Friday, April 29, 2016

Bear Going on Vacation

This ephemeris will be hibernating for a couple of weeks while the Bear takes a well-earned vacation. This should give you enough time to read the two latest articles.

In the meantime, to become a part of the Bear's Facebook Page, go here and "Like." The previous "friending" method was proving to be problematical.

--The Bear

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

DNA and Eucharistic Miracles -- A Criminal Trial Lawyer's Perspective

Update: neither Church Militant TV nor National Catholic Register have corrected the factual mistakes in their articles, despite being alerted to them by the Bear. CMTV is still repeating the Catholic urban legend that DNA tests were performed on the Lanciano miracle and the alleged Buenos miracle resulting in an exact match. NCR is still linking to forensic psychologists as the party that supposedly did the Buenos Aires DNA tests. "Catholic" and "journalism" seems to have a disconnect.

Miraculous DNA in the News

There has been a rash of stories in the Catholic media about Eucharistic miracles being tested for DNA. Some cases are well-documented, some are not documented at all, and others are, frankly, likely to be urban legends.

The Bear has just written a very long examination of the 1996 alleged Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires that explores that case and more general issues in detail. The investigation appears to be have been doomed from the start by early decisions from the archdiocese. (Jorge Bergoglio was then auxiliary bishop.) It has not been approved by the Church.

It has, however been cited in an assuredly false remark in an April 24, 2016 Church Militant TV story that the Buenos Aires sample was compared with a sample from the famous 8th century Lanciano miracle,' and resulted in a "DNA match." This appears to be a Catholic urban legend repeated from combox to blog for some time. Perhaps the mix-up began when the blood types were said to have been the same.

The Bear has already written more than anyone would want to know about all this and won't repeat it here.


This article should not be taken as an attack on the reality of any Church-approved Eucharistic miracle. That is far from the Bear's point. It is, rather, a fun little illustration of the messy realities of DNA testing. DNA is a very useful tool. But it is not the right tool for every task. And even if you've got the right task, you must know how to use it properly. DNA testing is not magic. The Bear's opinion is that, currently, it is certainly not being used properly by the Church, and is damaging, rather than bolstering, the credibility of Eucharistic miracles for anyone but avid Catholic CSI fans.

Poles Do it Right (But Bear Still Pondering)

On April 17, 2016, his Excellency Zbigniew Kiernikowski of the Diocese of Legica, Poland made an an amazing announcement. (Use your browser to translate.)

Finally, in the judgment of the Department of Forensic Medicine states: "The histopathological tissue fragments were found containing fragmented part of the skeletal muscle. (...) The whole image (...) is the most similar to the heart muscle "(...), as amended, which" often accompanied by agony." Genetic studies indicate the origin of human tissue.

Unlike the supposed Buenos Aires DNA test, we have the names of the laboratories and at least an excerpt from the report. By the way, this is how scientists really deliver findings: in careful, precise language that does not go beyond their observations. (Not dramatic hearsay related on a YouTube video by a professional miracle-hunter selling his books at a speaking engagement.)

Thanks to reader "laurel," whose search fu is strong, the Bear can share this:

According to the Catholic Herald a study was performed by Department of Forensic Medicine in Wroclaw in 2014. A subsequent study performed by the Department of Forensic Medicine of the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin.

So, it appears that this was all legitimately done. However, the Bear has often had to attempt to refute DNA evidence in court, and knows that DNA is very good at some things, limited in others, and subject to a variety of issues that may confound the most competent testing. To illustrate this, he will talk about a very strange dream you had last night...

CSI: Bear's Woodlands

What you looked like in your dream.
In your dream, you were a defense lawyer in a death penalty case. That part seems really weird to you now, since you support the death penalty, but somehow it didn't at the time. Sitting next to you at trial was Johnny Diamond, accused of murdering Trudy Doyle. If you lose, Johnny's taking a dirt nap. Worse, your reputation will be tarnished.

Fortunately -- somehow -- there is no confession, there are no eyewitnesses, nothing caught on the videocamera down at the Quickie-Mart, no fingerprints, no trace evidence, and the NSA surveillance satellite in geosynchronous orbit over Trudy's house couldn't penetrate the cloud cover that day. In short  -- dey got nuttin' on Johnny.

Except a DNA match.

A sweet young lady who appears to be about seventeen years old confidently takes the stand. The prosecutor begins establishing the witnesses' impressive credentials as a DNA expert. (She's seventeen. How is this possible?) You quickly rise up on your hind legs and stipulate to her qualifications, because you know how this scene ends. Might as well appear magnanimous and unconcerned.

Suddenly the jury (who has been mostly nodding off, except for 6 and 8 who have been making eyes at each other) is wide awake. DNA. Just like CSI!

Oh how many times has the Bear listened to a prosecutor's labored "questioning" during jury selection about how CSI isn't real life. Prosecutors have nightmares about CSI. They attend grueling week-long-seminars at taxpayer expense in Hawaii just to learn how to deal with a television show.*

The Prosecution's DNA Evidence

Of course, with your vast experience, you know when it comes to comparing a "standard" or known sample with an "unknown" sample, DNA results are virtually unassailable. The "unknown" was DNA recovered from a straw in a Big Gulp found at the crime scene. The "standard" is a cheek swab from Johnny. The Big Gulp straw and cheek swab have already been admitted into evidence. The DNA expert cooly lays out everything she did, starting with the receipt of the two pieces of evidence at her lab. It is an impressive performance. Then comes the prosecutor's coup de grace.

"Were you able to determine to within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty the probability that the DNA recovered from Exhibit 18, the straw, and Exhibit 42, the cheek swab from the defendant came from the same person?"

"Yes, I was."

"And what is that probability?"

"The probability that both samples came from the same person is 847-trillion to one."

"Do you know approximately how may people are on this planet?"

"Yes. Approximately 7.4 billion."

The prosecutor thanks her for her testimony, and as he returns to counsel table he looks at you and mouths loser.

A Much Easier Way?

Why are we going through all this rigamarole? It would be a lot easier for the prosecutor just to stand before the jury and say, "Ladies and gentleman, I want you to know that we have had highly qualified people test DNA recovered in this case, and they have determined that the Big Gulp DNA and the defendant's DNA match. Thank you."

Why is it we don't use science that way in any trial? You don't have to be dreaming to know that it wouldn't seem very fair to the other side, or helpful to the fact-finders. Instinctively, don't you feel everyone should lay their cards on the table in such an important matter? If the prosecutor refused to provide everything to the other side, first of all, he would probably be disbarred, but, more importantly, the jury wouldn't know what to make of the evidence.

Worse, the defense lawyer might stand up and say, "We tried to obtain all the materials related to this DNA testing, but the prosecutor flat-out refused to give it us. Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, we don't know what to make of hiding evidence. All we can say is that we had no opportunity to read any reports, view any results, or speak to the DNA expert. So, I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to reach your verdict solely on the basis of whatever you make from this unfortunate situation."

You probably see where the Bear is going with this, and are thinking, "That's all well and good for a trial, but this isn't a trial. This is a miracle being tested by the Church, who is the fact-finder. The Church doesn't owe anyone anything." We'll revisit this later. Meanwhile, let's get back to your exciting dream.

Oh, and, by the way, what if the prosecutor just said, blah, blah, "and determined the DNA on the straw came from a human being?"

The Defense Strikes Back

It looks bad, doesn't it? The DNA evidence nails your client.

This is where DNA shines. Comparing two samples. But in your dream, you're good. You know that's true only at the end of the DNA pipeline, the one spilling all neat and tidy and scientific into the courtroom from the lips of a perky little DNA expert that the jury wants to adopt. Sure, it looks pretty solid now, but you have some cards up your sleeve.

You and your own DNA expert have been poring over all the testing information provided. It is, after all, science, and everybody has an interest in reliability (right and right?). The process is completely transparent. Everything is available to you. You're glad for Rule 417** that lists a ridiculous number of DNA-related items the prosecution had to turn over to you. (Included in previous article, but also footnoted here.)

You have mostly concentrated on the other, non-scientific end for problems with:

  • chain-of-custody (was there ever an opportunity to tamper with the evidence?)
  • innocent presence (is there a good explanation why the DNA should be wherever it was taken from?)
  • contamination (could some other DNA be confusing results?)
  • lab problems (bench contamination, software glitches, failure to certify, etc., etc.) to reduce Miss Perky to tears on the witness stand (please no, don't make the jurors hate you).

