29 October 2013

Sean Penn Cruz-ing for a Political Bruising (sic)

That Maui Wowie from 1982 must have been pretty chronic to inspire such pearls of wisdom to seek the to commit Congress-critters with whom Penn disagrees into insane asylums.  And to suggest that the Executive Branch has such authority makes Mr. Hand's one-on-one history tutoring moot.

Of course, Fast Times on Richmond High was a 1982 movie, and Sean Penn was play acting a stoner surfer there who had delusions of grandeur.  This recent appearance on Piers Morgan was meant to be taken seriously and Sean Penn was playing himself.

Penn was promoting his activism for Haiti.  But in the same breath of supporting his altruistic cause, he chooses to insult the electorate and the Tea Party while slandering Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

 [T]he way peoples perception of political positions are, is a direct reaction to their lack of, of their education which is a huge problemthat we're dealing with in the country.
and between of an uneducated people and the solipsism of people like Ted Cruz and their party.
 It's a poisonous thing and these things with what we talked about with, you know, this is why this period of time, this is one of the things that's so fascinating to me in Haiti.

Penn's political pronouncements with Piers Morgan do not sound very coherent.  But he was not on a script and TOTUS (Teleprompter of the United States) was otherwise occupied.

But I hate to break it to the activist/actor but if you are trying to raise funds for Haiti, you are insulting many of the people who AEI's Arthur Brooks argues are the most charitably inclined as individuals.  But maybe after Penn's  J/P HRO group received $8.75 million from the World Bank for Haitian relief, maybe he does not need more friends.

After Penn's "Crazy" diatribe on Piers Morgan Live,  people can figure out who got wasted.  Res ipsa loquitur-- the fact speaks for itself.

28 October 2013

Book Review: 40 Days for Life by David Bereit and Shawn Carney

40 Days for Life: Discover What God Has Done…Imagine What You Can Do (Capella Books 2013, 269 pages) is a book which chronicles the trials and tribulations for the 40 Days for Life  campaign as prayer vigil against abortion from its genesis around a wooden table in College Station Texas in 2004 to its spread world-wide.  The book is co-authored by David Bereit, a pharmaceutical rep who left comfortable career to follow the call of the Holy Spirit to do His will in uncertain circumstances.  The other narrative voice is Shawn Carney, a young Texan who inherits the College Station leadership after Bereit answered the call to work for other Pro-Life organizations in Washington, DC. Carney became the Campaign Director for 40 Days for Life, while  Bereit later returned  to lead the National 40 Days for Life campaign.

[L] David Bereit [R] Shawn Carney of 40 Days for Life 

The 40 Days for Life idea was modeled after several key scriptural moments, like the flood which necessitated Noah's Ark and Jesus' Prayers in the Desert before beginning His Earthly public ministry.  Similarly, the book followed a structured course.  Each chapter is one of forty vignettes, followed by concurrent scriptural  passage concluded with a prayer.  Presumably, this book was intended to be read over forty days.   Perhaps it had a different impact in short, reflective increments rather than reading the contents in several sittings.

The power of the faith of Bereit, Carney and of many prayer warriors who participated in the 40 Days for Life is palpable. The book does not sugar coat the hardship and anxiety of starting up the campaign.  But their testimony shows how the Lord provides.  40 Days for Life also recounts some of the acerbic resistence which Pro-Lifer's were met with in witnessing the call of their conscience by publicly praying against abortion.

Several of the stories are quite striking and seemed pulled from current headlines.  The Grand Rapids Michigan story of 72 Ransom Street NE which building that had seen both heaven and hell.  The building started as a synogogue in the late 19th Century, only to become a Greek Orthodox Church in 1949 and in 1994 the vacated  building was turned into Western Michigan's largest abortion clinic.  However after many prayers and fundraising, LIFE International (an Evangelical Christian ministry) against abortion took over the building in 2004 and made it their headquarters. 

The details of the unhygenic conditions, the crusted blood on the linoleum floor and rusted abortion instruments at 72 Ransom Street called to mind the horrific details from the recent trial and conviction of late term abortionist Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia. The appalling conditions are not isolated incidents in abortion mills, but pro abortion advocates get apoplectic if anything id deemed to impede the so called "right to choose" or more clinically "womens' reproductive health".

An interesting aspect of 40 Days for Life is showing how the impetus for 40 Days for Life has spread worldwide.  The book tells of campaigns in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the  Georgia Republic . Defending life and forming consciences is not easy, especially in countries like Tblisi, Georgia where the average woman has 3.1 abortions and most occur after marriage.

The years of globe-trotting by Bereit and Carney to prayerfully support unborn children allowed for some serendipitious experiences. Shawn seemed to have quite a knack for unexpectedly rubbing elbows with his opponents. 

 On the first day that Carney went to pray at an abortion clinic, he befriended new on her first day working for Planned Parenthood in Bryant, Texas.  Nearly a decade later, Abby Johnson had risen to be the Director of that Planned Parenthood facility, but Ms. Johnson sought out Carney after witnessing a 13 week fetus writhe in pain during an ultrasound guided abortion.  

