Monthly Archives: August 2013

How are you using your “talents”, and *why* are you using your “talents”?

I happened to hear Mass on EWTN this morning, and the Gospel reading was the one that haunts me most, the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30). Knowing that this tends to be a proof text for “liberals” that vita activa is superior to vita contempliva, or that it’s used as a proof text for “conservatives” that interest is OK in spite of the many Biblical teachings (including in the Gospels) against it, I tend to dread homilies about it. OTOH, as a passage in itself, I tend to see it as one of the most basic and hard hitting passages for examination of one’s own conscience: Am *I* using my talents the way God wants, or am I making excuses?
The visiting priest gave what turned out to be a very good homily, though it started out sounding like a combination of both the two common uses I alluded to. He began by talking about his lawn mowing business he had in his teens, and how successful he was at it, and the full time job he picked up just out of high school, until God called him to the priesthood five years later. However, it turned out to be about how God challenges us out our comfort zones, how in each stage of his ministry, he’s resisted God’s call, then answered it, then become comfortable in a role only to be called to something else. He talked of how we can become improperly attached even to an apostolate or ministry, a theme I’m constantly revisiting in my own life.
That ties in to the latest brouhaha in the Catholic blogosphere–this time after Michael Voris did a video about the salaries earned by people like Al Kresta and Karl Keating, and the responses to that video, and now the usual back-and-forth of who are truly the “faithful Catholics” versus “professional Catholics” out for money or ambition.
As someone put it in a Facebook thread just now: “There is so much jealousy among the faithful and there really is not reason for it. There is enough missionary millage [sic] to go around. Stop attacking Voris; it is not coming from God!” I agreed with the first two sentences, and then the person totally contradicted herself with the last sentence.
The priest’s homily also applies to more legitimate debates that have arisen in the past few years regarding certain “celebrity priests” who’ve been recalled by their bishops or Orders and responded either in obedience or rebellion.
In all these cases, people rally around their “heroes” who seem to be “under attack” and label the “attacker” as doing the devil’s work. Most of these things could be avoided if when A points something out about B, B is willing to say, “You may be right; I’ll take it under consideration.” C. S. Lewis stepped out of apologetics altogether for almost 10 years after some of his key arguments were refuted by Elizabeth Anscombe at a debate: during which time he wrote _The Chronicles of Narnia_ (which, in turn, got a lot of criticism from J.R.R. Tolkien). However, too often the reaction to such situations in the “New Media” is not humility but petulance and defiance, which results in a back and forth that comes to sound like a fight among children: “He started it!” “No, she did!”
Often, the argument in the comboxes or Facebook is, “X is doing God’s work. He [or she] is the only one speaking the Truth!” [or “the only one standing up for the unborn” or whatever]. That mentality is always a red flag for me and seems to be the salient point in all these squabbles. The phenomenon we have in the Church today is very much what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians:

I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to 5 Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 6 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? . . . Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.(1 Cor 1:12-13, 3:4-9)

