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About jparquette

Fortunate and blessed in companionship with my wife of fifty years, in health and in modest, but more than adequate circumstances. Life is good.

A Tree Falls

“Here is a quick and generally reliable rule to follow. If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.” Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture

18989409_web1_downed-treeWEBWe often sit and pray after morning Mass in the Fatima grove across the driveway from our parish chapel.  A week or so ago, we heard a loud rending of wood and a crash down the street. There had been no sound of saw or axe, just the destruction. Later we looked for the cause of the disturbance. A large weeping willow had split apart and two thirds of it blocked a nearby road. I thought of the old philosophical question from Dr. George Berkeley, an Anglican Bishop and philosopher in the 1600s, about a tree falling in the woods and whether it made a noise if there was no one there to hear it. It does.

I wondered how could the old tree that had survived many thunderstorms, hurricanes, Nor’easters, blizzards, and rogue winds over fifty years, judging by its size, just collapse without notice? That morning in the quiet of early summer blooming, a final tiny weight of water borne up from its roots or perhaps the addition of a single cell in one leaf or a crow building a nest or a squirrel fleeing a shadow delivered the last groaning increment, an unsupportable weight. Or was it long festering inner rot and flaw in its structure that gave way, and the grace and beauty of the tree was destroyed, good only now for cutting up and clearing off the road? I’ll never know what finished it off, but there it was.

Not just trees collapse after decades of weakening.

One of the better articles of dozens I read on the January 6 hearings observed that we are looking futilely for legal or even political solutions to a more fundamental problem, solutions those things cannot possibly provide. We don’t need better laws or policies or politicians; we need better Americans, better citizens. Whether Proud Boys or Antifa thugs or obscene gay pride marchers or arrogant narcissist politicians: progressive ideologues or overtly corrupt self-serving ones, they are merely different aspects of the same disease.

The great majority of Americans get up each morning, attempt to work hard quietly to support themselves and their families, and come home to do the best they can to form the next generation in the best way they know how. But they get little help from educational institutions, politicians, and most media, social or otherwise.

The same article by Kevin Williamson[i] contains a link to a profound T.S. Eliot poem:

“If we give in to the fantasy that we can legislate our way out of this mess or prosecute our way back to republican virtue, we are only ‘dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.’ That is a project that inevitably will end in failure and disappointment. Being good citizens is not easy but maintaining a free society without good citizens is impossible.”

We have replaced objective reality with subjective desires.  Rather than the hard work of discerning reality and conforming ourselves to it, we wish to conform reality to ourselves. Rather than seeking to discern the Good, the True and the Beautiful, we rely for guidance from the false, gossamer gods of Tolerance, the Socially Acceptable, and the Culturally Relevant. We look for validation in counting responding emoticons to copy and pasted or ragged and derivative social media posts.

The long slog of learning and reading and thinking and self-reflection is subverted by slogans and clever derision of those with whom we disagree. We don’t listen and debate ideas respectfully, we shout down with bull horns and air horns and screaming obscenities those people who have ideas that question current orthodoxy.

Our hearts and wills are not inclined to virtue, but to our self-driven will. Our minds and discernment are not inclined to knowledge and wisdom, but to factoids and catchphrases to support our causes. Our imagination is not captivated by and seeking out objective beauty in nature or art, but we look for entertainments and distractions.

We hear incessant calls for self-fulfillment, not self-sacrifice for the greater good. We try to fill the hole in our heart with that which cannot possibly heal.

The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;

Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,

All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,

But nearness to death no nearer to God .

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries

Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust. T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from the Rock”

Part II

This week the January 6 hearings were deposed by the demise of Roe v Wade, systematically demolished in its pretense by Justice Alito’s Dobbs v Jackson Health brilliantly written decision. After initial euphoria that day with all the excitement of a small avalanche of emails, articles, and posts, the next morning I woke up deflated like post big game blues. The disappointment gave way to a sad resolve, which soon transitioned to a familiar fierce determination.

When the Dobbs v Jackson Health decision was announced, I was elated because I had thought I would not live to see the lies of Roe refuted and overturned so convincingly by the court. Joy was tempered by the realization that much of the good work of our Rhode Island Right To Life founders was excised from the body of our laws by pink shirt abortion zealots and thugs storming the statehouse and its offices with airhorns and screaming slogans intimidating our legislature in 2019. The trigger laws that would have been immediately in effect to protect life in RI were wiped away.

Nearly four generations of Americans, most of our population, grew up and were formed under the auspices of Roe. While certainly not the sole source of their confusion and alienation, Roe contributed significantly to a culture that has absorbed two very dangerous false premises.

The first is that sex is primarily for pleasure and recreation and secondarily is for strengthening commit-ments, and finally way down on the list is for its teleological purpose in nature of perpetuating our species.

The second premise that we passed along to our heirs for fifty years is that once we have determined that conceiving a child is a problem to be solved rather than a commitment, responsibility, and gift to be cherished, the solution is either a contraceptive one or a violent one. We re-created our version of truth and taught our children that the violence of abortion is a “right” to be maintained at all costs, and when faced with an unwelcome pregnancy the cold clinical violence is not just a necessary evil, but a positive good.

We have much work ahead to support and to protect vulnerable mothers and unborn children here once again. We have “miles to go before we sleep.” May God bless the many good hearts and minds who will never give up.

There is an image.

The temple was finally relinquished by the vandals and the despoilers after almost fifty years of hostile occupation. They left the roof burned and collapsed, the walls cracked into ruins, the floor littered with the remnants of charred roof beams, broken pieces of sacred and beautiful art.  Dead things and the waste of animals soiled the floor tiles. Something foul was in the corner; there were small bones embedded in the mound. Paper refuse and the remains of barbarian camps.

With resignation and meager hope, I began to sweep the floor with an old broom.

Others drift in then stream in to help clean up the mess. Some erect staging and demo the west wall until only solid blocks remain, then they start in with fresh mortar and new bricks.  A straight spruce log is dragged on to the swept floor. Some of us begin to shape it into a new roof beam with a two-handed draw knife and a forged adze.

As night falls, family members come and bring us food: hardy, simple and delicious. Someone starts to play a fiddle, another a guitar. One clear trained woman’s voice begins to sing. Ragged at first, we join in:

As I went down in the river to pray

Studying about that good ol’ way

And who shall wear the starry crown?

Good Lord show me the way!

 

O sisters let’s go down

Let’s go down, come on down

O sisters let’s go down

Down in the river to pray.

 By the third verse we were sounding better, with some complex harmony, by the fifth verse we soared with hundreds of voices. I thought I could hear my father singing. By the end of it there were angels in the chorus.[ii]

The woman who started the singing and her husband, one of the carpenters, said they had to gather their kids who had been engaged in a raucous pick-up baseball game near us, take them home, read a few stories aloud, say prayers together, and put them to bed. Others began to head home to attend to other chores and get some rest. They looked back and waved. ‘We’ll see you in the morning.”  I knew they would return.

“Until the sexual revolution, most people understood that customs and laws regarding sex were customs and laws to strengthen or at least to protect the family, and that the family was not something created by the State, but was its own small kingdom, a natural society, founded in the bodily nature of man.”  Anthony Esolen, Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity

[i] January 6 Hearings are a story without a hero

[ii] Alison Krauss – Down In the River to Pray

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The Essence of the Thing

“Set aside all the muddle of your fears and desires, your resentment, your self-opinion, your politics, whatever. Look at that child. That was you, that was me.” Dr. Anthony Esolen, “Let the Beautiful Creature Live.”

1965LC 0430.jpg

18 -week-old fetus shown inside amniotic sac. from cover of LIFE Magazine, 4-30-1965.

I’ve been busy writing letters to the editors of various local newspapers about the outcry over the first draft of the Dobbs decision written by Justice Samuel Alito after the leak caused such a trembling in the fabric of social media. I was struck once again by how rarely we discuss the central question of the abortion debate. Yes, Roe was bad law, badly written, and yes, of course, the “exercise in raw judicial power[i]” was “egregiously wrong from the start — Its reasoning was exceptionally weak,”[ii] The wrongness of Roe has long been acknowledged by jurists on all sides. The dubious decision was a flimsy structure on which to support the far-reaching judicial mandates that usurped every state’s authority to limit abortion. “Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped…..may prove unstable.”[iii]  However, irrespective of legal debates over constitutional issues, we still don’t talk much about the pivot point of all this.

