Saturday, December 7, 2019

Saturday Snippet: The USS Enterprise and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

As we all know, the US aircraft carriers weren't at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked it on December 7th, 1941.  However, they weren't far away.  USS Enterprise was one of only three US carriers (along with USS Saratoga and USS Ranger) to serve throughout World War II from the first day to the last.  As the Japanese attack went in, she was returning to Pearl Harbor after delivering fighter aircraft to Wake Island, soon to be occupied by Japan.

Cdr. Edward P. Stafford wrote a history of the ship, "The Big E".  Published in 1962, it's become one of the classic accounts of naval warfare.  I'm particularly pleased that the Enterprise car rental company, founded by a veteran who served aboard USS Enterprise during World War II and named his company for the ship, sponsored a brand-new pictorial edition of the book through the Naval Institute Press a few years ago, gathering together almost every photograph of her ever taken, to go with Cdr. Stafford's text.

It's a magnificent volume, albeit rather expensive in hardcover.  I'm glad I invested in a copy - the pictures make it worth its price.  Cheaper editions are also available, although without the copious illustrations.  IMHO, it should be on every military and naval enthusiast's bookshelf.

From Cdr. Stafford's book, here's some of what USS Enterprise and her air group experienced on December 7th, 1941, and the following evening.

     The first plane off the Enterprise the day the war began was the air group commander's.  He and his wingman were airborne in two SBDs at 6:15 A.M., headed for Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor.
     Twelve minutes later the rest of Scouting Six was launched to search ahead of the ships and then follow in.  Lucky aviators.  They would be home in two hours with the ship still eight hours at sea.
     In the rear seat of Commander Brigham Young's Dauntless was a lieutenant commander on Admiral Halsey's staff with a report of the Wake delivery too highly classified for radio transmission.
     By 8:20, Young was close enough to notice planes circling the Marine Corps Air Station at Ewa.  He assumed they were Army aircraft.  Then he saw scattered black puffs of antiaircraft bursts over Pearl and was surprised to find what seemed to be target practice taking place on Sunday morning.  While he was wondering how he was going to get into Ford Island through the flak, and thinking that, if this were target practice, every safety precaution he knew was being violated, one of the Army planes he had noticed broke away from the others and swept down on him.  Lieutenant Commander Bromfield B. Nichol in the rear seat saw what looked like a lot of burning cigarette butts flash past him.  Where they struck the wing, pieces of aluminum shredded off.  When the "Army" plane pulled up, Brig Young was at war.  On wings and fuselage was the red disk of the Rising Sun.
     Both SBDs dived violently for the Ford Island runway, with Young longing for the trained gunner who normally sat at his back, and Nichol tried to unlimber the .30-calibers.  Both planes managed to shake off the Japanese and effect a landing despite the ships' gunners who now trusted no one and were firing at anything that flew.  There was no chance in the desperate seconds between surprise attack and touch-down to warn the rest of the air group already approaching the island.
     As Young rode the brakes and his Dauntless slowed, a sailor on the field leveled a machine gun at it.  During the last shattering, bloody hour he had forgotten there could be any planes at Pearl Harbor not actively seeking his death.  He was stopped from opening fire by a nearby pilot who advanced on him wielding a rock the size of his head.
     It seemed to Brig Young that a week had passed since the dawn launch, but it was just 8:35 A.M.
     Ten minutes later Lieutenant Commander Hallsted Hopping, the skipper of Scouting Six, brought his squadron in.  Or most of it.  No one is certain what happened to Ensign Manuel Gonzales.  His last words were the first to alert the Enterprise.  Out of the Sunday silence west of Oahu they came crackling from her speakers, pleading, urgent:  "Please don't shoot!  Don't shoot!  This is an American plane."  Then in a moment, evidently to his rear-seatman, "We're on fire. Bail out!" and the speakers were quiet again.  He did not return and no trace was ever found.  Ensign John H. L. Vogt, who had reported the fleet off Wake, never made it to Ford Island.  The Marines at Ewa saw a Dauntless which was probably his, in a twisting, swirling, low altitude mix-up with two or three Zeros, fixed and free guns all firing at once.  They watched it get on the tail of an enemy fighter and grimly stay there as though the pouring tracers were a towline, until the Japanese suddenly lost speed and pulled up so sharply that the Dauntless plowed into him.  They didn't see anything after that because they were dodging the pieces of flaming metal that scattered for a square mile over the cane fields and the air station.
     Lieutenant (j.g.) C. E. Dickinson and Ensign J. R. McCarthy came in together at 1,500 feet from their routine morning search.  They too saw the smoke rising from Pearl Harbor while still far at sea and at first thought it was from the usual burning of the cane fields before harvest.  But when they noticed the AA fire they guessed the truth, readied their guns and bored in after what looked to them like an enemy patrol plane.  They lost it in the smoke of the burning battleships and a moment later half a dozen Japanese fighters found them.
     It was not much of a fight.  The Dauntless was designed to be a dive bomber.  And it was an excellent one.  But it was not a match for the Zeros that swarmed over Oahu that December morning.  Nevertheless Dickinson's gunner, Roger Miller, shot one down before he died under the guns of the others.  Both pilots had their planes riddled and were forced to bail out at low altitude.
     McCarthy's leg was broken by the tail of the spinning SBD and he spent several months in the hospital.  His gunner, unable to extricate himself in time, died in the crash of his plane.  Dickinson landed unhurt near Ewa Field and made his way toward Ford Island.  En route he watched Marines standing in the open road, professionally firing their rifles at the strafing Japs, saw the USS Nevada make its fighting sortie from Battleship Row, noted that the enemy dive bombers did not attack at the steep angle he had been trained to use, and finally was knocked flat on the concrete of Ford Island when a bomb detonated the magazine of the destroyer Shaw a few hundred yards away.
     Ensign E. T. Deacon used up all his ammunition in another hopeless dogfight with the murderous Zeros and then, with a wounded leg and a shot-up aircraft, glided for Hickam Field.  It was just a little too far, and he landed in the water just short of the runway, unpacked and inflated his rubber boat, lifted his wounded gunner aboard and paddled ashore.  When he was certain his gunner was in good hands, he too somehow got through the burning madhouse of Pearl and across to Ford Island.
     Thus did the lucky aviators of Scouting Six, who had hoped to have the precious extra hours on Oahu, come to their destination that incredible Sunday.
     In the Enterprise, steaming steadily into the low morning sun for Pearl, awareness came slowly in small capsules of garbled phrases from her radios.  It was as though the ship were a person to whom the bitter news could not be told in one dose.
     In his flag quarters Admiral Halsey had showered and shaved and put on a clean uniform after watching the early SBDs out of sight.  He breakfasted with his flag secretary, Lieutenant H. Douglas Moulton, and was on his second cup of coffee when Moulton answered the phone from Radio Central and reported an air raid on Pearl Harbor.
     Halsey sprang to his feet in dismay.  He was certain the Pearl gunners were firing at Lieutenant Commander Hallsted Hopping's Dauntlesses due to arrive at just that moment.
     The ship's supply officer, Commander Charles Fox, was in charge of the watch in the code room.  There he had just heard Gonzales' eloquent few words and seen the men on watch sit up straight "with what-the-hell expressions on their faces", and in the next few moments recognized the voice of Lieutenant Earl Gallaher, the executive officer of Scouting Six, an old hand and steady under pressure.  His voice was natural and calm as he made his report:
     "Pearl Harbor is under attack by Japanese aircraft."
     He was too calm.  The men in the code room were certain now this was all a drill.  The thought of an actual Japanese attack on the Oahu they knew so well was simply unacceptable.
     Routinely Gallaher's message was relayed to the bridge where it corroborated the message received by Halsey and resulted in the insistent, repeated clanging of the general alarm, the call to battle stations.
     In the code room the radios kept talking.  The voices were strained, the words fantastic, impossible.
     "Two enemy carriers thirty miles bearing 085 from Barber's Point."
     "Japanese paratroops and gliders landing at Kaneohe."
     "Eight enemy transports rounding Barber's Point."
     But the admiral knew it was no drill.  He had a message in his hand by eight o'clock which told him so:


     At 8:23 he received another:


     Halsey kept no secrets from the men of Enterprise that day.  The word was passed over the public address system.  Hardly anyone believed it.  The habit of peace was hard to break.
     But in the code room they intercepted a message ordering all medical officers in the Pearl area to rush all available anesthetics to the Naval Hospital.  Realization began to come.
     The admiral appeared on his bridge.  His was not a drill face.
     Snap hooks clicked in the hands of the signalmen and their multicolored flags soared to the yardarms.  The message:


     The flags stayed up much longer than usual.  When at last they plumped like well-shot birds to the deck of the signal bridge, simultaneously from foremast and mainmast of each two-masted ship in the force, the stars and stripes broke clear and bright into the morning sun.  The challenge was accepted.  It seemed that the ships surged forward under the defiant battle colors.

. . .

     The sun had just set [on the eighth of December] as the Big E nosed into the channel.  No one could remember when a carrier had attempted that channel after sunset.  From her bow, black oil from the tanks of broken ships turned back on itself and oozed away.  Flight deck and catwalks, bridge, fo'c'sle and fantail were crowded with men, and every port and hatch was jammed with faces.  On both sides the shore was lined with hastily erected, fully manned antiaircraft guns of all sizes and calibers.  A soldier at Hickam yelled across the water.
     "You'd better get the hell out of here or the Japs will nail you too."
     They passed the battleship Nevada, heavily aground to port on Hospital Point, the only ship to get away from Battleship Row that awful morning.  Coming around Ford Island, the carrier had to swing wide to avoid the old battleship Utah, ripped to pieces and lying on the mud of the harbor bottom.  For years she had been used as a target ship.  But she had been moored in the carrier Saratoga's usual berth and her heavily timbered topsides slightly resembled a flight deck from the air.
     The place smelled bad.  Instead of the lush, flowery smell of tropical forests which usually came down off the hills on the land breeze, there was the sick-sweet odor of fuel oil, seared flesh and the charred wood and fabric smell of a half-burned house after the fire.  Black smoke was layered in the sky from the still-burning Arizona.
     The feeling aboard Enterprise was anger and unease.  The crew began to feel the treachery of the Sunday morning murders.  Subconsciously they compared the harbor they had left on November 28, proud and shipshape, with the oil-soaked mess before them.  On the bridge, the admiral was heard to mutter, "Before we're through with 'em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell!"

