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February 2012 Archives

February 1, 2012

What will happen with the Obama Catholics?

As usual, I'm a bit late to the party, and all my readers know by this time that the American Catholic Bishops, bless 'em, are standing firm in opposition to the Obama administration's tyrannical demand that Catholic organizations that serve the public must provide contraception in employee health insurance. Here is the on-line petition against the HHS rule. Here is a letter by Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead vowing not to comply with the mandate. Here is an excellent interview with a representative of Belmont Abbey College, which is in the legal front lines. Here is W4's previous post, by Bill Luse, on the subject. There's plenty more out there.

Wesley J. Smith adds information that I had not seen elsewhere and that should be more widely advertised: The HHS rules will place requirements even on those very few employers that do qualify for the narrowly defined religious exemption (because they employ and serve only members of their own religion). Even those employers will be required to volunteer information to employees about where they can obtain contraception. The very fact that employees could easily find such information for themselves merely underscores the fact that Secretary Sebelius is requiring it as a gesture, an act of power for its own sake.

In these various demands, Obama has shown himself such an extremist, so willing to sacrifice even political expediency and the appearance of moderation to ideology, so implacable in the desire to bring religious, especially Catholic, organizations to their knees, that he has roused opposition even among those who were not his foes previously. The arrogant recent announcement by "Catholic" Secretary Sebelius, endowed by Obamacare legislation with near-godlike powers over health plans throughout the country, that she would give Catholic organizations a year to "adapt" their consciences, has simply deepened the shock. Fr. Jenkins, the not-overwhelmingly-conservative president of Notre Dame, can't understand why the previous concept of religious exemptions can't still obtain. Why can't organizations like his own have a religious exemption, as one would have expected, from the demand that they provide contraception? Why has the Obama administration re-defined a "religious" organization so narrowly as to exclude those organizations that serve non-Catholics? Obama has broken a kind of unwritten rule: You lefty Catholics support me, and I'll leave you a little playground in which you can do your own thing. Nope. Now everyone has to pour a libation.

So here's a question: Will this outrage have any effect on the election in November? Will there actually be peace-n-justice Catholics who finally decide that Obama is not on their side and refuse to vote for him when they otherwise would have done so?

February 2, 2012

You must and will fund abortion clinics

I'm trying to wrap my head around this; really, I am:

The Komen Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable foundation all about curing breast cancer, funded Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, for years. Pro-lifers were really bugged by this and suggested that Komen stop. Moreover, the funding was rather puzzling, because Planned Parenthood doesn't prevent or treat breast cancer. They don't even provide mammograms. Only, maybe, referrals for mammograms. So why would Komen send them money? It didn't have any clear connection at all to Komen's mission. It didn't make sense.

Recently Komen has made the sensible decision to stop funding them. The reason given is that PP is under congressional investigation, but it shouldn't have been necessary to give such a reason. Does Komen randomly fund doctors or clinics that are supposed to have something to do with "women's health"? I would think not; not if they aren't doing something obvious and specific about breast cancer. Komen could have just said they'd reviewed their funding policies and decided the money could be spent better for the breast cancer cause elsewhere. Since the statement would have been obviously true, that should have been the end of the discussion.

But the pro-aborts are absolutely livid. You must fund Planned Parenthood. You are not allowed not to fund Planned Parenthood. One Democrat lawmaker has said she no longer supports the Komen Foundation because they won't fund Planned Parenthood! And the clown Howard Dean says corporations should boycott Komen because they won't fund Planned Parenthood.

I mean, what? I sometimes truly believe that our nation has gotten to the point where it is impossible to have a substantive discussion in public about anything whatsoever. In debate team terms, shouldn't the advocates for PP's funding be bringing forward "need, plan, benefit" kinds of stuff? Shouldn't they be showing, clearly and in detail, how Planned Parenthood actually helps to save the lives of women or treat women in relation to breast cancer if they want to make an argument that they should be receiving funding from a breast cancer foundation? And in fact, since probably there are a lot of worthy organizations out there referring women for mammograms, shouldn't people who want Komen to fund PP have to provide evidence that PP is doing something especially noteworthy in this area? A private, focused charity has only so many dollars to go around, after all.

Surely we're not just expected to believe without any evidence that PP is a good outlet for Komen's dollars. If, in fact, PP's cheerleaders can't bring any evidence that PP actually prevents, detects, or treats breast cancer, then what possible excuse can they have for the outrage at Komen's cutting out the funding to PP?

For that matter, even if PP did do things relevant to breast cancer, it's not like the money is now going into a mattress somewhere. Presumably Komen will fund other groups that have something to do with detecting or curing breast cancer. And if liberals are so concerned about that goal, why would they try to hurt a charitable foundation that is trying to achieve that goal simply because the charitable foundation doesn't, inter alia, fund Planned Parenthood? Just who, again, is placing abortion politics above the good of women?


Update: See comments beginning here for the discussion of Komen's flip-flip decision, within days (during which their donations actually went up!) to begin funding PP yet again.