To wit: what grows inside a woman’s womb when she is pregnant? Simple question. Is it a tumor? A parasite?  Is it something alien and malevolent to be eradicated at will by the host? I ask that question in all sincerity of anyone who advocates for abortion as a “right.” What is it we will permit to be torn asunder and ripped out?

Science tells us it is one thing and no other: a tiny, living, dependent human being. All the debate about heartbeat, viability, and when the fetus experiences pain are only points on a preordained continuum. An embryo is not part of someone’s body, but a separate body from her mother, genetically distinct, and not an unwelcome appendage. She will grow by absorbing food through her umbilical, learning early to like some kinds of food her mother ingests better than others. Without further outside prompting, she will begin to develop her senses, to see light even inside the womb, to hear voices and respond and bond to them as well as to other sounds. She will be startled and frightened by sudden sounds and soothed by music, especially Bach or Mozart.[iv]

A continuum from conception to death, which if uninterrupted by disease or violence, will develop her inherent capabilities uniquely implanted in her genes that were formed in an instant at conception. Her hair and eye color, her organs, fingers and toes, her brain and heart, her capacity for learning already hard wired. She will develop those capabilities to whatever degree her education, nurture, and those who care for her support. She will mature and experience a complex human life with a brief arduous journey down the birth canal from the uterus to the open air just one more milestone along the way.

No one yet to my satisfaction has explained the justification and moral argument that grants the larger, stronger human being the ‘right’ to take the life of the smaller, weaker human being because the big person is mobile and has power, and the little one is trapped and has no power. Exactly why should killing a human being become lawful because the victim is in an unprotected category of tiny persons and declared expendable? Because it’s inconvenient or embarrassing or too expensive or too difficult to keep them around?  Because they were condemned with often wrong prenatal test diagnoses? [v]

In California[vi], there is now a bill to ‘decriminalize’ ending a baby’s life either through neglect or violence or “unknown causes” during the first thirty days after birth. As horrifying as that sounds, it is no different ethically than abortion. A baby in the first month is breathing on her own but still utterly dependent day to day for her life on her parents or guardians. No protector, no nurture – no survival.

Peter Singer, the Princeton bioethicist known for his pro-abortion and animal rights work (one of the founders of PETA), for years has asserted that infanticide should be allowed until full self-awareness, which he defined as up to three years post birth. He has stated that the life of an adult pig should enjoy greater protections than an immature human being before they are fully self-aware. Whatever you think about his moral stance, you can’t fault his consistency. He is perfectly logical in his arguments. Preborn or post born, all the same kid. #MeStillMe.

me-still-meNo sophistry, no rhetoric, no emotional, political, jaded language about rosaries and ovaries, theocracy or state power or keep your hands off my uterus or any of the shopworn slogans, just this: Why does the big person get to kill the little person solely because the big person wants or even needs to do so?  As a right?

Dr. Anthony Esolen this week published an essay entitled, “Let the Beautiful Creature Live.”[vii] A long quote of a couple of paragraphs is germane. He writes a lot more elegantly than I ever could hope to do, so I will end here and not sully the loveliness of his prose, prose which reads like poetry without an unnecessary word and missing not one that is needed[viii].

“Still, there are pictures of unborn children in the womb. As early as eight weeks in, you are looking at a being that is obviously human, with arms and legs, toes and fingers, a head, a face, and eyes. A little later on, he will be sucking the thumb, practicing in the womb what will soon be his sole means of nourishment. The child is strange and familiar at once. Set aside all the muddle of your fears and desires, your resentment, your self-opinion, your politics, whatever. Look at that child. That was you, that was me.

Nothing else that we know of is like him. He possesses, in latency, the developing powers of a mind capax universi: capable of apprehending a universe of existent things. He possesses, in latency, the soul capable of grasping itself; of conceiving objects not bounded by matter; of reflecting his Creator by the works of his hands, his heart, and his imagination; of promising itself in duty; and handing itself over in love. Surely, we have here infinite riches in a little room. And he is our brother.”[ix]

[i] Justice Byron White in dissent from Roe v Wade, 1973

[ii] Justice Samuel Alito in first draft majority opinion in Dobbs v Jackson Health, 2022

[iii] Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a speech at New York University referencing the weakness of Roe v Wade, 1992

[iv] Baby soothed and brain development in the womb enhanced by classical music, especially Mozart.

[v] Some prenatal tests for genetic diseases have up to 90% false positive results. Many are over 80% false positive. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/01/upshot/pregnancy-birth-genetic-testing.html

[vi] In 2019 Rhode Island joined California, New York, and a few other states in allowing abortion up to birth for undefined reasons other than the mother’s health. Health being defined as encompassing emotional, financial, or physical without reference to the severity of the risk. No other European country has such lax laws. Rhode Island, California, and New York join Russia, China, and North Korea as one of the riskiest places on earth for preborn babies. Not august company.

[vii] Let the Beautiful Creature Live, Crisis Magazine Dr. Anthony Esolen formerly taught at Providence College, and is now a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College in New Hampshire. One of the most respected social commentators around. Has spoken at over fifty colleges.

[viii] Note please Dr. Esolen references latency, not potential life. Inherent and to be developed in the nature of the baby. Latent is from the Latin meaning “hidden.” Unlike “potential” which might imply contingency or just possibility, “latent” is fully present, just not yet visible.

[ix] Me-Still Me picture credit from LiveAction website.

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Uncontrolled

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Nuke LaLooch (played by Tim Robbins) in Ron Shelton’s screenplay for “Bull Durham”

Snowy Owl at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge Lee Kensinger

Snowy owl at Hamden Slough   National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota by Lee Kensinger.

 Kim Crocker, a volunteer at the Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge   near us, reported a tale that reminded me of the rule of fang and   claw, talon, and blood. After an absence last year of any   overwintering snowy owl at the refuge, this year we have two   visitors, neither of them yet fully mature, but hardy enough to make   the trek from the tundra. Snowy owls can live nine years in the wild and up to twenty-eight in captivity. Fully grown, they have a wingspan of close to five feet: beautiful, formidable hunters, and relentless predators.[i]

Mr. Crocker told me the ranger observed a Cooper’s hawk make a quick kill, probably a vole or field mouse. Raptors drive their long rear talons into their prey with great force from a dive, wrap their front talons securely around their food and begin to eat, often before their victim is dead. This hawk should have been more situationally aware when he grabbed his lunch. Almost as soon as he attacked, he was in turn struck by a snowy, and the predator became the prey with the added benefit of a vole for dessert. Full grown snowy owls have been observed at the refuge taking a full-grown Bufflehead, Eider or Surf Scoter[ii] right out of the surf and carrying them back to a shoreline rock for a leisurely meal.

Sometimes unforeseen trouble can drop on us with the swiftness of a raptor from the sky.  One of the most disconcerting aspects of the last two years of COVID world was the vivid notice that we are not in control. And never have been. This is a valuable lesson.

Oh, we pretend like three-year-olds that if the Bogeyman comes out of the closet or from under the bed we can pull the covers over our head, cuddle our teddy bear, and be protected – that we can be in control, but at three o’clock in the morning on a sleepless night, we know that “the best laid plans o mice and men gang aft agley.”  [iii] Now as adults our Bogeyman occasionally comes out from under the bed, and there is not a damn thing we can do about it when he shows up. We must learn to cope with him and muddle along.

Thus, we are not to be grieved that we don’t control even the most important potentialities of our lives: our health, our safety, or how long we will live on this planet.

