Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good Intentions

All of the best intentions cannot excuse the harm that results from the type of programmatic approaches typified by this one in Washington DC, reported on by the Washington Post.

Too often the good intentions are combined with a tremendous lack of knowledge about the interiority of the predatory criminals who inhabit the criminal world, often causing great harm to the innocent public they see as prey.

The youth who will benefit from this type of approach are those who generally spin out of the criminal justice system after one or two encounters under the traditional normal conditions anyway, partly because those traditional 'normal' conditions are rather severe.

An excerpt.

“Inside Oak Hill's barbed-wire perimeter in Laurel, harsh punishment for the District's juvenile offenders is out. Therapy is in.

“The dingy cellblock where the most unruly were sequestered, where they scribbled shout-outs to dead homies and angry threats on the walls, is abandoned. The cellblocks now have carpeting and cushioned furniture.

“Striking an officer, smoking marijuana or destroying property no longer gets a young offender thrown into a dark cell to stew. Now, they call a meeting.

“It's part of an evolving, controversial effort by the District to deter young delinquents from becoming career criminals by keeping fewer behind bars and surrounding the rest with counselors, drug rehabilitation and social workers at their homes to strengthen broken families.

“Vincent Schiraldi is the outspoken architect of change. As director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services since 2005, Schiraldi rejects physical punishment and isolation to teach lessons. Instead, he dispatches his charges to camp in the desert, to rebuild houses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and to perform Shakespeare for the mayor.

"You have got to lock up as few as possible," he said. "The ones you do lock up, you have got to treat them in a way that can turn their lives around and not create the self-concept that the next stop is D.C. jail and the federal Bureau of Prisons."

“But Schiraldi's stand has provoked an argument about reconciling the needs of damaged youths with the public's need to be protected from them.

“Fierce opposition has come from law enforcement and residents in neighborhoods including Shaw, Columbia Heights and Capitol Hill who feel endangered by the young robbers and thieves whom Schiraldi has let out on probation. Critics point to his failures: An average of six youths a year killed in street violence while under his care (about the same as before he arrived) and an embarrassing escape of one youth from Schiraldi's house during a party for staff workers and young inmates.

“The head of the local Fraternal Order of Police has accused the city of adopting a "hug and release" policy. Even those who agree with Schiraldi's desire to stanch the disproportionate flow of black boys into the criminal justice system contend that it's better to send some teenagers to the adult system rather than to Schiraldi's care.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nonprofit Infrastructure

In the rush to fund infrastructure to help the nation’s economic recovery, this article from Brookings suggests using some of that for the nonprofit infrastructure and that is a good idea; except for the really bad part of the idea that would ban religious nonprofits from funding when they have traditionally been the most effective at providing help.

An excerpt.

“DECEMBER 22, 2008 — No one knows how deep or prolonged this recession will be but each new batch of figures is scarier than the last.

“For this reason, President-elect Obama has decided to take bold action to prevent further damage and revive the economy with a very large fiscal stimulus package—up to $1 trillion over two years. The list of priorities shows that everything is on the table: tax cuts, aid to state governments, and infrastructure—roads, bridges, schools—plus energy efficiency, broadband access and health-information technology.

“But there is one big sector that got left off the list: human infrastructure—in the form of investments in the nonprofit sector. Investing just 10 percent of the stimulus, or up to $100 billion, in nonprofits is very important, especially since they are also being hit by these hard economic times. By including this sector we can take advantage of a huge network of institutions that work hard every day to improve the welfare of communities and individuals, that will spend the money quickly, that have the capacity to spread the dollars widely, and that in the absence of such help will need to shrink and thus become another drag on the economy.

“The nonprofit sector in the U.S. is relatively large and diverse. In 2006, it received almost $1 trillion in revenue and spent or gave away almost all of this. It employs 10 percent of the work force and has grown rapidly in recent years. It includes a wide diversity of organizations from very small, locally-based soup kitchens or mentoring programs to large universities, hospitals, and social service groups like the Red Cross. Unlike the household sector it does virtually no saving and thus any funds provided to this sector will be fully spent and spent in a way that the citizens who voluntarily support such efforts approve. And unlike spending on new infrastructure projects, most of the money will move into the economy very rapidly and employ people with a broad range of skills – skills that go far beyond those needed to repair a highway or create cleaner energy. Finally, without such assistance this sector will shrink, adding to the ranks of the unemployed. Like state governments, this sector must balance its budgets and since it is likely to see a sharp drop in donations as the result of both the recession, and the decline in stock prices or other asset values, it will be forced to cut back thereby adding an additional downward pull on the economy.

“How might an effort to involve this sector be implemented? To keep it simple, one option would be to designate all nonreligious charitable organizations, so-called “public charities” as eligible, to earmark a portion of the stimulus package (say 10 to 20 percent) for this purpose, and to distribute the funds in proportion to the amount each organization reported to the IRS for the prior year. A portion of the funds could also be set aside for the faith-based organizations that provide social services, and allocated by the federal agencies that have been handling this program in the current administration. These organizations need to be treated separately because they are not required to report to the IRS and because it would not be appropriate for taxpayer dollars to be spent on religious activities as opposed to the social service work such organizations often do and do well. It would also be possible to have these same offices handle grants to nonreligious organizations but if we want to get the dollars out quickly and with a minimum of bureaucracy, a simpler option is preferable. It doesn’t get the government in the business of picking and choosing which nonprofits to support, and it still leaves 80 to 90 percent of the package for such conventional items as tax rebates, assistance to state and local governments, extensions of unemployment insurance, food stamps, and infrastructure projects of all kinds.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Criminal World

In a world where the prince of the world is a murderer from the beginning and the great deceiver, the reality of which value system stimulates the most adoration is rarely in doubt; except during those blessed periods, in blessed locales, where the Kingdom of Heaven dwells in enough stout hearts to bless that small part of the larger world.

However, what has happened in Mexico is horrible, as this article from the Los Angeles Times reports, but we can take little comfort from our culture which worships mightily at the fount of riches—regardless of source—and the most popular movies are often criminal world epics, which, in the spirit of full disclosure, I also enjoy.

An excerpt.

“Reporting from Culiacan, Mexico — Yudit del Rincon, a 44-year-old lawmaker, went before the state legislature this year with a proposition: Let's require lawmakers to take drug tests to prove they are clean.

“Her colleagues greeted the idea with applause. Then she sprang a surprise on them: Two lab technicians waited in the audience to administer drug tests to every state lawmaker. We should set the example, she said.

“They nearly trampled one another in the stampede to the door, Del Rincon recalled.

“Del Rincon wasn't all that shocked. She was born and bred here in the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa, home of the drug racket's top leaders, its most talented impresarios and some of its dirtiest government and police officials.

“Swaths of Sinaloa periodically become no-go zones for outsiders; the central government abdicated control long ago. By one estimate, 32 towns are run by gangsters.

“In Culiacan, the capital, casinos outnumber libraries, and dealerships for yachts and Hummers cater to the inexplicably wealthy.

“This is where narco folklore started, with songs and icons that pay homage to gangsters, and where children want to grow up to be traffickers. How Sinaloa confronts its own divided soul offers insight on where the drug war may be going for Mexico, where more than 5,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence this year.

"The monster has lost all proportion," said Del Rincon, who is a member of the conservative National Action Party.

“A spunky woman with large eyes and hands that seem to be in constant motion, Del Rincon scans other tables at cafes where she meets people, making sure she knows who is within earshot; she lowers her voice when she names names. Her husband and closest confidant keeps tabs on her whereabouts throughout each day.

“Such are the risks of speaking out.

"The narcos have networks meshed into the fabric of business, culture, politics -- every corner of life."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sexuality Within Marriage

One of the sacraments for transformed criminals effectively working within the apostolate of transforming other criminals is being married and the strength and power of a wonderful marriage will help provide the balance and sustainability within that difficult work so necessary for its success.

Michael Novak writes in First Things.

An excerpt.

“Against this common vision of sexual normalcy [that of the pagan world] stood the towering Moses. He taught Israel, virtually alone, to embrace a new standard for human sexual life. This standard gave its blessing solely to sexual acts between a man and a woman in the covenanted relationship of monogamous marriage. What a great channeling of sexual energies this provision achieved. What a great concentration of energies it brought to the world. What great, non-instrumental dignity it gave to women.

“Many elites in other cultures continued to exhaust their energies in polymorphous sex. They expended whole days on the arts of pleasure—the smells, the scents, the music, the languorous bodies of dancers. And in this sexually saturated world, women remained mere instruments. As Norman Sussman wrote, “The woman was seen as serving but two roles. As a wife, she ran the home. As a courtesan, she satisfied male sexual desires.” “When sensory pleasures are considered the highest aim of life—not study nor inquiry nor civic virtue—economic and cultural development is heavily retarded.