[L] Abby Johnson [R] Shawn Carney

Dr. Leroy Cahart, MD
On a flight to Washington, DC, Carney found himself seated next to the notorious late termabortionist Dr. Leroy Cahart, MD. Carney had conducted a prayer vigil near Carhart's Nebraska facility the day before.  Rather than confront the abortionist, Carney charitably chose to pray for Carhart.  The Spirit left him with a sense of joy that he could return to his family whereas the abortionist was obliged to return to his abortion practice.

The book was mostly conversational in tone, reading almost like an oral history that was culled  by their collaborative writer Cindy Lambert.  However, a couple of entries  started with ambitious introductions but the transitions to their stories seemed forced and rough. For example, David citing the Martin Luther King assassination as an introduction to Devanie's story based in Memphis.  Or  Shawn's "Deep in the Heart of Texas" prelude which strained to link the case of Jane Roe (Norma Leah McCorvey) with  an unrelated contemporary abortion facility in Houston, Texas.

Two chapters of 40 Days for Life had narratives from other pro-life activitists.  The testimony which Milwaukee's Dan Miller was flowing, first hand and illustrative.  But including the entirety of a 2 1/2 page e-mail on "The Rest of the Story" which twice apologized for the length of the missive begged for consolidation.

While Shawn's role  as Campaign Director for 40 Days for Life certaily required his extensive travel to show support various far-flung campaigns, detailing those logistics was sometimes detrimental to the heart of the story.  It made sense to share such facts to augment the tales of hardship which tested him as the 40 Days for Life campaigns started off.  Of course, the Cahart story deserved some travelogue background.  But for me, it was off-putting and unnecessary to mention the hardship of flying two cross country red eye flights to be in Los Angeles to celebrate the closing of an abortion facility.

40 Days for Life would be a welcomed bedside daily devotional for prayer warriors committed to the Pro-Life cause.  It gives great examples of the power of prayer to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to defend life.  The book gives many perspectives on how abortion affects the unborn child, the often grieving abortive mother, the father, the extended family and the community.  If only people spouting pro-choice propaganda would choose to  the time to read 40 Days for Life, one wonders how many hearts of stone would turn to flesh.

When this review was composed, the Kindle price of 40 Days for Life was lowered to $2.99.  At that price, the book is well worth the read.

22 October 2013

An Animated G.K. Chesterton on Rubbish

It is amazing how prescient that Chesterton sounds in the District of Calamity (sic) during the Twenty First Century.

21 October 2013

President Obama's Rose Garden Shamwow

Three weeks after the launch of Obamacare open enrollment, President Barack Obama held an event in the Rose Garden regarding the so called Affordable Care Act. 

With all of the reports of problems with the Obamacare launch, there was some expectation in the Lamestream Media that no drama President Obama would get mad about what Time called "His Broken Obamacare Website". Maybe the President would act like a leader and fire those in charge of the bureucratic bungle, such as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.   

Unfortunately, the press availability in the Rose Garden seemed like an extended  25 minute Shamwow commercial. The only element missing was the pitch line "But wait, there's more."

The big news per Jake Tapper at CNN is that the website malfunctions were not called glitches but were upgraded to kinks.   So after funneling $500 million to Quebec's CGI to set up the fatally flawed web portal Healthcare.gov, President Obama suggested using the call center, or letting health navigators assist them in signing up for the mandatory coverage lest they be taxed. 

Despite the $54 million which HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has earmaked for health care navigators , they had no  background checks and the staffing contracts were awarded to Seedco in Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee and New York.  Seedco  is the same company which settled a civil fraud lawsuit in 2012 for faking at least 1,400 of 6,500 job placements under a $22 million federal contract. 

Signing up for Obamacare involves revealing all sorts of personal information that is rife for identity theft.  There are already reports by Watchdog.org in Tennessee that scam artists are posing as navigators who coax medicare recipients for their information.   But there also shady characters who are designated as ACA Navigators.  Rosilyn Wells, the only Obamacare navigator in Lawrence, Kansas had an outstanding warrant for check kiting and has a $1700 state tax deficit.  This makes USIS's flawed background checks on Wikileaker Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis look thorough. 

Sadly, Sebelius does not have any time to testify before Congress  about the flawed Obamacare roll-out, but could attend the inaugural Kennedy Center forum the night before.  Perhaps to quell the blow back from this P.R. faux pas, Senate Majority Leader Dick Durban (D-IL) went on Sunday talking head shows to insist that Sebelius will ultimately testify.  Presumably, it will be before the Senate so there is a choreographed kabuki show where Democrats chastise Sebelius more in sorrow than in anger.