“Give up the thought that you have control. You don’t. The best you can do is adapt, anticipate, be flexible, sense the environment and respond.”  Frances Arnold, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Cal Tech

Our futile attempts at overcontrolling our lives, especially through government and politics, bring us division, frustration, distrust, anger, aggression, and ultimately despair. Our technological successes have deluded us into believing that all things eventually will be brought under our control.  “The sociocultural formation of modernity turns out to be, in a way, doubly calibrated for the strategy of making the world controllable. We are structurally compelled (from without) and culturally driven (from within) to turn the world into a point of aggression. It appears to us as something to be known, exploited, attained, appropriated, mastered, and controlled. And often this is not just about bringing things – segments of the world – within reach, but about making them faster, easier, cheaper, more efficient, less resistant, more reliably controllable.”[iv]

Illusory control, then, in the end, is an obsession with self-gratification, for individuals and identity groups. For politicians and social media mavens. For the legions of media chattering heads who so want to reshape the culture in their image. All of this is in a context of a couple of generations of the un-enculturated who have been formed not by tradition or objective standards, but by a faith in self-fulfillment that is largely self-defined by individuals and identity groups. The self-definition is rooted not in classic precepts of freedom, but in the post-modern concept of license. We build precariously on a sandy and shifting foundation of false and malicious hope: we can be anything we want to be and behave any way we choose, most especially regarding sexuality, if we don’t infringe too badly on the other person’s fancy.

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, ‘1984’

How do we find ourselves so confounded and unmoored? We want to control, but we cannot possibly.

Sachuest Snowy Owl checking out the menu

Sachuest Snowy checking out the menu

We want to redefine our nature, but we cannot possibly. Far too large a topic for this modest post, but we can look at a corner of it. Cultures to persist and offer stable platforms for human flourishing must formally welcome adolescents into adulthood, must train, must recognize what is essential to its existence and never lose sight of forming the next generation in the principles upon which the culture rests.  This instilling of the culture must include objective truths within which the next generation can conform with certainty and find their own context. This has been the case for humans so long as there have been humans.

Our culture neglected this basic principle, and to paraphrase Chesterton, when we cease to believe in something true, it is not that we believe in nothing, but that we will believe in anything. Such is our current state. One of the worst consequences of this is the neglected initiation of young men, prolonged adolescence into their thirties and beyond, and the enduring irresponsibility of too many young men, men without fathers, and men without passages of initiation.[v] These transitions are necessary not just to our culture, but to any culture, and we lost the thread in the latter part of the last century.

“Anchises’ son had halted, pondering on so much, and stood in pity for the souls’ hard lot.” Virgil, Book Six, the Aeneid

Richard Rohr researched this unhappy phenomenon in depth, investigated its roots and consequences in his book “Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation.”   [vi] He discovered that male initiation is significant even in other species like elephants. [vii] The lack of fathers and the lack of proper initiation into manhood has devastated our society in easily foreseen ways. Rohr theorizes that rites of initiation existed in all societies and are necessary still, albeit in different forms. To help boys transition into men and inculcate in them the responsibilities of maturity in the tribe, the rites typically had five common factors, sometimes involving scarification or survival alone in the wilderness. It was always necessary that they learn these lessons, and although it is still necessary to learn for us, modernity teaches in many ways just the opposite from these:[viii]

  • Life is hard.
  • You are not important.
  • Your life is not about you.
  • You are not in control.
  • You are going to die.

We grow wise when we understand that our lives are not ours alone, nor are we in control. We grow wise as Augustine did when we realize that to love and be loved is the fundamental longing of the human heart. We grow wise when we comprehend that the evil that seems all around us is not an adolescent comic book “Dark Side” force or a creature or a thing at all, but a lack, a privation, a missed chance.  Just as dark is not a form of its own, but a lack of the good of light, and coldness is not a thing unto itself, but a privation of warmth, so too hatred, bitterness, loneliness, violence, fear, and existential disappointment are all an absence of Love. And it is for many a self-inflicted deprivation.

“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.” Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

So, we must go out with joy to look for light where it can be found and delight in it. I was greatly heartened a couple of weeks ago when we walked another of our favorite local trails in Norman Bird Sanctuary. Along the way, we met a young earnest couple who were volunteering the afternoon of their day off cleaning out one small plot of Japanese knotweed, an aggressive invasive species that will crowd out native plants that provide food and shelter for the many birds and other wildlife that live there. They spent hours cutting and bagging the stems and dry foliage of the noxious pest. They took their time with laughter and good fellowship as they went, cutting and handling carefully so as not to disturb and scatter the seeds that will spread the weed. They cheerfully told us they will return another day to dig out the roots. No broad- spectrum damaging herbicides, just laborious, painstaking work.

The plot was about fifteen feet square. Out of 253 acres of the sanctuary. Why spend so much time, attention, and energy on such a tiny fraction of the land? A modest, difficult bit of work against such a bitter foe of the indigenous flora and fauna that we all enjoy and cherish is worth doing. Even if it does not solve the whole problem or change the micro ecosystem permanently, it changes us. If one understands that we’re not able to control every difficult challenge that comes along, that our life is about something greater than ourselves, and that we must do what we can, where and when we can, to improve, however humbly, our situation, this is a truth worth knowing.

 The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.    “Dust of Snow” Robert Frost  

[i] Photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife site. Snowy owl at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota by Lee Kensinger.

[ii] https://www.newportthisweek.com/articles/sea-ducks-return-to-sachuest-point/

[iii] Gratuitous sidebar: Perhaps the most pernicious and dangerous assumption of the whole progressive project is the illusion that we are in control, and that human progress is linear and headed to an inevitable Omega point of perfection. If only we allow the elite technocrats that we anoint to take control, all will be well irrespective of all evidence so far to the contrary.

[iv] The Uncontrollability of the World, Harmut Rosa, Medford, MA: Polity, 2020

[v] “What is the single condition of a boy’s life that correlates most strongly with whether he will turn criminal? Not income, not by a long shot. It is whether he grew up in the same home with his father. Our prisons are full to bursting with fatherless boys who never became the men and fathers that God meant them to be. The collapse of the black family has been most catastrophic, and what is the result? What anyone not befuddled with feminist ideology would have predicted, from simple observation of nature and from the universal testimony of human cultures. One out of every three black men between the ages of twenty and thirty will spend time in prison. If we blame that on racism, then we had better explain why, in the days when blacks could not ride on certain seats in the bus and could not even play major league baseball, nowhere near as many of their men were in prison. Family, first and last—the family is where you learn of God and man, good and evil, courtesy, diligence, honor, chastity, self-restraint, and true courage. Give me poverty and the family as strong as iron and in one generation in America my family will be poor no longer. That is not speculation or boasting. It is the experience of millions of immigrants who came to the United States with nothing in their pockets, but with a great fund of moral capital; with faith in God, and firm loyalty to the family.”Anthony Esolen, “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture”

[vi] Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr, Crossroads, 2004

[vii] Elephants need fathers too. Rohr told of a true story about rogue young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa. They were about fifty orphans immigrated into the park to reestablish the herd and without fathers to train them. An 8’ tall creature with tusks can inflict serious damage. Which they did. Killed over fifty rhinos. The debate among the rangers was whether to euthanize the young thugs, castrate them, which would calm them down, or bring in some help. The adolescent elephants (between twelve and twenty) were in a perpetual state of “musth,” a constant flooding of reproductive hormones. This is normally tamped down by mature bull elephants in the herd that whack them around a bit and tell them to calm down. Knowing they cannot yet compete with a full-grown papa elephant, they do calm down and stop dribbling, spraying everything in sight, and acting out aggressively, which is rough on the rhinos. The rangers shipped in six mature bull elephants and within a day, the adolescents dropped out of musth, and not a single additional rhino was killed.

https://www.bbcearth.com/news/teenage-elephants-need-a-father-figure   https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15120390-300-orphan-elephants-go-on-the-rampage/

[viii] Summary outline of Rohr’s book.

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Snow Ball Fights: Passion and Peril

“The aging process has you firmly in its grasp if you never get the urge to throw a snowball.” Doug Larson

800px-Rhode-island-mapIn the beginning, there were snowball fights after every storm, even though they presently are illegal in eight towns in Rhode Island, including nearby Newport and Jamestown. Not illegal here in Portsmouth, however, our town has a long history of dissent and rebellion against unjust laws and was founded in 1638 by Anne Hutchinson and others who wanted freedom from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Portsmouth was the site of the largest Revolutionary War[i] battle in Rhode Island. After the French Navy assisting in the effort to free Newport from the occupying British Army were scattered by a huge two-day storm and limped back to Boston to regroup and repair, the colonials were forced to withdraw.