“Is sexual activity the highest end of life? For Moses and the people of Israel, it assuredly was not. It was of course a great good, and one essential to the perpetuation of the human race. Sexuality was not meant to be repressed. But it was meant to run—and to run deep—in only one channel.

“From this sublimation there arose two great social consequences. First, women achieved sexual equality with men in the holy union of marriage. “In His image [God] made them, male and female He made them” (Genesis 1:27). This text says clearly that the divine radiance in human life shines through the marital union of man and woman. Therein, each person finds completeness. Only together, fully one, does the married couple bear the image of the Creator.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Funding Programs That Don’t Work

Here is another news story validating what most well-informed criminal justice practitioners already know, there is no evidence that substance-abuse treatment programs work (though there is evidence that some programs actually make the problems worse) and that the vast sums of money spent on them could very well be wasted, merely supporting the staff bureaucracy that maintains the programs, a story familiar with many social service structures.

One that made the problem worse and was a very costly failure, was California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation—$1 billion for all prisoner and parolee programs since 1989, and $278 million of that for in-prison programs—substance-abuse program that was audited by the Office of the Inspector General (2007), which found:

“Unfortunately, as presently operated, the in-prison substance abuse treatment programs managed by the Office of Substance Abuse Programs are ineffective at reducing recidivism and in that regard represent both a waste of money and a missed opportunity to change lives. Numerous university studies of the programs over the past nine years consistently show little or no difference in recidivism rates between participants of the in-prison programs and inmates who received no substance abuse treatment. In fact, a five-year university of California, Los Angeles study of the two largest in-prison programs found that the 12-month recidivism rate for inmates who had received in-prison treatment was slightly higher than that of a nonparticipating control group.” (2007). Special review into in-prison substance abuse programs managed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Sacramento, California. State Printing Office. p. 1, highlighting added)

An excerpt from the news story.

“Every year, state and federal governments spend more than $15 billion, and insurers at least $5 billion more, on substance-abuse treatment services for some four million people. That amount may soon increase sharply: last year, Congress passed the mental health parity law, which for the first time includes addiction treatment under a federal law requiring that insurers cover mental and physical ailments at equal levels.

“Many clinics across the county have waiting lists, and researchers estimate that some 20 million Americans who could benefit from treatment do not get it.

“Yet very few rehabilitation programs have the evidence to show that they are effective. The resort-and-spa private clinics generally do not allow outside researchers to verify their published success rates. The publicly supported programs spend their scarce resources on patient care, not costly studies.

“And the field has no standard guidelines. Each program has its own philosophy; so, for that matter, do individual counselors. No one knows which approach is best for which patient, because these programs rarely if ever track clients closely after they graduate. Even Alcoholics Anonymous, the best known of all the substance-abuse programs, does not publish data on its participants’ success rate.

“What we have in this country is a washing-machine model of addiction treatment,” said A. Thomas McClellan, chief executive of the nonprofit Treatment Research Institute, based in Philadelphia. “You go to Shady Acres for 30 days, or to some clinic for 60 visits or 60 doses, whatever it is. And then you’re discharged and everyone’s crying and hugging and feeling proud — and you’re supposed to be cured.”
“He added: “It doesn’t really matter if you’re a movie star going to some resort by the sea or a homeless person. The system doesn’t work well for what for many people is a chronic, recurring problem.”

“In recent years state governments, which cover most of the bill for addiction services, have become increasingly concerned, and some, including Delaware, North Carolina, and Oregon, have sought ways to make the programs more accountable. The experience of Oregon, which has taken the most direct and aggressive action, illustrates both the promise and perils of trying to inject science into addiction treatment.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

Transparent World

The placing of criminal records online, as reported in this news article, which is spreading to more states and will eventually be in almost all of them, only validates what has been happening worldwide for several decades, the birth of a transparent world where virtually every bit of information about individuals, organizations, and governments, is available online.

In many ways this is a good thing, in some a bad, but the bringing of light into the ancient dark world of the criminal is surely a good thing over-all.

An excerpt.

“WATERBURY, Vt. - Worried your daughter's new boyfriend might have a nefarious past? Want to know whether the job applicant in front of you has a rap sheet?

“Finding out can be a mouse click away, thanks to the growing crop of searchable online databases run directly by states. Vermont launched its service Monday, and now about 20 states have some form of them.

“The Web sites provide a valuable and time-saving service to employers and businesses by allowing them to look up criminal convictions without having to submit written requests and wait for the responses. And they're popular: Last month alone, Florida's site performed 38,755 record checks.”

Thursday, December 25, 2008

In the Company of Saints at Christmastime

It is Christmastime and the chapel is filled with flowers sharing their fragrance and beauty with all of us in Mass today, a gray, cold, and cloudy day, brightened so much by the fact we are at Mass and the flowers are lovely and precious, brought by the saintly women of the parish.

My wife and I are converts to the Catholic Church, having been baptized in 2004, so we’re still in the process of learning about this universal community stretching through eons of time and encompassing so much temporal and spiritual space; but one thing we have learned is how much deeper we appreciate Christmas—the Advent Season—since becoming Catholic.

For many months the glow from our baptism carried me happily along in the observance of the sacramental life of the Church so familiar to many Cradle Catholics, attending Sunday Mass regularly, supporting the Church, blending many of the rituals around the liturgical seasons into our daily life; but then as the glow from the baptism wore somewhat off I entered a period of spiritual dryness.

The dryness came largely from the increased reading and study of the Catholic life in the United States and around the world, and as I began to see the human failures and satanic work in the priestly abuse of children; apparently connected to the deep trough of relativism the Church in America and Europe had been wallowing in for several decades as she struggled to combat the enemies from within and without.

I began exploring membership in strongly devout lay Catholic organizations I felt would help recapture the glow of baptism but what I found instead, was that what I thought I needed from Catholic organizations was something I only needed to do myself; embrace the daily practice of communion, prayer, and devotion.

The spiritual dryness I thought was calling me deeper back into the Church through lay organizational involvement was instead just a simple call to the daily table.

In June of this year I began attending daily Mass and observing the daily practice—praying the rosary, midday and evening prayers—I knew was part of living a deeper sacramental life in the Church. After several weeks of the daily practice I began to realize that the blessing and grace I was receiving was so wonderful in itself I needed no further stimulus to maintain it.

I also found, in the daily homiletic teaching from the priests of our parish, refreshment and broadening of spiritual grace that was deeply enhancing our journey into Catholicism as well as the sacramental grace received through daily reception of the Holy Eucharist.

However, the most wonderful grace is that received from being in the company of saints—Mass with the saints—both those whose stories we acknowledge each day, and the many saints surrounding me in the parish pews whose stories I do not know but whose faith and devotion to Holy Mother Church is so evident through their daily practice, and so beautifully represented in the flowers this Christmastime.

Their apostolates are reflected in their prayer intentions where they call for prayers for the apostolate of life, for vocations, for recovery; ah, what work these women do.

I have no doubt that those who come to daily mass are among the most deeply faithful of the parish and how much more potently will their prayers bring comfort to the suffering for whom they pray.

Women—who have been so marginalized throughout human history, yet retain the clarity of spirit, as did Mary, the mother of our Lord and Mary Magdalene, to see the truth—and it is they who are first in the daily mass, they who do almost all of the readings, they who mostly distribute the body and blood of our Lord; they the saints aborning, who I am privileged to be among each morning; and which most deeply resonates during Christmastime.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

World Economics & the Church, Conclusion

I’m reading, what I consider the single best expression of the social teaching of the Church, the two volume work by Rodger Charles S.J., published in Great Britain in 1998, Christian Social Witness and Teaching: The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus (Volume 1) & (Volume 2) The Modern Social Teaching Contexts: Summaries: Analysis; and in Volume 2, I just read a section on the world economic crisis of 1929-1934, and the parallels to what we are now going through are astounding.

An excellent review of the full work is at the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets & Morality, and the best place to find both volumes is either through Abe Books or through the publisher, Gracewing Publishing.

This is the conclusion of three parts excerpted from volume 2 of Fr. Charles’ book.

Here is the excerpt.

“The international economy therefore had become unstable because the conditions which had made the 1914 structures operate so efficiently no longer existed, and the conditions of the late 1920’s in the United States combined to bring out the weaknesses in that economy. The Young Plan agreed in 1929, on which German hopes of long-term economic stability depended, assumed the continuance of those short-term loans which the country had attracted and Dr. Stresemann had warned in 1928 that ‘if a crisis were to arise and the Americans called in their short-term loans we would be faced with bankruptcy’. It was precisely that situation which came to be a year later.

“The result of the slowing down of German economic activity was a growing increase in the number of unemployed: there were 1.3 million in 1929; a year later that figure had nearly tripled to 3.14 million. It was no accident that the Nazis for the first time became a major political force in 1930. The number of the seats they held in the Reichstag leaped from 12 to 107. It continued to grow as the crisis deepened, and though they never received a popular majority, they were a very powerful minority and the ruthlessness and uncanny judgment of their leader enabled him to exploit the weaknesses of a crumbling political system to lie, bully and cheat his way to absolute power.

