand Zimbardo correctly, he leaves little or no room for something that once was familiar to everyone. Thus, his prescribed solution to our ills omits a crucial element:
... the very same situation that can inflame the “hostile imagination” in those who become perpetrators of evil can inspire the “heroic imagination” for the first time in any of us.

My concern is how to promote in our children this heroic imagination, to make them accept the mantle of being a hero-in-waiting for a situation that will come along sometime in their lives when others are following the paths toward evil or toward indifference, and instead, they elect to act on behalf of another person or group or ideal without thought of personal gain or even recognition.

I have to believe that by creating a generation of such ordinary heroes is our best defense against evil, whether on the battlefield, in prisons, or corporate headquarters.

The key factor he forgot to mention was — conscience. In a world besotted with what Pope Benedict XVI calls the tyranny of relativism, the proper formation of conscience is all too often neglected.

It has been said that the best gift we can give our children is roots — and wings. I pray that as parents we shall do this. And we do best when our stewardship of their formation is grounded in the holiness we are called to in everyday life. I may have more to say on this later, but for now I assert that those of us who are in a position to influence children should make a regular practice of examining our own consciences carefully, lest we fail to instill this habit in them.

The 'Lucifer effect' is never far away. The best 'vaccine' is a properly formed conscience.

Friday, March 23, 2007

U of C GAP 2007

GAP Volunteers
Originally uploaded by victorpanlilio.
The University of Calgary Pro-Life Club sponsored the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) exhibit on March 19 and 20. Just like last year, onlookers stopped by and engaged GAP volunteers in friendly debate about abortion. Most of the pro-choice arguments were the usual cliches: what about in cases of rape, what about overpopulation and climate change, who will take care of these unwanted children, etc. Many people refused to acknowledge that unborn human beings are legal persons, entitled to full protection under the law. This is what it has come to in our day and age — comparisons have to be made to the Holocaust, to slavery, and to modern genocide (e.g. Rwanda), in order to stir public debate about Canada's unrestricted access to abortion in every trimester. Unlike in the U.S., abortion in Canada is taxpayer-funded. Such a deal. And we dare to sing "God keep our land glorious and free" in our national anthem? What for? So we can murder more babies?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Migration Continues

This time I'll write a bit about the geek part of my Blogger profile. Long story short: prior to my current gig, I used to work at a terrific little IT consultancy called Claero Systems. At the time I joined Claero, their offices were located on the second floor above a high-end ski shop, in a former architect's loft. In addition to the cool digs, we had comfy couches, track lighting, a fridge, a wine rack, and a billiard table. Great people to work with, a varied and interesting clientele (wine importers, interior designers, creative studios, a photographer, a boutique engineering firm, a furniture wholesaler, a restaurateur, a gourmet travel consultant, real estate developers, a mountaineer who had scaled Everest, a staffing firm, a motion picture editor, even a manufacturer of drink coasters, photo mounts, and wine labels). We provided IT management consulting and solutions, including custom web applications. All in all, a nice little portfolio.

At Claero, we used a range of technologies: Windows Small Business Server 2003, MacOS X Server, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, OpenBSD, Cisco PIX firewalls, and so on. Hardware was a mix of IBM, Apple, Dell, and HP — similar to what our clients used. Portables were a mix of IBM ThinkPad and Apple PowerBook and MacBook Pro models. One of our senior PHP developers left on good terms to join iStockPhoto just before they were bought by Getty Images. At Claero, we had a monthly staff event to help build the team — each time, we tried something different: indoor rock climbing, river rafting, curling, bowling, go-karting, and so on. As you may have guessed, this was one of the most enjoyable aspects of my time there. We also spent quite a bit of time and effort brainstorming on how to market the company better. All issues were fair game for open discussion: branding, trade show participation, proposal writing, using wikis for collaboration, client relationship management, etc.

While at Claero (a little over 3 years), I noticed clients expressing interest in MacOS X as an alternative to Windows, especially since they could see me administering Windows servers and networks using Remote Desktop Connection from an Apple portable. Now that I'm no longer there, it seems that more and more people I meet are considering the switch, as well.

