Wednesday, May 28, 2014

GMOs and science for hire—UPDATED

I have this horrible suspicion that he's trying to be funny.
Comedian/activist Lee Camp asks, in the meme to your left, “Where is all the Christian outrage against GMO foods? The Lord’s creations weren’t good enough?” The most obvious answer is, “If Christians did get outraged about genetically-modified foods, we’d be written off as ‘anti-science’, so why bother?”

A better answer is that Christianity is more properly focused on us in our relations with God and other people. Proper stewardship of the earth, though not an irrelevant topic, is quite a bit removed from the “ground zero” of divine revelation and apostolic tradition.

Some Christians are against genetic modification; for instance, a fellow Catholic who contributes frequently to The Distributist Review, John Médaille, opposes GMOs. But I think it’s safe to say that the bulk of Christians who oppose GMOs can and do so without dragging the Lord’s name into it. An argument against GM foods could probably be made from Leviticus 19:19 (“You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff”). However, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Christians aren’t bound to observe the Law of Moses; ritual purity is less important than compassion and avoidance of sin.

For my own part, I’ve not read enough of the relevant literature to take a stand either way. But to slam GMO’s opponents as “anti-science” is both wrong and misleading. Monsanto is the main target, but the agro-biotech giant is also the symbol of corporate regulatory capture of federal watchdog agencies. The fear isn’t of science or technology per se, but rather of “science for hire” — the insidious influence over scientific research wielded by the dreaded, dreadful “one-percenters”.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Stress cards and trigger warnings

The "blues card", aka the "stress card".
(Source: Snopes.com.)
Let me ask all the military veterans that stumble onto this post: Do you remember the stories about the Navy’s “stress cards”?

I read about them but they weren’t using them when I was in. If I remember correctly, it was a little yellow card that they gave you. Apparently if things were getting tough for you in basic, you could flash the card and the DI would back off and give you a “break” so you could compose yourself. The standing joke was that the color of the card spoke for itself ... The idea, if I remember right, was heavily criticized (and rightfully so, what are you going to do in real life when the bullets start to fly, pull out the stress card and hope the bad guys stop shooting at you?) and the idea was eventually canned.

This is but one variation Snopes.com reports on the urban legend. In fact, the “stress card”, officially titled the “Blues Card”, was a listing issued in the early 1990s of resources Navy recruits could turn to if they were considering “giving up” or “running away”. Continues author Barbara Mikkleson, “Navy RDCs (Recruit Division Commanders) began reporting that some recruits had taken to raising their cards while being disciplined as a way of signaling for a ‘time out.’ It’s unclear whether any of those enduring basic training really thought that was the purpose of the cards or whether this was just standard armed forces jackassing, but the Navy took no chances and got rid of the cards.”

I was reminded of the “stress cards” by reading Karen Swallow Prior’s Atlantic essay, “‘Empathetically Correct’ Is the New Politically Correct”. Prior, following Neil Postman’s foreword in Amusing Ourselves to Death, contends that trigger warnings follow Aldous Huxley’s vision of “an internal form of control that becomes externalized — empathetic correctness.” The students themselves become the censors.

Monday, May 19, 2014

One hundred eighty seconds

° 2001 United Press Syndicate.

I’d seen the interview scenario before: Two team leaders, neither of whom had the power to hire me, asking boilerplate questions that the real decision-maker would use to determine whether I would have a future with the company. This pair were almost twins, nearly identical down to facial features, except that one positively brightened in response to my warmth and self-effacing humor, while the other remained determinedly serious.

Smileyface asked the question I dread at these kinds of interviews: “What would your supervisors say are your greatest strength and greatest weakness?”

“Well,” I replied cautiously, “my greatest strength is my ability to build relationships with customers. The downside of my approach, however, is that it’s a little more time-intensive.”

Frowneyface, who had been silent up to that point, pounced. “Oh, you take too long?”

