Truth Over Facts

“We choose truth over facts!”  from a former Vice President Joe Biden campaign speech[i]

Mistakenly believed to be one of Joe Biden’s frequent verbal gaffes, his talking point is instructive and defines the reality of political life across the ideological spectrum: the narrative is all encompassing. The truth is what we say it is, and the facts be damned. Facts, particularly statistics, [ii]are leavened, kneaded, baked, and circulated to influence the social media mob and especially voters to push us to get off our recliners and out of our summer hammocks. Confusion thrives: what has suffered most is universal credibility. We do not believe much of what we see and hear. We strive to discern what to believe out of the onslaught of data and information that hits our screens and speakers every day. But more often, we filter what we read and hear through our “mythscape,” our accepted narrative, retain what fits it and reject what does not. We give that filtering a serious sounding name: “confirmation bias,” but attribute it as a shortcoming of others and never one of our own.

A project manager with two large apartment construction contracts going once emailed me[iii] on a Friday afternoon after an exceptionally outrageous week, “Would someone please throw a tent over this circus?” It stuck immediately as the motto of our group, and it seems to me suits our current situation.

“Would someone please throw a tent over this circus!”

George Weigel in his excellent 2018 book, “Fragility of Order,” comments on the historian Christopher Clark’s study of the origins of the First World War that in so many ways was not only the first act of the bloodiest century  of human history, but like all good plays, was what spawned so much of  what followed. “Christopher Clark usefully reminds us that, in seeking to understand how such a cataclysm could have begun, we must reckon with the fact that all the key actors in our story filtered the world through narratives that were built from pieces of experience glued together with fears, projections, and interests masquerading as maxims.” When we filter our new experience through our “mythscape,” we merely render social media debate farcical. However, when our leaders will not (or lack the ability to) put in the hard work, study, and introspection necessary to understand complex reality and then offer us their banal wisdom as predictable regurgitation of their narrative, disasters inevitably follow.

”Order, it has become clear, is a very fragile thing; and order is especially vulnerable under the cultural conditions of a postmodern world unsure about its grasp on the truth of anything.” George Weigel from the introduction to “The Fragility of Order.” Ignatius Press, 2018

We tend to hold our beliefs as binary: One predominant narrative without exception or the other. Is it not possible that reasoned arguments could be made, listening could be our first response, and the purpose of discussion is to put aside our embedded presuppositions and work mutually to discover some objective truth about these matters? Every issue seems to bleed over into rote political diatribes and expands quickly into all the contending issues.  We start out talking about racial injustice and within a sentence or two we are citing the talking points of Trumpism or anti-Trumpism, transgender pronouns and abortion. As an exercise, sticking to one subject means examining some of the assumptions of both common narratives regarding one complex emotional issue.    

The current frenzied muddle of destroyed statues, looted stores, brutally slain arrested men, sincere non-violent protestors, and pandering politicians wearing Ghanaian Kente ceremonial cloths is just the most recent version, albeit a poignant and troublesome one. Because it has become a circus, does not mean we just can wait it out until the next headline grabbing tragedy pushes it below the fold of the front page.

One narrative’s axiom is that the police are hunting and shooting black men, so the cops should be defunded and gutted with the money being redistributed to social programs. A common statistic cited is that a black man is 2.5 times more likely to be shot by a cop than a white one. Is that a valid reading of the numbers? On first look, black men comprise 6% of the population and are consistently year after year 23% to 25% of those killed by police while being arrested,[iv] so that makes sense. On a second look, black men account for 53% of the murder arrests in a year and 52% of robberies. [v]Most of those crimes are black on black. An in-depth Harvard Economics study in 2018 by Roland Fryer, found no evidence of racial trends in those killed by police once arrest statistics were factored in.[vi]

Perhaps what needs to be looked at is how the poverty and desperation and alienation of black men account for such a high percentage of violent crime. A major contributing factor is that over 72% of black children are raised in single family homes, up from 21% in 1960. [vii]While children in single family homes are up across all demographics, in black families, it is a catastrophic rise. Another study found that for every 10% increase in the rate of single parent households, there is a 17% rise in crime rates. Study after study shows the best environment for children regarding educational and career success as well as lower incarceration rates and almost all other indices is a household with both a father and a mother. Not even close. A single mother is five times more likely to wind up below the poverty line than one with a spouse.

As we redistribute funds from police services to social programs, we must try to anticipate the unintended consequences of those programs.[viii] After Lyndon Johnson’s poverty and welfare programs became institutionalized with their “no man in the house” rule as a qualifier to  receive aid, the single-family rate among the poor in general and especially in black families soared.   Great care must be taken in designing salvation from the government, and most of all with programs that have a hidden agenda to secure votes.[ix]

Surveys also show most law-abiding black citizens with high violent crime rates in their neighborhoods do not want to see a lowered police presence.[x] When terrorists with semi-automatic weapons start killing dozens in night clubs in Miami or country concerts in Las Vegas or someone is cruising our streets murdering our neighbors in drive-by shootings, do we really want the best option to be sending in the community organizers?

“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” –- Helen Keller  

 Now fairness demands an examination of one of the alternative narrative’s truisms: that there is no evidence of systemic racism and unjustified excessive police force employed against minorities.  The same Harvard study that finds no racial trends in those killed by police shows remarkable racial tendencies in the use of force, excessive or otherwise, during confrontations with police. So, shootings, no correlation, which is not surprising when we realize that those decisions are made in fractions of a second as a response to a perceived threat. But there is a full 50% increased chance of force being used by police against minorities than against white suspects. Is this due to minorities offering resistance or seeking confrontation? The study found that among those who remain compliant during police interactions, there is a 21% greater risk of force being used against minorities. Black men are not being unreasonable when they are wary about any interaction with police.  Whether that is evidence of rogue cops that are not culled from the troop due to over-protective unions or timid supervisors or whether it is evidence of systemic racism is not addressed by the study, but the statistics are clear.

When we consider that some of the most egregious recent examples of deaths of black men caused by police are not shootings, but arrests gone bad, the propensity for police using force with minorities gives us great cause for concern. George Floyd was killed when a cop knelt on his neck and throttled his breathing for eight and a half minutes. Eric Garner died in a police choke hold in NYC in 2014. Nor are white men exempt from excessive force. Joseph Hutchinson was killed when a Dallas County sheriff’s deputy knelt on his neck, cutting off his breath after he acted erratically in a police station. The rules need to change on proper use of force in every department and police officers with disciplinary actions against them for excessive force need to find another job or go to jail. Some things are one and out.

For those of us sheltered from the black experience, several recent articles call out an inherent bias built into our assumptions if we are not black, no matter how innocent we judge ourselves to be of it. A black Catholic priest tells of being in a grocery store in his ‘civvies’ without his collar and being followed around by security, and that this was not a unique experience for him. A black off duty policeman out of uniform tells of being pulled over by other police several times when he was driving through a white neighborhood and breaking no traffic laws.

The most moving was an enlightening article explaining what is meant by white privilege by a professional young black writer chronicling  her experiences growing up and in school at UCLA and Harvard.[xi] She relates in detail the incidents that are most illustrative, then ends each with a quote to tie them together. Below are a few of those quotes. I cannot do the article’s detail justice; please take the time to read it. White privilege was something I told myself was exaggerated. I was wrong.

  • if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it,” you have white privilege.
  • if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, you have white privilege.
  • if you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.

A personal anecdote causes me no small embarrassment. Recently I was waiting at a busy discount gas outlet. The lines were long. Two ahead of me was a sparkling luxury car worth five times more than any auto I have ever owned. The line was held up as the fueling of the sedan was taking a long time, and I was growing increasingly impatient. I could not see the person pumping gas. When it was full, the owner moved to return the hose to the pump, and the driver was a younger black guy.  I was resentful of the wait and of the luxury car owner. Was my first thought that he was a partner in a law firm or managed a portion of a hedge fund or owned a real estate development company or was a cardiac surgeon? No. My first thought was wondering if he played for the Patriots or the Red Sox, and if I recognized him. My assumption was not what it may have been had he been a young white guy holding up the line.

I congratulate myself that I’ve never worn a white sheet and pointy hat; I’ve never knowingly discriminated against anyone in the workplace or socially because of race; I’ve demonstrated for civil rights: I am superior to those that do espouse such ignorant and mean spirited beliefs, right? But am I free of innate prejudice buried deep? I think not. I have more listening to do. A lot more listening to do.