DNA testing per se cannot answer any of these questions.

Your Epically Devastating Cross Examination

You're good. You don't even need notes. After a pleasant greeting to the witness, you gently start to go in for the kill.

Gaps in chain-of-custody. You establish that the chain-of-custody of the Big Gulp straw has gaps. For example, according to the log sheet that goes with every item of evidence, a fingerprint expert checked out the cup and straw, but there is no record of him ever putting it back in the evidence vault. There's a two-week gap before someone else recorded checking it out. The bag had been sealed, but not dated or initialed by whoever sealed it last. The witness has to admit she has no way of knowing where it was or what happened to it during any gaps. Heck, nobody knows if it is even the same Big Gulp straw!

Mixed DNA. You also noted that her findings indicate there was DNA from more than one person. While she explains there are ways around that, she has to admit issues with contamination are always possible. (You know that your own expert is going to have a lot to say about that, and other issues, and suppress a smirk.)

Lab contamination -- chain of custody and lab notes would seem to indicate that several items of evidence had been opened during the same time, some of which indisputably belonged to Johnny. She admits that she and another technician were working together due to time constraints, and she "can't rule out" contamination on the bench or leftover genetic material in the equipment. She admits that this violated the relevant professional standards, but says state budget cuts have put a lot of pressure on the crime lab to meet the growing needs of police.

Outdated Software. You ask her why she used Geno-O-Matic 4.5 software, when the current version was 5.0. She seems flustered and admits she was not aware of the upgrade or what issues it might have addressed. You show her (almost sympathetically) reports indicating that the lab she works at was cited for numerous deviations from state requirements. Yes, she says, but those have all been corrected.

Mysterious phone call. Next, you produce a phone log from two weeks before the trial began, showing that she called the lead detective in the case about "an urgent matter relating to the test results." She says she does not remember what that was about or talking with the detective.

Final Question -- knowing you can lead on cross, you say this to the DNA expert. "In fact, it is true that your DNA tests can say that Johnny Diamond's DNA may be on that straw, but you can't say Johnny Diamond was at Trudy Doyle's house, can you." Of course, the answer is no.

The Bear will spare this poor young lady further humiliation from your devastating cross-examination. (You were kind of mean.) The prosecutor makes a half-hearted effort to rehabilitate his witness, but you can see he is badly shaken. As she leaves the stand the file in her hand is trembling, and the jurors are glaring at the prosecutor and shaking their heads.

Finally, the Defense's Case

Innocent presence. You produce three witnesses who were Trudy Doyle's neighbors who testify that Johnny was a frequent visitor. Trudy often complained to them that he left his Big Gulps on the table when he left.

Alibi -- Two nurses from the hospital testified that Johnny was with his sick mother during the window established for Trudy's death.

Contrary expert findings -- But you have saved your best witness for last. Your own expert -- every bit as qualified, if not more so. He challenges several of the state's expert's procedures and findings, never disputing the DNA results per se, based on the data provided, but badly hurting their reliability. He testifies indignantly that he wanted to do independent testing, but was informed that the Big Gulp sample was so small it had been "consumed in testing," and so there was no way to double-check the state's test.

The Verdict

In your dream, as you await the verdict at a bar on the corner next to the courthouse, you wonder how it will turn out. Just on the DNA match, it appeared that Johnny's goose was cooked. 

But DNA is not magic. Even at its best -- comparing knowns and unknowns -- in the end, it's only as good as the samples and procedures, and, most of all, the other evidence in the case. You never once directly said the DNA findings on the Big Gulp and your client were wrong. But you did make the most of its vulnerabilities, raised questions in the jurors' minds. Best of all, you were able to say "so what?" about the Big Gulp straw because of factors that had nothing to do with DNA: innocent presence and alibi.

A good lawyer like you beats bad science any day of the week.

In your dream, you were called back into the courtroom after only twenty minutes. You stood with Johnny for the verdict. The bailiff handed the verdict sheet to the judge, who examined it inscrutably, then transferred it back to the jury foreman, who rose to deliver the verdict.***

Then you woke up. But you found yourself with a new, insider's appreciation for the realities of DNA testing.

Catholic Science, Catholic Journalism?

If the Church approves a miracle, the Bear is not going to dispute it. But he hopes he has illustrated how DNA results are really the beginning of the process, not the end. We should not be doing "Catholic science" any more than "Catholic journalism." It's just science and journalism, or it's something less. (A complaint the Bear has with some Catholic media that seem to want to have it both ways.) 

Look at the way the Shroud studies were handled. They first established protocols, then performed tests according to accepted science. Reports were published. It was transparent. It was credible and confident. Debate ensued. It remains controversial, but we have benefitted from new insights.

If you like, go here to read medical details relating to the miraculous cure of Danila Castelli at Lourdes, the 69th such cure recognized by a bishop. There is also a detailed video of the doctor explaining it further. Doesn't it enhance credibility to confidently lay it all out so anyone can understand why this was a miracle? The Bear thinks it does, anyway.

The Bear is especially troubled about limiting a report to "human DNA." That's like opening your Bible to the 23rd Psalm and announcing that it has been determined to be a book on ancient Hebrew pastoral poetry.

Were the experts instructed to test only for human / non-human? Did they do more extensive testing, but the findings are being kept from the public for some reason? Or was the sample so degraded or contaminated that's the best they could do? We don't know.

But we ought to be able to tell if the DNA came from a male or female, at least. From pristine DNA directly from fresh tissue, we might be able to get some more interesting results, if we dared to look. But all we get is "human DNA."

Limitations of DNA Testing In Eucharistic Miracles

With today's sensitive PCR testing (which "amplifies" DNA -- think "xerox machine") samples otherwise too small to be tested, can be. It would hardly be surprising to find human DNA on a found host. After all, during mass, it is touched by at least one person, and, most of the time, two. If it's found somewhere and brought to the priest, that's probably at least three. After that, who knows? And, of course, who knows how many people touch unconsecrated hosts along the way? 

Anyone who touched it could have left behind skin cells. (The keys in front of you are simply filthy with gross skin cells.) Think back on the issues of chain of custody and contamination that were so important in your dream. 

DNA claims, for the Bear, raise more questions than they answer. Unless the Church is going to provide information sufficient for an educated person to at least know what was done and what was found, the Bear thinks they should do not do DNA testing at all. 

The CSI Effect

It reminds the Bear of doing murder cases before DNA. Somehow, we managed up until as recently as the 90's, when it started to become widespread. The most famous Eucharistic miracle, Lanciano, was last examined in 1981, before DNA, and the Bear has never heard that it has been tested since.

Now, DNA has done a lot of good, especially in freeing the falsely convicted. But -- and maybe the Bear's just old-fashioned -- it seems like every case has to have DNA testing now, whether it is necessary or not. Trials are routinely delayed -- even past speedy trial clocks -- because crime labs can't keep up with the cases prosecutors keep sending them. It's become another box to check off on your trial preparation checklist.

So now you know why the Bear is so conflicted on DNA testing on Eucharistic miracles. He has fantasized about getting a DNA match between two separate Eucharistic miracles. Just like Church Militant TV mistakenly claimed had happened. Talk about game, set and match. Because, if it were scientifically proved that Catholic priests separated by tine and distance were consecrating Hosts that showed the exact same DNA in supernatural manifestations of blood and tissue, then it would prove the truth of the Catholic Faith beyond a reasonable doubt.

But he is realizing that the Church is probably never going to tell us more than "human DNA," or share the DNA testing data or reports like they typically do the histological findings (as was done by excerpt in Poland). What makes DNA testing any different? 

The Bear doesn't know for sure. But, he can't dismiss the suspicion that the powers that be have decided that the rather messy realities of DNA testing would muddy the waters, and cause controversy. In other words the Bear knows they're hiding 99.9% of the DNA picture, and that rubs the Bear the wrong way. He wishes they would at least tell us why they do not share more on the testing.

They want to be able to mention "human DNA" but they're not willing to earn it.