Obviously, I'm hardly the only one who's noticed increasing numbers of Windows users are switching to MacOS X. The blog community seems to be piling on with commentary, analyses, and prognostications: how Vista sales are not meeting expectations, how increasing numbers of tech luminaries are migrating to MacOS X, and how people are getting fed up with malware on their Windows PCs. I do think the iPod halo effect is real: once people experience the iPod's elegance and ease of use, they're more inclined to investigate whether Apple computers evince the same sterling qualities. Hint: they do.

Scott Lowe writes:
Now, though, we are seeing the Windows die-hards switching platforms. This isn’t simply moving from one UNIX-like platform to a different UNIX-like platform. Mac OS X is nothing like Windows, and switching from one platform to another is a pretty significant effort. Clearly, there must be a reason why these long-time Windows users are switching. These aren’t your average Windows users—these are Windows power users, users who have championed the Windows platform for years. Now they’re switching to the Mac.
Hmm. I'm not sure if, like me, he's just going by anecdotal evidence, but I don't think so. For example, a blogger from inside IBM recently wrote:
Don't let anyone tell you that the OS 10 and XP are the same. I did more exploring with my Mac in the first weekend than I did with my Windows boxes over the past 8 years. Ya gotta have a Windows box; you want to have a Mac. As our team is tasked to explore the suitability of Web 2.0 technologies to our enterprise customers - what can we learn from the success of YouTube, MySpace, 2nd Life etc - I feel that using the Windows OS constrains one's thinking about Web 2.0 because you have to do it the Windows way, like it or not. With a Mac, I have a sense, real or imagined, that on my MacBook, I'm doing it my way or creating my own web experience with this tool. This is the way that it should be.

Like many, I was drawn back to the Mac by my family's thrills with their iPods (original, Nano, and Video). What if our customers could deliver on their sites a web-based experience like shopping on the iTunes store: fast, easy to navigate, inclusive, friendly, simple to buy, know who you are.

What put my Mac purchase in automatic was the recent IBM announcement to support Linux and Macs. This plus the incredible Mac community within IBM...
Hmm. Would that be similar to the Mac community inside Google?

In the meantime, the bile uttered against Windows seems to have no letup:
Windows is the platform on which 90 per cent of the computing industry builds, and this naturally means that it's the platform on which 90 per cent of spyware, adware, virus, worm, and Trojan developers build. That translates into 90 per cent of botnet zombies, 90 per cent of spam relays, 90 per cent of spyware hosts, and 90 per cent of worm propagators. In a nutshell, Windows is single-handedly responsible for turning the internet into the toxic shithole of malware that it is today.

That's not going to change any time soon, no matter how good Vista's security might be, but a version of Windows with truly adequate security and privacy features would certainly be a step in the right direction.
It would be a step in the right direction — except that accepting Vista's security also means accepting its draconian and user-hostile Digital Rights Management features (as per Bruce Schneier's analysis, see below).

There's even a compelling business case for migrating to open-source software, as Novell has done, and reaping millions of dollars in annual savings.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to many, Apple itself is increasingly adopting the open-source model in its commercial software offerings, even on the server end of things. And Apple's Safari web browser is even taking market share away from Firefox, if this data is to be believed. Safari now accounts for 6.2% of all web browsers, up from 5.7% in December 2006. Hmm.

It's all good.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why I Am A Catholic

In my Blogger profile and elsewhere on the Net, I call myself "a husband, a Dad, a pro-life geek, and a Catholic" — today I'll post a bit on that last term. Hint: if you don't like long blog articles with copious quotes, skip this one. Otherwise, settle in for a while and make yourself (un)comfortable, there's a bit of ground to cover.