Today, it’s “I am of Voris,” “I am of Catholic Answers,” “I am of Fr. Corapi,” “I am of Medjugorje,” “I am of EWTN,” etc. It sounds like the very thing we criticize Protestants for doing. There is only one person in the Church with the charism of infallibility, and that is the Pope, and even then only under specific circumstances. Otherwise, all of us, including the Doctors of the Church, are subject to human error. Some errors may be worse than others, but if we’re constantly looking for heresies under every rock, where does that put our own souls?
I spent most of this past April unconscious, following my aortic surgery, and I had a lot of hallucinations or dreams or whatever. In many of these, I and most of my family ended up in Hell. I even at one point said I would rather spend eternity in Hell with my family than go to Heaven and be “alone,” at which point I realized what a grave error I’d committed (and confessed as soon as I was able), that even if they all ended up in Hell, Jesus should be enough. A month or so later, a seminarian who was interning as a hospital chaplain was assigned to my floor, and he told me a story of his early days in the seminary–when he was lamenting to a classmate about the “loneliness” of their vocation. His classmate said, “Jesus should be enough.” He went to Adoration, felt God’s love surround him, and has never felt lonely since. It was a fantastic inspiration that he chose to tell me that story.
If you’re doing God’s work, you should be primarily concerned with obedience to His will for *you*. That may mean doing a podcast or a blog. It may mean speaking to stadiums full of people. It may mean pro-life activism. It may mean staying at home and praying, raising a family, or being pastor of a parish. As soon as we start thing of yourself (or someone else) as the “only person” doing God’s work, we’re demonstrating a lack of faith in God. “For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9). Your apostolate isn’t about other people; it’s about you. People say, “God needs us to stop Planned Parenthood.” In some sense, that’s right, but only because God chooses that way. If He wanted to, He could force the conversions of all abortionists while you’re reading this, but He wants us to choose Him freely. The best way we can challenge the disobedience of others–be it the overt disobedience of Planned Parenthood or the more subtle disobedience of our neighbor in the pew–is to improve our own humble obedience.
As Bl. Teresa of Calcutta put it:

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

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Measuring One’s Life in Coffee Spoons: About Spoon Theory