“Great Britain had not prospered in the 1920s, mainly because of the poor performance of her basic industries and the effects of the 1925 return to gold at a level which overvalued the pound. Ironically the shock of the depression was somewhat lessened by this unfortunate inheritance. The continuing grimness of life for many and the apparent miserliness of the government’s response to the extra social needs of a continued and deepened economic depression further embittered and soured social and industrial relations. In the United States, the depression cut deep indeed. By 1932 stock prices had fallen 83 per cent from their peak, production 40 per cent, wages 60 per cent and dividends 57 per cent; between fifteen and seventeen million were unemployed, money had lost half its value and credit could not be had. Conditions such as these were a challenge and not only to the political stability of the weakened and short-lived German democracy. They were threatening the world’s two oldest and most stable democracies, that of Britain and the USA. The attractions of Fascism and Marxism, promising strong leadership in the face of growing chaos, and the advent of a form of social planning that would avoid the wild gyrations of the capitalist system, were becoming attractive. That appeal was always limited but it was real throughout the 1930s and beyond. The lasting legacy in England was the Soviet spy network staffed by so many intellectually able young men of the middle and upper classes recruited in Cambridge University during this time. Fascism had its adherents too, but they did not pose the long-term threat of the dedicated communists. In the United States, the pattern was similar; the shock to the social fabric was stronger there since hopes had been high of perpetual prosperity in the 1920s and the scale of the subsequent recession was greater.

“The fundamental assumptions of Western society were in this period questioned more profoundly that at any time since the Enlightenment. The assurance that liberal democracy and capitalism were the only way to run a modern State that had grown up in its wake was no longer so self-confident. Democracy did not seem to be working as it should and capitalism seemed to be fundamentally harsh and cruel, with little place for justice, let alone for brotherhood, charity, or respect for common humanity and its needs. Any attempt at guidance by the Church in these circumstances would have to look to the social foundations of mature capitalism.

“The first purpose of Quadragesimo Anno (‘in the fortieth year’) was to celebrate the anniversary of Leo XIII’s great encyclical in 1891, but it was also to ‘summon to court the contemporary economic regime…passing judgment on socialism…[to] lay bare the root of the existing social confusion and at the same time to point the only way to a sound restoration’.

“It came to be subtitled ‘On reconstructing the social order’.” (pp. 62-63)

For the rest of this section Fr. Charles analyzes the encyclical and I would recommend that, in addition to buying the two volume work for your library, go to the Vatican website and read the great encyclical of 1931 by Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno: On reconstructing the social order.

I would also suggest you read what Pope Benedict XVI has been saying about the current economic situation, most recently in the Message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace 2009.

This concludes the series on world economics and the Church.

The great hush as the world awaits the coming is now beginning, enjoy your Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

World Economics & the Church, Part Two

I’m reading, what I consider the single best expression of the social teaching of the Church, the two volume work by Rodger Charles S.J., published in Great Britain in 1998, Christian Social Witness and Teaching: The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus (Volume 1) & (Volume 2) The Modern Social Teaching Contexts: Summaries: Analysis; and in Volume 2, I just read a section on the world economic crisis of 1929-1934, and the parallels to what we are now going through are astounding.

An excellent review of the full work is at the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets & Morality, and the best place to find both volumes is either through Abe Books or through the publisher, Gracewing Publishing.

This is the second of three parts excerpted from volume 2 of Fr. Charles’ book.

Here is the excerpt.

“Germany had stabilized after the ruinous inflation of 1922-3; large loans were made available to her, America being the main creditor, and her economy flourished. It looked as though ‘normality’ had returned; for five years Europe was indeed peaceful and on the whole prosperous, while America enjoyed the ‘roaring twenties’. There it seemed that it was upwards all the way. Population and productivity grew, construction and the new industries, pre-eminently electrical appliances and motor vehicles, expanded enormously. Closer inspection however revealed that the pattern was very patchy. Older manufacturers were not booming, nor was agriculture; unemployment remained high and social security provisions were minimal. No matter: the illusion of never-ending prosperity had taken hold of the stock market, where from 1925 there raged a speculative boom which recalled all the manias from the South Sea Bubble onward.

“The idea of stocks and shares soberly valued by the market according to earnings went by the board. They became commodities which it was assumed would always rise in price and could be sold on a ‘bull’, that is a rising market. Every section of that market, brokers, traders, bankers, financiers, collaborated in ever more illegal, irresponsible and immoral ways to stoke it while the going was good. Sober warnings that it could only end in disaster were being made by those who had ears to hear. The Standard and Poors agency had always been cautious and skeptical, and the New York Times had tried to keep its readers in touch with reality, but their voices were drowned in the chorus of boundless optimism that issued from the press, the academies and business leaders generally, until on 24 October 1929 the bubble finally burst.

“America’s problems had been reflecting themselves in the world economy before 1929; the outflow of capital to Europe had been checked during the frenzy of the boom, while European capital had been attracted to the American market, undermining currencies and weakening industries. Now the USA registered a deep fall in prices, production, employment and trade; the protectionist Hawley Smoot tariffs of 1930 made matters worse, and Europe became protectionist too, magnifying the plunging decline in world trade. Falling prices meant reductions in production everywhere and declining production led to rising unemployment as workers were laid off. Then, just as the unlucky President Hoover was convincing himself the worst was over in 1931, the collapse of the Creditanstalt Bank of Vienna, a result of the destabilization of Europe’s financial system following on that of the American stock market, set off a new round of disaster. Britain’s abandonment of the gold standard marked the end of the old order and helped set off a further spiral of depression and unemployment which many thought presaged the end of the capitalist system that Marxists had been predicting.” (pp. 60-61)

(To be concluded on 12/24)

Monday, December 22, 2008

World Economics & the Church, Part One

I’m reading what I consider the single best expression of the social teaching of the Church, the two volume work by Rodger Charles S.J., published in Great Britain in 1998, Christian Social Witness and Teaching: The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus (Volume 1) & (Volume 2) The Modern Social Teaching Contexts: Summaries: Analysis; and in Volume 2, I just read a section on the world economic crisis of 1929-1934, and the parallels to what we are now going through are astounding.

This will be the first of three parts excerpted from volume 2 of Fr. Charles’ book.

An excellent review of the full work is at the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets & Morality, and the best place to find both volumes is either through Abe Books or through the publisher, Gracewing Publishing.

In the excerpt, substituting the United States for when Britain is mentioned and New York for London helps with the current parallels.

Here is the excerpt.

"3 The world economic recession 1929-34 and the Church

"(i) The course of the recession

"Fascism in Italy and Germany was a rising cause for concern in 1931, but the economic crisis loomed larger for most people, for there was hardly a household in the industrialized world untouched by it, while those in the less industrialized world who supplied raw materials for the industries and food for its people, were also badly hit. Central to the multiple causes of the problem was the shift of economic power away from Europe as a result of its expending its wealth in the recent fratricidal war. Before it, Europe’s, and especially Britain’s, trade and finance had done more than anything else to create a world economy. It was one which served the needs of British and European capitalism first of all, but it could not do that without developing sinews which helped as well as exploited, other nations. In particular, Britain’s need to invest and sell overseas, and the working of the gold standard in this context, expanded international trade and finance in a manner which, despite periodic slumps, had been consistently self-sustaining and it was on it that the international economy largely depended.

"But post-war, many of Europe’s industries were either unable or unwilling to adapt to compete on the same scale as before the war and therefore their trade declined. Meanwhile, paying for the war had drained much gold away to America, which was less dependent on international trade and investment and therefore not playing the same role as Europe had in stimulating the international monetary and trading systems. These were still very dependent on London which was looking forward to the return of ‘normality’, that was, to the pre-war status quo and the gold standard. It was a vain hope since the economic strengths and relationships on which that normality had depended were no more.

"On top of all this were the political dislocations resulting from the peace settlements that had undermined Europe economically and politically, and the imposition of reparations which did not help rebuild the long-term strengths of the system. It took some time for the full effects of these distortions to produce their full effects, and for much of the 1920’s it seemed as if the situation might redeem itself. There had been a boom 1919-20 and though this had given way to slump 1920-1, by the mid twenties the situation seemed set fair. In 1925 Britain had returned to the gold standard, with every major economic power except France following suit within the year, France joining them in 1927; in 1925 Stresemann of Germany and Briand of France had negotiated the Treaty of Locarno which promised peace and prosperity to Europe." (pp. 59-60)

(To be continued 12/23)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The World & Christmas: Part Two

Yesterday I commented on a book review that noted the chaos that is Africa and today’s post concerns the chaos that is Detroit.

It is a sad and tragic recount of what happens in a city when governance becomes theft and the public becomes the prey, as this story from The Weekly Standard reports.

An excerpt.