The British occupying Newport attempted to overwhelm the Colonial Army retreating from Aquidneck Island. A series of bloody, but ultimately indecisive skirmishes with the British and their Hessian mercenaries were fought on August 29, 1778, on nearby Turkey Hill and behind stone walls that still exist on Quaker Hill where our home is now. Some mornings I’m struck with the realization that desperate men fought and died right here to help defend our freedom.  After successfully holding off the attacks, General Greene’s troops were then able to evacuate in an orderly manner and without further loss back to the mainland in North Tiverton.  But I digress.

Snowball fights in Portsmouth have so far escaped the oversight of the town ordinances, however, I think there is a state law on the books that prohibits throwing snowballs at a moving car, an offense which is punishable by up to a year in prison. I have not heard of it ever being enforced. Late last week two approximately five-year-old boys recklessly broke the law, but we declined to charge them. We were driving on Wapping Road to get to our walk along Second Beach and view the aftermath of the morning snowstorm when the two miscreants jumped up on the old stone wall behind which they had been hiding and accompanied by loud, wild war cries, let fly. Fortunately, we survived intact as the missiles fell about fifty feet short of their intended target.

Rita warned me about the attack after we had passed by them. I might have pursued the villains, but she talked me out of it. I wanted to tell them that leading the moving car properly was the key to success. Throw ahead of it and let the car run into the trajectory of a well-timed strike. As I remember when we often threw at cars and trucks as kids, at least half the thrill was being chased by our victims after we pummeled their vehicles.  The second key to success throwing snowballs at cars is not to do it from your parent’s yard and flee as soon as the brake lights go bright. I should have stopped and conducted some much-needed advance training.

We spent many determined hours building snow forts preparing for battle in the plowed embankments of our street while growing up in Massachusetts when snows were more frequent and deeper. Elaborate ramparts, observation, and attack towers and after a big storm, we could burrow some escape tunnels. If one of our architectural wonders caught my father’s eye, occasionally he would help after he got home from work and finish hardening the citadel with buckets of water to ice it up solidly. Construction was followed by many hours of snowball fights until the early winter sunsets overtook us and mothers called us home. Most frequently our retreats under cover of darkness were as indecisive as the Battle of Rhode Island and we withdrew in an orderly manner, tired, wet, and cold, but without further damage.

A second big thrill of our winter was sliding down Killer Hill on sleds both manufactured and improvised. The hill never killed any of us to my knowledge, but one naïve young friend broke his leg after we dared him to try it in a barely controllable flying saucer. Teddy struck the big oak tree at the bottom of the hill smack on at about two hundred miles an hour. Or so it seemed. As we ran down to help him, we were terrified that by challenging hapless Teddy, we had justified the name of the hill.

We never outgrow our primal impulse for snowball fights. One favorite was a memorable encounter at the UMass Amherst. The grand evening began as we slid down one of the steep slopes on campus on sturdy plastic trays purloined from the cafeteria.  Well before social media crowd sourcing, a big storm drew two large rival men’s dormitories out into the cold with very little provocation. We clashed in a major battle after the six-inch heavy, wet, snowstorm provided like a godsend the makings for perfect snowballs – must have been at least a hundred guys on a side.

One splinter company broke off and tried an ill-advised assault on a sizeable women’s dorm. The besieged occupants wisely stayed behind their stout red brick walls. Laughing and pointing at the pitiful attackers, they could be seen in sweatshirts and bathrobes through the windows strategizing their defense. The attacking force was easily repelled with wastepaper buckets of ice-cold water, poured like boiling, flaming oil from the parapets upon the hordes.

Eventually, campus police sent a couple of troopers in a patrol car to break up the conflict. The cops remained safely in their mobile unit when two hundred snowballs released on a count of three buried their car. Since there was little risk of a riot breaking out, they drove back to their warm office shaking their fists and laughing. Cold hands, undone papers due in the morning, and the late hour quelled the ardor of the combatants, and we retired back to our rooms to nurse our wounds and fire up the illegal hotplates to make hot chocolate and coffee.  I learned it is very difficult to evade a hundred snowballs thrown in unison.

“Every man should lose a battle when he is young, so he doesn’t lose a war when he is old.” George R Martin

[i] Battle of Rhode Island

Illustration by: Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy, A.d.C. du Général LaFayette, Public Domain, Wikipedia

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Christmas Letter 2021

                                                                                                                          

“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                                                                                         

Christmas 2021

NativityA rainy December Saturday is the perfect time for reflection and to get a short Christmas letter together. We said last goodbyes to some good friends in 2021, three in the last two months. We’ll miss their company and just knowing they are there. We’ve joined in prayer for each that they have been welcomed home. “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” Each one was unique and precious and unrepeatable and irreplaceable. As we turn the corner into our fourth quarter century, this Christmas and end of year season, natural for reflection, has special poignancy.

Not to lapse too deeply into Irish maudlin, but at nearly seventy-six, we are mindful that the road ahead is nowhere near as long as that which is receding in the rearview mirror. This stretch of road is not a regret; but as Bill Belichick would tell us, “It is what it is.” We benefit greatly from the perspective of how dear each new sunrise is. Another Belichick aphorism is, “You are what your record says you are.” Again, not as troubling as it once might have been. Well into our eighth decade, what once seemed so critical to happiness, success, keeping score, and keeping on track has simplified and become less frantic, more at peace: small acts of kindness are not so small, a smile from a stranger, a smile from a friend, a smile from our beloved so much more meaningful. And each of you ever more significant to us.

Our former pastor at St. Patrick Church on Smith Hill in Providence, Father James, presided over one such funeral this week. He reminded us that happiness comes not from temporal achievements or the praise of others or the accumulation of stuff or success at bending the will of others. Happiness is derived from virtue, wonderment and gratitude. Wonderment at the true and beautiful that envelops us with natural marvels and good companions for the journey. Gratitude in our hearts as often as we can gather it to ourselves. None of it limited by time.

We have much to be grateful for surrounded by the wonder of natural things here on Aquidneck Island. Not the spectacular Colorado mountains where we lived so many years ago or the mountains and lakes of Maine where we lived many years after that, but the salt marshes, farmland and wooded trails, and, of course, the river and the ocean beaches. We scarce can take it in.

And more. So much more. Four grown children who have made many more good choices than lamented ones and matured into decent, loving human beings. Seven grandchildren from one to thirteen, each rare and wonderful with their own grace, eccentricities, goofiness, wonder of life, and childlike beauty. A parish church we can walk to with plenty to keep us spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally well-nourished with purposeful activity, friendships, worship, and life. And our greatest blessing right here in our two-bedroom downsized bungalow: fifty-five years shared together in our cherished marriage next month. The radiant heat from the woodstove heats our home on blustery cold New England winter days, and plenty of wood is cut and split in the woodshed. Twinkling, joyful, brightly colored lights around the doors, in the windows, and along the rail of the deck. The wooden creche made for us with careful attention by Rita’s Dad and filled with the exquisite ceramic figures of the Nativity made by Jack’s mother so many years ago.

Life is full here in Portsmouth.

Let us resolve to be makers of peace, gratitude and love for one another; may we be welcoming havens for each other and unafraid of the future and not regretful of the past. God is good.

God’s blessings on you and yours and a most Merry Christmas,       

 Love in Christ,

—– Psalm 46:10     Be still and know that I am God —–

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All of Nature is God’s Art

“All of Nature is God’s Art”  Attributed to Dante Alighieri.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”  Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Norman Bird SanctuaryA local townsperson from forty or so years ago in Mount Vernon, Maine, taught in the English Department at the University of Maine. She grumbled to us once at one of her parties that the brilliant fall gold and red display of maples and birch and poplar was disturbingly garish, a vulgar excess that lures the tourists. The leaf peepers travel by the busload to northern New England and upstate New York each year to gawk and to raise the rates in the hotels and restaurants, filling the hospitality business gaps between the summer lakes splendor and the ski season. The leaf colors are enabled by the slow final ruin of the chlorophyll [ii]at summer’s end. The splendid trees benefit the local economy, but their beauty backs up the lines at the breakfast haunts of the regulars, so I understand her peevish response. Small inconvenience, really, though, and a good trade off anytime.

