Shock and Outrage Reaches a New High

This is a story I read in my local paper, the San Diego Union Tribune, and still can’t believe it’s true. In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania two federal judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, have plead guilty to accepting money to send juveniles to a privately owned (for profit) juvenile detention center.

You can read the timeline here and you should. Basically they were paid by the operators of the facility to sentence juvenile offenders to long sentences, disproportionate to their offenses.

Perhaps the best synopsis is an editorial from the local newspaper, the Citizen’s Voice:

Luzerne County’s top judges have hurt, betrayed and shamed all of Luzerne County.
For the last six years, Michael T. Conahan and then Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. served as president judges, at the very top of the Luzerne County judiciary.
Instead of assuring the justice we expect when we appear in county court, the two men, through a variety of complex schemes, severely violated the public trust as they secretly raked in $2.6 million for themselves, according to federal prosecutors.
Federal officials say the two defrauded taxpayers, in part by arranging for county money to build a juvenile center from which they would secretly profit. They assured the center would have plenty of paying customers by tearing juveniles from their families and sending them to the facility, at times against the advice of probation officers.
The judges covered up their schemes, filing false documents and lying about their income to the state and to the Internal Revenue Service, federal officials say.
Conahan and Ciavarella entered a plea agreement Friday to two counts each of fraud and agreed to 87-month federal prison terms, disbarment and restitution.
County residents, although angered and disgusted with the news, were not all that surprised. The indictments Monday confirmed the very worst of their fears.
Rumors and speculation about corruption within the county courthouse have been circulating for more than a year, and many area residents say these charges of fraud, even against judges, are not so surprising for Luzerne County.
Still, Judge Chester Muroski, in comments Monday morning, offered hope for an immediate new beginning to the county’s judicial system.
The remaining county judges will “do everything we need to restore pubic confidence in the court,” said Muroski. Fairness and justice without outside influences would be top priorities, he promised.
The courthouse probe will continue and federal officials ask the public for help with information that may aid their investigation.
We urge the remaining county judges and all who will take the bench in the future to remember Conahan’s and Ciavarella’s shameful examples.
Remember, too, they must earn the trust we so badly need from our judges.

The next question, of course, is how we do restitution to those children who were improperly incarcerated. I pray for their healing.

Happy Birthday President Lincoln

I pray no American isn’t aware of this, but 200 years ago today Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was born in Hardin County, Kentucky. He was a great man at a time when our nation needed a great man and it’s hard to imagine what our nation would look like if he hadn’t been there.

He is also a man of great paradoxes. If you haven’t read Team of Rivals I suggest that you do. Doris Kearns Goodwin is an superb writer and she gives an excellent portrait of Lincoln. The point of her book is that when newly elected President Lincoln was choosing his cabinet he chose the men who ran against him for the Republican nomination. They were more than simple rivals: they disliked him and never took him seriously as an opponent. The fact that Lincoln selected them and eventually won them over shows how secure a man he was.

On the other hand, he had deep periods of depression earlier in life. The love of his life, Ann Rutledge died at 22. Lincoln was sent into a depression so deep that his friends put him on what we would call a suicide watch. In 1841 he wrote this to his first law partner John Stuart: “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”

After Ann’s death he married Mary Todd Lincoln and they had four sons; only one survived into adulthood and there are no living descendants of Lincoln. More is the pity as this was a gene pool that would have benefitted the world.

Take some time to read his Second Inaugural Address and The Gettysburg Address.

Happy Birthday Eve, Mr. Darwin

Tomorrow is the 200th birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Tomorrow I’ll be writing about President Lincoln but today I want to remember Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin is best known for his book, The Origin of Species. He has become the flashpoint in a debate between evolution and creationism. Before the 19th century most people believed that the creation of the world happened as it was described in the Bible. Charles Darwin and others began to observe through scientific experimentation that there was another story.

Therein lies the rub. People who use the Bible as the only source for the world’s creation trace our orign to October 23, 4004 BC. You can read more about it here. Darwin and others began to posit the theory that the world is much older and that species evolved. In other words, the first people were not Adam and Eve. We, instead, evolved from other creatures and other primates are (in a sense) our distant cousins.

Almost immediately after the publication of his book there were those who believed that Darwin wrote his book only to destroy Christianity. They felt that anything that talked about evolution would cause well meaning believers to renounce belief in God and that the world would become atheists (and would therefore be condemned to hell.)

On the other hand, many of us believed that there is not problem in believing in both evolution and God. We were heartened by Pope John Paul II who claimed that Genesis answers the “why” of creation and not the “how.” As a lifelong Catholic it never occurred to me as a child that evolution was wrong. I never saw the connection between science class and church. I always believed in both evolution and God.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered that there were people who though the world was only 6000 years old. When I first learned about creationism (or its first cousin “intelligent design”) I couldn’t believe intelligent people could believe in such a thing. I quickly recognized that, despite their claims, this wasn’t science.

The scientific method, developed in the 1700s, follows a strict course: you begin with observation, which leads to a hypothesis, followed by experimentation. If the experimentation confirms the hypothesis, it becomes (over a series of experiments) a theory. If it doesn’t, the hypothesis is discarded in favor of another hypothesis. Over time the theory becomes more and more significant and more and more accepted (like gravity).

Creationism isn’t science because it doesn’t follow this course. It begins with the conclusion that must be found. It then develops a hypothesis that picks and chooses observations that lead to the conclusion that must be found. Any experimentation that leads in another direction is discarded, and any experimentation (no matter how suspect) that leads in the right direction must be true.

In the final word, I think the Christian Churches picked a fight with Darwin that didn’t need to be fought. Faith doesn’t mean you have to disbelieve what science finds to be true and it doesn’t mean you have to stop using your brain. My belief in God includes the possibility that God created the world and watches over its evolution. I pray for the day when all Christians believe this.