“Gradually it was disclosed to me the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. . . . And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn


[i] Jolting Joe and his Freudian slip.

[ii] Mark Twain: “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”

[iii] For younger readers, emailing was what we did last century instead of texting or posting pictures on Instagram.

[iv] See Washington Post comprehensive compilation of all police caused deaths. I put the listing into a spreadsheet to make it easier to analyze with a Pivot Table.  Every name, every weapon they carried, if any, how they died and their race. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/

[v] Here is a link to the FBI tracking of crime rates for various offenses by race. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/crime-in-the-u.s.-2018/topic-pages/tables/table-43 Consistent percentages within a narrow range since 2015. The latest complete one is 2018, which I also put into a spreadsheet to do some analysis. I’ll email those downloaded spreadsheets with the totals to  anyone who  wants them.

[vi] Here is the abstract from the Harvard study: This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On nonlethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than 50 percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force—officer-involved shootings—we find no racial differences either in the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of whom have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.

The full report can be found easily on line in PDF form at this link: https://www.nber.org/papers/w24238

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African-American_family_structure

[viii] When Rita was working as a student nurse at the old inner city Boston City Hospital, the head nurse on her floor with thirty years’ experience was discussing the new Johnson Aid to  Families with Dependent Children war on poverty welfare program with its ‘no man in the house’ restriction on which families could collect. She presciently told Rita that it would be the ruination of the black family. Truer words, etc.

[ix] https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/lbj-voting-democratic/

[x] https://www.wsj.com/articles/america-has-a-silent-black-majority-11592348214

[xi] https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2017/09/08/my-white-friend-asked-me-on-facebook-to-explain-white-privilege-i-decided-to-be-honest/

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Dueling Populisms

“What do I mean by “democratic capitalism”? I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism [i]

We rightly have been obsessed with COVID 19 to the exclusion of almost all other topics, but there are other viruses which infect our blood and brains, some of which may have more lasting ramifications.

In a podcast[ii] with Dr. Arthur Brooks, who was featured in a past post here[iii], journalist Jay Nordlinger discussed with him a research paper published out of the University of Berlin. Well referenced, it concluded that financial crises precipitate populist movements of all stripes, but mostly of the radical left. Populism does not inevitably lead to tyranny, but when it does, it is horrific from the National Socialists of the Third Reich and Stalinist slaughters to the “Liberte, egalite, fraternite” gory excesses in France in the late eighteenth century. Dr. Brooks quipped that they sometimes go “real Frenchy” when the economic and political leaders who were once envied and imitated end up in the tumbrils on a public ride to a sharp end dispossessing them of their heads.

The financial crisis does not have to be as dire as that which afflicted the French peasantry[iv] prior to setting up the guillotines. A collapse of the housing and mortgage markets in 2008 and a decade or so of wage stagnation, shrunken opportunity, burdensome personal debt and high unemployment led to the much less bloody “Make America Great” Trump phenomenon and “Feel the Bern” Social Democracy movement here and their analogous movements in many Western countries. Dueling populisms[v], rooted in the fertile soil of discontent, are both feeding on a gnawing sense of helplessness, fear, and a sense that injustice is being done. Both propose solutions that are incompatible with one another[vi], and both perceive the other to be their mortal enemy. For both, most of their proponents believe most sincerely that they offer relief to the oppressed and the best opportunity to right the wrongs in the culture.

We find it difficult even settling on the meanings of the terms we use to describe our disagreements.  Nor do we help ourselves when all sides use the same hackneyed phrases and accusations in social media posts to describe their opponents. [vii] How do we begin to rebuild the trust necessary to hack away the thorny briars with our brush hooks[viii] and clear the path forward?

“The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’ The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.”  George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.” (First published: Horizon. — GB, London. — April 1946.) [ix]

Nearing the fifth month of the unprecedented and politically completely unpredictable COVID 19 financial crisis, the question is what form will the next or prevailing populism take? Have our dueling populisms changed through all of this? Have they distilled and hardened? After a hiatus of a quarter or two, or year or two, will the domestic economy resume its decade long period of relative economic improvement? Will we absorb over 100,000 deaths, keep ourselves angry and entertained with futile social media political posts and continue our untidy path to the unknown? Or has there been a tectonic shift that will not resolve without more earthquakes?

That is the unanswerable question, not whether the Trump administration or the Cuomo administration in NY succeeded or failed in managing the pandemic. Swedish model? Florida model? New York model? Hard lessons we must learn, but not the most important ones. COVID 19 will slow down, perhaps recur periodically like the flu or SARS on cruise ships. But inevitably, another crisis of greater or lesser moment will eventually overtake us. How long will we remain in our trenches lobbing mortar shells at each other and calling each other “Fascists?” And what will our new reality look like when we emerge through the smoke and stink into the light and charge over the top of the trenches?

“The future meant nothing to me until it stuck.”  John le Carré, “Legacy of Spies”

[i] The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, by Michael Novak, 1982, Simon & Schuster

[ii] Podcast on Ricochet with Jay Nordlinger and Dr. Arthur Brooks. https://ricochet.com/podcast/q-and-a/the-essential-arthur-brooks/

[iii] ‘Lead Kindly Light’ in a Culture of Contempt

[iv] The French peasants of 1785 spent 90% of their income on just bread to keep their families just above starvation. Their queen’s famous (and perhaps apocryphal) response when told her people had no bread was “Let them eat cake.” Not without sympathy, perhaps she thought the lack of bread was due to bad bakery inventory control.

[v] Clear description comparing the two populisms: Dueling Populisms, Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

[vi] Probably nowhere else is the conflict between these movements so stark and irreconcilable as with abortion. One side view it as a necessary component of the reproductive rights of women to end the life of their child for their own necessary benefit: physical health, psychologically, emotionally, economically or socially. The other side sees the intrinsic evil of taking the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable of human beings. Irreconcilable and impossible to compromise those different understandings of the same act.  The child either lives or doesn’t. Solomon settled that one centuries ago.

[vii] As fellow social media posters, can we resolve to never use the following words, which no longer have any coherent meaning: Fascist, moron, despicable, fool… Please feel free to add your own contribution to this list.

[viii] Brush hooks are  much better tools  than chainsaws for briars. Brush Hooks and Plumb Bobs

[ix] “Politics and the English Language.”

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Divers and Dabblers

Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.”  Lewis Thomas

Red-breasted Merganser, All About Birds, Macaulay Library, Cornell University. Ian Davies

Two types of ducks occur: divers and dabblers. The dabblers, compensating for their undignified manner of feeding, oftentimes have plumage more colorfully adorned, at least the males. With their tails up in the air exposed to the world and their heads and upper body submerged, their short legs scramble ceaselessly to maintain their awkward situation while they pick away in the summer and breeding time at insects, larvae, small crabs, worms and the like, often turning up rocks at the bottom of their shallow feeding grounds to dig out their supper. In the winter, dabblers seek the seeds of aquatic plants, feeding in a peculiar surface nibbling[i]. Mallards, and various teals, widgeons and shovelers are among these beautiful, but humble, ducks. Strong flyers and vocal, and because they usually inhabit shallow calm waters, they may be more familiar to us.[ii] Friendly, social ducks, but don’t feed them with your stale bread which stuffs them, leads to dependence on an inconsistent source and provides few of the nutrients they really need.

Divers are a different matter, and fishermen are all too familiar with their skills and appetite.[iii] I have met avid fishermen in Maine who delighted in hunting mergansers in (and sometimes out of) season to reduce their numbers, shooting them in the air or on the water. Too many mergansers, which each eat 15 to 20 fish a day,[iv] are devastating to freshwater game fish populations in some Maine lakes; they more than decimate young bass and lake trout.  Loons, another aquatic diving bird with a similar avian profile, are also voracious feeders, but are protected: shoot them and go to jail. To gain some perspective, wildlife studies estimate that a pair of nesting loons with two chicks in the fifteen weeks of breeding season will consume a half a ton of fish. Loons are prehistoric animals that thankfully still inhabit our world; they lend credence to the theory that birds are descended from dinosaurs. Like diving ducks, they are sometimes found in salt water as well. Diver names are poetic: Red-breasted merganser, canvasback, bufflehead, surf scoter and common eider[v]. Some small ones like the bufflehead nest in the abandoned nests of woodpeckers and can move into your birdhouses. Each species diverged slightly over centuries as circumstances and their genes led them to become unique wonders.