“Somewhere along the way, Detroit became our national ashtray, a safe place for everyone to stub out the butt of their jokes. This was never more evident than at the recent congressional hearings, featuring the heads of the Big Three automakers, now more often called the Detroit Three as that sounds more synonymous with failure. Yes, they have been feckless and tone-deaf in the past, and now look like stalkers trying to make people love them with desperation moves such as Ford breaking the "Taurus" name out of mothballs, or Chrysler steering a herd of cattle through downtown Detroit for an auto show (some of the longhorns started humping each other in front of reporters, giving new meaning to the "Dodge Ram," which they were intended to advertise).

“But with millions of jobs on the line, including their own, the Detroit Three honchos went to Washington to endure the kabuki theater, first in their private jets, then in their sad little hybrids. All to get their slats kicked in by Congress (and who has been more profligate than they) in order to secure a bridge loan to withstand an economy wrecked by others who'd secured no-strings bailouts before them. The absurdist spectacle was best summed up by car aficionado Jay Leno: "People who are trillions of dollars in debt, yelling at people who are billions of dollars in debt."

“It happens, though, when you're from Detroit. In the popular imagination, the Motor City has gone from being the Arsenal of Democracy, so named for their converting auto factories to make the weapons which helped us win World War II, and the incubator of the middle class (now leading the nation in foreclosure rates, Detroit once had the highest rate of home ownership in the country), to being Dysfunction Junction. To Detroit's credit, they've earned it.

“Before arriving, I conducted an exhaustive survey, reading everything I could about Detroit, including and especially the journalistic labor of the diligent if shell-shocked scribes of the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. How bad is Detroit? Let's review:

“Its recently resigned mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, he of the Kangol hats and five-button suits, now wears jailhouse orange as he's currently serving a four-month sentence as part of a plea agreement for perjuring himself regarding an extramarital affair with his chief of staff, which yielded soupy love-daddy text messages that would make Barry White yak in his grave. Those in Detroit who are neither recipients of sweetheart contracts nor Kilpatrick family members on the city payroll at inflated salaries think he got off easy. Because what led to the perjury was concealing an $8.4 million payout from city coffers to settle a whistleblower suit brought by cops who'd been fired for investigating, among other things, the murder of a stripper named Strawberry who, prior to her death, was allegedly beat up by Kilpatrick's wife when she caught her entertaining her husband.

“In a city often known as the nation's murder capital, with over 10,000 unsolved murders dating back to 1960, the police are in shambles through cutbacks and corruption trials. (They have a profitable sideline, though, as one of the nation's largest gun dealers, having sold 14 tons of used weapons out-of-state.) Their response times are legendarily slow. Their crime lab is so inept that it has been closed. One Detroit man found police so unresponsive when trying to turn himself in for murder that he hopped a bus to Toledo and confessed there instead.

“Detroit schools haven't ordered new textbooks in 19 years. Students have reported having to bring their own toilet paper. Teachers have reported bringing hammers to class for protection. Declining enrollment has forced 67 school closures since 2005 (more than a quarter of the city's schools). The graduation rate is 24.9 percent, the lowest of any large school district in the country. Not for nothing did one frustrated activist start pelting school board members with grapes during a meeting. She probably should've reached for something heavier.

“An internal audit, which was 14 months late, estimates next year's city deficit to be as high as $200 million (helped along by $335,000 embezzled from the Department of Health and Wellness Promotion). With a dwindling tax base--even the city's three once-profitable casinos are seeing a downturn in revenues (the Greektown Casino is in bankruptcy)--the city has kicked around every money-making scheme from selling off ownership rights to the tunnel it shares with neighboring Windsor, Canada, to a fast food tax. It's perhaps unsurprising that Detroit now has the most speed traps in the nation.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The World & Christmas

For those of us fortunate enough to live in the comfortable enclaves of the west, where a stability of life—even within the current financial turmoil—has existed for hundreds of years, the chaos of other parts of our world still comes as a shock, even when it concerns the greatest of chaotic places, Africa; so well represented by these stories from a book written by a Jesuit priest reviewed in First Things.

And though we know and often read about the chaos and casual brutality within our western world in the daily papers and watch it on the daily news, we are drawn to the seemingly endless degradation of Africa—where fortunately, the Church is growing mightily—in the hopes our eyes and ears will see and hear something else someday; which continued Church growth may help bring about.

An excerpt.

“A knight who battles windmills; a traveling salesman who wakes up one morning a bug; a freed slave who decides to own slaves: One mark of great literature is its power to confront our imaginations with unexpected, idiosyncratic premises and, through the act of storytelling, make it possible for us to find in such premises core elements of wider human experience. Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, and Edward P. Jones’ Henry Townsend (from his novel The Known World) are all characters whose experiences of the world manage at once to captivate us in their irreducible differences from our quotidian own and also keep us reading on, compelled by startling, wonderful, disarming and occasionally unwanted moments of identification with them. “An Ex-Mas Feast,” the opening story of Nigerian writer Uwem Akpan’s first book, Say You’re One of Them, offers just such a blend of the strange and familiar. But before saying more about that remarkable piece of fiction, something needs to be said about the wonderful strangeness of this book’s provenance: When was the last time, if ever, a book of literary fiction has been published that opens with a story that first appeared in the New Yorker and ends with a laudatory note from a Catholic bishop?

“Akpan is a Nigerian-born Jesuit priest who currently teaches in a seminary in Zimbabwe; prior to taking up this position, he studied in the United Sates, and in 2005 he published his first ever fiction, in no less than the New Yorker. This book, one has to assume, came by way of the immediate prominence Akpan gained as a first-time writer appearing in those rarefied pages. While not all the stories and two novellas that make up the collection are of the same quality, those that stand out announce a bold and morally-ordered imagination capable of revealing universal human experiences in places and moments that the First World would much rather identify with through wrist-bands and benefit concerts.

“Now that my eldest sister, Maisha, was twelve, none of us knew how to relate to her anymore”: so opens “An Ex-Mas Feast.” The eight-year old narrator, in complaining about his older sister’s recent separateness from the rest of the family, articulates the confusion and frustration that any family, anywhere, at any time, experiences in dealing with a girl at that changeful age. Unsurprisingly, mother and daughter fight a lot: “Sometimes Mama went out of her way to provoke her. ‘Malaya! Whore! You don’t even have breasts yet!’ she’d say. Maisha would ignore her.” Of course the girl ignores her mother’s scolding—what self-respecting twelve-year old wouldn’t? But she ignores it not because her mother is exaggerating the girl’s behavior for effect, but because she has her work to do: She’s a Nairobi prostitute and the family breadwinner. In unfolding the rest of the tale (which takes place over a hot and rainy Christmas day the family spends waiting for the eldest daughter to bring home dinner), Akpan avoids the easy refuges of sentimentality and melodrama for a startlingly matter-of-fact revelation of family life proceeding under extreme conditions. The husband and wife bicker about husband and wife things while the children are made to sniff glue to stay their hunger; the older siblings help with the new baby by taking him into the streets to beg with; the father tries to keep his sleeping daughter comfortable through the mosquito-infested hot night by tearing off their shack’s front door and fanning her with it.”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obedience & Destiny

Fr; James V. Schall, S.J. has a wonderful article in the Fall issue of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly (requires subscription) entitled The First Act of Obedience and it is a profound reflection on the meaning of responding to the often ineffable call from God to each individual to “reach the destiny God intended for him”.

An excerpt.

“Man experiences himself as tending beyond his human imperfection toward the perfection of the divine ground that moves him.” (Eric Voeglin, Anamnesis)….

“The religious life was never conceived by the Church to be a life for everyone, while the call to be converted was intended for all, if many were called, but few chosen. None the less, Voeglin’s happy phrase that everyone “tends” to the “divine ground” that “moves” him expresses the same point that Augustine made famous when he said that our hearts are made for God and will not rest until they find what they are made for.

“The word “vocation” has been broadened so that every task, not just the religious life, is considered a “calling.” Whatever be our worldly occupation, “doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief,” we stand equally before the Lord. Everyone is called to that for which he was made. This end was not merely something in this world, though this world is the arena of final decision of our destiny. Those called to be carpenters, athletes, or merchants “tend” to the same divine ground as any other existent human being.” (Volume 31, #3, pp. 20 & 22)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Liturgy & The Poor

In a General Audience in October Pope Benedict talked of the connection between our care for the poor and the liturgy and it is a wonderful connection, too often forgotten once the gifting of Christmas passes us.

An excerpt.

“Perhaps we are no longer able to understand fully the meaning that Paul and his communities attributed to the collection for the poor of Jerusalem. It was a completely new initiative in the area of religious activities: it was not obligatory, but free and spontaneous; all the Churches that were founded by Paul in the West took part. The collection expressed the community's debt to the Mother Church of Palestine, from which they had received the ineffable gift of the Gospel. The value that Paul attributes to this gesture of sharing is so great that he seldom calls it merely a "collection".

