Sunday, March 18, 2012

Boycott Ellen!

In for a Penney, in for a pound

Ellen Degeneres and JC Penney have mortally offended me!

No, I'm not talking about that silly whining from the harpies at One Million Moms (who are no better at counting than they are at living in the 21st century). My objection is to the mathematically inaccurate television ad in which Ellen dons 19th century garb and asks a milliner the price of a hat. When the lady informs her that the hat costs “fourteen pounds and ninety-pence,” Ellen responds with, “Okay, so fifteen pounds.” The lady firmly disagrees, but Ellen persists and finally gets her to admit that the stated price is as good as fifteen pounds.


The British pound was not divided into 100 pennies (the “new pence” of 1971) until the 20th century. Before that, a pound was divided into 20 shillings, each of which was worth 12 pence. If you do the math, that's 240 pence (old pennies) to the pound. If 19th-century English hat shops had been in the habit of shaving off a penny to make prices look lower, a one-penny reduction in a hat costing 15 pounds would result in a price of 14 pounds, 19 shillings, 11 pence—or £14/19/11 in the notation of the day. My penpal in Birmingham (England) used to send me letters in the 1960s whose stamps were labeled in pence, e.g.,  4d (“d” was reserved to the old penny and was replaced by “p” when the new coinage was introduced).

My trust in Ellen is shattered and I will never again take her advice on matters monetary.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The sinless Santorum

An immaculate deception

As one might expect, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a lot to say about sin. Paragraph 1849 offers a definition:
Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”
I like the part about sin being “an offense against reason,” especially given the recent argument from the Catholic bishops of the United States, who consider it religious oppression if they are not allowed to truncate the health insurance coverage of their employees—at least the female ones. Reason has never been their trump card.

The Catechism explains that sin comes in various flavors and that no one can sin grievously without full knowledge:
1859. Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice.
Therefore sin is a conscious and deliberate act. You can't sin accidentally. This is convenient for Rick Santorum, who skirts around the fringe of grave sin by the simple expedient of not quite understanding what he's doing. And, in the unfortunate event that he does know what he's doing, he gets one more shot at pleading not guilty:
The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders.
I'm putting some money down on “pathological.”

The former senator from Pennsylvania, defrocked of his senatorial toga in a landslide repudiation in 2006, is a fervent opponent of abortion. He regards it as a sin against the Fifth Commandment (in the Catholic numbering scheme), “Thou shalt not kill.” Rick Santorum wants abortion banned—without exception. Or mostly without exception. When his wife's life was threatened by sepsis during a pregnancy gone wrong, Santorum agreed to allow doctors to induce labor to expel the infected fetus. This step, however, was apparently not taken when Mrs. Santorum's body began a premature delivery on its own. (No doubt this was done by God to preserve Santorum from accusations of having obtained an abortion for his spouse. God works in grotesque ways.)

No mortal sin there! Just a family tragedy in which difficult decisions were made, some of which Santorum would sternly forbid others to make. (It would be hypocrisy if only he were self-aware.)

The Seventh Commandment is “Thou shalt not steal.” One can break this commandment in both venial and mortal ways, rather like the distinction between misdemeanors and felonies. Where would you put $73,000 on this scale? (Yeah, me too.) That's the amount the Santorums allegedly took from the state of Pennsylvania to pay for the education of their children via an Internet-based charter school. As reported by a CBS affiliate,
Pennsylvania law requires school districts to pay for resident students who enroll in cyberschools, and Santorum at the time of the controversy said that the Penn Hills house was his family’s legal residence and that he paid taxes on it.
The Senator and his wife apparently thought (or pretended to think) that the children were eligible because their parents owned a home in the Penn Hills School District—despite the fact that the Santorums and their children were actually living in Virginia. The Pennsylvania home was used to maintain Rick Santorum's residency and eligibility to represent the state as an elected official. While his children were manifestly not resident in the Penn Hills district, Santorum argued that his use of state tax dollars to defray their homeschooling in Virginia was legitimate under Pennsylvania law. Others were not so sure.

The matter was eventually settled when Pennsylvania's education department ponied up $55,000 to pay off the Penn Hills School District. No wrongdoing was admitted by any of the parties.

No sin here!