At the risk of anthropomorphic duckery like Donald or Daffy, we can reflect on some human analogy. Are we dabblers or divers? Hunters or gatherers? Perhaps we are both, and our predilections vary according to our personality, our moods and our interests. Diving in some matters and dabbling in others. That is worth some consideration, a self-examination of where we would be better off dabbling and where we need to dive deeper. Are there suspicious creepy crawlers under the rocks in shallow waters that we should avoid turning up whilst we dabble?

 “The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.” Lewis Thomas, “The Lives of a Cell”

White tail deer at Sachuest Point

In the rough waves that encircle Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge, we frequently spot surf riding diving ducks: surf scoters, eiders (also called St. Cuthbert’s duck), red-breasted mergansers, black ducks, harlequins in one of their rare East Coast wintering sites and the occasional loon. A herd of fifty or so white tail deer also permanently inhabit the hilly fields of the point, not quite tame, but not as shy as their unprotected relatives a bit inland. The slow and weak are eaten by coyotes but have no fear of human hunters. I’ve come within fifteen feet of them as they browse in late afternoon. The waterfowl too are immune to human shooters on the wildlife refuge, but the smaller ones live in peril of the large raptors that soar, sail on the winds and hunt. Overwintering snowy owls have been spotted plucking a full-grown unwary scoter out of the water and carrying it back to a field nest or a rock for a leisurely meal. No snowy owl made an appearance this year. The white haunting creature attracts a cadre of two dozen camera laden followers, some coming from hundreds of miles away to take that elusive perfect shot they can sell to the magazines. Too warm this winter, and the snowy owl mercifully stayed north, so we regular hikers of the trails can find a parking spot.

This year the main attraction was the almost as spectacular Northern harrier with her 40” wingspan. She hunts low, frequently gliding ten or so feet above the field looking for small rabbits, voles and mice. Short eared owls show up as well and attract some photographic attention, but the beautiful, smaller and common red-tail hawk remains much higher, mostly unmolested by photo snapping enthusiasts.

Our walk around the point is always restorative and always new after hundreds of repetitions, new with the many moods and seasons of ocean and fields. The three miles of trails are occasionally crowded (we pass ten or fifteen people along the way); many times, though, we’ll see only a few or in cold winds sometimes none. We dabble with everyone, almost universally pleasant and friendly. I am reminded of E.B. White’s memorable eighteen inches of both connection and separation in his classic “Here is New York” [vi]essay. Occasionally unbidden will come an instant of connection as we pass along the trail. We dive unexpectedly into their lives with authentic snippets of the overheard unguarded conversation of strangers, and our imaginations fill in the blanks. Our lives intersect for a passing moment.

  • I saw the harlequin and got my shots. Been looking for weeks for a clear photo for my mother.
  • They still have to dislocate my hip of course, and that will be difficult.
  • I think they are sending me to New York for a project. I’ll be gone a while.
  • I’m not expecting him to change, really, that’s probably impossible. But I do need an acknowledgement.

We dabble and we dive through our time here, and like the ducks we do the best we can to avoid the predators, raise our young and teach them our ways. We teach them to pay attention to the lives that we encounter along our way: to dabble pleasantly, to proffer friendship to all, and occasionally to dive deeply, risking our eighteen inches of separation when we hear the soft cry of loneliness or hurt or confusion. Knowing that often we will be inadequate with our own resources to heal or make whole, we try anyway as best we can.

“It is in our genes to understand the universe if we can, to keep trying if we cannot, and to be enchanted by the act of learning all the way.”  Lewis Thomas.


[i] From the Beauty of Birds website.

[ii] Dabbler ducks feeding

[iii] Diving ducks feeding

[iv] Red-breasted merganser (also called sawbills) from All About Birds, Ian Davies, Macaulay Library, Cornell University

[v] Common eider, from All About Birds

[vi] Here is New York” E.B. White

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Sufficient Wisdom

“It takes a husbandman with spade and hoe

To teach the learned, who profess to know…”

       from the poem “Sufficient Wisdom” in the eponymous book of poems by Father Arthur MacGillivray S.J., 1943, Bruce Humphries, Inc., Boston

 

Robert Frost and Father MacGillivray on right

Someone once told me that part of all of us remains nineteen for the rest of our lives, which I think is true. For many in my generation, that time of greatest disillusionment and the shock of early adulthood occurred in 1968 in the terrible three months of the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. For other unfortunates, the amber in which they stuck like fossils was the “summer of love” and Woodstock in 1969. For me, at only seventeen years old, it was 1963 outside the book depository in Dallas[i], and my freshman year at Boston College. On the afternoon of the assassination after the university cancelled all the classes, we drifted in the streets of an almost silent Boston, stunned like everyone else. Small eclectic groups of neighbors and strangers gathered around car radios or televisions in homes, bars and shop windows following the events in disbelief.

There are much happier memories though of that year after high school. Father MacGillivray with whom I studied for my first two semesters is one of them[ii]. I was recently reminded of him through a conversation with my brothers about E.B. White, author of beloved children’s books like “Charlotte’s Weband “Stuart Little,” and one of the most accomplished essayists of the American mid twentieth century. We studied White with Father MacGillivray, especially his “Elements of Style” and an extensive analysis of his definitive long essay about the Big Apple, “Here is New York[iii].” To say he opened worlds and gifted us with an irreplaceable formation previously unimagined would be a woeful understatement.

Before we started, we were assigned a freshmen summer reading list, including Thomas Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain,” James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace.” There was a fourth book, I think, which eludes me.

He was somewhat dramatic with a trained theatrical voice he would employ to great effect doing readings of plays, essays and poetry. On winter mornings, he would sweep around campus in a red lined black cloak greeting all with an ironic smile, sparkling eyes and a friendly nod. We read and analyzed in some depth Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven,” which we memorized and recited. I still remember parts of it. “I fled Him down the nights and days; I fled Him down the arches of the years: I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter…” .

We studied among many works “Macbeth,” Robert Frost’s “Death of the Hired Man” and the “Road Not Taken.”  We spent almost a month on T.S. Eliot’s[iv] “The Hollow Men,” “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock,” “Ash Wednesday” and finally “The Wasteland,” many of the allusions in which were wasted on me.

“He seemed to know that all the choicest fruits

Mature by early tugging at the roots,

That once the earth is clear of stick and stone,

‘Tis wisdom to leave well enough alone.” 

          from the poem “Sufficient Wisdom” as above.

 

After a series of emails with my brothers and sister, I grew curious and regretted not having done research earlier. Father MacGillivray had published his own poems in 1943 in his book “Sufficient Wisdom,”  which he never mentioned to us. I learned he had exchanged letters with Eliot and knew Robert Frost well from a series of lectures Frost delivered at the college, facts also previously unknown to me. I found a picture (shown above) of him with Mr. Frost cutting an 82nd birthday cake, which was Frost’s last. The Boston College archives has a book left to it in 2000, when Father MacGillivray died: a first edition of Frost’s inscribed to him and with some lines in Robert Frost’s own blocky hand printing. At first the book generated great excitement, as it was thought the short stanza was an unpublished Frost poem, however it turned out to have been from his earlier work, “Kitty Hawk”:

 

“But God’s own descent

Into flesh was meant

As a demonstration

That the supreme merit

Lay in risking spirit

In substantiation.”

 

Father MacGillivray’s own book was long out of print, but I was able to locate a used copy, which I promptly bought for $12.50, through Abe Books in a small bookstore in Ohio. In wonderful condition with the original dust cover, a first (and probably only) edition, it found its way to Ohio from the library of Admiral Richard Byrd to whom it was inscribed by the author. He met the famous explorer  and Medal  of Honor winner on a train trip to Connecticut in 1956 six months before Byrd’s own death in March of 1957. The inscription in Father MacGillivray’s strong cursive was on the inside flyleaf: “For Admiral Richard E. Byrd with grateful remembrance of our train-meeting on your way to Bridgeport – October 19, 1956, Fr. Arthur MacGillivray, S.J.”  I fantasize a brilliant serendipitous conversation between the two, wiling away the monotony of a three-hour train ride.