"Rather, for him it is "service", "blessing", "gift", "grace", even "liturgy" (cf. 2 Cor 9). Particularly surprising is the latter term which gives a value that is even religious to a collection of money: on the one hand it is a liturgical act or "service" offered by every community to God and on the other, it is a loving action made for people. Love for the poor and the divine liturgy go hand in hand, love for the poor is liturgy. The two horizons are present in every liturgy that is celebrated and experienced in the Church which, by her nature, is opposed to any separation between worship and life, between faith and works, between prayer and charity for the brethren. Thus, the Council of Jerusalem came into being to settle the question of how to treat Gentiles who came to the faith, opting for freedom from circumcision and from the observances imposed by the Law, and it was settled by the ecclesial and pastoral need that is centred on faith in Jesus Christ and love for the poor of Jerusalem and the whole Church.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pro Life & Slavery

The argument that the pro life cause is related to slavery is powerful and obviously true at the foundational level of having the ability to destroy a human being as if an individual human life was simply a commodity.

This article from John Allen looks at that.

An excerpt.

“In a stroke of pro-life rhetoric that may have particular resonance in the United States, senior church officials are increasingly comparing the defense of unborn life today, including opposition to abortion and the destruction of human embryos, to the struggle against slavery and racism in earlier historical periods.

“That argument comes at a moment when the United States is celebrating the election of the first African American to the presidency, and thus the country’s progress in race relations since the era of slavery.

“Yet in making that comparison, officials may also have to come terms with the church’s own checkered past, since prior to the late 19th century official Catholic teaching did not generally regard slavery as an “intrinsic evil.”

“Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, linked the struggle against slavery to the church’s opposition to abortion during his presidential address at the Nov. 10-13 fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore.

“Symbolically, it is a moment that touches more than our history when a country that once enshrined race slavery in its very constitutional order should come to elect an African American to the presidency,” George said. “In this, I believe, we must all rejoice.”

“We can rejoice today with those who, following heroic figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, were part of a movement to bring our country’s civil rights into better accord with universal human rights. Among so many people of good will, dutiful priests and loving religious women, bishops and lay people of the Catholic church who took our social doctrine to heart then can feel vindicated now.”

“George then explicitly made the parallel between racism and abortion.

“The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice,” he said. “If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be President of the United States. Today, as was the case a hundred and fifty years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reentry Employment Strategies

While having a good job may indeed help someone who is determined to live a crime-free life from returning to prison; it has never been the panacea for recidivism that most criminal justice practitioners have always hoped it would be.

In this recent news story from the Reentry Policy Council the strategy is again attempted as something new, only because those who should know better have chosen to forget the past failures of employment-based recidivism reduction strategies .

It is also interesting that--according to the story--perhaps almost one third of the community are current or former criminals.

An excerpt.

“Despite a general nationwide downturn in reported crime since the early 1990s, police departments and local newspapers in some cities across the country reported in 2007 and 2008 that the per capita violent crime rate in their jurisdictions has begun to creep up; in some areas the rate has increased significantly. To reduce crime, local elected officials have unveiled new crime-fighting strategies that include employment initiatives targeting people with criminal records.

“On April 15, 2008, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter announced that the city would offer any business that hires someone who has been incarcerated a $10,000 per-job credit against the city’s Business Privilege Tax for three years. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, Mayor Nutter said, "Jobs are crucial to a comprehensive public safety plan and providing job opportunities for ex-offenders will go a long way to achieving a sustainable decrease in crime."

“At any given time, the city of 1.4 million is home to 200,000 to 400,000 people returning from prison or jail, many of whom are in need of a job and support services, according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice.

“Officials in Jacksonville, FL, are also implementing innovative crime prevention strategies to reverse recent upticks in crime. According to the 2007 FBI Uniform Crime Report, Jacksonville experienced a 22 percent increase in reports of violent crimes in 2007 over the past year.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Criminal Justice Statistics

The statistics for 2007 regarding prison, probation and parole have been released from the Bureau of Justice Statistics as announced in this Press Release.

An excerpt.

“WASHINGTON — More than 7.3 million men and women were under correctional supervision in the nation’s prisons or jails or on probation or parole at yearend 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. About 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, or one in every 31 adults, was incarcerated or under community supervision at the end of 2007. This percentage has remained stable since reaching more than 3 percent in 1999.

“About 70 percent (5.1 million) of the adults under correctional supervision at yearend 2007 were supervised in the community (either on probation or parole), and 30 percent (2.3 million) were incarcerated in the nation’s prisons or jails. Offenders held in custody in state or federal prisons or local jails increased by 1.5 percent since yearend 2006. The population under community supervision (either on probation or parole) increased 2.1 percent.

“State and federal correctional authorities had jurisdiction or legal authority over nearly 1.6 million prisoners, an increase of 1.8 percent since yearend 2006. Though the number of prisoners increased, the rate of growth, compared to the average annual growth from 2000 to 2006, slowed by 0.2 percent. The imprisonment rate continued to increase, reaching 506 persons per 100,000 U.S. residents.
“During 2007, the federal prison population experienced the largest absolute increase of 6,572 prisoners, followed by Florida (5,250), Kentucky (2,457), and Arizona (1,945). Combined, these increases resulted in 59 percent of the overall change in the U.S. prison population. “

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Message for the World Day of Peace

The World Day of Peace is January 1, 2009 and Pope Benedict XVI released the message on December 11, 2008.

An excerpt.

“1. Once again, as the new year begins, I want to extend good wishes for peace to people everywhere. With this Message I would like to propose a reflection on the theme: Fighting Poverty to Build Peace. Back in 1993, my venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II, in his Message for the World Day of Peace that year, drew attention to the negative repercussions for peace when entire populations live in poverty. Poverty is often a contributory factor or a compounding element in conflicts, including armed ones. In turn, these conflicts fuel further tragic situations of poverty. “Our world”, he wrote, “shows increasing evidence of another grave threat to peace: many individuals and indeed whole peoples are living today in conditions of extreme poverty. The gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations. This is a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore, since the conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community”.

“2. In this context, fighting poverty requires attentive consideration of the complex phenomenon of globalization. This is important from a methodological standpoint, because it suggests drawing upon the fruits of economic and sociological research into the many different aspects of poverty. Yet the reference to globalization should also alert us to the spiritual and moral implications of the question, urging us, in our dealings with the poor, to set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan: we are called to form one family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – model their behaviour according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility.

“This perspective requires an understanding of poverty that is wide-ranging and well articulated. If it were a question of material poverty alone, then the social sciences, which enable us to measure phenomena on the basis of mainly quantitative data, would be sufficient to illustrate its principal characteristics. Yet we know that other, non-material forms of poverty exist which are not the direct and automatic consequence of material deprivation. For example, in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty, seen in people whose interior lives are disoriented and who experience various forms of malaise despite their economic prosperity. On the one hand, I have in mind what is known as “moral underdevelopment", and on the other hand the negative consequences of “superdevelopment”. Nor can I forget that, in so-called “poor” societies, economic growth is often hampered by cultural impediments which lead to inefficient use of available resources. It remains true, however, that every form of externally imposed poverty has at its root a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of the human person. When man is not considered within the total context of his vocation, and when the demands of a true “human ecology” are not respected, the cruel forces of poverty are unleashed, as is evident in certain specific areas that I shall now consider briefly one by one.

“Poverty and moral implications

“3. Poverty is often considered a consequence of demographic change. For this reason, there are international campaigns afoot to reduce birth-rates, sometimes using methods that respect neither the dignity of the woman, nor the right of parents to choose responsibly how many children to have; graver still, these methods often fail to respect even the right to life. The extermination of millions of unborn children, in the name of the fight against poverty, actually constitutes the destruction of the poorest of all human beings. And yet it remains the case that in 1981, around 40% of the world's population was below the threshold of absolute poverty, while today that percentage has been reduced by as much as a half, and whole peoples have escaped from poverty despite experiencing substantial demographic growth. This goes to show that resources to solve the problem of poverty do exist, even in the face of an increasing population. Nor must it be forgotten that, since the end of the Second World War, the world's population has grown by four billion, largely because of certain countries that have recently emerged on the international scene as new economic powers, and have experienced rapid development specifically because of the large number of their inhabitants. Moreover, among the most developed nations, those with higher birth-rates enjoy better opportunities for development. In other words, population is proving to be an asset, not a factor that contributes to poverty.”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Catholic Muslim Dialogue

The most important series of talks in the environment of the September 11th attack on our soil and the continuing terror attacks in other countries, are those opened by the response to the Regensburg lecture by Pope Benedict XVI, which have led to Muslim leaders meeting at the Vatican to discuss the role of reason and faith.

George Weigel writes on this “interreligious dialogue for adults”.

An excerpt.