Vince Offer (a.k.a. Shlomi)
But such factual side shows take the focus away from the center stage in the Rose Garden rally.  One of the stalwart arguments against Tea Party Conservatives efforts to attach defunding Obamacare to the Continuing Resolution was the mantra that "It's the law".  Listening to the Celebrity-in-Chief's sales pitch, he soft peddled the kinks but felt compelled to sell stories to the American people of why it was a good deal for you.  If Obamacare were a good deal, the White House stenographers pool known as the elite liberal media (a.k.a. the Lamestream Media) would have plenty of positive stories to buttress the ACA.  Instead, Mr. Obama had to try to channel the spirit of Billy Mays or imitate Vince Shlomi,  the Shamwow Guy, to sell his already passed public policy.

If that was not enough, it just so happened that a person prop in back of President Obama fainted and the President caught her.

This was a phenomenon quite prevalent when candidate Obama was running for President in 2008.  It seemed to have mostly disappeared during the first term, but made some reappearances while on the hustings for his Re-Election campaign in 2012.

Considering the content of the Presidential high pressure pitch for "the law" despite its evident early shortcomings, fainting seemed apropos for the Rose Garden feint. 


19 October 2013

On Colbert Roasting Cardinal Dolan

Al Smith (D-NY)  was a New York politian from the early 20th Century who was the four time Governor of the Empire State as well as the first Roman Catholic nominee for President of the United States in 1928 .  The Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner is an annual charity white tie fundraiser which dates back to 1945 and has raised millions of dollars for healthcare causes in New York, including $3 million in 2013.

2012 Al Smith Dinner
The Al Smith Dinner is always held on the third Thursday in October.  As Stephen Colbert quipped about its calendary cycle, it is like Catholic thanksgiving.  In 1960, Theodore White remarked that the Al Smith dinner was "a ritual of American politics. as candidates from both parties would share the dais and show a humorous or even self-effacing side.   For example, last year both President Obama and  former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) both attended the fete hosted by New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

The keynote speaker for the 2013 Al Smith Dinner was the Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert.  While Colbert took some shots at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and failed Democrat mayoral candidate and NYC Council President Christine Quinn  and even Pope Francis, much of Colberts quips seemed reserved for Cardinal Dolan.  So much so, it seemed like a Cardinal Roast.

Cardinal Dolan and Stephen Colbert may have an chummy chemistry that was shown at a faith forum  last year at Fordham University entitled "The Cardinal and Colbert: On Humor, Joy and the Spiritual Life". But one should not discount how both the comedian and the Cardinal share  a passion for the Catholic faith as well as a  jovial jocularity. 

Some may frown upon Cardinal Dolan's ebullient embrace of "Laughter and the Lord".  Others voice disapproval of the New York Archbishop sharing the stage with politicians at their conventions and then "yucking it up" at the Al Smith Dinner.  

I have to agree with designated chaplain of the Colbert Report, Fr. James Martin, S.J. and his chiding of the "frozen chosen" approach to theology as being both antithetical to theology and evicerating evangelization opportunities.  It is commendable that Cardinal Dolan was able to speak truth to power by offering pointed benedictions at the Republican and Democrat conventions yet inviting faithfulness and fellowship at the Al Smith Dinner. 

Cardinal Dolan echoes this convivial approach to faith.  Dolan has observed: "Being Catholic is not a heavy burden, snuffing the joy out of life; rather our faith in Jesus and His Church gives meaning, purpose and joy to life. I love being a Catholic...".

Besides, the Holy Spirit expresses itself in different ways, especially through pastors.   Pope Francis has impressed many both inside and outside the Catholic community with his earnest aestheticism.  But Dolan touches people with his joyful sensibility combined with his fervent faith.

For Colbert's part, his humor was gentle and charitable.  I will forever think of the title  "Your Eminence" with a subtle smile yet appreciating the implication of the honorific.  While Timothy Cardinal Dolan remains in New York after the Sweet Sistine 2013 Conclave Championship, at least Dolan's beloved baseball St. Louis Cardinals have reached with World Series this year without the existential threat of competing  against the New York Yankees.

16 October 2013

Why Don’t People Answer the Call to Cellular Phone Savings?

One of the costly monthly expenses for most households in America is their cellular phone bill.  The CTIA Wireless Association estimates that average cell phone bill was $47 in 2012 but many individuals pay double that amount.  The CTIA figures do not factor in the costs of handsets or choices for “reasonable” plans

Smart phone consumers comprise 46% of the market (including 66% of youths aged 21-30).    The CTIA figures do not factor in the costs of handsets or choices for “reasonable” plans.  So there may be a low cost plan, but if one is required to carry a data package, monthly costs precipitously increase.

Another reality is that the most of the major American cellular carriers push subsidized phones with strict two year agreements.  Few cellular consumers consider the overall costs incurred with such a subsidized cell phone contract.  Such customers are  are more concerned about getting what they perceive is the latest and greatest handset for a couple of hundred dollars down (usually 1/3rd of the actual cost) while paying a significantly higher amount in the monthly cellular bill then they might pay otherwise.  