As it is, rather than DNA adding to a miracle's credibility, unfortunately, for the Bear, it detracts from it. Too many people think DNA testing is magic. To be really credible -- just like CSI -- we have to have DNA. It's almost like it's a scientific imprimatur these days. But in reality, its just another test done by a tech in a lab with results spat out by a computer program. It is not the right tool for every purpose. It is the wrong one for this, at least as currently used.

The Bear recommends a moratorium on DNA testing of Eucharistic miracles until these issues are resolved. (This is a reversal of his previous position after thoughtful reflection.)


* The Bear would always wait a moment, looking at the prosecutor as if he were a strange amphibian that had crawled up on his counsel table, then rise up on his hind legs and say this: "The Bear presumes you all can tell the difference between television and real life, and apologizes for insulting your intelligence, but this is a matter the prosecutor has seen fit to raise. Anyone who believes Captain Kirk was the first man on the moon, please raise your hand." After an indulgent nod toward the chuckling prospective jurors, the Bear would pleasantly say, "the record shall reflect that no  one raised their hands." (Objections were invariably denied with a, "If you want to ask stupid questions, then so can he." And yes, the record always shall reflect, because it's the Bear's record and he doesn't need anyone's permission for it reflect.)


** Rule 417. DNA Evidence

(i) Copies of the case file including all reports, memoranda, notes, phone logs, contamination records, and data relating to the testing performed in the case.

(ii) Copies of any autoradiographs, lumigraphs, DQ Alpha Polymarker strips, PCR gel photographs and electropherogams, tabular data, electronic files and other data needed for full evaluation of DNA profiles produced and an opportunity to examine the originals, if requested.

(iii) Copies of any records reflecting compliance with quality control guidelines or standards employed during the testing process utilized in the case.

(iv) Copies of DNA laboratory procedure manuals, DNA testing protocols, DNA quality assurance guidelines or standards, and DNA validation studies.

(v) Proficiency testing results, proof of continuing professional education, current curriculum vitae and job description for examiners, or analysts and technicians involved in the testing and analysis of DNA evidence in the case.

(vi) Reports explaining any discrepancies in the testing, observed defects or laboratory errors in the particular case, as well as the reasons for those and the effects thereof.

(vii) Copies of all chain of custody documents for each item of evidence subjected to DNA testing.

(viii) A statement by the testing laboratory setting forth the method used to calculate the statistical probabilities in the case.

(ix) Copies of the allele frequencies or database for each locus examined.

(x) A list of all commercial or in-house software programs used in the DNA testing, including the name of the software program, manufacturer and version used in the case.

(xi) Copies of all DNA laboratory audits relating to the laboratory performing the particular tests.

***Being such a good lawyer in your dream, you noticed that the jurors all glanced at your client when they were brought into the courtroom. An infallible sign of a not-guilty verdict.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bear Banned From Facebook, Rolls Out New Facebook Page

"Cardinal Kasper bets this Bear
can't get 500 likes."
The Bear assumes someone has chosen this moment to report his Facebook page to the authorities, invoking the "No Bears Allowed" rule. The Bear cannot imagine why anyone would feel particularly vindictive against him right now, based on anything he's written about in the past few days. So, nah, it was probably just a random Bear sweep by Mark Zuckerberg.

In any event, invites have been sent to all current Bear Friends to move to this page. Of course, new friends are welcome, as well. 

New features include enhanced personal details and biographical data. How tall is Bear at the shoulder on all fours? How much does he weigh? What music does he like? Yeah... stuff like that. (Gosh that sounded so much better when the Bear started this paragraph.)

Here's what is currently up on the soon-to-be-banned page. This is actually going to work out a lot better, the Bear thinks.

Advantages of friending the Bear are many. First of all, if someone is really bothering you, well, a Bear in need is a friend indeed, as the old saying goes. Second, all ephemera (blog, for the uninitiated) articles will be shared on the new FB Page that isn't a Page. Third, the Bear will start posting his world-famous Catholic agitprop for you to enjoy and share, and also random misfirings of his ursine brain in short text form. And lastly, you can enjoy a more intimate and spontaneous relationship with your Bear. (Boy, that came out really creepy sounding, but you know what the Bear means.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Buenos Aires Eucharistic Miracle Reports Confounding [UDPATED]

DNA Match Between Lanciano and Buenos Aires (Claimed) Miracles?

The Bear will not claim that this is the best single article on the 1996 Buenos Aires claimed Eucharistic miracle, but it is better than any others he has found in Catholic media. He will happily revise or retrace as necessary upon being provided evidence of where he is wrong.

The Bear is not a skeptic. However, if Catholics want to do science, then let's do science; if Catholics want to do journalism, then let's do journalism. Credulous acceptance of hoaxes and mistakes as genuine miracles do not do the Catholic Church any good. It only distracts the faithful and gives ammunition to their enemies.

Finally, no one's faith should be shaken by critiques of the Catholic media such as these. (Except maybe faith in the Catholic media.) The Catholic faith is very reasonable, but we do not believe because we deem it reasonable. Still less should our faith rest on the latest visionary or alleged miracle.

The Buenos Aires (Claimed) Eucharistic Miracle

An April 24, 2016 story by Ryan Fitzgerald of Church Militant TV reports that scientific examination of Eucharistic miracles -- where the consecrated Host bleeds or actually turns into human heart tissue -- have confirmed that samples from the famous Lanciano miracle in the 8th century, and the 1996 Buenos Aires claimed miracle are DNA matches, and further come from the same "Middle Eastern" man.

If true, this would scientifically prove that a single person existed as a human being whose blood, tissue and DNA are also showing up in Hosts after consecration as God by Catholic priests all over the world. Game, set and match. The Catholic faith has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

It would, without question, be the biggest news story in history, attacked only by deranged Host Truthers.

Let the Bear be very clear that he is not personally commenting on the veracity of any of these miracles, and does not want to get into that discussion now. It is about how we investigate and report them.

Science and Faith -- Crucifixion Experiments to DNA

There have always been those who have wanted proof to assist their faith. St. Thomas actually examined Our Lord's Wounds with his own fingers. Around the turn of the last century, some new researchers turned their attention to the crucifixion, using what they had at their disposal. Cadavers.

Perhaps the first crucifixion experiment was made in 1801. Two English artists wanted to paint the crucifixion in the most realistic way possible. So they crucified the body of a hanged murderer to get the angles right, and made casts -- one with skin, the other without. (Only the latter survives.)

Donnadieu's experiment
More recent crucifixion experiments include Marie Louis Adolphe Donnadieu's nailing a cadaver to a board in 1900. He concluded that nails through the hand would support a body on a cross.

Around 1930, perhaps the most famous experimenter, Dr. Pierre Barbet, author of A Doctor at Calvary, thought that Donnadieu's cadaver was a pitifully emaciated specimen, and did his own experiments. He concluded an adult of normal weight could only be supported by nails through the wrist, and that the cause of death of a crucified person was asphyxiation. This is usually the theory one hears about today. However, it is not without its critics among other crucifixion researchers.

One of them happens to be by far the most important expert connected to claims of the Buenos Aires miracle, Dr. Frederick Zugibe, who died in 2013. He was a pathologist, researcher, Shroud expert, author, and medical examiner of Rockland County, New York. He had extensive experience investigating homicides and other deaths. He appeared on television to be interviewed in connection with the deaths of Princess Diana, Jon Bennet Ramsey, and others. There is no question about his qualifications.

Dr. Zugibe was unimpressed with Dr. Barbet's theories and did crucifixion experiments of his own. He built a cross in his garage and crucified hundreds of volunteers from local churches (using straps, not nails) and monitored their physiology. He determined that crucified people died of shock, not of asphyxiation.

Dr. Zugibe at work.

Today, we have scientific tools that would have been unimaginable in the early days of research into miracles, relics and history. The Shroud of Turin, for example, has been subjected to a whole battery of testing, including microscope, pollen, radiocarbon, and DNA. The results remain controversial. Today everyone who has seen CSI has heard about DNA testing. Indeed, in a criminal trial, DNA results are all but determinative of outcome.

It should be noted that some appear to be confused between blood typing and DNA testing. The former is a much older test that gives only blood type, e.g. A, AB, etc.