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The “Spoon Theory” is an increasingly popular way for people with chronic health problems to explain how we live our lives.  With no apparent reference to T. S. Eliot intended, it was developed by Christine Miserandino of ButYouDon’tLookSick.com to answer the question, posited by her best friend, of what it was like to have Lupus.  Here is the article in which she tells the story.
She was asked by her best friend to explain what it’s like for her to have lupus–a question she found puzzling given that her friend had been with her through the diagnosis, etc.–until she realized her friend meant experientially. So, after a pause for thought, she grabbed every spoon she could reach. She handed the stack of spoons to her friend and said, “You have lupus.”
She then went on to say that the spoons represented the ability to “get things done.” Most people think of themselves as having limitless “spoons,” but people with chronic ailments are keenly aware of their “spoons”: sometimes there may be more; sometimes there may be less, but when the spoons for the day run out, you’re done. Sometimes, you have to “save up” spoons for a big event or in case of illness. Sometimes, a particularly bad day creates a deficit. Then she went on to explain how it’s not just “jump out of bed and get ready for work”: getting out of bed alone is a huge achievement that costs a spoon or two, then getting breakfast, taking medicine, taking a shower, etc.–what we now refer to in my house as ADL’s–Activities of Daily Living–the key goal in my recent stint in Rehab following my surgery on my descending aorta.
Reading Miserando’s account pretty much describes my experience living with Marfan syndrome, except that for me it’s been a lifelong thing. Even many others with Marfan do not have as severe a manifestation as I do: they were diagnosed as adults and have a lot of problems they’ve encountered in adulthood but weren’t severely effected as children the way I was. Then there’s my aortic root replacement in 1996 which temporarily gave the illusion of “health” (it’s amazing how many health care professionals I’ve encountered in the past few months who are confused by the fact that I’ve had *two* surgeries for aortic aneurysms and/or don’t understand what an “aortic root” is). That was quite a difference from my recent surgery, after which, experientially, I really feel a lot *worse* than I did before it.
People say things like, “Glad to know you’re doing better,” and it’s hard to know what to say. Even the first time around, I was technically “doing better” and just aware of the long term risks I’ve since lived through. This time, I’m not only facing the risks to my remaining “natural” aorta, the two grafts themselves, my valves, and my cerebral aneurysms, but on a day to day basis, I feel worse than I did even in the two years between the dissection and the surgery.
How do you explain that to people who are so optimistic after praying so hard?
When people ask, “How are you doing?” I say, “Let’s put it this way: I’m here.”
My left shoulder was dislocated or frozen or something–I have a week and a half till I see an orthopedic surgeon to find out exactly how badly–but it’s hurt me constantly since April, in a degree that no joint has hurt me before. My left rib cage still hasn’t healed; it constantly hurt and is still swollen.
I have no voice beyond a whisper and occasionally sounding like I’m hoarse, due to a paralyzed vocal cord. A temporary injection that was supposed to last 3 months lasted about a month and a half. It gave me enough sound to hold a conversation, but I still couldn’t sing or speak loudly, and my voice used to be one of my biggest assets (I was a teacher; it was literally my livelihood). Every other person I’ve “talked to” who has Marfan syndrome, had vocal cords paralyzed, and had the repair surgery, said it gave minimal benefit at best. The only person whose seen improvement was a fellow who had his surgery a month before I did, is a paraplegic because of it, and had his vocal cord come back “miraculously” without intervention. So I decided against surgery. Even with surgery, I’m never going to be able to sing or engage in public speaking. The main advantage I’d get is the ability to speak on the phone, for which I don’t have enough “spoons,” anyway.
That’s not getting into the tachycardia, the distinct pain that I know is my aorta–both the throbbing in my remaining arch and abdominal aorta, as well as the “stitch pain” around my grafts–I’m 90% sure there will be at least a few millimeters of growth in both the next time I have a CT scan.
I was very grateful to my attending physician and my physical therapist in Rehab. They actually listened to me, and did their own research on Marfan syndrome. My physical therapist told me that what physical therapists use is the “Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion”, a scale from 6-20, where 6 is “No exertion at all,” and 20 is “Maximal exertion.” 10 is “Light,” and that’s where he told me to stop. It’s a subjective scalle that emphasizes the patient’s perception, but it was nice to have a professional telling me what I already knew, versus pushing me past my limits. In fact, the physical and occupational therapists repeatedly told me that it was nice to have a patient they had to tell to *stop*, since I was so eager to get through my exercises (so I could get home to my family). I saw this in some of the other patients, who would sit there and cuss out their therapists over minimal activities while I was tearing through and saying, “What’s next?”
Most of the time, my sessions would get cut short, and I’d be sent back to bed because my vitals were too high–again, they knew as I already knew that a pulse of 100 is too high for a Marfan, but in ICU they couldn’t get it lower than that.
So I exceeded all the goals they set for me in time for my pre-arranged, insurance-mandated discharge date. Then for the first month, I needed extensive help from my wife and kids for my ADLs. I’ve gotten a bit more independent, but I still have a lot less “spoons” than before, and it’s not likely I’ll get them back.
The thing people don’t understand about a condition like mine is that it doesn’t get better. Even ignoring the aorta, there will always be new problems (like my shoulder) to come along. That doesn’t mean I’m pessimistic or “giving up,” but I just face the facts: it’s what I mean by “36 with a life expectancy of 20.” As I noted earlier, “I’m here.”

11 “Hollywood” Films (and a PBS Cartoon) with Pro-Life Themes

PersonhoodUSA has posted a great piece on BuzzFeed called “10 Hollywood Movies that Accidentally Affirm Life.”
As some commentors have said, many of these are pretty intentionally pro-life (except _Horton_, given that “Dr. Seuss’s” widow sued pro-life groups for quoting the book), and I have blogged previously about _Knocked Up_, _Juno_, and _Waitress_.  However, one that is not on the list and is definitely unintentional is _Finding Nemo_, which includes the title character witnessing the deaths of his mother and “brothers and sisters” while he (along with his siblings) is still inside an egg.  Nemo is, of course, born disabled, and acceptance of his disability is a major theme of the movie.
Another good cartoon (though not a “movie”) that I’ve blogged about before is the _Magic School Bus_ episode “Cracks a Yolk,” starring pro-choice feminist Lily Tomlin. 

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Hug a Marf Day!

Apparently, today is “Hug a Marf Day”! If you know someone with Marfan syndrome, give that person a hug!



What the [bleep] is he talking about?