February 3, 2012

The zero-sum game and a smoking gun

I've written a number of posts (see here, here, here, and here) on the zero-sum game that homosexual activists have set up for moral traditionalists. In brief, my idea of the zero-sum game (admittedly rather unoriginal) is that the actual goals of homosexual activists are incompatible with the freedom of sexually normal, traditional people. The bulk of ordinary Americans might have been willing to come up with some kind of compromise, though what that compromise amounts to would have varied from person to person. Even non-discrimination laws that include "sexual orientation" are already a grave intrusion into the rights of moral traditionalists. I find it difficult to come up with a single aspect of the homosexual political agenda, which has always been about governmental requirements of non-discrimination in some area or other, which is not inherently coercive. Nonetheless, there are probably some who have thought that, if we just give them this (say, non-discrimination laws, civil unions), we will be allowed to get back to our lives and be left alone. The problem with this is two-fold. First, the "this" is always something that doesn't allow at least some people--businessmen, landlords, adoption agencies, wedding planners--simply to get on with their lives as before if they are moral traditionalists. The whole point of the agenda is to change the behavior of those people in their ordinary lives. So the "give them this and they'll leave us alone" presumption really involves saying, "I don't belong to any of those groups. I wouldn't actually have to change my daily life. And I don't care about what happens to people in those groups. I'll sacrifice their freedom in the hopes that the homosexual lobby will be satisfied and leave me alone." But the second problem is that the demands never were going to end there. Once non-discrimination in this or that area has been mandated, the further demand is that all dissent be punished, especially among employees, students, young people with their way to make in a profession, and so forth. The homosexual lobby was never willing to have issues like the morality of homosexuality, the wisdom of homosexual adoption, and the like be treated as things on which people could take varying views and have those varying views and discussion of them tolerated. The idea was always that eventually, as more and more acceptance was mandated, traditional views would be regarded as utterly intolerable and heinous and would be hounded out by officialdom. Such "bigotry" might be allowed to survive in people's most private, secret thoughts, at most. This meta-level position--that traditional morality itself is horrific, shocking, and beyond the pale--of course creates a zero-sum game that should be obvious to everyone, even if the zero-sum nature of the homosexual agenda wasn't obvious to everyone before. The faux "tolerance" of the homosexual lobby is a mandate for complete intolerance of the views of the majority of mankind.

As I put it in this earlier post:

Those golden-hearted souls who wish to take on the exhausting task of helping others--like Mr. and Mrs. Johns and Julea Ward--are the ones hit first by this requirement [to affirm homosexuality]. In those areas, the homosexual agenda now has such power that if you wish to help, they will define you instead as "harmful" if you do not promote their ideology. It is that stark. If you disagree with them, you are out. You may not help. You may not have the job. You may not do the work. It's the serious Christians or the homosexual activists. Both cannot win. Given the demands, no compromise is possible. We should not fool ourselves.

One of the more recent manifestations of the homosexual agenda is so-called "anti-bullying" legislation which seeks to enshrine homosexuality as defining a specially protected class throughout public schools and to make it a violation of all schools' policy, if not a crime, to criticize it. This is, in fact, the latest manifestation of the speech codes that some of us remember fighting on college campuses back in the 90's, but this time at the K-12 level.

The American Family Association of Michigan, in particular, has been pointing this out and has been fighting to make any "anti-bullying" legislation passed in Michigan include no special categories, no specially protected classes, in its language. The idea there is that in that case the legislation would not, at least on its face, give sanction to administrators and teachers to bully traditional students for their views.

Continue reading "The zero-sum game and a smoking gun" »

February 5, 2012

Checking in

I apologize to my colleagues and readers (a few of you anyway!) for having been scarce these past weeks. I'll probably be scarce in the weeks to come as well, but will try to improve little by little. It's no secret that our sixth child was born on January 21, a boy, and that he was born with pulmonary hypertension which the doctors deemed life-threatening. He was hospitalized for a while, but his progress has been extraordinarily rapid and we were able to bring him home last week.

Continue reading "Checking in" »

February 6, 2012

GUEST POST: Is Free Enterprise Evil?


Is Free Enterprise Evil?
Kenneth W. Bickford
February 2012

Is free enterprise structurally evil? Does it guarantee goodness from its practitioners — or is it an impediment?

I ask because Occupy Wall Street, that movement of folks angrily bent on refashioning the American economy has suggested as much.

Here in New Orleans, a firestorm has erupted at Loyola University in response to a proposed Austrian economics master’s program. This program envisions an immersion in the political economic theories of the great 20th century libertarian thinkers of Austro-German descent, whose work is often neglected by students of political economy.

Critics see a manifest conflict with Loyola’s commitment to social justice. The objectors assert that some economic theories are structurally incompatible with goodness, and they strongly imply that this program of study is crippled by its engagement with just such theories. Since the Austrian school, almost alone among modern economics, embraces free enterprise as a nearly unalloyed good, the sharp criticism of this masters program implies a sharp criticism of free enterprise as such. And if an economic theory embracing free enterprise is at odds with Catholic teaching, it stands to reason that free enterprise may well be at odds with other Judeo-Christian moral systems.

So we come back to the striking question, Is free enterprise structurally evil?

Continue reading "GUEST POST: Is Free Enterprise Evil?" »

February 8, 2012

The 6th Circuit again

The federal 6th Circuit Court seems to be having a good couple of weeks. Previously I reported that the 6th Circuit overrode a judge's attempt to dismiss the suit brought by Julea Ward against Eastern Michigan University.

Today I learned that the 6th Circuit refused a request by the City of Dearborn to dismiss a suit brought by the Acts 17 missionaries who were arrested in 2010. Among other things, the court said,

Finally, the district court was inattentive to the effect Plaintiffs’ claims of First Amendment protection might have on the probable cause determination. . . . The Sixth Circuit has warned on previous occasions that Michigan’s ‘breach of peace’ statute is prone to such abuse.


Links to Thomas More Law Center's briefs here.

Search "Dearborn" on my author page for many background posts on the Acts 17 case.

February 9, 2012

Suicide hasn't been illegal for a long time, and that's a problem

I would bet that most people think that suicide is illegal in the United States, except in states like Oregon that have explicitly legalized physician-assisted suicide. If you get up on a bridge and are trying to commit suicide, you can be stopped. If someone comes upon you in private in the act of committing suicide, he's allowed to stop you. I would be astonished if anyone has ever been sued for, say, grabbing the gun out of the hand of a person about to commit suicide with it.