Let me be clear about what I mean by "Catholic" — I belong to the Roman Catholic Church. I attend Mass every Sunday unless I'm ill, I occasionally serve as a lector, and I receive the Blessed Sacrament if I'm not in a state of mortal sin (for which I avail myself of the Sacrament of Penance). For those of you who don't understand what "Roman Catholic Church" means, the Wikipedia definition may serve as a useful starting point:
The Roman Catholic Church or Catholic Church ... is the Christian Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, currently Pope Benedict XVI. It traces its origins to the original Christian community founded by Jesus Christ and led by the Twelve Apostles, in particular Saint Peter. The Catholic Church is the largest Christian Church and the largest organized body of any world religion.[1] According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, the Church's worldwide recorded membership at the end of 2004 was 1,098,366,000 or approximately one in six of the world's population.[2]

So, it seems there's quite a few of us. Are we just a bunch of superstitious, anti-science rubes who worship with strange rituals and commit idolatry? Let's see. I'll start by introducing one of my Catholic heroes, Fr. Stanley Jaki:
The Reverend Father Professor Stanley L. Jaki OSB (b. Győr, Hungary 1924) is a Benedictine priest and Distinguished Professor of Physics at Seton Hall University, New Jersey since 1975. He is a leading thinker in philosophy of science, theology and on issues where the two disciplines meet and diverge. After completing undergraduate training in philosophy, theology and mathematics, Father Jaki did graduate work in theology and physics and holds doctorates in theology from the Pontifical Institute in Rome (1950), and in physics from Fordham University (1958). He also did post-doctoral research in Philosophy of Science at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Princeton University and Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. After post-doctoral research, Father Jaki was Gifford Lecturer at Edinburgh University (1974–76), Fremantle Lecturer at Balliol College, Oxford (1977), Hoyt Fellow at Yale University (1980) and Farmington Institute Lecturer at Oxford University (1988-1989). He was awarded the Templeton Prize for furthering understanding of science and religion in 1987.
Fr. Jaki wrote in The Origin of Science:
To the popular mind, science is completely inimical to religion: science embraces facts and evidence while religion professes blind faith. Like many simplistic popular notions, this view is mistaken. Modern science is not only compatible with Christianity, it in fact finds its origins in Christianity. This is not to say that the Bible is a science textbook that contains raw scientific truths, as some evangelical Christians would have us believe. The Christian faith contains deeper truths — truths with philosophical consequences that make conceivable the mind's exploration of nature: man's place in God's creation, who God is and how he freely created a cosmos.

In Christ and Science (p. 23), Jaki gives four reasons for modern science's unique birth in Christian Western Europe:

1. "Once more the Christian belief in the Creator allowed a break-through in thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be thought of as being powerful enough to create a nature with autonomous laws without his power over nature being thereby diminished. Once the basic among those laws were formulated science could develop on its own terms."

2. "The Christian idea of creation made still another crucially important contribution to the future of science. It consisted in putting all material beings on the same level as being mere creatures. Unlike in the pagan Greek cosmos, there could be no divine bodies in the Christian cosmos. All bodies, heavenly and terrestrial, were now on the same footing, on the same level. this made it eventually possible to assume that the motion of the moon and the fall of a body on earth could be governed by the same law of gravitation. The assumption would have been a sacrilege in the eyes of anyone in the Greek pantheistic tradition, or in any similar tradition in any of the ancient cultures."

3. "Finally, man figured in the Christian dogma of creation as a being specially created in the image of God. This image consisted both in man's rationality as somehow sharing in God's own rationality and in man's condition as an ethical being with eternal responsibility for his actions. Man's reflection on his own rationality had therefore to give him confidence that his created mind could fathom the rationality of the created realm."

4. "At the same time, the very createdness could caution man to guard agains the ever-present temptation to dictate to nature what it ought to be. The eventual rise of the experimental method owes much to that Christian matrix."
So, science as we know it became possible because of Christianity. But wait, there's more.