Back in the 1990s, my parents and I were attending Mass at a church in a town we were visiting, and the priest gave what I described as 15 fantastic 2 minute homilies. When he finished, my Mom whispered, “What the [bleep] was he talking about?” and, due to the architecture of the building, it came out a bit louder than she’d intended, resulting in chuckles from people around us.
Well the latest controversy in the Catholic blogosphere concerns a “personal essay” that former First Things editor Joseph Bottum has published in Commonweal of all places, on the topic of “same sex marriage.”

As controversy has erupted, Bottum’s response on Facebook has been to say that his critics are misinterpreting his essay because his style is to hide a didactic essay inside a “self indulgence” personal essay. He claims that he develops the argument to go along with the culture only to reject it in the end, but I don’t see where he rejects it. Indeed, when a columnist in The New York Times headlined his response to the article as “A Conservative Catholic Now Backs Same-Sex Marriage,” both Bottum, on Facebook, and Commonweal, linked the NYT review approvingly, yet somehow when other conservatives reach the conclusion that Bottum is saying we should stop fighting same sex marriage, he says we’re wrong.

Bottum overtly makes the argument *for* homosexual marriage, assents to letting “gays” determine the terminology, attacks the Manhattan Declaration for linking same sex marriage with abortion and anti-Christian trends in society, laments the loss of a gay libertarian friend over said friend’s perception of the Church, and suggests that some good may come from redefinition of marriage. He also naively suggests that the negative consequences traditional marriage forces have been worried about may not actually happen, even though they’ve been happening in Canada for years and are happening already since the Supreme Court’s verdict, as “gay” couples are beginning to sue churches and even wedding photographers for refusing to participate in their “weddings”.

Bottum dismisses the fear of traditional marriage advocates, particularly Catholics, that the “gay marriage” movement is not just about letting gays get married but is actually about destroying Christianity. He claims we should presume the best of same sex activists’ intentions, even while admitting that his now former friend thinks that way:

Certainly it will not satisfy Jim Watson, my old friend from New York. How could he accept talk of the Catholic Church’s charity and evangelizing? He wants the church hurt, its tax exemptions and even property-holding rights stripped away until it not only accepts laws allowing same-sex marriage, not only encourages same-sex marriage, but actually performs same-sex marriage. Even that might not be enough; the institutional weight of the history of Catholic bigotry, he thinks, is probably too much for repentance and reformation to overcome. Best, really, if the Catholic Church is systematically outlawed. – See more at: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/things-we-share#sthash.xCNXUybC.dpuf

Bottum is right that, at this moment, we are on the “losing side” of history. He specifically rejects the notion, proposed by many, including the late Deacon Paul Weyrich and Pope Benedict, of focusing on forming small orthodox communities and setting ourselves apart from the secular world, the way Christians have done in various historical situations, such as ancient Rome (or parts of Asia, where Christians spent centuries living in hiding and passing on their faith in secret). He rightly says we’re losing the fight against homosexual marriage because we never fought against no fault divorce, but he specifically rejects the notion of fighting against *that*.
I’ve long said the Culture Wars were lost at the 1929 Lambeth Conference, when the Anglicans became the first Christian communion to accept artificial contraception. Bl. John Paul II makes clear in _Evangelium Vitae_ (13) that contraception is just as much a cause of the Culture of Death as abortion.
To that extent, I and most of his critics agree: in the short run, we’re going to lose this fight. However, that doesn’t mean we should give up.

What everyone agrees on is that nobody really understands what his point *is*. He tries to dismiss this as a question of his chosen style and genre, but even a personal essay would not justify the numerous sentence fragments and convoluted reasoning process.