DNA testing is a later and far more complex test that looks at standard "loci" (locations) along the DNA molecule. Nuclear DNA may be extracted from any cell that has nucleus. In criminal cases, it is used to make comparisons between a "standard" (e.g. cheek swab from a suspect) and an "unknown" (e.g. blood, semen, even skin cells -- in short anything with a cell nucleus from which to extract DNA --  found at a crime scene). In this way a scientist can express the probability that the "unknown" and the "standard" came from the same person at a ridiculously high probability, usually a number far greater than the entire population of the planet.

In non-forensic settings it might be used without a standard, e.g. to check for genetic defects.

What if we were able to do DNA testing on a sample of Jesus' tissue? Eucharistic miracles, where a consecrated Host shows signs of becoming flesh and blood might theoretically provide that opportunity.

Calling Dr. Gómez

In 1996, in Buenos Aires, a consecrated host was reportedly found in a candle holder. It was described as "dirty." As is common with such situations, the Host was placed in water to dissolve. Then something strange happened. The Host reportedly turned into a piece of bloody flesh, and eventually grew larger than the original Host.

The Church Militant story says that after the Buenos Aires Host had not decomposed after three years, Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Bergoglio arranged for laboratory testing by a Bolivian with a degree in clinical psychology who is some sort of professional miracle-hunter, Dr. Ricardo Castanon Gómez.

Dr. Gómez calls or called himself a "neuropsychophysiologist," which is not a well-established field of medicine, but is apparently meant to describe a synthesis of neurology and psychology. According to information available on the web, he holds a Ph.D in clinical psychology, and claims to have studied various medicine-related fields in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the United States. He has or had some relation to the "International Group for Peace," described by Catholic Journal U.S. as "a nonprofit group [that] is a collection of self-financed research professionals who investigate mystical phenomena. They report their results, as scientific opinion, directly to the Vatican for consideration."

Forensic Psychologists Don't Do DNA Testing

After initial tests were deemed to warrant further testing, the sample was sent to the San Francisco Forensic Institute for blind tests (i.e. the provenance of the samples was not disclosed to the testers). The Institute, the story says, confirmed that the sample was human tissue, blood type AB, with human DNA.

Much of the information for the CMTV story seems to come from a linked December 11, 2015 story in the National Catholic Register by Patti Armstrong. That story even contains a link to the San Francisco Forensic Institute.

However, since 2015, no one at the National Catholic Register (or CMTV, for that matter) has noticed that while their link does indeed go to the San Francisco Forensic Institute, the institute is for forensic psychology.

Forensic psychologists are great when you're trying to convince a judge your client is incompetent to stand trial, or hundreds of other creative mental health issues clever defense counsel may raise. DNA? Not so much. So where did they send the sample? Either to some very bemused psychologists, or someplace else, perhaps with a similar-sounding name. Or did they send it to anyone? We don't know, and nobody bothered to find out.

So, from the journalistic side, the Bear would respectfully suggest that our reporters and editors are not getting off to a very credible start. One can only assume that the writers did not actually look at the website they were provided, or do not know the difference between CSI-type forensics and forensic psychology when attempting to write a story about DNA and such.

Dr. Gomez's Dramatic Account

The samples were then blind-provided to a well-qualified pathologist and well-known expert on the crucifixion and the Shroud of Turin, Dr. Frederick Zugibe. (However, it appears that Dr. Gómez and/or two other authors were present, so Dr. Zugibe, given his background, would have to be very uncurious indeed not to suspect exactly what he was testing.) According to Dr. Gómez, Dr. Zugibe identified the tissue as cardiac tissue from a man who had been tortured. The following is from the YouTube talk (the Bear is at the mercy of the subtitles) from Dr. Gómez. Dr. Zugibe asked him:

But there is something you need to explain. How is it possible that while I was studying this sample, the sample was moving. It was beating. So you explain to me, how did you take out the the heart of a dead man, and transport it alive to my New York lab? 

Dr. Frederick Zugibe (d. 2013)

After explaining to Dr. Zugibe that it was a consecrated Host (other accounts say it was journalist Mike Wilesee that did that) Dr, Gómez goes on to say Dr. Zugibe "almost pulled out his hairs." Dr. Gomez went back to Buenos Aires and (apparently for the first time) examined the original lab notes (apparently from some other, earlier, unidentified researcher) only to find that they, too, noted that the sample was moving and beating. Apparently, no one had thought to mention that to Dr. Gómez, nor had he bothered to review them earlier, if indeed, they exist at all.

Dr, Gómez then researched the 8th century Lanciano, Italy sample, which had been examined in 1971  and 1981 by a Dr. Odoardo Linoli, whose findings were published in Life magazine. It, too, was identified as heart tissue. From this, Dr, Gómez proclaims somehow that the samples "belong to the same person!" (At best, he might claim that the samples were both cardiac tissue, and maybe the same blood type, not insignificant, of course.)

He then jokes with the audience that he won't tell them the rest of the story because "then you won't buy my book." Dr. Gómez has authored a number of books in connection with the International Group for Peace, but the Bear never spent any time south of the border and so is pretty much judging books by their covers.

Dr. Gómez does not argue the ultimate issue, on grounds of invading individual faith, but leaves it up to the reader. Here is a video of Dr. Gómez explaining the whole thing.

In the end, it seems that research regarding the Buenos Aires eucharistic miracle always manages to loop back to Dr. Gómez and this YouTube video. The whole investigation would seem to rest entirely on his credibility.

Other Investigators, Other Books

Austrialian lawyer and author Ron Tesariero, the author of several books on miracles, says he and Australian journalist Mike Wilesee were present when Dr. Zugibe did the tests. He describes this and other miracles in his book Reason to Believe. In their version, they are present with Dr. Zugibe and deliver the news to him that it was a consecrated Host, prompting their own version of his reaction, which rings truer than Dr. Gómez's story. Although he has not read the book, the Bear has not found references of "beating" attributed to the two Aussies. It might be in the book, though, so he cannot rule it out. There are also claims that they filmed the events in Dr. Zugibe's lab, but, unfortunately, the Bear hasn't found evidence of that, either. He would certainly like to see it. Perhaps it's a DVD for sale somewhere.

Back to DNA

The Church Militant TV article says tests "indicated that the samples from both Buenos Aires and Lanciano must have come from the same man. They both had the exact same DNA."

This extraordinary claim is uncritically repeated all over the internet. It has become part of the Buenos Aires Eucharistic miracle lore.

The first problem is that, apparently, the last examinations of the Lanciano sample were conducted in 1971 and 1981. DNA testing has only been around since 1985, and was first used to secure a U.S. conviction in 1987. PCR testing that allows testing of minute and/or degraded samples (such as presumably would be authorized in these cases) didn't become widespread until later.

DNA testing is destructive of the sample. Would the Church even approve of such testing of the Blessed Body and Blood of Our Lord?

In any case, we have not been provided with even the names of the laboratories that supposedly did the DNA testing of either sample. If DNA testing was actually done, there are reams of information. To give you an idea of the enormous amount of data that is behind DNA results, let's look at the Illinois DNA discovery rule that governs what a party with DNA evidence must turn over to the other side in a felony case.

If DNA Testing Were Done, This is What Should Be Available

Rule 417. DNA Evidence

(i) Copies of the case file including all reports, memoranda, notes, phone logs, contamination records, and data relating to the testing performed in the case.

(ii) Copies of any autoradiographs, lumigraphs, DQ Alpha Polymarker strips, PCR gel photographs and electropherogams, tabular data, electronic files and other data needed for full evaluation of DNA profiles produced and an opportunity to examine the originals, if requested.

(iii) Copies of any records reflecting compliance with quality control guidelines or standards employed during the testing process utilized in the case.

(iv) Copies of DNA laboratory procedure manuals, DNA testing protocols, DNA quality assurance guidelines or standards, and DNA validation studies.

(v) Proficiency testing results, proof of continuing professional education, current curriculum vitae and job description for examiners, or analysts and technicians involved in the testing and analysis of DNA evidence in the case.

(vi) Reports explaining any discrepancies in the testing, observed defects or laboratory errors in the particular case, as well as the reasons for those and the effects thereof.

(vii) Copies of all chain of custody documents for each item of evidence subjected to DNA testing.

(viii) A statement by the testing laboratory setting forth the method used to calculate the statistical probabilities in the case.