Again, this would be hypocrisy if Santorum were consciously transgressing his own position against public education, but he's not. In my humble opinion, Rick Santorum is the most sincere politician out there. He is steeped in the self-righteousness of the True Believer and can do no wrong. He's on a mission from God and God's minions are allowed to cut corners occasionally because, hey, God is on their side. It's those other people (you know, liberals, queers, atheists, minorities, union members, etc.) who wrongly seek entitlements reserved only to the elect of God. The lack of self-awareness is staggering.

So I don't call Rick Santorum a hypocrite or a sinner. I call him a dangerously sincere fanatic. When he has finished his current strut across the political stage, let us hope he fades into the obscurity he so richly deserves. I'd pray for that, if I thought it would do any good. I'm sure Rick will be praying when it's all over: “But, Jesus! You promised to make me president of the world!”

Sorry about that, Rick. God lies a lot. He's exempt from the Eighth Commandment (the one about bearing false witness). Just ask Harold Camping. Old Harold falls for it over and over again.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Godforsaken logic

Preachy prelate plotzes

You know it's a new era when a Tory prime minister in the United Kingdom is firmly on record as supporting same-sex marriage. What's more, it seems that David Cameron is not merely paying lip service. One of Cameron's government ministers—Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister (I didn't know that cabinet position even existed)—is pursuing an investigation into the ways and means to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Not everyone in the Conservative Party is delighted, which is to be expected. It's also unsurprising to hear objections from the First Estate—that is, the British clergy. A particularly interesting demurer was issued by Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Of course, as a Catholic prelate he is not seated in the House of Lords. That is a privilege reserved to the Anglican bishops of the Church of England and various lords temporal. Nevertheless, O'Brien is a particularly high-ranking member of the clergy in the United Kingdom, serving as head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. The cardinal shared his views with the Sunday Telegraph:
Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense.
Perhaps the padre has a point: the extension of uniform marriage rights to the entire population would be a historical milestone. But is that not a good thing? Let's see what bee is buzzing in O'Brien's bonnet:
If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?

The cardinal is serving up an easy one! The school should consider dismissing the teacher on the grounds of ignorance: The Bible itself (an authoritative source where the cardinal is concerned) serves up numerous counterexamples. Solomon's multiple wives serve as a case in point, to say nothing of Jacob's marrying both Leah and her sister Rachel (plus some dalliances with their handmaidens). Even today there are many nations in which polygamy is permitted, although the United States declined to join in the fun when the Mormons advocated plural marriage. O'Brien is rather severely overstating the case when he declares that “marriage” has never meant anything other than “the union of a man and a woman.”
Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.
The cardinal's deliberate choice of the word “deprive” makes gay marriage sound like a direct assault on the rights of children—as he explicitly intended—but the Roman Catholic Church cares less about children than it pretends. It is perfectly willing to leave children in orphanages rather than let them be adopted by loving foster parents who happen to be gay. It has also demonstrated a perfect willingness to protect child-molesting clergy in its ranks. In brief, the Church has no standing or credibility when it comes to arguing on behalf of children. None.
Why not allow three men or a woman and two men to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another? If marriage is simply about adults who love each other, on what basis can three adults who love each other be prevented from marrying?
Heck, I'd let them do it even if they don't pledge fidelity to one another. Consenting adults may create such marriage constellations as they wish, depending on their own decisions and willingness to persevere in the face of likely befuddled reactions from society at large. (It would, I know, puzzle me why people would want to do that, but I wouldn't consider it my call.) But the cardinal is sending up a smoke-screen. Does the desiccated old bachelor really think polyamory is going to become all the rage, wreaking confusion on all of society's functions? Hardly. Let the adventurous minority work out their own preferences and issues. O'Brien need not worry about a clamor for Church-sanctioned gang marriages.
Disingenuously, the Government has suggested that same-sex marriage wouldn’t be compulsory and churches could choose to opt out. This is staggeringly arrogant. No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage. Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that “no one will be forced to keep a slave”.
The cardinal has gone all the way from specious argument to offensive polemic. He makes his point with an analogy that would be vapid for its irrelevance if it were not so noisome. But perhaps we should thank Cardinal O'Brien for offering an argument that compares approval of same-sex marriage with the revival of slavery.

It shows the cardinal to be a fool, and such people are seldom listened to. Decent people may now go about their business and pay him no further mind.