 

His poems are full of tree and farming metaphors, of seasons and weather and nature’s gratuitous order and beauty. I will persist as time allows to learn why. I marveled at some of them, harkening back vivid memories five decades old. Father M was a miner of minds. He cunningly and carefully placed his charges and detonated them with perfect timing. When the noise quieted and the dust cleared, he exposed clean veins of insight in the ego encrusted bedrock of our seventeen-year-old selves. Veins that have yet to be exhausted.

A small treasure of a book that I never knew existed. Makes 2020 already a good year.

 

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

–Thomas Merton

 

[i] I once wrote a blog post on the Kennedy assassination. November 23, 1963, if you have interest. The same day was also the date of the deaths within hours of Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis. That coincidence was the subject of a book I enjoyed by Dr. Peter Kreeft, who is a longtime professor of philosophy at Boston College: Between Heaven and Hell, A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death. Here’s a link: https://www.amazon.com/Between-Heaven-Hell-Somewhere-Kennedy-ebook/

[ii] The English Literature course with Father M was three of the eighteen credits that were considered full time. For me in addition were a lab biology intensive (my initial major), French, Old Testament theology, Logic as a prelude to Epistemology and Pre-calculus/calculus.

[iii] https://www.amazon.com/Here-New-York-B-White-ebook/

[iv] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/t-s-eliot

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Pharming for Profit Part Three

“First you make people believe they have a problem, and then you sell them the solution. That’s how advertising works. Every snake oil salesman knows that.” Oliver Markus Malloy, Bad Choices Make Good Stories – Finding Happiness in Los Angeles[i]

In 1951 Margaret Sanger had a dream and met her willing partner Dr. Gregory Pincus. They solicited funding from some of the biggest foundations in the world by riding the perfect wave driven by three powerful winds: the large group of  post WWII women in the workforce who wanted to pursue careers, the feverish concern of an  influential lobby about population growth and eugenics [ii](to rid the world of less than perfect people and undesirable breeders – minorities and the disabled). The Rockefellers, Ford Foundation, Shell Oil and others signed on; Sanger and Pincus had the money to build their wagon.

Fortunately for the entrepreneurial Pincus, the Federal Drug Administration of the late fifties was an underfunded paper tiger.[iii] When Pincus had his prototype, they needed some testing. One of their enabling funders, Katharine McCormick, International Harvester heiress, wrote to Sanger at the time that they needed a “cage of ovulating females to experiment with.” Sanger wrote back that they had their cage amongst the poorest of the poor in Puerto Rico: uninformed and exploited guinea pigs for a dangerous drug. They tested their new wonder drug on 132 unsuspecting women in Puerto Rico in 1956 who were not told they were part of a test, just that this magic would help them to not have children.  Five of these women died and were buried hastily without an autopsy. As a result of their very limited testing they got their miracle pill Enovid a quick approval just before the thalidomide controversy erupted. A drug that has grown to millions of users and billions in sales that is taken by some daily for decades and may take 8 to 12 years for side effects to show up was tested for twelve months on 132 subjects with negative results ignored or minimized to the regulators. With millions of users currently taking the Pill, more than 132 die each year from blood clot induced stroke and heart attacks

By the time the many years of the Nelson hearings in the Senate started in 1967 that exposed the dangers of the Pill, the suppression of evidence, smearing attacks on those presenting it and a tsunami of cultural influences from the so called Sexual Revolution made arresting the growth of its use impossible. But wait, of course, the modern pill has a lower content of the synthetic estrogen that affects almost every biological system in the human body, right? True enough, and Bayer the manufacturer of the most widely used versions of the Pill, Yaz and Yazmin, has settled over 18,000 lawsuits for over $2 billion for blood clotting incidents for Yaz, some of them fatal.[iv]

“This is the first time in medicine’s history the drug industry has placed at our disposal a powerful, disease-producing chemical for use in the healthy rather than the sick.” Dr. Herbert Ratner, Senate “Nelson Pill Hearings,” 1970

Big Pharma’s spin machine has never been more effective than in covering their trail (and posterior anatomy) concerning the dangers of the Pill. Their political and media allies, the deep pockets of Planned Parenthood and their bedfellows in the medical profession (who have a vested interest in their own backsides) all work in harmony to keep this under many wraps.  This is far too limited a venue for any comprehensive expose of the proven health risks, so I recommend if you have interest (are a women or love a woman who may be taking this stuff) that you read investigative reporter Mike Gaskins’ excellent book published last year, “In The Name of The Pill.”[v] If you have interest in the cultural impact of the Pill, a brilliant resource was written by Mary Eberstadt[vi], “Adam and Eve after the Pill.”

Since estrogen is a powerful hormone that affects virtually very function and system in the body, it is not a surprise that a wide variety of potential side effects exist. Many of them are debilitating or life threatening.  A brief bullet point list may give you pause based on many studies published in Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet and other prestigious medical publications:

  • Estrogen based oral contraceptives are listed as a Group 1 (definite) carcinogen by the World Health Organization.[vii] Especially breast cancer.
  • Known in many studies to:[viii]
    • Increase the risk of thrombosis (blood clots that cause strokes, heart attacks and death).
    • Higher risk of diabetes and arterial sclerosis.
    • Higher risk of lupus and other autoimmune diseases.
    • Increased migraines.
    • Increased risk of genetic damage.
    • Risk of permanent infertility. The lining of the uterus ages at almost twice the rate of non-pill users and changes occur in the cervix as well. Not to count the sterilizing effects of STD’s, which unsurprisingly have exploded since the advent of the Pill.
    • Increased risk of multiple sclerosis.
    • Increased risk of Crohn’s disease.
    • Higher incidence of depression along with a decrease in libido and a higher suicide rate.

This toxicity is handed out to single women, teenagers, married women and anybody who walks through the door to maintain career paths, limit or prevent childbearing and even to treat premenstrual cramping and acne. The Pill is prescribed to kids with or without notice to or the agreement of parents because as a sacrament of progressive ideology, they can be prescribed without telling or even over the objection of parents. Some parents, of course, fear an unplanned pregnancy that could short circuit their aspiring scholar’s career path and seek these chemicals for their children. How many are aware of the risks?  However, a teenager can get this stuff almost as readily as they get a package of Skittles at the pharmacy.

Possibly the best is yet to come and has already shown its effects on the water supply. Millions of women taking the Pill urinate into wastewater, and the minuteness of the passed through unmetabolized estrogen molecules bypasses filters in older treatment plants and gets into the aquifer, streams and rivers. Fish fertility[ix] and human male sperm count has been drastically altered as a result of higher levels of synthetic estrogen in our water. One study showed human male sperm count has dropped by half since 1973 and the wide use of the pill. Synthetic estrogen as found in the pill has been shown to make profound biological changes at levels 50 to 100 times less than natural estrogen. These are extraordinarily powerful chemicals.

Please before I get angry emails and comments, I invite you to do your own research, get the documents from the Nelson hearings, or read some books on the subject. The perfect multiple partnership of the profits of drug companies, the medical professionals who receive perks from big pharma and keep their patients contented with magic pills, the ideology of woman’s rights and even the environmental advocates of population control all conspire against the real health of women. And men.

“You cannot long knock any natural system out of balance without doing some harm – whether it shows up immediately or years later. Furthermore, many of these pill-caused metabolic disturbances are progressive. The longer a woman stays on the pill, the more her laboratory tests are altered.” From Barbara Seamans – Nelson hearings.

[i] Picture is from the Cincinnati Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore,” (Potion of love) Wild West interpretation.

[ii] Read older posts from this blog, Maggie 1 and Maggie 2 about Margaret Sanger. Or read Angela Frank’s terrific biography of the “hero of Planned Parenthood”: Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy

[iii] This changed in the early sixties when the thalidomide disaster that swept Europe and to a much lesser degree in the United States precipitated a vastly more robust agency. Only the heroics of Dr. Frances Kelsey at the old FDA prevented the American approval of the morning sickness prevention drug that caused thousands of birth defects and babies without arms and legs. She was slandered repeatedly by the drug industry and their political allies for refusing to sign off on thalidomide.