“Father Christian Troll, a German Jesuit, is one of the Catholic Church's leading students of Islam and a key figure in the Catholic-Islamic dialogue launched by Pope Benedict XVI's September 2006 Regensburg Lecture. Speaking recently at Cambridge University, Father Troll laid out a series of questions that must be faced in any serious conversation between Catholics and Muslims:

“1. Liberation through conversion and repentance: Can Catholics and Muslims speak frankly about such "abiding realities" of the human condition as "forgetfulness of God and rebellion against him, or oppression in the sense of exceeding the appropriate limits of behavior in dealing with others, while violating their essential human rights?" Is instruction in the dual commandment of love of God and love of neighbor sufficient to overcome the human propensity for wickedness toward the "other"? Or is something more required -- that is, do Christians and Muslims "share an awareness of our need to be liberated by God into the freedom of His gift of love?" Are we agreed that we must all repent of the times when coercion has been used to advance the cause of God? Is self-criticism part of the spiritual self-awareness of both Christians and Muslims?

“2. Faith-and-Reason: Is it possible for Catholics and Muslims to study their sacred texts with piety and "critical rigor"? Is it possible to create a "critical Christian-Muslim scholarship marked by the will to understand out of love?" Does the application of modern scholarly methods to analysis of the origins and character of ancient texts involve a betrayal of faith?”

Friday, December 12, 2008


The medical ability to regenerate diseased or destroyed parts of the human body has been a staple of the science fiction genre—of which I am a fan—for decades; and some in our medical establishment have proclaimed that use of embryonic stem cells—those derived from killing babies—promises that future.

In a very wonderful and ongoing series of developments, those who value human life too much to use the cells of killed babies for any purpose, have been advancing the regenerative techniques of medicine by using adult stem cells and the results are truly amazing.

Christian Brugger, Ph.D. explains in a recent article.

An excerpt.

“Imagine a day when patients suffering from tuberculosis could go down to a hospital and trade in their diseased windpipes for a brand-spanking-new model custom built from their own cells and live free of the disease. Or where parents of congenitally brain damaged children could purchase a blood transfusion cocktail that would unlock the world of mental normality for their beloved children. Or where heart-attack victims could receive cardiac injections of miracle cells that not only would heal their damaged heart muscle, but also stimulate new blood vessel growth in their hearts and reduce scar tissue from the injury? Say ‘good morning’ to the stem cell revolution because that day has begun. I should be more precise: the ADULT stem cell revolution HAS BEGUN. Remarkably, these are not the dreams of some distant future but the treatments and possibilities opening before us right now.

“Last March, the left lung of 30-year old Columbian woman, Claudia Castillo, collapsed as a result of the advanced tuberculosis with which she had suffered for years. Barely able to breath, she decided to undergo an experimental windpipe transplant in Barcelona. A section of windpipe was taken from a deceased donor. Physicians at the University of Padua in Italy scoured the pipe for six weeks with detergents and enzymes to eliminate all donor cells, leaving behind a bare scaffold of human connective tissue. Taking precious bone marrow (adult) stem-cells from Castillo’s hip, a research team from the University of Bristol, England, coaxed the cells to develop into millions of cartilage cells and tissue cells identical to those that coat and line windpipes. Finally, experts at the University of Milan used a special bioreactor to coat and line the tracheal scaffold with the newly grown cartilage and tissue cells derived from Castillo’s stem cells. In June in Barcelona, Castillo had her section of irreparably damaged windpipe replaced with a brand-spanking-new windpipe constructed from her own stem-cells, without worry of graft rejection. Five months later, she is caring again for her two children, taking long walks without growing winded, and even—she reports—dancing the night away at clubs in Barcelona. There has been no indication thus far of tissue rejection.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Industrial Age Saint

The impact of the industrial age on civilization—which for us actually created the civilization we share in the West—was dramatic, and in many cases, especially in the cities, very hard on the newly arrived young men trying to find work with often the only skills being those they had learned on their families farm.

Saints arose to help them and one is the Saint of the Day for December 10th.

An excerpt from the profile of Blessed Adolph Kopling.

“The rise of the factory system in 19th-century Germany brought many single men into cities where they faced new challenges to their faith. Father Adolph Kolping began a ministry to them, hoping that they would not be lost to the Catholic faith as was happening to workers elsewhere in industrialized Europe.

“Born in the village of Kerpen, Adolph became a shoemaker at an early age because of his family’s economic situation. Ordained in 1845, he ministered to young workers in Cologne, establishing a choir, which by 1849 had grown into the Young Workmen’s Society. A branch of this began in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1856. Nine years later there were over 400 Gesellenvereine (workman’s societies) around the world. Today this group has over 400,000 members in 54 countries across the globe.

“More commonly called the Kolping Society, it emphasizes the sanctification of family life and the dignity of labor. Father Kolping worked to improve conditions for workers and greatly assisted those in need. He and St. John Bosco in Turin had similar interests in working with young men in big cities. He told his followers, “The needs of the times will teach you what to do.

”Father Kolping once said, “The first thing that a person finds in life and the last to which he holds out his hand, and the most precious that he possess, even if he does not realize it, is family life.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quick History

It is truly amazing how quickly—in terms of the human life span—history changes completely and the conditions for human habitation on the earth with it.

It was only a few lifetimes ago that our world was still primarily agricultural in its financial foundations and many of the strange financial instruments that lay at the heart of the recent financial troubles were barely conceived and the ways in which people were helped who had fallen on hard times was pretty much the province of the Church.

This came to mind as I completed volume one of the two volume series that is the single best expression of the social teaching of the Church.

Written by Rodger Charles S.J., the two volume work was published in Great Britain in 1998, Christian Social Witness and Teaching: The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus (Volume 1) & (Volume 2) The Modern Social Teaching Contexts: Summaries: Analysis.

An excellent review of the work is at the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets & Morality.

Last I checked, the best place to find both volumes is either through Abe Books or through the publisher, Gracewing Publishing, both in the UK.

Here is the excerpt from the first volume that struck me.

“Meanwhile the increasing social impact of the industrial revolution on society in nineteenth-century Europe generally from after the end of the Napoleonic wars produced problems of a scale and a nature which were unique in man’s history. There had been urban civilizations of great wealth and complexity before but the economic base of society had remained agricultural. By the first half of the nineteenth century the town in Britain had become the main centre of economic activity; industrialization ensured that soon more people lived in urban than country areas; this was going to become increasingly the pattern in the nations of Europe. In the countries where the Church’s presence remained strong, in France particularly, there were active private social charity initiatives to meet the growing need, and individuals were becoming aware that more than charitable action was needed; the result was that the 1848 revolution had the distinction of being the only one in the country’s modern history which was not anti-clerical. The tensions in French society, however, were bitterly reflected in the Church and she could not build on their early positive success, so that one of Leo XIII’s first problems was how to get the Catholics of France to see the positive side of republicanism and take their full part in making it work.” (pp. 360-361)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Broken Windows and Common Sense

The heart of the wonderful success William Bratton has had in fighting crime in the nation’s cities--now in Los Angeles--is the very common sense approach called broken windows policing or, you put the cops where the crimes are, regardless of how minor the crime, even broken windows.

This is as straightforward as the Willie Sutton quote, a famous bank robber of many years ago, who, when asked why he robbed banks, said, "That’s where the money is.”

It is also the principle embedded in the old adage “It takes a thief to catch a thief”—referring to professional thieves—which the Lampstand Foundation has reformulated to read, “It takes a reformed criminal to reform criminals.”

An excerpt from the article about William Bratton.

“William J. Bratton stepped into a drab, cramped room at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on a recent Tuesday morning.

“The 61-year-old chief took his seat, slipped on a pair of reading glasses and waited for his bosses -- the five civilian commissioners who oversee the LAPD -- to begin their weekly meeting. As they do each week, the commissioners soon turned their attention to Bratton, who ticked off the department's latest crime numbers.

"Homicides down 8.9%, rapes down 14.2%, robberies down 3.4%, aggravated assault down 6.4%." Bratton read on at a quick monotone clip: Burglary, grand theft auto, gang crimes, shooting victims -- all down. The whole thing took about a minute. A commissioner thanked Bratton and the meeting moved on.

“It seemed a perfunctory moment, a dry exchange of numbers the city has come to expect after six years of falling crime under Bratton.

“But for Bratton, the most influential cop in America today, the numbers are everything.

“They are the hard evidence he has spent a career trying to amass: proof that he has the blueprint for fighting crime in urban America.

“The numbers have dropped long enough and far enough now that Bratton could call it quits in Los Angeles, say "mission accomplished" and move on. Many city leaders have long been convinced that he is, in fact, on his way out. Some assumed he'd take over the Department of Homeland Security, others say he is certain to be the next director of the FBI. Every year or so, the British tabloids nominate him anew as a sure bet to take over Scotland Yard.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

Solidarity Bubble

In response to the burst bubble of subprime mortgages shaking the financial system of the globe, an economist writing in the Pope’s newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano on December 4th suggests a solidarity bubble to be created by the wealthy countries for the poor countries.