This is precisely why I dread that question. On the one hand, I’ve never felt comfortable shading the truth, let alone outright lying. Generally, people have a right to hear the truth and an obligation to tell the truth, leaving aside extreme cases and questions of national security. On the other hand, this interview setup is designed to find reasons to not hire candidates, and I’d just given one to Frowneyface.

To an accountant, the customer service department is an expense; to maximize efficiency, the cost per hour of a phone line must be divided out by as many calls as possible. The word queue is used very much in the British sense: behind the customer you’re talking to, other customers are tapping their feet, impatiently waiting to be served.

One hundred eighty seconds. Or less … preferably much less. That’s the average time you’re given to verify the customer, dope out the issue, resolve it, and get him/her off your line.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dancing with the Devil—UPDATED

Satanic Temple's proposed statue of Satan ... which is actually
based on a picture of Baphomet, which is probably a 12th-
century corruption of Mohammed. So much for research.
This post was rewritten for length and republished in Catholic Stand on May 15, 2014, at the request of my editor, Diane McKelva.

*     *     * 

The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist.
—Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)


In today’s academic milieu, you should expect that a Black Mass performed by a group calling itself “The Satanic Temple” under the auspices of an Ivy League university to be a bold, daring exercise in transgressing boundaries, right? Especially if the celebrants use a Host consecrated at a legitimate Catholic Mass for ritual desecration.

Well, not so much. For one thing, a spokesperson for the Temple, Priya Dua, officially denied the use of a real Host (after initially confirming it) in a conversation with Elizabeth Scalia (The Anchoress). Ms. Scalia also quotes an anonymous spokesperson, who told her, “Please understand, there is in fact, respect for the beliefs of others, and our intention was not to be in anyone’s face. We did not mean to mislead.” And Boston Magazine says the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club released a statement that read in part, “Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices.”

But Doug Mesner, aka “Lucien Greaves”, supposedly the head of The Satanic Temple, doesn’t seem to be reading the same script. According to Kaitlyn Schallhorn of Campus Reform, Mesner asserted that the HECSC Black Mass “will mock rituals of other mainstream religious rituals [sic]”, so Catholics aren’t the only ones being dissed. On the question of the consecrated host, Mesner is suspiciously coy, telling The Anchoress that he doubted anyone would “waste time going to all that trouble” to get one (really? Only falling off a log would be less trouble), but telling Schallhorn “he couldn’t call it a ‘consecrated host’ as Catholics do” … which, The Anchoress points out, implies that Catholics could call their host consecrated.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Check your identity politics

Monster Privilege. (© 2013 garsedj)
Tal Fortgang is sick of being told to “check your privilege”.

Fortgang, 20, is a sophomore at Princeton, which is just liberal enough to suffer a paper/website for conservative students, the Tory. Now, for a student at an Ivy League school to tell another, “Check your privilege,” is at face value unexpected; it’s like two peers of the British realm blackguarding each other as elitists. However, much as G. K. Chesterton once said of Britain’s peerage, it’s precisely because schools like Princeton, Harvard and Yale are bastions of America’s aristocracy that they’re noisy hives of fashionable progressivism rather than museums to staid, stuffy conservativism. For class warfare, no one can make war on the rich like their own children.

Fortgang fumes, “The phrase [“Check your privilege”], handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. ‘Check your privilege,’ they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.”

Fortgang’s rant in the Tory ran April 2. Two weeks later, the progressive Princetonian fired back with a post from freshman columnist Mitchell Hammer. “Once I got past the irrelevant, anti-liberal rhetoric — comparing the use of the phrase ‘check your privilege’ to the descent of ‘an Obama-sanctioned drone’ did little to help me understand Fortgang’s argument — I realized that Fortgang wasn’t wrong. He just didn’t get it.” How Fortgang could “not get it” and still not be wrong, Hammer doesn’t bother to puzzle out; logic, as we will soon see, isn’t Hammer’s forte.