However, Wesley J. Smith pointed out to me long ago in comments on a post of his (I don't have the link but am going by memory) that suicide was decriminalized in the U.S. quite a while ago and is instead treated as a mental health matter. La Wik agrees with this and gives details.

As I understand it, it works roughly like this: If you try to commit suicide you are in many jurisdictions regarded prima facie as doing something that indicates mental instability, and this is why you can be stopped. Something along those lines. But it's a legal grey area, since it isn't technically illegal.

I hate to give people ideas, but why hasn't the Hemlock Society tried to get some sort of test case in which "Rationally Suicidal" Son civilly sues Dear Old Dad for tort and theft for grabbing RSS's helium thingy or pack of horded sleeping pills and making off with them?

Now it seems that the chickens may be coming home to roost. Whatever the rationale for decriminalizing suicide in the first place, the effect of it in Georgia seems to be that the State of Georgia cannot make a law against advertising assisted suicide. Oddly, according to this story, the judges held that Georgia lawmakers could have criminalized assisted suicide itself, and this might have given them some minimal purchase toward punishing advertisement for assisted suicide. More oddly still, as summarized, the court implied that they could punish advertisement for assisted suicide even in that case only if followed up by the act of actually assisting. Really? Try applying this to some other criminal activity. If I advertise hit-man services, can my advertisement be outlawed only if it's proven that I actually got customers from the advertisement and bumped somebody off? Seems implausible. But we'll set that aside for the moment. The core point here is that the Georgia Supremes said that the state lawmakers couldn't do anything to outlaw assisted suicide advertising under the current circumstances. In fact, according to the court, they are contravening the death-dealers' constitutional rights of free speech, unless they outlaw assisted suicide itself. Moreover, the judges worded part of their argument thus (emphasis added):

The State has failed to provide any explanation or evidence as to why a public advertisement or offer to assist in an otherwise legal activity is sufficiently problematic to justify an intrusion on protected speech rights.

Note that as this is worded, the "otherwise legal activity" is not assisted suicide but suicide. If the "otherwise legal activity" were assisted suicide, the "assist in" phrase would be redundant and confused. I suppose judges can say redundant and confused things, but this quote on its face appears to be saying that one reason Georgia lawmakers can't outlaw advertisement for assisted suicide is because suicide itself is legal in Georgia.

That the court then held out the option of outlawing assisted suicide is a little strange. After all, when we say that baking a chocolate cake is perfectly legal in America, we usually assume that that entails that no one can outlaw assisting in baking a chocolate cake. (The calorie Nazis haven't got that much power yet.) How can it be unconstitutional, on the grounds that suicide is legal, to outlaw advertising for assisted suicide but not be unconstitutional on the same grounds to outlaw assisting in suicide, especially if the assistance takes the form of sitting there and instructing the would-be suicide in how to put on the helium mask, which would be "speech"?

I suppose we pro-lifers should be pleased that outlawing assisted suicide itself hasn't been declared unconstitutional in Georgia and that Georgia retains that option and hopefully then can also do something to restrain the suicide tourism industry of Hemlock & Co. Georgia legislators should get on the stick and do just that.

But there is something convoluted and unconvincing about the court's reasoning as given. And it seems to me that the contortion arises in part from the legally ambiguous nature of suicide itself--not illegal, but you can outlaw helping people to do it. Not illegal, but you can stop people from doing it. Not illegal, but in some jurisdictions you can be involuntarily committed for trying to do it. The court seems to be blandly taking, up to a point, the naive understanding of "not illegal" to mean, "How can you possibly criminalize advertising assistance in this?" That they don't take the further step to, "How can you possibly criminalize assisting in this?" is something we may be grateful for, but the first step is disturbing.

I don't know how many pro-lifers know that suicide itself has been placed into this legally grey area long ago, but it may be time to reconsider any support we have given to that ambiguous situation, before the courts start applying the logic of "suicide is legal" more consistently.

February 10, 2012

Who Wrote the Gospels? Listen here to find out.

Thanks to Apologetics 315 ministries, we now have a Youtube of Powerpoint slides and audio of Timothy McGrew on "Who Wrote the Gospels?" This was a talk followed by Q & A given last month at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Portage, MI. Enjoy and profit.

The administration's bait and switch

Kudos to Wesley J. Smith for keeping up the flow of information on the administration's coercion of conscience against Catholic agencies. And Smith isn't Catholic (as far as I know)!

By now everyone will have heard that the Obama administration is offering an "accommodation" to religious organizations. So, let's see what this amounts to.

As near as I can understand, it works like this: The religious organization will still have to purchase an insurance plan, and the insurance company will still have to offer contraception and sterilization to all employees who have the plan. So what's changed? Well, the religious organizations' plans will be labeled as "excluding" these services. How's that again? Well, then, the employer will refer the employees back to the insurance company. If an employee wants these things covered "for free," the employee will ask the insurance company for them by individual request, and the insurance company, ordered by the federal government, will give it to the employee for free. So now the insurance company is a direct dispenser of medical coverage to individual employees, in virtue of their belonging to an insurance plan through their employer, even though that coverage is allegedly excluded by their plan. How's that for bizarre? Moreover, I have not heard anywhere--and if this is the case, please let me know--that the religious organizations' plans will have lower premiums in virtue of their "excluding" this coverage. If that were the case, presumably the cost for the mandated "free" services would be shifted (someone must be paying, since nothing is really free) to employees who have other plans, from non-religious employers, with that insurer. If there is no reduction in premiums, then the "exclusion" is the purest fiction. In other words, a lie. The employer purchases the insurance; the insurance is paid for by premiums from the employer (and possibly also the employee). The insurance company, in virtue of an employee's membership in that plan via that employer, gives out these services. The premiums are therefore, inter alia, paying for those services. It's darned confusing in a way, but it's also very clear. This is a shell game of a particularly egregious sort. The "exclusion" is no exclusion at all.