The Enterprise refueled and loaded fresh supplies in about half the usual time that night, with every man in her crew working harder and faster than they'd ever done before.  By three the following morning, she was on her way back out to sea, to start her long war with the Empire of Japan.


Friday, December 6, 2019

Fitness - but not for that purpose?

I was both saddened and amused to read that FitBit, an activity tracking device that monitors your level of exertion during your daily activities, has emerged as a tell-tale device as well.  NFL correspondent Jane Slater tweeted:

We can laugh, of course, but it's yet another reflection of how personal privacy has almost disappeared with the advent of ubiquitous consumer electronics.  Consider these facts:
  • If you buy a modern CPAP device, information on your sleep habits (including date and time of sleep sessions, the level of sleep, etc.) is automatically passed to a central monitoring service, where the details are recorded - basically forever.  The service claims it's to monitor your health, but if someone wanted to prove you were sleeping when you should have been (or claimed to be) doing something else, the evidence is right there.  Only if you disable that data transmission can you regain that privacy - and some providers won't allow you to disable it.
  • If there's an unexplained vehicle accident, law enforcement can now get information from cellphone service providers about any and every device that was in the area of the accident before, during and after it.  Whether or not you were involved, even if you have location services turned off on your phone, mobile phone tracking can pinpoint every single cellular device that was there at the time.  If you were just an innocent passerby, the technology doesn't know that - so your name, and contact information (from your cellphone provider's records) are going to be passed to police without so much as a "by your leave".  Those records can also be obtained by lawyers during divorce or other civil proceedings, to prove their case.
  • Military security has also been impacted by FitBit and similar devices.

There's only one way to avoid such intrusions, and that is not to carry any device that can be tracked, or that reports and/or records your activities.  I try to do this with my cellphone from time to time, because I don't want to be tethered to it 24/7/365, constantly at its beck and call.  I'd rather leave it at home.  I've also disconnected the communications device on my CPAP machine, and informed its supplier that I've done so, so that they don't keep trying to have me bring in the machine to "repair the defect".  My sleep habits are none of their business!

Sadly, very few people appear concerned about this level of electronic intrusion into their privacy.  I'm obviously among a dying breed who regard personal privacy as a sacrosanct right.  The rest of the world, particularly the commercial world, clearly does not.


The Zimmerman lawsuit: watch this case very carefully

It's been widely reported that George Zimmerman is suing the family of the late Trayvon Martin, and others, for what most news media are calling "engineering false testimony", or words to that effect.  However, I've seen no mainstream news articles that actually spell out what that "false testimony" is claimed to be.

If true, Zimmerman's allegations are explosive.  From the text of his filing in court (courtesy of a link at Gun Free Zone - text in bold, underlined print is my emphasis):

Plaintiff George Zimmerman (“Zimmerman”) brings this action against Sybrina Fulton ("Fulton"), Rachel Jeantel ("Jeantel"), Brittany Diamond Eugene ("Eugene"), Tracy Martin ("Tracy Martin"), Benjamin Crump ("Crump"), Bernie de la Rionda ("de la Rionda"), John Guy ("Guy"), Angela Corey ("Corey"), the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ("FDLE"), and the State of Florida ("Florida") in their individual and official capacities where applicable for violations of Zimmerman's constitutional rights under the Florida Constitution, as well as the United States Constitution, as well as the common law, for conspiring to switch and/or cover up the identity of Defendant Eugene who was the real phone witness to the events prior to Trayvon Martin's ("Trayvon Martin") death, by substituting an imposter and fake witness, Defendant Jeantel, and to assist Defendant Jeantel in committing perjury in sworn testimony to cause the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing to life in prison of George Zimmerman, as well as causing a federal investigation and prosecution of Zimmerman for civil rights violations.

Ye gods and little fishes!  If Zimmerman can prove those allegations, we're talking about a state-sponsored, state-tolerated and state-condoned attempt to distort the entire Florida justice system for partisan political purposes.  Explosive indeed!  You can read George Zimmerman's own words about the lawsuit in this article.  They're worth your time.

To make matters more interesting, Zimmerman's lawyer is "Larry Klayman, a high-profile legal crusader tied to conservative causes and the founder of Judicial Watch".  Mr. Klayman is not your average lawyer.  He's a very controversial figure in legal circles.  He's been heavily criticized and sanctioned in the past, but he's also won some important legal battles.  I presume he wouldn't take on a case with such a high profile unless he was pretty sure of his facts, and of his ability to prove them in court.  If both are true, pass the popcorn.  This will be a spectacle to behold.