(ix) Copies of the allele frequencies or database for each locus examined.

(x) A list of all commercial or in-house software programs used in the DNA testing, including the name of the software program, manufacturer and version used in the case.

(xi) Copies of all DNA laboratory audits relating to the laboratory performing the particular tests.

There's a lot more to this than saying, "Some lab did some DNA tests and got a match."

If DNA Testing Were Done, Results of Both Tests Could Be Compared

Any competent DNA expert could, using this material, compare the Lanciano DNA results and the Buenos Aires DNA results and render an opinion. In fact, the Bear will be happy to start a fund drive for a comparison of the results of both DNA tests by a reputable DNA laboratory. (Then he could be on the speaking circuit hawking his own book, rather than boring everyone with this silly ephemeris.)

The Bear can't help but imagine the professional bloodbath that would ensue if he tried to enter into evidence a "DNA match" without even being able to tell the court what lab tested the samples.

Now, the Bear knows what some of you want to say. "Oh, we shouldn't mess around with Jesus' DNA because we should have faith. And someone might try to clone Jesus."

However, that ship has sailed, if you believe the Catholic media. [Note: the recent official statement from the Polish Eucharistic miracle did reference DNA testing, so apparently, the Church has no objection to the procedure.]

Scientific testing is part of the process, after all, and forensic science -- which is exactly what this is -- evolves. The Church already did do DNA testing. It did it on both the Lanciano sample and the Buenos Aires sample. (It had to, in order to get  comparison, or "DNA match.") It had the two compared. It learned the two DNA samples were identical.

Bear Not Impressed

So we are to believe someone above our pay grade has already made those decisions, but is keeping the results a virtual secret for some reason, leaving Dr. Gómez to cover this astounding discovery on YouTube and Spanish books published with his International Group for Peace?

Now, the Bear said he wasn't going to get into the veracity of any miracles. There is non-DNA evidence for one to believe that they are genuine. The Bear is not in any way arguing that they are not. However, the difference between the Lanciano miracle and the Buenos Aires (claimed) miracle is that the first has been approved by the Catholic Church, and the latter, so far as the Bear has been able to discover, has not, despite alleged evidence of a "DNA match" and beating tissue.

This seems odd to the Bear.

The Bear will state flatly that he sees no reason to believe that DNA testing ever even happened on anything, and must conclude that it is an urban legend perpetuated by credulous Catholic ephemerists and reporters.

If it did happen, he would welcome the data, records and other material from the lab or labs to be made public, or available for independent expert examination. And the Bear is totally on record as for such DNA testing. It would not really force anyone to believe, but it would boost the Christian faith that is constantly under attack by adherents of scientism. The Bear would never tire rubbing their noses in a Jesus DNA match.

Okay, maybe not such a good idea, but the fundraising offer and management of DNA comparison by a reputable, independent expert, based on the data, not the samples, stands. The Bear is sure he could get it done very reasonably.

You're free to make of Dr. Gómez what you will. Cross-cultural assessments of credibility aren't always easy. The Bear is finding his account of the "beating" tissue and the reported exchange between Dr. Zugibe and him ringing a bit odd purely on the basis of pathologists he has worked with in the past. Not because it is inherently impossible -- it is a miracle after all, and can do whatever it wants -- but something just doesn't seem right to the Bear.

Maybe all Bolivian scientists talk like they're giving a dramatic sales pitch for their books. The Bear has never been there, so he doesn't know. 

All the late Dr. Zugibe's lab notes would be welcome, too, as well as the original Buenos Aires lab notes that, according to Dr. Gómez, described the exact same beating. Why is it that "psychoneurophysiologist," miracle-hunter and author Dr. Gómez seems to be the ur-source for all these stories? Why is there no documentation to back of any of these claims? Where is the blockbuster paper Dr. Zugibe -- a prolific medical author who never shied away from Catholic topics  -- would surely write about beating heart tissue from a consecrated Host?

And why is the Church using people who make their living selling books about miracles to investigate them? My goodness, contrast this story with the careful, professional, and transparent Shroud investigations conducted in Europe!

Why Does It Matter?

It doesn't, unless credibility matters. On their face, the Lanciano and Buenos Aires eucharistic miracles may seem credible enough. But if news of a "DNA match" is widely circulated, what may very well be genuine miracles are unnecessarily diminished in credibility by the repetition of supposed facts without reasonable investigation and sourcing. What are people to think the next time the Catholic press makes some claim about a miracle? Or the last time? Or the first time?

Yes, DNA is the gold standard in forensics, and, as the Bear has said, he thinks nothing would be cooler than a DNA match between two Eucharistic miracles. But when it comes to the science and the journalism, the Bear thinks we have to be curious and cautious. We know that from secular science stories where every summer "a new earth-like planet almost certainly teeming with intelligent life" is discovered, only to be dismissed next year on page 38 as a data glitch.

The Bear sincerely hopes he is proven wrong about the DNA match. He'll be anxiously waiting for someone to provide the evidence he missed.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bear In 100% Agreement With Michael Voris on Gay Past

This article stems from some of the reactions to Michael Voris' disclosure that he led a homosexual lifestyle in the past. He explained that after his mother's death in 2004, he had a reversion to the Catholic Church that included abandonment of sodomy, and then went on to start what would become Church Militant TV.

The Bear believes most people are missing the point.

First, it isn't a question of whether Michael Voris alone is embarrassed or not, or should be supported or criticized. It is about the wisdom of embarking on a very polarizing apostolate involving a lot of people, keeping a secret you know makes you extremely vulnerable.

Second, it isn't a question of "why should anyone disclose past sins they have confessed?" Mostly, we shouldn't. The issue properly framed is, "why Michael Voris should have disclosed his past sodomy."

However, since the Bear expects he is contra mundum on these matters, he will rely heavily on someone with far greater prestige and knowledge of all the facts -- Michael Voris. He has already addressed these issues, and the Bear is just agreeing with him.

Bear Agrees With Michael Voris that Disclosure Could Harm Him, CMTV

From "Limiting God," Michael Voris' self-disclosure of his homosexual past.

We have on very good authority from various sources that the New York archdiocese is collecting and preparing to quietly filter out details of my past life with the aim of publicly discrediting me, this apostolate and the work here.

From the beginning of Michael Voris' statement, he acknowledges that at least his alleged enemies see disclosing homosexual activities of his past as a way of discrediting not only him, but the apostolate and its work. Aside from his flesh-and-blood enemies, he acknowledges that:

Since our earliest days, what we do here has been a target of the diabolical. He has put forth too many traps for me to even recall. The goal has been to shut us down and end this mission because we constantly speak about the glory of the Catholic Church and its life-giving power. He doesn't want that message being heard. He wants people being ensnared.

In other words, he was on notice. If the Catholic ephemera is to be believed, some ephemerists have had to moderate comments from people with intimate knowledge of Michael's past from appearing in comboxes. The scope of his activities evidently made him vulnerable to surprise disclosures or blackmail at any time. He knew this was always a ticking time bomb. We don't know if he shared knowledge of the risk with those close to him at CMTV.

The Bear has agreed with Michael Voris on this assessment. So far reaction seems to be limited to unqualified support and adulation; gloating; and slightly distanced support, in that order. In other words, it looks like the people who didn't care for him before, still don't care for him, and those that do, still do. Hardly anyone is throwing his past back into his face.

 Bear Agrees With Michael Voris That It Was Wrong Not to Disclose Early

I did not think that a full public confession of details was necessary in order to start proclaiming the great mercy of God. Perhaps that was a wrong assessment. I don't seriously know. Perhaps along these years I should have been revealing of greater detail. That, I now think so, but more on that in a moment.


I have made many mistakes and missteps as the leader here, but in regard to this specific point, it was a mistake to not bring this forth earlier. I did not do it to deceive, but because I did not understand the necessity.

The Bear has also agreed with Michael Voris that it was not only a good idea, but a "necessity" to trust in God and clear the air early, especially before launching a crusade that included strong anti-homosexual elements and made many enemies among the powerful. If there's one thing the Devil can't resist, it's irony. (Like a Bear pretending to be a Man observing that keeping secrets has a downside.)

