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March 2012 Archives

March 1, 2012

We have more data!

The other day I received an e-mail giving me the link to this entry and this analysis by James J. Heaney, an anti-abortion computer programmer with an amateur interest in statistics. Being into stats, Heaney had the wherewithal (read, computer software and know-how) to do what I wished I could do--download the raw data from the NSFG 2006-2010 and analyze it himself.

Heaney's analysis is written in a sometimes humorous, sometimes self-deprecating style which I must admit helps to brighten the way for me when reading through lots of statistics. But despite the self-deprecation, Heaney has done yeomanly number-crunching work and has shown a lot of the background information that went into his work, which should raise confidence in his care and honesty. I invite interested readers to delve into his paper and mull it for themselves.

Some interesting outcomes:

*Heaney was able to duplicate the Guttmacher Institute's number of 98% of Catholic non-virgins from the 2006-2008 CDC study who have ever used any form of non-NFP contraception in their lives, even once. This, by duplicating results independently, answers the questions I raised here based on some rather unhelpful charts in the CDC's own report. Evidently there was sufficient overlap between those who had ever used NFP (which was listed by the CDC as just another "method of contraception") and those who had at some time used non-NFP methods that there really were 98% of self-identified Catholic women (non-virgins ages 15-44) who had ever used some non-NFP method in their lives.

*Heaney used data from the entire 2006-2010 study and found some very interesting things about Catholic women's current behavior--by far the more interesting statistic. (From his Table 3-2.) Approximately 55.3 of all self-identified Catholic women, ages 15-44, based on the NSFG numbers, are presently using non-NFP contraception of some kind, unambiguously. These percentages are from a group including virgins, sexually inactive women, etc.--that is, all the women studied in that age group. About 39.3 of all self-identified Catholic women (both practicing and less serious), ages 15-44, are unambiguously not using any non-NFP form of contraception. This includes women who are pregnant, virgins, not sexually active though not virgins, using NFP, and so forth. The remaining numbers that we need to add up to 100% are 1.7% of Catholic women in this age category who are taking birth control pills but, when listing all of their reasons (multiple reasons could be given) gave only medical reasons, and 3.7% of these Catholic women who have been sterilized or whose husbands have been sterilized but who wish this could be reversed. My own inclination would be to give the benefit of the doubt to the honesty of the former and categorize them as not using contraception, which would mean 41% not using contraception. I would probably incline somewhat toward categorizing the latter as "using contraception" though against their will, if that is meaningful. Others will, understandably enough, categorize them as not using contraception. That is a question of analysis and moral theology that I have no real interest in discussing. Even if you were to add both of these categories into the "contraception" figure, we have a grand total of 60.7% Catholic women in the age category presently using contraception, which doesn't really sound all that exciting, does it? At least not, I suspect, for the purposes for which the administration would like to use such a figure. A phrase like "overwhelming majority" doesn't spring to mind when contemplating that figure.

Continue reading "We have more data!" »

March 2, 2012

Imagine That

For those of you who are involved in education, you probably already know that your job is made more difficult when the student's memory and imagination are unprepared for the task of learning. Tony Esolen has written a book "Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child" that deals with the topic. One of my favorite commenters on the culture, Father C. John McCloskey, has reviewed the book here. As you would imagine from the title, Esolen is using a Screwtape-esque method of getting at what's going on in the world of the imagination.

Here's one of Fr. M's brief intro's to one of the ten themes Esolen brings out.

In the "Threat Outside the Door," Esolen's anti-imaginative persona observes that few parents grasp the danger of children playing outside.

The most enlightened educators grasp it and have taken steps to ensure that their own children are left to their own devices outdoors as little as possible. They have shortened summer vacation, parceling out free days here and there through the school year. As for the school day itself, both parents and educators want it to be as long as possible.

For myself, I know that I am unable to give my kids something that I had growing up: a neighborhood where you were free to play with anyone on the block, and you didn't need a parent to do a pre-approve on the event or the location or the rules or anything, you just went out and roamed the neighborhood playing. Sure, some kids were jerks on occasion, but you figured out how to deal with it and eventually got on with the game, or some other activity.

March 4, 2012

The best of W4--How the Blogosphere Separates Natural Allies

This post was originally published on December 31, 2008, and its first incarnation can be found here.

It's intended to express a paradox. The blogosphere and the Internet generally obviously have enormous power to bring together natural allies. But it seems that they can also separate them more than they would be separated if their contact were in-person. This is probably a little bit like the fact that labor-saving devices for housewives simply raise the bar for the cleanliness of our houses. In the same way, the opportunity to talk so much to so many people makes us feel that we have to talk to so many people about so many things, revealing all our opinions. Nor is this just a comment on the phenomenon of giving "too much information" about one's personal life. There can be an ideological parallel. Perhaps it's somewhat useful not to know every detail of our friends' political, theological, and ideological lives, either.

Anyway, readers are invited to comment anew, especially those who have not seen the post before and those who have new insights on how we can counter the sad tendency of the blogosphere to separate natural allies.


I was reflecting the other day on the fact that the blogosphere tends to draw attention to every difference of opinion among people--I was thinking of conservatives, specifically--who are naturally close allies and who in person would either not know about these differences or brush them off. And I was wondering why this happens.

The obvious answer, and probably the true one, is just simply that the blogosphere is all about opinions; one of the main things bloggers do is to write opinion pieces, and the main thing commentators do is to comment on them, so naturally we find out everybody's opinions on every topic under the sun, including those that sub-divide the world of political and even theological conservatives.

But at the risk of sounding like a softie, I sometimes think this is a bit of a shame.

Here is Joe: Joe is strongly pro-life. He's interested in theology and knows a lot about it. He's Presbyterian (say). He loves old books and Tolkien. He thinks American culture is going to hell in a handbasket (like all good conservatives). He staunchly opposes the homosexual agenda. He has three adorable kids, one of them handicapped, and one of his hobbies (besides reading old books) is bookbinding.