Fr. Jaki also writes in The Gist of Catholicism:
From the prolific use which Saint Augustine made of the word Catholic against the Donatists it should be enough to recall the following points. One is about the method which travelers should use in finding the right church. They are instructed to inquire about the church that carries the label catholic. Augustine would not have specified that method had the Arians succeeded in their effort to wrest the label “Catholic” from the orthodox. “Even the heretics,” wrote Augustine, “call catholic church only what is in fact a catholic church.”1 Augustine also explicitly states that “catholic” cannot exist in separation from “Roman.” He warned: “You should not believe that you teach catholic doctrine, unless you also teach that it is taught by the Roman Church as something to be believed.”2

Luther, in this connection too, revealed his defective reading of Augustine when he charged the papacy with the crime of buying with money the tie between Christian and Catholic. Further, it was not justified to keep referring to Augustine and at the same time brandishing the Bible as the sole source of truth. For Augustine had already stated a crucial point: It was about the unique, indispensable role of the Catholic Church, which for Augustine was inseparable from the Church of Rome, in vouching for the credibility of the Gospels.3 Present-day Evangelicals, who want even less ecclesial structure than the “mainstream” Protestants, may take note. Lutherans in particular may recall with profit, that it was one of their number, Adolph Harnack, who came to a conclusion which surely must have been a hard pill for them to swallow. According to Harnack the Christian Church was unmistakably Catholic already in the middle of the third century, showing distinct similarities with the modern Roman Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, Thomas Woods writes in How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization:
The Church also played an indispensable role in another essential development in Western civilization: the creation of the university. The university was an utterly new phenomenon in European history. Nothing like it had existed in ancient Greece or Rome. The institution that we recognize today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations, and degrees, as well as the familiar distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, come to us directly from the medieval world. And it is no surprise that the Church should have done so much to foster the nascent university system, since the Church, according to historian Lowrie Daly, "was the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge."
So G. K. Chesterton wrote in Why I Am A Catholic (which inspired this blog post):
The Bible by itself cannot be a basis of agreement when it is a cause of disagreement; it cannot be the common ground of Christians when some take it allegorically and some literally. The Catholic refers it to something that can say something, to the living, consistent, and continuous mind of which I have spoken; the highest mind of man guided by God.

Every moment increases for us the moral necessity for such an immortal mind. We must have something that will hold the four corners of the world still, while we make our social experiments or build our Utopias. For instance, we must have a final agreement, if only on the truism of human brotherhood, that will resist some reaction of human brutality. Nothing is more likely just now than that the corruption of representative government will lead to the rich breaking loose altogether, and trampling on all the traditions of equality with mere pagan pride. We must have the truisms everywhere recognized as true. We must prevent mere reaction and the dreary repetition of the old mistakes. We must make the intellectual world safe for democracy. But in the conditions of modern mental anarchy, neither that nor any other ideal is safe. just as Protestants appealed from priests to the Bible, and did not realize that the Bible also could be questioned, so republicans appealed from kings to the people, and did not realize that the people also could be defied. There is no end to the dissolution of ideas, the destruction of all tests of truth, that has become possible since men abandoned the attempt to keep a central and civilized Truth, to contain all truths and trace out and refute all errors. Since then, each group has taken one truth at a time and spent the time in turning it into a falsehood. We have had nothing but movements; or in other words, monomanias. But the Church is not a movement but a meeting-place; the trysting-place of all the truths in the world.
This "trysting-place of all the truths in the world" is rife with scandal, corruption, and venality — as much a Church for sinners (even the former abortionist Bernard Nathanson) as it is for Saints. If you're so inclined, you can read Nathanson's conversion story. Now, if the Catholic Church was merely a human invention, instead of the Church that Christ Himself founded, it should have long ago imploded from the gross iniquity of its members. But it has not only survived for over 2000 years, it's actually growing. And even if it might shrink in the future as its more nominal adherents fall away, it won't implode.

Here's an example of why:
During the 1990s, J. Budziszewski rose to prominence as one of the leading intellectual lights among Evangelical Christians in America. A political theorist with a special interest in the natural-law tradition, he was highly sought as a speaker at conferences organized by groups such as the InterVarsity Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ. A principal theme of his many talks to American campus groups is captured in the title of his 1999 book, How to Stay Christian in College.

For some Evangelical Protestants, then, it came as a jolt when, on Easter Sunday 2004, Budziszewski was received into the Catholic Church...