If someone has a different sensible actuarial explanation of this "accommodation," do share. But this is what it's looking like now. Hopefully, the bishops, Belmont Abbey, & Co. will not be taken in and will continue to push back.

February 11, 2012

How to lie with statistics, example umpteen [Updated]

Recently I received a phone call from my non-Christian (as far as I know) philosopher friend Neil Manson who, because he has an active and fair mind, had been exercised over what seemed to him the high FQ (Fishiness Quotient) of the statistical meme presently going around to the effect that "98% of Catholic women use birth control." Or something. Maybe "98% of Catholic women have used birth control." The former is obviously ludicrous, as it would seem to include elderly Catholic women, of whom it seems plausible that there are more than 2% among Catholics. Anyway, Neil wanted to know if I had read anything debunking the statistic.

Well, I had to admit that I hadn't. This is mostly because the relevance of the claim to the HHS's mandate is, to put it mildly, obscure. If a large percentage of Jainists are chowing down on hamburgers on the side, it hardly follows that an expressly Jainist charitable organization should be forced by the federal government to fund a plan that buys free hamburgers for its employees. If a bunch of Quakers turn out to have gun licenses, employees of an expressly Quaker organization are not therefore entitled to have their fees paid to a shooting range or their ammo. provided at no cost through an employer plan. There is this commonsense notion that organizations that are explicitly identified as religious are allowed to uphold the actual doctrinal and behavioral standards of their respective religious bodies. Whether the rank and file membership of that religious body follow those standards in daily life should be irrelevant.

Still, it has proven rather interesting to look into the statistical claim.

Here's how it works. The study is here. The relevant tables are Figure 3 on p. 6 and the second Supplementary Table on p. 8. The survey was limited to women between 15-44. Ah, well, that explains how we weren't including the elderly, but it also means that the silly "percent of all Catholic women" thing should be chucked out right from the beginning. More strikingly, as Neil pointed out to me after looking up the study, it excluded any women who were a) not sexually active, where that is defined as having had sexual intercourse in the past three months (there go all the nuns), b) postpartum, c) pregnant, or d) trying to get pregnant! In other words, the study was specifically designed (as the prose discussion on p. 8 makes explicit, in bold print) to include only women for whom a pregnancy would be unintended and who are "at risk" of becoming pregnant. Whether or not it included women who considered themselves neither trying nor not trying to get pregnant (there are some such women in the world) is unclear. It's also unclear whether it included women who have had their reproductive organs removed because of some medical problem. Presumably the study was intended to exclude women in both of these categories, as neither would count as a woman "at risk of an unintended pregnancy."

Now, consider what all of this means as far as the representativeness of the sample for Catholic women. Surely there are a fair number of Catholic women between 15-44 who are not "at risk of an unintended pregnancy" for various reasons. It is plausible that this number is higher among Catholics than among non-Catholics. For one thing, a faithful Catholic woman in this age category who is not married is supposed to be remaining celibate. Hence she won't fall into the "at-risk" category, and by the same token she won't have any use for the "services" that the Obama administration is mandating be provided. Similarly, married Catholic women are probably more likely not to be attempting to avoid pregnancy, even using Natural Family Planning, than non-Catholic women. One would think they are also more likely to be pregnant or postpartum. And so on and so forth. In short, the deliberate design of the study to cover only women who, at the time of the study, were having sexual intercourse while regarding a pregnancy as unintended would be likely to make it unrepresentative of Catholics and particularly unrepresentative of devout Catholics. Yet the study is now being cited to show the percentage of Catholic women generally who are not following the teaching of the Catholic Church in this area! What is wrong with this picture?

Continue reading "How to lie with statistics, example umpteen [Updated]" »

February 12, 2012


My title has the word 'liberalism' in scare quotes because I want to discuss the sort of liberalism that has grown scarier and scarier over the last several decades. I'm not talking about the liberalism of Locke and the American founding fathers, which stressed respect for natural rights and the consent of the governed as necessary conditions for a legitimate polity. I'm not talking about "classical" liberalism, which called for individual liberty, private property, and a free market as the best conditions for promoting the common weal. I'm not even talking about the liberalism of the early-20th-century "progressive" movement, of which New Deal liberalism was the direct heir and whose achievements, like those of prior liberalisms, have the overwhelming support of the American people. As Walter Russell Mead has argued, such liberalisms, while not reducible to each other, intersected in ways that together explain why each unfolded historically within something recognizable as an American moral consensus. That consensus was strong enough to constitute, in Robert Bellah's felicitous phrase, a kind of "civil religion." Requiring both the free exercise and the non-establishment of religion strictly speaking, the old consensus could itself be called 'liberal' in a broad and now-hoary sense. But since the 1970s, it's been unravelling along with the mainline Protestantism that had been its traditional custodian. The result is what I call The Thing that Used to Be Liberalism ('TUBL' for short; with thanks to Mark Shea, who likes referring to "The Thing that Used to Be Conservatism."). As I shall illustrate, TUBL is now out of control.

Continue reading "PINNING "LIBERALISM" DOWN" »

February 15, 2012

The administration gets a tad nervous?

Well, this is interesting. My ever-alert friend Neil A. Manson has brought the following discrepancy to my attention. Just yesterday, this link to an infograph at Barack Obama's web page was readily accessible. Click on it (and get a full page cap before it completely disappears). You will notice a couple of things. First it includes the claim that "98% of Catholic women have used contraception." Second, look at the URL, and you will see that it was apparently accessible from www.barackobama.com/women as a portal.