And Jim, who "met" Joe on a blog and shares all these things with him (except he has two kids and has never tried bookbinding), thinks of him not as "that really interesting guy I talked to at the pro-life banquet last week" but as "that idiot who tried to tu quoque me in a discussion of Arminianism."

I mean, it's a shame.

Continue reading "The best of W4--How the Blogosphere Separates Natural Allies" »

March 5, 2012

GUEST POST: A Study in Contrasts

A Study in Contrasts

Jeffrey Singer

Conservatives and Republicans in Illinois have long looked longingly to our neighbors to the east in Indiana where that State has been governed by the steady head of Mitch Daniels for the past eight years. Daniels has successfully balanced his budgets without borrowing and has implemented other government reforms, including reforming education and promoting a favorable business climate. But now we look longingly to the north to the more controversial Governor Walker who famously passed last year a comprehensive government reform bill that forced public employees of the State to contribute payments toward their retirement pensions for the first time since they were unionized in 1959 and to increase their contributions toward their medical care. These two reforms alone saved the State approximately $724 million annually, which went a long way to help Wisconsin solve its $3.6 billion biennial deficit. There were other reforms as well, having to do with the rights of State employees to bargain collectively and to have the State automatically collect and deliver union dues to the union. What they all had in common was the relentless focus on the main drivers of costs for the State – medical and retirement costs for public employees, whether those employees are teachers, truck drivers, State troopers, or bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, what does our own Governor propose for Illinois? More spending of course (on top of the massive tax hikes he passed last year)! Like most Democrats, Governor Quinn euphemistically calls this spending “investment.”

Cuts alone will not get us to a better budget. We must build and grow our Illinois economy like never before to keep Illinois moving forward…But we’ve not just made Illinois a better place to do business, we’ve also invested in our public works – our highways, our bridges, our railroads and our schools – to make Illinois stronger…We started Illinois’ first venture fund to encourage investors to jump into cutting-edge technologies…We’re going to continue to think big in Illinois…Today, I’m announcing a $2.3 million dollar investment in “1871,” a new technology center at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago to foster and launch digital start-ups…Today, I’m also announcing a $6 million dollar statewide competition to build ultra-high speed broadband in neighborhoods across Illinois. Through this challenge, we want our neighborhoods to become Gigabit communities with Internet connections more than 100 times faster than today! Our goal is to build smart communities that will foster the job engines of the future.
Etc. Etc. The quotes are from his recent State of the State speech which was received with all the excitement of a scheduled root canal. My local paper quoted my State Senator (John Mulroe, Democrat) saying the Governor’s “proposals are sound” but there “is no money to fund them.” “We don’t have a healthy environment in this state, but the worse things get the more it is necessary to get results, and you need to make tough decisions because you can’t kick the can down the road any more.”

Continue reading "GUEST POST: A Study in Contrasts" »

March 7, 2012

Quick, get that sunlight outta here! [Updated]

Jeff Culbreath recently posted about the pro-infanticide article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

The first reaction by the journal to the firestorm caused by the article was that the editor, Julian Savulescu, defended his actions in publishing the article. He understood perfectly well that the article was pro-infanticide and said so in so many words. (By the way, Julian Savulescu, an avid admirer of pro-infanticide Peter Singer, is nobody's sweet maiden aunt. See here and here.) Savulescu piously declared not that the article did not advocate infanticide but that he had to publish it because it was just so gosh-darned academically top-notch and because his professional ethics wouldn't allow him to block an article from publication merely on such grounds as that its conclusions are, y'know, morally heinous.

But the firestorm didn't abate, so the new response of the journal has been to take down access to the article from its website [see correction below] and to publish an "apology" (scare quotes very much intentional) from the authors. The poor things have been misunderstood. You see, they were just writing to fellow bioethicists. They didn't mean for hoi polloi to read their article. The ignorant masses are unable to sit around in that state of higher consciousness achieved by ethicists who talk coolly about bumping off Grandma, discussing these matters calmly and rationally. The ignorant masses have all these emotions that get in the way, whereas their article was a "pure exercise of logic." They thought perhaps someone would challenge their premises in a further article. They never meant to recommend any actual infanticidal public policies (and they should have made this clearer), because they're just theorists--philosophers, not policy makers. There could be all kinds of "practical" and "emotional" and "social" considerations against actually permitting infanticide legally. Oh, and also, nobody should think that they "were in favour of killing people." (No, of course not. Because according to their own words in the article, newborns are not "actual people." )

Wesley J. Smith ably takes apart their non-apology here. He dismantles their implication that they weren't really advocating infanticide but only showing logical connections between propositions. Smith points to money quotes like:

If the death of a newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practice after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too.

Why should we kill a healthy newborn when giving it up for adoption would not breach anyone’s right but possibly increase the happiness of the people involved? … On this perspective … we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving up her child for adoption.

To which I add (emphasis added):

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.

Now quick! Get that sunlight outta here! We want to have our philosophical discussion about killing babies undisturbed by anyone outside of the Anointed Circle.

("For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." The Gospel according to St. John, Chapter 3, vs. 20)

Update and correction
: The article appears to be still available on the web site here, so it appears that Smith's report of its disappearance was in error. Thanks to an alert reader at WSJ's blog who noticed this.

March 8, 2012

Liars (More sunlight)

Having now read "After-Birth Abortion" word for word, I am in a position to assert and to argue that Minerva & Giubilini are not simply somewhat misleading, not simply academic whiners, not even simply sophists, when they say that they were "misrepresented" by those who criticized them. They are liars.

Minerva and Giubilini imply that they were merely showing logical connections between propositions--"If X, then Y"--that their article was a "pure exercise of logic" rather than an actual argument for infanticide.

