Here’s a new post to make Elaina happy.

Hi, silly!

Here’s Elaina’s website.

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What the hell is wrong with the Minneapolis Park Board?

I don’t understand the Minneapolis Park Board at all. First, read this press release. It describes how the Board has decided to spend $7.7 million on acquiring a former lumberyard on the Mississippi for conversion to a park. While I like the idea of expanding the park system, I found this to be a questionable use of funds because the Park Board, like nearly every other governmental entity in the state, has been operating under severe budget constraints for several years. Still, I was willing to give the Board the benefit of the doubt, and assume this really was too great an opportunity to pass up.

Until last week.

I was along with my daughter’s fourth grade field trip, taking a riverboat tour of the river when I learned exactly where this $7.7 million expansion was located.

Here’s a picture from Google Maps, with the new acquisition outlined in red:

Location of the Sherer Bros. Lumberyard

If you read the article linked above, you may remember the following passage:

“This acquisition is an important step in providing a legacy park for Northeast Minneapolis,” said John Erwin, president of the MPRB Board of Commissioners. “It provides a critical connection for public access to recreational activities along the River, and also provides a connection to the bike trail corridor to downtown Minneapolis.”

So this acquisition provides a great new park along the river for Northeast Minneapolis, something which apparently lacking.

Wait. What?

Boom Island park in relation to Sherer Bros.

Here’s a larger view, with the new acquisition outlined in red as before, but with the very large, and most significantly, riverside Boom Island Park, part of the Minneapolis Park System. Note that Boom Island Park and the newly purchased parkland are quite literally right across the street from each other.

Now supposedly there is a reason for this; it apparently fits in with the “Above the Falls Master Plan“, but given the disrepair in which much of the park system finds itself, that plan strikes me as more grandiose than visionary.

I really wish the Park Board would get a grip on reality.

Denmark’s A Prison

A friend recently shared with me a post from an online magazine and asked for my thoughts on the article. I’ll provide a quick summary and some passages from the article, but if you really want to understand the context of this post, you should probably head over and read the original article first.

The article, written by Brian Graebe, deals the implications of a court battle over murder case evidence which was obtained by recording a religious confession between a priest and a suspect in custody. The author is only cursorily interested in the legal ramifications of recording such a conversation, preferring to use the case as a segue into a discussion of ‘intrinsic evil’ and a general indictment of utilitarianism.

After a brief introduction, Graebe writes

Surely, the conventions of privacy privileges must cede to the pressing demand for justice. The legal battle that followed, ultimately vindicating the Catholic Church, shed a rare and welcome light upon the principle of intrinsic moral norms. In the objective order, there are certain actions which are wrong always and everywhere, without exceptions.

I think Graebe is a little muddled in his thinking here. The legal decision had nothing to do with ‘intrinsic moral norms’ and had everything to do with, well, legal issues. The opinion from the Appeals Court found that recording the conversation was illegal, not that it was immoral. The opinion primarily relies on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which essentially forbids the government to enact laws which ‘substantially burden’ the exercise of religion, absent any compelling state reason, and requires the least burdensome restrictions to meet any state reasons. In other words, the court found that the recording was legally wrong, not ‘objectively wrong.’

. . . while there is no upper limit on moral goodness, there is a bottom line. The seal of confession stands as a good example of this principle: A priest may never divulge anything heard in the sacrament of confession. Even knowledge that could prevent great harm (such as an imminent terrorist attack) must remain forever under that seal. Were the priest to act in any way upon that information (tipping off the FBI, telling his parents to flee the city), he would automatically incur the severest ecclesial penalties. In this way, the seal acts as a fitting touchstone against a pervasive practicality.

At this point, Graebe’s run headlong into one of the major problems with deontological thinking, which is that ‘universal’ truths are all too often subjective. Graebe considers the breaking of the confessional sacrament to be evil, but why should a non-Catholic consider it to be so? From the point of view of an outsider, the belief that there’s something intrinsically sacred about a conversation between two people when one is wearing a Roman collar is just so much superstition. Further, from a personal point of view, the idea that a priest would be prevented from attempting to prevent another Oklahoma City bombing or 9/11 because such prevention would not be justified by the ‘evil’ of breaking the confessional seal sounds like a philosophy in need of moral guidance.