As Gun Free Zone puts it (again, bold, underlined text is my emphasis):

What Zimmerman and his lawyer are saying is that not only Miss “I Can’t Read Cursive” was lying on the stand, she was not even the real person who was on the phone with Trayvon but an imposter and that everybody in the prosecution side of the trial knew it and abetted the… I have no idea what to call this other than major legal fraud.  Maybe an almost successful legal lynching.

Again, if they have the evidence supporting this, there is a caca storm coming to Florida’s Justice system and Zimmerman deserves every penny of that lawsuit.

Quite so!  This will bear watching.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

How false ideas become fake science

This is how falsehoods sneak into the allegedly "scientific" arena, and become standards against which reality is measured.

You’ve almost certainly heard some of the following terms: cisgender, fat-shaming, heteronormativity, intersectionality, patriarchy, rape culture and whiteness.

The reason you’ve heard them is that politically engaged academicians have been developing concepts like these for more than 30 years, and all that time they’ve been percolating. Only recently have they begun to emerge in mainstream culture. These academicians accomplish this by passing off their ideas as knowledge; that is, as if these terms describe facts about the world and social reality. And while some of these ideas may contain bits of truth, they aren’t scientific. By and large, they’re the musings of ideologues.

How did this happen? How have those worked in what’s come to be called “grievance studies” managed to extend their ideas far beyond the academy, while convincing people that their jargon adds something meaningful to public discourse? Biologist Bret Weinstein, who was run out of Evergreen State College by a leftist mob in 2017, calls the process “idea laundering.”

It’s analogous to money laundering. Here’s how it works: First, various academics have strong moral impulses about something. For example, they perceive negative attitudes about obesity in society, and they want to stop people from making the obese feel bad about their condition. In other words, they convince themselves that the clinical concept of obesity (a medical term) is merely a story we tell ourselves about fat (a descriptive term); it’s not true or false—in this particular case, it’s a story that exists within a social power dynamic that unjustly ascribes authority to medical knowledge.

Second, academics who share these sentiments start a peer-reviewed periodical such as Fat Studies—an actual academic journal ... Eventually, after activist scholars petition university libraries to carry the journal, making it financially viable for a large publisher like Taylor & Francis, Fat Studies becomes established. Before long, there’s an extensive canon of academic work—ideas, prejudice, opinion and moral impulses—that has been laundered into “knowledge” ... Eventually, they institutionalize their ideas in the larger academic system. This process, which has been propagating laundered ideas for at least three decades, now has enough “scholarship” behind it to have a significant cultural impact.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

The full article is essential reading to understand how so many politically correct shibboleths have come to dominate discussion in so many scientific fields (e.g. climate change, "gender studies", illegal aliens, and so on).  Facts have been conveniently replaced by feelings, and the latter have been transmogrified into "scientific consensus" when, in reality, there's no such thing.  That's also how the "soft sciences" (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.) have been elevated to almost the same level of scientific authority as the "hard sciences (e.g. physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc.).  In reality, the hard sciences have it all over the soft sciences - but that's not what you hear the "soft scientists" say.

There's an old English saying that "Little things amuse little minds, little pants fit little behinds".  That's a pretty good summation of the soft sciences, IMHO - and of the sort of academic fraud that the article describes.


Media hand-wringing versus reality: aircraft test edition

Last week there were alarming headlines when the fuselage of a new model of Boeing's 777 airliner split while undergoing a stress test.

Boeing got an unexpected jolt in September when engineers in Everett put the new 777X airframe through an extreme test of its structural strength. Just as the test approached its target stress level, an explosive depressurization tore through the fuselage.

Boeing has kept the details secret, but photos obtained by the Seattle Times show that the extent of the damage was greater than previously disclosed and earlier reports were wrong about crucial details.

The test plane is a complete write-off, its fuselage skin ripped wide open just behind the wing. A passenger door that blew out and fell to the factory floor was a secondary impact of the initial rupture, which was located far below the door.

The relatively good news for Boeing is that because the test failed so explosively at just 1% shy of meeting federal requirements, it will almost certainly not have to do a retest. Regulators will likely allow it to prove by analysis that it’s enough to reinforce the fuselage in the localized area where it failed.

There's more at the link, including details of the test that led to the failure and photographs of the damage.  Interesting reading for aviation and engineering buffs.

The thing is, such testing is normal (as the linked article points out in smaller print, further down the text).  To suffer such a catastrophic failure is a nasty surprise to those nearby, but that's what the test is designed to induce, if necessary.  The fuselage and wings were already 99% of the way to successful completion of the test when the failure occurred, at a point far past the stresses that could conceivably be experienced during normal flight.  That's why Boeing appears unruffled by the failure, and will probably be allowed to demonstrate via calculation that it's added enough strengthening to affected areas to gain that extra 1% of safety margin.

The news media simply don't have the technical expertise any longer to adequately evaluate such events, largely because they don't want (or can't afford) to spend the money to employ specialist journalists who can understand and interpret them correctly.  I can remember when an "aviation correspondent" was actually qualified for his position in any one of a number of ways - former military pilot, former airline pilot, engineering background, whatever.  They knew whereof they spoke, and therefore they spoke with some authority.  Anyone from those backgrounds would have understood that this "failure" was, in fact, a deliberately planned experiment, and the "problem" was, in fact, a demonstration of considerable success.