We started from the definition of person introduced by Michael Tooley in 1975 and we tried to draw the logical conclusions deriving from this premise. It was meant to be a pure exercise of logic: if X, then Y. We expected that other bioethicists would challenge either the premise or the logical pattern we followed, because this is what happens in academic debates.

This is an outright lie, as the below quotations will show. The authors assert repeatedly that newborn children do not have a right to life and that there are circumstances in which, for the sake of the interests of the parents and other "actual people" involved (because newborn babies are not "actual people" on their argument), infanticide should be permitted. These are not merely conditional statements, not merely "If X, then Y" statements. They expressly define their terms and then argue from those definitions that newborns are non-persons and therefore are killable. The article is unequivocal on this point.

Minerva & Giubilini also say that they were not advocating policy, because they are merely philosophers. They say that they "should have been clearer about this."

However, we never meant to suggest that after-birth abortion should become legal. This was not made clear enough in the paper. Laws are not just about rational ethical arguments, because there are many practical, emotional, social aspects that are relevant in policy making (such as respecting the plurality of ethical views, people’s emotional reactions etc). But we are not policy makers, we are philosophers, and we deal with concepts, not with legal policy.

On the contrary. This is another lie. They were quite clear in the article that they were advocating policy, as the below quotations also show.

As I noted in my earlier post, Minerva & Giubilini try to calm the masses by saying that they did not advocate "killing people."

What people understood was that we were in favour of killing people. This, of course, is not what we suggested. This is easier to see when our thesis is read in the context of the history of the debate.

This is deceptive sophistry of the worst sort, since virtually the entire burden of their article is that newborn babies are not "actual people"!

Minerva & Giubilini also state that they have been misrepresented as having put no term to the time at which newborns could be killed.

Moreover, we did not suggest that after birth abortion should be permissible for months or years as the media erroneously reported.
That report was not a misrepresentation. It is the truth. They are explicit about stating that they suggest no threshold time at which the newborn becomes an "actual person" because this will depend on neurological capabilities. Therefore, of course killing could, in individual cases where neurological capabilities did not develop, be permissible for months or years. Hence, their claim of misrepresentation here is another lie.

Some of the quotations below have appeared elsewhere. I produce this fairly large bulk of quotations here to make it clear that no misrepresentation is taking place. Get the whole article here and see for yourself.

If advocacy of infanticide were not disgrace enough for the profession of philosophy (and it is), the spectacle of philosophers lying in a half-hearted attempt to cover up that advocacy makes the disgrace even worse.

All bold print in what follows is mine.

[I]n fact, people with Down's syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy.

Nonetheless, to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.

This passage represents one of the article's arguments to the effect that what the authors are proposing is not euthanasia, because the killing of the newborn need not be in the best interests of the child at the time of the killing, as euthanasia is said to be! A Down Syndrome child might actually have a happy life later, yet still be killable, even though no argument can be made that the child will not have a life worth living later. Hence, they expressly regard themselves as doing something more radical than advocating euthanasia infanticide, since they are arguing for the permissibility of infanticide solely on the basis of the interests of others.

Compare editor Savulescu's defense of publishing the article:

The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.

The novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favour of infanticide – the paper repeats the arguments made famous by Tooley and Singer – but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests.

What this says is this: We professional and eminent bioethicists have been fine with infanticide for a long time. The exciting new contribution of this article to our field is its advocacy of infanticide for trivial reasons. Do you think I'm exaggerating? Consider the quotation you will find below: "[H]owever weak the interests of actual people can be, they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people to become actual ones..."

Notice too the sentence, "Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible." This expressly indicates that circumstances could indeed justify abortion and that infanticide in such cases should be permissible. This is not merely an if...then statement. This is an overt statement relevant both to morality and to policy. Since abortion should not be prohibited in these cases, neither should infanticide. The statement is quite clear.

In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, 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. Accordingly, a second terminological specification is that we call such a practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.

Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. The reason is that, unlike the case of death of an existing person, failing to bring a new person into existence does not prevent anyone from accomplishing any of her future aims. However, this consideration entails a much stronger idea than the one according to which severely handicapped children should be euthanised. If the death of a newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practise an after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too, given that she has not formed any aim yet.

There are two reasons which, taken together, justify this claim:

The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus, that is, neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.

It is not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense.

We are going to justify these two points in the following two sections.

Again, notice that these are not merely conditional statements. The authors definitely state that it is not possible to wrong or damage a newborn by killing him and that a newborn is not a person. Rather, to kill a newborn, they are stating, is merely to prevent a person from ever coming into existence in the first place. Their statements could not be clearer.

Continue reading "Liars (More sunlight)" »

March 9, 2012

The Harm of Religious Neutrality

The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus coined what has become known as Neuhaus' Law: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed". If I remember correctly, Fr. Neuhaus was referring to mainline protestant churches, such as the Episcopal Church, where this phenomenon was an empirical reality.

I believe that Neuhaus' Law has parallel applications in society and government. We might put it this way: "Where moral and religious truth cannot be preferred, moral and religious truth will sooner or later be proscribed." The implication here is that if government does not actively prefer moral and religious truth, government will eventually persecute the truth in one form or another.

Continue reading "The Harm of Religious Neutrality" »

March 13, 2012

And still more on organ transplant

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Dick Teresi says much of what I have been saying for a long time about organ transplant. Here are some relevant quotes. If you didn't know this before, wake up and pay attention now (emphasis added):

The exam for brain death is simple. A doctor splashes ice water in your ears (to look for shivering in the eyes), pokes your eyes with a cotton swab and checks for any gag reflex, among other rudimentary tests. It takes less time than a standard eye exam. Finally, in what's called the apnea test, the ventilator is disconnected to see if you can breathe unassisted. If not, you are brain dead. (Some or all of the above tests are repeated hours later for confirmation.)

Here's the weird part.

If you fail the apnea test, your respirator is reconnected. You will begin to breathe again, your heart pumping blood, keeping the organs fresh. Doctors like to say that, at this point, the "person" has departed the body. You will now be called a BHC, or beating-heart cadaver.