I have come also to appreciate more the muted burnt umber and crimsons of the late oaks and the more refined yellows of the beeches of late fall. The maples, ashes, birch, and poplar have abandoned their now brown leaves to lawns, gutters on our house, and forest floors. The oaks too slowly give up their summer, and the winter branches appear with their intricacy, delicacy, order, design, and strength displaying ever more clearly. The latent beauty in the structure of the tree emerges, the form developed year over year, cell by cell, a miracle of biology and geometry and design. Rarely in nature are purpose, structure, and function unrelated; what serves beauty, serves also for essence, form, and survival. The winter sky provides a perfect backdrop to feature the winter bare tree branches. As much as I take delight in the fragile spring green and flowers, the lush summer foliage, and the autumn brilliance, the spare precision of the naked branches is most welcome. Their quiet and deep peace signal the annual winter retreat.

“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”  Galileo Galilei   

Ellie's winter tree in pastelsIt has been written that the Holy Spirit is the Love proceeding from the Father and the Son within the Community of Love that is the Trinity of the Godhead.  One of the key stories in the Christmas narratives occurs when Mary comes to help her also pregnant cousin after Mary began carrying the Christ child within her. In the presence of the baby Jesus, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; she was participating in the mysterious inner life of God. Human beings as their most noble calling possess the capacity to share in that inner life.

So how do these seemingly unrelated thoughts connect to the fall displays in New England and our capacity to be taken by them?  I suggest this: that human beings possess the power of creating beauty and appreciating natural beauty by the same capacity that was imbued in them as being made in the “image and likeness of God.” This capacity is not simply a function of neurons and synapses but is spiritual in its origins; our relation to beauty is miracle.

An eleven-year-old girl[iii] has the same spiritual capacity as Michelangelo or Da Vinci or you and me.Ellie's chipmunk None of us likely has the same degree or skill or eye, but the capacity for beauty exists by our nature. Imago Dei, in the Image of God, are undeserved gifts to us in our nature and our souls. The senses are there; the mind is there; the heart is there; the soul is there for all of us.

Let us rejoice and wonder and be grateful as our eyes, our hearts and our souls are full.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. Anne Frank, “The Diary of a Young Girl”

[ii] As the days shorten and the nights lengthen at the end of the summer, this signals the trees to create an abscission layer which hardens the tender ends of the twigs to protect them when the leaves finally fall. This response to the diminishing light cuts off the supply of nutrients necessary to replenish the chlorophyll in the leaves. When it stops replenishing, the leaf begins to die. Chlorophyll constantly breaks down as it participates in the photosynthesis that produces nutrients for the tree and remarkably replenishes the sweet air that we sense near them as the photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide and water on the input side and “exhales” pure oxygen along with the glucose that provides the tree with all its energy. Chlorophyll also makes the leaves green. As it breaks down toward the end of the season, the carotenoids and anthocyanins show forth. Carotenoids were present all summer but were masked by the power of the green. In the fall, they get to show off their stuff before the leaves wither and fall.

[iii] Drawings by Elena Barek, who is eleven. Granddaughter with an eye, a heart, and a soul. Winter tree in pastels and Chipmunk in pencil.

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Well Scripted Redux

“The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

science vs politicsJournalists are not the only group wittingly or unwittingly conditioning our thinking. Nor are they the only group that believes they have a corner on virtue and where the world should be headed. A recent article in the MIT Press Reader, “Why Science Can’t Settle Political Disputes”[i] documented how politicians line up to use science as a bludgeon to convince others of the rightness of their cause. Whose science and how it should be interpreted is the issue and a valid one.

However, the article fails to develop adequately a more insidious calamity with current politics and science. In his Farewell Address,[ii] President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned in 1960 about the danger of collusion in a “military-industrial complex.” What is less well known in the same address is this warning: “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” A vast topic by itself, but for this post, ideology drives not only research priorities, but tweaking results to conform to an established orthodoxy is another example of the effects of hidden indoctrination of progressive ideology. Those results that are favored from climate change to so called gender fluidity get funded for more grants and more money for researchers along with the opportunity for career reputation and advancement. One of the consequences is the crisis of repeatability in scientific experimentation. A close second is the “good ol’ boys club” degradation of the “peer reviewed” imprimatur of scientific research.

Neither have history and the law escaped with unfettered liberty from the fishbowl in which we swim, murky from indoctrination and utilitarian ethics. The ideologue justifies any means necessary to gain victory. A leaked 1973 memo during the Roe v Wade no holds barred grudge match is illustrative. A significant amicus brief was submitted and hammered into the heads of the justices: a false narrative first put together by lawyer Cyrus Means.

The Roe team claimed that a long history exists of abortion tolerance in state’s law prior to 1850. That the reality was precisely the opposite did not discourage the attorneys from creating the propaganda and hammering it home. Attorney Roy Lucas drafted the review used to lay a major piece of the theoretical constitutional background for the decision by the lead attorney, Sarah Weddington. Lucas received a memo from one of his assistants, law student David Tunderman. He acknowledged that the historical narrative was false but thought the use of it fully justified in service of the end they all wanted. Supreme Court Justice Blackmun in the final decision cited the Means bogus narrative in support of the Roe decision.

Rarely has the cynical utilitarian ethics of the zealot been on such clear display.[iii] “David Tunderman wrote that Means’ ‘conclusions sometimes strain credulity’ but nonetheless concluded that ‘where the important thing is to win the case no matter how, however, I suppose I agree with Means’ technique: begin with a scholarly attempt at historical research; if it doesn’t work, fudge it as necessary; write a piece so long that others will read only your introduction and conclusion; then keep citing it until courts begin picking it up. This preserves the guise of impartial scholarship while advancing the proper ideological goals.’”

 So it is written, so it shall be.

“The sad truth about humanity…is that people believe what they’re told. Maybe not the first time, but by the hundredth time, the craziest of ideas just becomes a given.” Neal Shusterman, ”Unwholly”

How did this bizarre detachment befall us: the collapse of even the ideal of objective truth? The desired end is what matters; how we get there is up to the spreaders of the narrative necessary to achieve the end. Some of the answers lie in the higher education institutions over the last fifty years or so. The students then become the teachers and administrators in most of our schools, in universities certainly, and increasingly now in high schools and elementary schools with the orthodoxy enforced by the teacher’s unions.

We will look at a few examples, but we are awash in them.[iv]  What is most troubling is that administrators, politicians, and teachers’ unions are determined to keep the extent and content of the conditioning out of the reach of “meddling” parents. Much of the disputed content is contained in two general areas: race and gender, both mainstays of the progressive agenda. As former Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia said recently in support of teachers’ unions, which are under fire in Virginia, “Parents should not be telling schools what to teach their kids.”[v]  It is no surprise his campaign to try and retake the governor’s mansion received $25,000 in campaign contributions from the teacher’s union.

There is so much of this that it’s difficult to comprehend the damage, so this will provide some a few summary descriptions with footnoted links that you can follow until either your attention span or your spirit runs dry. There are many more with just a cursory search. The point of this blog post is general awareness of the agenda parents are facing today deciding where their children are educated. The response of the progressive ideologue, whether in the media or the education bureaucracy is to deny that these things are being taught. They are lying. As in the Roe memo, it is not the truth that holds sway, but only that the orthodoxy prevails. [vi] What we all have lost was lamented by Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century. “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

It’s gone away in yesterday

Now I find myself on the mountainside

Where the rivers change direction

Across the Great Divide.” Nancy Griffith, “Across the Great Divide”[vii]

 

Right here in Rhode Island, we have a teacher’s union suing a school committee and a parent to keep the content of the curriculum secret after she filed multiple requests to simply view what her child was being taught, especially regarding critical race theory and gender identity.[viii]

In Fairfax County and Loudon County Virginia, the battle has been well and truly joined. Attempts of parents to challenge the curriculum or to just find out what it contains have been greeted by derision and condescension. Who are parents to question what is being taught to their kids? Sample books were found in even elementary school libraries that taught among other things how to perform oral and anal sex and depicted adult/child sex in a positive light.[ix]One father whose daughter was sexually assaulted by a fourteen-year-old, skirt wearing boy professing as a girl in the school restroom cried out to the school department in protest. He was arrested, cuffed, and hauled off.[x]

The most alarming story began with the national teachers’ unions sending a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that parents who question school curricula to the school boards be investigated as domestic terrorists. He has sent the FBI around to monitor the situation. After the uproar from the parents ensued, the union rescinded its letter, but former Supreme Court nominee Garland still deploys the unfettered power of the Department of Justice to investigate parents who question what their children are exposed to.[xi]  Garland was not dissuaded by the disclosure that his son-in-law owns a company, Panorama, that conducts personally invasive student surveys and produces training programs to further the progressive race agenda and lands multimillion dollar contracts as consultants for school departments[xii]. Now the AG gets to sic the FBI on parents who may take issue with that agenda.