Nowadays, in aviation as in almost every other field of activity, the journalist(s) concerned are likely to be media studies graduates, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing", as the Bard would put it.  They don't understand the subject, so they mistake a legitimate engineering test (and its result) for a disaster.  It wasn't.

Which leads us to consider their political reporting journalism propaganda . . . but let's not go there.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Is the Catholic Church becoming just another hotbed of secular humanism?

American pentecostal evangelist Bob Mumford, whom I've mentioned in these pages before, once defined secular humanism as "what happens when the world evangelizes the church".  I don't think he was far wrong in that assessment.  More and more often, one sees churches and denominations behaving just like the world around them, ignoring the clarion call from the Divinity, in whatever way they proclaim him, to be a "sign of contradiction" to the world, the flesh and the devil.

I should acknowledge that, as a former Catholic priest, I have a partisan perspective on this issue.  You'll find my story in a series of four articles I wrote about my decision to leave the priesthood (which was solely and precisely over the issue of clergy sex abuse of children, and the way in which the Church handled it - or, rather, failed to handle it).  The core article is here;  it contains links to the other three.  That'll help you understand where I'm coming from.

Two news articles in particular have stung me over the past week or so.  First, there's this report.

Across the country, attorneys ... are scrambling to file a new wave of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by [Catholic] clergy, thanks to rules enacted in 15 states that extend or suspend the statute of limitations to allow claims stretching back decades. Associated Press reporting found the deluge of suits could surpass anything the nation’s clergy sexual abuse crisis has seen before, with potentially more than 5,000 new cases and payouts topping $4 billion.

. . .

This is the day the Catholic Church has long feared.

The church spent millions of dollars lobbying statehouses for decades, arguing it would be swamped with lawsuits if time limits on suing were lifted. That battle now lost, it is girding for Round Two, by turning to compensation funds and bankruptcy.

Compensation funds offer payment to victims if they agree not take their claims to court. They offer a faster, easier way to some justice, and cash, but the settlements are typically a fraction of what victims can get in trials. And critics say the church is just using them to avoid both a bigger financial hit and full transparency.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan set up the first fund in 2016, pitching it as a way to compensate victims without walloping the church and forcing it to cut programs. It has since paid more than $67 million to 338 alleged victims, an average $200,000 each.

The idea has caught on in other states. All five dioceses in New Jersey and three in Colorado opened one, as did seven dioceses in Pennsylvania and six in California, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the U.S.

Such funds, Dolan said in a newspaper op-ed piece last year, “prevent the real possibility — as has happened elsewhere — of bankrupting both public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”

. . .

But bankruptcy has become an increasingly more common option. Less than a month after New York’s one-year lookback window took effect, the upstate Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy, the 20th diocese or religious order in the country to do so, listing claims from alleged abuse survivors and other creditors as much as $500 million. Assets to pay that are estimated at no more than one-fifth that amount.

The Diocese of Buffalo may be next. It has begun paying victims of the 100 priests it considers “credibly accused” of abuse, tapping proceeds from the sale of a lavish $1.5 million mansion that once housed its bishop who is facing pressure to resign.

When a diocese files for bankruptcy, lawsuits by alleged abuse survivors are suspended and payments to them and others owed money — contractors, suppliers, banks, bondholders — are frozen while a federal judge decides how much to pay everyone and still leave enough for the diocese to continue to operate. It’s orderly and victims avoid costly and lengthy court cases, but they often get less than they would if they were successful in a trial.

. . .

Bankruptcy can also leave abuse survivors with a sense of justice denied because the church never has to face discovery by plaintiff lawyers and forced to hand over documents, possibly implicating higherups who hid the abuse.

There's more at the link.

Take note of the methods and techniques the Church is using to deal with the renewed flood of lawsuits.  They have nothing whatsoever to do with the Biblical standards for church leaders.  Instead, they're what lawyers, administrators and bureaucrats do.  They're secular, not religious actions.

Some may say it's disingenuous to expect anything else.  After all, the Church must function as part of a secular society;  therefore, she must employ the tools of that society to defend her existence if necessary.  On the other hand, I can't find a single mention of such an approach in the words of Christ or the apostles.  Instead, I find vehement admonishments to be different from the world.
  • Jesus is presented as "a sign which shall be contradicted".  To be a "sign of contradiction" is a cornerstone of Catholic theology.
  • To be a bishop, as Paul instructed Timothy, is to "preach the Word ... in season and out of season".  It is not to be a good lawyer or bureaucrat!  Too many bishops see their role as the latter, rather than the former.
  • Paul also warns Timothy to beware of men "having a form of godliness but denying its power".  Is that not precisely what bishops who rely primarily upon administrators, bureaucrats, lawyers and insurance companies, rather than the grace of God, are doing?  There's a need for secular specialists, to be sure, but a bishop is not supposed to be one of them, or allow himself to be ruled by them!