Still, you will have more in common biologically with a living person than with a person whose heart has stopped. Your vital organs will function, you'll maintain your body temperature, and your wounds will continue to heal. You can still get bedsores, have heart attacks and get fever from infections.

"I like my dead people cold, stiff, gray and not breathing," says Dr. Michael A. DeVita of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "The brain dead are warm, pink and breathing."

But BHCs—who don't receive anesthetics during an organ harvest operation—react to the scalpel like inadequately anesthetized live patients, exhibiting high blood pressure and sometimes soaring heart rates.

And now here comes another kicker, a reference to a 1999 article that I had somehow missed until now:

In a 1999 article in the peer-reviewed journal Anesthesiology, Gail A. Van Norman, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Washington, reported a case in which a 30-year-old patient with severe head trauma began breathing spontaneously after being declared brain dead. The physicians said that, because there was no chance of recovery, he could still be considered dead. The harvest proceeded over the objections of the anesthesiologist, who saw the donor move, and then react to the scalpel with hypertension.

And, indeed, that is exactly what Gail van Norman reports. I have now downloaded the article, available here.

Continue reading "And still more on organ transplant" »

March 16, 2012

Turning outrage into action

By this time I assume all my readers have been rightly horrified by the story of Ariel and Deborah Levy in Oregon who won a so-called "wrongful birth" lawsuit because the search and destroy mission against their Down Syndrome daughter failed when she was unborn and now, darn it, they have to raise her. (Minerva and Giubilini have a solution for that, by the way...)

I will take as read the utter evil of such lawsuits and of the premises that underlie them.

Let's turn this into action. This story from last month lists the following states as prohibiting such suits:

Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Utah.

According to the story, Arizona is considering similar legislation.

This article
, from 2008, says that twelve states prohibit such suits. The states listed there are

Idaho, Utah, South Dakota, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia.

Alert readers will notice that the lists are not the same. I don't know what this means. One might conjecture that Indiana and North Dakota have added such laws since 2008, but what about Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Georgia? Have they repealed them? Or did the author of the 2012 article just miss them? I hope so. That would mean the grand total is actually fourteen states that prohibit these obscene lawsuits. I decided to get this post up right away rather than doing more research to check into the states that are different in the two lists. If readers want to add info. that will be most welcome. Perhaps part of the answer lies here:

Gary E. Marchant, an Arizona State University law professor who specializes in genetics laws, said nine states bar both “wrongful life” and “wrongful birth” lawsuits. There have been about a hundred such lawsuits nationwide, including a few in Arizona, said Marchant, who recently did a study on the subject.
It may be that the distinction between wrongful birth and wrongful life suits somehow accounts for the discrepancies in the two lists.

The second link above states that twenty-eight states allow such suits. That could mean either that such suits are recognized in statutory law or that they are not banned in statutory law and have been allowed in the courts. Probably some of each. No list is given of the twenty-eight states.

So here's an assignment: If you live in Arizona, get a-goin'. Contact your legislators to support the bill introduced by Sen. Nancy Barto. Naturally, the feminists are agin' it:

Sen. Linda Lopez, a Tucson Democrat, said she doesn’t understand why the bill is needed, and feels it infringes on a woman’s right to make decisions about her health.

Um-huh. Because it's obviously a matter of women's rights not simply to be able to murder your unborn child if he isn't perfect but also to sue your doctor if he fails to detect the presence of an imperfect child so that you can kill it before it's born.

(By the way, the assumption in prenatal testing is already that false positives are better than false negatives. Wrongful birth lawsuits just push that assumption more stridently.)

If you live in a state about which there is any question, find out and, if such lawsuits are permitted either tacitly or explicitly in your state, suggest to your state Right to Life organization that it urge pro-life lawmakers to introduce relevant legislation, pronto. This is timely. People are upset about this lawsuit which said that the Levys' daughter should have been killed before birth; now is the time to introduce that legislation.

March 17, 2012

Best of W4: Ireland and Her Saints


I'm reprising a St. Patrick's Day post from some years back:


Somewhere is in his spellbinding work of history and synthesis The Might of the West, Lawrence Brown writes of that “great company of Irish saints,” which, by boldness of faith, industry, and patience, were able to begin in the North of Europe what St. Benedict began in the South: the remaking of a workable and fruitful order for human life in the ruins left by the retreat of the Roman Empire from the western provinces. As Whittaker Chambers said of Benedict, we too may say, mutatis mutantis, of the Irish company: “At the touch of [their] mild inspiration, the bones of a new order stirred and clothed themselves with life, drawing to itself much of what was best and most vigorous among the ruins of man and his work in the Dark Ages, and conserving and shaping its energy for that unparalleled outburst of mind and spirit in the Middle Ages.”

The Celtic Church, though it ultimately submitted to the authority of the Papacy, had its own character and integrity. It had never known the secular, and was largely isolated from the ecclesiastical power of Rome — a fact that became quite evident when St. Columbanus came to France and quarreled with the worldly and often decadent Frankish hierarchy. We do not know how these quarrels were settled, but we can reasonably guess that the settlements, which avoided what would have been a disastrous schism, were the fruit of the holiness of Columbanus and Gregory the Great, who then sat on the Chair of St. Peter.

The Irish were susceptible to the error of their kinsman Pelagius against whom St. Augustine of Hippo contended with all his enormous vigor: the denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. Mr. Brown himself follows them in that error, but as he was not really a believing Christian, that is understandable. Only a Christian can really understand the depth of sin, and therefore only a Christian can realize how absolutely vital it is to retain the doctrine of Original Sin. For if there is no Original Sin, then it is possible that men are really good, and only the “system” that has made them bad. We followed the path of that logic in the twentieth century, and it led only to blood and decay.