Some years ago, during a long conversation with a Catholic friend who knew of my attraction to the Church, I indulged in a bit of bellyaching. "I can’t call this an objection to Catholic doctrine," I said, "but you can’t deny the flat tonelessness of the language coming from some of the liturgical reforms. Besides, the Church puts up with forms of popular piety that are utterly inconsistent with its own teachings." My example was an urban Catholic church I knew that displayed the motto "MARY, SAVE US" in enormous letters. I said, "You know, I know, and the Church knows that Mary doesn’t save us. Mary points to her Son. Jesus saves us. So why is this tolerated?"

My friend leaned back and answered, "All of this is true. These are real problems. The Church knows about them. But in 200 years they’ll all be taken care of."

It was a preposterous reply, and on another evening, in another mood, I might have considered it glib. That evening, though, it struck me that my friend was viewing things from the perspective of the Church. As a Protestant, I realized that I had a much shorter timeline and that much of what I considered wisdom might actually be impatience. The mystery of the endurance of the Church through the centuries sank in a little deeper.
Certainly there are serious challenges to the growth of the Catholic Church: other Christian churches, Islam, the secularization of the industrialized world, and so on. But don't let growth rates fool you. The important thing to reflect on is: which Christian church can actually be traced right back to the Apostles? The same Church that decided which books belong in the Bible.

And if you note what date it is today, the year is 2007. According to the Gregorian calendar. Even the very basis for our 21st-century computer date calculations was formally established by the Catholic Church, almost five centuries ago. Fancy that.

This quote from G. K. Chesterton sums things up nicely:
The difficulty of explaining "why I am a Catholic" is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, "It is the only thing that . . ." As, for instance, (1) It is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. (2) It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior; in the sense of supercilious. (3) It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. (4) It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth; as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message. (5) It is the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man; even the respectable man. (6) It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside; working through wills and not laws; and so on.


Like many college-bound people, I went through an agnostic period in university — I never could quite manage becoming an atheist. After much reflection however, I understood the full import of what Ivan Karamazov (of Dostoevksi's The Brothers Karamazov) said: "If there is no God, everything is permitted." And that sent a chill through the core of my being. Thus began my journey back into the Church of my youth.

If you're interested in coming home, trust me — you're not alone.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fighting for the Most Vulnerable

Today marks the beginning of a long weekend here in Alberta, Canada — Monday being Family Day. I set aside Saturday morning to photograph my friend, Stephanie Gray, who needed a new headshot for her official bio. Let me tell you just a little bit about Stephanie: She's Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform, a pro-life organization that educates the public about what abortion is — the legalized murder of unborn children. Unfortunately, most people don't seem to understand this, or if they do, it's only at a vaguely notional level, which allows them to remain largely indifferent to the fact that in Canada their tax dollars are paying for unrestricted access to abortion in every trimester. As if this grossly immoral misuse of public money isn't tragedy enough, I reflect on the fact that two of the world's wealthiest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, give vast sums of money to various organizations that promote abortion. I'm not making any of this up. In 2003, American Life League tallied contributions to Planned Parenthood from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and came up with a total of $31,567,108 — which may not seem like a lot compared to the total philantrophy attributed to them. But let's look at this another way: according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the average cost of an abortion in the U.S. is $372; do some basic math, and the Gates contributions as of 2003 represent 84,858 abortions. Think about it: 84,858 people aren't with us today in part because the world's wealthiest couple thought it was a good idea to give money to organizations that murder the unborn. And it's not like this was even an original idea — see Bill Moyers' 2003 interview with Bill Gates:
When I was growing up, my parents were almost involved in various volunteer things. My dad was head of Planned Parenthood. And it was very controversial to be involved with that. And so it's fascinating. At the dinner table my parents are very good at sharing the things that they were doing. And almost treating us like adults, talking about that.

My mom was on the United Way group that decides how to allocate the money and looks at all the different charities and makes the very hard decisions about where that pool of funds is going to go. So I always knew there was something about really educating people and giving them choices in terms of family size.

Good grief, it's bad enough that Microsoft Windows is already installed on over 90% of the world's personal computers, but to think that every time I pay for a Microsoft product I help to fund the murder of unborn children makes me sick to my stomach. And I even went to the trouble of getting Microsoft-certified on Windows XP. Sigh.