Honest evaluation does not shrink from the truth of our situation: the decades long first phase of the Culture Wars was lost to conservative or even middle of the road citizens. The strategic high ground was secured by the progressive front: academia, schools, journalists, and social media, even the military and the power of the state. So, what is next? What is left is a type of guerilla resistance and holding essential enclaves. Not exactly the Benedict Option, but something akin to it. And never giving up the fight.

Remember the Hilary Clinton book, “It Takes a Village?” The progressive principle is to get to the kids as young as possible. The state and its troops in the schools are better stewards than parents of the next generation. Isolate children from their parents for six or seven hours a day and prohibit the unenlightened parents who don’t buy into the progressive project from hampering the infusion of the new mindset. It is the lock and the key.

Our hope is that perhaps “woke” cuts two ways. The rising counteractions of parents who are increasingly awakened to the violation of their first responsibilities as teachers of their own kids is a drama unfolding daily. There are signs that the silent middle is rowing out of the doldrums and preparing to set sail. Terry McAuliffe lost his bid to retake the governor’s mansion last week. The decisive factor in the election was the extraordinarily high turnout of parents with kids in school.

 The stakes could not be higher.

 “Another little portion of the human heritage has been quietly taken from them before they were old enough to understand.” C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

[i] Why Science Can’t Fix Politics, MIT Press Reader

[ii] President Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the nation.

[iii] From “Wrong Then, Wrong Now: The Fake Abortion History of Roe v Wade,” Justin Dyer, Public Discourse, 9/29/21

[iv] See “Huxley Predicted the Future of Education”, John Miltimore, Intellectual Takeout, 2017. I also borrowed his illustration for the first post in this two-part series, “Well Scripted.”

[v] Terry McAuliffe tells parents to shut up and sit down; let the school department and teachers’ unions indoctrinate children to their agenda.

[vi] What educators teach and what they admit to teaching in some cases are very different.

[vii] Sadly, Nancy Griffith passed away earlier this year. Her songwriting was greatly respected by many of the more well-known names in country and folk music.  Across the Great Divide.

[viii] Teacher’s union declares that what is being taught to the kids in South Kingston, RI is not the business of the parents.

[ix] These books were pulled after they were disclosed in the meeting by a parent. That they were there in the first place is shocking.

[x] Lots of stories on this one with a quick search. Here’s one.

[xi] The Department of Justice sends its FBI attack dogs after parents seeing information on or challenging curriculum.

[xii] Merrick’s family cashes in on the curriculum agenda and “retraining” teachers and students.

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Well Scripted

laurielipton_brave_new_world“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World[i]

Back in the mists of the early seventies for about a year I was a correspondent for a regional daily paper in Boston. I remember well the cigarettes smoldering in our ashtrays and cold coffee and typewriters at eleven at night trying to beat a deadline with coverage of a local town’s selectmen or planning committee meeting or a story about a local politician’s failings. Two fingered typing rapidly to fit in with the newsroom – men typed two fingered staccato; women reporters used all ten. They were faster.

The editor was young, male, and long haired, as was I. He wielded a good red pencil and sharpened our writing skills. He was also an ideologue who made it clear that stories favoring progressive issues would be given a pulpit; those that did not would suffer a brutal red pencil until we left out anything favoring opposing opinions. We took the message quickly to heart without it ever being clearly stated. It was not that we fabricated facts, but that we selected those facts that helped the cause and neglected those that didn’t. Since at that time I was sympathetic with the editor, I found no fault with the editing.

One of my most vivid memories of the job is a phone call I received from the wife of a planning committee member and local prominent conservative with whom I had had some run ins. Her husband was a condescending patrician with his reading glasses normally perched on top of his fashionably cut blond head and possessed of an expensive private school whiny drawl. I’d long harbored an aversion to the type. As he was a local developer, I found a conflict of interest in his decisions and comments during meetings when they jumped another builder through many hoops. The applicant was a rival of my planning board guy and was trying to get a subdivision approved that would compete with one in which the committee member was selling lots. Predictably, in my judgmental crusader persona, I savaged him in a couple of articles while my editor cheered me on.

His wife called my home, not screaming, but hurt, outraged, and in tears about the generous unpaid long hours and expertise that her husband graciously donated for the well-being of the town. And how could I do that to him and tell those lies so publicly? I didn’t understand his refined nature or his decency and goodness. Now, I didn’t share her view of him, but she did whole heartedly believe it.

I learned viscerally that while I was feeling self-righteous and clever, real people were affected and embarrassed. She was a good-natured, unpretentious woman with whom I had shared pleasantries before at an event; she thought we got along well. My ideological convictions conflicted with my feelings. But I soldiered on, nonetheless. My facts were right. The goals of my ideology overtrumped my emotions. The ends justified any necessary means. If I could short circuit the nascent political career of this man, well, all’s fair. Objective journalism was not my intent, nor my ideal. I may have been able to string together cogent sentences, but I was a bad reporter.[ii]

“It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free –to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel and act.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

A Gallup poll[iii] this week chronicled the level of public trust in the media (or rather the lack thereof). It was the second lowest such poll ranking for this metric on record. Journalists compete for truth telling trustworthiness with back of the truck health supplement hawkers. Thirty six percent of the public retains a “great deal of” (a meager7%) or a “fair level of” (29%) trust that what they read in the newspapers or see in their evening news is reliable and accurate. Which, of course, means that sixty four percent do not trust what they read or see to be truthful, unbiased, and free from ideological distortion. The breakdown is more revealing: thirty one percent of independents, eleven percent of Republicans, and sixty eight percent of Democrats have confidence that what they see and hear in the mainstream media (MSM) is honest and factual. That seems to show that Democrats are dimwitted, incredibly credulous, or that their confirmation bias is operating on full wattage. I believe the last explanation to be most likely among them.

Other data show that over ninety percent of MSM reporters and editors that contribute to political campaigns contribute to Democrats and progressive causes. The seemingly obvious conclusion is that what we read and hear and see that passes for news is progressive indoctrination – we are regularly and consistently submitting to what Huxley called a “conditioned” state. No doubt this suits sixty eight percent of Democrats just fine. And sixty nine percent of independents and eighty nine percent of Republicans are not happy about it.

But the indoctrination gets worse, much worse. More to follow in the next post.

“The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass-communication, and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely, to impose necessary illusions, manipulate and deceive the stupid majority, and remove them from the public arena” Noam Chomsky

[i] [Image credit: (“DELUSION DWELLERS”, charcoal & pencil on paper, ©Laurie Lipton)]

[ii] I was not a bad reporter because I was telling lies – I was not. I was not a bad reporter because I was deterred by the hurt feelings of a subject – I was not. I was a bad reporter because I allowed my ideology to determine my subjects and the facts that I chose to include and not to include. There were plenty of other target subjects available and plenty of other facts. As the cliché goes, watching local politics is a target rich environment. But I focused that week on this planning committee member because I didn’t like his politics.

[iii] October 7 Gallup poll on the public’s trust of the media.

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Freedom From Religion Part Two

“You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage

You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage

You may be a business man or some high-degree thief

They may call you doctor or they may call you chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are

You’re gonna have to serve somebody….”  Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody[i]

 

Before we explore where “Freedom From Religion” is leading us to, we might ask what is it leading us from? Human beings are by our nature religious, and we will find a religion irrespective of our denials that our orthodoxy is orthodoxy. Even if it is secular progressive atheism or a version of Star Wars Manichean dogma, we are hard wired for religion, and we gotta serve somebody. If our determination for postmodern marginalizing of ancient faith is the goal, what will we do to fill the gap in our center? And without doubt there is a hole in our hearts, an existential alienation and loneliness that we try to avoid thinking about with distractions, entertainments, and busyness.

The concept of “praising God” is a starting point to examine what we are leaving behind.