Tero Kuittinen, an independent market analyst from Alekstra, notes: "That psychology has worked for hundreds of years, and it’s still working.”   Another factor to consider is the attachment that many people feel toward their cellular purchases.  AT and T retained gripping customers for years because it retained a monopoly on i-Phones, which had a less generous plan and cost more than other smartphones, but those in the Apple cult craved it.  It seems akin to the mentality which drives new car purchases that customers will overspend to get that “new car smell” for a durable that loses 20% immediately after purchase. 

T-Mobile took the lead among cell providers in weaning prospective customers from the subsidized cell phone model with their Simple Choice plan.  But an  alternate model which T-Mobile innovated but had more success in competitors emulating is the “Next, Edge, Jump” and “OneUp”.  These programs which are essentially cell phone installment payment plans.  Consumers lease a phone by paying a bit extra ($10-20 a month plus up to $10 for the privilege) for 20 to 24 months  but with the ability  to upgrade in six months to a year.  But if consumers do not “jump”, then they will pay significantly more as there is no subsidy underwriting the purchase. This sort of gimmick may have some appeal to digerati would constantly want to upgrade without being locked in a contract, even though they are effectively locked in a contract.

Alas, cell phone services are not fungible.  Aside from the handset cost, choice of carriers are impacted by coverage.  An inexpensive plan is worthless if one does not get range in one’s preferred calling area.  Verizon Wireless has the best coverage but people pay a premium for the extensive coverage.  But most customers may not need such extensive range.

Cost conscious consumers should know that they can cut their cellular costs in half (or more), by using Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), pre-paid cell plans and fremium cell providers like FreedomPop. But the reality is that according to Ovum, only 23% of cellular customer have opted for such frugal mobile phone service. 

 As MNVOs and the ilk do not have the deep pockets for advertising, they have a dubious reputation.  In fact, when breaking up with Sprint to switch to one of its MVNOs Virgin Mobile to save half on cell costs, the customer service representative thought that it was a compelling argument to sneer “Well, that’s a pre-paid phone”.   As a customer who had been off his contract for over a year and did not need another handset, that was a less than convincing ploy. 

Usually, second tier cellular carriers offer less current handsets.  Even though these cell phones may only have been on the market for six months, finicky consumers turn their noses at these out of data handsets.  Sometimes, upgrades are prudent, such as switching from a 3G phone to one that also gets faster 4G or LTE coverage.  But when a new release is buggy, or simply has minor cosmetic changes, a savvy consumer should question whether the latest is really the greatest. Of course, with Apple i-phones, a consumer can not replace the rechargable battery himself, so it may only be good for around 18 months before starts to need replacement.

Personally, I have always considered the cellular phone plan to be more important than the particular handset.  In addition, I tend to baby my cell phone, so it has less wear and tear on the unit. But my experience switching cellular carriers from a Sprint HTC Evo with a 4.3" capacitive screen to a Virgini Mobile Samsung Victory (Galaxy II) with a 4.0" but with 4G LTE has demonstrated that the slight difference in display size impacts inputting on a virtual QWERTY.  

What may drive my decision to switch cellular companies again is whether FreedomPop allows for Bring Your Own Devices with their Freemium model roll out.  I would not buy one of FreedomPop’s outdated and refurbished HTC Evo Designs for $99 (or later $149), but I would happily switch to FreedomPop to get 200 voice minutes, 500 texts and 500 MB of data for free.  FreedomPop is relying on consumers to add on to their free base.  I might get unlimited calls and texts with a half Gig of data for $10.99.  But since FreedomPop will allow for tethering (hotspots) and they charge $10 per Gig of data, my old HTC Evo might be a supplemental hotspot for months that I need it. 

In another phase of its Un-carrier campaign, T-Mobile tried to  wreck the international roaming racket. T-Mobile stopped charging more for international text for Simple Choice customers when sending to 100+ countries.  Calls to Simple Global countries aside from the US are at $0.20 a minute.  Most importantly, there is no outrageous international data roaming charges at standard speeds.   However  there are some caveats to this International Roaming largesse.

Alas, T-Mobile considers 2G (or 128 kbs) to be an ideal speed for e-mail, social media, web pages and navigation but it such speeds would be painfully slow for graphic intensive applications.  So T-Mobile also offers three speed boost plans for international travelers.  One day of higher data speed (100 MB) for $15, one week (200 MB) for $25 and two weeks (500 MB) for $50.  This would be good for international travelers keeping in touch at home but operating on a guarded basis .  Since T-Mobile allows BYOD for GSM phones, it might pay for a traveler not taking a quick jaunt overseas to pick up an old unlocked GSM phone and sticking with T-Mobile.  Or they could just use that unlocked GSM phone with local SIM cards.  

As America enters harder economic times, more consumers may try to beat the high cost of living by answering the call to cheaper cellular services.

h/t: The Joy of Tech

15 October 2013

Book Review: 10 Answers for Atheists by Alex McFarland

Alex McFarland, an Evangelical Protestant professor of Christian Apologetics at North Greenville University (South Carolina), has authored 10 Answers for Atheists (Regal, 2012) as an outreach tool to spread the Good News to atheists and agnostics. McFarland is said to have pioneered apologetic conference formats for Christians to defend their faith.  McFarland seems to draw upon this experience in composing a book on apologetics that is easy to read and draws upon contemporary influences to reach an unbelieving audience.