That would have obviously been a very, very tough call, and taken enormous courage -- then. Would he be as effective as "ex-homosexual Michael Voris?" Would early supporters have been as eager to back him? Would his credibility in general be diminished, and on homosexual issues especially? The Bear is sure Michael Voris considered these and many other questions. They are extraordinarily hard ones.

But, as Michael Voris himself said about whether he was wrong to have kept his secrets, "Now I do. I was limiting God."

That is the title and theme of the whole announcement, in case everyone missed it.

So if anyone has taken offense at anything the Bear has said so far, he should take it up with Michael Voris, because the Bear is simply agreeing with the man. And needless to say, the Bear could personally give a rip what anyone has repented of and been absolved for (and, for the most part, not, too, and that goes for any human). But his previous comment about even healed wounds possibly remaining a disability stands. This is just another way of agreeing with Michael Voris.

Collateral Issues

This part is where the Bear may make some people angry. But it's just an assessment based on what's been revealed so far.

Archdiocese of New York -- a vague allegation and an official denial. The Bear doubts either side will see an advantage in adding to what has already been said. Then both camps can believe what they want and we go back to status quo ante. Does that mean the Bear doubts Michael's claim? Not necessarily. Obviously, something provoked this painful episode. He has spoken of contacts in the Archdiocese before.

But the lawyer gene in the Bear is expressing itself by not finding the allegations against the Archdiocese even getting past the preliminary hearing stage so far. And what does "The Archdiocese of New York" mean? Cardinal "Bravo" Dolan? Two or three people acting on their own? A misreading of evidence or intent by Michael Voris? Someone faking a plan to disclose in order to get Michael to do it for them? (That would be really twisted, but clever.)

The Bear does not expect any of these questions to be answered.

However, making such an allegation and not following up with credible evidence would raise many questions.  Hopefully, it's already all in hand, tied up in a pink bow. Time is Michael's friend in one way, but in this way it isn't. This is where his credibility is actually -- and, unnecessarily, sadly -- on the line.

Church Militant TV -- this has nothing directly to do with the current disclosure, but CMTV has seemed a half-a-bubble off center for a long time. The mysterious Terry Carroll's odd interactions with Catholic ephemerists; geocentrism; waving swords around on the set; waving rifles around on horseback (don't tell the Bear you missed those); famously completely ignoring Pope Francis' historically dangerous pontificate; sexy online role-playing games by high ranking staff; and aggressive purging of CMTV's commenters -- these are some of the reasons so many Catholic bloggers are starting their solidarity statements by saying, "As everyone knows, Michael Voris and I haven't always seen eye-to-eye."

CMTV is obviously meeting the needs of a segment of Catholics. Just as the Bear meets the needs of (a much smaller, but -- until this article at least -- growing, segment) of Catholics. The Bear wishes not only Michael well, but also CMTV. However, he recognizes that some could see this as "one more thing." To those people the Bear would say, nothing has changed. If CMTV was your thing before, the Bear can see no logical reason it shouldn't be now.

Courage -- The Bear is going to promote this from his own comments to the last article, because it's irritating him to an unreasonable degree and his therapist from Fish, Game and Wildlife's Department of Large Talking Predators tells him not to hold things in. (Sometimes he sees Harvey in the waiting room for the Department of Lagomorphs; but he's not sure he's even real, or what they're worried about.)

Standing in front a camera and telling the world you were a homosexual some years ago, before you became a good Catholic, has to be a lot of things. Painful. Embarrassing. Even dignified. But when the only reason you are doing that is to preempt expected disclosure by an enemy, how can it be called "courageous?" It was a public figure sensibly getting out in front of a damaging story.

There are kids still in Afghanistan (remember them?); policemen and firemen; everyday people stepping up and doing the right thing when they don't have to in spite of risk. There are ill people who have to draw upon courage to even get out of bed some days. These people are courageous. Damage control -- yep, the Bear went there -- isn't courageous, although there's certainly nothing blameworthy about it.

Again, the Bear is just agreeing with Michael Voris, who says he failed to do the right thing when he didn't disclose back when he didn't have to. That would have been truly courageous. The courage train left the station on this matter a long time ago. This isn't a dig at Michael, or at commenters, or denying that Michael possesses the virtue of courage in general (or at least moxie, which ain't bad). But words matter. Call it a Bear quirk.

Limiting God

The Bear has often found reason to comment on Michael Voris, mostly favorable, sometimes not. In some ways, Michael Voris and his enterprise is emblematic of the stresses in the Catholic Church today. That's one of the things that makes him news. (That and his take-no-prisoners style.)

The lesson for all of us has been pointed out by Michael Voris himself. Faith and trust go together. We must believe in God, in the Almighty God, for Whom nothing is difficult. We must also trust in God's goodness to use omnipotence in His loving interest for us.

When we bury our loved ones, we have faith in a God Who is there to care for their living souls, despite all the testimony of our senses: a cold body and the silent heavens. We also trust that the same God will indeed lavish unimaginable care on them out of His love and goodness.

You can dial that down to ordinary daily concerns and the same principle applies. What spoils it all is our fear. The Bear doesn't know about you, but it seems to be fear, more than doubt, that sometimes makes him wonder if God is real. And it is fear that blocks trust, as well: fear that the One we trust will disappoint. When we make decisions out of fear, for all practical purposes we deny God -- both His existence and His goodness. Or, as Michael put it, limit Him, which is the same thing. A God Who is limited is not God.

The Bear isn't saying he would have acted any differently if he had been in Michael Voris' shoes. God knows the Bear has his secrets he would not want exposed. Everyone does. So probably not. We don't always make such decisions clearly. Personality types, wounds, psychology, practical concerns, rationalizations, ego, advisors -- if any -- and, yes, fear, can all play their parts.

If you really want to support Michael Voris, don't worry about his past, or his future, but give him the courtesy of listening to him talk about a hard lesson. Don't let it be wasted on you. Understand why he thinks he made bad decisions in this matter, and how they grew from placing limits on God.

Otherwise, a human screwing up is just a dog-bites-man story.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Michael Voris Admits to Past Homosexual Lifestyle

The "Michael Voris" + "Homosexuality" labels at the bottom of this article mean something different than they have before.

Michael Voris has admitted to living a homosexual lifestyle and general unchaste life before his reversion to the Church. He says his is making the admission to preempt the Archdiocese of New York from discrediting him with his past.

This brother needs our prayers now. If you find his shows edifying, you might want to mention his whole enterprise, because the Bear would have to guess Church Militant's future is in doubt. No one is going to tune every day to The Vortex with Christine Niles. No offense to Christine, but Michael is not only the face of CMTV, but the heart and credibility: the "talent."

Everybody's got a past, some worse than others. The happiest news about this is that Michael says he escaped the terrible snare of a homosexual lifestyle some years ago. The Bear has written before about "Headlines in Heaven," and that, not his past sins, is surely the headline.

Michael asks forgiveness, as well he should, but on account of the scandal. Not whatever he did in the past that has been confessed and absolved. Frankly, the Bear couldn't care less about that, and can't even say he's shocked. Rough times, these.

There are really three issues the Bear feels are appropriate to raise at this early stage. If they're not, please forgive the Bear, as well.

It is hard for Bears to be delicate, so he'll just say this first one, because he thinks it is fairly in play.

The first is not everybody is the right person for every job, even if they are proficient and zealous. Perhaps his own life experiences may have contributed to his concern about homosexual elements in the Church. But some soldiers must admit that even wounds that have healed can linger as disabilities, and they must not lead the charge, however fearless they remain. They put their cause and comrades in unnecessary danger. The Bear has learned this in a much different context. Lots of people are likely to get hurt over this. Our common enemies are dancing with glee.

The second is related to the first. We must be careful to put very few eggs indeed into the basket of any Catholic celebrity. Any of them -- any of us, although we may do damage to fewer people -- may be snared, and some of us exposed, at any time.

But the worst part is that the Archdiocese of New York stands accused of planning to make Michael's sordid past public in order to discredit him to their own gain. It is well-known that Michael has been a determined critic of not only homosexuality in the Church, but specifically in the Archdiocese of New York. Not too long ago, he sat at a desk with his fellow broadcasters and himself threatened to name names there.

The Church is supposed to forgive our sins, then bury them. It does not blackmail us with them if we dare to speak out. The very idea is grotesque beyond words.