“I’m mad that they stole what I stole first”

Earlier, I posted about some of the various issues raised in the conviction of Bradley “Chelsea” Manning for his involvement in Wikileaks and the ongoing pursuit of Edward Snowden, a central figure in exposing the fact that the NSA has been spying on US citizens.
A New York Post columnist, John Podhoretz, insists that the bottom line is “the Snowden material was stolen.” Podhoretz focuses on the fact that contemporary technology makes it more convenient to steal “intellectual property” than, say, carrying a stack of thousands of floppy disks or thousands of file folders, but says it is still “theft.” This raises several questions related to whether what Manning or Snowden did constitutes “theft.”
One problem that has arisen with the Internet, kind of parallel to the Manning and Snowden cases, is that of people who steal pre-release products from factories in China or wherever, then sell them on EBay. I’m aware of this in the toy industry, but I’m sure it happens with appliances, electronics, etc. Others buy these pre-release items for exorbitant sums, usually to be the first to post reviews of them on their blogs and reap the rewards of ad revenue. A few years back, when I was more active in following such matters, there was a bit of a row in the Transformers community about a collector/blogger who was mad that someone hacked into his account and “stole” his pictures of the “prototype” he had bought on Ebay and planned to write about, thus “scooping” his “scoop.” In other words, the guy was mad that someone else “stole” his photos of “stolen” property that he had bought illegally. This is is Pat Buchanan’s take on the matter of Snowden: the government is mad that Snowden “stole” information that the government itself “stole” to begin with!
Is it really theft to steal something back that was stolen to begin with? I honestly don’t know, but that’s certainly a question to ponder.
Was it “theft” for a tobacco company researcher to reveal to the press and in court that the tobacco companies were adding Coumarin, a known carcinogen, to cigarettes? What about the corporate scandals of a decade ago–ENRON, Tyco, etc.–and the “whistleblowers” who “stole” “company secrets” to expose corruption? What about the “theft of information” that has led to the exposure of cover-ups of priestly misconduct within the Church?
While the Vatican has certainly had its own controversy surrounding Wikileaks, and seems to have come down harder on the whistleblowers than on those engaging in the corruption they exposed, some of the same issues are involved. I’m raising these questions for discussion and offering no certain conclusions:
1) Does leaking “private” information about a corrupt governmental bureaucracy constitute a sin against the 8th Commandment, when there is no other recourse? For example, Vatican officials have claimed that the allegations made in the media during the “VatiLeaks” scandal were exaggerated, though Pope Benedict reportedly had the results of his internal audit read to the college of cardinals before the election of his successor, and Pope Francis has since confirmed (albeit, again, in a talk that was “leaked”) the existence of a “gay lobby” at the Vatican.
2) Does such leaking of information constitute a violation of the 7th Commandment?
For example, there’s the question I touched on in my previous post on the subject: are “we” the “enemies” of the government? Regardless of the particulars of how Manning and Snowden did what they did, the result was revealing to “the people” secrets of “the government” via “the Press,” which would seem to be the essence of what our Constitution is about: reminding the “Government” that it works for “us.” Doesn’t information that “belongs” to the CIA or the military ultimately “belong” to the people?
If the shareholders are the real owners of a company, and an employee reveals information about corruption in the company to the shareholders, is that really “theft”?
How do “we the People” keep tabs on “them the Government,” who supposedly work for us, if not for people like Manning and Snowden who are willing to divulge “government secrets” to the press? The use of flash drives certainly makes it more convenient for someone like Glenn Greenwald versus the lengthy investigations of Woodward and Bernstein, but are Snowden and Manning any more traitors or thieves than Mark Felt?
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Are “We the People” the “Enemies” of “the United States of America”?