[iv] See: https://www.drugwatch.com/yaz/settlements/

[v] In The Name of The Pill, 2019, Mike Gaskins

[vi] Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, Mary Eberstadt, Ignatius Press, 2012

[vii] https://althealthworks.com/13353/26-carcinogens-according-to-the-world-health-organization-you-need-to-know-aboutyelena/

[viii] Aware of Mark Twain’s precautionary remark that “there are lies, damn lies and statistics,” I’ll point out the typical defense of the spin masters. While those with concerns will state accurately that the risk for clot induced stroke and heart attack is doubled in women taking the Pill, defenders will state that double the risk really means increasing the incidence from 1 in 10,000 to 2-4 per 10,000, which is also true. How do we interpret such radically opposed presentation of the same facts? How about this? With thirteen million Pill users just in the U.S. that tiny increase in risk translates to an additional 3,900 women a year stricken. 3,900 mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters and sisters. Acceptable risk? Sure, no medication is without risk they’ll tell us. Unless, perhaps, you know and love one of them.

[ix] One USGS survey in the Shenandoah found 20% of male fish growing eggs in their testes and much evidence with the feminization of the male and a radical male and female imbalance, threatening to wipe out whole species in some local environs.

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Privacy

“If you read someone else’s diary, you get what you deserve.”  David Sedaris

At the end of the year, the good folks at Alphabet kindly shared my Google history for 2019 with me, and Google Maps sent me the link to every place I had been.[i] In detail. I drill down and follow a walk around the wildlife refuge or a ride to Dummer’s Beach Campground in Maine practically minute by minute with every stop, lingering moment or digression along the way. The good folks at Amazon Kindle showed me how to access my reading history on any of their devices or apps. Page turns, how long I typically hung out on a page or a paragraph, what caught my attention or sent me off on a related search; the words I looked up, and those I didn’t. Google let me know every place I had been while sitting in my home and touring the web. They obligingly tell me exactly how to delete my browsing or reading or traveling history, so I will not be able to find it. Reassuring as that may seem to me, they will have not lost the trail. Our ubiquitous Smart TVs, wired homes, food processors, refrigerators, autos, Alexa genies, Facebook likes and dislikes help accrue our unique data trail that is dogged as if with trained bloodhounds which pick up scents in parts per million with exponentially more sensitive noses than mere human ones. The tracker hounds scour the hints with their autodidact algorithms, digging, digging, sniffing, finding.

The so helpful convenience of an always on phone gathers it all: should we want directions, or an elusive half remembered factoid, or something to eat; they will store every scrap, then load it all up into massive redundant servers in remote locations, protected like nuclear waste sites waiting for inevitable leaks. Along with everyone else’s trails: your movements, internet searches, left or right clicks, intentional or not, where you spent extra time, what you read, what branches of knowledge or information you explored, products you bought or considered, texts and emails saved and deleted, hopes, dreams, fantasies, curiosities. Everything. Every moment. Wherever you were or hoped to be. How many times do we need to mention something in a personal email or click over briefly to a link in futile hope of secrecy, then be inundated for days with related ads or invitations before we grasp this?  

What was once reserved for an omniscient Being, now is in megabytes and relentlessly analyzed, mined, sold and exploited for gain by a constantly evolving, learning, metastasizing artificial intelligence with almost limitless resources. Omniscience as merchandise. All to benefit us, to convenience us, to keep us in the loop, to “customize our experience.”

Privacy is myth if you are or ever have been connected. And who hasn’t?  The horse has fled as if from a fire, the barn door is not just open but missing – gone, a void.

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” Louis Brandeis (dissent in Olmstead vs U.S., 1928)

But what is privacy exactly? Everyone has their own translation. Privacy can mean freedom from restraint, license to do what we want to do free from scrutiny. Privacy has been construed in a wide range: from polite decorum and merely keeping private conversations closed off from the eager ears of gossips to graphic and addictive pornography accessible to young people or even to subverting the law such as those that once attempted to regulate abortion.[ii]

While we hold privacy dear and most dear for ourselves, we take hidden pleasure in the exposure of the titillating shame of others, especially disgraced heroes or enemies. Think Jeffrey Epstein. Few of us are truly unburdened from schadenfreude[iii]. Privacy as a shield to do what is shameful or privacy ripped away as a weapon to destroy another person’s reputation. Clearly the privacy we all desire is not always welcome when contemplating the juicy embarrassment of another.

Is the cloak of privacy or its loss a simple thing? Perhaps not. Can conscience be muted with privacy indulged too long? Perhaps so. We need to take great care in the shadows.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice. (She was so much surprised, that for the moment, she quite forgot how to speak English).”               Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass


[i] No doubt at the behest of Alphabet’s army of lawyers to cover their backsides of liability for selling oceans of data collected on their customers for large profits. It is possible to shut off such tracking, but how can one ever truly determine that? There are many articles on this. Here’s just one: https://www.businessinsider.com/what-does-google-know-about-me-search-history-delete-2019-10

[ii] In the much debated Roe V Wade decision and its successors that prohibited any state law restricting abortion for any reason or no reason, the basis of the decision was a ‘right to privacy’ not found explicitly in the Constitution, but relying mostly on prior decisions such as Griswold V State of Connecticut.  In Griswold, Justice Douglas “discovered” (some would say created out of whole cloth) a right to privacy based on ‘penumbras’ (from the Latin paene umbra, meaning “almost a shadow”) and ‘emanations’ of other explicitly delineated constitutional rights. A reliance on such a dubious contrivance, previously undiscovered in 176 years of jurisprudence, allows almost anything. Judicial activism in service of an ideology at its most blatant.

[iii] Schadenfreude is the terrific German word for taking joy from the suffering of our enemies.

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‘Lead Kindly Light’ In a Culture of Contempt

“Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.” St. John Henry Newman

Two of the most effective couple’s therapists in the country have saved thousands of marriages in their careers. They watch new clients most carefully for signs. One as it turns out is the most troubling to them. Observed as one spouse talks about the other, divorce is reliably predicted within a year or two if not healed, if not forgiven. Not screaming or arms crossed silence, not tears or obscenity, but derisive eye rolling is the sign of the most significant damage.

Dr. John Gottman and his wife Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman have been in the forefront of studies and counseling for couples for decades. Cofounders of The Gottman Institute, they have created “The Art and Science of Love” weekend workshops for couples and have written bestselling books on the subject, including “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” and “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.” Dr. Gottman was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century.

They have written much on the four signs of trouble that must be remedied [i]in a relationship: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. The most destructive of these is contempt with eye rolling its signature. Contempt is a deadly habit in any relationship and the most dreadful communication threshold to cross. Once crossed, it is most difficult to cross back. Memories and pain are soul deep when our very humanity has been violated, when the basic dignity and respect due to us as human beings has been nullified by the person we ought most be able to trust and to whom we have made ourselves most vulnerable and intimate. Our humanity and personhood have been denied. Contempt is chilly disgust, not hot anger. At least with anger, there is emotion and a sense of importance to the argument. With contempt, even the ashes grow cold.

“Teach not thy lip such scorn, for it was made for kissing, lady, not for contempt.” Richard III, William Shakespeare

Gustave Dore illustration for Dante’s Inferno

Dante in his “Inferno” depicts not fire at the deepest level of Hell, but ice, and the immensely powerful Satan frozen in it. Just as contempt signals the death of a marriage, contempt in our public discourse and relationships signals a death as well. A visit to Facebook or other social media makes it apparent that political enemies rarely engage in debate, civil or otherwise. The opposition from either side of the divide does not hate those with whom they disagree; they de-humanize them; they despise them. They are not wrong or ill-informed or capable of learning or worthy of an attempt to teach them; they are stupid and evil: “morons” or “Nazis” with no room for discussion. And it is ripping us and our culture apart.

In Dr. Robert George’s book, “Conscience and Its Enemies[ii]  he describes three pillars of any decent society:

  • Respect for the human person – the individual human being and his dignity.
  • Institution of the family, indispensable for modeling, teaching and training decent behavior.
  • A fair and effective system of law and government.[iii]

The most fundamental of these is respect for the human person. Absent that, neither the family nor government on its own can make up the forfeited ground. Once respect and regard for one another is lost, the great divide and breakdown of the culture are inevitable. As Dr. George wrote, “When liberal democratic regimes go awry, it is often because a utilitarian ethic reduces the human person to a means rather than an end to which other things, including the systems and institutions of the law, education and the economy, are means.” Disdain for one another expressed publicly reduces those with whom we disagree to dehumanized objects of that contempt. Our political divide so often lamented is a trailing indicator.