. . . One can never do evil for the sake of good, or, to put it more commonly, the ends never justify the means. John Paul II reaffirmed this principle, writing in Veritatis Splendor: “These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed ‘intrinsically evil’; they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances.”

. . . In the end, the appellate court and the court of public opinion rendered their verdict against this utilitarian abuse of intrinsic evils.

Most people would agree that the ends do not justify the means, but draw distinctions between using the ends to rationalize a pre-chosen course of action, the taking of moral shortcuts brought on by a desire for expediency (as in the case of the recording during confession), and the rare necessity of a moral compromise to serve a much greater good (as in the case of breaking a confidence to save hundreds or thousands of lives). The case at hand falls into the second category, and would seem clearly wrong (even if much of American society is increasingly blasé about such moral transgressions) but it’s overly simplistic to simply categorize the prosecutor’s actions as ‘intrinsically evil’.

Furthermore, Graebe’s characterization of the situation as a product of utilitarian moralizing is also simplistic. Serious utilitarian moral caculus recognizes that all of the ends must be considered when evaluating a course of action, not just the intended outcome. In the case of the prosecutor’s actions, the outcome of a possible single conviction would be weighed not just against the single action of an illicit recording but against the damage that would occurr if such recordings would become the norm. The prosecutor’s actions are not the result of utilitarian reasoning, but are the result of lazy moral or even amoral reasoning (the distinction lies in the motives of the prosecutor; was he trying to catch a murderer, or win a case?).

In short, most vigorous utilitarian analysis leads to the conclusion that the prosecutor’s actions were wrong, but unlike Grabe’s analysis, the conclusion is reasoned and universally applicable. Grabe’s argument is rests on the arbitrary assertion that the violation of the sacrament of confession is an ‘intrinsic evil’, and would seem to lose all cohesion if neither of the parties were Catholic.

The very idea of ‘intrinsic evil’ is counter to a rational philosophy. To believe otherwise inevitably leads to (or arises from) a skewed perspective, one in which humankind is at the center of all creation. Relating to the title of this post, there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Our needs and wants and the limitations imposed on us by the reality of our physical existence define what we consider to be either good or bad. There’s nothing intrinsic about it.


Note: I was working on responding to the article in its entirety, but while I disagreed with most of it, the only reason I could think of to continue was out of frustration so I’ve decided to let it go. Maybe I’ll finish it up in the future.

Bouncin’ around

If you’re a regular reader (ha!) you’ve probably noticed that you’re on loonmagnet.wordpress.com rather than loonmagnet.net. A recent ISP change on my end forced me to move the hosting off of my personal PC to a hosted site.

As much as I enjoyed the geekiness of running this off of my PC at home, it’s probably for the best.

(Woo hoo! First update in nearly a year!)

The Right Stuff? Where’d she get that?

Having subjected you in my last post to a fund raising commercial for a Space Camp trip, I suppose I should offer an update. While we didn’t manage to raise the full amount necessary, we did raise enough to allow the group to go, with a promise to raise the rest of the money this spring. (Stay tuned for more important fund raising messages!)

The trip lasted from April 13th through the 18th. Isabella had a great time, and came home with hours of stories about the simulated shuttle missions they ran, the training they went through, and plenty of trivia about the Space Shuttle, the Saturn V and the upcoming Ares launch vehicle. Naturally enough, her favorite part was the training, mostly because large parts of the training were g-force and launch practice. Amusement park rides aside, she did really enjoy the rest of the experience. She had fun with the experiments they ran, and worked hard at all of the simulations. She capped it all off by winning the ‘Right Stuff’ award, for which I’m very proud of her. (I’m not sure where she gets her optimism and drive. If I’d gone to Space Camp when I was her age, I’d have probably received an award for “Most Complaints About Factual Inaccuracies” or something like that.)