A few days ago, some former private named Bradley Manning was sentenced for 35 years in prison for selling military “secrets” to Wikileaks. Now, this case raises many questions/issues. One is the problem of whether it’s possible to 99% disagree with someone and then use the person as an example in the 1% where you agree, just as it’s possible to agree with 99% of someone yet disagree with 1%.
So, in this case, I shared he above “meme” the other day, which happens to use Manning’s picture to illustrate a point I happen to agree with. It got several “likes,” mostly from people whom I would expect to give such a response, and angry comments (including one de-friending) from two people I’d have expected to respond angrily. One provided a few facts about the case with which I was admittedly unfamiliar. Earlier that day, when I had replied to one friend’s post on the verdict, I asked who Manning was, and said I couldn’t keep all these Obama scandals straight.
Now, one detail which Angry Commentor #2 pointed out was that Manning *sold* the documents to Wikileaks: this is certainly problematic on multiple levels, including the “principles” to which Wiki/Open Source sites are supposed to adhere. Also, around the time that I had tentatively shown Manning some modicum of support, the “news” broke that “he” considers himself a “she,” and wants to be called Chelsea and given a “sex-change” operation at taxpayers’ expense. So, again, he obviously has some issues of his own. However, the Manning case, like the Edward Snowden case, raises an important Constitutional issue in our present media age, especially in the light of the recent revival of Jane Fonda’s controversial acts in Vietnam.
Once again, I was expecting to alienate a few people in Facebook last week when I questioned why people are protesting Fonda–a Communist pro-abortionist–portraying Nancy Reagan, an occultist pro-abortionist. I can understand and agree with people who protest Fonda in general, but I am a bit perplexed over taking issue with this particular role, as if Nancy Reagan is some sacred person who makes Fonda’s portrayal offensive–such as, for example, if she’d been portraying the *other* Mrs. Reagan, the late Jane Wyman, TOP. interestingly, I’ve seen articles about protests of “one actor” in the movie which show Oprah Winfrey and Michael Rainey in the accompanying picture, making it appear to a causal reader/clicker that the opposition is about one of them and, therefore, “racist.” Anyway, in one discussion of Fonda’s role in _The Butler_, someone claimed she was given a list of names and SSNs by POWs in Vietnam who hoped she’d let their families know they were still alive, but instead turned the information over to their captors, who killed them. This story has been proven a hoax, however. Fonda did actively support the Viet Cong, but she never acted in a way that directly killed POWs–especially since some of those allegedly dead POWs are alive.
Anyway, the allegations seemed to be an interesting parallel to the claims that Manning’s and Snowden’s actions have resulted in the deaths of US soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. At first, I was going to include it as a contrast: that if what Fonda is falsely accused of doing (and, as often gets pointed out, the 8th Commandment still applies to celebrities) is true, it would certainly constitute treason. However, that allegation is of secretly leaking secret information directly to an enemy (in which case, since all the alleged “witnesses” were killed, how would anyone know of it?). Is it really the same thing to release “secrets” to the public?
Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution states:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

In the cases of Snowden and Manning, they were revealing information to “We the people” via “the Press.” As various commentators and memes have pointed out, if they are giving “aid and comfort” to the “Enemies” of the “United States,” then the conclusion must be that the government considers “The People” to be “Enemies.”
My angry interlocutors insisted that Manning deserves the death penalty. While capital punishment was the standard penalty for treason at the time of the Founding Fathers, Article 3, Section 3, Clause 2 clearly modifies the English Common Law practice (“Corruption of Blood” meant that the penalties could be extended to the traitor’s family), and some of the most notorious traitors in US history, such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen, were sentenced to life in prison. In any case, this creates a dilemma for Catholics that my interlocutors were not willing to address (particularly the one who left one comment then defriended me without opportunity to respond): Manning or Snowden may meet the standard for capital punishment under US Law (obviously, the courts decided Manning’s actions did not meet that standard), but do they meet the standards of the Catholic Church?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church was famously revised to reflect adjustments to Church teaching in Bl. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae</em?. Paragraph 2267 of the Second Edition states:

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68

Assuming that it was Manning or Snowden’s intention to cause the deaths of soldiers or spies, and assuming it could be proven with certainty that their actions directly resulted in actual deaths, the death penalty could only be justly used if that was the only way of protecting people against further deaths. Since their alleged crimes involved “theft” of information, it is hard to see how either case meets that standard.

That gets us to the second question: is what they did actually *theft*?