There are alternatives to Microsoft products, you know. If you're so inclined, try Linux, or if you want something that's much less of a hassle, get a Mac. Please. Either way, you'll have far fewer problems with viruses and other malware. I played with Windows 1.0 in 1985, I've installed and configured it for other people starting with 2.0, and I've been using it regularly myself since Windows 3.1. My involvement with Windows ends with XP and 2003. No Vista for me.

Now, if you're from Canada and you've read this far, why not join the fight to end abortion?

Friday, February 16, 2007

What's the Real Problem Here?

At a recent education reform conference in Austin, Texas, Apple CEO Steve Jobs criticized teacher unions, blaming them for refusing to fire incompetent teachers in public schools. He was applauded loudly several times during his speech. Jobs admitted that his pointed criticism of the teacher's unions may have cost Apple some business in the state of Texas. Meanwhile, at the same venue, Michael Dell asserted that unions were originally created to protect employees from abusive employers. Curiously, Mr. Dell neglected to mention that some former Dell employees are suing his company for witholding their just wages.

These men were both right about problems with schools as these are currently organised, but they both also missed a much larger issue: contemporary mass compulsion schooling (note that I don't use the word education) is itself dysfunctional in many ways. How so? Consider John Taylor Gatto's assertion (and remember, he taught in New York City public schools for 30 years and was awarded New York State Teacher of the Year at the end of his career):
I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting. You have no say at all in choosing your teachers. You know nothing about their backgrounds or families. And the state knows little more than you do. This is as radical a piece of social engineering as the human imagination can conceive. What does it mean?

One thing you do know is how unlikely it will be for any teacher to understand the personality of your particular child or anything significant about your family, culture, religion, plans, hopes, dreams. In the confusion of school affairs even teachers so disposed don’t have opportunity to know those things. How did this happen?

Before you hire a company to build a house, you would, I expect, insist on detailed plans showing what the finished structure was going to look like. Building a child’s mind and character is what public schools do, their justification for prematurely breaking family and neighborhood learning. Where is documentary evidence to prove this assumption that trained and certified professionals do it better than people who know and love them can? There isn’t any.

Think carefully about what Gatto wrote, and then watch Ken Robinson's 2006 speech on creativity and education. You'll wonder why we've so readily accepted the way schools label children and even insist that they be medicated for the sake of managing the classroom environment. Many parents, hungry for the quick fix so they can get on with getting on, accept the diagnosis without too much protest. Forget behavioral modification, which takes patience, effort, and time — all of which are in increasingly short supply these days.

Can you say — massive abdication of parental responsibility? See, I knew you could. Should we be surprised? Hardly. After all, we've already decided as a culture that children are essentially disposable. But that's something most people won't admit, either.

Therein lies another tragedy — the corruption and death of the soul of Western civilization. As Mother Teresa observed: "When a mother can kill her unborn child, what is left of the West to save?"

What, indeed?

Oh, we certainly need educational reform — more urgently than ever. But this won't happen for as long as we don't see the kind of social reform that is only possible when people are angry or disturbed enough about the status quo to actually do something about it. A friend wrote to me in January 2003:
I took a position in the Histopathology lab of the Foothills Hospital. On my first day of training they took me over to a dozen buckets of abortions and told me they were to be dissected daily and prepared for processing. For the next 8 months I had to look without deception or illusion at the way our culture regards the gift of life. This experience woke me up out of my complacency like a hammer over the head and I began to pray and seek God and ask for a revelation of truth. It led me back to the Catholic Church that I had left at the age of 20. I experienced a deep conversion but when I returned to the Church I was horrified to discover droves of people who go to Church but believe like the world and are indifferent to the grave sin of the culture.
Meanwhile, do we still have functioning consciences? Then we should be silent no more.