Alex McFarland
The tone of McFarland’s prose was conversational with some sprinklings of erudition which reflects the author’s academic auspices.  For example, when McFarland described the scientific atheist, he alluded to “directed panspermia” as an out of this world explanation of our origins.  Moreover,  Jim Morrison of The Doors was alleged to be an “Antinomian Atheist”.  

These pop references do not always work.  To illustrate a “Biblical Scholar Atheist”, McFarland posits Penn Jillette as he rejects scripture as “B.S.”.  This Bible Scholar Atheist label on Jillette seems like a bad trick for one who does not ascribe to Judeo-Christian scripture.  It would be a more apt description of   Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, the Hebrew Atheist scholar host of the BBC’s Buried Bible Secrets series.  

McFarland categorized atheists into ten subgroups.  There seemed to be overlap between some of the groups, like the Angry Atheist and the Injured Atheist.  The University of Tennessee study which was Assessing Atheist Archtypes with six categories seemed more on the mark.  However, McFarland may have included other categories to finesse the apologetic approach. 

McFarland offered a clear yet concise historical survey of disbelief which provides an underlying basis for agnosticism and atheism from Antiquity and the Enlightenment to present day.  While the author acknowledged a few popular contemporary atheists, but two  page and a half refutations of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris seemed woefully insufficient to all but those already convicted.

The author includes a chapter “Alternatives to a Biblical God” which seemingly served as a comparative theology section.  McFarland dared to take on Islam, a monotheistic faith which does not embrace the Trinity, denies the the Divinity of Jesus and rejects substitutionary atonement.   McFarland explained away Judaism as ceasing to be a sufficient theology after the earthly appearance of Jesus.  McFarland opines that a natural progression of Judaism would be Christianity instead of recognizing the Lord’s faithfulness to His chosen people. 

In the Christian realm, Unitarianism is undercut as being an incomplete creed. Jehovah’s Witnesses are chastised for rejecting the Trinity, denying the divinity of Jesus, contrary conceits of hell (annihiliationism), having no holidays and being a works based denomination. Mormonism is minimized as being “Many Gods and Me too”.  The LDS are damned with faint praise as having a surface appeal of being wholesome and displaying devout behavior but having a creed which finds the New Testament corrupt, adds to scripture and is a works based faith.

It was surprising that “Roman” Catholics and the Orthodox were not condemned along with modern Mystical spiritualism, as those original Christian creeds used their mysticism to draw closer to union with God. The crux of the Protestant Reformation was religiosity based on biblical roots (often understood as sola scriptura) as well as the primacy of a salvation by grace.  But McFarland does not divide with Catholics or Orthodox Christians on this score in the spiritual warfare against atheism. 

McFarland gets to the crux of 10 Answers for Atheists 121 pages into a book with 165 pages of text.  The recap of the ten types of atheists in five pages seemed to repeat cautions given earlier in evangelizing to them.  Answering to agnostics is done through two sample dialogues.   

McFarland poses the ten questions by atheists:
Are faith and reason really compatable?
Isn’t belief in God delusional?
The dysteleological surd – If God is so good, why is there evil in the world?
Why join a flawed faith like Christianity which has harmed the world?
Isn’t Christianity just mythological?
Why believe in Zombies (a messiah resurrected from the dead)?
Can’t science explain everything?
Why believe hypocritical Christians?
Couldn’t Jesus just be a space alien?

His answers plant the seeds for useful apologetics as well as the thirty common objections included in the index.

As a Catholic, I am mindful that the practice of my faith differs with a more evangelical expression of faith by  bible based Protestants.  However, the 10 Answers for Atheists has some material which would provide some thoughtful responses when dialoguing with questioning agnostics and atheists.   Some of the book seemed extraneous to inter-(non) faith dialogue, such as the comparative religion section.  McFarland seemed compelled to justify bible based Christianity before delving into agnostic apologetics. 

Aside from the Angry Atheist and the Resident Contrarian Atheist, McFarland’s 10 Answers for Atheists could serve as a useful field manual for believers beginning dialogue with non-believers.  It does not seem geared at convincing atheists through a casual perusal.  The casual Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris dismissals would be insufficient for true non-believers.  Moreover, an agnostic or atheist reader would need to drudge through comparative religion and justifying bible based Christianity sections before getting to the crux of the answers for atheists.

10 October 2013

Book Review: Catholicism for Protestants by Shane Schaetzel

Shane Schaetzel 
Shane Schaetzel is a Catholic convert from Evangelical Protestantism through Anglicanism.  Schaetzel writes the thoughtful CatholicintheOzarks.com blog as part of his lay ministry to spread the Good News through the written word.  Catholicism for Protestants (2013. Lulu)  draws upon his faith history, his love of language and history along with his religious education to answer some challenging spiritual queries that he has heard living in the buckle of the Bible Belt.  Schaetzel also sees Catholicism for Protestants to be a good primer for all Catholics on the fundamentals of the faith.