Halal

The derivation of words and their original context are worth understanding. The Hebrew “halal” means “praise.” From it is derived “Alleluia!” or “Praise God!” Christian belief is that rightly ordered praise is the true end of our liturgy and our lives. What does that mean? God is not an easily dismissed straw man: the old, bearded man on a remote throne so rightly derided by the new atheist. True God does not need our praise. God, Who is “ipsum esse,” the very act of “being” itself, does not need our anything.

So why would He require that we praise Him? Since He only wants our good, then rightly ordered praise must rebound to our benefit. We find a clue in the derivation of the Hebrew word “halal.” The original pictograph on the left in the figure shows the image of a man pointing upward at something amazing. (Remember that written Hebrew reads right to left.) The repeated figures represent shepherd’s crooks and were used to indicate “pointing the way.” The figure in the middle of the graphic shows the pictograph evolved into ancient Hebrew, so “praise” derives from “directing us to something amazing.”

Thus, we may ascertain that “praise” has more to do with pointing us in the right direction than obsequious flattery and telling God He is great. And what might that direction be? To diminish our frail and foible prone egos and center our lives on one thing: there is a God, and I’m not Him. And to know this is to know everything.[ii]

 

“Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,

where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.

But store up treasures in heaven,

where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.’” Gospel according to Matthew

 

What substitutes will plug the hole in our heart? Most of our efforts are not evil in themselves, indeed most of our substitutes are goods raised above their station. Distractions, entertainments, diversions are among them. Playing and watching sports or theater or music are good things, unless they wedge their way into becoming our focus, our center, the primary occupier of our attention and time. Perhaps one of the four Thomas Aquinas wrote about: honor, power, pleasure, and wealth can rise to the occasion and fill the gap. None of these is inherently bad. Acting in a manner to be liked and respected is a positive; craving the approval and praise of others is not. Accumulating sufficient power to achieve good ends, to influence others in a positive way is a good thing, but as Baron John Dalberg-Acton famously remarked over a century ago, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Seeking comfort for self and family, a warm house on a cold day, the solace of another human body held close, a great meal with friends are good things; hedonistic obsession is not. Wealth can be used to provide for ourselves and our families, to fund charitable good works, all of which are good things in themselves. It is when they become the center, the center falls apart. In the end, they all can become mere addictions that require ever increasing doses to achieve ever more diminishing highs.[iii]

Another word for “praise” in this context is “worship.” Rightly ordered worship means putting what alone merits being at our center in our center. From the Old English ‘weorthscipe’ to the later English ‘worth-ship,’ meaning worthiness or an acknowledgement of worth. What is at our center? What is of prime importance to our heart? Where do we seek solace and peace?

“The leper here stands, not so much for the socially ostracized, but for the one who has wandered away from right worship, the one who is no longer able or willing to worship the true God. What’s so important about worship? To worship is to order the whole of your life toward the living God, and, in doing so, to become interiorly and exteriorly rightly ordered. To worship is to signal to yourself what your life is finally about. It’s nothing that God needs, but it is very much something that we need.”  Bishop Robert Barron writing about Jesus healing the leper.

 

Leonardo baby in the womb

Infant in the womb. Courtesy of leonardodavinci.net

Arguably the first of the two most grievous victims of our post Christian culture are the dignity and intrinsic worth of each human person, including pre-born human beings. The second is the concept of sin itself with individual responsibility, which has escaped our thinking entirely. The former will take more than a blog post, but perhaps the latter can be explored or at least the discussion begun.

Our times are dominated by subjective and emotive decision making, a radical materialist philosophy with its attendant aggressive secularism that countenances no dissent, and what Cardinal Josef Ratzinger famously called “the dictatorship of relativism.”[iv] These have left us with the belief that the important solutions are only found in ideology, science, or by social and government intervention on behalf of one of the many splintered constituencies of grievance politics. Capitalism and free markets will solve all our problems if given free rein. Socialism and the advantaging of the disadvantaged and oppressed will bring us justice and peace. Science will answer all our riddles and provide all the wisdom we need. Despite all evidence in the last century that none of these will serve, our arguments cling to one or more of these assumptions whispering error into our ears.

Prior to the cataclysms of the bloodiest century in human history, the seeds of the secular and materialist revolution that transformed our society were already well planted and sprouted in earnest. In 1910, when G.K. Chesterton was among the most respected writers in the Western world, the Times of London sent out an inquiry to many of those luminaries asking one question. An essayist of peerless skills, Chesterton famously responded with the shortest essay of his life, two words to answer the question, “What is wrong with the world today?” The ‘prince of paradox’ answered, “I am,”

Without sin and acknowledgment of my personal responsibility for my own pride, selfishness, my utilitarian use of others, seeking my own advantage to the detriment of others, then my attempts to address the plight of the group which we want to benefit will remain rooted in my own ego, self-focus, and helping myself to feel superior to the ignorant un-woke guy who fails to see what is so obvious to me. Christianity from the beginning means that our own weaknesses are beyond our ability to fix and that we need a Savior to remedy them. A profound Pelagianism informs our culture and our thinking: we don’t need help, we can earn our salvation however we define it here and now or later, and we can become our best selves by our own efforts and our own self will. “I’m basically a good person, right?”

Therefore, by the wisdom of our tired world, the mercy of God is unnecessary. A serious look inward and honest assessment is uncomfortable and “I’m OK, You’re OK” anyway. So, jump up to the podium, grab a sign, march to City Hall or the Capital, post our wisdom on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, and together we can resolve the injustices of the world. Would that this were possible, but until I address the rottenness at my own core and turn to the only possible remedy for them, my efforts, however commendable, will remain a “noisy gong.”[v]

The Good News is that the remedy is at hand, and that salvation can’t possibly be earned.  “All the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.[vi]” Redemption, filling the hole in my heart, peace, joy, and true freedom is free for the asking. [vii]  In the end, it is only necessary to ask one question. “Is this true?” Everything else follows.

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” St. Teresa of Calcutta

[i] Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan

[ii] Psalm 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (New International Version translation) Not obsequious trembling and fear, but reverential awe: perspective, not cowardly groveling.

[iii] “With this there grows / In my most ill-composed affection such / A stanchless avarice that, were I king, / I should cut off the nobles for their lands, / Desire his jewels and this other’s house: / And my more-having would be as a sauce / To make me hunger more” Macbeth, William Shakespeare

[iv] For a beginning analysis of what a “dictatorship of relativism” effects in the culture, read Roger Kimball’s introduction to a symposium in New Criterion in 2009: “The Dictatorship of Relativism: Who Will Stand Up for Western Values Now?”

[v] 1 Corinthians 13:1-2  13 “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” New American Standard Bible 1995 translation.

[vi] Piers Plowman, William Langland 1332-1384

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Swine, Double Speak, and Bringing Home the Bacon

“It has been the political career of this man to begin with hypocrisy, proceed with arrogance, and finish with contempt.” Thomas Paine

[i]smart_pig Recently I read an article about a bacon crisis looming in California. [ii] Sad is the plight of the owner of a small breakfast diner who survived the pandemic restaurant crisis but may be put out of business because her staple, bacon, eggs, and home fries, might soon be missing a key ingredient. A California law written in 2018 is coming into effect with regulations about the space and care required on pig farms for every resident pig to permit them to ship pork products into California. California consumes about fifteen percent of all pork products in America. A tiny portion of pig farms in Iowa, from which most of California bacon, ham, pork loins and related products come, can afford to comply. Hence, it will be eggs, home fries and yummy vegan bacon substitute soon in the diner, and the owner fears the line for Sunday brunch will be considerably shorter.

 The impetus for the new laws was a series of videos shot surreptitiously by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and others that graphically demonstrated that not unsurprisingly pigs are not treated very well on many pig farms or in slaughterhouses. [iii] Now before we change the subject of this post, let’s not get into a discussion of the horrors of pig abuse. We will stipulate that these are truly awful and need to be redressed by a humane society. The subject of the post is that undercover videos were taken. The owners and workers at the large farms who were filmed most certainly were not aware they were starring in the videos. Vice President Kamala Harris and now Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra, both former Attorneys General for California, were in the forefront of legislation to protect chickens, pigs, and veal cattle from abuses.[iv] When the exposed malefactors are favored targets of the politicians, there is no squeamishness about the source of the information.