Aside from being proud, I’ll also admit to being fairly jealous. I was just a couple of years older than Isabella when I first heard of Space Camp via the classic 80s science show 3-2-1 Contact. Unlike Isabella, who is interested in doing everything, I spent my elementary school years firmly committed to becoming either an astronaut or astronomer. At the time, there weren’t any organizations like Reach For The Stars around, so the prospect of actually being able to go to Space Camp were somewhat less than my prospects of going to the moon.

I’m really happy that Isabella was able to go, and am grateful to all the people at Reach For The Stars who work so hard every year to send so many kids on such a great trip. With any luck, we’ll be able to work with them again to get the others down to Huntsville in the future . . .

Star Trekkin’ at the Parkway

If there are any geeky types reading this (unlikely, I know) you may be interested to know that the Parkway Theater will be showing a classic piece of Sci-Fi on Sunday, March 2 at 2:00P.M:

Movie poster for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Movie poster for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

That’s right, it’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home! Ok, ok, so maybe Star Trek IV isn’t exactly classic, but it’s sure a lot of fun, and one of the two best movies to come out of the Star Trek franchise (the other of course being The Wrath of Khan).

I’ll be there along with the rest of the family, and it would be great to see all of you readers there as well, seeing as how I rarely manage to see any of you in the flesh.

If seeing the cinematic extravaganza that is Star Trek IV isn’t enough to get you to come, and the added bonus of seeing your host in person still isn’t enough, than maybe you’ll be persuaded by the fact that 100% of your ticket price (a measly five bucks!) will go to help a group of Minneapolis school kids to go to Space Camp this spring. The trip is being organized by Reach for the Stars, a non-profit group, and we’re raising money to pay the costs of sending around 20 kids with the requirement that we don’t go unless we raise enough money for everyone to go. They’ve never fallen short in the past, but we’ve been finding it an uphill climb this year.

Sales pitch aside, it will be a fun time and I hope to see you all there!

  • What: Star Trek IV, the Voyage Home
  • Date: Sunday, March 2
  • Time: 2:00 P.M.
  • Where: The Parkway Theater, 4814 Chicago Ave S. (Directions)
  • Why: Fun, friends, and a good cause.

Old Movie Theaters

If you like going to the movies and live in the Twin Cities, I have a couple of suggestions for you:

The Heights Theater is the best theater in the city. Period. Here’s what it has to offer:

  • Top-notch projection, in 16, 35 or 70mm, with projectionists who know what they’re doing. (NO DIGITAL!)
  • Fantastic sound, with either Dolby or DTS digital.
  • Wurlitzer Organ performances before shows (if the organist is available).
  • The most beautiful auditorium around.
  • A great selection of first-run movies and frequent festivals featuring classic films.
  • In 2002, the theater was the site for a Guinness world record for most hours of consecutive movie watching. History has been made here! (OK, absurd history, but history nonetheless.)

What’s really amazing to me is that when I was growing up, the Heights was a 99-cent theater and it was a complete dive. At one point, a couple of years before being bought and restored, the corrugated metal façade was painted turquoise. You had to have seen it to understand how bad it was. Since then, new owners have put an enormous amount of hard work and money have into this place. They’ve turned it into such a great theater that I go out of my way to support it and I encourage you to do so as well. Check it out.

My other favorite theater is one that proves money isn’t everything. It’s the Riverview Theater. The Riverview is a discount second-run theater ($2 matinée, $3 regular as of this writing), but it’s in great shape. Unlike every other discount theater I’ve ever patronized, the Riverview is a great place to watch a movie. For starters, it has a great auditorium, an 800-seat monster that is (as far as I know) the largest left in the city. As large as it is, sight lines are great (as the website says, the Riverview has had stadium seating since 1949). The seats are modern and comfortable, the screen is large with good projection, it has all the modern sound equipment, there’s real butter on the popcorn, the prices are great, and to top it off, they usually offer a movie selection that just can’t be beat.

For example, here’s the lineup for this weekend:

Seven movies, in one day on a single screen. Out of the lot, there’s only one that I have no interest in seeing, or at least taking the kids to see (I’ll leave it to you to guess which one I’d avoid).

So, next time you’re in the mood to go out to see a movie, consider either the Heights or the Riverview before running off to the nearest multiplex. I think you’ll be glad you did.