Schaetzel starts the book with his compelling personal faith history which underlies the material. But in an effort to show that there are many different kinds of Catholics, like there are many different kinds of Protestants, Schaetzel wrote: “There are: Roman Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Franciscans, Benedictines, Carmelites, and even Anglican Use Catholics”.  This conflates Churches (Roman, Maronite and “Byzantine” branch), with religious orders (Franciscan, Benedictines).

Later, Schaeztel teaches that there are 23 rites in the Catholic Church.  It may be minor distinction but that is incorrect.  There are 23 Churches  which comprise Catholicism.  A Church may have several different rites.  For example, the Roman Church currently has the Roman rite, the Ambrosian (around Milan, Italy) and the Mozarabic (at several parishes in Toledo Spain).   Some might argue that Anglican Use is a rite, but for now it is part of a Personal Ordinariate established by Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI to reach out to High Church Anglican and reincorporate the richness of traditional English Patrimony in the Roman Church.

For those unfamiliar with these concepts, proclaiming yourself as a Roman Catholic layman of the Anglican Use could be kind of confusing as opposed to boldly proclaiming the author’s  point of view.

Most of Catholicism for Protestants is structured in a question and answer format which is eminently readable.  This cradle Catholic was able to finish the short 100 page book in one sitting.  Schaetzel does try to answer many common questions Evangelical Protestants have about the Catholic faith.  This sort of apologetic can be challenging as Evangelicals come from a non-sacramental, non-liturgical and non-ritualistic practice of faith so Catholicism’s practices and even its vocabulary can be confusing.  While Schaetzel’s scholarship is evident in the presentation and the supplemental footnotes (pointing to scripture, Church Fathers, the Catechism and some fine contemporary Catholic scripture scholars), his prose does not get bogged down by too much high church jargon.

Alas at times Schaetzel’s playful but plain spoken prose muddies matters.  For example, when asked if priests can marry, he writes “Shh. Don’t tell anyone, but they actually be married”.  The comeuppance is that they leave their priestly position.   Later, Schaetzel notes that sacerdotal celibacy is the practice of just Roman Catholic, the largest of the  23 Churches (which he called rites)  that comprise the  Catholic Church.  It might have made more sense to first explain the logic behind Roman Catholic priestly celibacy with its scriptural citations and alluding to Holy Tradition rather than leading with laicized clergy.

But by the same token, such punchy prose can also break down barriers, as Schaetzel was able to do by comparing papal infallability to simple math equations that are also “totally correct and being without error”.

When Schaetzel tried to tackle the Sola Scriptura question, which tends to be a big beef of “Bible Believing” Protestants, he did a good job with contexualizing the contention and explaining the history.  Unfortunately, Schaetzel did not follow up strongly on what are the bases of Catholic Faith. The three legged stool of 1) The Holy Bible (scripture) 2) Holy Tradition 3) the Magisterium (the authoritative teachings of the Church) was not clear in the author’s explanation.  Both the Bible and Tradition were highlighted while teaching authority was mentioned but not emphasized. The authority protected by the Holy Spirit from error is what makes Catholicism distinctive from its Protestant Christian brethren

Schaetzel gives great historical analyses which debunks some of the more poignant charges against the Catholic church, such as the celebration of Christmas on December 25th coming from pagan origins.  But to me, Schaetzel short shrifts the Catholic practice of inculturation.  For instance, the Germanic Yule Log and the German Tannenbaum as taking popular pagan practices and giving the underlying symbols Christian significance in celebrating the Feast of the Nativity (a.k.a. Christmas).

Another flash point for many Protestants is on the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Schaetzel does an excellent job at explaining her important role.  As a logophile, Schaetzel showed that Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic (nor did Hebrew) have a word for “cousins” so the charge which challenges the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God may be nuance lost in translation.  To further dispel the notion of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, Schaetzel deftly points to the foot of the Cross when Jesus appointed John as caretaker for His mother which would defy Jewish precepts if Mary had other children.

Most people associate Mary with the “Hail Mary” which is a major component in praying “The Rosary”.  Schaetzel made a good linguistic argument to counter charges that it is “babbling prayer”  The author rightly refers to the Rosary as a popular private devotion stemming from medieval modeling of the Divine Office using common devotional prayers instead of all 150 Psalms.  The author did not explain to the Protestant readers that there are four sets of mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous) which each have ten mysteries which reflect points of Jesus’s earthly ministry that the faithful should contemplate as they say their prayers.  Perhaps that point might not have been as compelling to Protestants inculcated  in eschewing “vain repetitions”.

Shane Schaetzel has done a good job at authoring an engaging and enlightening apologetic aimed at answering Protestant’s common questions about the Catholic faith.  Moreover, the author is practicing his understanding of the faith by his publishing and dissemination method by employing distributism, which favor small mom and pop religious bookstores.  

