Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Abortion and Health Care

2010 March for Life at the United States Supreme Cout
I usually try not to go too much into politics on this blog, but I think it's time to bring something to the spotlight, and hopefully get some of my fellow Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) to think.  So bear with me.
  1. Abortion is an intrinsic moral evil.  It is always wrong to take the life of an innocent child.  Evangelicals and the Catholic Church fully agree on this point.  
  2. The United States of America not only permits abortion on demand, but by diktat of the Supreme Court, abortion is guaranteed to all women as a constitutional right.
  3. Since this Roe v. Wade decision some 40 years ago, about 55 million abortions have been performed in the United States.
For over 40 years now, the Pro-Life Movement in America has been trying, unsuccessfully, to bring an end to this Holocaust of the unborn.  The standard procedure has been to elect Pro-Life politicians to the federal government in the hope that they might somehow overturn this Supreme Court decision, either through laws, constitutional amendment, or appointing new judges that will counter the previous decisions of the old judges. The strategy has been employed for a generation now, and the results have been unimpressive.  For every one step forward that is made, one to two steps are taken backward.  There has been some progress on the state level, but this is often overridden by court decisions on the federal level.  The prospect of another 40 years of this is intolerable.  When will it end?  After 100 million abortions?  200 million?  Is there any end in sight?

Albert Einstein once said the definition of INSANITY is: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  That is pretty much what we have been doing in the Pro-Life Movement here in the United States.  I think it's time to change the strategy.  We lobby, we march, we protest, we elect Pro-Life politicians, and what do we have to show for it?  55 million abortions with no end in sight! I think we American Pro-Lifers need to pause and do a little reassessment.  Perhaps if we look around the world, at countries were abortion is already illegal, we might be able to get a better idea of what we're doing wrong.

Many countries in the world ban abortion outright.  Many also place severe restrictions on abortion. However, most of these nations are what we would call "developing" or "third-world" nations. I don't want to disparage them for that. However, what we should be looking for here are developed countries that are more like the United States.  Because these nations are more like us, in economy, standard of living, and cultural values, this is where we should probably look for answers. There are three in Europe that come to mind: Ireland, Malta and Poland.  All three of these countries ban abortion in almost all circumstances; except to save the life of the mother, rape or other severe medical reasons.  These are hardly what anyone can reasonable call "poor," "backward" or "barbaric" nations.  I'm sure some here in America would like to try, but such a claim could not be taken seriously.  So what's the deal here?  Why is it that Ireland, Malta and Poland can successfully ban most abortions, but the United States cannot?

Well, the first thing we will notice is that all three countries have an overwhelming Catholic population.  That plays a Pro-Life cultural role that is essential.  However, even though the United States has a minority Catholic population, the Catholic Church is still the largest Church in America, and it is growing. Evangelicals share Catholic views on abortion, for the most part, so when you put Evangelicals and Catholics together, it's overwhelming.  There are about 90 million Evangelicals in America, and about 78 million Catholics. So we are talking about a combined force of at least 168 million people who are at the very least, nominally Pro-Life, and a core within that number who are militantly so.  That's more than enough people to get the job done. So what is the problem?

I would like to put forward a suggestion that is sure to upset a lot of people, but I think it's a suggestion that is worth serious consideration by every single Pro-Lifer in America.  There is something that Ireland, Malta and Poland have that America does not have.  They all have free (or nearly free) public healthcare.  That's right, they each use their own version of public healthcare that insures that every man, woman and child is entitled to safe, modern and affordable healthcare.  Ireland uses a tier system, that is a mixture of public and private.  Every Irish citizen is entitled to a virtually free public healthcare service that is funded through taxation.  Private healthcare is permitted for those who can afford it.  Malta has a public healthcare system that is free to all citizens, and works side-by-side with a private healthcare system for those who can afford it.  Poland likewise provides a publicly funded healthcare system that is free to all citizens.

Now I'm not saying that public healthcare is an automatic ticket to ending abortions and creating a Pro-Life nation. That would be factually untrue, for many nations that provide free healthcare also provide abortion on demand.  What I am saying is this.  Moving toward banning abortion in the United States would be a whole lot easier if we had a public healthcare system that could guarantee the free medical treatment of all pregnant women from conception until birth, and then provide free medical treatment for the baby when he or she arrives.  This would take the wind out of the sails of those who say babies cannot be afforded, thus making the Pro-Life position far more palatable to the rest of the population.