There is a lot of contempt, in modern thought, and more in modern unthinking prejudice, for the idea of monasticism. But what is often forgotten about monasticism is how powerful an engine of political economy it was in a world were political and economic stability had vanished. Paul Johnson makes this point in his engrossing but peculiar A History of Christianity. In monasticism Western man at last found a way to be productive again; and in monasticism we see the early beginnings of that power over material forces, that stewardship of the riches of creation, that made us — we men of the West — masters of the earth. That this power has perhaps been the single most calamitously abused thing in all of the bloody history of mankind does not diminish the astonishing humility and piety at its roots. And I might be forgiven for the occasional fancy that all our machines and computers and efficiency are but a slow decline from the awesome achievement that the Irish monks and their students all over Europe, along with their Benedictine brothers, made visible in the gardens of the great monasteries.

So on this day when we celebrate the man who drove all the snakes from Ireland, let us also recall his Irish brethren, who so filled the world with their own “mild inspiration,” and made us who we are.

March 18, 2012

Something can and must be done

You may or may not have heard (it was not exactly widely reported in the MSM) that white 13-year-old Allen Coon in Kansas City was recently set on fire by two older black boys who followed him home from school. Though it takes a virtual Sherlock Holmes to piece together the information from choppy, reticent, and downright misleading local news accounts, it appears that the attackers said, "You get what you deserve, white boy" while attempting to immolate him using gasoline and a match. The boy stifled the fire rapidly with his shirt, called 911 himself, and hopefully will not suffer the loss of his eyesight or other permanent injury.

The police have (surprise, surprise) decided not to treat this as a hate crime.

Now further information emerges: Allen's mother reports that Allen was regularly targeted for race-baiting at his school, not only by fellow students but also by a teacher, Carla Kinder, who used racial epithets toward him and encouraged the students to do the same.

Other times, the students would initiate the harassment, and the teachers would pick up the baton.

And Mrs. Coon reports that teacher Karla Dorsey, who is black, dismissed Allen's attempt to answer a question about black history month saying, "What would you know about it? You're not our race."

Nor is this sort of thing being reported by Allen's family alone. Other families of the very few white students in the school report similar incidents.

One day, [teacher Veda] Monday allegedly showed an explicit film involving portrayals of whites lynching blacks and then, reports ex-Texan Wildeisen, "in front of the class attacked my daughters, telling them that 'everybody from Texas is ignorant rednecks'" and that all white people were "responsible for Jasper because [their] skin is white." This reference is to an atrocity in Jasper, TX, in which three white men murdered a black man in 1998.
Another white victim is 15-year-old Ashley Miller, whose family had moved to K.C., MO, from Kansas. Subject to racial harassment, she was called names such as "white b****." She also actually shared a class with Allen Coon, and as the only two white students in the room, they became the target of sexual comments. Moreover, she reports the same experience with race-baiting videos as do the Wildeisens: they would be shown, and an onus would be placed on the white students. Her mother Melissa told me that she now fears for her daughter's safety and, you guessed it, is in the process of withdrawing Ashley from East High. And the rest of the pattern is holding, too: the Millers are contemplating leaving the area.

Talk to the principal? You've got to be kidding. No help there:

Melissa Coon had been complaining to the school's administration about her son's harassment repeatedly -- only to be ignored and stonewalled -- repeatedly. At one point an administrator told her that her son could have a transfer only to another district school but said that Allen would have "more problems there" and that he should stay at more "racially diverse" East High (which has no more than 20 white students). At another, a vice principal Coon identifies as Ms. Jessica Bassett denied, while shaking and rubbing her hands together nervously, ever having heard about Allen's problems even though they had been brought to her attention on at least five occasions.

Now, you may ask, why am I blogging about this story?

Continue reading "Something can and must be done" »

March 20, 2012

Lowenstein and The Villain


Roger Lowenstein’s profile of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is absolutely worth reading. Like his book When Genius Failed, which is still among the best short studies of this world of stochastic engineering, here in The Atlantic he does an excellent job converting the intricacies of monetary policy into a comprehensible vernacular.

Lowenstein is certainly not always right on every particular (associating Bernanke with both Friedman and Roosevelt, while provocative and a bit bracing, sort of resolves into penumbral confusion), but his wider narrative is sound. Moreover, he is admirably fair to all sides (which contributes to some elisions). He even quotes a respected goldbug at the very end.

He is emphatic about the distinction between monetary policy (Friedman did indeed conclude that over-tight money prolonged the Great Depression) and fiscal policy. Now and then you’ll get the rhetorical knives flashing against the absurdity of Helicopter Ben and his dollars from the sky; as a fact the imagery should be Helicopter Milt. But someone vituperating against Milton Friedman would seem decisively out of place at a Tea Party rally.

All of which gets back to my suspicion that it is in the interest of almost every nefarious actor, from agitator and demagogue to financier and politician, so to blur and obscure the fiscal and monetary distinction, as to insure for himself a more facile rhetorical position. He can avoid the hard decisions of fiscal retrenchment by pretending its Bernanke’s fault. He can obscure the difference between tight money and fiscal austerity, merging them into one indistinguishable muddle, and thus conceal the possibility of an intelligent observer who favors looser money and more austere government budgets, a la Cameron’s government in the UK. These devices are tiresome but effective. The subtleties of this business are formidable. But if we to permit the idea that money supply and the welfare state are the same vexation, we might as well say that loose screws and loose women are the same problem.

So on the whole I take it as a strong note of integrity when an interpreter like Lowenstein insists on this conceptual rectitude.

Now that we have a Federal Reserve is a fact. That statutes of some antiquity — themselves formed in imitation of older American statutes — supply the structure of this central bank, distinguishing it for some similar institutions elsewhere, is another noteworthy fact. That we ought to have fiat currency is a more contested conjecture, but that we have one is not. Another contested fact is whether we have (or at least recently had) a wild-west regulatory environment, which in function gave shadow banks an opportunity to write paper promissory like an appendage of the sovereign. AIG printed a hell of a lot of American money with its default-swap trade; it operated like a lawless state-chartered bank in the days after Jackson, free to issue scrip to whatever sucker was willing to buy. A lot of this money was backing the US housing market.