Being in an inter-faith marriage, I often am prompted to explain parts of my faith to my curious in-laws.  They seem to admire my pursuit of being a good Catholic but sometimes wonder why I am spiritually compelled to do what I do.  Shane Schaetzel’s Catholicism for Protestants will not only offer a clear Catechism but will also give the chapter and verse citations which sola scriptura Christians tend to seek.

09 October 2013

FreedomPop's First Foray in Cheap Cellular Service

FreedomPop is an internet service provider started by Skype co- founder Niklas Zennstrom with a motto "The Internet is a right and not a privilege".  FreedomPop seeks to expand its reach in providing "Free access for all" with its first foray in cheap cellular phone service.

FreedomPop is operating as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) based off of Sprint's network, primarily using the CDMA and WiMax capabilities and eventually using LTE.  FreedomPop is structuring its consumer cellular offering on a freemium model.   A basic consumer receives 200 voice minutes, 500 texts and 500 MB of 4G data along with free calls to other FreedomPop customers for the amazing low price of free!  And there is no contract to boot.

FreedomPop's CEO Stephen Stokols proudly proclaimed that a customer paying $1,500 for cellular service could cut their bill by 2/3rds with FreedomPop.  Stokols said: "That is real value, real savings and a real meteor to the current market dynamics."

How can FreedomPop give consumers gratis basic cellular service?  The Freemium model is designed to entice subscribers to pay a little for more.   Based on its experience offering Freemium service for hotspots, FreedomPop expects 45% of its customers to pay a little more for their low cost monthly plans.   A customer paying $7.99 a month gets 500 anytime voice minutes, unlimited texting and the 500 MB of data.  A customer "splurging" by paying $10.99 a month gets unlimited voice, unlimited texting and 500 MB of data.

Another aspect of the Freemium model is engaging customers in social media.  The FreedomPop hotspots gave consumers opportunities to get more service by speading the word to their friends and participating in sponsors offers.  This is useful for customers who do not mind peer-to-peer marketing or spending their time to save money. 

Much like the shifting spectrums in the cellular communication industry, where FreedomPop will rack up fees is on data.  The basic 500 MB is sufficient only for checking e-mails or viewing static, text based websites. A FreedomPop phone consumer who opts for the Premium data plan gets 1 GB for $10 a month (first month free).  After a consumer uses their alloted monthly data, it is $0.01 a MB, or around $10 a GB. 

As an MVNO, FreedomPop is maximizing Sprint's over-capacity.  Sprint has migrated from the slower 4G WiMax  service to 4G LTE data, which allows MVNOs to utilize the inchoate WiMax mobile data until Sprint stops servicing WiMax data.  Sprint had planned to keep WiMax going through 2015, but Sprint's total acquisition of ClearWire (which provided the WiMax backbone) might change those plans.

Another means which FreedomPop offers value for consumers while providing a profit center is with the handsets.   FreedomPop is selling refurbished Sprint smartphones.  During their beta phase of phone roll-out, FreedomPop is selling refurbished HTC Evo Design phones for $99.99 (but will eventually cost $149.99)  but without contract. 

From a price standpoint, $100 for a no contract smartphone sounds like a good deal.  But the HTC Evo Design is a smartphone with 4.0" inch screen, a single core processer running Android 4.0 OS (Ice Cream Sandwich) with 3G/4G WiMax.  When the HTC Evo Design premiered in October 2011, it was a considered mid range smartphone.   FreedomPop will be selling a two year old refurbished cell phone for $100/$150 when it sells for much less on Ebay.

As a cellular phone consumer, I am not  someone who needs to have the latest and greatest handsets.  I have bought and been happy using some refurbished cellphones.  However, I am chary about paying more than street value for a two year old cell phone without new technology guarantees.  The HTC Evo Design has 4G WiMax which is fine (where available), but a cost conscious consumer should be mindful that his handset may only have a usable shelf life of just over a year, presuming that Sprint does not turn off WiMax prematurely.

FreedomPop hopes to have more handsets for sale later in 2013, some with 4G LTE data capability.  FreedomPop always intends to have a $100 handset available.   FreedomPop may allow for Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) from Sprint.   There is some speculation that FreedomPop could follow the incremental purchase plans for expensive smartphones, like T-Mobile, AT and T, Verizon Wireless and now Sprint have done, charging perhaps $30 a month to effectively rent a handset.

Another way that FreedomPop's Phone service can offer their inexpensive cellular service is to have Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) voice calls.  Some may fear that VOIP sound quality may be inferior.  However, Verizon Wireless is gearing to start switching  their voice service to Voice Over LTE (VO-LTE) in late 2014.  FreedomPop Phone minimizes data strain to their MVNO system by prompting handsets to use WiFi whenever available.