More on this later.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Something is Rotten

Another week gone by, and I thought enough bad news had come out about Windows Vista. Retail copies (how many versions again?) are reportedly selling nowhere near initial expectations (can you say Zune?) Around this time one can imagine "Wow!" followed by a dull thud as a first-time Vista user encounters User Account Control and its oh-so-welcome reminders. In the meantime, Bruce Schneier wrote for Forbes (and on his own site) on "Why Vista's DRM is Bad for You":
Windows Vista includes an array of "features" that you don't want. These features will make your computer less reliable and less secure. They'll make your computer less stable and run slower. They will cause technical support problems. They may even require you to upgrade some of your peripheral hardware and existing software. And these features won't do anything useful. In fact, they're working against you. They're digital rights management (DRM) features built into Vista at the behest of the entertainment industry. And you don't get to refuse them.
Oh boy. When one of the planet's leading crypto experts outs Vista as a DRM hairball, you have to wonder how long before the Redmond fans call him an inveterate Microsoft-basher, but don't hold your breath. The simple reality is that most computer users don't know anything other than Windows (and Internet Explorer, or IE), either because their employers force them to use IE, or because they've never tried anything else. Firefox is so much safer to use — by comparison Internet Explorer 6 was unprotected for 284 days in 2006. I'm not kidding.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Tide May Be Shifting, Ever So Slightly

You know something's afoot when Microsoft's latest and greatest OS is getting lukewarm or even hostile reviews from a whole raft of technology writers. Microsoft apologists and astroturfers in the blogosphere can pretend it's business as usual, but Vista has been called a chrome-plated turd, a Windows expert (Scott Finnie) has very publicly decided to switch to MacOS X (when will Vista chief Jim Allchin follow?), and now comes word that Intel co-founder (employee badge #3) Les Vadasz bought himself a MacBook Pro. He joins Tim Berners-Lee, David Hansson, Paul Graham, James Gosling, Tim Bray, Amit Singh, and Bill Joy, among other notables — a very impressive group of tech luminaries.

Scott Finnie wrote:
After living with the Mac for three months and comparing it with my Vista experiences, the choice is crystal clear. I've struggled to sort out my gut feeling about Windows Vista (see "The Trouble with Vista"), but the value and advantage of the Mac and OS X are difficult to miss. While I continue to work with Windows XP and Vista on a number of other machines, I am now recommending the Macintosh for business and home users.

It's as if the scales fell from his eyes. Apparently, he's not the only one — Stephen Manes writes for Forbes:
Windows Vista: more than five years in the making, more than 50 million lines of code. The result? A vista slightly more inspiring than the one over the town dump. The new slogan is: "The 'Wow' Starts Now," and Microsoft touts new features, many filched shamelessly from Apple's Macintosh. But as with every previous version, there's no wow here, not even in ironic quotes. Vista is at best mildly annoying and at worst makes you want to rush to Redmond, Wash. and rip somebody's liver out.

Why would Vista elicit such viscerally negative reactions? Some of the comments seen in the blogosphere are revealing. From Mini-Microsoft:
I wish I had done more day-to-day home-use testing. I looked forward to using Outlook 2007, but in the end I've settled on Gmail for my domain. Same with Vista/IE7, there are a lot of obvious bugs and issues that if I had done more day-to-day testing I would have reported on.
I know you'd like to hear positive news about Vista, but we ended up sending both back to Dell this morning. Out of the box, both machines reported driver conflicts. Updating didn't help. The video cards were unrecognized. Now, this may be Dell's fault rather than Microsoft's, but Vista gets the blame.
Or from This Lamp:
Tonight one of my students was struggling to get some assignments transferred from her new Acer laptop (bought just this week) to a flash drive that I handed to her. She muttered something about hating "this new Windows Vista," so I walked over to her desk to see if I could help. She had only booted the laptop a few minutes earlier, loaded her documents into Word, and was now trying to save them to my flash drive--which is supposed to be driverless on any system. What I saw when I looked at her screen was a total freeze up. The mouse pointer wouldn't move. I tried to alt-tab between applications. Nothing. I tried a control-alt-delete. Nothing.

As I held down the power button to shutoff her laptop, I would've been speechless had it not been for the one word that came to mind.