Now go here. Look around. See if you can find any link to that infograph. Let me know if I'm missing something, because I can't find it now. There is this link to a much less snazzy information sheet on the healthcare mandate (could it have been put up in haste?), but that sheet does not contain the statistical claim about 98% of Catholic women!

What it looks like is as though the administration has gotten a bit antsy, in approximately the past twenty-four hours, for some reason (ahem) and has broken the link from its /women portal to the graph containing the claim about Catholic women. This means that that graph is now readily available only to someone who previously had recorded the complete URL or via a cache, a page save, or something like that. (As I said, get your page saves now, because it may become invisible before too long.) In other words, it looks like it's been turned into a private link and the place of that graph taken by something that, while it claims that 99% of all women have "ever used contraception," does not contain any comparable claim about Catholic women. (The 99% statistic also has some question marks around it. See my comments here and here.)

If a retraction of the 98% statistic isn't going to be forthcoming, perhaps we should consider this disappearance the next best thing.

February 16, 2012

Guttmacher doubles down

Yesterday, the Obama administration apparently thought it the better part of valor not to continue to push any statistic about 98% of Catholic women--e.g., that they "have used" non-NFP contraception. So they took down the link to that claim.

Today, though, the Guttmacher institute has decided to double down on that statistic. Humorously enough, when Rachel Jones, one of the authors of the Guttmacher report that kicked off this discussion, was initially contacted by the Washington Post blog, she seemed a tad...impatient, not to say clueless, about any statistical shortcomings in her previous report. She seemed to think she could dismiss the matter with a little snark about not including "89-year-old women."

She seems to have rethought her dismissiveness since then and has published (drum roll) a new table. With patter. The patter is here. The new table is here.

The first thing you should notice is that the new table is based on "unpublished tabulated data from the NSFG 2006-2008." Translation: We plebes can't check this stuff out independently. Rachel & co. have it on their computers from the Centers for Disease Control and expect you to take their statements as gospel. Let's please continue to bear in mind what I have said in many comments on the thread: Jones did not "do a study." Guttmacher did not "do a study." They are using and interpreting data from a huge study on many topics done by the Centers for Disease Control.

The second thing you should notice is that there isn't a lot of additional detail to this table beyond the original bare assertion about 99% of all women having used non-NFP contraception and 98% of Catholic women having done so (sometime, somewhere). About the only thing this adds is the total size of the population surveyed in the 2006-2008 large survey plus some alleged breakdowns by other religious groups (such as mainline and evangelical Protestants).

So this is a very, very slightly dressed-up version of the original assertion, made by people who are not the original researchers, based on data to which they are not giving the public access in any detail.

Oh, and one more thing to notice as a preliminary: This additional material was produced in haste, in the last couple of days, by the Guttmacher Institute, for an avowedly political purpose, in the midst of a political controversy over their previous unsubstantiated claims. Not exactly the sort of situation terribly conducive to scientific care, objectivity, and accuracy in the analysis of the NSFG data.

Okay, to further details. First, here are the...

Things we already knew that bear repeating

--Virgins are excluded. Since the claim was always about "women who have ever had sexual intercourse," virgins were always excluded. Still, it's worth noting again, since this is supposed to have something to do with whether people are following Catholic Church sexual teachings.

--Only women between the ages of 15-44 are included.

--The highest statistic given by Guttmacher and the administration (the "98% of [non-virgin, ages 15-44] Catholic women") is about whether women have ever used a method of contraception. Ever. As in perhaps only once. This is not about whether women (including Catholic women) are presently using contraception, about their on-going habits, about what they can be expected to continue doing. I noted this from the beginning, anticipating that perhaps the "ever-used" statistic would be something Guttmacher would try to double down on. Actually, current use is a much more interesting and pertinent thing to examine. A statistic based on tabulating data concerning what a woman has ever done over possibly decades of her life risks giving the impression that it describes behavior that is regular, typical and on-going when it could easily be including statistics about behavior that is, at most, occasional or sporadic, or even highly unusual or unrepeated. In the context of a public policy debate where the point is supposed to have something to do with women's on-going use for contraception, the pertinence of an "ever-used" statistic is dubious in the extreme. (It goes without saying that it is irrelevant to the religious liberty issue.)

This is especially noteworthy since the Guttmacher patter attempts to talk about future expectations in its conclusion:

Importantly, the vast majority of women who are at risk but are not using contraceptives have used a method in the past and will most likely do so again in the future.

Head-shaking is called for. This sentence occurs in the course of attempted damage control concerning the revelation that 11% of sexually active women who are "at risk of" pregnancy and aren't actively trying to get pregnant are nonetheless using no method of birth control. Whatever else it may do, a statistic about how many women have ever used contraception at any point in their lives tells us little about the conclusion, "Women not presently using contraception even though they are sexually active and not trying to get pregnant will most likely use contraception again in the future." Indeed, one can easily imagine situations in which a woman at one life stage used contraception but did not do so later (e.g., after marriage, after converting to Catholicism, after finding that she enjoyed motherhood, after deciding that her fertility wasn't all that high, after deciding that she doesn't enjoy using contraception, after realizing how much her husband wanted children, or whatever).

Rachel Jones is pretty adamant about not getting it on this point. In response to Ezra Klein of the Washington Post blog, she said,

But the policies being implemented right now are ones that don’t effect [elderly women]. Right here and now, we’ve got 98 percent who have ever used a contraceptive method. Those are who will be impacted by this

See what she is doing? She is assuming that a 44-year-old woman who has "ever used" contraception, perhaps decades ago, is more "Impacted" by legislation mandating funding for contraception now than an 89-year-old woman. How does that work? If neither woman wants contraception anymore, then even if the 44-year-old is still fertile, she has no more use than the 89-year-old has for contraception! Jones is absolutely insistent on assuming that if a woman has ever used contraception and is presently of child-bearing age, she will "need" it again. That simply doesn't follow.