According to the Catholic Herald, an Archdiocese spokesman said, "“It is absolutely, 100 per cent untrue that the archdiocese was collecting and preparing to release anything concerning him personally or his website.”

Obviously, some serious threat brought Michael to this painful admission, but let's hope the plot -- if there was one -- was very limited, and appropriate action will be taken against anyone involved in such despicable tactics. Everyone eventually gets the right chance to do the right thing, so who knows?

This situation is what it is. We've seen similar scandals before, but we still can't really understand them. We still feel the same sick lump in our stomachs. This one is different in that it is all in the middle distance behind Michael, or so he says, and the Bear has no reason to disbelieve him. There are other issues, but those are for Michael Voris to deal with privately in the coming weeks.

Be kind.

St. Corbinian's Bear's ephemeris stands 100% in solidarity with Michael Voris and Church Militant TV during these very difficult times, and prays that God finds for Michael his best role for the Church, and also for Michael Voris.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Jungle Book: Amazing Earth Day Fare

Review of The Jungle Book (2016), Disney. 5 out of 5 fish.

It is seldom that a movie succeeds in pleasing everybody, but the new Disney Jungle Book deserves to. It is faultlessly made, appropriately nostalgic, and entertaining as all get out. Even so, the Bear left the theater in his usual pensive mood, rather than humming "The Bare Necessities."

Technically Perfect

The Bear is deliberately not going to go into the technical details of the film. We have reached the point where computer generated imagery and live-action are indistinguishable. This may be the first movie where the audience just accepts what they are seeing on the screen without going, "Wow, that looks incredible!" like we did when we saw Avatar away back in aught nine.

Everything looks gorgeous and believable. Jungle vistas, set-piece catastrophes with hundreds, if not thousands of elements, and the fluid, realistic movement and behaviors of various animals, come across as artless. As in being without guile or effort. (Especially those of a hopelessly misplaced ursus arctos, or Brown Bear that befriends jungle boy Mowgli.) Even the physics look perfect.

The Story

The story opens with Mowgli being raised by wolves and tutored by black panther Bagheera. Although loved, he just doesn't quite fit in with the pack, and his simple, but ingenious, "man tricks" are frowned upon. Nonetheless, he joins in reciting the Wolf Creed (which will evoke fond memories in former Cub Scouts) and does his best.

But Bengal tiger Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba (best known as "Stringer" Bell from The Wire, although sounding more like Jason Statham here) wants Mowgli dead. They have a past, you see, involving fire, which has left the tiger blind in one eye.

The wolf pack cannot protect Mowgli from the tigrous menace, and so he volunteers to go away to a man-village to keep the peace. Bagheera, who originally brought the "man-cub" to the pack, agrees to escort him out of it. On the way, Mowgli learns to bow to elephants, who are considered to be some sort of collective creator deity by the jungle animals.

Separated from Bagheera, Mowgli meets Baloo the Bear, voiced by Bill Murray. He even sort of looks like Bill Murray around the eyes. While it may sound like a misstep sticking Bill Murray in the Indian jungle, he is not the only character with a distinctly American accent, and they all work. Scarlett Johansson's Kaa is very different from Sterling Holloway's memorable voicing in the 1967 Disney animated version; more seductive and hypnotic. Holloway's rough, high-pitched voice lent itself more to laughs. (You will want to sit through the entertaining credits, if only to hear her sing the "Trust In Me" song that didn't make it into the movie proper.)

Baloo comes across as an affable opportunist who sees in Mowgli only a way to collect otherwise unobtainable honey. They quickly bond, however, and even sing a delightfully discordant duet of "The Bare Necessities." Baloo wants to keep Mowgli in the jungle as his pal, but Bagheera shows up to quash that idea.

Perhaps this is as good a place as any to mention that a surprising amount of realistic menace and violence takes place alongside the funny and cute, so keep that in mind with little ones.

One of the most impressive sequences is when Mowgli is snatched from Bagheera and Baloo by apes. Tossed hand-to-hand across the canopy, his friends cannot readily follow, and he is delivered to an ancient temple. In an homage to Marlon Brando's introduction as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, the giant ape King Louis gradually emerges, rubbing his head, from a chiaroscuro that would make Caravaggio squint. King Louis has everything but "the red flower," or fire. He believes Mowgli, as a man-cub, can provide it.

King Louis is voiced by Christopher Walken -- another distinctive, and perhaps, risky choice. Yet once again, it works beautifully, even when he sings the "I Want to Be Like You" song as only Christopher Walken could.

The "hey, have I got the right monkey temple?" episode continues (guess which character asks that?) until it ends with a hilarious monkeys vs. Bear fight that literally brings down the house. (The Bear was pleased to see Baloo as a main character, even though he must wonder how a Brown Bear arrived in the Indian jungle. The Raj. Who can tell what Englishmen might do? It does allow for a tiger vs. Bear fight, anyway.)

The Bear will not go further with the narrative, so as not to spoil things.


The animals, with the exception of Shere Khan (who did get his eye burnt out, after all) are an appealing and peaceable lot. Presumably, the wolf pack has a vegetable garden off-camera. Nature is not red in tooth and claw. They even have their conventions, such as no fighting at the watering hole, which even Shere Khan honors. They must bow to the elephants out of respect to nature's creators and guardians.

However, as much as the Bear loved The Jungle Book 2016, he could not help but notice that when Mowgli sneaks back to the man-village one night, it is represented by figures silhouetted against an unnecessarily enormous fire. They appear as demons in Hell. Fire represents man's destructive effect on the environment. This is an important theme in the film. The animals fear man's control of "the red flower," and mistrust him on account of it. Only King Louis, as an animal the closest to man, covets stolen fire in order to become like a man himself.

This is definitely after the Fall. Man and animal do not live in harmony. Before the end, Mowgli is faced with a promethean choice that will determine his place in the world.

This is why the Bear was pensive afterwards. Is it a coincidence that it is out just in time for Earth Day? Unlike the 1967 version, Mowgli's choice between the jungle and the man-village is not made easier by a cute girl carrying a water jar. On the other hand, is man's portrayal as the faceless destroyer, unable to wisely use his powers in cooperation with nature, any less decisive than the earlier, sweet Disney version?

And Now, the Real Question

Who would win if a Bear (specifically, ursus arctos) fought a tiger? Outside of the rare and indecisive scuffle in his circus days, the Bear has wisely avoided fighting tigers, or anything else for the most part. Personally, he suspects it could go either way depending on many factors. Bears can absorb a lot of damage, and are incredibly strong, with paws like wrecking balls and jaws that can chew paving bricks like pretzels. Tigers are quick, clawed, and themselves have fearsome jaws.

But tigers are also fighting out of their weight class.

To resolve this question for his readers, the Bear turns to science: Animal Planet. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bear presents Bear vs. Tiger.

Germans, Art, Murder in Zoar, Invitations, and Lights Out

Please join the Bear on Facebook here, for more Bear, and more conversations with interesting people from around the world.

Please join the Bear on Twitter. Here's today's tweet: "Pope Francis in four words: sin --> weakness --> complexities --> acceptance."

Ivy, known affectionately as "The People's Goat" due to his friendly personality, succumbed to injuries suffered several weeks ago by being butted in the head by Goatburger, a larger Boer. Goatburger should have lived up to his name a long time ago, but will, as soon as he is fattened up.

And here's a brief tour of the new 55 million euro headquarters of the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising, the Bear's old home. What would St. Corbinian say? And what the Hell is that rusted piece of junk they've erected in the courtyard? Of course, the Bear knows. It is a "sculpture."

A Bear would have been better, and St. Corbinian with a Bear would have been best. However, the Bear suspects that whoever fabricated this industrial eyesore lacks the skill and talent to execute a proper sculpture. It's one more in-joke, such are scattered all over the West like pigeon droppings.

When art is reduced to technique, it is nothing more than an object meant to occupy space and proclaim the evolved tastes of the owner and fabricator. True art is expansive and genuine; today's art is collapsing and false. When God wishes to punish a culture, He first takes away its prophets, then its saints, then its artists, then its righteous men..

Artists are the final witnesses but one to God, a culture's penultimate defense against the howling darkness. When they and the righteous men are gone, there's no human testimony left, and all that is left is the destruction of Sodom. A brave and pitiful platoon of belles-lettres and film survives in some quarters, but they are being overrun even as you read this.