A paper in 2019 entitled “Lethal Mass Partisanship” and reported in the New York Times found that 42% of people in both parties view the opposition as “downright evil” and 20% in both parties believe the opposition members “lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals.” 20% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans think on occasion that the country “would be better off if large numbers of the opposition died.” Finally, “What if the opposing party won the 2020 election. How much do you feel violence would be justified then?” 18.3% of Democrats and 13.8% of Republicans said “violence would be justified on a scale from “a little to a lot.” Clearly this is not a passing social media trend.

We hear often about a lack of civility in our debates. Mere civility is too feeble a contraption by a wide gap — timid and insufficient to overcome outright disregard for the humanity of our political rival. What can be done? What must be done if this great experiment of ours is to survive?  

 “Man has often lost his way, but modern man has lost his address.” G.K. Chesterton

Dr. Arthur Brooks, social scientist and former President of the American Enterprise Institute, now teaches courses at Harvard about loving one’s enemies as the solution. From the left or the right makes no difference. In case that advice seems familiar, as old as Scripture, well, it is.  He converted to Catholicism when he was sixteen on a family visit to Mexico City and the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Dr. Brooks is a team member of Bishop Robert Baron’s “Word on Fire Institute.” For many years, he has consulted with and is a friend of the Dalai Lama, who helped inform his worldview. His recommendation is both urgent and kind. He is better speaking for himself in this short PBS interview with Judy Woodruff. Better yet is this longer talk he recently gave which outlines some of the nuts and bolts of his suggested solutions from his book, “Love Your Enemies.”[iv]

As the cliché states, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem, and rare is the person who has not piled on during a social media exchange, including me. Let’s throw the flag for late hits at ourselves and try to do just a bit better. A simple and elegant commitment we could all make suggested by Dr. Brooks is similar to what the Gottman team recommends for couples headed for divorce. Before acting out on those cutting impulses, do the following: make five positive comments about the other person before you hammer them and engage that oh so justified self-righteous indignation.

We find after the five building-up remarks about what’s good in the other person, our vindictive lower self will slink back into its corner and sleep. In fact, one or two will probably put the monster away. Now finding five positive things about Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump may be a bridge too far for you, but presumably the social media friend who posts about them must have friend history with us sufficient to be able to comment on the reasons they are friends in the first place. Say a prayer for the politicians, but good will towards your on-line or personal contact should be easy to find. If you can’t, keep your counsel to yourself. After all, no one, ever, has had their opinion changed on a gut ideological or political issue by a Facebook post.

If five positive comments seems too formulaic and simplistic, we could all commit to an alternative: look in the mirror. If who looks back at you is without fault, unfailingly brilliant and error free, then jump right on that post and wail away. Of course, anyone espousing such dangerous drivel is an idiot, a moron, in league with the devil or at least Hitler; they deserve the snarkiest, most clever and condescending blow you can deliver. If however you see a human being in the mirror engaged in their own desperate struggle known only to themselves and their most intimate friends, then pull up and find some solace or positive comment to let the others know that you know they are human beings doing the best they can to understand and to cope with a confusing world.

Dante’s hell may have Satan fixed in ice, but he is busy at work, cunning, and he picks his targets with telling effect.

“It can never be too strongly emphasized that the crisis which Western man is undergoing today is a metaphysical one; there is probably no more dangerous illusion than that of imagining that some readjustment of social or institutional conditions could suffice of itself to appease a contemporary sense of disquiet which rises, in fact, from the very depths of man’s being.” Gabriel Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, (St. Augustine’s Press, 2008)


[i] The Four Horsemen: https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/

[ii] Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. “Conscience and Its Enemies” Dr. Robert George, ISI Books, Paperback Edition 2016

[iii] Benjamin Franklin quipped that democracy (without checks and balances) was two wolves and a sheep sitting down to discuss what’s for dinner. Checks and balances are not primarily found in the Constitution but in the human heart and human friendship.  Dr. Gerard Mundy wrote last year: “Writing in 1957, Russell Kirk argued that love of, and attachment to, community are native to the American spirit. ‘Our city, township, and county governments; our flourishing voluntary associations; our innumerable fraternal and charitable bodies—these are the forms which have been realized by our desire for true community.’ Indeed, it is necessary that the six communal institutions—the nuclear family, the extended family, the neighborhood, the church, the voluntary association, and the employment/workplace association—are healthy, for government cannot by its nature alone teach morality without devolving into totalitarianism.”(Public Discourse essay by Dr. Gerard Mundy https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2019/10/56308/)   

[iv] “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt”  Dr. Arthur Brooks, Harper Collins, 2019

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Pharming for Profit Part Two

“All things are engaged in writing their history…. Not a foot steps into the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting, a map of its march.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

The first time I ever met anyone with a nut allergy was a good friend in Maine. He was a former Marine and CIA something (he couldn’t really talk about it) who was the head of the English Department at the local campus of the University of Maine. We were at a church after Mass function, and he was avoiding the delicious homemade brownies provided by a parishioner, although I knew he had a sweet tooth that rivaled mine. I offered him one, and when he declined, I asked if he was fasting for a reason. He answered that it was not a spiritual endeavor, but that a brownie with walnuts in them could kill him as his throat would likely seize up, and he would fall on the floor. I agreed it was probably a good idea to skip the brownies. Since thankfully I suffered no tragic similar malady, I ate his too.

What was once relatively rare has become so common that children cannot bring even a peanut butter sandwich to school because they could be shared with other kids who could be done great harm.  This is disappointing to me, because without peanut butter sandwiches, I probably would not have survived past ten. What has happened that so many are now brownie with nuts and peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich deprived? Please refer to the statistics cited in Part One regarding the multiplication of vaccines and chronic diseases mandated for children. Children in the U.S. born after 1989 are afflicted with a chronic disease at a rate four times higher than those born before the new vaccine protocols kicked in. (54% vs. 12.8%).

Among the quadrupling chronic diseases are food allergies, and nut allergies among the most common and life threatening. [i] Their instances have tripled since 1997, and visits to the emergency room for children have increased 214% for anaphylactic[ii] reactions to food[iii].  Anaphylaxis health care claims have increased 377%. Is this correlation with the onset of the huge increases in mandated vaccines for infants and preschool children coincidental and due to other environmental causes?  Perhaps, it is possible. It is also possible that it is not coincidence.

Autism is another epidemic that has become a devastating plague in the same time period – from one in 166 children in 2004 to 1 in 59 in 2018[iv]. Yes, some of that may be better diagnosis. Yes, there may be other environmental causes. Yes, there may be a genetic predisposition, just as with some of the other chronic conditions and allergies. As mentioned in the last post, the pharmacology industry is indemnified against any damage suits for vaccine induced injury, so any claim is decided by something set up by the Federal government: the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).

While VICP will adjudicate any claims for vaccinations for flu or childhood disease, they will shred any that mention autism. Not to be considered. Because it has been “proven”[v] that there is no relationship between autism and vaccines. “Settled science” is a magic and meaningless phrase; it ends all reasoned discussion. So if you think your child has vaccine induced autism because its onset was immediately after a vaccination, and your child was on a normal developmental path prior to that, and there have been such instances, not only will the manufacturer be indemnified against damages by a Federal firewall, that firewall will not allow you to even present a case. Game, set, match, you are on your own. In the footnotes below, several are for pages in the Children’s Health Defense website; exploring that will give you far more information on the topic than a blog post. There are references to eighty-nine peer reviewed studies that correlate to one degree or another the onset of autism to vaccination or immunization injury, but they are ignored, rebutted, rebuked and derided by the vaccination industry, an industry that produces annual revenues of 1.6-billion-dollars. The “settled science” is theirs.

But the point of these statistics and facts is not to shut down childhood vaccination programs, but as with other hot topic science issues that have morphed into political or ideological issues, rather can we just consider two commonsense questions and not be threatened with being drawn and quartered as a science hating troglodyte?

 “Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete.”  Herman Melville, “Moby Dick”

Many states, most recently California, are enacting increasingly draconian laws to mandate infant vaccinations. They cite another desired outcome of the nanny state, “herd immunity,” a defined percentage of the immunized (an unfortunate and chilling metaphor). These laws use the coercive power of the state like refusal to admit students into schools if they haven’t checked all the vaccination boxes. There have been instances where the arm of the state named child protective services or the department of children and youth has stepped in to take children from the parents in order to get them vaccinated. Kids trust their parents when they jump off the dock into their arms, and they trust them to make the right decisions regarding their safety and well-being. Not the state, but their parents.  Question one: given the still open questions of risk and the good possibility that genetic predisposition increases risk to harm from vaccinations, why should the state not allow a physician and her patient’s parents to determine the avoidance, timing or spacing of some or all vaccinations as medical exemptions if higher risk is determined for individual children?