Long-Term Capital Management was in the same game, up until its demise some twelve years ago. It helped the Italians work their bond markets into shape for the euro entry. It arbitraged the Treasury market. It absorbed risk in great quantities from various actors, performing a service they desired, collecting big fees, freeing more and more “product” to enter capital markets, smoothing over fixed-income oddities, and generally accelerating the circulation of capital by prodigious amounts. It used important connections and dazzling wizardry to mesmerize clients. It was the most prestigious enterprise in a pretty much free market.

This plutocratic unity of state and financier bulks big in the story of free enterprise’s subjection to supererogatory finance abstraction. The Federal Reserve is unquestionably bound up in its machinations. It’s possible that leaving the gold standard in the 70s was a huge mistake. It’s possible that deposit insurance is unwise. It’s highly probable (in my judgment) that broker-dealers should have never sold public shares but stayed private partnerships. But it’s highly improbable that a ritualized dismantling of the Fed, perhaps including an attack on the lender-of-last-resort function, will do any good. The expedient demonization of Ben Bernanke should stop. He’s had some meaningful successes achieved in the heat of crisis for which Americans ought to be thankful, given the alternatives; his subsequent ameliorative policies are more problematic, but only time will tell.

In my estimation, however, the real and lasting damage to our economy has come from other quarters than the central bank.

March 21, 2012

Texas death panels moving right along

Via Texas Right to Life come these two entries giving the story of a man named Willie who had not only his ventilator support but also his food and fluids withdrawn, despite having insurance and family financial support and against both his own wishes and his family's wishes, and subsequently died.

It is unfortunate that the story is unclear on a few points. Specifically, when it refers to Willie's receiving sedation, what was the purpose of this? (There is a reference to surgery, but it looks like perhaps he never received the surgery.) How long was Willie without food and fluids, and, if it was only for twenty-four hours or less (which seems possible based on the stories), what is the family's evidence that withholding food and fluids significantly hastened Willie's death? He had previously been ventilator dependent (or so I infer) but appears to have been breathing on his own after his vent support was removed. Still, it is entirely possible that he was not able to get enough oxygen that way and died pretty much entirely for that reason.

Texas hospitals' policy of kicking you out after a death panel rules that you should no longer receive life support and after a ten-day wait has been known now for some years. Please, liberal commentators: Do not waste my time blah-blahing about how this was a "Republican policy" and how G.W. Bush signed it. The real story is that previously Texas hospitals were kicking people out with only a day or three's warning, and what got pushed through was a ten-day waiting period to give a chance to try to find a transferring institution. This hasn't worked out well, because apparently the hospitals and hospices are either in cahoots with one another or else share a remarkable unanimity of perspective and hence will almost never actually accept transfers during the ten-day waiting period, but the ten-day wait was an improvement over what had been going on.

Anyway, there have been several high-profile cases in connection with this policy (which at the moment I'm not going to go and look up). One thing they have shared in common is that the patients have all died very, very shortly, if not immediately, after having ventilator support withdrawn. Since ventilator support has a stronger claim to be an "extraordinary means" than the mere provision of food and water, the hospitals thus minimized their bad press by presenting these as truly extreme cases where actual life support (that often abused word) was withdrawn.

I have, however, always suspected that a parallel movement was going on. Namely, that food and fluids were in fact withdrawn and that, if the patient proved able to breathe on his own after all and even lived for days thereafter, he would simply be dehydrated to death. While, if my interpretation of TRTL's releases is accurate, Willie does not seem to have lived for days, the firm withdrawal of food and fluids against family wishes in Willie's case does go to confirm what I've always thought. It's just that until now there hasn't been (as far as I know) a high-profile case like this in the Texas system. And (again, if I'm understanding the story correctly) we're still waiting for one in which the patient lives for a sufficient number of days after withdrawal of food and fluids for it to be undeniable that this was a significant contributing cause of death.

But it looks like the TX hospitals aren't going to be fazed if and when that happens.

Here are some salient features of Willie's case that should give us all pause:

--Willie's family was unanimous about his receiving life-preserving care.
--Willie himself had clearly stated that he wanted to live and didn't want his family to give up on him.
--Willie had insurance, and his family was willing to pay extra costs.
--The hospital insisted, apparently purely for ideological and "futile care" reasons, on withdrawing not only ventilator support but also food and fluids.
--No other TX institution would accept Willie as a transfer patient within the ten-day window of time.

The hospital is said to be located in north Houston, but the family has withheld the name of the hospital (fear of lawsuit?).

I guess not everything is better in Texas. (See this interesting summary document on variations in state laws in this area.)

March 26, 2012

The Philippines, Population Control, and the Free Market

In the most recent issue, Fall 2011, of The Human Life Review, Maria Caulfield has an interesting article about a new population control bill that has been introduced in the very Catholic Philippines. (Her article is called "The Irresponsibility of 'Responsible Parenthood'," and I hope that it will eventually be available on-line.)

As best I can understand, the bill chiefly provides for the government to propagandize its people in favor of smaller families. It also would institute sex education for children from adolescence up and would provide birth control preferentially to "the poor." The bill also includes the phrase "reproductive health rights," which has been interpreted to mean a right to abortion. Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, and this bill does not explicitly overturn those laws but would be, to put it mildly, in tension with them.

To make matters even more bizarre, the bill contains a provision that couples cannot obtain a marriage license until they have presented a certificate showing that they have received "instructions and information" on "responsible parenthood" and "family planning."

Caulfield is surely right that the impetus for this bill is coming chiefly from the cooperation of social liberals in the Philippines with international "family planning" groups. She points out that in a forum sponsored by the infamous UNFPA the European Ambassador to the Philippines chided the Philippine Congress for not passing such a bill and insinuated that foreign aid should be linked to the Philippine's passing such measures.