Frankly, I wouldn't care if a diocese - or the Church as a whole - were to be reduced to penury by lawsuits and damages.  The Church is not defined by her land, or buildings, or possessions.  For centuries, she existed under oppression and persecution, where to be identified as Christian meant almost certain death, and at the very least the loss of one's possessions and wealth through official confiscation.  The Church survived that.  She can survive this too . . . if her faith grows as strong as it was in the early Church.  That's very questionable.  In the absence of strong apostolic leadership by her Bishops and priests, can she regain that faith?  I guess only the Holy Spirit knows the answer to that question.

This also poses a daunting question for every priest in the Church.  A priest functions at the pleasure, and with the dispensation, of his Bishop.  He receives faculties from the Bishop, without which he is not permitted to administer a parish or celebrate any of the sacraments within that diocese.  He functions as the eyes, ears, hands and mouth of the Bishop within his parish, conveying to his people the guidance received from the diocese, and informing the diocese of his people's concerns.

The question now becomes:  if a diocesan Bishop is so grievously mishandling the situation, and demonstrating a secular humanist approach rather than a godly one . . . how can any priest worthy of the name be willing to be his mouthpiece?  If he tries to act independently, he is no longer being faithful to the Bishop to whom he has promised obedience.  If he falls into line with the secular humanist approach, he effectively betrays his priesthood.  He's caught between a rock and a hard place, with no real alternative but to choose one path or the other.

That's why I decided I had no choice but to leave the priesthood.  I was caught on the horns of a dilemma, with no way out.  I could not, and would not, misrepresent the facts of the matter to my people, or to my Bishop.  It was, and remains, a crisis of conscience for me:  but in all sincerity, if I had to face that choice again, I'd probably do the same thing.  Anything less would have seemed grievously and culpably dishonest, on the level of serious sin.  (No, I'm not trying to play the injured martyr-for-righteousness here.  I'm as much of a sinner as the next man.  I'm simply trying to illustrate the depths of the dilemma confronting me, and every priest in the Church.  Others made different decisions.  We'll all have to live with the eternal consequences of our choices.  May Almighty God have mercy on us all.)

(For another perspective on the role of a Bishop, see "Advice for a new bishop", an article that appeared in 2011.  I can't find much in it to which I'd object!)

This leads directly to the second article that's disturbed me.  It concerns the Catholic Church in Britain, but I've no doubt a similar program is being prepared here in the USA.

Catholics are being urged to divulge their ‘eco-sins’ during Confession as Bishops launch a new environmental campaign.

As part of an initiative to ensure that the Catholic Church plays a role in tackling the climate crisis, it is encouraging congregants to go to Confession, or “reconciliation services”.

. . .

The initiative aims to “create a sense of urgency towards our ecological crisis and those suffering from its ill effects” as well as promote confession of environmental sins.

As a result, it has created a toolkit for church leaders to help Catholics confess their environment-related sins and is sending out its resources to parishes across the country.

Before entering the confessional, sinners will be offered an environmental ‘examination of conscience’. This works like a checklist that people can go through before confession with prompts, such as ‘have you taken flights unnecessarily?’

Again, more at the link.

I'd have no problem incorporating a solid, scientific perspective on climate change in general sermons on our responsibility as Christians to look after the world in which we live.  That would not include doom-and-gloom propaganda that can't be scientifically proven - and by that I mean actual numbers and experiments, not models or assumptions!  To classify an action as a "sin against the environment" is stretching the authority of the Church extraordinarily thinly, particularly because the science is not settled, and there is no true consensus over the causes or effects of climate change.  To jump in and try to force the Church to adopt a politically correct eco-warrior perspective is not theologically appropriate or justifiable.  In fact, it's secular humanism all over again!

I look at these goings-on, and I shake my head in utter disbelief at the current situation within, and of, the Catholic Church.  I still believe that it's the "original" church, founded by Christ through his apostles:  but it seems to have wandered awfully far from those roots.  Can it find its way back?  With God's help, I believe so . . . but in the meantime, millions of Catholics have fallen away from the Church, driven to despair by its inability - or refusal - to conform to the standards Christ established for it.  The people of God are not stupid;  nor are they blind to reality.

As I've said before, I'm irresistibly reminded of Mary Magdalen's experience on the first Easter Sunday morning.

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.  Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

The Bishops, in their collective, determinedly secular administration of the Church, "have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him".  That's the saddest thing I've ever had to say in my life . . . but it remains a reality for me, and for millions of other formerly faithful Catholics.  I certainly don't see His hand in the Bishops' collective words or actions.  Instead, I see only "the world, the flesh and the devil", to quote an old aphorism.  Would that it were not so!


How can you fight a war when you're not allowed to repair your own weapons?

I could hardly believe my eyes when I read this report in the New York Times.  I've been aware of the problem from a civilian perspective, but I hadn't realized that the military procurement bureaucracy hadn't been able to avoid it, either.

A few years ago, I was standing in a South Korean field, knee deep in mud, incredulously asking one of my maintenance Marines to tell me again why he couldn’t fix a broken generator. We needed the generator to support training with the United States Army and South Korean military, and I was generally unaccustomed to hearing anyone in the Marine Corps give excuses for not effectively getting a job done. I was stunned when his frustrated reply was, “Because of the warranty, ma’am.”