It seems to me that we Pro-Lifers are all too often a little self-contradictory.  While we do a wonderful job with Crisis Pregnancy Centres and adoption services, as well as providing free diapers and baby food for millions of poor mothers who need it, that is a far cry from guaranteeing free pregnancy care and free healthcare for the life of the child.  Many mothers do qualify for Medicaid, which provides many of these things for free anyway. However, there are many more mothers who do not qualify. It is in this "in-between gap" that the majority of abortions occur. I'm talking about working mothers who can't afford another child. I'm talking about teenage mothers who need to finish school.  The problem we have in America is that while many of us value life dearly, we are not willing to put a price on it. We want an end to all abortions, but we don't want to pay for all the babies that will inevitably result.

At the heart of this dilemma is a question about life itself.  Does the right to life include a right to affordable healthcare?

The Catholic Church says it does, and the nations of Ireland, Malta and Poland agree. What do American Evangelicals say? For that matter, what do American Catholics say?


Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!


Thursday, January 23, 2014

On Catholic Stewardship and Light Bulbs

This is the lighting on my ceiling fan.  On the left are standard incandescent bulbs.
On the right are new energy efficient LED bulbs.
The subtitle of this blog is "Apologetics and random musings from the Bible Belt."  This entry falls under the "random musings" category.  As many of you know by now, there have been some significant changes to laws governing the way we light our homes and places of business.  I hear a lot of people complaining about this and President Obama is usually on the receiving end of those complaints.  Now anyone who knows me will tell you I am no fan of President Obama, but anyone who knows me will also tell you I am a stickler for accurate information and giving credit (or blame) where it is due.  Barack Obama is only partially responsible for this new energy law. He bears only a tiny fraction of the credit (or blame) for it.  The legislation in question, called the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007), was passed by the Senate on June 21, 2007. Then, Senator Barack Obama did vote for it, but it was signed into law on December 19, 2007 by Republican President George W. Bush.  The one man who could have stopped it with a veto -- didn't. So for those who want to complain, feel free to do so, but please blame the right politician when you do.

Initially, I thought the new law was a bad idea, especially for the poor, who will have to pay higher prices for light bulbs at the retail store.  I still have mixed feelings about that.  However, in the long run, I think this law has great potential for reducing some of our energy costs and likewise reducing the amount of energy that needs to be generated to power this nation of ours.  I see great "potential" because there are also great pitfalls to this legislation as well.

In regards to the poor, and families with limited means, I'm afraid we are now stuck with what we have.  The price of light bulbs just went up and they're never going to come back down to what they once were before January 1, 2014.  So the question now is; how do we make the best of things?

Incandescent Bulb
The standard incandescent light bulb is what is going the way of the dinosaur. They used to cost about 25 cents a piece.  That's a pretty good price for a very old invention.  It's been around of over a hundred years with very few changes. Unfortunately, that also means they are very inefficient insofar as energy usage. They also don't last very long. The average incandescent bulb lasts about 750 hours, and typically uses about 60 watts of electricity to produce about 800 lumens (a measurement of how bright it is).  So in the case of my ceiling fan, shown in the image above, four of these babies puts me out 240 watts of electricity to light my living room 3200 lumens.  Ouch!  240 watts is a lot of electricity for an average amount of light.  These antique bulbs also don't last very long.  I can expect to replace them every 4 months, assuming they're high quality bulbs, and every 3 months if not.  These are being replaced by the new halogen gas bulbs, which look pretty much the same, use a similar technology as the old incandescent bulbs, but are filled with a halogen gas.  This allows the bulb to burn brighter at lower levels of electricity.  So to get about 800 lumens of light, you only need about 43 watts of electricity instead of the 60 watts required by the old bulbs.  They also last a little longer, at about 1,000 hours per bulb, or about 5 months, assuming you light your home for about 6 hours every night.  Currently, these bulbs run at about $1.50 each, but the price should come down as production increases over the years ahead.  If you're on a tight budget, and just can't afford anything else, these babies will cost you only a little more money at the retail store, but the energy savings you get over the long run, both in energy use and the life of the bulb, should (in theory) cause you to break even.