For cell phone users who are heeding the cellular call for change, if someone plans to switch to FreedomPop Phone, be aware that WiMax phones may have to be replaced in a year. If a cellular phone customer uses mobile internet for more than occasional  quick peeks on the world wide web, it would behoove them to get more data from FreedomPop, either through the Freemium offers or purchasing an additional data plan.

Personally, I would be quite interested with FreedomPop cellular phone service if they allow BYOD, as I have a perfectly good Sprint HTC Evo to use.  If I can be assured that I have hotspot capability, I would certainly pay for premium data services. 

For cost conscious cellular consumers who use little to no data, FreedomPop cellular service would be an excellent choice rather than Pay-Lo or Assurance Wireless.   FreedomPop's Premium plan would be around 1/3 of the cost of Ting's Medium Plan (500 voice minutes , 1000 texts and 500 MB data), but Ting offers excellent weekday phone support and allows for hotspots. 

Sometimes free is not always the right choice.  Determine whether one is willing to buy a refurbished smartphone for virtually no monthly cost of commitment.  Then discern what sort of mobile data usage one will be comfortable with on your cell phone.  

08 October 2013

Common Core Constitutional Cut Up

Sixth Grade students in Bryant, Arkansas were given a curious assignment as part of theCommon Core curriculum.   The History class at Bryant Middle School had an assignment aimed at inspiring persuasive and engaging presentations.  All the groups of eleven year olds had to do was prioritize and revise the Bill of Rights.

 The History class work is premised on the idea that the government of the United States has determined that the Bill of Rights is outdated.  The assignment asked students to assume the persona of an excerpt on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights named to the "National Revised Bill of Rights (NRBR) Task Force, which is charged with ensuring that the "pursuit of happiness remains guarded in the 21st Century".   The substantial objective of this exercise was to excise two Amendments and add two Amendments.

This exercise was fundamentally flawed on its substance.  This faux NRBR task force was supposed to protect the "pursuit of happiness".  But that phrase is in the Declaration of Independence (1776) not the Bill of Rights.

These middle school students had not been schooled on the reasons why the Bill of Rights was introduced by James Madison in 1789 and ratified in 1791.  They have no idea that the Constitution would not have been ratified by several of the States without the prospect of a Bill of Rights.   Obviously, the arguments by the Federalists and Anti-Federalists would be far beyond their ken in civics. 

Then there is the inconvenient truth that the Federal Government does not dictate which Amendments are outdated and need to be pruned.  The United States Supreme Court does not inherently decide if laws are outdated, they are tasked with declaring what is constitutional.   Justices do not turn to task forces for their opinions. 

There are mechanisms to revise the Constitution, either through a cumbersome Amendment process ( 2/3rds vote of the House and Senate and 3/4ths ratification by States), a Constitutional Convention or an Article V  Amendments stemming from the States as has been elucidated by Mark Levin's Liberty Amendments (2013) as well as the Madison Coalition.  A federal NRBR task force does not fit into this real life civic scenario, much less deciding what is outdated.

In addition, Amendments are not "pruned",  but they may be superceded by later Amendments. Consider the Eighteenth Amendment (1919) establishing Prohibition of Alcohol and the Twenty-First Amendment (1933) which repealed it.  As Glenn Beck opined: "[T]his document (the Constitution) is great for one reason: they left in the scars."  That way we can remember our mistakes as well as our growth.

But the Bill of Rights Bill of Rights are understood to be to inalienable rights, which are not granted by government but flow from Divine Providence to "We the People".    They ought not be deemed outdated.

Years ago I remember a civics exercise which was part of my secondary school education that somewhat related to this assignment.  Groups of students were told that they were abandoned on a remote island and needed to draw up rules for living together.  The educational objectives may have involved analyzing a situation, group interaction and forensic presentation.   For me, the exercise underlined the genius of the American Constitutional system for ensuring freedom of individuals while living in a larger society, and whet a lifelong interest in public policy.  But it did not presuppose that we were Constitutional experts or ignoring our established norms of our polity.

The Bryant School District is proud to embrace the Common Core standards to improve students literacy and math skills.   Common Core seeks to augment these skill sets through interdisciplinary learning.  Thus this History assignment was supposed to test reading, writing and language skills on informational texts.

A recent rhetorical rumble at the CATO Institute had Chester Finn, Jr. from the Fordham Institute defending Common Core Standards     One of the supposed virtues of Common Core is teaching skill sets not particular knowledge, allowing communities and educators to have subject matter which they deem important.  As this Bryant Middle School 6th grade History exercise shows, it was nominally about the Constitution but had little reference to understanding it while perpetuating the progressive conceit of the Constitution being a Living Document.

Unfortunately, this History exercise was premised on the Patriot Act debate, which is asking a lot of middle school students, particularly without the background knowledge of history or civics.  Moreover, the instructions of the exercise circumvents the Constitution Amendment process in trying to prune and update it.  The subject matter is so cutting edge, it is hard not to believe that the teacher will not color the debate and the student presentations.  Such shaping of opinion in the guise of education shows why some conservatives are so chary about Common Core.