All of this is all too predictable and dreary, though it is not merely predictable and dreary right now to traditionalists in the Philippines. If they don't want their children to receive American-style sex education and their young people to be required to get a creepy "family planning" certificate in order to get married, they need to defeat this bill.

One additional thing in Caulfield's article interested me. That was her quotation of a Filipino writer named Bernardo Villegas to the effect that the Philippines is poor because for 30 years after World War II, Philippine leaders "adopted economic policies that fostered an inward-looking, import-substitution industrialization based on protectionist, anti-market, and ultra-nationalist ideologies" similar to what "most Latin American countries implemented with the same dire consequences."

I have to admit that I'm not quite sure what the point is about thirty years after WWII. That takes us about to 1975. If those economic policies have been changed since then, why haven't the changes had an effect? But Caulfield also cites (and translates) former Mayor of Manila Lito Atienza as saying, "There is no data linking population growth to poverty. We need sound economic policies." (Here is the Villegas article in which he explains his ideas at more length, advocating both agrarian development and also small-business entrepreneurship.)

Now, no doubt there will be disagreements among our readers here as to what constitute sound economic policies for the Philippines. But I would ask moral traditionalists to consider something: Suppose that protectionist, anti-market economic policies have contributed to poverty in the Philippines. In that case, note that this has been used by the minions of the population control god to pretend, as usual, that the cause of poverty is people and to press for their own agenda as a solution, including both the sexualizing of children and totalitarian plans for restricing marriage licenses. This is, obviously, not something conservatives should want. It may just be that this is a case where the free market could be helpful to moral traditionalism by bringing material well-being to a traditionalist country, thus falsifying the myth that population control is the route to economic prosperity.

It is, at least, worth a try. And perhaps the Philippines should serve as a sobering reality check when we hear people talking about how the free market and moral traditionalism are at odds and how protectionism should be linked to traditionalism to return us to a better society. Dire poverty is hardly what we should want; moreover, it opens up countries to ideologies that blame their family size and their sexual traditionalism for their poverty. Conservatives should be only too happy to break that link.

What is a commercial republic?


My friend Ben Domenech offers an excellent email newsletter called The Transom. Great links and brief comments, excellent news coverage on politics and political economy, tidbits and humor. Sign up here. Today’s edition included memorable little essay ON PATRICK HENRY, from which I’ll excerpt a good bit:

. . . It was 237 years ago, in Virginia, that Patrick Henry gave a speech that rang out through the colonies and urged the people to stand up for their liberty. . . . There is a line that comes before the more famous conclusion which I have always loved. In making his case that the colonists should be willing to stand even against the armed might of the British Empire, which had put down so many colonial rebellions in the past, Henry urged the Virginians on, saying: “The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.”

What this means is clear: that there is no excuse for failing to stand up for liberty when that is what is demanded of you, even to the end. And Henry himself proved this in his own life. While an avowed anti-federalist and an opponent of the ratification of the Constitution in the late-1780s, two things changed his mind: he broke with Thomas Jefferson over the French revolution. [Condemning the French approach, he declared] that freedom without virtue descends to anarchy; and he rejected Jefferson's increasingly vile and personal attacks on his old friend George Washington. . . . And Henry rejected outright the nullification doctrine, approved by Jefferson and Madison in the Kentucky-Virginia Resolutions, seeing within it the seeds of the rebellion which later came.

In the late 1790s, a mutual friend took the liberty of forwarding one of Henry's letters to Washington . . . Henry wrote of how his fears regarding misuse of Constitutional powers had been mitigated by Washington’s leadership, and that he no longer doubted that the Federalist approach was the wisest one. Washington was so moved by it that he asked Henry personally to stand for election to the House of Delegates as a Federalist to push back against the nullifiers . . . Henry, astounded by the outreach from the greatest man of the age, of course did his duty and ran, writing to Washington that “My Children would blush to know that you and their Father were Contemporarys, and that when you asked him to throw in his Mite for the public Happiness, he refused to do it" – despite being basically an invalid at this point, sick with stomach cancer.

What happened next, as written in Pulitzer winner Burton J. Hendrick’s Bulwark of the Republic: “The response to this appeal came at Charlotte Courthouse in early March, 1799. A huge crowd gathered, for Patrick Henry had announced that he would address his fellow citizens on that day. After declining to be Secretary of State and Chief Justice of the United States, he had acceded to Washington’s request, and was about to ask his neighbors to elect him to the state legislature… The hero worship bestowed by the crowd on Henry that morning indicated the importance of his intercession. When the speaker arose, his weakness was manifest. His face was colorless and careworn, his whole frame shaky, his voice, at the beginning, cracked and tremulous. In a few minutes, however, the Henry of the old Virginia House of Burgesses sprang from this emaciated shell. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were denounced with all the vehemence that had once been visited on King George. These proceedings filled him ‘with apprehension and alarm . . . they had planted thorns upon his pillow . . . the state had quitted the sphere in which she had been placed by the Constitution . . . in daring to pronounce upon the validity of Federal laws she had gone out of her jurisdiction.’ . . . Charlotte Courthouse, where this speech was made, is situated less than thirty miles from Appomattox, and from this spot, seventy years afterward, were heard the guns that forced Lee’s surrender. Patrick Henry seemed to have divined all this as the inescapable outcome of the Virginia Resolutions. ‘Such opposition on the part of Virginia’—this was his parting message to his countrymen—'to the acts of the general government must beget their enforcement by military power,' and this would produce 'civil war.' 'Let us trust God,' Henry declaimed, 'and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.'”

Henry won the election handily, and having proven his point, promptly died before he could be sworn in – vigilant, active, brave to the end.