It's not even scientific.

But there's more. There are also...

Reasons to think even this qualified and irrelevant statistic is at least somewhat inaccurate

Continue reading "Guttmacher doubles down" »

February 18, 2012

Almost conscious symbolism

It was always a mistake to ascribe the notorious Texas chauvinism, so misunderstood and laughed at in other parts of America, to the brief ten-year flying of the Lone Star flag. Neither the Republic nor the Confederacy nor even the Union totally captured the 19th-century Texas mind. Governments came and went; some hindered, some helped. Bur Texan patriotism was never based on concepts of government or on ideas. It grew out of the terrible struggle for the land. Significantly, Hispanic and European observers have continually called the true Texan — the descendant and inheritor of the frontier experience — the most “European” or territorial, of Americans. The Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land. It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies they despised. The closest 20th-century counterpart is the State of Israel, born in blood in another primordial land. [. . .]

The ceremonial flying of six flags — Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, Confederate, and American — over modern Texas, so puzzling to visitors, is an almost conscious symbolism: flags change, the land remains. If the American Manhattanite has almost forgotten he lives on soil, has shed his history, and is shaped more by social pressures than a sense of territory, the Texan can never, even in his cities, forget or be free of the brooding immensity of his land. His national myths were more influenced by the Alamo and the burden of a century of a wild frontier than concepts conceived at Philadelphia. Tragically, next to memories of the struggle for freedom from Mexico are the smoldering memories of a long and losing struggle against the encroachments of culture from other regions of the United States. If the Texan became the most “European” of Americans, it was because in his history he has been both a conscious conqueror, and a member of a vanquished race.

— T. R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.

February 20, 2012

A fruitful conversation

I find it remarkable how essentially aesthetic elements keep creeping into the discussion of political economy.

Sharp-elbowed dialectics could, of course, present these elements in a harshly critical light — distributists with their romance of small property, hard-currency men with their romance of gold, supply-siders were their mystical images of the feast, where the rich man's riches become enjoyment for all — but I prefer a more relaxed approach. Each field of emphasis yields its own truths. Observe.

(1) Without small property no free political economy can exist. We find the very shield and portion of liberty when private ownership is widely dispersed, firmly held, and defended at law. Small property is varied property: it is property held for future capital gain, alongside property for current enterprise, alongside property held as historic trust, alongside property for worship of God, alongside many thousands of private homes. This arrangement of free, various private ownership is the ballast of republican liberty.

(2) The debasement of currency for gain by a few: why it is nothing short of theft. Ruinous inflation has laid countless countries low. Government abusing its power to control currency is one of the oldest spectacles of tyrannical fraud evidenced in history.

(3) At the root of free enterprise is not, in fact, greed but more nearly generosity or greatness of spirit. The man who risks his capital on a new idea cannot know it will succeed. He cannot possibly count on his own accomplishment of great wealth. He can only work hard, overcome setbacks, adapt and adjust on his feet; above all he must delay his own gratification. Many are the capitalists whose early gains were made by what we might truly call a monkish existence: extreme thrift and industriousness, disciplined service toward future rewards.

And yet.

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February 21, 2012

He that denies me before men

Despite the serious title, this post is actually intended to provide a little light relief. Regular readers of my personal blog, Extra Thoughts (hello to all two of you), will know that I like gospel music. I came across this video, a story told by Scott Fowler of the group Legacy Five:

Let's take it that Scott is telling neither more nor less than the truth about this incident. (Note, that is directed to those among my more liberal readers here who always cast doubt on the truth of any outrageous story conservatives tell.)

What sort of church would have rules like that?

Note that the rules weren't just, "Hey, people are coming to listen to you sing, so don't take up a lot of time preaching sermons." Prayers that exclude the name of Jesus might be just as long as prayers in Jesus' name. These were absolutely clearly rules intended to lessen the Christian witness and distinctively Christian character of the concert. Which is particularly silly for, you know, a gospel music concert. What would people think they were coming to hear, Michael Buble?

Do any of you know of any churches, or, as Scott's finger-quotes indicated, "churches," that would impose such rules on Christian singers?

February 23, 2012

A bad bill; a sign of the times

Let me be clear: This bill almost certainly won't pass.

But let me also be clear: It is chilling that it was introduced.

A Maryland state legislator has introduced a bill, HB 449, that would make it possible to take a single kidney or a liver lobe from an unconscious patient diagnosed as being in a "persistent vegetative state," for someone else's benefit, if a surrogate decision maker decided that this was in consonance with the patient's general beliefs.

Not Dead Yet has a good set of quotations from the recent hearing testimony against the bill and predicts that it won't pass.

From the halls of academe I hear word that undergraduate students openly and widely advocate taking organs, even to the point of killing the patient, from patients who are considered to be of less benefit to society than their organs would be.

Oh, you say, that's just undergraduate kids gassing. It is, but they got it from somewhere. And I ask: Do the high-falutin' "professional ethicists" have anything much to say against it? Or, even more, against this "moderate" bill that merely involves organ-farming severely cognitively disabled patients in (hopefully) non-lethal ways? Why not, from a utilitarian perspective? If it would add to the overall good of society. If the patient is not even conscious. And when we are even throwing a sop to the notion of self-determination by asking the surrogate to go to the mental effort to dream up an argument for approval from the patient's belief system. What do the Peter Singers and the Julian Savelescus of the world have to tell us about why HB 449 should not be passed?