If you are past sixty, the pressure put on to get flu and pneumonia shots is increasing. Every time I have acquiesced in this high profit agenda, I get sick, maybe not full flu sick, but headache, scratchy throated, muscle aching two day misery, only to learn afterwards that the strain of flu for which I was being inoculated missed the mark that year. Another strain of flu virus was making the rounds. With the “herd immunity” refrain in full sway, our physicians and pharmacies are driven to put on the pressure. I cannot go to buy Band-Aids or have a six-month checkup without being asked multiple times, “Have you had your flu shot yet?” Most of the time these shots are free, at least to me. Each time, I politely decline. Among the millions of dollars of settlements that are paid out by VICP, by far the largest share is for flu shot injuries[vi]. Question two: with an aging (and increasingly expensive population), can refusal to cover flu related illness and hospitalization by insurance carriers for any without documentation of a flu shot be far ahead of us with the terrifying partnership of the power of the state, big pharma and insurance companies?

Sometimes as Will Rogers reminded us, “Commonsense ain’t so common.”

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Aldo Leopold


[i] Vaccines and food allergies. https://childrenshealthdefense.org/news/no-enigma-vaccines-and-the-food-allergy-epidemic/

[ii] Anaphylactic shock or anaphylaxis is a sudden onset allergic reaction that can close the throat and cause death or permanent damage. 35% of the attacks are experienced with the first exposure. One can kill you if not immediately diagnosed and treated. Nut allergies can cause this. So can vaccinations.

[iii] Increase in emergency room visits for anaphylaxis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29663520

[iv] Increase in autism in children. https://www.autismspeaks.org/science-news/cdc-increases-estimate-autisms-prevalence-15-percent-1-59-children

[v] Except for 89 peer reviewed studies like this one. https://childrenshealthdefense.org/research_db/a-two-phase-study-evaluating-the-relationship-between-thimerosal-containing-vaccine-administration-and-the-risk-for-an-autism-spectrum-disorder-diagnosis-in-the-united-states/

 

[vi] Approximately 44% of the number of VICP settlements (VICP total injury pay outs are $4.2 billion with a B) in the history of the program since 1988 have been for flu shot injuries. https://www.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/hrsa/vaccine-compensation/data/data-statistics-october-2019.pdf

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Pharming for Profit Part One

‘Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it – would they let me – since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in.” Herman Melville, “Moby Dick”

In a terrible hot summer when I was nine or ten, my mother did not allow her then five children out of the yard because the plague had come to my hometown, and no one knew what to do about it. No pick-up baseball games or stickball with a chalked strike zone on the cement of the school wall as we usually played almost every day. The town swimming pool was drained and closed with locked gates and warning signs. Life Magazine had cover stories and pictures of the paralyzed kept breathing through a tube loaded contraption called an “Iron Lung.” The patient victim was laid on their back looking up with only their head exposed, a seal around their necks and haunted eyes; a mirror was suspended at an angle attached to the mouth of the machine so they could see visitors.

The white and chrome gleaming artificial lung alternated pressure and non-pressure to fill and empty the lungs with an ominous repetitive pumping sound as it filled and emptied the chamber enclosing their body, reminding all with every pulsation of fragility and mortality. White and chrome cylinders the size of coffins with thick windows so the doctors could monitor the movements of the chest, but a harkening to the rack in a wicked baron’s castle troubled all who saw them. After the disease ran its course, some of the afflicted would regain their strength, some would die, and some would pass the rest of their lives with metal braces on their withered legs to enable them to get around. We’d see them lurching about and avert our eyes. Polio. Polio. Polio. Polio. Fear in whispered conversations among the mothers of the neighborhood. Like practicing by futilely ducking under our school desks for a Cold War nuclear drill, polio left a mark on all the children who went through that summer.

When Jonas Salk tested and developed his vaccination a year or so later, we lined up for the shots at the town Blackburn Memorial Hall.  All the school nurses administered them when we came back in the fall for any who had missed the first round. Jubilation. Freedom to roam and swim and play pick up baseball. Polio shots were added to smallpox inoculations with their telltale irregular round scar on our upper arms as regular immunization against that with which we had no other defense. Vaccinations. Miracles.

But something has gone amiss, and like all man-made miracles they can run awry with unforeseen, powerful consequences, especially when the miracles intertwine with political agendas, social engineering and money.

“This is the first time in medicine’s history the drug industry has placed at our disposal a powerful, disease-producing chemical for use in the healthy rather than the sick.” Dr. Herbert Ratner, so called Senate “Nelson Pill Hearings,” 1970

Dr. Ratner will reappear in a later post, and probably more than two for this is complicated. Drawing analogies between vaccinations and birth control pills will take some explanation, but for now, we will stick with the former and postpone the latter. But analogy does exist, and the implications are alarming. His quote almost fifty years ago was prophetic; limiting his observations to just the Pill was optimistic. What could be a better business model for big Pharma than producing something highly profitable for healthy people, not just the sick? There is a much larger market with the well.

Both before and after the polio terror, most of us developed normal immunity to what were called normal “childhood illnesses” through exposure, various rashes, fevers, swellings and outbreaks. I had them all: mumps both sides, measles, chicken pox and rubella, along with the usual panoply of flus, stomach bugs and fifty or so upper respiratory infections. During this rite of passage, we acquired for the most part lifetime immunity. Deaths from these diseases were very rare and usually in people otherwise compromised by poor health. I never heard of anybody dying from one of them; most, like me, rested quietly, isolated as much as possible in rooms shared with siblings with some books and a hovering mother bringing sweet drinks, Jello in our favorite flavor (I liked the red stuff) and whatever else we could stand until the symptoms passed. Our siblings usually wound up sick too. Sometimes we skipped a few days of school unless we were unlucky enough to catch one during vacations. If we developed a spectacular rash or swollen glands, there were pictures taken for family albums to torture us as adolescents at gatherings and with prospective spouses.

Vaccinations do not grant lifetime immunity in most cases and require booster shots (whatever that means) from time to time, which most adults do not get. Most adults in their thirties think they are fully immune because of their childhood inoculation, but they are wrong.  Childhood diseases incurred as an adult are more severe, more unpleasant and can carry more serious consequences.

We had two vaccinations: smallpox and a combination diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) in a few stages. Before we were two, we had five shots and never more than one in an office visit. Later came polio, first as shot, later taken orally.  In 1986, there were twelve shots. Today there are fifty-four with multiple shots for some and kids get up to five in one visit. Check the attached schedule. [i] What was when I was a kid a small part of the pharmaceutical industry is now almost twenty percent of their revenue and a fifty-billion-dollar monster revenue producer. And miracle of miracles for a business, the vaccine producers are indemnified against any losses by a Federal piece of legislation called the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. Can’t be sued. Skate free from any threat to their guaranteed profits. Any claims go into something called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) that was set up after lots of claims had the pharmaceutical corporations threatening to stop producing them. The government in its capacity as grand nanny decided that the public interest was best served by covering the tail side of Big Pharma. Did you know that? [ii]More next time.

One more piece of data to mull over before the next chapter: the flood of children with chronic diseases [iii] breaks down like this: children born before 1989 when the new vaccine protocols vastly expanded are afflicted with a chronic illness at a 12.8% rate. Those born after 1989 are stricken at a 54% rate. [iv]Bet you didn’t know that either.

Hopefully without drawing the quick and understandable wrath of either the proponents or the anti-vaxxers and being immediately consigned to the crazies, we will explore this a bit more in the next post.  Please hold your fire until then.

“The truth is, of course, that Mr. Shaw is cruelly hampered by the fact that he cannot tell any lie unless he thinks it is the truth.” G.K. Chesterton. From the introduction to “Orthodoxy” about his good friend and frequent debating opponent, the Progressive, George Bernard Shaw.

[i] From the Children’s Health Defense organization: CDC Recommended Vaccine Schedule

[ii] Would be like if the car companies came up with a pure hydrogen powered car that fixed much of the CO2 emissions terror and fit right in with the anthropogenic climate change scare agenda. Trouble is in some very rare instances they would explode into tiny pieces, killing everyone in a 100’ radius. Then the government to push the progressive rock up the hill passes legislation to indemnify the car companies from damages, so that they’ll keep making the damn things. Far-fetched? Maybe. The good of the many outweighs the assured harm to the tiny few.