An excerpt.

“In order to absorb the financial bubble that is threatening the entire world, they are thinking in the United States about producing a new one – possibly involving energy, or the automotive market – using the only form of liquidity available, Chinese capital. The new bubble would probably ignore even more that part of the world which is excluded from prosperity. But instead of this, a creative economic process of global dimensions could be created that would reestablish more sustainable growth. In other words, a bubble of solidarity that would include poor countries. A humanitarian bubble that would correct the error of the past bubble of egotistical development, the result of the crisis of human values.

“The economic phenomena that are most worrying today, apart from the crisis of liquidity, are: difficulties in getting credit because of the prospect of recession; the negative trend in the stock market; the collapse of demand and consumption; the resulting overcapacity in production and the rise of unabsorbed fixed costs; the specter of unemployment. How can the balance between productivity, employment, and purchasing power be restored, supporting the activity of companies listed on the stock market?

“There is a courageous response, and it's not a short-term measure: to develop the potential demand on the part of poor countries, making it possible for them to participate in the global recovery plan thanks to their unexpressed demand, a demand that would have to be fostered and financed. What this means is a project for a humanitarian bubble. But the problem of how to finance it remains.

“The financial bubble that was maintained until just recently in the United States – that of "subprime" mortgages – was founded on the hope of higher returns and housing values, while underestimating risk. The humanitarian bubble could, analogously, be founded on the hope of higher returns and investment values in countries populated by people full of dignity and wanting to improve their lives. Asia has liquidity, the United States has technology, Europe has heart, ideas, and entrepreneurial initiatives on the small and medium scale. Poor countries have two or three billion candidates for economic progress, who could be the recipients of investment in a long-term perspective.”

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Seamless Garment & America

Thought the seamless garment or consistent ethic of life approach to the social teaching of the Church has a rocky record in the United States—with liberal Catholics all over it and conservative Catholics put off by it—the wedding of a strong pro-life and pro-social justice approach to the social teaching of the Church is inevitable, as it is merely the acceptance of what is rather than what one wants it to be.

The Church is strongly pro-life and strongly pro-social justice and the twain do meet, though they do so hierarchically, with pro-life being the most important principle of the teaching of the Church; a position affirmed by the magisterium since ancient times.

John Allen looks at the situation in Africa around the issue.

An excerpt.

“The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago used the Biblical image of a “seamless garment” to refer to what he described as a “consistent ethic of life” – beginning with abortion, the family, and other traditional “life issues,” and extending into peace and economic justice. The idea was to unify the church’s “pro-life” and “social justice” constituencies.

“To date, the “seamless garment” has struggled to take hold in the American church, which still tends to be fractured at the grassroots between pro-life Catholics (who stress issues such as opposition to abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research) and peace and justice Catholics (who focus more on poverty, war, the death penalty, and the environment). That divide seemed visible in the Catholic vote during the 2008 elections.

“If there is a future for the “seamless garment” in 21st century Catholicism, it may well come not from the United States, but from Africa – where a highly traditional approach to sexual morality, both in the broader culture and in the church, often blends with a progressive attitude towards key social justice concerns.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

Good & Evil

This is a powerful teaching from the Holy Father—in his daily audience of December 3, 2008— about the nature of good and evil and the human soul.

An excerpt.

“The Pope explained the importance of distinguishing between two aspects of the theory of original sin, one "an empirical, tangible reality, the other relating to the mystery, the ontological foundation of the event. In effect, there is a contradiction in our being. On the one hand we know we must do good, and in our inner selves this is what we desire, yet at the same time we feel an impulse to do the opposite, to follow the path of egoism, of violence, ... though we know that this means working against good, against God and against our fellow man".

"This inner contradiction of our being is not a theory. We all experience it every day as around us we see the second of these two wills prevail ", he said. "Suffice to think of daily news of injustices, violence, dissipation. This is a fact. From the power evil has over our souls, a foul river of evil has arisen over history, poisoning the human landscape. ... Yet at the same time this contradiction ... in our history arouses the desire for redemption. The truth is that the desire for the world to change, ... for the creation of a world of justice peace and goodness, is present everywhere".

"The power of evil in the heart and history of humankind is undeniable, yet how do we explain it? In the history of thought, discounting Christian faith, there exits one main explanatory model with a number of variants. This model holds that human beings are inherently contradictory: they carry good and evil in themselves. ... Such dualism is insuperable ... and will always be the same".

"In the evolutionist and atheistic view of the world ... it is held that human beings as such have, from the beginning, borne evil and good within themselves. ... Humans are not simply good, but open to good and to evil ... both of them original. Human history then, according to this view, does nothing more than follow the model present in all evolution. What Christians call original sin is only this blend of good and evil".

"This, in the final analysis, is a vision of despair. If it is true, evil is invincible, ... all that counts is individual interest, any form of progress would necessarily be paid for with a river of evil, ... and anyone who wishes to progress would have to pay this price. ... This modern idea, in the end, can create only sadness and cynicism".

"Again we ask ourselves: what does the faith say? ... St. Paul ... confirms the contradiction between the two natures, ... the reality of the darkness of evil weighing upon the whole of creation. Yet, in contrast to the desolation ... of dualism ... and monism, ... the faith speaks to us of two mysteries of light and one of darkness", and the mystery of darkness is "enclosed within in the mysteries of light".

"The faith tells us that there are no two principles, one good and one evil. There is only one principle which is God the Creator and He is solely good, without shadow of evil. Hence, neither are human beings a mix of good and evil. The human being as such is good. ... This is the joyful announcement of the faith: there is but one source, a source of good, the Creator, and for this reason ... life too is good".

"There is also a mystery of darkness, ... which does not arise from the source of being, it is not original. Evil arises from created freedom, a freedom that has been abused. How has this happened? This remains unclear. Evil is not logical. Only God and goodness are logical, only they are light. Evil remains a mystery, ... of itself illogical".

"Evil arises from a subordinate source; God with His light is stronger. For this reason evil can be overcome, for this reason the creature ... is not only curable but is in fact cured. God introduced the cure. He personally entered history and, to counteract the permanent source of evil, placed a source of pure good: Christ crucified and risen, the New Adam Who opposes the foul river of evil with a river of light ... that remains present in history".

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Death of Catholic Culture?

While the symptoms described in this article from Human life International, are very real and elicit a somber mood underneath a growing hope, the truth is that the Church has always faced deep hostility from the world and it will continue so—until our Lord comes again—and our response should always be to study and practice our faith, become a close companion with Christ by partaking in the Eucharist daily if possible, pray unceasingly, and work to change the world by bringing others to Christ through the apostolate work we have been called to do.

An excerpt.

“November 21, 2008 ( - It is impossible to speak of a "Catholic culture" in America any longer. A whole segment of the populace who call themselves "Catholics" do not feel bound by any standard of Catholic orthodoxy or sanity. …

“The degradation of Catholic culture is largely, but not exclusively, the fault of the clergy. For four decades in the Catholic Church in America we have seen:

“1) Liturgical abuses run rampant, aided and abetted by those in charge

2) Two or three generations of Catholics left un-catechized or taught with flimsy, Protestantized fluff passed off as Catholic education

3) Sexual abuse by clergy excused and unaddressed by the hierarchy

4) A blind eye turned to high profile dissent and political class heretics

6) Wholesale attacks on sacred teachings that receive virtually no response from our pastors (and if it weren't for Catholic Answers, EWTN and the Catholic League we would have no defense whatsoever)

7) The succumbing of our Catholic institutions of higher education to the ravages of political correctness, and the list goes on….

“The battle for Catholic culture begins with us, and there is no time like the present to don the armor of spiritual warfare. We either believe and practice what the Church teaches or we live as part of the shadow church, falsely trading on the Name Catholic for its benefits without at the same time shouldering the crosses that this entails.

“There is, however, great hope for the future because the battle has already been engaged: new Catholic colleges are springing up to replace the old decrepit houses of heresy, new religious orders with abundant vocations and orthodoxy have arisen, home schooling families and strong lay movements are abundant now. Only when we take back our beloved Church from the false Catholics and clerics will our Church be able to stand up and rebuke the storm winds of paganism that are building faster than we care to admit.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ministry of the Streets

Ever ancient, ever new, this ministry focus of the Church to the streets of the criminal city—the city founded by Cain—where the deeply urban pressure to survive and the often accompanying sensual overload of that success, calls out to those who know it best--who have transcended it themselves--to reach back to help rescue and transform those still lost on its glittering Broadways.

An article from the Vatican about the needed ministry reminds us that the ministry of our Lord was on the streets, and a first convert was the prostitute Mary Magdalene, also called the apostle to the apostles for her closeness to Jesus and for being the first to see him after his resurrection and taking that wonderful news back to the apostles.

An excerpt.