At the time, I hadn’t heard of “right-to-repair” and didn’t know that a civilian concept could affect my job in the military. The idea behind right-to-repair is that you (or a third-party you choose) should be able to repair something you own, instead of being forced to rely on the company that originally sold it. This could involve not repairing something (like an iPhone) because doing so would void a warranty; repairs which require specialized tools, diagnostic equipment, data or schematics not reasonably available to consumers; or products that are deliberately designed to prevent an end user from fixing them.

. . .

It has long been considered a problem with the automotive industry, electronics and farming equipment ... at least 20 states have considered their own right-to-repair legislation this year.

I first heard about the term from a fellow Marine interested in problems with monopoly power and technology. A few past experiences then snapped into focus. Besides the broken generator in South Korea, I remembered working at a maintenance unit in Okinawa, Japan, watching as engines were packed up and shipped back to contractors in the United States for repairs because “that’s what the contract says.” The process took months.

With every engine sent back, Marines lost the opportunity to practice the skills they might need one day on the battlefield, where contractor support is inordinately expensive, unreliable or nonexistent.

I also recalled how Marines have the ability to manufacture parts using water-jets, lathes and milling machines (as well as newer 3-D printers), but that these tools often sit idle in maintenance bays alongside broken-down military equipment. Although parts from the manufacturer aren’t available to repair the equipment, we aren’t allowed to make the parts ourselves “due to specifications.”

How pervasive is this issue for the most powerful military in the world? And what does it mean for a military that is expected to operate in the most austere and hostile environments to not possess the experience, training or tools to fix its own very technical equipment?

There's more at the link.  I highly recommend reading the article in full.

Speaking as one who's spent weeks at a time deployed in the African bush, many hundreds of miles from rear-echelon repair facilities, this is unconscionable.  Any grunt will confirm that if you can't repair your equipment, you can't fight with it:  and if you can't fight with it, it's useless to you, and may (probably will) in fact be a hindrance rather than a help.  If your enemy's equipment is working, and yours isn't, you stand a very good chance of defeat, injury or death.

I had no idea these restrictions applied to products bought by the US military.  I can only hope that the Defense Department does its utmost to get rid of such restrictions as quickly as possible.  I also hope someone brings this problem to the attention of President Trump.  If anyone can cut through military red tape, I guess he can - and in this case, it may literally be a life-or-death issue.

(One wonders how much this plays into the Pentagon's audit problems, which are alleged to amount to as much as $21 trillion that can't be properly accounted for.  I'd love to know how much of that sum is due to additional costs caused by such manufacturer "warranties".)


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Sneaky - but it paid off

The Miami Dolphins seem to make a habit of bringing off tricky plays that fool their opposition.  They did it again last weekend, with this fake kick at goal that turned into a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Miami won the game 37-31.

It came almost exactly a year after the Dolphins' famous "Miracle in Miami" touchdown against the New England Patriots, which still draws admiring and disbelieving comment from fans across the spectrum.  The play took place with only 7 seconds remaining in the match.  Talk about a nail-biter!

Full marks to the Dolphins for both scores.  They aren't in contention for the title, but they can sure play some entertaining football sometimes.


Doofus Of The Day #1,058

Today's award goes to a dumb crook in Kansas.

A Kansas man was busted for driving a stolen Chevy SUV to a local jail to bail out his brother — who was being held for driving a stolen Chevy SUV, according to authorities.

The sibling already in the pokey, Eric Dean McCracken, 36, had been arrested in Topeka early Friday for allegedly driving a stolen 2007 Trailblazer with a suspended license, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said in a release.

A few hours later, his younger brother, Keith Ray McCracken, 32, was also arrested after a short chase with cops tracking the GPS of a stolen 2015 Silverado, the department said.

“It is believed that the younger McCracken was en route to the Jackson County Jail to post bail on his older brother in a stolen vehicle,” Sheriff Tim Morse said in the release.

Keith’s arrest led to a family reunion — with both brothers ending up in Jackson County Jail awaiting bond, the release said.

There's more at the link.

I thought everybody knew that if your General Motors vehicle is recent enough to have OnStar installed (it's been standard equipment for years), then it can be tracked - and even remotely disabled, if necessary - by the OnStar control center.  All the cops have to do is ask OnStar where the vehicle is.  Clearly, that information hasn't trickled down to the nether regions of the criminal fraternity in Kansas . . .


Monday, December 2, 2019

The death of a friend

I've lost a lot of friends, comrades-in-arms, and acquaintances.  It was never easy to cope with, and sometimes it felt like the yawning, empty ache death leaves behind was about to overwhelm me.  (Not unlike a heart attack, in some ways:  I've now experienced the latter twice, so I think I have some basis for comparison.)

Over the weekend, a friend of mine lost a loved one, and turned to me for a shoulder to lean on.  Again, that's something I've done a lot, as a pastor (now retired) and as a friend.  Living in a conflict zone, as I did for the best part of 20 years, makes it an all too familiar need, I'm sorry to say.