CFL Bulb
The next product is something we are starting to see a lot more of in the retail stores.  It's called the Compact Florescent Light (CFL) bulb.  They're becoming popular because after years of production, the price of these things are starting to come down. Currently, they run less than $5 a bulb, and we can expect the price to fall further as production increases.  CFL bulbs use a florescent gas to create light, technically speaking, it's not really light in the traditional sense, but that's another story. The reason why CFL bulbs are becoming so popular is because they are extremely efficient.  It only takes about 13 watts of electricity to produce about 800 lumens of light.  So the lighting in my ceiling fan would only require 52 watts to produce roughly the same amount illumination if I switched it from standard incandescent bulbs to CFL bulbs.  Wow!  That's a savings of 188 watts!  Yes, I could expect a noticeable and significant lowing of my electric bill if I replaced all of my incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs.  In addition, more money can be saved simply by not having to change my light bulbs as much.  Allegedly, the average life expectancy of a well built CFL bulb should be about 4 to 5 years if used for about six hours every night. That's about seven times the life expectancy of the average incandescent bulb.  Which means, of course, not only are we saving a whole lot of money on electricity usage, but we're also saving a little money (allegedly) on light bulb expenses because we're having to replace them much less often.

However, there are some problems with CFL bulbs which trouble me deeply, and on many different levels. From a usage standpoint, while they've solved the flickering problem common to florescent lighting, it still takes a little while for a CFL bulb to reach its full lighting potential. On average, from personal experience of using them, it seems to take about 10 minutes for a CFL to truly reach the 800 lumens one would typically see from an incandescent bulb instantaneously upon flicking the light switch. So they're a little on the slow side to reach full lighting potential.  However, that would not be such a big problem in and of itself when you consider the energy savings.  The real problem I see is health related, as pointed out in this silly but informative video...

Usage of these bulbs allegedly has some negative effect on the human body in what is called "dirty electricity."  I am not familiar with the legitimacy of these claims, but supposedly, there are some negative health effects, especially on diabetics.  Some people claim the lighting from these bulbs gives them migraines as well.

Beyond that however, there are other well known health risks. You see, in order to make the CFL bulb viable in the market of standard household lighting, it needs to switch on and off like a regular incandescent light bulb. Flickering, which was common among the old CFL bulbs, is a deal killer.  Nobody likes a flickering light bulb in their house. Fixing that requires something that is a fair conductor of electricity but simultaneously a poor conductor of heat. The solution was to add about 4 milligrammes of mercury (Hg) gas to each bulb.  That's about 500 times the maximum ingestion amount recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Mercury is a neurotoxin and is highly poisonous. Now thankfully, the gas is contained inside the bulb, and you don't ingest any just by using it.  However, if one breaks, the gas is released, and if you're nearby, you will likely inhale some.  Who knows how much?  But it's something you probably don't want to do.  This is why the manufacturers recommend opening up all windows and evacuating the area for a while before returning to clean up the debris.  Debris should be cleaned up carefully with disposable tape and card stock paper, and nothing should be touched with the bare hand.  Mercury gas eventually crystallises back into a solid, but cutting yourself on any of the glass shards presents the risk of getting mercury particles into the bloodstream. Then there are the long-term environmental effects. While people are supposed to recycle CFL bulbs a certain way to prevent environmental pollution, we all know that human nature will produce otherwise. Over the years, we can expect millions and millions of these spent bulbs in our nation's landfills.  I don't know what the effect of millions of pounds of concentrated mercury will do to our environment, but I suspect it probably won't be a good thing.  Our nation's regular landfills may slowly transform into toxic waste dumps.

This is one reason why I'm getting rid of all the CFL bulbs in my house.  Currently, I have moved most of them outside, to outdoor lighting, and the few that remain in the house are contained inside thick globes to protect my children from accidental breakage of the CFL bulb.  Eventually I will cycle them all out of my house and my home will be CFL free.