In 1914, at the start of WWI the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, said, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." Nor ours.

But recently, this was literally true. The Cathedral of Cologne turned out all of its lights to demonstrate solidarity with Islam after a peaceful protest by fed-up Germans. As the Bear recently observed about Pope Francis' feminist complaints regrding "the Patriarchy," the Germans' irony alarm is broken, too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Amoris Laetitia Pt. 6: "Women and Women First"

After the historical confusion with the autobiographical introduction in the last article, the Bear has decided he must put his memories into some sort of reliable chronology to save further embarrassment. Or at least more than is necessary by publishing this disreputable ephemeris. So we shall get right back into Amoris Laetitia.

Another Laundry List of Problems

Paragraph 50 and following are under the subheading "Some Challenges." Of course, AL has already been mostly discussing "challenges," but it is not very well organized. As before, "challenges" are listed almost in bullet fashion without elaboration.

  • parents come home from work exhausted and not wanting to talk
  • families do not share a common table
  • many distractions, including an addiction to television
  • stressed-out families looking to tomorrow, instead of enjoying today
  • drug use
  • gambling
  • other addictions
  • families not helped by "society and politics"
  • violence within families
  • lack of communication
  • defensive attitudes

Pope Francis spreads his hands and asks rhetorically:

There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life. We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society. But nowadays who is making an effort to strengthen marriages, to help married couples overcome their problems, to assist them in the work of raising children and, in general, to encourage the stability of the marriage bond?

The answer is apparently no one. Unfortunately, this includes the Church. Pope Francis has many ideas in his head, but each seems to be sealed off from one another, and so he cannot see the relationship between one thing and another. It is easy to compile a laundry list of problems, but takes vision to see the connection and propose a solution. Which is always, "make better people," which was once considered the job of the Church. Now it is to "strengthen institutions."

Note that same-sex unions "may not simply be equated with marriage." Things that make the Bear go hmmm... But, then, Bears are paranoid. (It may have something to do with being shot at with rifles all the time. But people do shoot at him with rifles all the time!)

We are still early in the document, however, and the Bear is certain Pope Francis will disclose a sound, Catholic solution to the problems families face. Anyway, to continue:

  • polygamy (not the cute Chloe-Sevigny-in-a-prairie-dress-Big-Love kind)
  • arranged marriages (Dads, completely crazy? Be honest.)
  • living together, either before, or instead of marriage

Francis the False Prophet

Then Pope Francis tips his hand and tells the world what he really thinks:

Surely it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of the traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence, yet this should not lead to a disparagement of marriage itself, but rather to the rediscovery of its authentic meaning and its renewal.

Where did that come from? So, the Bear has to ask. Was little Jorge beaten as a child? The Bear doesn't know, but has to wonder how screwed up Argentina really is.

If you always remember what the Bear says, you will never misunderstand Francis: he sees himself as a Prophet, not a Pope. He is not here to preserve and teach from the rich fund of the Catholic Faith. Francis' motto is, "Behold, I make all things new." The past is only provisional, and mostly defective. It is the prophetic office of Francis to bring all things up-to-date according to his personal vision.

The problem is, he may be a true Pope, but he is a false prophet. This is obvious, because by now we know how Francis operates, and it is not the way God operates; in fact quite the opposite. Real prophets are usually reluctant, and they are held in contempt, not lauded. Their message transcends their personal histories, their psychology, and their personal goals. Think of Jonah, who was so reluctant it took a great fish to get him to Nineveh. He half-heartedly delivered God's message, then wanted to die when the city actually paid attention.

Real prophets repeat what the Lord tells them to say. They are careful. They do not talk too much, or speak carelessly, saying things like "who am I to judge?" and "like rabbits." God sometimes requires them to do humiliating things like marry a prostitute (Hosea) or walk around buck naked (Isaiah).

Francis proclaims the end of the "traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence." Do these things exist in some families? Of course. But it is not because they are traditional families, it is because they are dysfunctional, or even non-traditional families.


"Portlandia's" Toni and Candace

What list would be complete without women's rights? (Not that this is unimportant, but... well, one has the feeling no "issue" is going to be left behind. (When do we get to Bears? Last the Bear heard it wasn't legal to hunt women with rifles in their own homes. Bear Lives Matter!)

  • unacceptable customs need to be eliminated, like
  • domestic violence and "enslavement" by men (Bear suspects he's talking about the West here)
  • verbal, physical, sexual violence against women

But then here's a gem that makes reading this B.S. worth it for the warm thrill of confusion.* In order to appreciate the word salad in context, the Bear will quote paragraph 54 in its entirety and indulge in some rare fisking.

54. In this brief overview, I would like to stress the fact that, even though significant advances have been made in the recognition of women’s rights and their participation in public life, in some countries much remains to be done to promote these rights. [Eva Peron did more dead than most women are permitted to do alive.] Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. [Men opening doors in a non-metaphorical manner.] I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, [doors] domestic violence and various forms [chapel caps] of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union. [Sorry, but what do these pathologies have to do with the Sacrament of Marriage per se, which, after all, is your business, holy Father? This is like the transcript from a Stitch 'n' Bitch meeting.] I think of the reprehensible genital mutilation of women practiced in some cultures, [who, Baptists in South Carolina?] but also of their lack of equal access to dignified work and roles of decision-making. [Whoa! Some segue, there! It's like he logged onto a "feminist grievance generator" online and didn't edit it.] History [e.g. Old Testament] is burdened by the excesses of patriarchal [that's why they called them "Patriarchs"] cultures ["and thank you for not mentioning that I am the latest male ruler of a global institution whose every decision is made by men."] that considered women inferior, yet in our own day, we cannot overlook the use of surrogate mothers and “the exploitation and commercialization of the female body in the current media culture." [Surrogate mothers = models. Got it.] There are those who believe that many of today’s problems have arisen because of feminine emancipation. This argument, however, is not valid, “it is false, untrue, a form of male chauvinism.” [Long live Betty Friedan!] The equal dignity of men and women makes us rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear, and within families there is a growing reciprocity. [The Bear even hears that in some households, men are allowed to make some of the decisions!] If certain forms of feminism ["like I'm gonna touch that one with a ten-foot pole"] have arisen which we must consider inadequate, [the master of the understatement, no? eh?] we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women. [Who knew the Holy Spirit was behind the Women's Rights Movement? Actually, He happens to be behind whatever Francis wants.]

"Okay, Archbishop Fernandez, we've ticked the woman box, what's up next to buff our SJW cred?"

But first, the Bear has obtained the secret URL to Pope Francis' personal blog. This is how he describes himself:

16 / pangender / sex-positive womanist / atheist / animal rights warrior 
fighting hypermasculinity / fighting able-body supremacy / fighting uterus-bearer rights. 
if you're a traditionalist die in a fire. 
please don't talk to me about uterus-bearer rights, weight obsession & uterus-bearer feminism, it's incredibly triggering to me. 
my pronuns are zhe/zhim/zher or ze/hir/hir. 
i am part otherkin/demonkin with some rabbit [?] traits. 
feel free to write to me if you were bothered by some Apostolic Exhortation I issued.

Courtesy tumblr argument generator which you should NOT go to because of very bad language. As in foul, not just Pope Francis' type of bad language, which confuses the One True Church and contributes to the destruction of immortal souls.

Paragraph 54: "After due consideration, I have decided men may stay, as long as they take care of their wives and provide a suitable father figure for their children. But, by and large, guys, you suck." (Hey, better than Bear fathers who walk 100 miles for ten minutes of fun, then walk back home and never even see their cubs.)

Paragraph 56: “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” Sexual differences are important, but just not in "the socio-cultural role of sex (gender)." Or something. The Bear thinks this might be about homosexual unions as promoted by governments and education, but there is some plausible deniability there. "It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality." Complexities?

Pope Francis has not closed any doors on some sort of recognition of homosexual unions, but the Bear is certain he will do so decisively very soon.

And, finally, not all families are squalid dens of abuse and degradation!

Next time, Chapter Three -- Looking to Jesus: the Vocation of the Family. 

Pink Floyd, "The Wall," track, "In the Flesh," Columbia, 1979

Featured Post

Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read...