This time, I had something else to offer him besides what I normally say.  I'm a man of faith, and respond from that background:  but he isn't, so it wouldn't have been appropriate in his case.  However, eight years ago, a poster on Reddit named G. Snow wrote a response to a similar situation.  Here it is.

Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter". I don't want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see.

As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

I think I've never read a better modern secular response to death and dying and loss.  The comments from other readers at the link express similar sentiments, and are worth reading in their own right.

You might want to bookmark the link to this article (or that Reddit page), or print a copy of Mr. Snow's words, in case of future need.


About those ISIS prisoners in Syria . . .

A while back, I noted that with the Kurdish rapprochement with the Syrian government, the ISIS/ISIL prisoners held by the former were very likely to be handed over to, or captured by, Syrian forces;  and they could expect little mercy if they were.

Well, guess what?

Jihadis in prisons in Syria could face execution without trial after President Bashar al-Assad said he was setting up special terror courts, where the prisoners will be subjected to 'Syrian law'.

Membership of Islamic State (IS) is a hanging offence in Syria and the brutal dictator has now said foreign members of IS in the country will be brought to justice.

Thousands of prisoners have been secretly executed inside the infamous Saydnaya Prison near Damascus, according to Amnesty International. Thousands more are said to have died there through torture and starvation.

Inmates are regularly beaten while crammed inside tyres, electrocuted and sexually assaulted. Some have been forced to act like animals and beat or kill one another.

Assad’s comments were made in an interview with Paris Match magazine when asked about a deal with Kurdish-led forces that would eventually bring their areas back under government control. The Syrian Democratic Forces, who defeated IS in March with the help of the US-led coalition, is currently holding more than 10,000 militants, including 2,000 foreigners.

Abandoned by their US allies, the Kurds turned to Assad and Russia for protection when Turkey invaded and over the past weeks government forces have moved into areas once held by Kurds. President Assad said: ‘Every terrorist in the areas controlled by the Syrian state will be subject to Syrian law.

‘This one is very clear vis-a-vis terrorism. They will therefore be brought to justice in specialised courts dealing with terrorism.’

There's more at the link.

Considering the reign of terror that ISIS imposed on areas it took over, and the brutalities, atrocities and torture inflicted by its members on innocent people, it's hard to look on this as anything except "what goes around, comes around".  The Syrian armed forces have an almost equally atrocious reputation concerning their conduct in captured or recaptured areas.  They're unlikely to show any mercy.

Sadly, there's bound to be a fairly large proportion of innocent people caught up in this mess.  When anti-ISIS forces "liberated" an area, any able-bodied male survivor was likely to be rounded up and imprisoned on suspicion of being a terrorist;  and the process of interrogation and verification, whereby an innocent person would have an opportunity to prove he wasn't, was never particularly scrupulous, if it was available at all.  The mere fact that ISIS hadn't killed them was grounds for suspicion, as far as the "liberators" were concerned.  I daresay hundreds, possibly thousands, of innocent men are about to die as a result.

There's nothing we can do to help them;  but I suggest that at the very least, a prayer for their souls is in order, and for their families, who are about to lose their son, or lover, or husband, or father.  I hope those of you so inclined will join me in doing so.


Sunset over the Northern plains

Courtesy of Daily Timewaster, here's a beautiful time-lapse video of sunset over Bowdon, North Dakota, in 2017.  The videographer, Mike Olbinski, writes:

We were chasing northeast of Bismarck, North Dakota and as storms were dying out, we decided to go for a lone cell on the backside of a line of storms. We knew it had a hail core on it and we were hoping that we might get some nice sunset color at least on the storm as it moved past us, and hopefully some lightning bolts. But we had no idea what we were about to encounter. The clouds were taking on a very different, curvy, wave-like appearance and suddenly we knew what we were seeing.

Undulatus asperatus clouds are a rare phenomenon and actually the newest named cloud type in over 60 years. I've seen tons of photos of them, but never anything like what we witnessed last night. We had a storm with hail in front of us and flashing lightning which was fantastic. But then we had this layer of undulatus clouds flowing across our view. Watching them was amazing already, but then the sun slowly appeared from behind some clouds to the west and lit up our storm like nothing we've ever seen before. We were like kids in a candy store. Running around, doing our best to capture it from every possible angle.

I did two on the right side with a 50mm and then a wide angle with the 11mm. The colors here are real. I only increased the contrast. In fact, I was thinking of actually REDUCING the saturation because of how intense the colors looked with the contrast added. But that's how it was and I left it that way. Six of us were there and all our photo and videos look the same.

This was undoubtedly one of the most incredible scenes I've witnessed chasing storms for the past 8 years.

Here's the video.

Beautiful indeed!  It looked to me as if I were deep underwater, looking up, seeing whales swimming near the surface, undulating and gliding through the water.

We've seen Mike Olbinski's videos on this blog before.  You'll find more of them on his YouTube channel.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sunday morning music

Let's have something melodic and peaceful to round out the Thanksgiving weekend.  Here's Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello's concerto for violin, oboe, strings & b.c. in G minor.  La Cetra Barockorchester Basel is conducted by Vaclav Luks.