That’s a tale you won’t often hear told by a latter-day Jeffersonian, but it’s a good one. The French Revolution induced a lot of honest men to question their assumptions anew. The intoxicant of revolution had acquired a Won’t Get Fooled Again edge to it rather quickly. The Jacobins had taken an ax not just to monarchy, but to religion and property as well. They had opened the gates of political hell, allowing all the powers of chaos free reign over the prostrate French nation.

Continue reading "What is a commercial republic?" »

March 30, 2012

As I was saying about child protective services

Our CPS horror story last time, about a year ago, that kicked off this post, was from Canada. Today's is about the United States: Pennsylvania, to be specific. (Cue liberal commentators: "That's just one side of the story. Maybe it didn't really happen that way." We'll take that as read and move on. I'm inclined to believe the circumstantially detailed version the HSLDA gives of the story. Remembering that the HSLDA, being a bunch of lawyers, is no doubt well aware that they themselves could be sued for libel if they are recklessly spreading a false story, especially since they name the social worker involved.)

What's so particularly frightening about this story is that a) the parents were near-helpless to avoid a situation in which they were put in the way of a power-ravenous social worker, who behaved in a wildly irresponsible manner and b) there was no way of predicting nor of preventing what happened; it came out of nowhere.

On point #1: The parents were trying to have the baby at home with a midwife, presumably partly in order to avoid the busy-bodying one sometimes encounters when having a baby in the hospital. But because the baby was coming early, the midwife "got the wind up," as the saying goes, and told them to go to the hospital quickly, and the baby was born in an ambulance. Short of flouting the midwife and having the husband deliver the baby at home (which heaven knows might have caused still more trouble had the Almighty State gotten wind of such a wilful and reckless decision), the parents didn't have much choice but to put themselves in the power of the medical establishment. Once in that power, they were on the conveyor belt. Or in the jaws of the beast. Whichever metaphor you prefer.

On point #2: The social worker, Angelica Lopez-Heagy, evidently became involved because of some sort of misunderstanding to the effect that the mother had refused a Vitamin K shot for the baby. (Lopez-Heagy tried initially to refuse to reveal the dreadful allegations against the parents, but they came out along the way.) Should a social worker be called in because parents refuse a Vitamin K shot? Isn't that absurd? Doesn't that make a mockery of the idea that parents can refuse? If some treatment is so incredibly important that refusal for your child means instant committal to the harassment of CPS, why not just give the Vitamin K shot without parental consent? The "consent" would end up being virtually meaningless anyway if parents were given full information. "Do you consent to my giving this shot to your baby? Oh, by the way, if you don't consent, I'm going to call CPS on you." In any event, the mother claims that she did not refuse the Vitamin K shot. Who knows how the misunderstanding arose. Did the father perhaps refuse it and forget in all the flurry of going back to the other children to tell the mother? Did the father or mother have some vague conversation with the nurses about their reasons for having wanted a home birth that gave them the impression that a Vitamin K shot was being refused? (Hostility from the medical personnel because of their attempted home birth, apparently based on the fact that the baby was born in the ambulance, seems to have been evident from the outset.) We'll probably never know.

Once Angelica Lopez-Heagy was involved, she was determined to harass the postpartum mother. I pause to ask: What sort of person acts this way towards an innocent mother who has just given birth and is alone and vulnerable? Only a wickedly self-righteous person who loves power and considers herself justified by the evident "badness" of the mother. One can only guess what caused Lopez-Heagy to be so hostile. Probably the dreadful report of medical neglect caused by the alleged refusal of the Vitamin K shot. Maybe she heard that they'd initially planned a home birth. Maybe she learned that they were home schoolers. And then, to make matters worse, the mother actually hesitated over consenting to a Hepatitis B shot and asked for further, specific reason for giving it to her child. Shocka! She's obviously an abuser!

So Lopez-Heagy tried to force the mother to sign a legal document, a "safety plan," which is another in social workers' bag of tricks for coercion over parents. The mother added to her crimes by refusing to sign it until she could consult her husband. Dreadful!

And that's when they took custody of the baby and threw the mother out of the hospital.

The balance of things was partially restored the next morning when a court officer returned custody of the newborn baby to the horribly harassed parents.

But I want to know where the redress is. I suggested in the post linked above that state congresses should create a cause of action for such cases to punish CPS for this sort of behavior. The HSLDA is bringing suit. But couldn't such suits be made easier by reference to explicit state law against unjustified harassment of parents by state or county officials? What if the state itself had a bureau that would receive such complaints and actually help you bring suit--perhaps file the suit for you and bear the costs in egregious cases? That might cause CPS to think twice. We do have such bureaus for discrimination suits. Sometimes they refuse a case and leave the individual to bring the suit on his own. But sometimes they take up the case.

I suppose HSLDA may be able to handle such a case better than any state bureau. But we all know that EEOCs are staffed by people thoroughly committed to their mission. Why couldn't a parental rights bureau be similarly staffed? I'm sure Patrick Henry College and Ave Maria Law School could provide them with some great job applicants!

The shrewd of eye will have noticed that the HSLDA is using this case as a fund-raising opportunity. It's unclear whether the parents were HSLDA members at the time that the outrage occurred, and it did not explicitly involve home schooling. So HSLDA is pointing out that it could use a little more $$ above and beyond member dues to help bring the suit.

This doesn't bother me. I would go so far as to suggest that you might want to contribute to HSLDA if you're looking for a hard-line right-wing organization that does good work to be a recipient of your donation dollars.

Angelica Lopez-Heagy should be made to pay dearly through the legal system for what she did. She and her agency should be assessed large damages including compensation for mental anguish caused to the parents.

Oh, and while we're at it: Angelica Lopez-Heagy had to call the police to take custody of the baby. Can't we get a little creative and dream up some state laws that would make that more difficult? Social workers shouldn't be able to use the police as their private army. (See Tony M.'s related post, here.) Police should be told that they are not droids. When a social worker yells, "Take that child into my custody!" police do not have to jump to obey. Let's find some way in state law to make that explicit.