LED Bulb
The final product is the Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulb. These are probably the most advance form of lighting available to the public, and they are becoming increasingly popular. It works by emitting electrons that are able to recombine with holes within the device, releasing energy in the form of photons. That's "light" in layman's terms, real light, not a substitute. LED bulbs are safe and non-toxic. If one breaks, there is no danger, and you can dispose of it like a regular light bulb without significant harm to the environment. Though I would recommend recycling them if you can. It only takes about 11 watts to produce about 800 lumens of light per bulb.  That means I can light my whole ceiling fan for just 44 watts of electricity, compared to the 240 watts used by incandescent bulbs, giving me a savings of about 196 watts.  That's going to show up on my electric bill. Plus the average life expectancy of a LED bulb is allegedly 10 to 11 years, at roughly 6 hours of use every night.  (I like to write the date on these bulbs, as shown in the photograph above, so I will eventually be able to tell exactly how long it really lasted when it finally burns out.) There are only two disadvantages to the LED bulbs as far as I can tell at this time.  The first is cost.  At a whopping $8 each, I don't expect very many people to go out and replace their entire house lighting with them in the near future. However, as more people continue to buy them, slowly, the cost of production will go down gradually.  I suspect that about the time the cost of production equals (or is close to) the cost of production for a CFL, the LED will eventually replace the CFL entirely.  Why?  Because in my opinion, it's just a better product all around, for so many different reasons.  The other disadvantage to the LED bulb is its weight.  It's kind of heavy for a light bulb.  This won't be a problem for most light fixtures, however, if you're using the older kind designed strictly for paper light incandescent bulbs, you're either going to have to replace the fixture, or just settle for the lighter halogen or CFL bulbs.

So what is this Catholic blogger's take on the new light bulbs insofar as Catholic teaching on stewardship of the environment? Well I doubt the U.S. Catholic bishops will be making any kind of official statement on this matter.  They have much bigger fish to fry.  My take on this is as follows.  As a Catholic Christian, I believe in being a good steward of the environment God gave us.  I don't necessarily subscribe to all the latest scientific theories concerning man-made climate change (global warming), but that's beside the point.  Using less electricity helps the environment no matter what theory you subscribe to, so as a good Catholic, that's what I want to do.  At the same time I live in the Ozark mountains of Southern Missouri, and anyone who has visited this area knows that income levels are below the national average here.  So practical cost effectiveness is a major factor.  I am also a husband and a father who deeply cares for his family.  I don't want my wife and children exposed to potentially harmful elements.

That being said, this is my personal advice, based on my educated personal opinion.  If cost is a major factor in your weekly budget, just buy the standard halogen light bulbs to replace your old incandescent bulbs. They will cost more than the old bulbs, and you won't see any real savings on your electricity bill, but in theory, you should break even in the long run because with halogen you won't have to replace your bulbs as much. Just so you know, halogen isn't particularly good for you if inhaled, but it is nowhere near as toxic as the mercury gas contained in CFL bulbs.  As for those swirly CFL bulbs (sometimes hidden in what looks like a standard light bulb shell), on a personal level, and as a personal opinion, I would NOT recommend buying them under any circumstances.  I bought some and now I am sorry.  I want to get rid of them, but I'm trying to do so in a responsible manner by cycling them out slowly.  I will never buy another one now that I know what a danger they can potentially be to my family, friends and guests. As the price comes down on them, they may become more and more attractive, but when I consider the potential health risks to myself and those around me, as well as the potential long-term environmental damage that may soon be caused by them, I just don't think it's worth it.

If you want to save money on your electric bill, and you're on a tight budget, this is what I would recommend you do.  Buy a small stock of cheaper halogen bulbs for regular replacement as needed.  However, at the same time, if you can afford it, spend an extra $8, the next time you go to the grocery or department store, on one single LED bulb. Keep it ready to use when the opportunity arrives.  Repeat this process, about once a month, whenever you visit the grocery or department store, so you're only spending an extra $8 at a time, spread out over months and years.  In time the price of these bulbs will drop anyway.  However, if you phase them into your house slowly, they won't break your budget, as you gradually gain the benefit of long term lighting, that will eventually save money on your electric bill, and you shouldn't have to replace them again for a very, very long time.


Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!