“VATICAN CITY, DEC. 1, 2008 ( Though the Church already has an active ministry for problems related to the streets -- homelessness, prostitution, etc. -- a continental congress on the theme concluded that an even greater presence is necessary.

“This was the primary conclusion of the first Latin American-Caribbean conference on ministry on the streets, which took place in Colombia in October. The Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers made public today the final document of the convention.

“This statement affirms that ministry to the homeless and exploited is one of the signs of the times, to which the Church is called to give an answer.

“The final document gives special emphasis to prostitutes and "street kids," and other groups who suffer exploitation.

"People trafficking, especially of women, minors and children, has turned into a powerful global industry, the world's third most lucrative criminal activity after arms trading and drug dealing," the statement noted. "It consists of powerful networks that operate in countries of origin, of transit and/or of destination.

"Prostitution is not a new phenomenon. However, what is new is that it has been turned into a complex worldwide business that takes advantage of the poverty and vulnerability of its victims, who have become the slaves of the 21st century. Deceived and thrown onto the streets, they are a living example of the unfair discrimination against them, imposed by a consumerist society."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Godless World View

In a Godless world view, the taking of human life is merely an accepted strategic means to reach a defined individual or national interest and has no morality attached to it, as morality itself is unattached to anything real beyond the material world, and the human being drifts in an evil eugenic sea, the world of population control, subject of a new book.

An excerpt from the review from The Claremont Institute.

“When historians study hubris, they usually tell stories about the dazzling, cruel, or ill-fated exploits of specific people—presidents, dictators, revolutionaries. In Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, Matthew Connelly, an associate professor of history at Columbia University, looks instead at an idea: controlling human reproduction. Bold in its claims and wildly arrogant in its approach, the international population control movement of the 20th century provides a stark example of the harms that can occur in the name of benevolence. As Connelly describes in this meticulously researched and well-argued study.

“Scientists and activists organized across borders to press for common norms of reproductive behavior. International and nongovernmental organizations spearheaded a worldwide campaign to reduce fertility. Together they created a new kind of global governance, in which proponents tried to control the population of the world without having to answer to anyone in particular.

“As Connelly tells it, the population control movement faced the perverse challenge of trying to reverse an extraordinary human achievement: "In the last century, humanity has experienced more than twice as great a gain in longevity as in the previous two thousand centuries, and more than four times the growth in population." But with rapid growth in population came fears of social disruption and food scarcity. The "misery and the fear of misery" caused by overpopulation that mathematician Thomas Malthus first described in 1798 remained a constant concern in Europe and the U.S. During the late 19th century, these anxieties fueled the drive to categorize and make systematic a world that seemed out of control; among the most popular ways of doing this was dividing the world up into different ethnic or racial groups, some deemed more favorable than others. In the United States, fears of "race suicide," an influx of immigrants from Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe, and concerns about the growth of the so-called feebleminded population at home led to the embrace of eugenics, the movement to improve the human race through better breeding practices.

“In the 1920s, efforts by activists to organize a birth control movement gained traction, and advocates of population control eventually supplanted eugenicists as the more effective voices for limiting reproduction, Connelly argues. By the ‘30s, the phrase "family planning" became popular, and the global economic crisis prompted more converts to the idea that overpopulation was a definite peril. As Connelly reminds us, during the Depression, "birth control was one of the few American industries to prosper, serving a $250 million market by 1938." And with many more people relying on government assistance, the notion that the state and its experts should have a greater say in who should and should not reproduce began to gain acceptance. In other words: don't breed if the state is the hand that feeds you. By 1937, even the staid American Medical Association had approved family planning.

“One of the strengths of Connelly's history is its global scope, and as he demonstrates, India soon became the proving ground—and often the exploitative laboratory—for many population theories in circulation. American birth control activist Margaret Sanger famously debated Gandhi in the ‘30s and traveled the Indian countryside dispensing her wisdom and hawking a contraceptive foam powder she had never bothered to have tested, even on animals, before distributing it to clinics in India. By the ‘40s, Connelly writes, "Innumerable Americans and Europeans...traveled to India, witnessed ‘overpopulation' firsthand, and returned ashen-faced, suitably appalled, to tell others of their experience." As one British colonial administrator bluntly put it, in India, "The people multiply like rabbits and die like flies." Despite concerted efforts to control reproduction, however, activists were flummoxed that "even the poorest people could not be relied upon to want fewer children." In the decades to come, population control enthusiasts willfully ignored this lesson.”

Monday, December 1, 2008

Abortion & Mental Health

A connection between abortion and mental health problems—long understood by faithful Catholics—has been validated in recent research as reported in this article from LifeNews.
An excerpt.

“Washington, DC ( -- A new research study featuring numerous controls and a national data set finds a link between abortion and psychiatric disorders. The study refutes the report the American Psychiatric Association released in August claiming abortion causes no mental health issues for women.

“The research team found induced abortions result in increased risks for a myriad of mental health problems ranging from anxiety to depression to substance abuse disorders.

“The number of cases of mental health issues rose by as much as 17 percent in women having abortions compared to those who didn't have one and the risks of each particular mental health problem rose as much as 145% for post-abortive women.

“For 12 out of 15 of the mental health outcomes examined, a decision to have an abortion resulted in an elevated risk for women.

"Abortion was found to be related to an increased risk for a variety of mental health problems (panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, major depression with and without hierarchy), and substance abuse disorders after statistical controls were instituted for a wide range of personal, situational, and demographic variables," they wrote.

"Calculation of population attributable risks indicated that abortion was implicated in between 4.3% and 16.6% of the incidence of these disorders," they concluded.

“Dr. Priscilla Coleman, a professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University, led the research team that conducted the study.

“Together with Catherine Coyle of Edgewood College, researcher Martha Shuping and psychologist Dr. Vincent Rue, they published their results online today at the Journal of Psychiatric Research, a well-established and respected journal.

“The researchers found women who had abortions, compared with those who didn't had a 120% risk for alcohol abuse, with or without dependence, a 145% increased risk of alcohol dependence, 79% increased risk of drug abuse with or without dependence and a 126% increase in the risk of drug dependence.”

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Responsibility to Protect

This responsibility, while lying at the heart of our faith regarding the individual, also extends to the whole world, embracing the environment with a balanced approach that finds the narrow way between the ideological driven and often alarmist proclamations on one side and the purely economic driven motives from another.

The Holy See teaches us about that narrow way in this article.

An excerpt.

“In recent years, the church can take credit for keeping alive a high-level, comprehensive approach to ecology. The church hasn’t limited itself to offering criteria for a correct reading of the relationship between humanity and nature, but it’s also given an incisive contribution to the development of strategies for dealing with what’s been called the “environmental crisis.” The presence of a delegation from the Holy See at the Bali conference on climate change last year is a case in point, as is the Holy See’s ratification of the Convention of Vienna and the Protocol of Montreal on the protection of the ozone layer. The Vatican has also committed itself to giving a good ecological example within the limits of its own situation – exploiting alternative sources of energy, for example, utilizing recycling processes and compensating for its carbon emissions through reforestation.

“In short, the Holy See has decisively chosen the path of realism, steering between alarmist scenarios and denial. On the debated question of climate change, it espouses a responsible vision of the “precautionary principle”: Even in the absence of absolute scientific certainties, it’s wise to take less optimistic scenarios into consideration, and therefore not to delay concrete choices and actions indefinitely, but to act now. The key point lies in an extension of the “responsibility of protection” to the environmental question, and, in particular, to care for the global climate.

“This “responsibility of protection” was considered by the ancient ius gentium, the “law of peoples,” as the foundation for the actions of rulers with regard to their subjects. It was implicit in the origins of the United Nations, even if it’s only in recent years that it has been definitively recognized in that international setting. The principle has also been invoked in order to assert a duty to protect populations which have been the object of grave violations of human rights.

“The Holy See has not only recognized this principle as an effective guarantee of “the unity of the human family and the innate dignity of every human being,” as the pope said at the United Nations this past April 18, but has also expressly extended it to the protection of the environment. In an important speech on Sept. 27, 2007, Monsignor Pietro Parolin, under-secretary for relations with states, affirmed that states have “a common responsibility of protecting the global climate and our planet,” in order to guarantee that “present and future generations can live in a safe and secure environment.”

“If nations and international organizations were to take up this challenge, it could introduce some innovative elements into global conversation about the environment. While the current crisis prepares to present its burden to the most impoverished countries, [the church’s approach] could serve to revive the principle of interrelationship, according to which “the environmental question cannot be considered apart from issues surrounding energy and the economy, peace and justice, national interests and international solidarity,” as Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, recalled this past Oct. 28. It would also give renewed importance to the discussion over multilateralism, in a moment in which the temptation to allow particular interests to prevail over the common good is especially strong. The “responsibility of protection” should be the foundation of a consistent policy of sharing resources and technologies among rich and poor nations – a sort of “globalization of solidarity,” as Benedict XVI says. “