Perhaps, at most, "Don't make too much noise too soon. You'll frighten the natives."

HT: Wesley J. Smith at Secondhand Smoke

Update: A commentator at Secondhand Smoke has given some interesting history of taking organs from incompetent people to benefit others. In particular, he notes the (disgraceful) Strunk v. Strunk and Little v. Little cases from the 1970's in which mentally incompetent patients were used by their parents (!) to donate a kidney to a sibling, and the courts allowed it. I think it plausible that, as the commentator implies, these set the stage for the Maryland proposal. However, I note various ways in which the Maryland proposal goes far beyond even those dreadful precedents.

The pretext in both cases was that it was in the best interests of the incompetent person to give a kidney to a sibling because the incompetent person would feel sad if the sibling died and was capable of understanding the concept of helping the sibling and would feel so happy about doing so.

How nice.

I will say this, though: The court in Little cites some other cases in which such transplants were refused by courts partly on the grounds of no statutory authority for allowing them, plus some state statutes that don’t permit a guardian to give away the property of the incompetent as a donation. (Darn’ tootin’.)

So a law like the Maryland statute certainly removes a lot of uncertainty from such cases and gives a new and emphatic green light.

Plus, the Maryland statute doesn’t seem to be confined to cases of donating to family members. Moreover, since the patients in the Maryland statute are supposedly PVS, the whole allegation is that they aren’t experiencing anything; hence, by that reasoning, they couldn’t experience the alleged emotional benefits of donating and saving a family member’s life. All the arguments in Strunk and Little were connected to the allegation of a relationship between the incompetent person and the donee and the supposed benefit to the incompetent person of being a donor. Forced and implausible, to be sure, but the Maryland statute removes all such limitations.

February 24, 2012

Pray for Youcef Nadarkhani

In wonderful, tolerant Iran, Youcef Nadarkhani could be killed very soon for "abandoning Islam" (in the sense of not actually abandoning the practice of Islam but of embracing another religion after having been "born" a Muslim) and, more recently, for refusing to affirm that Mohammad was the prophet of God. Here is a fairly detailed discussion of the present situation.

(Side note: Any commentator who tries to discuss the unrelated issue that Robertson introduces in the last minute or so of the video shall be instantly slain. Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

We need to pray earnestly for Nadarkhani that his life will be spared and that he will continue to be true to the Lord Jesus Christ.

But we need to pray for him for another reason as well: Youcef Nadarkhani is a non-Trinitarian. He expressly disavows the Trinity. The (apparently Pentecostal) religious group to which he belongs affirms only that God "is revealed" as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All I've been able to read indicates that their position is some variety of modalism. In other words, Pastor Nadarkhani is a Christian heretic.

Nonetheless, he quite obviously loves Jesus Christ and is clinging to that love for Jesus under circumstances of enormous persecution. Now, I frankly admit that I don't entirely know what to make of this. In one sense, Pastor Nadarkhani is not technically my "Christian brother." In another sense, however, he has a fair chunk of the truth that goes to make up Christianity, in contrast to Islam, and his steadfastness even to the point of being willing to suffer martyrdom has got to mean something. I think we should pray not only that his life is spared, not only that God will continue to give him strength to persevere, but also that he will come to a full knowledge of the truth of God--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

February 26, 2012

From the Dead Isle: A union of totalitarianisms

I seem to be caught at a loss for words more often than usual these days. This story leaves me almost speechless. What we have in this story is the coming together of two forms of totalitarianism. #1: The totalitarianism of the airport. Essentially, if you are in an airport attempting to board a plane, you can be detained at will. #2: The British (and increasingly American) totalitarianism of the religion of anti-racism. Now in Britain applied to Islam as if it were a race. This man merely made a quip indicating that a Muslim woman was receiving special security treatment, and he was expressly told by a whole bevy of guards that if he did not apologize to a Muslim security officer--called out of the woodwork so that she could be offended and be the recipient of his symbolic forced apology--he would not be allowed to board his plane. Eventually he agreed to a compromise suggested by the bullies surrounding him: That he admit that his comment "could" have been offensive to a Muslim. He kept reiterating that what he had said wasn't racist, but even that wasn't enough. If he didn't apologize, he was going to be detained by guards. He was told repeatedly that he couldn't say such a thing, that we live in such times now that such things cannot be said, and that he must apologize to a representative Muslim.

This is terrifying.

In America we already have totalitarianism #1 and some measure of totalitarianism #2. Would they come together in this way? What's the betting that something similar would happen to anyone who made a similarly mild and moderate comment in, say, JFK airport? I'd like to think it's no more than 50/50, but even those odds are too high.

February 27, 2012

Who says touchy immigrants don't change anything?

Here's the short version of this story: In Mechanicsburg, PA, some atheists did a Halloween parade. Being the touchy-feeling, sensitive sort of people atheists are, they had all sorts of nifty costumes including a "zombie Pope" and a "zombie Mohammed." While marching along, they passed a Muslim man who says that a) he didn't know that it was legal in America to portray Mohammad and b) he thought that he needed to show his little 9-year-old son that he believed in defending Mohammad. So he grabbed the atheist dressed up as the zombie Mohammad and tried to wrench off a sign that he had around his neck, partly choking him in the process. People in the crowd called 911 and both the atheist and the Muslim went looking for a cop. The Muslim was apparently under the impression that he was in England (perhaps he missed which side of the Atlantic he was on) and wanted to report the atheist for insulting Islam with his costume and sign. The atheist, of course, wanted to report the assault. The policeman questioned both and then charged the Muslim with harassment.