No matter what's causing such incompatibilities, it makes for an abysmal out-of-the-box user experience. 'The "Wow" Starts Now' sounds apropos — just not in a good way.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Just Tell the Truth Already, Mr. Bill

Recall the old saying "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we deign to deceive." It seems someone forgot to teach Bill Gates this — or if they did, he doesn't remember. Folks noticed that in some of his recent public appearances touting Windows Vista, Bill was, um, dishonest in claiming the new software is innovative (well, except in its use of draconian measures to deprive consumers of their fair use rights with digital media). He certainly isn't willing to admit its many obvious similarities to MacOS X, and he refused to concede that Apple had delivered on many of the much-touted features of Vista — years earlier. Well, as it turns out, Bill's nasty habit of lying — even under oath — was for a time a matter of public record. The anti-Microsoft consumer case in Iowa had a public website (now restricted to authorised users) where you could access trial exhibits. Of particular interest were the videotaped depositions of his testimony during the U.S. antitrust trial (in which Microsoft was convicted for being a predatory monopoly). I viewed Clip 12 and saw how Bill shifted and squirmed in his chair under questioning. At times I could even hear the exasperation in the voice of the person questioning Bill — Bill is by turns cagey, evasive, and downright mendacious. It's a pathetic display — of shameless lying. In the face of such a dismal public outing of Bill's thoroughly deceitful mentality, his otherwise praiseworthy philanthropic efforts now come across to me as brazen attempts to distract attention away from (if not atone for) his moral failings. If you're not fooled, you can take some consolation in the fact that others aren't fooled, either. It seems some of us learned a lesson from Enron. Would that more people did likewise.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ahem. Who's to blame? We all are.

Vincent Walkem, now 30 years old, is currently being prosecuted for having sexual intercourse while lying to his partners about his HIV-positive status. You can read about the case here, here, and here. The chronology, in brief: girl meets guy (in a bar, no less), girl sleeps with him shortly after they start dating, girl finds out he's HIV-positive after he's assured her "he's fine" and that he doesn't need to use a condom (presumably she's on the Pill), girl then finds out she's HIV-positive, too. Oh, the humanity!


She whines:
"The most frightening aspect is the omnipresent question mark that surrounds me, the absolute uncertainty of how ... my life will turn out. There are occasions when a kind of fury overcomes me ... to think that he has marked me for life."
I have to ask: what did she expect, anyway? Recall what I wrote earlier about donating blood, where I was asked about my sexual history. One of the questions was: "Have you ever had sex with a woman who may have had sex with other partners?" And this brings me to another point: the widespread use of contraception so that women may control their "reproductive rights" has lulled our culture into accepting the notion that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is okay. It's not.

Pope Paul VI had it right when he wrote against contraception in Humanae Vitae:
"Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."
Compare and contrast: "reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires" and "consider her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."

And what, pray tell, did Vincent Walkem say when asked by the judge why he lied about his HIV-positive status?
"There's nothing I can say that can justify it. I wish it never happened," Walkem said. "I hope in the future to seek counselling to figure out why I made these terrible decisions."
Uh-huh. Counselling?

Psst — hey Vincent, rent a clue: you're a sinner (like the rest of us).

Trouble is, Vincent bought the lies our culture tells us (about lots of things).

Vast sums of money are being spent on developing treatments for HIV/AIDS — it's all going down the drain so long as we don't get people to change their behaviour. We can only do this if we change our thinking. There are many serious problems in the world: for starters, we're killing millions of unborn children. Developing expensive treatments so we can indulge our self-destructive behaviours shouldn't be high on our priority list. AIDS prevention through chastity education is a better strategy. Don't take my word for it — listen to this guy.

And what of the (now) 23-year old woman who tested HIV-positive?
The woman described how she suffers from frequent colds, "night sweats," fatigue and fevers, as well as depression, panic attacks and insomnia.

Because of these "permanent anxieties," she said in her victim impact statement, she's "unable to indulge in the relatively carefree life" of her friends.

Carefree life? Is that code language for immorality? Sorry, girl, game over. Think about using your situation to explain to others what sleeping around did to you. Otherwise, you're being as obtuse as the man who infected you.

Marked for life, indeed.

We all are — unless we repent, and "Go, sin no more." (Jn 8:11)