Another recent story revealed the video recordings made by an undercover journalist professing to interview Keith McCoy, a long-time lobbyist for Exxon Mobil Oil, for a job opening. [v]In it, the candidate spoke candidly about the duplicity of the big energy company paying “tribute to the virtue”[vi] of renewable energy and lowering carbon emissions to placate the climate change activists.  Another California Democrat, Rep. Ro Khanna, Chair of the Environments Subcommittee of the House Committee of Oversight and Reform,[vii] and various news outlets have no objection to undercover investigative videos when they unmask favored targets.[viii] Again, I’m not defending the possible hypocrisy of a huge international energy corporation , only demonstrating that undercover videos exposing it are perfectly acceptable with the Democrats who attack such a juicy quarry.

“Hypocrisy is not a way of getting back to the moral high ground. Pretending you’re moral, saying you’re moral is not the same as acting morally.” Alan Dershowitz

Current HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and VP Kamala Harris, when they were successive Attorneys General in California, investigated and prosecuted the Center for Medical Progress and their investigator, David Daleiden, for producing undercover videos which disclosed some appalling illegal activity of abortion clinics, primarily Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is not a favored Democrat target, rather they are a favored partner.

Harris and her staff colluded directly with Planned Parenthood to push legislation that was originally drafted by a Planned Parenthood lawyer, then used to prosecute Daleiden for his undercover videos. She has been a major recipient of Planned Parenthood political donations for many years, as were many other Democrats. In the 2020 election cycle alone, PP donated $10,401,306 to political campaigns through their multiple PACS, all but $23,000 (or about 99.8%) of it went to the home team Democrats. [ix]

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as president. On January 28th, he announced he was issuing an executive order that the Trump ban on Planned Parenthood federal funding was ending. PP receives in a good year over $500 million in Federal dollars, much of it from Medicaid, Federal money disbursed by the states. Since 78% of their “clinics” are in or near poor minority neighborhoods, Medicaid is a major source of PP’s annual $1.3 billion in revenue.[x] Planned Parenthood benefits with a strong immediate return on investment for their ten million in PAC money to Democrats and Joe Biden.

The president of the non-profit Planned Parenthood is paid about a million dollars a year; the average salary of executives, including “clinic” directors is north of two hundred thousand; the average salary of the executives back at the mothership headquarters is over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year.[xi] There is a lot at stake for these executives. Biden also is working very hard with his allies to eliminate the Hyde amendment from spending bills, specifically currently the funding for HHS, led by Becerra. The Hyde amendment was supported for years by Joe Biden. No more. It stipulates Federal funds cannot pay directly for abortions. Eliminating it would open new floodgates for Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry.

The rules for Becerra and Harris change according to the subject of the undercover videos. If it’s a meat producer or a multinational energy company, all’s fair. If it’s the partner of Democrat politicians, the gloves are off going after investigative journalists. Harris responded to Planned Parenthood’s concern about videotaping their clinic operators by working with PP to write legislation making such undercover videos a felony. As Attorney General, she found a friendly judge and with a subpoena directed a pre-dawn raid on David Daleiden’s home, confiscating computers, cameras, and videos. After she collected over $81,000 in campaign contributions from PP and moved on up to the Senate, her hand-picked successor, Xavier Becerra indicted Daleiden on fifteen felony counts; some were dropped, and nine are still being adjudicated.

All the legal actions against Daleiden by PP’s big cadre of lawyers are being defended against at great cost pro bono by the Thomas More Society[xii]. Another pet judge was found in San Francisco, and PP sued Center for Medical Progress and Daleiden personally. Obtaining a judgment in front of their judge in San Francisco, Planned Parenthood was awarded $2.2 million, which would bankrupt their victims. Planned Parenthood’s goal is to silence him permanently. They have injunctions against the release of more videos, which are as damaging as the early ones that made it into the public domain. Sue him back into the stone age, a scorched earth legal strategy that has him in danger of bankruptcy and/or prison. Thomas More Society and Daleiden are appealing all verdicts and fighting the judgement, which likely will persist for years in the courts and cost millions to defend. Planned Parenthood has plenty of money and lawyers ready to go.

What is it about David Daleiden that so terrifies PP and its Democrat allies? I invite you to look at the videos that were made public prior to the injunctions. Center for Medical Progress investigative videos. The first response from Planned Parenthood was to try and get the undercover videos outlawed in California, which they did. Then they unleashed their formidable public relations propaganda team to spread the rumors that the videos were fake and heavily edited. Daleiden responded by posting the full original, unedited versions including hours of edited out footage of riding in cars and eating in restaurants.

The evidence they disclose is damning. The investigative journalist Daleiden posed as a middleman broker buying fetal body parts to sell to research labs. Selling fetal body parts is illegal, so the stakes for the PP executives include felony convictions and prison. The videos show PP directors negotiating prices, describing how they can alter their abortion procedures with actual live cutting up fetuses to salvage specific baby parts. One said point blank that she wanted the additional money to fulfill her dream of owning a Lamborghini. Other videos show other PP employees promising that fifty livers should not be a problem if the price is right. As I suggested with the slaughterhouse videos, do not watch these on a full stomach. Documentation is well preserved, names are named, and faces are explicit. The cold and casual calculation of descriptions of procedures and price negotiation is chilling.

If put into general release, and they are not silenced, it would be impossible for Planned Parenthood to maintain the fiction that they are in this for the benefit of woman’s health care and “reproductive rights.” They kill and kill without remorse in a very organized fashion for big money, and there is not much they won’t do to keep that quiet.

“For some, trying to uphold such a distorted, upside-down morality is too much to bear. Frederica Mathewes-Green was a young pro-choice feminist. But after reading a physician’s account in Esquire of an abortion, her eyes were opened. “There I was, anti-war, anti–capital punishment, even vegetarian, and a firm believer that social justice cannot be won at the cost of violence,” Mathewes-Green recounted. “Well, this sure looked like violence. How had I agreed to make this hideous act the centerpiece of my feminism?”  Scott David Allen

[i] Smart pig picture is taken from an article in Modern Farmer, 2014, by Andy Wright. “Pig headed: How Smart are Swine”

[ii] Bacon May Disappear in California as Pig Rules Take Effect, Associated Press, Scott McFetridge, July 31, 2021

[iii] A short Google search will turn up many such videos investigating farms and slaughterhouses in Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, and other places. Here’s one from PETA. Don’t watch on a full stomach or before you head to the diner for breakfast: https://www.peta.org/videos/nebraska-pig-farm-investigation/

[iv] We are not vegan in our house, but we do buy cage free eggs, eat no veal, and buy meat from humanely raised pigs and grass-fed free-range beef. I’m not defending the people who treat animals inhumanely, only pointing out that the evidence that brought them down was collected by breaking California laws about spy videos from investigators and journalists.

[v][v] CNN exposes the Exxon Mobil videos shot by Greenpeace.

[vi] “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” Francois de La Rochefoucauld

[vii] Why does the name “House Committee on Oversight and Reform” sound suspiciously like an Orwellian Congressional Star Chamber?

[viii] Article on the hearing and the lobbyist.

[ix] Open Secrets, which tracks all political donations, shows this for Planned Parenthood. Over $2.9 million went to the Biden campaign or positive ads, and over $2 million went into attack ads against Donald Trump.

[x] For some information on the original eugenics’ agenda of PP, there are many resources. A start would be an old quo vadis blog post, Maggie Two.

[xi] Article with some examples: — CEO salaries at affiliates increased 22 percent in the last two years. All make over $100K.  According to former Texas clinic director and former PP national employee of the  year, Abby Johnson, they are bonused on meeting abortion quotas among other criteria. 33 make over $200,000 a year. 16 make over $300,000 a year. 6 make over $400,00 a year, and the boss makes over a million. The report said that the average Planned Parenthood CEO is “in the top five percent of all workers in the United States.” Non-profit is a fungible term.

[xii] Here is a link to the Daleiden and Center for Medical Progress cases. Thomas More Society is a non-profit group of skilled attorneys working on behalf of pro life and religious freedom cases. https://thomasmoresociety.org/client/david-daleiden/ Interestingly in case of strange bedfellows, PETA filed an amicus brief supporting Daleiden’s cause.

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