Now, there's gotta be some crime, if only a relatively minor one, that you get charged with if you jump a person marching in a parade and tear a sign off his neck. Whether "harassment" was the ideal crime to charge the Muslim with in this case I don't presume to say. Would assault and disorderly conduct have been better? But whatever. There has to be something. Because otherwise, if people marching in parades with signs that offend Muslims can just be grabbed and have their signs wrenched away with impunity, there's an end to a rather important aspect of free speech in America--you know, the aspect that involves being able to hold a sign on a public street making a statement that someone else might not like. Hey, just wait until the pro-aborts get hold of that idea! They could just take care of those pro-life picketers in two finger snaps. As long as they don't actually beat them up, no problem, right? The signs are "offensive" to them.

This should have been an open and shut case. But Judge Mark Martin threw the case out, with a lecture to...the atheist victim of the assault! All about how he looked like a "doofus" for implying that Mohammad was ever a zombie. (Methinks the judge doesn't grok Halloween. One of my Facebook friends dressed up as a zombie Abraham Lincoln. Also, nobody thinks the zombie Pope meant that the atheists think the Pope is believed to have...Oh, never mind.) The judge also saw fit to talk about all his years in a Muslim country (in our military, I might add) and about how seriously the Muslims take this sort of stuff and how one could be killed for insulting Mohammad in a Muslim country. Um, yes, judge, but we aren't in a Muslim country. You know? He also implied that the atheist's costume, etc., were outside the bounds of the First Amendment. Who knew? Do something offensive to Muslims, you're outside the First Amendment, bucko. Maybe the judge thinks the Muslim should have been able to get the atheist arrested, after all. The Muslim's lawyer solemnly tells us that the atheist was the "antagonist," and he obviously thinks, with some reason, that the judge agreed with him.

I hold no brief for the wonderfulness of nasty atheists being jerks. But this is not a good precedent. There is, like it or not, something to be said for the freedom to be a bit of a jerk. We absolutely cannot declare open season on people who offend Muslims, and we absolutely cannot start calling those who offend Muslims the "antagonists" as an argument for letting Muslims use physical force against them.

We have a couple of additional factors at work here that deserve special note: First of all, where did Judge Martin pick up his odd ideas? In the military. The military, where day in, day out our servicemen are being taught to defer ad infinitum to the sensibilities of Muslims. This is an unexpected and unwelcome effect of our efforts in foreign lands: We PC-train a military man. He comes back to the U.S. and becomes a judge, and he then thinks everybody in the U.S. also has to refrain from offending Muslims. He can't even seem to adjust to being back on American soil with freedom of speech and all that jazz. Second, if we didn't have all these super-touchy Muslim immigrants around pushing the envelope, we would be less likely to keep giving in to them. Can you imagine a ruling like this coming down fifty years ago? Neither can I.

My impression is that the atheist's only recourse against the Muslim is a civil suit. That, even if successful, would leave Judge Martin happily issuing his Islam-compliant orders from the bench.

Which raises another interesting legal question: Imagine a scenario in which judges dismissed charges against, say, whites who attacked blacks and lectured the blacks on needing to be less uppity and more sensitive. Surely there must be some 14th amendment recourse at some point. Talk about "nor deny to any person the equal protection of the laws." Is there any way that can be brought home to judges? What if Judge Martin and his ilk took this still farther and started doing it systematically. Is impeachment the only route? I'm not a big fan of the 14th amendment, but it seems to me that there should be some sort of case here where ordinary laws against assault or harassment are not applied because the judge dislikes the ideas of the victim.

February 29, 2012

Talbott on randomness

The able polymath Stephen L. Talbott continues his provocative series in The New Atlantis on living organisms — their integrity, their complexity, their subtle immunities to reductionism of the sort that masquerades today as cutting-edge science. Much of the argumentation amounts to carefully-placed shape-charges at the vulnerable points of materialist dogma. The resulting detonations are as marvelous as the placements are cunning. Naturally, these clownish New Atheists will not deign to engage him; since Talbott is manifestly a man of scientific vigor and sophistication, rather than a straw-man in the manner of a knuckle-dragging Creationist, they have little interest in him. Or rather, they have an emphatic interest in not being interested in him. The materialists (unusual for men of science) are a remarkably incurious lot. Talbott, by contrast, resembles the capacious autodidacts of older Western science: in these essays the reader immediately feels that warmth of curiosity, that human wonder, which was so often their hallmark. But the common accompanying modifier “childlike” would be misleading in this instance; for there is nothing immature in Talbott’s thinking. And while he rarely comes off as a hard-nosed polemicist, the damage inflicted by his arguments will be considerable. Must read.

A well-reasoned argument for murder

Just when I think I've been hopelessly desensitized to the horrors of abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide, along comes the esteemed Journal of Medical Ethics to push the envelope still further. The latest issue of this scholarly, peer-reviewed bundle of fish-wrap contains an article titled "After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?" The abstract summarizes:

"Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

I didn't purchase the article or read it, but other sources have provided the money quotes. The authors are quoted thusly:

“We claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.”

“If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”

Lest anyone think the above words are taken out of context, the journal's editor - who belongs behind bars for publishing this criminal incitement to murder - confirms their plain meaning in his mealy-mouthed defense of the article:

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Public support for same-sex "marriage" surges in California

According to the latest Field poll, California voters now favor same-sex "marriage" by an astounding 25 point margin. Given the total stranglehold that ideological liberalism exercises over Calfornia's schools, and has for many decades now, in every county and at every level, it was only a matter of time.

Social conservatives in California need to find a new argument. I've said repeatedly that the democratic and majoritarian case for traditional marriage - you know, the one that goes "marriage should be between a man and woman because that's what the people want" - is a loser and will ultimately backfire. Here we are, folks.