[iii] They’re the neuro-developmental diseases, ADD, ADHD, language delays, speech delays, tics, Tourette Syndrome, ASD, and autism. The auto-immune disorders, Guillan-Barre, multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. The anaphylactic diseases, food allergies, rhinitis, asthma, and eczema. (From a speech this year by Robert Kennedy Jr.)

[iv] Ibid

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Lil’ Rhody Part 2

“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” Will Rogers

Senate President Ruggerio and House Speaker Mattiello (from WPRO 2015)

The last post ended with Rhode Island’s colorful rogue, Buddy Cianci, long time Providence mayor and failed gubernatorial candidate. This time up, the current gray denizens inhabiting the Rhode Island statehouse make their appearance. Long dominated by the Democrat Party, Rhode Island politics are inbred and clubby on a need to know basis. Outsiders and voters don’t need to know.

Much has been written about ‘deep state’ bureaucracy in Washington: privileged, secretive and shielded from view, intensely ideological, entitled, entrenched, metastasizing relentlessly and ruthless in its self-regard and self-preservation.  Each state has its own version; Rhode Island is no exception.

When Rita worked as Executive Director of Rhode Island Right to Life, she was a registered lobbyist and stalked the corridors of the statehouse discussing pending legislation relevant to her organization with state reps and senators and occasionally governors and Federal reps and senators.  On one of her first visits to the Statehouse, Rita was anxious to learn the ways of the labyrinth.  She went to the office of a friend, who was office manager to the Democrat Senate Majority Leader, who eventually quit under a cloud. Under a cloud is how many incumbents reluctantly fade away in Rhode Island.

While she was there, a confidant of her friend and recently in her probationary period as a new state employee, rushed through the door and breathlessly exclaimed, “I got my benefits!” She had the enthusiasm of someone who just hit the lottery. And in a way, she had. Lifetime health care and pension benefits, and even though grossly underfunded by a legislature reluctant to disclose the full costs of employee sinecures to the voters, the promise was at least there for permanent security. “I got my benefits!” translated as “I am now deeply ensconced in the elite cadre of protected forever state workers!” Or in short, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, there is a God!![i]

After Rita left her friend’s office, she made her way down the stairs past another public employee sitting at a naked desktop in an empty corridor waiting for his benefits. On his desk was nothing: no phone, no computer, no paper, not even a magazine. He did not look embarrassed or bored or apologetic to be doing absolutely nothing. He was friendly in an offhanded, distracted way and seemed confident that there would be no negative repercussions for his lack of productive work. These things will work themselves out. Eventually. No one had asked him to do anything or defined his job for him, but his paycheck would clear on Friday – the reward for shoe leather expended in some key office holder’s campaign no doubt. Thus, were Rita’s first lessons in Rhode Island state governance completed.

Please understand there are many highly skilled professionals who work hard every day as public employees, and we are fortunate they do, especially in jobs protecting the environment, clean air and water, health and safety. But there are others who tarnish the great ones, which should offend the productive workers and the voters.

“One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.” Niccolo Machiavelli

Last post Rhode Island was lauded as the ‘Most Peaceful’ state in the country. Lil’ Rhody shows on some other lists. It ranks sixth highest in total tax burden on its citizens[ii], not a great surprise as all the others at the top are similarly Democrat controlled. Democrats are the party of coercive government solutions to social problems, irrespective of evidence that the state can positively influence them. The Law of Unintended Consequences is as real as gravity, especially when complicated with vote pandering and political posturing. Rhode island is well situated as well in the top tier of public employees per capita[iii].

In a couple of other categories, though, Rhode Island does not sit on the top of the pyramid. In the annual CNBC study of the states that grow jobs and induce new businesses to move in, Rhode Island climbed a notch or two out of the cellar a year ago, but for 2019 dropped into its accustomed spot, fiftieth out of fifty.[iv] We bleed jobs in Rhode Island, and subsequently we hemorrhage population and are in danger of losing one of our two House of Representative seats. More alarming, what we are losing is our young people, so the population demographic is aging. The state spends lavishly to educate our young and hosts several excellent universities, but their graduates head to Texas, Arizona, North Carolina or even neighboring Massachusetts for far better job prospects.

Anyone who has driven Rhode Island potholed roads and over or under its rusted steel and pitted concrete bridges is not surprised at another national ranking. Again, fiftieth out of fifty for infrastructure[v]. That’s right. Sixth in tax burden, fiftieth in infrastructure and business development. Taxpayer money is sucked into the spongy conduits of government: nepotism and connected public jobs, underfunded and unaffordable pension plans for public employees and underwriting bonds for ill advised, but politically attractive private businesses like Curt Schilling’s sports video games debacle. The black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is more attractive as an investment.

The legislative session for 2018-2019 slowly ramped up after the fund-raising gatherings called “times” and the election furor subsided. Obviously, the most urgent priority for legislators must have been lowering taxes for its beleaguered constituents and addressing the sorry business environment and dangerous bridge situation. Maybe in a happier parallel universe. In Rhode Island, this past session was dominated by authorizing open season on our tiniest and most vulnerable human beings. Urged on by prominent media outlets in the state like the Providence Journal and local TV stations, after several months of contentious hearings, and through the contrivance of previously professed pro-life Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and enthusiastic abortion advocate Governor Gina Raimondo, the Reproductive Privacy Act was passed. Pink shirted screaming bullies shouted down committee hearings and briefly invaded the Senate President’s office. They picketed the homes of swing committee members and with van mounted loudspeakers called them out as hating women to their neighbors and children.

The various backroom Machiavellian maneuvers are beyond the scope of this post.  Attached is a more detailed history for any more curious (or masochistic) readers.[vi]  Some brief clarifying notes:

  • The bill mimics one written by lawyers hired by NARAL and Planned Parenthood, which funded and organized pink shirted assault and publicity. It mirrors similar bills passed in Vermont and New York. The Reproductive Privacy bill had little to do with privacy (it couldn’t have been more public) and nothing to do with reproduction. On the contrary; its singular focus was on violently inhibiting it.
  • It allows abortion for any reason in any form up to the moment of birth. 73% of voters oppose such late term abortions, but the supporters want no restrictions. The bill prohibits any rules regarding abortion clinics, including authorizing some who are not doctors to perform them.
  • Several times the bill was stopped in committee votes, only to be resurrected by its proponents in backroom manipulations. At one point, in violation of Senate rules, the chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee which heard all the late-night testimony, when it became apparent the bill would be defeated again, unilaterally switched it to another committee stacked in its favor that heard no testimony. That was only one instance of several similar moves that kept the bill alive.
  • After a Senate hearing killed one version of the bill, the pink shirts stormed the Senate President’s office demanding that he intervene despite his long professed pro-life stance. Viewers of the evening news were treated to the sight of him with face frozen in fear being escorted from his office by Capital Police[vii].

In my youth a young Democrat Senator, John F Kennedy, launched his career with his wartime heroics and the publication of his Pulitzer Prize winning book about major political figures in American history from all parties who risked their political fortunes and lives to stand up for what was right. “Profiles in Courage” once defined what Democrat politics stood for. There were very few profiles in courage in the Rhode Island statehouse this year. Cowards who feared losing their privileges and influence or their gavel collapsed under pressure and sanctioned sacrifices of babies to a culture obsessed with pleasure and irresponsibility regarding its consequences.

“The promise given is a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present.”  Niccolo Machiavelli

[i] Retiree benefits were altered for those retiring after 2008, capping state reimbursement for health care after 65 to 80% of costs. Prior to that, retired state employees with long service would receive 100%.

[ii] https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-highest-lowest-tax-burden/20494/

[iii] https://www.governing.com/gov-data/public-workforce-salaries/states-most-government-workers-public-employees-by-job-type.html

[iv] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/09/why-rhode-island-is-the-worst-state-for-business-in-2019.html

[v] https://www.forconstructionpros.com/asphalt/news/21017738/all-50-states-ranked-by-worst-crumbling-infrastructure

[vi] See the attached synopsis of the history of this bill. Link to document.

[vii] https://www.facebook.com/WPRI12/videos/watch-senate-president-dominick-ruggerio-had-to-be-escorted-from-his-office-as-p/442724003171604/

 

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